CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Monday, January 29, 2018

Springfield Train Show 2018

This year's Springfield Train Show was their 50th Anniversary, and for the most part it was an excellent show. I have been attending since the mid-2000s (when I moved to Albany, NY) and have really enjoyed myself. The local chapter of the NMRA has rented a bus for the past five years, and it is a great relief to have a quiet place to sit and eat lunch during the show, a secure place to store bulky stuff throughout the day, and a safe ride home at night afterwords when you are tired. My wife told me last year that I rushed through the show and didn't stop to take it all in, so this time I just wandered around at my leisure and went wherever I saw something interesting.

My wife has come with me the past couple of years, and she has an interest in N scale trains in general (and Western Pacific and regional NYS railroads in particular). Her tastes are a bit diverse, but we found several N scale cars to add to her collection. I really like the C.P. Rail Mandarin Orange boxcar. Also, because of my initials I like "B&M" boxcars and this black Milk boxcar was unusual enough to buy. My wife's affinity for the WP comes from their attractive "Feather logo", so whenever we see a car in that scheme we usually bring it home with us. She has quite a collection of trains, by the way.

As for me, I took a different approach at this show and actively avoided looking for any rolling stock except tank cars and long lumber flatcars. I didn't miss the time spent reading the ends of Athearn and MDC box labels, and it allowed me to focus on other things. Tank cars kits with seams along the side are difficult to assemble cleanly, so I am stuck with RTR cars. I saw one that looked like it might fit my era and it was attractive. Also, the seller had a discounted Reading boxcar and I will repaint the top dark green which the D&H did when they acquired some. Finally, a different vendor has an Allagash Railway wood chip car. As noted elsewhere on this blog, I am a huge fan of Mike Confalone's model railroad so I just had to purchase it. It was being sold by Dave Barlow, the guy who custom builds Mike's rolling stock, so it was "authentic."

There were a couple of unusual items that I wanted to get. The first was a book about the Amtrak Turboliner trains, Trail of the Turbo: The Amtrak Turboliner Story. I had seen the book for sale at last year's show but forgot to buy it before leaving. It looked like an interesting book, and I love the trains themselves, so when I got to the show this year it was the first place I went. It is a story with a very sad ending, with much of the equipment rusting away and scrapped. On a high note, though, I got to ride in the cab of one when I was a child in the mid-1980s. The conductor brought me up to the front of the train and I haven't forgotten that experience. The other item was a custom cab for a Bachmann On30 Forney steamer which closely resembles the one on WW&F #9, which we rode behind last May.

Also, I have been working on handlaying some G scale track for my MMR certification and I ran out of brass rail midway through constructing the crossing. So, I kept my eyes out for some cheap, used, LGB straight track. I found one vendor with a box full at a fair price but I thought I could do better so I passed. By the end of the day though I had not seen any used, dirty, track so I went back and he had one piece left. Apparently, he had brought an odd amount and a buyer had needed an even number so he had sold everything but this one last piece. It had been waiting for me to return! I also found an Atlas HO scale nickle silver manual turntable for $2, which I will also need for my MMR certification. This was my steal of the show. I just have to find a motor kit now.

My wife also bought me a really nice Boston and Maine tee shirt, in a rich, dark blue, with the "B" and "M" logo intertwined. Thanks honey!

There were a couple of display layout ideas I saw that really looked smart, so I took some pictures. My favorite layout of the show was by the Four County Society of Model Engineers (their website), which is based out of Maryland. Not only was the level of craftsmanship extremely high, but they properly lit their layout uniformly with a flood of cheap incandescent light fixtures. It was effective, and really made the details on the layout pop out. It is something I might consider for my own layout after I get the drop ceiling installed. They said they bought the lights in bulk from Walmart, and there were between 2-3 lights for every 6 feet of layout.

The last two pictures are from a modular group from Canada, and while I generally don't think N scale layouts are all that convincing this set of modules showed a winter scene that was really well done. Nothing seems forced in the pictures, and the building really overwhelms the track and the trains. The snow isn't sparkly white but instead is a cold, dull white. It makes you really want to bundle up and put on a pear of gloves. The snow plow is a detail I haven't seen before, and the buried tracks showing different levels of plowing and maintenance reflect real life conditions. I don't know how the owner keeps it clean, but it looks brand new.

The complimentary scene featured a long bridge over an icy river. The backdrop joint is the only thing that detracts from this scene. The ice flow in the river is super realistic, with portions of it translucent and other parts solid ice and snow.

