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Layout Construction Journal

Volume Ten - August 2008 through April 2009

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April 22, 2009

Good session tonight. We made some real progress in getting back to operations by finally matching up all the car cards with the cars on the layout and getting them staged all around. It turned out to be a much bigger job than I anticipated, requiring participation from Tom, Dave, Neil and I over a period of a couple of hours to get everything sorted out and set into the proper places. But it's done now, and so we are a lot closer to that first shakedown session. I also have about 30 new cars to create waybills for, which should happen in the next few days. Fortunately thanks to a lot of work in the last few months there are plenty of new waybills to go into those new cars!

Scary Ted was also down (in fact he arrived first) and he and I worked on getting new control shelves attached to the fascia at New Milford. Later while I was assisting with getting the car card situation covered Ted continued on and installed several barrel bolts on the control shelves and installed needed wiring to connect the barrel bolts and servos to the Octopus controllers. I feel bad because I kind of ended up leaving Ted high and dry towards the end of the session, without materials to complete the work he was doing. Sorry Buddy, my bad. But I really appreciate the work you did tonight, it was a big help. I'll finish it up for you this weekend and get those last few servos running.

A significant part of the evening was spent discussing some changes I'm going to make to Wilson Point. These changes have to do with the coaling tower (or more appropriately, dock) being installed near the roundhouse. I recently learned from Marty McGuirk on the ModelRailCast show that it would have been unlikely for there to have been a skip hoist used prior to 1895. That revelation plus other data I have on early coaling facilities in New England throws a lot of weight behind the inclined trestle type of coal loading. I had resisted this method in the past because I felt it would disrupt yard operations by introducing an obstacle in front of the turntable lead and holding yard ladder to reach over and around, plus there's no evidence a structure like this existed here in maps or photos.

All that said, though, it is a correct design for the period, visually and operationally interesting and we've already compromised on this issue by adding the current services track next to the turntable lead anyway. Plus we quickly discovered that the services tail track was a great place to store cabooses out of the way in Wilson Point, and since the first ops session that's what it has been used for 90% of the time. The change would be a major departure from the prototype plan, which bothers me, but in the absence of any better, more specific data it seems to be a reasonable and prototypical compromise. Maybe rationalization is a better term.

I was discussing it with Scary Ted, Tom and Dave last night, and they were more accepting of the plan than I expected. Once they understood the reasons for the changes they were totally on board with the idea. They liked my idea of extending the services tail track to the holding yard lead, making it a double-ended caboose track. They also argued in favor of the inclined trestle off the holding yard lead for many of the reasons I mentioned before, even going so far as to mock it up for me with a piece of scrap masonite to show it would not be a major obstacle to running the holding yard. They agreed with my placement of a derail at the base of the incline to protect the nearby main line from a runaway gondola or locomotive coming loose from the ramp. I think Dave and Tom would have preferred more separation from the mainline so a switcher servicing the coal dock would not block the mainline while changing tracks, but they understood it was the only way this would fit.

We also discussed a possible alternative using a small side-dumping trolley that would be drawn by cable and a steam winch up a smaller, lighter inclined trestle from a dump pit reached from the holding yard lead. The turnout for the dump pit would likely be located in the same place, but the track arrangement would be a little different. There is some merit to this lighter-weight method instead of a heavier trestle that would support a steam locomotive pushing one or two 20-ton gondolas up to the top of the coal dock. That idea has some appeal too (including several photos I have) but I have to admit I'm more enamored of the heavier trestle idea, particularly now that I see it won't dominate the scene as I first thought it would.

Eventually we have to come up with a coaling station for Dock Yard as well I already have the design I want to use for Danbury when we eventually get there.

April 15, 2009

Talk about lightly attended sessions - tonight it was just me and Ted P! Most of my regular help had other commitments and couldn't make it. That was OK though, Ted is one of my favorite people to bounce ideas off of and we spent a fair part of the evening brainstorming and trying things out. We also managed to get a few things done too. We started off trying to decide how to mount the turnout controls in the New Milford (formerly Brookfield Jct) area, where there is a very high fascia panel, about 18". I threw some ideas at Ted, one of which was good, the others hare-brained, and we quickly decided to go with the good idea. Because the new turnout controls will be servo-based, the barrel bolt controls can be mounted lower on the fascia panel than if they had to actuate pushrods. We'll set them at a more convenient, easy to reach height and I'll use a control shelf similar to what we've used elsewhere on the lower level.

