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JLS Railroad History and Overview

JLS Railroad History & Overview

     October 24, 1990, the JLS Railroad was born. I was 9 at the time. The layout started as a big, single loop, which went around the perimeter of the basement. It was about 40' by 42' in dimension with one transformer, one line, no switches, blocks of powered accessories or buildings. Previously to this, I had a large Lionel layout, 10' by 15' on a board ion the left back corner of the basement. Due to Lionel's shoddy quality and construction, I was looking for something more; LGB was the ticket. I started out with 2 engines, the green Crocodile and the little blue Steeple Cab, both LGB electric locomotives and about 12 cars. I wasn't satisfied; you never really are with a layout. The very next week, we went back to TrainLand and purchased the needed LGB track and equipment for the SecondLine. It was to be smaller and inside the MainLine. The one different thing though, which at the time was totally new to me, it was to be independently controlled. Since I did any and ALL the work on the layout, I had to research the idea of independent control. Now I had 2 transformers, and 2 separate loops, connected at a 2 switch interchange and no idea how to wire it up. Since all LGB's instruction manuals are written in German, I had nothing to go on except pictures, which was perfect. Remember that I was only 9, so, pictures worked out perfectly. It was wired up with no problems. Over the next year, the layout expanded slowly. A small siding was added in front of the control circle. It was just a dead siding; so, anything being pulled onto it had to be moved by hand.

     Sometime in early 1992, after the purchase of about 10 more cars, siding space was gone. Something needed to be done. The W yard was planned at this time. It started out with all manual switched and 3 dead sidings. Over the next 4 months, I added a siding a month, culminating with 7 sidings, all dead with manual switches. Whenever switching was to be done, you needed to get up and run over to that side of the basement and switch turnouts. Now, most other model railroaders and I and lazy, that is why we have electrically operated switches. That was the next revolutionary thing to hit the layout, electric turnouts. I bought all the motors that summer as well as their 5175 orange control boxes. Now, at that point, I was more confident with electrical components and had a better understanding of how things worked. They went together very quickly and worked perfectly. No longer did I have to get up to hit the turnouts, but, I still had to get up to push engines and cars onto the sidings! The next thing was an electrified block system in the yard, 7 blocks. I used LGB's yellow 5180 control boxes and their 1015U insulated tracks. Now the layout was moving along. The Christmas of 1992 saw the arrival of the Alco DL535E White Pass and Yukon road engine: a third engine. Over the next year, I used the excuse; "I have enough siding space now but not enough cars! I need to fill that yard!" It worked; I purchased about 30 cars that year and 4 more engines. By this time, the last Saturday of EVERY month was deemed TrainLand day. I was Kenny Bianco's (the owner of TrainLand) best customer.

     Now there is something know as The Cycle. It is basically what happens to any layout over time. As you add more sidings and have more space, you need more cars and engines to fill them. As you acquire more cars and engines, you need more sidings to accommodate them. Then, with more siding space, you buy more cars, then add siding space, then more cars etc………….. This cycle continues forever, well, at least the life of the layout. I was experiencing just that cycle. Over the next 2 years, up until 1995, the layout grew according to The Cycle. Buildings were added: Waldou, Oberdorf, the farm complex and a 2 stall engine shed in the W yard. Track was added: the E yard (the major staging yard on the floor under the Lionel table), sidings on the SecondLine and the farm siding. A lot more cars, 30 or so, and about 10 more engines. Now we had another problem, we need another line to accommodate the engine bloom!

     The ThirdLine was envisioned. It was to be about twice the size of the SecondLine, but, still fit inside the MainLine. At this time, I was VERY confident in my electrical skills. This loop, with all it's switches and interchanges with both the SecondLine and the MainLine, went up very fast. All the switches electric and the blocks all wired up. It was very nice. At that point, there wasn't mush more that could fit in the basement. Every bit of floor space had track in it. But, the cars and engines rolled in, and, The Cycle continued. The P yard, B yard, F yard and numerous industrial sidings added. Buildings spread like the plague. It continued like this until the beginning of 1997. I met Joe Barcia, the Vice President of the JLS Railroad January of 1997 in 10th grade. He started coming around, more and more frequently, until the point when he was over 5 times a week! We did nothing but run. At first, just to have fun, but then we quickly realized that with two people operating at the same time, we had bottle necks, accidents at interchanges and confusing switching problems to overcome. We kept adding as well an addition here, another their, more scenery there, more wiring over here. It just kept growing. I couldn't believe how fast everything was going, it was unbelievable. April of 1997 saw the first TrainShow ever down on the lines. About 15 people showed, all friends or family. It was good, very unprofessional though. Something needed to be done to rectify the operating problems. The next series of events created the Railroad that exists today.

     The first thing we did was write an operating manual. It was long, but, all operating problems were worked out. Things really started to come together now. Signaling systems went up, the most complicating wiring EVER done down on the lines. Blocks were reworked and more added. Building and industries run prototypically. More and more cars and engines added. Slowly but surly, over the next 8 months, the layout turned from a toy into a prototypical railroad. We invented a scheduling system, timetables and classification systems for the trains on the lines. At that point, there were no more "fun" operating sessions. Everything was well scheduled, operated prototypically and in strict accordance with the operating manual. Now, it was even MORE FUN!! We kept adding and working. At this point, October of 1997, one person could no longer run the railroad. You NEEDED two to operate it. The fall TrainShow was characterized by a well defined, professional showing of the operations of the Railroad. Everything ran beautifully, all according to a planned schedule. About 35 people showed up at that TrainShow. November 15, 1997 was a day that will go down in history. We went to TrainLand, like every month, but this time came home with LGB# 21881, the big Uintah Mallet. I had wanted Uintah for the longest time, and now, finally had him. He was the biggest single item purchase ever made down on the lines, $1000. Towards the end of 1997, we had about 40 POLA buildings and industries, 28 LGB engines and about 125 LGB cars, passenger and freight. We faced the most serious problem ever downstairs: NO ROOM. Something desperately needed to be done. This problem was foreseen about a year prior. I knew it was coming. At this point, though, did we really realize how serious it was. The first time it happened, we knew we needed to move. We had to take some cars off the track to operate properly!