Speaking of scenery, I was in the Scenic Express booth when in stopped Dave Frary, a very well known and respected scenery expert. When he was listening, I was listening. I jokingly said to him "Are you here to pick up some tips" and his response was "She knows more about this stuff than I ever will." As good an endorsement to Scenic Express as I have ever heard.

All in all, it was a successful show though I spent a bit more than I anticipated. Of even greater news is that Funaro and Camerlengo told me this year that they would be releasing their updated DL&W "Boonton" coach kits in the middle of the year. I have a letter from them dated 2002 saying it would be out "in a few months" and have been asking them about these kits ever since. Should this come true, I will buy at least three as the Arcade & Attica Railroad uses them (as well as rare Boonton combines) on their excursion trains.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Handlaying a Switch

Part of the NMRA Civil certification requirement calls for handlaying some track. And not only must it work, but it also has to be good enough to earn a Merit Award. I am allowed to pick three items from the following list: turnout (point or stub); crossover, double crossover; single slip switch; double slip switch; crossing; Gauntlet track, gauntlet turnout, dual gauge turnout; gauge separation turnout; double junction turnout, three-way turnout, spring switch, and an operating switch in overhead wire. Quite the list, though some look a bit more difficult than others. I am picking the three underlined above.

I decided to start with a turnout. I didn't intend to work on this until later this fall, after I had earned my Electrical certificate. Frankly, handlaying track isn't easy. If you work in the smaller gauges, it involves spiking tiny rail and trying to file minute angles in small pieces of rail and forming them with perfect flangeways. Yuck. If you pick the larger scales, then you practically need a milling machine to work the rail over and any mistakes are out in the open. Yuck. So, I photocopied an article by Tony Koester from Model Railroader on handlaying switches and put it in my file and just left it alone.

Then, as I looked around at my shop I saw some old LGB sectional track I had lying around taking up space. Humm... I got to thinking. The thought of building track in G scale (or large scale, or F scale, or whatever you want to call it) sounded really fun. Cutting the ties up, staining them, spiking the rail with spikes you can see that won't look too large (like in HO scale track), just seemed neat. Plus, I am a big fan of Bernard Kempinski's O scale blog and he handlays his track. It seemed doable. The tipping point was that I had an article from Garden Railways magazine from 2009 showing how to build a #5 switch. Done.

Not having a table saw, and not wanting to order lumber online, I went to Home Depot and bought some 3/8" square basswood dowels. I only grabbed the reasonably straight ones (or, I should have... by my second trip I was checking!) which looked good for ties. I found a 1x3' board used for shelving that would make a nice base. And, I picked up some Minwax Jacobean stain to color the ties. I rushed home and cut the ties to the lengths called for in the plans, glued them to the board after arranging them on the template and putting tape over the top to help keep them in line while moving them, and when that dried I stained them. This was fun! I pooled the stain in places to give it a shiny creosote look, and when I went overboard some sandpaper knocked the sheen down. No, there wasn't any rail cut yet but I was getting somewhere.

The 8 pieces of rail for the turnout all required some machining. Two small guardrails need their corners smoothed over, two point rails need extensive machining to make them smooth, two stock rails need a groove cut in them for the points, and the two frog rails must be ground to a 1 in 5 taper. But, I had a grinder and a benchtop belt sander and it all seemed doable. So, in ignorance I began. And, it sure seemed easier than I thought. Because everything was so big, it was easy to see. The belt sander chewed through the code 332 brass rail easily. I had to stop and dunk the pieces in water to cool them off frequently, but that wasn't a big deal.

Then it came time to solder them up. The magazine called for building a fixture with fender washers that held the rails in place, which seemed smart. The problem was that you were supposed to flip the rails over and line them up, and then solder from above. That was beyond my ability. You need everything in perfect alignment, but cannot actually see it. So, I flipped the script (literally) and took a piece of wood and cut the template out and glued it to the wood. I put a thin piece of sheet brass on top, and then arranged the rails right-side-up on it. Everything was coated in rosin flux. I used the screws/washers to secure the rail and made final adjustments using styrene check gauges I built based on NMRA Standards found online.

Next, I used my brand new propane blow torch that I bought just for this project and slowly heated up the assembly. It took a while as I didn't want to rush it, and paper burned up and the wood got scorched. But, then I applied some silver solder I had lying around and it quickly ran into the gaps and filled up the joints in the frog rails. I then let everything cool down. I later soldered the guard rails to their adjacent point rails, which was a lot simpler. It sure looked ugly when I was done, but it cleaned up nice. This wasn't tough at all! I attribute my success to the article being well written, me taking my time in grinding the rail and arranging it on the templates, and God being really good to me!