After that we took a critical look at the grout ballast that Scott and I put down last week. We both agreed that the cinders I had put down (I used some 'charcoal' colored sanded grout to build up the roadbed profile in a few places over the weekend) looked good, but the gray sanded grout on the tracks was too fine, it looked too much like the track was set into concrete. We decided to experiment with the sand I'd bought last week, to combine it with the grout and see how that worked out. I'll save you the details - we did a few test shots, and by the time it started looking like ballast there was almost no grout left in the mixture, not enough to hold the sand together. So it looks like sanded grout is a bust for HO scale ballast Well, at least now we know.

A 50/50 mixture of play sand and grout A 50/50 mixture of play sand and grout A 75/25 mix of play sand to grout A 75/25 mix of play sand to grout

From there we went on to hanging the train order signal boxes at the upper level towns. Ted helped me out by making the diffusion lenses for the boxes, then we dilled holes in the fascia where the boxes had to be mounted and fet the wires through. Finally we set the boxes in place with double-sided foam tape. Another job completed!

An upper-level train order signal box

Finally we tried to troubleshoot the brass switcher I'm putting together for my friend Dave's layout, and in the process discovered a problem with the DCC system, there was a dead short somewhere. Eventually we traced it back to the wye switch in Branchville Neil had installed a few weeks ago but not gapped. I took the dremel to it and lo and behold, the short went away! I was glad Ted was there, I would have freaked out over it if I'd been by myself. Unfortunately even after we fixed the problem the brass switcher still didn't work, so I'll have to open it up and have another look at the wiring. I think I know where the problem might be... should not be too hard to fix, I think. But I really need to get my hands on some more of that really fine wire that's often used for decoders. Some of the wires are just barely long enough to reach into the tender, which may also be part of the problem.

So the night was not a loss by any means, but there's still a fair bit of work to do before we can operate again. Thanks for all your help, Ted!

April 11, 2009

Working around holiday preparations I managed to get in some work on the railroad today. I did some wiring of servos back to their controllers, which helped get all but four upper level turnouts up and running. I figured out why I couldn't reprogram the servo controllers last Wednesday - they were not hooked up to the power source! So I plugged them in and got them updated no problem. I also got in some very inexpensive micro servos from China (Ebay) this week, about $3.50 apiece which is really inexpensive, about 1/3 the price of the standard servos I've been buying and 1/4 the price of the US-made micro servos. Duncan sent some new current limiters from Tam Valley Depot last week to address some over-current problems with the Octopus servo controllers, and I wanted to know if the lower current would allow the use of these smaller servos without burning them up like we did with the first one.

(Not to get off on a rant here but I know folks are going to get on me for buying cheap Chinese imports over US-made products. Before you start, I agree with you and in most cases abhor the idea myself. My wife and I won't shop at Wal-Mart because we believe their business practices are terrible for the US. Believe me, if the US made product was competitively priced, within 20-30%, I would be buying it and glad to pay the extra for it. The US made servos are obviously higher quality judging by the fit and finish of the samples I've seen. But they are also overpriced IMO. At less than 25 cents on the dollar for the Chinese servos the difference is just too great to ignore, especially in the numbers I need to buy them. So yes, I feel bad about it, but I see it as having to pick your battles. By saving here I can spend money when I need to elsewhere on other US products.)

Chinese bargain micro servo installed under Bethel.

So I removed a standard servo we'd been having trouble mounting at Bethel and replaced it with one of these micro servos, with a current limiter wired into the power line. I'll leave it running for the next few days and see how it works out. It barely has the strength to hold the points to either side with the limiter attached, but it does work. will it still be working after 48 hours? I'll check on Monday evening and see if it has survived the acid test. If it works out, I may order a lot more of these cheap servos. They may not work everywhere (some turnouts require more pressure than others) but if I can use them on half the turnouts or more I could save hundreds of dollars.

