Volume 2 No. 6, New York, Westchester & Boston

The S Scale Journal

The Online Journal of the S Scale SIG
Volume 2 No. 6, October 30, 2013

New York, Westchester & Boston

by Dick Karnesphotos by the author

First published in the July 2012 Railroad Model Craftsman. The S Scale SIG would like to thank Carstens Publishing Co. for generously allowing this reprint and supporting the S Scale community.

Givens And Druthers

The late John Armstrong is my layout-planning guru. I have read and re-read his “Layout Planning for Realistic Operation,” and I have taken his methods to heart. I particularly like his “givens and druthers” approach, in which you write down your “must haves” (givens) and “like to haves” (druthers). My givens and druthers were as follows:


  • Heavy electrics
  • Car float
  • 1955 era
  • Passenger operations (MU, local, express, milk)
  • NH, NYC trackage rights


  • Design for operation
  • Lots of hidden staging
  • Point-to-point
  • Optional continuous running
  • Stub-end terminal
  • Freight yard

Heavy Electrics and passenger equipment can be a problem in S, my chosen scale. The only commercial electric locomotives are the ready-to run American Models PRR GG1 and a New Zealand 3.5-foot gauge boxcab kit. Therefore, my electrics are a rather eclectic combination of kit-bashed and scratch-built. Most of my electric loco bodies were bashed from components like American Flyer caboose bodies and resectioned AF Alco PA shells. Some sit atop modified diesel chassis; other chassis are scratch-built. Most steamers are brass imports, but a few have been scratch-built of brass and detailed with S scale brass castings. A few more are “interesting” combinations of AF, Rex, imported brass, and scratch-built components. For our older readers, think Bill Schopp, frequent author of brass-bashed locos in 1950-60 era RMCs.

Ready-to-run S scale passenger equipment is currently limited to American Models 75-foot heavyweights and Budd Empire State Express shorties. The Supply Car offers a large variety of full-length streamlined Pullman and Budd kits. There have never been any MU cars offered. But I have been fortunate over the decades to acquire equipment as it was available. Mine includes 1950-era Super Scale heavyweights, a Dayton Models NYC gas-electric from the same era, plastic heavyweight and streamlined Pullmans from American Models, brass heavyweights from SouthWind Models, and a fleet of MU cars bashed from American Models and American Flyer passenger cars with Black Beetle power trucks. My freight-car fleet’s lineage is similarly varied.

I have a 12-foot by 46-foot space for the layout with two closet doors at one end and a wall with doorway separating the space roughly in half. There were no obstructions (wash tubs, furnaces, etc.). I didn’t want the complication of double-decking, so I was willing to sacrifice some mainline route-miles. I knew I wanted a stub-end terminal, a wye for reversing specific equipment, and no reversing loops per se. I also wanted a single hidden staging yard that could ingest and disgorge trains, and I wanted the visible portion of the layout to support interesting point-to-point operation. Alas, I had to give up the idea of a single staging yard with multiple entrances and exits because the resulting hidden turnouts and crossings were just too complex. Instead, I settled for two separate four-track staging yards. Also, given the size of my space and my desire for broad curves, I had to give up any notion of even an abbreviated engine terminal, so I opted to model only minimal servicing facilities—water column, ash pit, sand tower, and two ready tracks.

I dreamed up a layout schematic that involved two primary routes – a single-track line that crosses a double-track line. These two lines would join, share common trackage and a station through one town, then diverge, creating an “X”-shaped configuration overall. The double-track line would have catenary and the single-track line would not. Then I put my mind to adapting a prototype concept that fit my favorite area of America – Upstate New York and western New England.

