Rebuilding the Timesaver on the KVRwy

"Rebuilding the Timesaver on the KVRwy"


For years, I’ve been a member and worked with the Gateway Garden Railroad Club’s modular layout.  This layout is basically a set of double loops occupying a donut of  53 feet by 24 feet with a cross over between the two loops and a set of passing sidings on one long side and then a freight yard (FY) at one end.  There is also a large fiddle/storage yard inside with a turntable that connects to both tracks.  The whole layout is getting old, with most of it having been built around 1995.  One of the biggest problem is the original construction was with small LGB turnouts.  Over time some of these have been upgraded and some haven’t.  However, the biggest problem is the assembly of the entire modular layout.  It takes about 4 to 6 people to assemble each module.  At around 28 modules, this takes a lot of time and requires, at least one person to be under the layout.  For the last 10 years, many times  that has been me.  Each year it gets harder to do.  Though the club has grown, there are more older than younger members that join.  So a committee has taken on the project of upgrading the layout.  The committee has spent a lot of time talking, but little time upgrading, correcting or resolving any of the problems.  Part of the problem is that nobody really wants to take the first step.  So what I proposed to do is recreate the GGRC Freight Yard (FY) in a more adaptable fashion of John Allen’s “Timesaver” (TS) as an example.  This is going to be documented here with the many notes of the changes.  This makes the FY/TS capable of being used independently at train shows, where the entire club layout is not setup and make it also capable of independent storage and transportation to and from the KVRwy, our personal layout, and replace the “Timesaver”(TS) currently located there.  It is also hoped that it can be used as an example and test platform for changes and upgrades to the club modules.

Rebuilding the “Timesaver”

What is the “Timesaver” and who is/was John Allen?

Who was John Allen? 
John Allen a well known HO model railroader in the 1960’s and 70’s designed and built the well published Gore and Daphetid Railroad.  He also built a switching puzzle called “the Timesaver” that has been modeled in all scales and even found represented in the 1:1 switching yards. 

There is a large following of John Allen’s work and he has almost become a cult figure as people look for every detail of his railroad, life and puzzle.  A “Google” search will provide many hours of reading.

Timesaver – What is it?

John Allen’s “Timesaver” was very specific in his HO puzzle.  It was used as a means of competition after his “Ops Sessions”.  The participants would compete against each other by the number of moves or the amount of time needed to complete the puzzle.  But they soon wanted more, so they built two puzzles, so people could compete against each other and then even worked together as a team exchanging cars from one puzzle to the other, if the two puzzles were connected together.

The basic premise of the puzzle is to exchange like pieces of rolling stock for different pieces of similar rolling stock. Though many people like to play the game against time or the number of moves it takes to complete the task.  When the Kaskaskia Valley Railway version of the puzzle is played at train shows or as part of an operating session, our only goal is to complete the puzzle and have fun.         

As stated earlier, the “Timesaver” has been created in many scales and on many gauges of track.  It is believed that the puzzle track plan can be considered a “Timesaver Puzzle” if it has some specific elements and must be specific to a certain era of equipment.  40 foot rolling stock and a small switch engine would make a considerably different dimensioned puzzle than a modern road diesel engine and 80 foot auto racks, but they both could be considered “Timesaver” puzzles.

Other elements include a yard lead that will hold an engine and a designated number of pieces of rolling stock.  For the KV Rwy, this is limited to an engine and 3 freight cars.  The tracks of the sidings are a limited track length, so only a piece of rolling stock, a couple of pieces of rolling stock or a piece of rolling stock and an engine will fit between a turnout and the end of track.  The runaround should hold two pieces of the designated length of rolling stock.   

So if the puzzle consists of a yard lead, a couple of trailing point turnouts, a run around and a facing point turnout the puzzle is complete, no matter what the actual track configuration.  Why in the world would you want to rebuild a perfectly good puzzle and module?

Well, it’s about 6 to 8 years old, has been well traveled and needs upgrading.  It was originally designed to just fit in a 1997 GMC Safari Van and be used at the East Coast Large Scale Train Show.  The old dimensions are 30 ½ “ x  156 “ assembled and 30 ½” x 78” for travel.  That van was sold a long time ago and though the puzzle is now carried in a 2004 GMC with plenty of room, I would like it to be more versatile for traveling.  Besides I’m older and if there were 4 smaller modules instead of 2 large ones, I could handle them easier.   A number of the turnouts need to be reworked for better electrical connection when running track power.  There is a desire for a better connection between the modules and also, the replacement of LGB track expanders to the solid connection of rail clamps.   Besides that there is a current desire to incorporate the puzzle into a new switch yard on the Gateway Garden Railroad Club (GGRC) modular layout.  The switch yard on the club’s layout is wearing out and needs to be upgraded to larger size turnouts for the continuously larger equipment.  The club also has a need to upgrade the modules, try some new ideas and these new modules can be a trial and error platform, plus a place to perform other module experiments.

