CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Happy Valentine's Day

Out of the blue, my lovely wife decided to get me a surprise D&H-themed gift this year for Valentine's Day. Not only have I been looking for these cars (but been too cheap to buy them), but I didn't see a single one at the Springfield train show this year. My wife called the local train store and upon finding they were in stock picked out two based on numbers that I liked. The fact that they have hearts on them will cause me to think of her whenever a train goes buy containing them (a shrewd move on her part)!

Yuppers, I love my wife!

Friday, February 1, 2019

BAGRS live steam locomotive (Gauge 1) - Part. 3

I was able to sneak an hour or two in at the workbench recently, which allowed me to press forward on this engine. Previously, I had secured a sprocket to one of the axles and now it was time to connect it up to the motor.

There are four sprockets that tie everything together: one is connected to the end of the motor, which is then chained to a second sprocket on a rotating idler shaft containing a third sprocket, which is then chained to the fourth sprocket on the axle. The sprockets are bored to accept different shaft sizes, and to make up the difference the plans called for K&S brass tubing in telescoping sizes that increase in diameter as necessary Then, the set screws on the sprockets are tightened and compress the tubing together which retains the sprocket. I didn't believe it would work but it did. However, if those joints eventually fail I may just turn a shaft to the proper diameters and skip the tubing bushings altogether.

The idler shaft support is utter simplicity, being a piece of 1/32" brass that was drilled and then bent. Because I wasn't paying attention entirely to what I was doing, I got to make it twice. Drilling slowly and carefully into the thin bronze with the drill press was required; otherwise, the bit would grab and spin the part around. That didn't happen, thankfully. Then, the holes were deburred and the two actual bearing holes were opened slightly with a file. The support bracket was then formed in the vice. I could have used pliers to bend it, but I was concerned that the bends wouldn't be 90-degree and thus the ends wouldn't line up. That is difficult to correct by re-bending without overworking the thin brass, and not wanting to make it a third time I pulled out the vice. A little hammer work and it was done.

Before the idler shaft could be installed in the bracket, I had to make the two chains that connect the sprockets on it to the other sprockets. I bought plenty of extra chain but I still had to be careful to count the links (24 for one, 33 for the other) and then form up the one that joined the new ends together. I tested the chains and found that one bound up at the joint I made so I carefully adjusted the bent-over ends until it ran friction free. (This engine produces so little power than any friction can seriously hamper it). Then, I aligned the sprockets on the bracket over the sprocket on the axle and screwed it down to the deck. I marked the hole locations and pre-drilled them first to prevent the boards from splitting.

The motor is an oscillating cylinder that came with the boiler kit. It has connections for the steam lines in and out, a flywheel on the back (or front, depending on perspective), and a spring to adjust the amount of pressure the cylinder has on the port block. It all came pre-assembled but the screw might need adjustment after testing. The last sprocket attaches to the end of the shaft that also has the flywheel and a chain connects it to a sprocket on the idler shaft. I made sure everything was in perfect alignment, marked the four mounting holes on the floor deck, and then drilled them out. The motor was then screwed down.

The engine utilizes a simple displacement lubricator which is available from Roundhouse Engineering, one of the oldest Gauge 1 live steam companies still in existence. Their locomotives are simple and despite having multiple models all share a family appearance, but they are also bulletproof. I started another scratchbuilt locomotive years ago based on their parts and may someday get back to it. Anyway, a displacement lubricator works by allowing steam into the body of it from one side, the steam converts to water and sinks to the bottom of the body, and oil gets displaced up and out the other side. Simple, but it works.

I am not sure how Roundhouse mounts them but here I needed to screw it to the deck of the engine. No provision was made for that, so I took some of the 1/32" brass that I had left over (from a first failed attempt at an idler shaft support bracket) and cut it to size. I then used my blowtorch to carefully solder it to the bottom of the displacement lubricator. Of course, I first unscrewed and removed the rubber o-rings can caps. I also was careful to not get it too hot as I didn't want it all to fall apart! Some flux was essential, and I used silver bearing solder because I had it on hand. Had I not honed my skills building the Gauge-1 switches, I probably would have soft soldered this.