New York, Westchester & Boston Gallery


I had always been fascinated by what might have been, had the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway, a heavy-electric road, actually met its goal of connecting New York City and Boston. The NYW&B, what there was of it when the New Haven bought it in the 1920s, was built to incredibly up-to-date standards for really heavy traffic demand. It’s anybody’s guess what it could have evolved into, but I decided to give it an alternate, successful history. I chose to model the NYW&B circa 1955. The real NYW&B was mostly dismantled by the New Haven; the remainder was incorporated into various New Haven routes. In my alternate history, the NYW&B was never bought out, but thrived. As a result, the New Haven is confined to the Long Island Sound and Atlantic coast, and the New York Central’s Boston & Albany division trackage terminates eastbound at Springfield, Massachusetts. The NYW&B has three divisions: 1.) The double-track electrified New Haven & Northern division from New Haven, Connecticut via Troy, New York, to Montreal; 2.) The New York & North Eastern division from New York City to Boston via Springfield; 3.) The Westchester Connecting Line from the Brooklyn waterfront to the NY&NE in Westchester County.

The New York Central has trackage rights over the NYW&B between Springfield and Boston, as does the New Haven from New Haven to Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut, where the NYW&B’s NH&N and NY&NE divisions cross each other. In addition, the NYW&B has trackage rights on the NYC from Troy to Springfield. New Haven and CNR passenger cars provide through service on New Haven-Troy-Montreal trains.

This concept gives me a rationale to host electric, steam, and diesel power. The NYW&B runs anthracite steam (camelbacks only) and electrics. The single-tracked NY&NE runs steam only, and the double-tracked NH&N nominally runs electric only. Exceptions are a lone boxcab diesel at the Port Hudson float yard, and the way freight that’s headed by a steam loco because it switches some industries beyond the wires. Additionally, the NYC from Troy to Springfield is electrified in order to power NYW&B trains between Troy and Boston.

The NYC and New Haven run whatever they want – NYC steam and diesels, and New Haven diesels and electrics.

Modeled Portion

I model the “X” configuration centered on Cornwall Bridge (CB), which hosts a through passenger station, a stub-end commuter terminal for MU cars, and the line’s motor shop for electric loco repairs.

Common trackage of the NH&N and NY&NE divisions runs from South Cornwall Junction (SC) to Springfield Junction (SJ). The road’s home office is located at SJ, where the lines to Montreal and Springfield diverge. Beyond these points each division is separate, and each terminates in its own staging yard. Troy Union Station serves passenger trains of the NYC, NH, CNR, and of course the NYW&B. There is also a freight yard at Troy as well as the minimal loco facilities mentioned before. A branch line to Port Hudson serves a float yard and barge operation on the Hudson River. There’s also a branch line from Cornwall Bridge to South Cornwall that serves several industries including a bulk fuel depot and a whey-processing plant.


These days, S scale standard-gauge trackage products are plentiful. We have vendors who provide flextrack in various rail heights, nos. 6 and 8 turnouts, and made-to-order items like crossings, three-ways, and slip switches. That said, trackwork is my favorite thing, so I have hand-built some 67 turnouts, five crossings, one double-slip switch, and nearly all the visible track. I have used commercial trackage only on the farthest tracks from view and in tunnels.

Although I am somewhat saddened that I have no more track to lay, I am still getting a kick out of completing my catenary. I get my catenary spans, column bases, and rain caps from Model Memories, and I scratchbuild my catenary bridges from old .172 steel rail. It’s always a challenge to fit catenary properly over complex trackwork, but I really enjoy puzzles, so this doesn’t bother me. At this point in time my catenary is about 80 percent complete. You can get a detailed look at how I build my catenary in the NMRA’s March 2009 issue of “Scale Rails” magazine (“Juice for Your Juice Jacks”).

Control System

When I began building this layout, I knew I wanted walk-around control. I had experimented with wireless CTC-16 on my previous layout, but abandoned it because it was prone to cross-channel interference. This time I opted for Aristo-Craft’s “Basic Train Engineer,” a wireless system that controls the track, not the trains. At the time, transmitter-receiver sets were available in four different frequencies, so I used two frequencies to control each of the two tracks on my double-track main line. I installed power routing all over the place, through the auxiliary contacts on my switch machines. This allowed the power to follow the train through whichever off-main route I chose. Troy Terminal, the float yard, the South Cornwall branch, and the NY&NE were separately controlled.

This all worked great, at first. But as I added and activated more trackage and route alternatives, operation required the addition of several selector switches. I discovered that if I didn’t operate my railroad at least a few times a week, I would forget how! Ergo, it was time to bite the bullet and convert to DCC.

