CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Open Grid Benchwork, (part 1)

My L-girder "supporting" benchwork is done on three sides. The remaining side, which will contain the entrance to the center of the layout, is on hold for now because I need to think it through. However, I now have the lumber needed to begin working on the layout sections themselves which will sit on the L-girder benchwork.

My layout will consist of three sections, each roughly 2' x 7'... a dimension I believe is large enough to capture a scene without having to have a joint in the middle of it, while at the same time not being too large to prevent removal from the basement if necessary. The plywood for the tops of each section was cut at the lumberyard before Christmas, and it is interesting to note that 7' long plywood sections that Home Depot cut for me are not really 7' long. The difference is 1/8," which I suspect was the width of the saw blade, and while very small it is important to keep in mind because I don't want gaps between my layout sections. I cannot plaster or otherwise fill them with scenery easily if I want the sections movable, so I am building the open-grid shapes to this shorter dimension. It also means that sections opposite each other on the layout have to match in length, or everything might not come out perfect.

That being said, it shouldn't be a tough job. I spent an hour with my dog in the basement pairing up 1"x4" lumber to be the sides for the two of the sections. I then marked locations for the cross braces, which will generally be spaced every 16" apart though because of my 7' length one gap will be 20" apart. This might be too much, but if it is I can always add a small 1"x2" on the inside to support it. I planned the locations of the cross braces around where the track switches will be, as I plan to install under-the-table switch machines and don't want to get into a situation where they interfere with the benchwork. It is smart when possible to consider these things up front. I then pre-drilled the holes in the sides using a #6 drill/countersink. Cutting the cross braces went well because of my new chop saw. I set it up outside and let it rip. I drilled three holes in each cross brace with an 11/16" bit, four pieces at a time, with the bottom piece resting on a scrap of wood to prevent blowout.

The section I built for the Colonie Liquor sidings was the simplest of all because the plywood surface is flat. I may add hills and a tree line along the back, but the ground won't drop lower than the plywood. I assembled the 1x4" boards first and then glued and screwed the plywood on top. It went super quick and everything came out square.

Since my wood glue bottle's nozzle broke, I bought the cheapest mustard bottle I could find to replace it. After washing it out, I filled it with wood glue and it worked great.

Slightly more complicated, the section for the Keis/Norlite sidings features a pond between the two areas and for that I notched two joists to allow for the bottom of the water. As you can see, "notched" isn't really the correct word. If I had a jigsaw handy, I would have just used that. But I didn't, so I didn't. Another tool to get down the road...

Unfortunately, when it came time to glue the plywood to the 1x4" frame I saw that my frame was rhombus shaped, meaning the corners were somehow not square. I couldn't physically shift it enough to match up with the plywood, so I removed the end piece on each side and shifted it in to match the plywood. Then, I used a saw to remove the overhanging plywood. The net result is now a section that is slightly shorter than 7'. When I frame up the opening side, I will need to keep this in mind. More importantly, in the future I will build the rectangle frame of 1x4" lumber, screw on the plywood top to keep it square, and then add the cross braces. 

I also started to design the area that will be home to the Mohawk Paper plant. There, the track siding in front drops down a bit and many of the cross braces will need to be notched. I still need to figure out things like the grades, vertical curves, etc. I drew in the roads, as this area is full of roads, and there will also be lots of small houses crammed in. I can't wait to do them, as I will finally be able to build model kits instead of scratchbulding. In fact, the whole Paper plant will be represented by a small area in the front corner.

The long side pieces for these two sections were cut by a friend, and the cross braces I bought and cut from lumber from Lowes. Togethers, these added up to $122, so my benchwork total is now $482...

Friday, May 26, 2017

Athearn Genesis GP39-2s in "Blue Dip" scheme

Uh oh. A year or so after Athearn announced four new D&H GP39-2s (all in the lightning stripe scheme, though from several different eras), they recently announced four new D&H GP39-2s in two variations of the blue-dip scheme. The #7401/#7408 are blue with yellow chevrons on the nose, and #7402/#7413 are blue with a solid yellow nose. And ALL FOUR are perfect for my layout!

