CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Friday, July 20, 2018

FRED for my MMR

Blink On! Blink Off!
The requirements for the Model Railroader Engineer - Electrical certificate can be found here. In addition to wiring my layout, I had to build a couple of electrical projects. The NMRA gives some examples of projects and there are others that can be done, so I purchased a couple of old Electrical Project books on Ebay and flipped through for something interesting. Most were either too advanced for me, or required circuits that were severely outdated, but an article in the February 1990 Model Railroader magazine seemed simple enough and fun. It was to build an end-of-train device (also referred to as "FREDs" for Flashing Rear End Device. Essentially, it is a blinking LED circuit.

I built one of these as a kid from a different article in MR, and it ran off of a 9 volt battery. A friend helped me build it, and I remember it has a potentiometer which allowed you to adjust the rate of the blinking. I wanted to do it again but couldn't find the article, and a call for help on the MR online forum didn't produce the article. If you know what article it was, please let me know. So, I went with a different design using a LM 3909 circuit chip. They are not manufactured anymore in the USA, but I found a couple on Ebay for $3 each and bought them from China. Very cheap, but shipping took a month and a half.

While reviewing the circuit diagram I found an error in the MR article. The diagram showing the LED has the polarity (+ and -) notations correct but the length of the anode and cathode reversed. Trust the polarity as indicated and not the length of the LED prongs. I used a small project board to make everything cleaner and mounted it all in a boxcar that I had lying around. I cut a gap in the bottom of the boxcar for the circuit to stick out from, as I didn't want to have it permanently mounted to the boxcar's body should I need to get inside. It isn't a perfect scale model of a EOD, but it does demonstrate my electrical abilities. I love cabooses but I may actually purchase a D&H decorated boxcar to use for times when I want to ... shudder... model a period train when cabooses weren't used anymore.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

DCC at last!

I have finally moved into the 21st century! And it took a while. I just bought the NCE Power Cab DCC system, and installation was as easy as can be. I am quite content to let a train run round and round and for that any DC system would have worked. But, add multiple trains... some of which won't be going round round... and a few sound decoders and things start to get complicated. DCC was inevitable.

This NCE system isn't the first DCC system I have owned, or even the second. It is the fourth! I started out back in 2002 with an Atlas Master DCC system that was as basic as you could get. It even looked like a regular train set power pack. For my small switching layout and two DCC-equipped engines it was perfect. But, I wanted something with more functions so I upgraded to a Digitrax "Chief" starter set, which I don't think is made anymore. However, once I took a look at the Digitrax controller with its millions of buttons I put it back in the box and eventually sold it without really using it. Lots of people swear by Digitrax (and some at them), so it clearly was just me. But, I didn't like it.

My local train club (RITMRC) at the time converted from DC to DCC and naturally chose NCE because the club was based in Rochester and so was NCE. They were really great to us. I remember having an engine (an Atlas AEM-7) that required a special, compact decoder and taking it to NCE and the owner Jim took me on a tour and we picked out the right decoder from bins and bins of them and he installed it himself. NCE had lots of buttons too but they were laid out better, were larger, and the display screen was clear and large. But, then I moved and I didn't need a system so I didn't think much of it until I built a small N scale layout. I wanted to use DCC so I picked up a cheap Bachmann EZ-Command system. Talk about simple! But, it worked.

Well, now I need one because I want to run sound equipped engines and get the most of their features. So, I turned to NCE again and finally bought their starter set. Installation took about 10 minutes, though I haven't read their full manual yet. It looks pretty well laid out though, which is encouraging to a non-tech guy like me. I still plan to have a DC track powered option too, but for most days this NCE system will be perfect.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wiring the Tortoise switch machines

Each switch machine needs a toggle switch to control the points, and I have seen them done in various ways. Having them protrude from the fascia is just asking for trouble, and making special bump-out protectors looks clunky. I wanted something low profile. I found a vendor selling DPDT, on/on (no center off) rocker switches on EBay for about $1.25 each. They are round, so installation is as simple as drilling a 5/8" mounting hole. And, I can orient them so that the little white dot on the switch indicates the primary flow of traffic through the switch, giving an easy visual cue as to whether the switch is set correctly. Finding a source for them took some doing, and I ordered a bunch in case I can't get them in the future.

