The Comley Incline

[From the May-June 2000 issue of 'Trolley Fare', with permission of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, Washington, PA.]

A scale-model railroad layout becomes something special when a "scratch-built" cable-hauled incline is added. Walt Niehoff's N-scale Mauch Chunk Switch-Back Railroad at the historical museum in Jim Thorpe, PA, has long been a well-known example.

The latest one is quite unusual, and its operation has been proudly demonstrated by its creator/builder, Bill Comley, who is also a qualified motorman at the Arden Trolley Museum and was an equally proud father-of-the-bride in an unusual ceremony in the New Orleans "Streetcar Named Desire", No. 832 (photo on p. 14 of the July-Aug. '99 "Trolley Fare").

Like many exhibit models, this one is designed to be portable as a "module" which can be run stand-alone or easily connected to demonstration layouts. Its primary home will be the HO-scale (0.115 x) layout on the second floor of the former New York Central Hyde Park, NY station, which served its last passenger in 1958 and has been beautifully restored by the Hudson Valley Railroad Society (Bill was its original organizer and president for many years).

What makes this model unique is that it is designed to carry an operating trolley car between two levels on a cable-hauled platform car running on inclined rails, Cincinnati-style. And operation is fully automated, with the incline coming to meet the trolley if necessary, the trolley running onto the platform, a climb or descent, and the trolley proceeding on its journey. All at scale-model speeds.

Bill worked for IBM for many years, and put his experience to good use in automating this simulation. Actually there are two counter-balancing cars on parallel tracks, but only one has imbedded rails and an overhead trolley wire. Bill used Cincinnati's Mt. Adams Incline as a rough prototype for this side; the other side has a simple open platform car for non-railed vehicles, like Cincinnati's Price Hill vehicular incline. Complete with painted lead horses for pulling freight wagons to counter-balance the trolley and its passengers!

Bill describes it further: "The incline raises the trolley 28 HO-feet on a 25% grade (14 degrees). The trackage leading away from both top and bottom "docks" is regular pre-fab HO track, as is the inclined trackage under the platform cars. The platforms on both cars are 63 HO-feet long.

"On the platform car for the trolley, matchsticks were used for the ties, with the rails spiked to them. The base was made from bass-wood. Its two six-wheel trucks were originally under an HO-scale railroad passenger coach.

"The super-structure holding the trolley wire is made from brass and screwed to the wood base. While in either station, power to the track and overhead on this car comes through brass clips on the trucks that align with springs projecting from the docking platforms. Wires within the car connect the clips to its track and overhead. The clips also precisely align the incline tracks with the connecting layout tracks, and with the mating trolley-wire "pans".

"The other car has brass safety railings, and rides on two four-wheel HO-scale trucks. Plans are to widen both platform cars for better lateral stability (more like the prototypes), including their underframes, trucks, and inclined tracks.

"Power to move the incline comes from a 0-24 volt d-c motor with reduction gears, driving a pulley. Both are under the incline itself, so that operation is unaffected when the incline is removed from its parent layout. Black string is used as the cable, ending with brass hooks, so that the platform cars can be easily taken off for transporting.

"At the top of each of the incline tracks are individual micro-switches to stop the drive motor when travel is complete. One of the cars has a turnbuckle for cable-length fine-tuning. However, there is purposely enough slack to allow the down-bound car to reach the bottom before the other trips its micro-switch at the top."

WEBMASTER'S NOTE: Bill Comley was awarded distinction as the Hudson Valley Railroad Society's 2002 'Member of the Year' for his many years of contribution.

The Hyde Park Station, 34 River Road, Hyde Park NY 12538