The only thing I'm unhappy about with using the servos so far is the noise they make. Unlike a stall motor which stops making noise when it stops moving, these do the opposite. Quiet when moving, humming when stopped! In some cases the humming is very loud and distracting. I'm hoping that reprogramming the end points in the controllers to set the exact spots I want the motor to stop at will help make them quieter. But it may be that the servos are simply unsuitable for use with solid-point turnouts and are best used on hinged-point turnouts that don't require as much pressure to hold the turnout points in place. Unfortunately for me, all my hand laid and Fast Tracks turnouts use solid points and require considerable pressure to hold the points to the stock rails.

I had a hare-brained plan to try cutting through the rail base on the closure / point rails to make the points bend easier if I can find fine emery string, looping it underneath and working at it back and forth from above. But that will be a lot of tedious, painstaking work, and could damage the closure / point rails by bending them up if too much force is applied. Another simpler plan is to go back and cut the point rails off each turnout with a Dremel and cutoff disk, and re-install them with a rail joiner to create hinged points instead. I would rather not do this to the 60+ turnouts already laid on the layout but it would solve the servo noise and Octopus power issues relatively quickly and easily, which makes it appealing. It would also mean I could use more of the light-duty micro servos from China which would save me even more money. Either way, a complete solution will have to wait until after July as there's no time to fix this before the NMRA National Convention. I may try the conversion on the micro servo-controlled turnout in Bethel as a test though, if the micro servo survives the next couple of days... Just to see if it works...

My NYC B-11 0-6-0 switcher nearly completed

I was also able to get in some time on another project, my brass New York Central B-11 0-6-0 switcher I'm painting, decaling and installing a decoder in for my friend Dave's New York Harbor RR Layout. It's been both fun and frustrating trying to get this model done. The last few days I worked on it have been all about getting the Soundtraxx sound decoder installed, which isn't all that easy to do in a brass steal locomotive model as it turns out. The wiring is a major PITA! I've made a few errors along the way and damaged the model a bit, but nothing catastrophic or that I can't fix - yet. It seems as though it defies me at every turn, but slowly I'm getting the upper hand on it. When this one is done, I have another brass 0-6-0 switcher model to do that will be the yard switcher for Dock Yard on my own layout. What I learn with this one will definitely help me install the decoder in the next one. Isn't learning new skills fun?

April 8, 2009

Another good session this week - I had help from several of my friends, Ted P, Neil, and Tom. We also had a visit from Scott, our resident scenery expert, whom it was great to see. I got started by asking Neil and Ted to complete their work on tuning the upper level turnouts, and Tom was tasked with getting the rest of the fascia cut and hung around the layout. For Scott, I had something new I wanted him to try out for me. A while back I had heard that sanded grout - the kind you use in a bathroom on tile - would make a good ballast for track. I had bought the grout (colored Gray) a while back at Home Depot but had not tried it yet, and who better to take a shot with it than Scott? I got him the tools he would need - foam paintbrush, alcohol and water in separate mister bottles and some small paper cups to apply the grout, and let him go with it.

Neil carefully hangs a section of fascia in the Brookfield Jct. area. Ted P prepares to cut a length of masonite to be hung as Fascia on the Housatonic's upper level. Scott scrapes off old ballast as he prepares to work with tile grout the will be the new ballast in this area.

As the rest of the guys worked on their projects, I was trying to reprogram the rest of my Octopus servo drivers with the latest updates. I wasn't having too much luck, couldn't get the laptop to recognize the key dongle. Very frustrating! I spent the rest of my time working with Scott on the ballasting (I wanted to learn from him what he was doing), cursing at the laptop and showing around a visitor, Blake Tatar.