The toggle switches were pre-wired at my workbench while I was sitting down and listening to music. Otherwise, it would get very tedious (it still was). For my ten switches I needed to make 70 total solder joints. And, I had to be neat because the wiring has to slip through a 5/8" hole from the front instead of back-loading as with typical toggle switches. Some of the solder joints for the criss-crossed wires looked a little too close for comfort, so I tried something new and used liquid electrical tape. It stinks, it is thin, it drips everywhere, but it peels off cleanly once cured. I did two coats as recommended in the instructions. I also twisted the wires for neatness. Each switch has two feet of wire... surely excessive... but a much better alternative to splicing longer wires on later.

To keep everything consistent and avoid screwups, I drew up exactly how I wanted the Tortoise machines wired and then printed it out and laminated it. (Side note: once you own a laminating machine, you will use it for so many things!). Though I could wire the machines directly to the bus wires, installing an intermediary terminal strip is a good idea should you need to remove a Tortoise for maintenance (or, as it turns out, if you need to replace a switch itself... grrr). Another option is edge connectors, but they are expensive.

I also ordered some of the "European" style barrier strips, which perform the same function as a terminal strip but are much easier to use. You just stick the wire in and tighten the screw. Sometimes I found that the wire wouldn't get caught by the screw and would pull out after I tightened it up, or the wire would go too far into the terminal and the screw would clamp down on the insulation part. Occasionally, the metal insert would become dislodged inside and the only way I could manage to get it in the right place again was to remove the barrier strip from the benchwork. However, they were indeed much easier then bending each wire around a screw while upside down.

However, they also essentially double the amount of wires necessary for each switch machine. If I didn't power the frogs, I think I would only need two wires going to the Tortoise. However, because I am powering them I needed an additional 6 wires. And, since the barrier strip was already in place I ran the power bus wires through it too for a total of 14 wires. Suddenly, my layout's neat underside has become a mess or wires. I plan to purchase a wire stapler to keep them organized, as the regular staple gun I have sometimes compresses the wires too much.

That being said, it wasn't a difficult job to wire up. I designed the layout sections to easily be disconnected and flipped on their side for wiring. While that is probably still true, I haven't done it because I am happy with how everything is aligned and don't want to ruin it. Unfortunately, the layout height is just perfect underneath so that I cannot sit on a chair (I hit my head) or lie on my back (too far away). I must hunch over. So, I do a couple of wires at a time and take a break to do something more interesting. To those who solder wires under the layout in situ, my respect to you!

I think toggle switches look better when they are recessed in the fascia. So, even though my rocker toggles don't extend very far out I cut a 1.5" hole where I wanted each switch. I couldn't always get them lined up exactly where the track switch was (because of the benchwork braces or it was too close to the end of the section) but it is quite obvious which toggle controls which switch. Then, the holes were sanded and given several coats of a dark green paint. No, it doesn't look perfect but this isn't the finished fascia either. Once my scenery is in I will cut masonite into strips and attach them to the benchwork edge. For right now, this is temporary. And, eventually something will conceal the bare pine benchwork.

Next, I used some 3/16" plywood squares (which I bought on Ebay because I don't have a table saw) and drilled a 11/16" hole in the middle with my drill press. After painting them green and gluing them to the backside of the benchwork, the toggle switches slipped in from the front and they were then connected to the terminal barrier strips. I made sure the little white pip was pointed the way I wanted it. Then, each toggle was tested to make sure it threw the track switch the correct way. Once that was done, I did one more test to make sure the frog of each switch was powered with the correct polarity in related to the position of the point wires. Amazingly, not a single frog was wired backwards!

Phew, it was a lot of work. More than once through the project I thought about gutting it all and using ground throws and unpowered frogs. That would reduce the amount of wire tremendously (and I plan to do this with my last side, the staging yard). But, I am happy with the results and it is pretty neat to flip the toggle switch and see the track points change.

To fully check everything on the layout was wired correctly, I took my newly acquired Boston & Maine RDC out for a spin. For the most part it operated fine, and I am happy to be finished with this wiring!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy Fourth of July

What's special about this picture? I doubt you can guess. It is dated 7/04/2010. Yup, on our nation's birthday eight years ago I shot this picture. My wife was out of town visiting her family, and I was by myself. It was a scorcher, much like today, in the mid-ninties. However, I was firmly convinced I wanted to model the D&H so out I went with a camera, a map, a pad of paper, and a measuring stick to document every building in the area. I thought I was insane, but I am glad I did. Things are always changing.

