CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

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.