CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Friday, January 4, 2019

Handlaying Track - final thoughts

The throwbar for my switch was a piece of 1/4" square styrene, drilled and tapped for the 2-56 screws. However, because I used smaller rails on my gauntlet track the screw heads stuck up and the flanges of the wheels hit them when passing over. It was impossible to solder tabs to the aluminum rail. I couldn't figure out a solution so I put it aside for several more months. I reached out to Bruce Milligan of Switchcrafters, who builds large scale switches out of aluminum rail and has a lot more experience than I do. He suggested a couple of different workarounds, including soldering brass pins to a PCB board and then inserting it from underneath the turnout (impossible because it was already spiked down) or using smaller 0-80 nuts and bolts. He even sent me some for free, and they worked perfectly! I used a thinner piece of styrene for the throwbar which is slightly more flexible than the 1/4" piece, and it all worked like a charm.

After getting it all set up, I briefly considered purchasing another Bachmann switch stand but in the end went with something simple. I glued two pieces of wood under the end of the throwbar and then drilled two holes through the throwbar into the wood. I can insert a little metal pin into the holes and the switch is held in one position or the other. For the NMRA requirements, this should be sufficient. Wiring was simple on this track because the polarity of the rails never had to change. I drilled and tapped the rails for 2-56 screws and ran the wires around the screws. The wheel flanges clear the screws but not by much.

I may ballast the three track pieces, but it isn't required for judging and I fear gluing up the works.

Final Thoughts
When I started planning for the handlaid track requirement a year ago I was pretty nervous. I had never done it before and I figured it would be really difficult unless I used the FastTracks tools (which, to my mind, seemed like cheating). But, some excellent articles in Model Railroader and Garden Railways magazines walked me through the hard parts. Since I built them in G scale, I didn't have access to commercial NMRA gauges so I made my own. I wish someone would offer them in laser-cut acrylic or perhaps metal, but because of the loose tolerances all over the place in large scale it is probably too late to get industry conformance to anything.

I have always dreamed of handlaying track for my future (really future...) G scale garden railway, so this was good experience. Though stressful at times (such as lining up the rails before soldering), I found the whole process to be exciting and educational. I learned that I prefer working with brass over aluminum, and I would like to try stainless steel rail like the stuff Aristcraft used to make. As it stands, I have conquered my fears of handlaying track in any scale. It won't always be easy and mistakes will be made, but is really cheap compared to other, more expensive modeling things that can be screwed up easily (like locomotives).

I am glad the NMRA MMR program pushed me to develop these new skills. I think it was pretty fun to cut and glue down the ties, stain them, spike down the rail with real spikes, and then run a train over it. I made it myself! There is an immense amount of satisfaction in saying that. And, I am now even closer to finishing up my Civil merit badge requirements too, which is pretty exciting.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

BAGRS live steam locomotive (Gauge 1) - Part. 1

I have at least a dozen different train projects I am working on at the moment. Not a single one of them actually involves my layout itself. Most are assembling and weathering HO freight cars, but other things are scattered in the mix too. One is that I began construction of a 1/8 scale (7.25" gauge) caboose based on a DL&W prototype, with the caboose I am actually modeling currently on display in a museum in Rochester, NY. I also recently received the body and the chassis for a 1/8 scale (7.25" gauge) battery powered locomotive that needs some final assembly before it goes to the paint shop. Perhaps a future post will deal with them.

But, I was up at the Adirondack Live Steamers ("ALS") over the summer trying to run one of my Gauge 1 live steam engines and had a lot of trouble with it. I had two Gauge 1 steamers: one is an Accucraft Ruby that I assembled from a kit and the other is a Lindale Caledonia alcohol fired locomotive that I purchased from another gentleman. The Ruby has never run right, and I had two different repair companies look at it (I paid them) to fix it. Both said they did, but it still doesn't run right. Some have said Accucraft kits aren't very good, and I had trouble with mine from the start. The Caledonia suffered its own problems over the summer and so I recently sold it back to the gentleman who sold it to me. If you are keeping score, that leaves me with one non-working engine. But, come 2019 I want to have an operational steamer.

