CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Friday, December 29, 2017

A little more benchwork

So, I was doing some preliminary studies of how I was going to span the 2.5-foot wide gap in my layout and decided to use my four-foot level to see where everything stood. And, lo and behold, the corner section was sagging in the area where there was no benchwork to support it. It was only about a half of an inch or so, but I figured it was time to correct it. I had a couple of options, and the easiest would have probably been to bolt the other side of the corner section directly to the frame so that it couldn't budge. However, as I wanted my sections to be portable I instead set out to build a support leg for the overhang.

So, I bought about $6 in lumber and brackets and built a complete leg assembly. I also built two L-girder sections that were a little over 8" long. I had to set the legs up for the hockey puck leveling adjusters, but that was pretty simple. Then, the leg was bolted to the existing framework, leveled, and we were good to go.

Under the "nothing is easy" theory, it took me a lot of time to do this though.  I needed bolts which are 2" long carriage bolts. I drove up to Tractor Supply and bought several from their bulk pay-by-the-pound section but only bought 2.5" and 3" long bolts, not the 2" required (I didn't write down what I needed before I left). So, I had to go back on another day and drive another 40 minutes round trip to by $0.47 worth of bolts. I also had to order the threaded brackets again from Ebay, and wait for them to arrive. They don't come fully threaded (no idea why) and last time I had a friend do it but I wasn't going to see him for a while. So, bought a 5/16-18 tap online, but the seller sent me a 5/16-18 die instead (used for threading bolts, not threading holes), so I had to deal with the hassle of returning it and then getting the correct tap.

Oh well, it is done.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all of you.

A tradition at our house (especially since I didn't have a layout for over a decade) is to put a train under the tree. My wife and I have fallen in love with the O-gauge "Hogwarts Express" from Lionel. Not only is it a pretty train, but it is based on a series of books/movies that we like AND it is British. It really looks festive with my wife's little town set up under the tree.

Oddly enough, Lionel included with the set O-36 track (which means the track forms a 36" diameter circle) and it is too tight for the train. The pilot wheels rub against the cylinder, wearing it away. I substituted 0-48 track that allows the train to look and run better, though it takes up more space under the tree. One year I had the O-36 and O-48 both set up and ran it with my ZW transformer, which was pretty awesome.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Tunkhannock Viaduct

Over this past weekend I went to Pennsylvania to visit my friend and watch the new Star Wars movie. It is sort of a tradition we have. With some time to kill on Saturday, he decided to drive me around and show me a couple of train bridges. One of them was the famous Tunkhannock Viaduct, which was built by the DL&W from 1912 to 1915. While the bridge is a fascinating study in old engineering techniques compared to today's bridge construction, it was just impossible to take it all in from the ground. It was too cold to go exploring, but some day with nicer weather I may venture down again and check out their visitor's center.

Some information about the bridge: it is 2,375 feet long and 240 feet high. When completed, it was the largest concrete structure in the world. It is still used by Norfolk Southern, though sadly we didn't see a train on it when we were there.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Soldering wires to M.E. switch frogs

There are certain projects I really enjoy in model railroading, and certain ones I dread. Laying track and ballasting are by far my favorite things to do. Wiring, especially soldering, it probably my least favorite (though if I ever attempted backdrop painting, it would jump to the top). Soldering is supposed to be easy: take a clean, hot iron + properly tinned wire + apply heat to the thing to be soldered and not the solder itself = clean, shiny joint. Yeah, right.

Except that it isn't always so good. Many times when I am trying to get the solder to melt and it just balls up on the iron or on the wire, not melting and distributing itself. Or, the iron never seems to get hot. For years I couldn't understand it. Then, I decided to do some research online and I came to the realization that I was going about it all wrong. Honestly, though, it wasn't all my fault!

First, there is a bit of conflicting information out there. Take soldering iron tips. Some people say to clean them with fine sandpaper to make them shine when they get cruddy. Others say not to because the tips have a fine copper coating and once removed the tips are ruined. Do you use a wet sponge to clean the tip, or a wire mesh? Some places say to get a 40-50 watt pencil iron for soldering feeder wires, and others say 15-25 watts, and a few prefer big soldering guns. And do you use separate flux or rely on just the solder. Who is right?