Applying the grout ballast turned out to be easy with the paper cup and 1" foam brush (A tip from Tony Koester - thanks) as the ballast was fairly powdery but stayed where you put it. I had already known that the powdery grout would sort of coat the surfaces it was applied to, and it did that - but I was also told that during the water application step it should wash off the surface of the ties. One really nice thing about this technique is that no sprayed coating of glue or matte medium is required to set it - the cement is already in the grout. You just wet it and give it time to dry out, and it sets up hard. Makes cleaning the rails afterwards a lot easier. It also has the advantage of being very inexpensive compared to other ballast products.

We followed the directions I had been given for using the ballast, which was to spray gently with alcohol first (to break surface tension) and then follow up with a good dousing of water applied with a mister. The theory is that the water should wash away some of the fine grout cement on the surface, leaving the intermixed sand showing, which would resemble stone ballast. We found, in practice, that that did happen, but the sand mixed in with the grout is very fine, too fine really for HO scale except as cinders. For N scale it would look great! There were other unexpected problems also. The alcohol application leached out the alcohol-based dye used to stain the ties; and the powdery grout, when liquefied, seems to have soaked into the wood ties, making them lose even more of their coloring and becoming decidedly ballast-colored. Therefore it may not be such a great technique for hand laid track with wooden ties; flex track will likely fare better. It probably washes off the surface of slick plastic ties better than the wood ones.

First application of tile grout as ballast on handlaid track with wood ties. First application of tile grout as ballast on handlaid track with wood ties. First application of tile grout as ballast on handlaid track with wood ties.

We'll have a second go at it soon and try to address the shortcomings. Painting the ties with clear matte polyurethane before ballasting is an option to protect them from the grout. For the next time I try this I'm thinking about mixing in some slightly coarser sand with it, and maybe also a darker gray grout or even a bit of black grout to tone down the brightness of the light gray grout I already have. I don't know if the grout will color-coat the added sand, though. In the meantime I'm going to try roughing up the surface of the grout with a toothbrush, which I hope will also clean off the tops of the ties and remove the grout residue from the sides of the rails and around the spike heads. Maybe it will also reveal a rougher surface texture which would be nice. The grout also dried a bit lighter in color than I'd hoped, I think I'll also try a very light India ink wash on it to darken the ballast and hopefully the ties too. Might make it look a little less brand new too.

Back to the session - the guys worked hard all evening and finished up the other projects. All the turnouts got checked over and tuned up, and they managed to get the fascia up from the other side of the Danbury Peninsula around the corner to Brookfield Jct. Neil and the others also mounted all the barrel bolt turnout controls we'd wired up in previous weeks behind the upper-level fascia. There's now less than a half-dozen turnouts left to be wired up and we'll be ready to go very soon.

April 1, 2009

Another lightly attended session tonight, but we again managed to make progress. I was glad to have Neil and Scary Ted down for help, the two of them helped me get a lot done. Neil and I started off working on the Tam Valley Depot Octopus servo motor turnout controllers, getting a couple of them mounted and hooked up. Then we started getting the barrel bolt blocks wired up to the controller so we could control the servos.

About that time Ted showed up, and I asked him to work on getting the fascia David and I had cut mounted onto the upper level benchwork. It was a bit difficult with just one person, but Ted managed to make it work with a few clamps and an occasional "Hey, come here and hold this a minute.". It never ceases to amaze me how something simple like putting up a backdrop panel or installing a bit of fascia makes it look like you have made great progress, while you can spend weeks doing wiring and it seems like nothing is happening at all. It's just not fair!

"Scary" Ted D drives screws into the upper level fascia.

After a while the Servo installations became a one man job, so I asked Neil to start going around the upper level and checking the new turnouts for issues. It was good he did, he found several things that needed to be fixed on each turnout, including spiking them down which hadn't really been done! So he was kept really busy by that through the rest of the session.

Servo extension cables extended by splicing in additional wires

I continued to work on the servos, making extension cords to bridge the gaps between the controllers and the servos. The cords on the servos are only 12" long, and the discount extension cables I bought on Ebay from China are only 18". So I've been cutting the extensions in half and splicing in bulk 26 ga. wire to make up the difference. It's slow work but a lot less expensive than buying the parts and making my cable own extensions from the ground up. The complete Chinese extensions cost less than half the price of the connectors I'd need to buy! I can also customize the length easily this way, so there are fewer drooping cables to deal with.