Picture taken from BAGRS website
Since I am not putting in any more money towards my Ruby at this time, and cannot afford my dream locomotive, a Roundhouse "Lady Anne," I had to come up with another plan. While going through the internet one day I came across a reference to the Bay Area Garden Railway Society's (BAGRS) Basic Project Loco. It is based conceptually around a vertical-boilered logging engine, and the website does contain links to "prototype" engines that do have a passing resemblance to the model. More importantly though for me was that it was simple to build, the working parts (boiler, cylinders, wheels) didn't require machining, and it was a proven design. There are dozens of these engines operating out there, and they are known to run well. Not fast or for very long, but well.

So, I started to research where to get the parts. Unfortunately, there were many problems along the way. For instance, the company Midwest (which makes scale lumber) stopped producing the boiler/cylinder kits around 2013 and they have become scarce on the market. There are no plans to reintroduce them, and while substitutes are available they involve a lot more work then I wanted to invest. Next, the necessary gears/sprockets are still available but are expensive and when I placed my order not all were in stock. This has actually held up the project for the last month. Finally, the wheels are quality metal wheels and the plans rely on the diameter of the axle to match up well with the sprockets. But, the guy who made the wheels is out of business (also around 2013) and they are scarce. I found a set on EBay that are slightly smaller in diameter so my engine will go a little slower than called for. Beyond that, the parts are strip wood, some tubing, axle box castings and a displacement lubricator which I ordered from the U.K., and some glue. Not all that much really.

As can be seen from the finished engine, there isn't actually much there and it is ripe for customization. From a personal perspective, I really don't like logging type stuff. The charm from the cobbled together, falling apart, unpainted wood and rust locomotives and specialized freight cars is lost on me. So, I struggled for a bit as to how I could end up with an engine that I liked.

Most of my other Gauge 1 equipment is based on British narrow gauge stock, and I wanted my engine to sort of look like it might have operated in Wales. I thought about building a tram engine car body that would shield the mechanical portions of the engine but to look right and withstand the heat it would need to be fabricated from metal. I already have enough metal projects going on right now. After being stumped for a while, I remembered the De Winton quarry engines that operated in Wales and mainly hauled slate around. While not an exact match, if I paint everything black and round over the end bunker edges and if you squint just enough it sort of looks like one. The prototype De Winton engines were mostly small but did have some variety as to size and shape.

Though perhaps cocky on my part, this seemed like an engine that should practically fall together once all of the parts were obtained. The frame is straightforward and just consists of various pieces of basswood that are glued together. The instructions on line and diagrams are very detailed and thorough (though a few of the dimensions on the individual part plans don't match cut lists) and as long as you cut the pieces correctly to length and glue them up square you will have no problem. I used a razor saw and my small belt sander to do most of the work, and regular wood glue held it all together. Epoxy would also work, but I hate mixing up tiny batches of epoxy for just a couple of joints. Once the deck boards are glued on, the frame is plenty strong. The darker square is mahogany and it came with the kit. It is glued into this area to reinforce the frame where holes will later be cut.

The heart of the locomotive is the power plant which consists of an assembled boiler and one cylinder. The boiler is fired by sterno which is held is a round pan below the boiler, and the pan sits on the top of the locomotive deck. The boiler is connected to the cylinders with flexible tubing that needs to be easily removable as the boiler must be lifted off to fill and occasionally clean the sterno pan. The cylinder is mounted on the top of the deck and it has a sprocket on it which is connected by a chain through the deck of the engine to the axle below, which also has a sprocket on it. The holes were laid out and drilled through, and then a combination of files and knives opened them into the square shape. As long as the chain clears without binding, they will be fine.

The coal bunker on one end was important to me for several reasons. First, if you don't include one (some people put barrels on instead to represent oil burners) then the engine looks pretty plain. Second, I have a lifetime supply of real coal obtained from a shortline railroad I like and I wanted to incorporate that in somehow. Third, I could round the corners to mimic the prototype De Winton engines. I built it to plans, though I added some bracing to the inside corners and (which will be hidden by the coal pile) and also a kick board in the front (to prevent the coal from spilling everywhere. Once dried, I rounded over the front corners. Yes the prototypes were steel and had rivets and mine doesn't but oh well. It was easily to build and most American engines didn't have them rounded, so it further enhances the illusion that this is a Welsh quarry engine.