Finally, once completely cooled I washed it with alcohol to remove all traces of the flux. Then, I laid it out on the deck and drilled holes for the mounting screws. Too close to the edge of the deck and it might break off, but too far inboard and it could interfere with the boiler. Now that I look at these pictures, I wonder if I should have used hex bolts and nuts instead of Philips head screws. They can always be changed later if I want. I still need to connect everything up with silicone tubing but I have that on hand and it shouldn't be too difficult. I am now contemplating whether I want to paint all this stuff or leave it unfinished brass. I am leaning towards not doing anything to it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Scratchbuilding a Caboose - Part 2 (assembling the body)

During the summer I was working on laminating up the sides and ends of the caboose from thin styrene, using both scribed and plain varieties, as well as thin styrene strips to trim out the windows. I wanted to leave the option open for having a detailed interior, so I didn't add any vertical bracing in the corners or horizontal bracing along the tops or bottoms. And then I let the project sit for a month. When I came back to it, the pieces had warped. This has never happened to me before, and I don't know what went wrong. I tried heating the pieces in boiling water and flattening them while my wife poured ice water over them, but that didn't help at all.

So, feeling frustrated, I set them aside for several months. However, the recent blizzard left me stuck in the basement for three days in a row with nothing to do but work on projects, so I dug this out again. I realized that extensive bracing would be required for the sides to work, and that meant a detailed interior would be impossible. Oh well, for my first NMRA scratchbuilt car maybe that is for the best. I used very strong 1/4" square styrene along the bottoms and 1/8" square styrene in the corners and on top. Piece by piece, I stiffened the edges and slowly but surely the parts straightened out.

The corners were especially troublesome because I couldn't brace both vertical edges evenly. No matter what I did, there  were some bulges. So, I glued it all up and for those areas I flowed in more MEK and carefully used my fingernail to hold the joint closed until it fully cured. Thank goodness I had a TV on my workbench, as I sometimes had to hold joints for 10 minutes or more. I am sure that they make special clamps to hold corners such as this, but I was afraid of using something that would force the soft plastic to squeeze out and get somewhere that it didn't belong.

For the joints where clothespins could be used, I took advantage of them. They are one of the cheapest sources of good clamps, and along with binder clips should be in every person's workbench. Plus, MEK has no effect on the wood. As the day went on, my caboose slowly began to look more and more like it was supposed to. However,  due to the warp on the edges of the ends it was turning into a parallelogram instead of a rectangle. After some thought, I set it up on a piece of graph paper (which I assume has straight, perpendicular lines) and used a clamp to gently force it into a rectangle shape. After lining it up on the paper, I added corner stiffener braces and let it cure for the rest of the day.

There are several ways to build a model: (1) one where the body is attached to the floor permanently and the roof lifts off, and (2) one where the roof is attached to the floor permanently but the body lifts off. To make all three permanent during construction would prohibit getting inside to glaze the windows, paint the interior, etc. Fearing a thin removable roof warping, I decided to have the roof secured to the body. Before I did this though, I carefully added some styrene alignment blocks on the floor of the caboose so that the body would sit in place perfectly. Then, I traced the roof contour onto some styrene and added some cross braces.

I used a straightedge along the roof parallel with the long direction and made sure the two ends and the two braces touched the straight edge all along the curve. One brace was slightly too short and I added a thin strip along it to raise it up. One brace had a slight bump that I carefully filed down. Then, I took some thin 0.020" scribed styrene and measured it up for the roof. I glued it scribed side down, which looks realistic from the inside (though it will probably be impossible to see) and bent easier because of the grooved marks. Then, another layer of 0.040" styrene went on top to make a strong roof. I was careful to mark center lines and make sure both layers went on straight, as correcting it later would be difficult.

