CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

D&H Geep #573

For much of its early diesel years, the D&H was an all Alco railroad. There was good reason for this, as Alco was a customer and any maintenance questions could easily be resolved with a call or a quick drive over to Schenectady. It was awhile before they started buying EMDs, but even then it was just a trio of SD45 engines. They weren't popular, perhaps because they were the odd step-children of the roster, and were later transferred to the Erie Lackawanna (during a period of mutual control by the N&W). Later GP38-2s and GP39-2s came during the early 1970s. However, the D&H never owned any first generation EMD units like Geep 7/9s or F units. Or did they? 

I suppose it depends on how you define "D&H" but when Guilford bought it and swapped engines on the three railroad's (D&H, B&M, and Maine Central) combined rosters things got interesting. At times, too interesting. But, the D&H ended up with at least a couple high-nose Geeps. A picture of #569 is at the bottom of this post. An extensive history of #573 can be found here. The picture above is dated January 01, 1984, and it shows that Guilford's two regular passenger engines (#573 & #251) also earned their keep pulling revenue freight even during the cold winters. Brrrr...

Friday, October 26, 2018

Two new projects started

The weather is getting colder, which means time to start new projects! Both will be the subject of more detailed posts in the future, but for right now I will reveal that one is a live steam, 7/25" gauge caboose and the other is a gauge-1 live steam locomotive. How far I will get with each is unknown, but my basement has plenty of room to hold projects.

I also have 6 HO scale freight cars in various stages of assembly, and my G scale gauntlet track needs finishing. My D&H bobber caboose is waiting. And my layout is crying out to me.

One would call this a "Project Rich Environment." This is going to be a really exciting winter!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Handlaying a Gauntlet Track - 2nd attempt

My previous attempt to scratchbuild the third and last remaining piece of track for my NMRA civil certification started off with tremendous ambition, but quickly fizzled because I was attempting too much (sharp curves) built to a standard (NMRA specifications) and planned to run trains on it that were not to NMRA code. It is a common malady in G scale, which consists of various ratios and different standards with the only universal one being to have the trains stay on the track. Gauge, back-to-back wheel spacing, rail height, and frog depth are all over the map.

Attempt / Failure #2
Still, I wanted to give the in-street gauntlet track the old college try so I soldered up another frog point assembly and then attempted to make it work. Because I was now using cheaper aluminum rail, I couldn't solder to it so that made my previous four-rail frog assembly impossible. And try as I might, I couldn't get everything to line up and operate smoothly. So I left the project for a while. In fact, based on the date stamp of the pictures it was late February when I put it aside. Recently, though, I have wanted to get it finished so I tried again to make it work. I even spiked up all the rails necessary, including guard rails. But, it just didn't work well. Or well enough. So, I eventually pulled out all the spikes and started over with plan C.

Gauntlet Track at Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
(image from Wikipedia)
Instead of focusing on building a gauntlet track with frogs to allow the train track to cross over one another, I decided to build one with point rails that all the tracks to run parallel to each other. Making points wasn't very challenging in G scale with a belt sander, but I want to move on so there you are. Sometimes the diverging track moves away from a station platform (like shown in the picture at right) to provide greater clearance for oversize freight cars. Other times, the mainline is straight and the diverging track breaks away to connect to a platform that the mainline couldn't normally reach (imagine if the station was on the left instead in the picture shown). In fact, if you search online for "Gauntlet track" images you will find lots of different examples for various situations which demonstrate the ingenuity of civil engineers.

I reused the same wooden base as my previous two attempts, and by now it was looking pretty gnarly with all of the spike holes and ink markings. But, it reinforced my strength to press on. I had some shorter ties left over from the first two track pieces, and a couple more sticks of 3/8" square dowel chopped up led to the longer ties. I didn't really have a good idea how long to make them as I wasn't sure how much of an overlap the gauntlet part would be, so I winged it. Thankfully, the length turned out to be just perfect. I didn't bother to sand the tops as I liked the rustic look, though the ties were clearly warped a bit in places. Were this HO scale, sanding and leveling the ties would have been mandatory.