The area to the left of the train in my picture originally had a factory on it in the 1980s but now it is just a grassy spot. The cream colored building behind the train was a millwork place in the 1980s, and if you look at my last post you can see it in the pictures. It is the bright red and yellow building in the distance on the left. Recently, a gas company has bought it and renovated it quite nicely. It looks a lot different from this 2010 shot. C.P. also extended the double track from Kenwood Yard to just south of here in 2013ish.

Eight years! My how the time does fly.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Track laying in North Albany Yard (Staging yard)

My conceptual goal for this section has been slowing evolving over the past 9 months. Where as once it was going to be a throwaway section, complete with some track work features (turntable, engine facilities) that were being installed solely for my NMRA certification, I have come to terms with the potential of this section. As I have described previously the yard located in North Albany (that is sadly completely gone now) that also served as a sorting area for at least half a dozen local industries. In 1984, much of the track still existed though within a year or two Guilford had removed nearly all of it.

March 28, 1984 (note Huck Finn's Warehouse on the left)
There is something terribly fascinating and depressing about seeing old, abandoned track. And, because it captures the mood of 1984 so well I plan to model it on my layout. However, like nearly everyone else, putting a yard (even a small one like this) would waste a lot of space if used solely for marshaling freight cars into trains. So, I am also focusing on the scenic potential of it.

Unfortunately, the yard is oriented west of the mainline which means on my layout that always has west in the back (and north to the right), the yard should be behind the main. That just isn't possible with my current arrangement. The yard will be extremely short (the entire section is only 4.5 feet long) and the yard ladder has to fit on it. So, it had to be selectively compressed. I started by laying down a layer of foam that I purchased at Hobby Lobby. I hate foam for this purpose as it is squishy and I fear the ballast/glue layer cracking while cleaning track, but this stuff is so thin that it should be okay. It is even thinner then N scale cork, so it really will allow the track to look buried in the weeds.

I went back and forth arranging the turnout ladder and to get the longest possible yard tracks they had to come off the main at an angle. But this didn't look like the prototype, so I made the first two tracks parallel (a layout planning no-no if ever there was one). I did leave space for a track between the yard and the mainline though, which I will model as roadbed and ties without rails in the process of being torn up. The closest yard track needs a switch coming off of it to go to the turntable and engine facilities. This is purely for my NMRA requirements, and once they are earned the switch will be removed. I may then add add a fourth yard track that is not connected but also just ties with rail torn up.

The turntable area was a tight fit and I needed three stall tracks for my certificate. If I were designing this layout section to be permanent, I would never have crammed it in this way. There were a lot of crazy elevation changes in this section, as the mainline uses 3/16" cork, the siding coming off transitions down to 1/8" n scale cork, and the turntable has a molded base of 1/4" for when HO cork roadbed use to be that thick. Shimming with card stock was required here and there, and my adhesive of choice now is Aleene's Tacky Glue (the stuff that comes in the gold bottle). I glued everything down except the turntable, which is screwed down. Since this is temporary I didn't go crazy with the glue.

The turntable is powered with the matching Atlas motor. I assumed that the motor would have a socket that fit over the shaft that comes up and is used for the hand crank but I was wrong. In fact, I had to read the instructions three times to fully understand what was going on. While skimming them I became concerned that I had bought a turntable which couldn't be powered and got upset. However, after reading the instructions I saw that you simply broke off a cover on the back of the turntable and the motor gearing meshed with that. A pretty snazzy set-up, Atlas. The whitish/clear gear behind the brass worm gear is part of the turntable itself.

And with that, track laying on my layout is complete. I still need to wire this last section up, and connect the ground throws for the three switches (no Tortoise machines here... and perhaps no powered frogs) but it is with sadness that I conclude laying track. However, I can't wait to start some scenery and ballasting!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Styrene organizer

I used to keep all my Evergreen styrene strips in their original bags, which was pretty sensible as it listed the dimensions of the strips as well as the product number. However, over the years I have acquired a lot of bags of styrene in various sizes and the process of finding what I needed became unmanageable. I came across an amazing solution while searching online, but it really was a bit too large for my needs. Some people like plastic PVC pipe cut down but that leads to a lot of wasted space. Plus, my organizer needs to be mobile so I can bring it to work sessions at friends' houses.