New modules, size, weight and purpose.

For the first 2 years of the KVRwy’s “Timesaver” existence, it was only used at train shows and hung on the wall in our garage the rest of the time.  After that, a desire developed to incorporate it into the Southern Division (the basement) portion of the KVRwy.  This involved quite a bit of work, since a switchback and a shadow box had to be developed to get to the area where there was room for the Timesaver.  Tools were moved, bench work was built and the approach was developed.  As it became a more traditional portion of the layout, ballast and detail were increased.  Each detail added poundage and time past and the weight of the “Timesaver” modules increased.  It now takes more effort for me to get them out of the basement into the van and hauled to a train show.

So, I've explained the reasons for the remake or at least the justification.  Next comes the requirements for the remake.

What is required for the “Timesaver” to standalone?
What is required for the “Timesaver” to be part of the KVRwy?
What is required for the “Timesaver” to be part of the GGRC modular layout?     


So here are the concerns - 

The GGRC layout is stored in the club’s trailer and is inaccessible for individuals to work on their modules, unless they take the module home between shows.  The current design of the club modules works best when all the modules are hooked together, otherwise it is not very stable.   

The wood frames of the modules and legs are drying out and becoming brittle in the hot storage trailer.  The associated electrical wiring needs replacement or heavy maintenance.

The club’s trailer is 11,800 lbs. and the individual that owns the truck that has been used to pull this trailer wants to sell the truck.   It takes a 1 ton trailer to pull the trailer comfortably, however it can be dragged a short distances with ¾ ton truck.

The club modules do not stand independently and must have other modules hooked together to stand up.  The new modules would take different legs or be sat on a table to be used independently.

The current Freight Yard (FY) is located at one end of the GGRC modules and has 4 out of 5 of the sidings with tight radius LGB 1200 turnouts.

In the last 5 years this Freight Yard (FY) has had the lead in turnout changed to a wider radius 1600 LGB turnout, but all the turnouts in the Freight Yard (FY) are still 1200’s.  It also drops down almost an inch from the mainline trackage.

As I said, nobody has seemed to want to continue after the first step of upgrading to the larger main turnout.  It would take a lot of modifications to allow the adaptation of the larger turnouts to the existing Freight Yard (FY).

So a number of possible solutions or upgrades of the Freight Yard (FY) have been pursued.   

For my own layout, one of things I’ve wanted to do is create modules that are only 4 feet long at the longest and be capable of being stored one on top of the other, with one of the two modules being placed upside down in the transportation storage mode.

The 4 foot long dimension is for two purposes.  First desire is the ability to fit the modules in a full size vehicle, 4 feet across and the ability to get two modules out of one 4 x 8 sheet of plywood. Plus reduce the weight of each individual module for transportation.

Currently the club’s layout Freight Yard (FY) is 3 modules basically 30 inches by 48 inches.  The total dimensions are 30 inches by 12 feet.  Stability is achieved by hooking all modules together and then hooking that to main modules.  The problem is that the current “TS” is 13 feet long and the current “FY” is only 12 feet long.

I’ve changed the legs to electrical conduit pipes that screw on and I can set up by myself.  This looks workable, but is still in the verification stage.   The conduit is cut to the correct length with a screw on male fitting attached to one end.  The fitting it screws into is a female fitting of the same size, attached to the club’s modules on the under side of the module deck, being held in place with two wall board screws in an area of the female fitting that will not be impacted by the threads.  The threads allow minor adjustment for leveling.

What I’m proposing is to rebuild the “Timesaver” (TS) to replace the Freight Yard (FY).  The TS is 13 feet by 30.5 inches.  The space of the FY can be extended without problems by another 4 feet and still stay within the total dimensions of the layout.

Here is the objective.

The current TS of the KVRwy is beginning to show age.  Turnouts need to be pulled and have electrical jumper wires added for positive electricity to all parts of the turnouts.

The TS is getting awkward for me to carry.  Can I get it up and down the stairs by myself over the next 10 to 15 years is becoming a question.

It would be nice for the TS to fit in a smaller vehicle.

A problem exists that the TS has its entrance from the south side and the FY has its entrance from the north side.

My original premise was to add another module to the existing GGRC FY and use the wider radius turnouts of the KVRwy TS.