March 31, 2009

Since this was going to be the ONLY day this week with decent weather, Dave was kind enough to stop by for a bit and help me cut up some Masonite I'll be using on the upper level fascia. I didn't have enough to cover everything so we just ripped down what stock I had to 3" wide strips and figured we'd work on hanging it until we ran out, and see where to go from there. Hopefully tomorrow I can get a couple of guys to run around and start putting this stuff up - it's holding up my mounting of the switch controls on the upper level.

March 25, 2009

I'd like to say tonight was really productive, but I don't like to lie.  I wasn't very well prepared and when the guys came down (Dave Tom and Neil) I ended up wasting a lot of our time by looking for the special mounting tape to install the servos with.  We all spent about a half-hour looking for it all over the basement, until I finally took a second, closer look in the servo parts box and found it hiding right in the bottom where it should have been.  I had looked there first but missed it under a whole lot of servo extension cords (I bought 100 of them a few weeks ago from China over Ebay and tossed them in the box when they arrived).  So that kind of set the tone for the evening.

Neil was able to get a wye turnout installed over at Branchville (Thanks to Dave who had an extra BK turnout kit he donated), and Tom - I'm not really sure what Tom was up to, I never really assigned him to anything.  Dave was the most productive, he managed to get all the rest of the servos mounted under the upper level turnouts before the evening was over.  Now it will be my task to try and get them wired up for the next session.

With any luck the next work session will go better!  I intend to be better prepared.

March 23, 2009

So this weekend was a diversion for me; instead of working hard on the layout (though I get get a few things accomplished) I spent a good part of it working on a few brass steam locomotives. One is a small generic 0-6-0 slope-back tender switcher I'm trying to get running for Dock Yard, the other an Alco Models New York Central B-11 0-6-0 switcher I'm working on for my buddy Dave's layout. Both are getting painted, tuned up a bit and having sound decoders installed in them. I have owned the B-11 for over a decade, just picked up the smaller switcher at the Springfield train show. It's quite a contrast in quality between them.

The NYC B-11 is a really nice model, probably 1970's or 80's vintage. Came with sprung drivers, a can motor and really nice detail. I breaks down into about 7 parts to be painted separately. The smaller switcher was a basket case when I bought it, got a great price on it but it was in poor shape, missing parts and painted terribly. The quality isn't very good, probably 1960's era with a open frame pittman motor and clunky details. Still it was fairly cheap and I knew I'd be changing out a lot of details anyway, so I went for it.

I disassembled and cleaned both models on Friday when I got home from work. The B-11 got a coat of primer right away sonce very little needed to be done to it. The small switcher had its motor removed, and a new small can motor got installed. I made a combination motor mount and torque arm to hold the gearbox in place from sheet brass, set it in place and glued the motor in with silicone caulk. A set of Northwest Short Line universal joints replaced the old rubber tube to connect the motor and gearbox.

I tried to fix a few loose and broken-off parts on the small switcher with varying degrees of success. I tried to solder the smokebox front back on but it would not take, so I epoxied it back on. A couple of brass wires I had better luck with but I think they are still kinda tenuous, I'll have to be careful with them. I also drilled several holes in the floors of both tenders to allow sound to emanate from the tender once the speaker is installed.

The Alco Models B-11 New York Central switcher disassembled and painted!

Sunday, both models were in primer red and got painted flat black. I was really happy with the job on the B-11, and the paint on the small switcher came out well too, better than I expected it would. This week when there's time I'll be starting up the decoder install in both locos. I still need replacement headlights for the small switcher, and I'm trying to decide how to install an LED in the brass headlight casting of the B-11.

I also spent some more time working on the new coaling tower for Wilson Point (adding leg bracing, starting the coal chutes) and made up another half-dozen of the barrel bolt switch controls for the servo based turnouts around the layout. I also got the three new upper-level train order signal displays at Bethel, Brookfield Jct and New Milford hooked up and running (thanks to Scary Ted who ran the wires last week). This coming week the plan is to get Fascia up on most of the upper level and get these train order signals mounted.