So, I went to Lowes and looked around, and then looked around some more. Here and there, pricing various wooden dowels and trim pieces and boards and pipes. The challenge was making it strong enough to withstand dropping a tool on it (which could happen) while not overbuilding it and causing the budget or space requirements to go up. This is what I came up with. It ain't pretty, but it works.

Most of the square dowels are 1/4" and though they aren't perfectly straight they work well enough. I used wood glue to attach them and put enough on to build up a fillet at the bottom to prevent thin styrene from getting jammed underneath. Occasionally I clamped one of the pieces down at the end but otherwise I just put weights on top and left it at that. If I really cared I could have used some small track nails to hold the dowels while the glue dried but I was afraid of them splitting. For my larger, odd shaped styrene I built an organizer with 1/4" x 1/2" window screen trim. I should have made the slots slightly over 1/2" wide.

The wooden slats across the top help keep the styrene from bouncing around (and out!) and are glued at every joint. Everything was given a spray of dark blue paint to make the styrene visually pop out. I thought I purchased flat blue but it turned out to be gloss, which is probably better because it is more durable in the long run.

Keeping track of what I have and where it is will be problematic. My temporary solution was to write down on an index card what is in every slot. I don't want to assign slots to certain sizes because if I need to move stuff around it will be a hassle. But, I also don't want to reach for my calipers every time I pull a piece. It is a work in progress.

I want to build a "Cradle" of sorts that is just little wider and deeper than the racks I built. That way, I can slide these in it and it will prevent them from shifting and sliding around. But do they work? Yes! I partially dumped one already and most of the stuff stayed in place. Yay!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Essex Steam Train

It has been awhile since I worked on my layout but I have still been busy. Two weeks ago, I was at the Adirondack Live Steamers (1/8 scale, 7.25" gauge) for their Spring Meet. I have been a member there for years and the weather was perfect. Last weekend, I went to visit my friend Joe and his 1" scale (4.75" gauge) steam railroad in his backyard. And this past weekend, I went to Essex to ride their steam train and river boat. And, in the background I have been scratchbuilding a caboose as part of my NMRA certification. So, a lot has been going on behind the scenes and I will probably discuss some of it in future posts.

Essex proved to be enjoyable even though the weather was lousy. It rained off and on all day, it was cold, and the boat was crowded. However, a bad day behind a steam locomotive is still better than pretty much anything else and I managed to get some pictures from the day. We rode the train as part of a group from our NMRA Hudson Berkshire Division, and we had half of a coach reserved to ourselves. The other half was reserved for a church group. Because the train is run as part of the state park system, everything was in excellent shape including the buildings, the outdoor displays, and of course the train equipment.

The railroad owns four different 80-ton, center cab switchers. I have an affinity for all centercab engines, in no small part because the Arcade and Attica Railroad owns four themselves (two 44-tonners, a 65-tonner, and an 80-tonner). Two of their engines were out when we were there, and one was connected to a lunch train they were running. Our train was next to it and we were able to look through the windows and see the linen and fine china settings, the flowers on the table, etc. It would be fun to do in the future with my wife, but alas it is two and a half hours away.

The river boat trip was a big disappointment for me, mostly because of the rain. However, my wife and I normally love open-air cars and despite the weather I think we would have enjoyed riding in the open-window coach. It looked to be a regular passenger car with some of the windows removed and security bars in place. Our group was 6 coaches back and traveling between the cars wasn't permitted, so we never got to go to the open car. Maybe that was a good thing, as there were some strange doings going on in there!