Here is an image of the announcement from their website:

Since I already own an Atlas GP38-2 Trainman model in each scheme, I may wait on some of these. I want my model roster to be Alco heavy, so I don't need a lot of Geeps. I cannot tell the difference between a 38-2 and a 39-2, though the extra detail on these Athearn Genesis engines is fantastic!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

New Miter/Chop Saw!

I have no idea how I went so long with a chop saw, but until last year I made every cut of lumber for any home or layout project with a cross-cut hand saw. And, as can be expected, my accuracy was so-so. Then, about a year ago I started to borrow my uncle's saw and that was wonderful. However, it wasn't mine. So, for projects when I didn't have it I again turned to my handsaw. As a result, I began looking online at saws.

I didn't want a 12" saw because it was too much machine for what I normally do. They sometimes are unstable due to the larger blade and leave rough cut edges. Now, I am not making heirloom furniture but I want the ends of whatever I am cutting like molding to be clean. Also, a 12" saw would be heavier... an important consideration when I plan to take it outside to do most of my cutting.

However, three things conspired together to force me to get a saw. First, my friend gave me a bunch of lumber he had picked up for my layout. Thanks! Second, my uncle asked for his saw back for a project of his own. And third, I had some money left over in one of my pay checks. With Memorial Day weekend and the week I took off from work coming up, I wanted to get set to work on my layout's benchwork.

So, I ordered a Hitachi 10" C10FCH2 from Amazon, as well as a replacement 80-tooth blade to get really clean cuts. For $141 with free shipping, it was an easy decision. Plus, it comes with a laser sight, which is a big plus for me. At only 26.5 pounds, I can move it easily. And, it was highly rated online which is important to me as I don't really want to find out the hard way that a saw is good or bad. Lookout lumber, I'm looking at you!

It works great, though upon reflection the laser isn't of much value outside in the sunlight. Also, I spent at least 40 minutes and several dozen cotton swabs cleaning off the copious amounts of yellow/green grease that they applied to every possible moving surface. Yuck!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

On30: Maine 2-footers

Picture a WWII submarine in a movie: the main lights have just gone out; red blinking emergency panel indicators are flashing; a warning alarm is ringing on and off; and the sub begins to list on its side. That is likely the scenario going on in my brain right now!

I have kept this blog pretty much devoted to the D&H Colonie Main layout I am working on, but I have lots of other railroad interests. I am building a 7.25" gauge, 1/3 scale Welsh Steam Locomotive. I collect Arcade and Attica RR memorabilia and models. I have many G scale trains, both electric and live steam powered. In short, I am like many of you.

Every year I try and ride a different train, and sometimes it falls on my birthday weekend which happens to be around Memorial Day. This year, my wife and I decided to take a long weekend and escape to Maine to ride some of the 2-foot gauge trains. Their history is fascinating, and rooted in Welsh narrow gauge lines which I love. When we attended the Springfield Train show in January, there in the parking lot right next to our bus was #11 from the Boothbay Railway Village.

Future blog posts will highlight our trip more, but along the way I thought it might be neat to build a couple of Maine 2-foot cars to remember our trip. This got me to thinking about Bachmann's On30 train line.

Before you start yelling at me, I know that they aren't "prototypical." I understand that they model-wise appear to be 30" gauge, and thus most of the Bachmann equipment looks wrong for 2-foot models. An excellent website by Scot Lawrence contains all the information you could possibly want if you decided to convert them into an On2 model. But, I can live with the compromises. My layout will have HO track, and so when no one is looking I can run On30 trains on it. As long as the clearances are okay, I should be fine.

So, I decided to start researching what models I might see on my trip. We are going to visit the Wiscasset, Waterville & Farmington Railway Museum, the Boothbay Railway Village, and the Maine Narrow Gauge Railway Museum. I came across Deerfield River Laser, who manufacturer Maine two-foot kits which can be built as On2 models or you can mount them on On30 trucks. The basis for the kits are Bachmann's coaches, which are cut up and stretched.