Once it was all said and done, I used copious amounts of alcohol and a toothbrush to clean all the flux residue off of the rails. I checked the clearances and in one space a tiny bit of filing was done, and in another space I used my Dremel and a cut-off wheel to slightly open up the gap. Nothing big here. These rails are huge and easy to see. I then soldered some tabs under the point rails to eventually connect to the throwbar. I also drilled and tapped 2-56 holes in the base of some of the rails for wiring, but the screws looked out of place so I lightly bent the wire to look like spikes and inserted and soldered it directly into those holes.

I got so much farther ahead than I planned that I had to wait and order Micro Engineering spikes the following Monday morning. They arrived within a couple of days and I dove in. The article recommended pre-drilling the spike holes and I started to do that with a #51 drill bit held in a pin vice. However, it became very tiring and I feared I would snap the thin bit. On a whim, I tried just shoving the spike in with pliers (in the typical two-step process of starting it, then choking up on it and pushing it home) and it worked well. Sure, in the process the spike sometimes got knocked sideways and opened the hole, but I still used the hole because there was plenty of wood there.

I also chiseled away the portion of the ties that interfered with the sheet brass support underneath the frog and guard rails. I started off by using a regular #11 Xacto knife blade, but then remembered I had these wide #18 chisel blades that worked perfectly. I set the rail where it needed to go and scraped a line with the back of the #11 blade into the ties. Then, I lifted the rail out of the way and removed the rest of the wood. I then used a small brush to apply more stain to the newly revealed areas, which surprised me how little of the tie the stain actually penetrated into. Finally, the rails were spiked in place.

I still need to install a ground throw to control the throw bar, which is a length of 1/4" square styrene that I painted black and drilled/tapped for 2-56 for screws. I soldered small tabs to the stock rails and the screws go through that. Since I am a glutton for punishment and wanted to make sure to earn my 87.5 Merit Award points, I used 4 spikes per tie. In total, I used 266 spikes on the switch and probably broke/bent/lost another 50. Pre-drilling the holes would have saved spikes but cost me my sanity. Since a bag only contains 500, I will probably need to order more for the crossing.

 I was extra careful when spiking the point rails to allow enough free movement of the rails, and I also did my best to maintain gauge through the area. An Aristocraft freight car truck proved useful, though it was very sloppy and didn't measure out to NMRA specs. I am finished with this for now. I still need to wire it, but I don't know if I want to use a slide switch to control both the point rails and the polarity of the frog. I plan to paint the baseboard a nice dark brown, and ballast the turnout. Neither is necessary, but both make it more presentable. And, I already started working on my second item, a crossing track...

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Planning the Staging Yard

So, the fourth side of my small layout will be a staging yard. I have waffled over the past year on what to model here, and I still don't know. However, a couple of things have become a bit clearer in my mind. Since the entire section is 2' x 4.5', which is shorter than my other three sides. I cannot pack a lot of stuff onto it. And, this section might only last until I get a larger house down the road, so I don't want to make it something that will be hard to integrate into a future layout.

But, I need to include certain things for my NMRA MMR Electrical certificate which will include: a powered turntable; a three-track yard with a switching lead and simple ladder arrangement; an engine terminal that includes 3 stall tracks, and an additional 2 storage tracks or sections with power-kill capability. That is quite a lot to jam onto roughly nine square feet. In fact, it is too much. I plan to honor the spirit of the rules, so I won't build a yard that contains three tracks that are only a foot long. But, I will definitely need to spill over onto the corner section leading into this.

I don't want to use cheap brass track (I have 40 sections of flextrack I bought on a whim years ago) and used switches for this "temporary" section, but I also am not sure I want to buy expensive M.E. #6 switches. Likewise, I will thinking of using ground throws instead of Tortoise switch machines, and perhaps the frogs won't be powered. I am still going to have to buy stuff, like a curved turnout to get into the yard and an Atlas turntable and motor, knowing full well that but-for the NMRA requirements I wouldn't have to. Sigh.

This yard might actually serve a purpose to store unused train equipment that isn't running on the mainline, so I must make sure the trackwork is still laid carefully. In other words, it might serve as a staging yard. There were many yards that were being torn up by Guilford in 1984 (North Albany Yard, "Breaker Yard" in Menands) and so I might be able to model this section as it looked run down and still be evocative of a real yard even though the track arrangements won't match. I laid out some lines using M.E. #5 switches but I don't know yet if I want the tracks to parallel the mainline in the back or cross the section at an angle. Too much parallel track might look bad, but it would be prototypical in this case.