I eventually decided it would be easier to rebuild the FY from scratch using plywood instead of 1 x 3 solid wood construction. 

The basic premises of the John Allen switching puzzle called the “Timesaver” is a short freight train of an engine and 3 cars comes to a switch yard made up of a “run-around” track holding 2 cars. 2 trailing point sidings holding 2 cars on 1 and 1 car on the other.  And then a leading point siding holding 1 car.  The “switch lead” track holds 3 cars and the engine.  All switch leads only hold 1 car and 1 engine or just one car.  The size of the sidings is dictated by the size of the equipment.  The use of a modern engine and long auto racks would certainly be bigger than the trackage needed for 40 freight cars of the 1930’s through 1960’s.

So the over all idea is to recreate the TS so it will fit on the KVRwy in the space of 13 feet by 30.5 inches.  Have it flexible enough to fit on the GGRC and replace the current FY.  Also have it functional enough that it can be free standing to work trains show like the ECLSTS independently.

Electrical wiring for the TS.

When the Timesaver is operating independently, there needs to be good electrical continuity between all tracks and all turnout rails.  This is one of the initial reasons for rebuilding the “Timesaver”, because the turnouts had developed a couple of dead spots and needed to be pulled out of the ballast to have jumpers connecting the moving parts to the proper rails.  The old “Timesaver” had a piece of isolated track at the end of one of the sidings.  This was found to be not necessary and will be eliminated in the new puzzle.

Electrical wiring for the GGRC.

When the Timesaver is operated as part of the GGRC Modular Layout, tracks need to have power from both an independent power pack and also from the club's main throttles.  Blocks also need to be isolated to allow track powered engines to sit on the tracks and have the electricity isolated as club members will use some of the trakcs to store trains.

Electrical wiring for the KVRwy.

When hooked to the KVRwy, the "Timesaver Industrial Yard" at J. Allen is blocked seperate from the rest of the KVRwy, except for the "Shadow Box" switchback area.  No other seperate power or blocking will be needed for the trackage.

This Article is "a work in progress", just like my wife calls me.  The progress on the "Timesaver" is also "a work in progress" and since my back is sore from relaying track and soldering jumpers on all the turnouts, I've taken a break to get this started in print.  Please tolerate my ramblings, its just as confusing between my ears.

Last edited by Ric Golding (July 4, 2008)



There is a deadline for this.  It is the MIdwest Large Scale Train Show in Springfield, Illinois in October.  THe Gateway Garden Railroad Club has agreed to particpate and I've got to have the presentable.  3 more turnouts to wire and about 2 legs of the yard.  Then I can start on the 5th Module which is the connection to the GGRC Modular layout.  All total it will be 16 feet long, where the old one was 13 feet.  It is about 1/2 inch narrower and, of course, considerably lighter.  At least each piece is. ;-)

Sorry about the poor posting and not being able to respond to people trying to help get past my picture posting problem.  Busy time of year, water quite high and lots of business occupying some of my time.

Here is what the "Timesaver" used to look like installed on the KVRwy in the basement


Here is what it looked like set up in our garage independently, back when it was young.


Last edited by Ric Golding (June 17, 2008 07:33:02 MST)

The basic new module structures are made of 1/2 inch plywood.  Simple box structure, 3 of them are 48 inches long by 30 inches wide.  The under structure side frames are 2 1/2 inches in width.

The unit shown is the transition module that will be used with the GGRC Modular layout.  There is also one module that is only 12 inches wide to allow for the 13 foot long modular layout while standing independent or in use with the KVRwy.

The underside of the module.

The modules are held together with "Tight Bond II" glue and staples applied with an air stapler.  Makes for quick assembly.  A quick coat of oiil based primer on all sides seals the wood from the moister that will come with the ballasting and provides a long life of limited to no warpage.

All the modules were test fitted before setting up on the already installed KVRwy benchwork.



Last edited by Ric Golding (June 17, 2008 07:48:45 MST)

"Salvaging Track and Turnouts from the Old Timesaver" 

The next step was to remove the turnouts and track from the old TS modules.  The best solution I found was just to pull the nails, resoak the ballast with "wet water" (water in a spray bottle with a couple of drops of liquid soap) and the scrape the ballast out with a wood chisel.

The turnouts and track were then all soaked for awhile immersed in water and the excess ballast scrapped off.  This turned out very successful and no trackage was lost.  I even saved most of tha ballast mixture, well I had to put it in something so old coffee cans seemed the best containers.  I'll see if it can be reused in indoor scenery somewhere.