The ends of the roof bent slightly upward, which was annoying. The upper edges of the caboose have a full length board that has a decorative curve on the ends, and I thought that perhaps this could be used to pull the warped roof ends down. It just isn't strong enough to do that, but the side board combined with some curved styrene profile boards underneath the roof did a pretty good job of correcting this. It still isn't perfect, but I am not going for perfect. I am going for 87.5 points and I won't let this hold me back. For a while the sides were so warped I thought of scrapping the whole thing. That I got it to look this good is nothing short of a miracle!

The side joints where the two layers of the roof met the top of the caboose were also a little tricky. I flooded the joints with MEK, held the edge of the caboose roof against my workbench, and then applied strong pressure to hold it there for 15 minutes at a time to make sure it set. In G scale I would have just used blue painter's tape to hold the joint, but even a little smudging is obvious on a caboose this small. I also dug out some Testors white putty to work into the cracks. I rarely use it and don't have the finesse of an expert model builder, but it did fill the gaps. I have heard that Squadron brand filler works better, so I might try that in the future. I still need to sand this smooth.

Finally, I worked on the chassis. When I first built it, the outer two frame members that had the axle boxes bolted onto them were built strictly to the plans. I discovered two problems with that: (a) the wheelsets wouldn't fit between them and (b) the wheel flanges interfered with the inner frame members. To get around this I first drilled out the rear of the axle boxes with a #30 bit which allowed the full point of the axle end to go in easily and spin. Then, I cut away the offending portions of the inner frame members where the wheel flanges rubbed. You can see in the picture the missing parts. I may glue up some thinner pieces to try and fill in the gaps, but once it is all painted black it might not be noticeable.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Springfield Train Show 2019

Springfield 2019 is in the books. Somehow the day went like a blur, and all I have to show for it are some goodies I picked up along the way and a sore body. I swear that after walking around for 7 hours I just want to go home and rest, but later on I realize I wasted the last hour. I need to condition better for this show.

Though I came with a list of things I "wanted," I have learned over the years that when I "need" something I jump online or run to the local hobby store and buy it. I can't wait until January for it to come around. So, this is mostly an impulse-buy show.

As my research into the D&H has evolved, I have discovered a greater desire to learn more about the Boston and Maine Railroad. Not only was their equipment also attractive in blue, but their locomotive run-through agreements under Guilford ownership has allowed me to explore and expand my roster a bit. Plus, my wife and I love the McGinnis "Bluebird" scheme (which sadly was pretty much replaced with a solid blue scheme by the early 1980s). When I visited the Boston and Maine Historical Society's table and saw two color books I wanted for $25 each, I jumped at them. Even my wife urged me to get both!

However, my eclectic tastes came out in other ways too. I love British trains and was hoping to purchase some OO (1:76) scale trains which I could run on my HO (1:87) layout (they share the same track gauge, but are different proportions). I looked high and low but only saw a couple of vendors selling old, beat up stuff. If it was there, I missed it. But, I found the book Classic British Steam Locomotives for $2 and a book on The Isle of Man Steam Railways for $12. I bought it for the cover showing the engine #12 "Hutchinson," the only IoM engine to get painted in blue (and sadly later repainted in red). It is my favorite IoM engine.

As a history buff, I love studying the evolution of model railroading. I collect old magazines from the 1940s through 1960s and get a kick out of reading how to build benchwork with eggbeater hand drills, lay track using wooden milled roadbed, wiring with batteries, and scratchbuilding cars and structures with cardboard and wood shapes. The track plans are usually utter simplicity or crammed full of track with reverse loops and cut offs. We would likely never build anything in the book using these methods again, but that was the way it was 50 years ago. I found this gem for $5 and though it appears to be a collection of reprinted articles from other sources it was a fascinating read. The large control panel on the cover demonstrates the way we used to view layouts: from one vantage point (sometimes inside the layout) and frequently from a high angle because the layouts were much lower than eye level. Though the layouts had lots of spur tracks, you would need to constantly leave the control point to access them. That would get old real fast.