Then, out came the stain and the plain wooden blocks turned into fresh creosoted ties. I was using smaller rail (code 250 vs 332) and it was softer (aluminum vs. brass), and it was also by now bent, kinked, and warped, but I wanted the final gauntlet track to look nice. So, I measured where I wanted the rails to fall on the ties and scribed a line using a metal straight edge. If I spiked the first rail to this line, it would be perfectly straighten out the wavy rail. I also didn't use the large Micro Engineering spikes I had bought previously. Instead, I used much smaller ones that a friend gave me while cleaning up his father's house. They were delicate looking but perfect for this application. I spiked every 10th tie to start, then filled in the gabs. They went into the soft wood easily.

I laid the long, straight rail first. Before I spiked it though, I used my belt sander to notch the inside of the rail near where the points would nestle in. I used my #6 turnout as a guide regarding how long to make the notch. Then, I did the long outside curved rail the same way. I only spiked the curved rail by the entrance to the switch as I still didn't know how much I wanted to curve it. I then made the two point rails and everything was spiked down. It was a bit of "spike this rail here first, then that rail next, then bend this rail and spike it third, etc." I didn't have instructions to follow, but I thought through everything and it came out fine. Again, I scribed the ties where I wanted the rail to go to make sure it was perfectly straight.

As it turns out, I nearly painted myself into a corner. If I had made the diverging gauntlet track any farther out from the main (straight) track, the two inner rails would have been nearly on top of one another. But, I kept the curve away smooth and graceful and it all worked perfectly. I couldn't solder tabs to the bottom of the point rails to connect them to the throw bar, so instead I drilled clearance holes in the thin base of the rail which 2-56 screws will pass through. I angled the holes slightly, as there wasn't much base alone to drill into. They are delicate but will be fine for a demonstration switch.

rail bits from previous gauntlet track attempts!
I am now just left with fabricating a throwbar and wiring it up. The throwbar has led to another problem, but thinking it through should lead to a solution. All in all, once I had time to regroup on the project, it took only about 3 hours to cut the ties, glue them down, stain them, mark and grind the rail, and spike it all down. I spread it out over about 10 days though, working here and there at a leisurely pace. I also had something on the television in the background...  usually low budget Sherlock Holmes movies or Scooby Doo cartoons. Stay tuned for the thrilling finale!

Monday, October 1, 2018

I Love NY boxcars

One of the biggest reasons I model 1984 is because of the colorful boxcars that roamed the railroads as a result of the "Per Diem" regulations from the late 1970s. Nothing says Delaware and Hudson more than the "I love NY" boxcars. Maybe it is my New York pride, or the sharp blue and white slash paint scheme, or large red heart on the side. I don't know exactly, but they sure are striking.

The early 1980s were tough times for the D&H. New York shippers needed clean, serviceable boxcars to haul their products but there was a shortage of 50' boxcars on the D&H. The D&H was going through financial troubles and didn't have the funds to purchase more boxcars. Bankruptcy was on the horizon and the D&H's Oneonta car shop employees faced potential layoffs because of a lack of work. In 1981 New York State decided to step in and address all of these issues at once, initiating a program whereby NYSDOT would fund the rehabilitation of 200 used boxcars by D&H's Oneonta shop for use on the D&H system (by NYS shippers) and NYSDOT would hold title to the cars.

The cars were previously built by Pullman-Standard in 1965-1966 for the D&H in their #29000 car series. Though the program was supposed to be for 200 cars (#50000-50199), only 165 cars were completed before program was terminated. Per this June 12, 1988 newspaper article the State paid about $10,000 for each car. Portions of the article are copied/pasted below: 

New York State's Department of Transportation has canceled its boxcar leasing agreement with Delaware & Hudson Railroad. [...] The department got into the boxcar leasing business in 1981 when it purchased 165 Class A 50-foot boxcars from D&H, said Dennison P. Cottrell, DOT supervisor of local assistance programs. The cars were repaired, then leased back to D&H, he said. At the time, much of the United States suffered from a shortage of boxcars and the DOT wanted to ensure shippers in the Empire State had an adequate supply of boxcars, he said. 

The DOT paid about $10,000 for each railcar in the deal, which was also designed to provide a quick source of revenue to cash-starved D&H at the time, Mr. Cottrell said. [...] A Guilford source said even though the DOT boxcars were 50 feet long, their carrying capacity was 150,000 pounds, about 4,000 pounds less than other 50-footers. [...] Those cars were too light for some shippers, like printing paper companies, the source said. Some shippers would simply outright refuse to load on them.