All in all, though, I had a good time. I had been let down a bit with the Railroad Museum of New England excursion a couple of weeks ago and had high hopes for this place. The train itself was wonderful (I wish all tourist trains had state funding to keep the track work and cars in tip-top shape) and the steam engine was pretty cool. Our train was nine cars long which seemed like a lot, but the sure footed consolidation handled it well in the rain. Though the trip was about 20 minutes each way (much too short in my opinion), it was an enjoyable way to spend an otherwise wet, gray, Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Guilford Passenger Trains

Updated: 6/28/2018

Eventually I want to model the Guilford Office Car Special ("OCS") train as it looked in 1984. There are several reasons why this is an interesting train. At 3-4 cars long it would fit nicely on my layout. It is a simple paint scheme (mostly just orange stripes) and wouldn't be hard to do. Motive power included high-nose Geeps in shiny paint, which would stand out from my rusty D&H engines. Also, I actually saw the modern incarnation of the train in 2007. I am still trying to collect information about suitable HO models for the passenger cars. I tried the Kalmbach Model Railroader forums and got nothing. So, I will try the blog community! 

October 1985
When it comes to modeling 1984, very few passenger trains ran on the Colonie Main. As near as I can tell, aside from an extremely rare Amtrak rerouting (which I am not sure ever occured) the only passenger cars to travel these tracks would have been inspection cars. But, the OCS train was also used for railfan specials all over the Guilford system, and it may have covered the Colonie Main line.

It was even on the cover of the June 1984 Railpace magazine as the chartered "Rumford Rocket." Over the past few years I have collected images of the OCS train that are scattered online or on slides, and I have a good grasp of what equipment was used in 1984. The best reference is a thread on railroad.net discussing the curren Pan Am's OCS train (of which some of the equipment dates back to the 1980s), though at 77 pages long it took a while to get through. Another thread about surviving MEC passenger equipment had some interesting information. However, there are still gaps when it comes to the train equipment and even a mystery passenger car, so I will need to keep digging. As I find more pictures or information about this train, I will update this page so that I can keep all of my research into one place.

October 1985
My current HO scale passenger car collection consists of various Amtrak Amfleet I and II coaches in Phase II and III paint schemes. I also have some old IHC heavyweight D&H passenger cars bought cheap for $8 each even though I knew that they weren't realistic. Walthers had announced in 2015 a short "D&H Fallen Flags" train but it was cancelled for lack of interest. I have never set out to actually acquire realistic models of D&H or Guilford passenger equipment, and don't really know where to start. Thankfully, I don't think most other people are fully knowledgable about the train either so I can get away with substitute cars until I find the right models.

Motive Power
October 1985
As for engines, pictures I have seen from 1983-1985 usually show Guilford (D&H/MEC) GP-7 #573, Guilford (MC) GP-38 #251, or Guilford (MC) GP-9 #470 pulling the train. Maybe they were equipped to provide power and heat for the coaches and/or they were the cleanest engines on the roster at the time. They always ran the train with two engines which would be entirely unnecessary from a horsepower standpoint for only a couple of coaches, and pictures show both engines either on one end or the other, not top and tail. I guess they always has passing sidings at their destinations.

September 1985
Engine #573 has a colorful past. Literally. In the early 1980s it was painted in MEC's historic green scheme with gold stripes. In July 1982 it was repainted in the maroon and yellow stripe scheme. By 1983 it was in Guilford gray and lettered Maine Central, but in early 1984 it was lettered D&H. By 1985, it was back to Maine Central lettering.

In 1996, a company called Mary Jayne's Railroad Specialties Inc. produced a post card of #573.
Here is the caption from the postcard: Maine Central GP7 Unit Number 573, still equipped with a steam boiler for Passenger Service and painted in the Guilford Transportation Industries colors, stands at the Rigby Engine Terminal in South Portland, Maine in early 1985. Eleven years later, in 1996, this Unit would be acquired by Conway Scenic Railroad and repainted in its original maroon and gold livery for service on the New Hampshire Tourist Road. 

Passenger Cars
Springfield Terminal #100 (Observation Car)
October 08, 2007
It was purchased by the D&H from the Norfolk & Western (N&W #102) in 1976. I haven't been able to find out the early history of the car, so I don't know if it was built for the N&W or another railroad. It originally had stainless steel fluting below the windows and it still had it in 1984, though it was subsequently removed.

Springfield Terminal #101 (Diner/Lounge), "North Point" 
October 08, 2007
It was built by the Pullman-Standard company for the Pere Marquette Railroad in 1946, but before it was delivered in 1950 the C&O which controlled the PM sold it to the D&RGW (D&RGW #1290). The D&RGW sold it to the D&H (D&H #43) in 1967. It also originally had stainless steel fluting below the windows and it still had it in 1984, though it also was subsequently removed.