From the SR&RL Historical Society's table came this DVD on the South African "Blue Train." In the early 1980s, PBS ran a series of travel shows titled Great Railway Journeys of the World and my father taped them. I watched them dozens of times as a kid, and my favorite was the trip from Cape Town to Victoria Falls with host Michael Wood. In the beginning of the episode, Michael commented "The Blue Train is never late" and to this day sometimes my dad and I repeat that quote to one another when the train comes up in conversation. I still have those episodes converted to DVD, but the age of the tape has resulted in a great loss of sound quality. If anyone has better copies, I would love to have a set. I remember also that the windows of the train were tinted with real gold to keep the harsh African sun out. Anyway, I saw this DVD and had to buy it. It looks like it is set in more contemporary times but I still can't wait to show it to my dad. He will likely get a kick out of it too.


Finally, I had a change of heart at this show. In the past, my rule has always been that I wouldn't pay more than $10 for a freight car. I am quite content with Athearn and Roundhouse/MDC kits and 75% of my fleet is made up of them. But I need tank cars, and tank car kits suck. Hiding the joints and seams along the sides is near impossible, and I have had bad luck with Athearn and Walthers kits. So, I made a new rule of not paying more than $20 for tank cars that are ready-to-run. My wife helped me pick out three models that fit my era and budget. I really want some white-black-white tank cars, but we will keep looking.

Not only am I happy about what I bought, but I got to reconnect with a lot of old friends. Some, from my RIT Model Railroad Club days, I hadn't seen in 15+ years. Some come every year and this is are only time to talk to each other. I was able to ask Rapido about whether they had plans for any mainline British steam engines in the future ("maybe"), and Walthers confirmed that a D&H passenger train was not in the future.

I didn't find a single HO scale "I Love NY" boxcar and that was annoying, as I hoped to get one. I also was unable to track down a Bachmann On30 inside-frame Forney engine and I suspect that they are now only available on Ebay.

But, it was a good time all around. I only wish I didn't have to wait another year for it to be January again. My workbench was pretty clean at the end of last weekend's blizzard and a lot of projects had progressed. Now, with it is a mess again as parts I needed and ordered arrived this week. I can't wait to get back to work!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

BAGRS live steam locomotive (Gauge 1) - Part. 2


Due to the blizzard that hit the Northeast over the past weekend, as well as having Monday off, I managed to get a lot accomplished on my workbench. My parts arrived, and this is what $70 gets you... some sprockets (they would be "gears" if they engaged one another, but they are "sprockets" because they are connected via chain) and a double-length of chain. Though expensive, they are really well machined. I have done a lot of metal working but wouldn't want to make my own gears. And, unlike some companies' gears (cough... Bachmann... cough), these things won't split on the shaft. I bought twice as much chain as is required because I was concerned I might be a little short (and the chain was only $6 total, the cheapest part of the mechanism!)

One of the sprockets is installed on one of the axles, which is how power is transmitted from the engine to the wheels. This sprocket was the part that was out of stock. I had to press one of the wheels off of the axle, and by "press" in this case I hit it with a small hammer until it was free. The diameter of the hole that runs through the sprocket was a little too small to fit on the Sierra Valley Enterprises wheel axles, so it had to be drilled through with a 7/32" bit on my drill press. Then, I slide the sprocket onto the axle and looked through the holes cut in the frame so that it lined up with them. There is a grub screw on the sprocket to hold it to the axle, but I also used some Loctite on the sprocket itself for good measure.

The last axle and axlebox were mounted to the frame and I flipped the page to the next step. It was then that I realized I was short a couple of necessary pieces of K&S tubing. I found I could either order them online and pay twice as much for the shipping, or pick them up cheap from the local hobby store. Unfortunately for me, I misread the parts list and forgot to get the last two items I needed. And, with the blizzard going on outside I wasn't going to be able to get what I needed. So, again the project comes to a halt. 

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.