No. 9: Ackley Layout: Back to Ackley

My buddy Clark Propst and I have been going back and forth for a month or two online about my new layout plans.  When we moved into this house in December 2015 I convinced myself that I could not rebuild the M&StL in Ackley, Iowa in the space available–about 16 feet–so I began planning to model a smaller location, one that was even smaller than Ackley.

I looked at a number of locations and once again the B&O line thought Rushville, Indiana was high on the list. Rushville, Indiana is a little town in eastern Indiana where secondary lines of the B&O, PRR and NYC met.  The Nickel Plate was also present in town, and the Erie had trackage rights to Indianapolis on the B&O.  I considered modeling the B&O line since it had the preponderance of customers in town.  There are a few late-1930s photos posted on the Barriger National railroad Library site on Flickr.

Meanwhile, I was still fond of the M&StL and continued looking at places on that line, especially where they crossed the Milwaukee Road which is another favorite railroad.  I took a close look at Ruthven, Iowa, which was on the on the M&StL near Spencer, and track-planned Ruthven for three or four weeks.  This was a dark portion of railroad and was a sort of a short-cut between Spencer and Fort Dodge.  There was not a lot of traffic.

The plan just didn’t quite have enough for a one-town model railroad of the only way I could get more modeling out of the plan was to keep adding tracks that didn’t exist on the prototype.  At that point I started freelancing more and more, and in a short time I was heading full steam down the path to freelancing.


The photo above shows the Ruthven track layout from the 1930s, courtesy of Gene Green.  The Milwaukee Road crossed the M&StL at the extreme right just outside the drawing.   The town has all the basics–two elevators, a depot, an interchange, an oil dealer, a coal dealer, and a few other small customers.  It’s almost just right.

26 Ruthven IA MILW interchange

Above is a nice, raw photo from the Barriger site, used with permission.  The Milwaukee crossing can be seen at center, guarded by a white gate.

Ayrshire IA - LNW Photo

No photos have surfaced of the Ruthven depot, but most of the depots an that line looked like the Ayrshire, Iowa depot pictured above.

A few months ago I decided to try Ackley again. I had just about 16 feet for the “visible” portion of the layout.  The entire layout space is about 40 feet, but the rest of the area will be consumed by a 10-to-qw foot staging yard on each end of the layout.

The hardest part of planning a new Ackley layout was getting over the mental hurdle of only having 16 feet for the town site. On my previous Ackley layout the town site was 23 feet (see below), so I had to get past the notion that Ackley could only be modeled in 23 feet. I track-planned Ackley anyway and made a few compromises in the track plan and have come up with something I think I can do.

Golden - Ackley 1 (5)

Here’s my original Ackley layout as depicted in Model Railroad Planning 2015.  Drawing used with permission by Kalmbach Publishing Company.

The original track plan had a flaw. A big flaw. There was no way to switch the cannery (Marshall Canning, at the top right of the drawing) without pulling all the cars spotted on the City Track. It made switching VERY clumsy. I think the M&StL found that same problem too, because in the late 1930s they added a switch at the end of the cannery–at right, between the cannery and the bridge–making the cannery lead double-ended.  Smart. I did not add that extra switch on this layout.

Another Problem:  The transfer–being on the opposite side of the crossing from the town site–doubled the length of the layout.  While prototypically correct, it cost much time and effort and money to complete.

The new plan incorporates a few prototypically incorrect “improvements” given the space available. First, I have put the transfer on the “town side” of the IC crossing. The transfer is an essential part of the layout and I have to keep it. I fit it in at the south end of the City Track (see the lower diagram, at the left of the drawing) with the understanding that I need to leave a little room to load the interchange track without moving cars spotted on the City Track.

The interchange (“transfer”) as modeled can only hold two cars but that shouldn’t be a problem for this smaller layout.  The prototype transfer held around 25 40-foot cars.

Golden - Ackley 1 (1)

Second, I am changing the orientation of the cannery lead. I have war-gamed this and I think this will be a great improvement. With the cannery lead reversed, I can switch cars into the cannery without disturbing cars already spotted on the city track. I should be able to do this with both northbound and southbound trains without any issues.

With these two changes I can get all the industries on the new layout and get Ackley back in action. I will have space for staging on each end–about a 10-15-foot wing on each side with three tracks each.

Golden - Ackley 1 (3)

The photo above from the old layout shows the IC crossing.  On the far side of the tower is a siding which includes the transfer track.  On the new, smaller layout the transfer track will appear near the coal bin at right, curving right towards the backdrop.  The track at left is the spur to Carstens, a building/supply/coal/lumber customer.

Another note. My son Jacob, 14, is a great guy but he is not interested in modeling. He’s a car guy.  So last week I mentioned to him that I was going to rebuild Ackley in the smaller space, and he said “That’s great–I think the whole Ackley thing is cool.”

No more justification needed.  Ackley it is.

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