Not knowing much about Maine 2-foot prototypes, and not wanting to invest a lot of money in books to research it, I reached out to D.R.L. and talked with the owners. It turns out that four of their coach kits are based on prototypes that still exist today. They were extremely generous with their time and knowledge. Here is what they have that I might run across:

Car Type
Current Owner
Built For
Parlor car “Rangeley”
SR&RL #9
Deerfield River Laser #DRL-O-M09
Jackson & Sharp
WW&F #3
W&Q RR #3
Deerfield River Laser #DRL-O-M10
Combine “Carrabasset”
SR&RL #11
Deerfield River Laser #DRL-O-M11
Laconia Car Co.
SR #5
SR&RL #17
Deerfield River Laser #DRL-O-M17

I bet that there are freight car kits out there matching preserved freight cars, but for right now I just want to build a small passenger train. The Bachmann Forney will be a good match pulling it even though the prototypes for those engines, SR&RL #8 and #9, were both scrapped 80+ years ago.

I took the picture here right before boarding the bus for the ride home. I didn't realize until later that the pink Christmas trees make an eerie image in the cab windows!

This is just a diversion project from my main layout. I cannot see myself jumping in full board with this, and quite possibly in 6 months I will have put this on the shelf. But, for right now it sounds interesting.

Monday, May 8, 2017

HO Roster: Boxcars

One of the most interesting things affecting railroading in the 1970s was the shortage of serviceable boxcars. Railroads didn't want to pay to repair boxcars because their return on investment was lousy, in part due to governmental regulation of rates. But, shippers still needed boxcars to transport their products. So, the government stepped in and changed the rules allowing railroads to charge fees for every day a boxcar they owned was offline on another railroad. Thus, "Per Diem." Many railroads, and especially short lines, purchased new boxcars to generate money with the goal (and hope) that their boxcars would never come home again. The daily rental charges were enough. Unfortunately, after a while there were too many boxcars out there and they did come home.

What this means to the modeler of the 1970s and 1980s is that every train that rolled by likely had several colorful boxcars in the consist. And, most were probably less than 10 years old. Not only do I like the looks of a colorful train, but boxcars in general serve as a wonderful canvas for interesting weathering effects. Go another ten years and by the 1990s, many of the cars were not only faded and dirty but also patched out with new owners' markings and covered in graffiti. Yuck. By modeling 1984, I am straddling the two extremes in appearance.

One other point: by 1984, 40' boxcars were extremely rare. I am not sure any were still used by the D&H for interchange service, and in reviewing my slides and other research I don't see any 40' boxcars from any railroad. Sure, there might have been a couple now and again but for my HO roster I have avoided 40' boxcars. Not only do they appear too small and out of place, but their paint schemes are usually from the 1940s-1950s and they have full height ladders, roof walks, etc., which would be gone by 1984. So, only 50'+ cars for me.

The D&H alone had an amazing amount of diversity in their boxcar paint jobs. There were red and maroon boxcars, some orange ones which were originally built and painted for the Upper Merion & Plymouth but instead were diverted to the D&H, yellow, green (solid green, and green paint-outs of ex-Reading cars, and brown. Add the blue and white "I love NY" cars into the mix and you have a little bit of everything! (Walthers also released a waffle-side boxcar as part of a 3-car set, though there appears to be no prototype for it. I might just track it down anyway for fun.) I cannot imagine how boring it would be to model the 1920s-1950s with nearly every freight car a boring oxide red or brown.

As I built up my boxcar fleet I tried to keep a certain ratio of home road/foreign road cars:
- 25% would be D&H;
- 25% would be Guilford, Maine Central, or B&M;
- 25% would be other northeast railroads (Conrail or predecessor railroads, CV, etc.); and
- 25% would be everything else.

I have no idea if that is the appropriate breakdown for D&H trains in 1984. I didn't pass on buying a car just because it might not fit the ratio, but I did purposefully avoid lots of western roads like UP and BN. I focused more on D&H and Conrail. Since I probably won't have more than a dozen cars on the layout at one time, I should be fine. When it came to weathering, I focused heavy on the rust effects on the north-east cars and did more fading effects on the cars from the west. It wouldn't surprise me if cars rolled out of the Conrail paint shop already rusted. Cars that were newer based on the stencil info on the cars received lighter weathering.