Last edited by Ric Golding (June 17, 2008 07:57:55 MST)

"Upgrading the Turnouts"

The reason I tore apart the old Timesaver and actually what was the catalyst for the build of the new TS was dead spots in the turnouts.  You sure don't want to have a problem in the middle of a train show, besides stuff like that bugs me.

So as the turnouts were removed from the old TS and before the were reinstalled a little additional wiring was added.

This is the before -

This is after -

This is also why most of my outside track is run with batteries and r/c. ;-)


"The New Track Plan"  

 The debut of the new trackplan for the TS -

Once again the old plan -

Notice, we now have 2 run arounds.  In fact when hooked to the GGRC layout there will actually be 3, if you foul the main for a few minutes.

The left -

The middle -

The right -

and the connection to the KVRwy is complete.  Still working on the 3 foot module for the connection to the GGRC.


Last edited by Ric Golding (June 17, 2008 09:02:18 MST)


Here are the modules up on its legs in the garage.  It is ready to be attached to Dave Miller's Module of the Gateway Garden Railroad Club's Modular Layout.

A couple of pictures of the modules together, I apologize for the quality it has been difficult to get good shots in the garage.

From above and with the garage door closed to offset some of the glair.  The Modules are 16 feet long and 30 inches wide.

Buildings in place and track work checked out.

Notice the roof off the second freight shed.

Here is how the controls for the track powered blocks will be handled when the modules are hooked to the GGRC's modular layout.


The electrical wiring is only for the club layout.  It probably won't be used when the modules are independent, and will not be used when it is hooked to the KVRwy because the transition module is not included.  To provide the alternate electrical paths to the different tracks, a wiring chase was created through the modules.

And here it is with the harness run through it.


The control panel can be hidden by the roof of the building.

Here is a picture from the club module to the yard.

And the deserted yard with equipment ready to be put into use when the yard opens at the Midwest Large Scale Train Show in Springfield, Illinois on October 3, 2008.



The Midwest Large Scale Train Show in Springfield, Illinois has come and gone.  My goal for the switchyard was successful, I guess.  I've got some things to update, but that is the fun of this hobby.  Here are some pictures of the new and improved "Timesaver" switchyard at J. Allen, as it is connected to the Gateway Garden Railroad Club Modular Layout.  One of the 3 ways this trackage can be used and the major reason for all the work.

This is how the switchyard looks from it's connection to the left side of the end of the club's layout.

This is the switchyard from the right side of the end of the club's modular layout. 

The overall size of the GGRC modular layout is 26' x 53'.

Here is another overall view of the "Timesaver" switchyard.

Of course, this is not the end.  There are many small items to "blend" the modules together.

A road off of Andy C's quarry module is now becoming a "Team Track Loading Dock".  The mainlines will have to be blocked, while this team track is used.  Operationally, a challenge.  The green of the wall was painted a concrete color after the picture was taken, but I guess I didn't get another picture.

There was a road coming on to the switchyard layout, but it went nowhere.

And you can see the dirt road created afterwards.

Here is another picture from the layout mainline as trains approach from the right.

A couple of holes were drilled to allow "blue flags" to be inserted to hold the caboose on the incline entering the switchyard.

And then there were the incidents that caused another "blue flag" hole to be established.  This had to be established because I backed the track powered Heisler to close to the mainline and the mainline powered pack took over and off it went down the outside main.  And then there was the incident of my grandson Luke trying his 4 year old hand at the throttle, but getting fascinated by the crack "Panama Limited" going by.  Luke forgot he was controlling the throttle and ran the Heisler into the side of another club member's train.  I'm sure there will be an investigation and probably negative press in the club newspaper.  ;-)



Here are a couple of pictures of the "Timesaver" switchyard being setup at J. Allen in our basement on the KVRwy, after coming back from the MWLSTS. 

This is how the modules look when being unpacked.  For transporting the modules, the pieces are held together with wall board screws.

This is how they look being placed on the benchwork.

So with the East Coast Large Scale Train Show - 2009 now in the past, I think we can call the completion of the rebuilding of the "Timesaver" done. 

The final version of the trilogy of "Timesaver" puzzles is complete and has been tested at the East Coast Large Scale Train Show.  It uses the same side of the modules as the front when the modules are setup on the basement portion of the KVRwy. 

And connects to the "Inglenook Puzzle", which is "Helper Siding" on the KVRwy.

The transition module is used, along with both turnouts from the other two renditions of the puzzle.

This overhead picture shows the extra siding that has been added as a "Team Track" on the "transition module".

This completes the article about rebuilding my "Timesaver" Switching Puzzle.  I appreciate all the support and comments.  

If you have any questions, you can reach me at -

[email protected]




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