Most of the locomotives I have seen online built to these plans have wood that has been stained or weathered to bring out the character of the wood. For stains to really look good, you need to be careful when you are gluing things up to make sure excess glue doesn't get where it shouldn't, as it will prevent even stain penetration. I tend to be a bit heavy-handed with adhesive application, but since I am painting my engine black it isn't as big a deal.

(No right wheel, as the sprocket isn't on it yet)
Assembly has been mostly straight forward, though filled with frequent starts and stops as I waited for parts to arrive in the mail. The wood came from the local hobby shop but it took three trips to get all that I needed because some of it was sorted into the wrong slot and I didn't bring a ruler to confirm it was what. And, I usually buy odd-sized hardware from China on EBay because it is cheap but shipment can take a month or more. So, I couldn't finish building the frames because I was short one size of basswood that I needed. I couldn't install the axle boxes on the frame even after they arrived from the U.K. because I needed tiny brass washers from China to back up the bolts. I could only mount one wheel because I haven't received the necessary sprockets from the supplier to mount on the other axle. I can't paint the boiler and cylinder black yet until I have purchased the high-temperature paint. Etc.

So, the project slowly jerks forward. I have until spring, and nearly all of the necessary parts are here. I only need the gears/sprockets and I should hopefully have them within the next month.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas!

While I normally run my Lionel Hogwarts Express train under the tree, I decided to do something different this year. While visiting my grandmother for Thanksgiving, I discovered that the old Lionel 0-27 train set track and board which I had played with as a child was still in the basement (sadly, the train itself has "disappeared"). So, feeling a bit nostalgic I decided to remove the track from the plywood and bring it home. It dated from 1956, and it was dirty and rusty. But a bit of soaking in vinegar followed by a drying period in the over and some burnishing with a Bright Boy track cleaning block brought it back to good condition. The train itself is a Lionel DC powered (low end) set from the mid 1980s. But, it makes a wonderful racket as it rolls around and around. And, better still, I can remember my grandfather and the train he brought out when I came to visit as a child.

I was even asked to bring a train set to the company work party this year! Woot woot!

I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful and blessed Christmas this year. Don't forget the reason for the season.

Luke 2, versus 1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
            14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Work party, though train isn't the focus of the picture. Oops!
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Bay State Model Railroad Museum

I have been sick for the past several months. But, thanks to some medicine and such I have been feeling a lot better. The down side is that I haven't been inclined to go down to the basement to work on my projects. Instead, I have been binge watching Agatha Christie's Poirot shows starring David Suchet while sitting on my couch with my dog next door.

N scale layout
But, for months I have been planning a trip to the Bay State Model Railroad Museum which is located on the outskirts of Boston, MA. Though they have the word "museum" in their name I get the impression that it is more of a model railroad club then any place designed to have the public. The tight aisle ways confirm this. But, they have been featured in Model Railroader and other magazines multiple times and as I never need a reason to go to Boston (my favorite city) I figured a day trip would be fun. Unfortunately, they are only open to the public once each year during the first weekend in December. This directly conflicts on Sunday with Albany's Great Train Extravaganza train show. So what's a person to do? 

HO scale layout
Well, this year I decided that both could be done in the same weekend even if it meant a lot of driving for a train layout event. So, after drawing a map to the place (I don't have a GPS or even a smart phone... which means either relying on maps or my wife who does have a smart phone) I set off. My wife considered coming but had Christmas choir commitments and had to back out. Her loss, I am sure. The weather was lovely and the trip went well though the museum is located in Roslindale and it really does seem to be a busy place with lots of intersecting roads and one way streets. I thought for sure I was lost but it turns out I wasn't. Thankfully. 

N scale layout
The layouts were in three scales (N, HO, and O) though the HO scale layout featured HOn3 trackage too so I suppose that means three scales in four gauges. They were crammed in the upstairs room of an unassuming building on the corner in a nice little commercial district and had I not known they were located there I surely would have walked right past them. No big signs, no lights, nothing. Parking is either street parking (good luck) or finding a spot in the bank's parking lot across the street (good luck). They appear to be building condos within shouting distance of the place so if you want to live somewhere near three different train layouts and can convince your wife it is a good idea (good luck) this might be the place.