I plunked down major $$ for a wireless NCE DCC system, including a power supply, command station, five handheld controllers and two antennae. I also purchased an array of secondary equipment like locomotive decoders, auto-reversers, and power-district controllers. But I never could have pulled the conversion off without the help of Roger Nulton. We had to undo all the power-routing wiring, install four power buses, and hundreds of feeder drops. We had to connect everything up with power on so as to monitor for potential short circuits, easily caused by connecting feeders to the wrong bus wire. When we were finished, I had two large boxes full of scrap wire.

But I have never looked back. I love it!

Milk Runs

I designed my NYW&B for operation, and it has lived up to that goal. It supports way freights, local passenger trains, interchange via two staging yards as well as a car float operation, and arrival and departure of long-distance freight and passenger trains. For open houses, the layout also supports continuous running with a choice of eight different trains.

A relatively complex set of operations centers on the dairy industry, which was still strongly rail-oriented in the Northeast in the mid-1950s. The southbound local passenger train stops at several milk platforms along the right-of-way where dairy farmers leave cans of raw milk. There are three such platforms actually on the layout, at Springfield Junction, North Cornwall, and South Cornwall. The cans are loaded into the train’s railway-owned milk reefer. At Putnam Hills, the milk reefer is dropped off at the Quaker Hills Creamery for processing. While there, the local picks up a dairy-company milk reefer filled with yesterday’s bottles of pasteurized milk and cream for retail trade distributors in New York City.

Later on, the northbound local stops at the creamery, drops off an empty dairy-company reefer, and picks up the railway-owned milk reefer, which is now loaded with empty cans to take back to the milk platforms along the route.

The way freight always picks up empty freshly-iced reefers at Thompson Ice. One is dropped at the creamery for loading cheese and ice cream. Another reefer, loaded with whey, is picked up at the creamery and trundled off to the Federal Whey plant at the end of the South Cornwall branch. While there, one or two reefers loaded with whey-based products are picked up. In other words, a single produce-laden reefer in a through freight from Boston can arrive at Troy Yard, be taken in a way freight to Ilzeb Wine & Produce at North Cornwall for off-loading, then taken to Thompson Ice for re-icing, then off to the Quaker Hills Creamery at Putnam Hills for loading. If its load is dairy products, it then goes back to Troy in yet another way freight, where it is reassigned to a manifest freight to Boston or New Haven or New York City. If its load is whey, it’s taken to the Federal Whey plant for off-loading, and remains there until loaded with whey products and then taken back to Troy, then on to its destination.

King Coal

As mentioned earlier, the NYW&B’s steamers all burn anthracite coal. The anthracite, from Pennsylvania, arrives on NYW&B property via hopper cars on the Port Hudson car float. These coal loads are trundled off to Troy Yard in the twice-daily transfer freight, where two are set aside for local delivery to retailers and the rest are coupled into through freights, to be taken to coaling station sites along the routes.

Typical Operating Sessions

We run with a four-to-one fast clock, so operating sessions take around three real hours. During this time, crews will have run two local passenger trains in opposite directions, stopping at milk platforms and Quaker Hills Creamery in addition to the station stops. Meanwhile, the Port Hudson boxcab has offloaded several cars from the car float into the float yard, assembled them into a transfer freight, delivered them to Troy, and picked up a half-dozen cars to take back to Port Hudson. And then there are the two trains that the way freight has encountered on its rounds – the Grand Isle Limited, with CNR, NYC, and New Haven equipment, speeding off to New Haven; and a through freight bound from Troy to New York City.


Today’s S scale is better than ever. Despite my eclectic motive power preferences, and my lengthy history that includes being at the right place and time to acquire what I wanted, there’s a large variety of currently-available ready-to-run plastic and brass equipment, trackage products, and structure kits that make it easy to do a lot in S. There’s also a lot of stuff in people’s shelves and drawers that they’ll never get to. So it pays to develop a network for trading/selling/buying purposes. Most of what I have is based on products that are currently produced or can still be found. To this end, the photo captions highlight the sources of the items in the scenes.