I bought a curved Walthers/Shinohara turnout to bring the yard lead off of the mainline on the corner section, which will allow me to have longer yard tracks. Peco and Atlas also make curved turnouts, but they were either too sharp or too broad. Walthers unfortunately doesn't label their Shinohara turnouts with the correct radius per various online forums (see here and here), but their #6.5 has 24"R on the outside and 18"R on the inside, preserving my 24"R mainline. How much simpler it would be if Walthers actually stepped up and revised their catalogs to accurately state what the turnouts actually are?

That notwithstanding, the curved switch is really cool. It is much more robust than the M.E. ones, even though the point rail hinges are a little larger. I spent a lot of time just playing with it and moving it back and forth. And, it let me keep my 24" mainline radius. As an aside, I am always amused when I read in magazines of a layout that has "Minimum mainline radius of ___, except for ___." Huh? That doesn't make sense. Do they not understand what the "minimum" in "minimum radius" means? Anyways...

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Wiring the layout - Part 1

I hoped to be able to run a train around the layout's main line by the end of 2017, but that date came and went. Instead of rushing and substituting the wrong thing (track, wire, paint, lumber, hardware), I waited for the right stuff but it pushed my schedule back. But, now at least I was ready to wire half the layout.

Previously, I had installed 14 gauge red and black wires along the front underside of the benchwork. I planned to use 22 gauge solid wires for feeders, which some books said were sufficient as long as they were kept short (1-2 feet long). Despite seeing people say that Scotchlok made no "suitcase" (IDC) connectors for joining 14 and 22 gauge wire, I looked on their website and found that #905 ones did. So, I ordered a box and tested them myself. And, the results were mixed.

I order all my wire online, and my green 22 gauge wire had thick insulation around it. My red and black wire though has really thin insulation. When tested in #905 connectors, both held reasonably well though I managed to pull the red 22g wire out with a bit of force. The thicker green 22g held solid. I cannot be sure when ordering more 22g wire what thickness of insulation I will receive, so I up-sized a little and ordered some 20g wire in black and red that will be more secure in the #905 connectors.

After drilling 3/16" diameter holes through the benchwork for the wires on the rear side of each rail), I attempted to solder my first wire to the rail. Using the techniques discussed here, the job went extremely well. Unfortunately, my first wire was inside the gauge of the first code 55 rail and a test truck pushed over the solder joint made a slight click. There just wasn't enough clearance room between the wire and the wheel flange. So, I redrilled holes so that the front rail had the wire outside the gauge. It will be visible, but it should blend in once painted and weathered. I did this for all feeder joints, even on the code 70 and 83 rails, just for consistency.

The red wires go to the "rear" rail, and remembering that was half the battle. Each joint was allowed to cool and then cleaned up with some isopropyl alcohol to remove any flux residue. I even got fancy and soldered a couple of rail joiners just to see if I could, and they were even easier. I used to think people who soldered rail joints were snobs, but that was just because I couldn't do it. I still left some free to allow the rail to expand and contract as necessary.

One problem came up. Those stupid M.E. plastic transition joiners, when used on a sharp curve branching off of a turnout, kept leading to derailments. I ripped out the track, broadened the curve a bit (so that the track hung out over the roadbed) and then soldered the joints. Some strokes with a file left a rail joint that worked perfectly. The transition joiners might work okay for straight connections, but not for curves because they just aren't strong enough to keep the rails aligned. Instead of caulk, I used some thinned out yellow wood glue.

Underneath the layout, the feeders were stapled to the layout to prevent them from flopping around (and me snagging them). Then, they were tied into the bus lines with the Scotchlok #905 connectors. It was pretty painless. Finally, some spare yellow wire that I stapled to the underside of the layout was twist-tied to the bus lines to retain them. I used yellow because I don't use it for anything else at the moment. I finished installing 19 pairs of feeders on the two sides and two corners that I have laid track on, and I also soldered up some of the rail joiners. I worked on the soldering in fits and spurts because I don't find it all that interesting. However, it is certainly not as bad as I thought it would be. Just turn the music up and go to it!

In the end, I had to test my work but most of my engines have DCC decoders and I didn't want to dig out my Bachmann DCC system. So, I grabbed the first DC engine I could get my hands on, an Atlas Classic C424. I then took the wires coming from the DC output of a cheap train set transformer I had and used them to run the engine around various sections of the layout. Since the over-center springs have been removed from the switches, the points flopped around and the engine occasionally split the switch. But, all in all I had a good time playing around with this. I can't wait until I can run a train all the way around the layout!