Maine Central #390 
October 1985
It was built by the Pullman-Standard company for the Pennsylvania (Pennsy #4044). It was absorbed by the Penn Central (PC #4044) and later transferred to Amtrak (Amtrak #5444). I am not sure when the Maine Central (or possibly Guilford) acquired it. A great side shot from 1978 can be found online here.

Maine Central #391 (Food service)
There are conflicting references as to who built this car. One source says that it was built by Budd in 1939, but a different source says that it was built by Pullman-Standard in 1948 for NYC (NYC #3011). Regardless of who built it, it was renumbered (NYC #3211), then became PC (PC #3211), and finally was transferred to Amtrak (Amtrak #3951). I am not sure when the Maine Central (or possibly Guilford) acquired it. Side shot post Guilford at CPC RR Museum 

There are some excellent shots on rrpicturearchives of a fan special to North Conway, NH, in 1983 and Maine in 1984 that show the passenger cars even better. You will need to scroll down the links to see them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Visiting the Railroad Museum of New England

My birthday was recently and I did two fun train related things to celebrate. First and foremost, I had my mainline operational and a train running on that day. Second, though it occurred first, my wife and I went to a train museum and rode on its train. I try to do this every year around my birthday, which frequently falls on Memorial Day weekend. This year, we left New York and journeyed to Connecticut (a first for both of us) to explore the Railroad Museum of New England. I had first heard about this place at the Springfield Train Show (a good reason for museums to exhibit there), and the brochure looked compelling. It was only about 2 hours from our house.

It is located right off a busy road and underneath a bridge, which isn't exactly a photogenic location. I get that sometimes you have to accept what is offered to you, but it is hidden in a river valley and hard to see unless you know it is there. That being said, once we were parked and able to walk around it got more enjoyable. The first thing you see (at least if you don't drive off the bridge by mistake) is a large station and then some train equipment parked outside. They call it a museum but aside from some pictures and models inside it really isn't a museum. It doesn't seem laid out to educate the public on much. However, as a train buff I knew what I was looking at and that was okay.

Their are about a half-dozen outdoor pieces of equipment (engines, cabooses, boxcars, a crane, etc.) including a blue B&M boxcar that I really liked. I think the paint scheme is really sharp and am glad it fits in my modeling era. They own a lot of equipment, as during the train trip we passed at least two dozen more freight cars, coaches, and engines more cars in various stages of restoration/neglect. Admittedly, it was pretty depressing but it is a small museum in a bad location. With all that equipment, they should be in a larger area where it can be seen and appreciated more. Since only 6-8 pieces fit on the display track at the station, the conductor said that they occasionally swap out what is out there.

They also had a B&M milk car in their collection and when I looked at satellite pictures it was shown to be displayed at the station. Sadly, it was not. I asked the conductor who told me that it was moved to their maintenance area to allow the museum easier access to empty its contents. This was unfortunate because for my NMRA "Cars" certificate I wanted to scratchbuild a model of it. There are lots of online pictures, but I was hoping to get some myself. By luck I snapped this picture on the return trip and I couldn't believe I got the timing right. It looks pretty bad now, though I think it was restored and painted only about 15 years ago.

The website showed a train of vintage coaches pulled by an F-unit, and I was excited because I have never ridden behind one before. They also have RS-3 engines and some other vintage equipment shown on the web too. I was disappointed when our train pulled into the station. The ride was pulled by a modern diesel engine and consisted of a Budd RDC (which had air conditioning, no doubt the reason for its inclusion) and two antique coaches with open windows. We chose the later as we like the breeze. The cars definitely showed their nearly 100+ year age, but they were comfortable and when the train was moving it was nice and cool.

The 2:00 PM ride consisted of traveling south to Fascia's chocolate factory, getting off and laying over for about 25 minutes when they ran the engine around the train, then going north past the station to a large dam. Even though I ride trains a lot, I am always alarmed when the cars rock back and forth and this train sometimes moved at a good clip causing everything to shake. However, and at other times it was slow and serene. Due to a shortage of staff only one car had the conductor's commentary and after traveling the line I realize I would have liked to hear about the abandoned factories and stuff. Perhaps next time. 