There were four different variations on how the cars were decorated during the six years of the program. Originally, the first twenty cars (#50000-50019) had a round black and gold NYSDOT emblem on the right-hand side. Next, they added the "Operation Lifesaver" insignias but couldn't decide on the color. The first ten (#20020-50029) were black, and pictures of these are rare. The remaining cars (#20030-20164) were supposed to have green artwork but for unknown reasons only about half of them received it, with the other half getting nothing.

The cars traveled throughout New York and elsewhere. However, by the late 1980s the cars were over 20 years old and worn out. There also wasn't a great need for boxcars in general anymore, leading to a surplus. As a result, during the D&H bankruptcy proceedings (from 1988 through 1991) the bankruptcy Trustee sold the cars individually by sealed ballot. Two large buyers included the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad (which refurbished them again for paper service) and the Naporano Iron & Metal scrap dealer, which purchased 198 cars. For the later cars, NYSDOT received $2,837.51 from the sale of each car and the D&H estate total received $561,828.00. One artist is selling pictures of the cars lined up for scrap.

Some history of the cars as well as instructions on how to modify HO models from the time (which is a bit dated now) and paint them can be found in Jeff English's excellent paint shop article in the February Model Railroader magazine.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Finger Lakes Railway excursion

Western New York State is filled with an amazing amount of short line railroads, many of which were spun off from Conrail during the 1980s and 1990s as it cut back services on branchlines or parallel routes. Railroads such as the Buffalo Southern; Ontario Central; Ontario Midland; Lavonia, Avon & Lakeville; New York and Erie; Western New York and Pennsylvania; and Bath and Hammondsport jump out at me. Another one is the Finger Lakes Railway. Most of these lines are small operations which pale in comparison to NS or CSX, and rarely do they offer any sort of passenger excursion service.

It isn't hard to blame them. It costs a lot of money to purchase passenger equipment and maintain it in decent condition, and with the cost of insurance and the hassle of running weekend crews the cost/benefit analysis rarely makes it economically viable. Still, a couple of short lines do it well (such as the Arcade and Attica Railroad, which I have written about extensively elsewhere on this blog). I had also heard rumors that the Finger Lakes Railway had a couple of coaches and ran occasional scenic train trips, but not living in the area anymore I always found out about it too late. But, recently I saw that the Rochester and Genesee Valley Railroad Museum was sponsoring a trip on the line as a fund raiser, and figured it would make for a good excuse to come out west. Besides, if I waited for the "next time" it might not ever happen. So, I bought tickets for the "Finger Lakes Limited" and it is a good thing I did as they sold out both trips quickly.

The FLR takes a lot of pride in their image. Running over NYC tracks (at least in part), they have adopted the familiar NYC "lightning stripe" scheme for some of their engines. Their coaches are also decked out in the gray scheme with white stripes. Tragically, the sun has taken its toll on the side of the train facing the sun and my pictures show the coaches as faded, which they are. The other side of the train, which I only took shots of in the shade, is still bright and shiny.  

The train had three coaches including one that was being used for local brewery taste testing. Not being a fan of beer, I stayed in my car and enjoyed cheap soda. My wife and father-in-law were along for the ride and we all had a great time. The train was top and tailed (in British slang) with an engine on each end as to avoid requiring a runaround move at the ends of the trip. Oddly, one engine looked like it had R/C connections set up but I don't know if it was being used by the crew. I saw them switch sides at the end of the trip. The engines were both GE products and sounded good, though not as good as an Alco!

The train went from Canandaigua to Clifton Springs, but based on the routing it was essentially from almost somewhere to practically nowhere and return. As a rail buff, there wasn't too much to see besides farms and roads. An occasional former industry with the track pulled, maybe a branch line switch, and some stacks of ties dotted the right of way. The end was a grain facility, and we couldn't get out to take pictures. As a result, all my exterior shots were done from the open vestibule door. It was as close to an "open car" and I could get. That being said, the wind was still blowing through the doorway and the horn was loud.