March 15, 2009

Had a good weekend, got some good work done. I managed to get a lot of the barrel bolt switch throw assemblies installed under the upper deck around Branchville, playing with some ideas on how to mount them - I used a couple of different methods, I'll see how each works out in the next few weeks. I also attempted to get started on tuning up the servos at the same location but had some problems with the driver circuit - I'll have to talk to Duncan from Tam Valley Depot to see how I can fix the issues.

I also was able to complete a project I started a few years ago - the Hatch Bailey building in South Norwalk. I built this structure about two years ago, kitbashed from a bunch of DPM building panels. I loved the way it came out, and Scary Ted helped with it by doing the mortar and weathering on it. I made a raised-seam metal roof for it - and then lost interest in the project, and it sat that way until recently. Part of the reason for that was I was having trouble with my ALPS printer, and I needed to print out some large decals for this, so it went on hold. Recently though I got my hands on a 'new' ALPS printer, so I've been making up for lost time. One of the projects I worked on last week was finishing the decals for this building, so it was time to get back to it and get it done!

The signs on the Hatch Bailey building are finished, and soon the structure will be too!

I masked off the model to paint on the black background for the painted signs on Friday, and gave it a light coating of gloss paint so the decals would stick well with no silvering. On Saturday I printed the decal sheet and sprayed it with some dullcote to seal it, and shortly afterward got to work on applying them. It was interesting applying such large waterslide decals; I haven't done that since my model rocketry days. Anyway it went well, and I was really pleased with the way it came out. Now I'm just waiting for Neil to finish painting the roof (he took it home last week) and the model should be finished (needs a bit more weathering).

As long as I was doing some decaling, I also threw some gloss on a half-dozen BTS 32' boxcar models Neil built up a while back and decaled them too. I did four Housatonic cars and two White Line - Housatonic cars. They need a few more coats of decal setting solution and some dullcote, but I think they came out well too! It'll be good to have some more home road cars on the layout.

March 11, 2009

Being that this was normally my off week for work sessions, I wasn't expecting many helpers tonight. Especially when several of my regulars had already let me know they would not be making it because of other obligations. So I was very surprised and happy when I got the rest of my regulars and a couple of guys who show up less often! We made some important strides tonight towards getting the upper level running.

Scary Ted arrived first, early because he had an appointment nearby. About when we were set to head downstairs Wayne arrived too, se we all got started about the same time. I asked Ted to help out with some wiring chores, specifically running a primary track bus line out to the sub-bus between Danbury and staging, Up till now that sub-bus was directly connected to the breaker, which meant it couldn't be turned off independently. Ted ran a new line from the breaker to a point about halfway down the sub-bus where I had installed a cutoff panel years ago and made the connections, doing a very nice job. Wayne also started off with some wiring; I had him attach a flexible power cord to the corner lift bridge which up until now has been unpowered. He tied it into the same sub-bus Ted was working on, and stapled it down in several places to hold it in place. That finished off several power issues that needed to be addressed.

About that time Neil also showed up, and while there were several things I could have asked him to do I felt the most important was to replace the couplers on all my Spectrum locomotives. These models come with Bachmann EZ Mates, which wouldn't be too bad if I were using Kadee #5 couplers on ann the rest of my equipment. I'm not. The EZ Mates don't work so great with the Kadee #58 couplers, so it was time for them to go, and Neil did the work for me. He had to play around with a few different types of #58 couplers (old style & new 'whisker' style) to make everything fit right. By the end of the night he managed to get them all done, which will be great when we finally start to operate again.

Sometime later Ray showed up too, and I asked him to see if he could install a DCC sound decoder in one of the last 4-6-0 locomotives I had which isn't yet on the layout. He agreed, and in no time it seemed he and Wayne were working on it together, having pulled out Ray's milling machine and trying to cut a hole in the tender floor for the speaker. They both really enjoy that type of thing, and though they didn't get too far with the project (other than cutting large holes) they had fun doing it. Next time Ray will finish it up I'm sure.

