J. Alex Lang

The Aspinwall Belt

I have always been troubled by having too many hobbies, and never time for all of them.  Consequently, I go through various phases… As a kid, HO scale model trains (along with a few military aircraft for good measure).  High school was mostly music, with a bit of railroad photography; college was about the same.  Over the last six-seven years I got much more serious about photography, and spent a good bit of time playing sax in various rock bands, too.  But in the last two years, it made sense to switch back to the model trains – significantly inspired by my pal Dave Abeles’ layout, the Onondaga Cutoff.

We purchased a house in 2011, did some renovations, and moved in in 2012.  The 2010 purchase of some Christmas HO trains turned into the genesis of what is now the HO scale “Aspinwall Belt”, so named because the tracks go in a big circle (thanks Mike!).  Dubbed the “temporary layout”, the goal was to get a midsize layout up quickly, to allow for some railroad operations.   Beginning in 2012, I started accumulating rolling stock, structures, and the like for what would eventually become a mid-1990s Bethlehem, PA.

The “Aspinwall Belt” is built out of 2′ x 8′ dominoes made out of 1″ pine and 3/4″ plywood, bolted together for easy disassembly.  Lou Capwell and Derrick Brashear helped out for a weekend in January to do the initial construction.  I’m using Kato Unitrack because I don’t really know what I want in a track plan, yet, so it allows for such indecisiveness. (The track requires no nails or glue. Just attach and go.)  Speaking of track plan, here’s the current version:

Aspinwall Belt 08-01-13

My focus now, is to work on rolling stock – locomotives & cars – while allowing the kids to have fun with the “town elements” – they can rearrange buildings, people, cars, etc to their heart’s content.  (Otherwise, Dad gets too bossy/picky about everything. Not fun for anyone.)  Since one of my goals was to encourage the girls to participate, I made the decision to set up DCC right away, using an NCE PowerCab Pro, along with JMRI & WiThrottle.  WiThrottle’s free iPhone app lets iPhone/iPod users control their own train, without the expense of additional NCE throttles.  (Of course, this assumes that the expense of an iPhone has already been absorbed. Alas.)

For the time being, we are running 4-5 DCC equipped locomotives, a couple with sound (which is fun!), along with an RDC car for easy passenger service.  The Klassic Pickle Factory gets a few cars of brine in a week, and sends out boxcars of pickles; the McGilligan Mine handles many coal hoppers in and out each week.  The mine is named after my friend Peter McGilligan, who built it; Peter passed on in October.  A lot of my equipment comes from Peter’s collection; while it great to remember him that way, I’d prefer it if his dry humor was still around.

So, here, I’ll share a few photos of our progress thus far.