All in all, I had a good time. I am glad I can check FLR off my railroad bucket list. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Scratchbuilding a Caboose - Part 1

This past spring, the local division (Hudson Berkshire) of the NMRA inquired in their newsletter about whether there was any interest in modelers getting together somewhat regularly to work on their NMRA Master Model Railroader certifications. As I have mentioned previously, I am actively working on two certificates now but could always use advice and encouragement. The group was to be led by MMR Robert "Bob" Hamm, who was (and maybe is) the NMRA's National Model Contest chairman. Not only was he willing to give us inside advice and sage wisdom on building models, but he was willing to work with us as we came across problems in our own models. How could I turn down an offer like that?

I didn't want to work on the "Structures" certificate, because I didn't want to build buildings that would just sit around with nowhere to put them. Many of the structures on my layout will be scratchbuilt, but I am not to the place yet where I know their exact dimensions. So, I am focusing on Master Builder - Cars. Eight cars must be super detailed, and at least four of them must be scratchbuilt. Four of them must also earn at least 87.5 points during AP Merit Judging. So, not an easy task. But an obtainable one.

While everyone else in the group is working on structures, I picked a caboose to be my first scratchbuilt car. I probably should have picked a flat car, but I didn't. Oh well. I really, really love DL&W cabooses with their pleasing symmetry, but as a first attempt it would be tough even though this online slide show presentation starting on page 15 breaks it all down. I think I may build one in 1/8 scale someday, but not today. No, I picked a simpler caboose to model.

A bobber caboose! While toyish, they are definitely smaller and have less windows and roof lines to deal with. Wanting to pick a prototype one to model, I didn't have to look farther than the D&H's own famous #10 caboose. This was the caboose where the first meeting of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen was held in 1883, and it was preserved and is still in Oneonta, NY. More importantly, though, was that plans for it were published in the October 1965 issue of Model Railroader.

It had some interesting features which I thought would make it fun to build. First, it used cast journals which look nothing like anything else so I would have to build them (read: extra points if done well). Also, it had no cupola so I could avoid the dreaded seems between pieces which can cost you points during judging. And, it is in great preserved condition so I could weather it lightly.  It even has a seat on the top for a very brave brakeman to ride. I know I wouldn't!

I copied the prints multiple times and used some stripwood (actually, HO scale ties) to build a fixture to lay out the underframe. I had never built a car like this before so I used what I was familiar with, styrene. Some pieces, like the end beams, were made up of multiple laminations of styrene that were then filed to shape. To apply my solvent of choice, MEK, I bought a really snazzy Needle-point applicator bottle from A-West. I picked the 1" tip, size #16 (their smallest) and it still puts out a lot if you squeeze. And, you need to be careful not to bend the tip. But, it works awesome. Why didn't I know about this sooner?

The floor beams were notched for the end beams to fit in, and there was a slight gap under one so I snuck in some 0.010" styrene and trimmed it so that no one will ever know. Well, except the readers of my blog. Oops! The floor is some scribed Evergreen freight car 0.040" thick styrene that I used for the caboose sides. I made sure to have the scribed side face down so it could be seen from below. For the interior floor, I will just put another piece on top facing up. I then took some sandpaper and roughed up the sides of all the boards a little to give it some grain (which I probably should have done before gluing it all together.

The sides are more of the 0.040" thick scribed styrene. I laid out the pieces based on the plans but occasionally I had to stretch the length to get a full board's width in. The windows as well were laid out to fall between the scribed board lines. It was now that I fully realized the value of building this model in O scale instead of HO. I had been concerned that it would be too tiny to handle, and indeed even in O scale it is a small model. HO scale would have been a nightmare to build (in N scale, it would be under 1.5" long)! Plus, working in a different scale allows you to try new things.

The ends were laid out the same way, though for the roof curvature I used the very scientific method of taking the drawing and cutting outside the roof line to make a template which I then traced onto the ends. After that was done, I used a sharp knife and a nibbler to remove the window material and a file to clean up the edges. The board edges also made it easy to see where I needed to remove material. I left the door areas in place temporarily because removing them would leave the ends too fragile to work on and, as it turned out, I didn't now yet how I wanted to handle the doors.

The prototype journals are castings that are pretty distinctive. I looked online at the O scale casting suppliers that I could find (a Walthers catalog would have been helpful) and didn't see anything remotely like it. Nor could I adapt the old Atlas bobber caboose frame to fit. So, I would need to build them from scratch. I took the paper and cut it out and traced the shape onto some styrene. I made 6, three of each side (left/right) and would later pick out the four best. To get the right contour, I had to use three pieces of 0.080" styrene for the first layout, which I then topped with some thin 0.020 to hide the seams. This was filed down to shape, with a portion extending above the journal to represent the area that would bolt onto the truck sideframes.