Turns out, probably everyone in different situations. For me, not knowing what those situations were resulted in poor results every time I tried to solder. So, I went back to the basics. I bought a new Weller soldering iron station. It has an iron holder (that coiled thing), a place for a wet sponge (not shown in the picture), a knob to adjust the amount of voltage to the iron, and an on/off switch. It is very handy, my iron doesn't roll around and I can easily see if I left it turned on. But it wasn't enough.

Then started buying the proper wire for the job. It used to be that I would grab whatever type (solid, stranded) of wire I had handy even if it was thin wire with thick outside insulation, or heavy stranded wire with ends that would go everywhere no matter how hard you twisted them together. Now, I buy it in rolls online in various gauges (14 for bus wires, 22 for feeders) in the colors I need. It sucks when you run out of green or blue wire at the wrong time, but I stop what I am doing and purchase more instead of substituting something else. As a result, my wiring has improved too. But it wasn't enough.

I used to never use flux, but then I found I had some plumber's flux (Oatey #95) lying around and used that (I have no idea what will happen with those joints but the container didn't have the word "acid" on it). Then, I went out and bought Mininatronics / Miniatronics (note the spelling online, and on the package) rosin based flux and that worked fine. But it wasn't enough.

Finally, I switched my solder from really heavy diameter rosin-core stuff to thinner silver bearing solder. Was it expensive? A bit, but not that much. And, the joints are much stronger. I also purchased some really thin 0.020" diameter solder for times when I need just a little. And finally, it was enough.

Why am writing this? Because recently I did something I thought would be impossible based upon horror stories I had read online. According to some, soldering a wire to the underside of a M.E. turnout just cannot be done. Other people have said it is tough but possible. In fact, lots of people have done it. So what's the story?

I decided to try it myself. Truth be told, it was holding up my track laying. I couldn't lay my switches if the wires to the frogs weren't pre-soldered to the base of the frogs (some have said you can solder to the visible side of the frog casting, but I didn't want to go there). And, if the switches didn't get installed I couldn't really do anything else. Humm. So, I sucked it up and figured at least one soldering attempt couldn't hurt.

I first flipped the switch over and scraped away some excess tie plastic around the frog "button," that little circle thing you need to solder to. It was recommended to do this, as if the plastic melts and gets on the button it would contaminate the area and make soldering difficult. Then, I used the point end of a need file and scraped the button until it shone. You really cannot file/sand it clean by going sideways, as it is recessed. Poking it with the file worked though.

Next, I took a new piece of 22 gauge green wire and I stripped the end and bent it into an "L" shape. However, I couldn't hold it and solder it. Not having one of those handy gizmos with the alligator clips on the ends, I taped the wire to my workbench light and adjusted the light until the wire ended perfectly on the button. Two free hands to solder... yay!  I used a microbrush to apply a blob of flux on the button. I think this is the key to success. I heated up the iron really good and wiped the tip clean, and then melted some solder on the end. Finally, I moved in to solder and in one pass lasting about a second the flux sizzled, the solder melted, the wire fell into the solder, and I pulled the iron away to let it cool. It was bright and shiny.

I then gave the wire a nudge. Nothing happened. I gave it a gentle pull. Nothing still. I then tugged it a bit, and it stayed fast. It had worked! I was so excited I emailed my friend to tell him the news. I had made a good solder joint. Had I done anything unusual? Not really. I just followed good practice. I can't explain why it worked for me and not others, but I have now soldered 6 turnout frogs and all went fine.

Baby steps....

Monday, December 4, 2017

Micro Engineering switch quality

On another front, I have ordered two Micro Engineering code 83 RH turnouts from different vendors and both arrived defective. One had a stock rail that was so warped the the gauge was too tight at the points, and the other had points that wouldn't close at all to allow the curved route to be used. I know the M.E. turnouts are fragile/delicate, but this was before I even got to them. And, since local hobby shops don't stock them I need to order them sight unseen online. It is frustrating to have everything put on hold because you need a piece of trackwork, and it has already happened twice. I haven't had problems yet with either (RH, LH) their code 70 switches or their code 83 LH ones. Perhaps the die for the RH switches is worn out?

People love these things, and I can see why. They look awesome. But, function must come before form and here they are failing me. Hopefully any replacements they send me will work better.

I am considering switching (no pun intended) to Peco turnouts because they are supposedly "bulletproof." Again, though, no hobby store in the area seems to carry electrofrog code 83 Peco turnouts. They are about 25% more than M.E. switches, which is perhaps why they aren't stocked in the stores. However, I have read online good things about them too. We shall see.