All in all, it wasn't my favorite train ride or museum but they have a lot of great stuff. They certainly have too much interesting rolling stock and engines for the one short display track at the station. It would seem to be a mecca for New England rail buffs, but you can only glance at it while rolling by it. Too bad they aren't in a larger location so that they could feature more of it. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

First Mainline Train!

It's Alive! I have been making a big push over the past few weeks to get the layout operational, including installing the Tortoise machines, wiring them up, replacing the broken track switch, and inserting some track ties. As part of the track testing process, I used some Life Like passenger cars which aren't particularly good runners to check for bumps and bad joints. Years ago I also purchased a a cheap Life Like train set on Craigslist pulled by an F7 engine with one truck pick-up and the other truck powered. Between the engine and coaches I figured they would be an appropriate "worst case scenario" train to see how my main line performed.

So, with the Tortoise machines manually moved to the mainline direction, I turned the power pack. And my train ran! I guess I expected it to, but I didn't realize how cruddy the engine was. The frogs aren't fully powered yet so the speed had to be kept up, but the event still counted. My mainline is operational, and I imagine within a week or two I will have all the switch machines powered and the sidings can be activated. But, this was the first time I have been able to run an HO train on a continuous-loop layout in over a decade.


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Replacement Peco switch

Though the Peco Electrofrog switches don't look as nice as the M.E. ones, especially the point rails, they do seem to work better. In preparation for installation I first removed the over-center spring which holds the points one way or the other. It left an ugly gap in the tie, but once ballasted and weathered I hope it will disappear. Next, I made it "DCC compliant" or whatever they call it now by cutting one wire and soldering two more jumper wires, which essentially isolated the points from the frog and then tied each point to the adjacent stock rail. Lastly, even though their frogs already have a wire soldered to it, it was so super thin that I replaced it with my standard 20 gauge wire. The whole process wasn't very difficult thanks to the instructions on the package, and the electrical theory  described on Wiring For DCC.com

Then, I used my soldering iron to remove excess solder and the old rail joiners from where I had cut the switch out, and replaced the new switch in. Some trimming of the ties was necessary where they fouled adjacent track. I was surprised how much shorter the Peco #6 switch is compared to the M.E. #6, and some fitter pieces were necessary. Because of how I had to adjust it, a new 1/2" hole was required under the throw rod. Because the frog isn't insulated from the running rails, I had superglued thin pieces of styrene into the rail gaps at the ends. Once the glue cured, I removed any excess styrene in the flange area. They will all but disappear when the track is painted and ballasted.

Within an hour's worth of work the new switch was in place, and my layout was back in business!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Damaged Micro Engineering switch

I don't get it. Lots of people use Micro Engineering turnouts with fantastic results. They really look great with their small hinged points and lack of rivets. But, they are also extremely fragile. And sometimes warped and defective, though that in my limited experience is only with the code 83 RH switches. The code 83 LH and code 70 RH and LH seem to be fine. Wouldn't you know that the last switch I installed on my layout was a RH code 83 switch, and it seemed to have problems. The points don't like to switch back and forth, as if they are binding on something. And if you slide the throwbar slightly forward or back the the ends of the point rails fall out of the rail joiners that are acting as hinges. Very frustrating.

I installed the switch and mounted the Tortoise underneath it and it moved okay back and forth, but I could tell that the throwbar was binding. In trying to see what was causing the problem the throwbar fractured apart. In disgust, I took a picture and then ripped the whole thing out. Within 10 minutes I had a Peco code 83 RH switched ordered online and on its way to me. I am not sure if their #6 geometry is the exact same as the M.E. geometry so I might need to trim the ends differently or add some other pieces of track to make it fit. On the plus side, it took a lot of willing and stabbing with a putty knife but the Tortoise machine came off pretty off without damage.