Even with my boxes of cars, there are still gaps. I haven't even touched the "I love NY" cars, but there is a good reason for that. I am a cheapskate. I generally don't spend more than $10 on a car, and there are no good "I love NY" cars for that price. Athearn/Bev-Bel cars have a really light blue, almost like a pastel blue, that could work for an older weathered car but not a 2-year old car. Bachmann recently released one too but tragically again the blue is more vibrant. Only Intermountain has the correct dark blue color, but the cars are about twice as much as I like to pay. So, I keep hunting train shows and watching EBay. I will eventually buy a couple and likely add decals for the "Operation Lifesaver" which was applied to some of the cars.

Also, the Bath and Hammondsport Railroad in central NY owned several boxcars in an attractive maroon scheme with white graphics including a wine glass emblem. They were used to ship wine out of the winery on Keuka Lake in Hammondsport, NY, and so clean were the interiors of the cars that other railroads would grab them for other uses instead of sending them back! As a result, it sometimes took months to make it home. I have a couple of these cars, but again by the 1980s they were sold to other companies and patched out. I am torn about defacing a really neat looking car, so for right now they remain weathered but not modified with patch outs.

Despite my principles, I am torn regarding the Cooperstown and Charlotte Valley thrall-door boxcars. The C&CV was owned by the D&H directly from 1957 until it was sold to the Delware Otsego Railroad in 1970. Walthers released several limited edition cars that look really sharp in black with "Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railway" spelled out in yellow along the top, and a small yellow D&H shield on the left. Unfortunately, by 1976 the shield was painted out. I am not sure I can bring myself to do that to these cars, so they sit untouched. The block of wood keeps the pizza boxes from collapsing when stacked up. 

There are a couple of other cars that I would like to acquire. Even though they probably didn't make it up to New York often, I would love a dark blue Chessie car with the kitten emblem. I think that is really classy. Also, Central Vermont had five boxcars painted white with black lettering for paper service that are really cool looking and might have found their way onto the D&H (link). I also need to do a couple of D&H "Reading repaint" cars in the two different shades of green. And one or two of the Rock Island's blue boxcars would be nice. And...

Monday, May 1, 2017

ATC - window castings ordered

I haven't touched this building in probably close to a year, and there were two good reasons (at least I tell myself that) for this. First, we moved last year and I had to pack up lots of my stuff for the trip. Second, I ran into a stumbling block: the windows.

I had told myself that everything on the structure would be scratchbuilt for maximum points in the NMRA contest judging. However, as time when on I realized I wouldn't get it done by the time of the convention so I just gave up on it. Once I moved, I unpacked all my old TOFC flat car and trailer kits, my cabooses, and other such gems and decided to work on them instead. I even had purchased some IHC heavyweight passenger cars painted in the D&H's "1939 World's Fair" scheme and I added some weight and details to them, body mounted the couplers, installed metal wheels, etc. And they don't even fit with my layout, much less have a real prototype for some of the cars! Yup, I was avoiding the ATC with everything I could muster. But, I have essentially run out of kits to do. So...

My wife told me "Don't rush the project- do a good job, even if it takes longer" and I agreed with her. Because these are recessed masonry windows, the window openings need to be cut perfectly as the edges of the window castings won't hide any mistakes. I think I did a reasonably good job with that. But, now I plan to buy castings instead of make them so I have run into another issue: the castings I buy must match the holes I cut. Doh! Whoever said "Don't cut your windows until you have the castings you are using in hand" was correct."

So, I printed out the catalogs from Tichy Train Group (website) and Grandt Line (website) and got to work. There was a little overlap, but for the most part either one or the other had what I needed but not both. I will need to place two orders. For my large upper windows, I need over a dozen and neither offers an exact match in size. I don't know how close they will be, and whether I can make them work by slighting opening the window or narrowing the window. We shall see.

However, it is nice to be able to make some progress on this building.