CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

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. Boy, things have changed. Amtrak is lucky just to keep the windows clean! 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.