Next, I some 0.015" thick x 0.040" wide styrene to make the raised edges around the through the castings. Each piece was cut, glued, allowed to dry, and then trimmed. For the curved edge, I tried bending the styrene slowly and gluing it little by little but it buckled. I then applied the curve in three shorter pieces but it still required filling between the pieces with putty. Bob Hamm suggested I use some 0.040" square stock (which I had on hand) to do the curve and because it was thicker it didn't buckle. Once cured, I sanded it down to 0.015" thick and it matched the rest perfectly. Then, I flooded the journals with MEK to soften/round the edges and look more like castings.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Fab Four (British Model Railway magazines)

From the movie A Hard Day's Night!
I'm a Beatles nut through and through. I stand on solid ground when proclaiming that they are the best rock band ever (don't throw Stones on my blog, people). Whether it was the catchy tunes, the cool guitars (second confession: I am a die-hard Rickenbacker aficionado), the snazzy suits and haircuts, or the new sonic territories pursued through their albums, they were are still are simply the best. In comparing American music at the time to theirs, once can see the parallelisms and the differences. Both sides of the pond were trying to do the same thing but getting there differently.

But, Fab music isn't the only thing I am crazy about. I am a sucker for anything British railway related. Standard gauge, narrow gauge, steam, diesel... it doesn't matter. I just love them all. A friend of mine has several layouts in his house, and two of them are European and British Railway themed. He subscribes to several different British railway modeling magazines, and once he is done with them gives them away. I used to see them on the "free stuff" at our NMRA meetings and finally figured that it would be easier to deal directly with him. So, now I pay for one of the subscriptions and get to keep all of the magazines when he is done reading them. Here are the "Fab Four" that I regularly read. By the way, I think Railway Modeller has the best content, production value, and insightful reviews.

Let me tell you, my paper collection has exploded with lots of new reading material. And, these magazines are really thick. Sort of like the older Model Railroader magazines used to be. For all the people that complained MR had too many advertisements, I enjoyed them just the same. And now, the British magazine's advertisements are for really cool things. So, the more the merrier. Apparently British modelers need to see monthly adverts instead of just going to the manufacturers' websites.

I have noticed several themes from reading the British magazines. First, their layouts are small. Tiny in fact. Most would be better characterized as dioramas than layouts. Space is at a premium so their layouts are usually just small portions of scenes like stations or yards with fiddle or staging facilities at one or more ends. Second, they cram a lot of track into them. While they might be prototypical, they sure look busy with switches and sidings running hither and yon. Third, when they do have room for a circular or loop arrangement, they model multiple main lines. Again, possibly prototypical but it also lets them run several trains round and round.

On Ready Steady Go!

Fourth, apparently they have solved electrical pick-up issues because they love to run small switch engines over switches with nary a concern for stalling on the frogs. I don't know how they do it! Fifth, their overall modeling is very evocative and I think better in many ways than American modeling. They better grasp weathering, colors, overall scene composition, and backdrops which contribute to more convincing scenes. Lighting is also a big part, but that could be because of the many layouts that go on the exhibition circuit. Finally, they change layout ideas quickly. Because of the smaller footprint, they finish their layouts much quicker then we do with our monster basement railroads, and then they move on to something else.

Note to self for 2020: the Great British Train Show exhibition is held in Toronto on the even numbered years usually at the end of April. I didn't hear about this until it was too late. I must remember it for the future, as it sounds really good... yeah, yeah, yeah!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Hairspray and Rust!

I recently discovered a Blog by Bernard Hellen that has some interesting articles, including this post about weathering steel structures using salt, rubber cement, or hair spray. Now, I had heard of the first two before but certainly not the third. Hair Spray? Oh, I'm a big hair 1980's music nut so I fully believe in the wonderful transformative powers of hair spray. But for modeling rust? Common...