I had hoped to have trains running by the end of May. The impact of this remains to be seen. Even more alarming, though, is that I might have this failure occur on my other M.E. switches. I don't plan to ballast my track until it has been extensively tested, at which time I might have to replace more of the switches. I wish now I had just gone with Peco. Everyone only has good things to say about them.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Installing Tortoise switch machines

I have been looking forward to this moment for a long time. For many years, I have wanted to own a layout with Tortoise switch machines. I have used Caboose Industries ground throws and Atlas switch machines on my previous layouts, but never Tortoises. Once, I even bought a case of them but abandoned the layout before they were installed. And to me, there is nothing as cool as flipping a toggle switch and having the points move seamlessly. Since I planned from the beginning on powering my frogs, having an easy way to control their polarity was a given. Tortoise machines have contacts for this, as well as additional ones for signalling or indicator lights. They are as bulletproof as it comes, and made in the USA too. While the current trend online is to use servo motors as a cheaper alternative, I am sticking with a proven commodity.

The sides of my benchwork are only 3.5" tall, and Tortoise machines hang 3.25" below the benchwork, so there is a chance that the wires will extend below the benchwork and potentially get snagged. Ron St. Laurent wrote an article in the June 2017 Model Railroader magazine titled "Mount a switch motor horizontally" and when I read it I thought it was a great idea. I bought a Tortoise to experiment with and it does work well (outside the box in the picture at right). However, for now I am just going to mount them vertically as normal. I substituted thicker 0.0312" (1/32) wire that I had on hand for the stock (0.022") wire.

I have learned to tolerate soldering, which is a different perspective from a year ago. Still, each switch machine installation will require 11 different solder connections to be made and I wanted to batch do them for consistency so I drew up a sketch and then laminated it and mounted it on my workbench. Then, wires of the various colors were cut to the length of 12" (probably too long, but cutting them shorter and splicing would be far worse) and the ends were stripped and bent over. I found that the 20 gauge solid wire I used fit perfectly in the holes drilled in the circuit boards on the motors. I soldered the wires hanging down, but I probably should have had them sticking straight out. Oh well. I soldered 50 wires and at least nothing went wrong.

Because installing them can be difficult, I had purchased a tool to aid in their installation and alignment which I was so excited about that I wrote about it here. Unfortunately, because I later planned to install them horizontally I forgot about it. It would have been handy!

To make installation, wiring, and any future maintenance easier, I ran the wires from the DCC bus line, the switch frog, and the power source first to some barrier screw terminal blocks I bought online and cut down to size. All soldering was done at my workbench and I only had to crawl underneath the layout to hook it all up. However, the switch machines still had to be located and then screwed down. Having never done this before, I did what any reasonable person would do... I called my wife for help. I applied a dab of silicon caulk on the top of the switch machine and then I blindly extended it up with control wire through the switch throwbar hole. My wife helped guide me in because I couldn't see where the wire was popping up from beneath the track, and then I moved the wire back and forth until I was happy with the Tortoise's location.

For the remaining 9 motors, I got directly under the hole in the benchwork and eyeballed myself the throw wire into the throwbar hole. Then, I came out from underneath and used my hand to slide the Tortoise forward, back, or side to side until the wire was centered. Note to self: in the future, if you only drill a 3/8" diameter hole make sure the turnout throwbar hole is exactly in the center of it. I made sure that the throwbar was over the hole but sometimes it was close to the edge. Thankfully, the motor is strong enough (and the thicker wire certainly helps) to do its job but for a couple I used an Xacto knife to trim some plywood splinters away from underneath the layout. Finally, I kept my fingers crossed and let the caulk cure for all of them. Some people use velcro or double-sided tape to temporarily hold them, but caulk is easy to peel off if I screw it up.

The next day I used a train set power pack to test each motor, touching the solder pads of Pins #1 and #8 on the Tortoise machines. Each one threw back and forth just fine, and the points were held tight to the stock rails in both directions. It was very reassuring. The caulk is pretty strong and I had a tough time moving the motor when I checked them out, but I may go back and secure them with some screws.

Based on some recommendations online, including Lance Mindheim, I purchased a Parts Express regulated 3-12vDC power supply. It was under $20 online and that seemed like a good price to me. Sure, you can purchase some wall warts and wire them up but I don't mind paying a little bit more for a quality unit that will last for a long time. Tortoise machines don't require the full 12 volts that they are capable of handling, so I will set mine to 9v and let it do its thing a little bit slower.

That hurdle is now over. But, the control wires are sticking up through the track so I still cannot run trains yet. And, I need to install the fascia toggle switches to control them.