     The Helix was first envisioned late 1996. Initial drawings (which are now framed) were made early 1997, just as the space problem was beginning to become obvious. Now, you might think, "just stop buying cars!" Well, I have a problem, I am addicted to trains, and I CAN'T stop buying them! So, that was out of the question. No more room was available on the floor, so, the only place to go was up. But where? Ahhh, the Lionel board. At this point, it was just a big dust bowl. I never used them. But, the Helix project wasn't just an ordinary project, like a siding extension or new block, it was BIG. We'd have to design and build a helix of proper grade to get the trains from the floor to a height of 39" (the top of the table). Then, build a yard atop the table. It had to be done, but we didn't know how.

     By the beginning of 1998, we were in dire straights, we needed to get moving on the extension. The Christmas TrainShow of 1997 was seen as a success to the 50 somewhat people who came. But Joe and me knew it was bad, we needed space to run. Before construction began, we wanted to tie up all loose ends, we knew the layout would be out of commission for a long time. We drew up a club charted and the JLS Railroad Club came into existence with me, Jonathan Landon as the President and Joe Barcia as the Vice President. Al Rapp wrapped up the membership list. We were small, but all clubs start out small. We also initialized the JLS Railroad Update at that time, the weekly newsletter, going out every Wednesday. The last run occurred March 20th, 1998. It was a somber run, we knew it wouldn't happen again for quite some time. All we could think about was all the work ahead of us. The next day, after a visit to TrainLand, the Helix was initiated. Finalized drawings and plans were made the two previous months, January and February of 1998. They totaled about 50 pages! A project schedule was also created. Originally, the project was called, ambiguously, Project Up and Over, later changed to The Helix. It was suppose to take about 6 to 8 months, we wanted to have it done in time for the fall 1998 TrainShow. We estimated about $5000 in total cost.

     On March 21st, 1998, the most revolutionary project to hit the layout began. After close to 2 years of planning, the first grade was laid. He initial grade was 3.8% and went from the MainLine to passing height. Throughout that summer, work continued with the help of Al Rapp, a member of the JLS Railroad. The helix construction was completed the end of September. It turned out to be 3 tiers, 104 feet long in total, max grade of 4.1% minimum grade of .4%. It came out beautifully, I am forever indebted to Al Rapp for his help. Next work on the yard began. A 12 track staging yard 10 feet wide by 15 feet long was constructed, a 10 stall POLA RoundHouse was built. Let me tell you, it is so big, before the roof went up, you were able to sit 2 adults in it, comfortably! It is 9 feet across, and 5 feet deep, almost a full half circle. The yard went up before Christmas. January 1, 1999 saw the first train up the helix. The helix went under it's own power shortly after noon, 3PM saw the electrification of the yard, 5PM the reverse loop atop the table which wraps around the back of the RoundHouse, and the first train went up shortly after. At this point in the construction, no blocks were wired up, no switches, lights or ANYTHING else. Over the next 3 months, electrical equipment went up, day by day the yard was powered up. Then, April 26, 1999, 1 year and 1 month after the initialization of the project, the electrical work was done. FINALLY! Everything was done, including the custom control panel for signal control and the 20+ Infrared Detectors up all over the yard and in every stall of the 10 stall RoundHouse and 2 stall engine shed. Scenery work started with the construction of foam mountains and elevated banks. Hydrocal 30 was used in my own homemade latex rock molds. A Sanding Depot was scratch built and the rockwork commenced. That is our present position. At this point, we are just hoping to finish the project before the summer. Originally it was planned to take about 6 months, well, 1 year and 6 months later, we are still buried with work. We blew through the original project cost in the first 4 months, haha. At this point, believe it or not, we are up to a little over $16,000. It is ending, but slowly. Check out the future plans / projects / purchases page to see the chore list left in the helix construction along with other projects that still must get done.

     At this point, the JLS Railroad is a mess. We are still undergoing serious construction. The Helix blew all our expectations, we ran on it a handful of times, basically just as research into the new operating manual. It is phenomenal. The grade is perfect, you can pull 10 to 12 cars trains up with no problems with the bigger engines and 5 to 7 cars on the smaller ones. It is great. In the intervening time, we added 5 new members, 3 active and 2 non-active, to the club to bring the total up to 8. We have filed with the NMRA (National Model Railroad Association) for club status, and received it. We have appeared on Television once so far, a 20 minute segment on the 30 minute, monthly local television show "Model Railroading". This show repeats itself 8 times during the month (twice a week, since it is monthly, it is the same show), so, we were on television a total of 160 minutes, but who's counting? Haha We are also in the process of creating a membership fee of $5 per year. This fee will go to a "club car" voted on by all the members. Still, the cars and engines role in. We are up to 157 LGB cars, 34 LGB engines and 1 USA Trains engine (the NW2). About 60 buildings and industries, all POLA or scratch built with Plastruct parts, and about 20 cows on the farm. We are still moving forward……………

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