N scale layout
I was first drawn to the N scale layout, which was very well done from a scenery perspective. The trains ran well if not too fast for my personal preference, and clearances with some equipment hadn't apparently been tested as I saw a gorgeous Kato Union Pacific FEF Northern (one of my favorite prototype steam engines) hit a signal gantry bridge and rock it back and forth. N scale trains run as well as, well, N scale trains. Most of the time they performed well but occasionally a derailment here or there occurred. My wife loves N scale trains and I am sure she would have enjoyed the layout. 

O scale trackwork
The roar and thunder of the O scale layout drew me in next, and I saw several long passenger and freight trains go round and round through the area. They also had a city area with in street trackage and lots of trolleys and street cars apparently drawing power from their overhead poles. This seemed to be a bit older and while things worked well the tracks looked beat up and the cars frequently thunked through the frogs. I suppose the real ones did too. They had the typical Thomas the Tank Engine train to the delight of the kids. While I think of it, I believe this is the only layout of the three that made any sort of focus on modeling the Boston area. I don't recall if Boston itself was modeled, but all of the trains were Boston-themed, including the trolleys and Green line subway cars. Their attention to detail with four spikes to the tie on the track was impressive. I enjoyed this layout the most, partly because the trains ran well without stalling or derailments. 

HO scale layout panel
The last layout was the HO layout, but it was so large that it was impossible to see it all at once. Scenery rose from waist high to the ceiling and it morphed and oozed around various corners and alcoves. Some might call it a "bowl of spaghetti" layout and it certainly would be an apt description. It was great fun to watch, but as for serious prototype operations I don't see how it could easily be done. In fact, they operated it in a manner I had never seen before. This layout (and the N scale one) used DCC and for the HO layout operators were scattered around the layout. There were numerous pop up hatches and such to allow them to see what was going on.

HO scale layout
They would pick up trains at certain points and drive them to other points and then stop them, with another operator later to assume control for the next section. Had these changeover points been yards or sidings it might have been prototypical, but instead what happened is that the viewer would see trains parked all over the place and randomly some would start to move around. Because of the layout (pardon the expression) of the aisle ways, you couldn't follow trains around the layout. I really didn't like this at all, but I don't think the place was designed for the public. Look at how far back the operator is buried in the mountain in the picture at right!

O scale layout
It was a fun experience but I was a bit disappointed. I should have seen it coming, but thrown into one room are three large layouts. Put 30 visitors in the room and it is packed, and almost impossible to move. The HO and N layouts were crammed full of track with trains going here and there, and you couldn't tell where they would pop out. That might be fun if you are 12, but to someone who likes to watch a train progress it was frustrating. The HO layout (control panel shown on the right) especially was annoying because it forced you into small areas to see only little pieces of the layout where trains might not ever appear. The O scale layout, on the other hand, wasn't very big but I enjoyed it immensely.   

HOn3 layout
I have seen one other HOn3 layout in person but never watched one operate with trains before. They are tiny, and extremely finicky to any dirt on the rails or bumps in the track. I don't know how they easily access the area to rescue a stalled train.

It was definitely worth the trip, and the $5 was a no-brainer, but I am not sure if or when I will be back. They can't improve much on the HO and N layouts which looked complete. I really like what they did with the place, as they say, but visiting during their holiday open house isn't the best time to really see who they are and what they do.

PS: if you notice most of my pictures don't show moving trains, it is because I am still really lousy at taking indoor shots of a layout with a moving train. Either they are too dark, too bright, too blurry, or all of the above. Grrr.

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 abandoned the project for eight months. 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 allow 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 get my certification. 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 reminded me 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 perfectly straighten out the wavy rail. I used some smaller spikes 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 gaps. They went into the soft wood easily... all 266 of them!

I laid the long, straight rail first. Before I spiked it 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 for 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 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 for 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 now just have to fabricatie a throwbar and wire 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. 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's 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.