It looks so cool that I am looking for a project in my basement to try it out on. And, I am posting it now on my blog because I am sure down the road when I find such a project I won't remember who to attribute proper credit to. Oh well, I suggest you check out the post yourself and see. It is fantastic. The entire blog looks interesting, and he is modeling an interesting operation- the Quebec and Gatineau Railroad, which is part of the Genesee and Wyoming Railroad's family of short lines. Being from Western NY, I am very familiar with the original G&W. Not the picture at right taken in May 2007... there are various engines (a switcher, an old Geep) and paint schemes (blue patch out, black patch out) in addition to the traditional orange and black. This is in Mt. Morris on their daily salt train run.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Frog Juicer to the Rescue!

My yard lead consists of three switches that were installed together. Had I used isolated frogs (like on the M.E. switches) or insulated ones (like I intended to), I wouldn't have had problems. But, I did. Thankfully, diagnosing the problem took longer than the cure. To help, I marked each place I had a feeder with a red or black bead, and blocked off all other track that was isolated from the switches.

I needed to cut gaps in only four places. For two of them, I merely unsoldered the rail joiners connecting the adjoining rails and slid them along onto only one rail. Then, thin styrene was glued between them to maintain the gap. For the other two, I didn't want to use a Dremel for fear of messing things up. So, I removed the rail joiners completely and carefully slid out the rail from the molded frog and pulled it parallel to the rail it joined. The rail was nipped just a little shorter and it was slipped back into the molded frog.

Then, three additional green wires were soldered to the rails in the crotch of the frog and dropped (thankfully just barely clearly a benchwork cross brace) and hooked up to the Tam Valley Depot frog juicer. The one I purchased has the capacity to power six frogs or reversing loops, which is more than I needed. But, having excess capacity is better than having insufficient capacity. After only about 20 minutes more of work, everything was running smoothly (I tested it all this time) and I was back in business!

I also got sick and tired of switching out the DCC and DC throttle systems input leads to power the layout. Sometimes I want to run DC trains, sometimes I want to run DCC. So, I built a little gray "magic box" that at the flip of a switch can change the input power source. The output can also be switched from the layout itself to a programming track (useful for testing engines), which I have yet to hook up. It was mainly a bit of cutting, stripping, bending, and connecting various wires together. The box is screwed to the board behind it so it won't shift around.

Now the wiring is officially done!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Short circuits in the Staging Yard!

Just when you think you are out, something drags you back in!

I was pretty confident that I had finished up the wiring for my layout. I had run some test trains around the mainline and into all of the sidings, and even checked the turntable and the stalls, but I never actually tested the staging yard. What was there to worry about? I mean, I wasn't powering the switch frogs and between the three switches I had three sets of feeder wires. What could go wrong? Apparently, a lot.

I had originally designed the layout for M.E. switches, which have insulated metal frogs. The rails that come from the frog are gaped from the frog and internal jumpers power them, so no rail gaps after their switches are necessary. I noticed the same thing with the Shinohara curved switch. For the replacement Peco electrofrog switch I installed on the mainline, I gaped the rails away from the frog and powered the frog through the Tortoise switch machine's contacts. Again, simple enough.

But, for the staging yard I intended to purchase Peco insulfrog switches and mistakenly bought electrofrog ones. They are better in the sense that they allow the frogs to be powered, but that benefit comes with a cost: you need a toggle switch to control the polarity of the track switch. I wanted to go the cheap route and use Caboose Industries ground throws, and hope the trains didn't stall on the frogs. I was also hoping to avoid using a Tam Valley Frog Juicer because they only work with DCC trains, and I might want to run DC trains in my staging yard. Unfortunately, something has to give.

If I had just ordered M.E. switches I would have been fine. But, I now question their reliability and am avoiding them (though their flextrack is still excellent).

I am now in the position where I must: (1) purchase three new Peco insulfrog switches; (2) purchase a Frog Juicer and cut gaps in the rails and install feeders, or (3) remove the switches, drill holes, and install my remaining Tortoise machines. Since this section is a "temporary" one I don't want to go with option 3. The other two were about the same cost so I ordered a Frog Juicer online.

Unfortunately, it means that DC powered engines will not be able to go into the staging yard. Since I plan to focus on DCC anyway, I don't think that will be a big deal. If it is, I can always remove the Frog Juicer and instead use slide switches or toggle switches to control the frog polarity.

Friday, July 20, 2018

FRED for my MMR

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 online, and 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 had 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 notch in the bottom of the boxcar shell for the LED 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 shell 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!