As for me, when I wasn't running around supporting everyone else I was working on getting the new turnout throws wired up around Branchville. Last week we got most of the servos installed and connected to the controller, tonight I worked on connecting up the barrel bolt assemblies to run them. Each assembly has a pair of SPDT switches mounted on it - one opens or closes a circuit to tell the servo controller which way to throw the servo, and the other changes the frog polarity on the switch. I was able to get almost all of them installed around Branchville, I'll get the rest (about 6-8 more) installed around the layout this weekend.

When the session was over I went around with the pile of car cards and managed to match up some more cars with their cards. I'm concerned because there still seems to be many cars on the layout whose cards I can't find, and I have cards for cars I can't fine. Hopefully that situation will sort itself out soon.

March 8, 2009

I think I mentioned that my friend and fellow early period modeler David Emery came by to visit last week, and amongst many discussions we had was one about the coaling facilities at Wilson Point. Dave liked the little wooden bin with the jib crane I'd built, but noted it was really much too small to serve a terminal like Wilson Point. I explained that there is no evidence in photos or on maps to show a coaling tower here, which he understood, but still felt I needed to do something. We discussed a few ideas that I have thought about hard for well over a week now. Dave convinced me I needed to do something, but I knew it had to fit into my layout design givens and druthers to work.

First, I didn't want whatever I put in there to obviously violate the look of the scene. I was able to rationalize the following parameters without forcing too much of a compromise: In views of the wharf from across the bay, you can't see the roundhouse behind the transfer station. I know the roundhouse is there, though - so if the coaling tower doesn't extend higher than the roundhouse, it could be there without being seen in the photos. So that became the first parameter of the design.

I also decided I wanted to keep the coaling station in the same spot on the turntable lead next to the ashpit, between the roundhouse lead and the ashpit service track. I could build a narrow coal bin to fit between the TT lead and the ashpit track, or have the coal bin straddle the ashpit track which would make it larger. In the end I felt the wider tower would have looked short and squat with the height restriction, so I decided to go with a narrow tower between the two tracks that would have better proportions.

The New coaling tower is taking shape at Wilson Point. The New coaling tower is taking shape at Wilson Point.

This was enough data to get started with the construction. Over a few hours on Saturday night I was able to construct the basic form of the tower out of styrene shapes, including the primary supports, bracing, bin sides, ends and floor, and the four walls of the hoist house on top. I winged the design based on several wooden coaling towers I had downloaded photos of, and tried to get the right look and feel. My engineering is probably a bit off but I think it looks OK. I left a large opening in the right side of the hoist house as a way to get coal inside.

The next big question was how to get coal up into the tower? The first part of that was where to put the coal when it arrived. Dave Emery had suggested a tipple out on the wharf where it could be easily loaded from coal barges moored alongside. I liked that idea but felt it was important for the coal bin to be on the turntable lead, so coal would have to move here in gondolas - a short but important trip. The dump pit would have to be somewhere nearby

In real life, the roundhouse backed up on the property line dividing the railroad facility from the wealthy families who owned the rest of Wilson Point. A wooden fence up against the tracks kept the gentry's prize Scottish cattle from wandering onto the tracks. I felt it was important to recognize and model this, so there was no room behind the ashpit track to place the coal pit. To the left of the tower was the ashpit itself, and to the right the crossover track from the turntable lead to the ashpit track. It was evident the only reasonable place for the coal pit was between the same tracks as the tower, on the other side of the crossover track. This meant coal had to cross the crossover track to get to the bin.

I played around with several prototype-based ideas, including an inclined trestle and an overhead continuous chain with buckets, but neither looked like I hoped it would and blocked access to the yard tracks behind. Eventually I decided it would be an underground conveyor running under the crossover track that would bring coal to a skip hoist mounted on the side of the coaling tower. I'd simulate this with wood panels covering the trench where the conveyor would be. Simple, and no access issues. Now I just have to build a skip hoist...

February 28, 2009

Over the last day and a half I committed myself to getting all of my locomotives decaled, with their final numbers and names.  It took me from Friday evening to Saturday night, but I got all 15 of them done.  (There are really two more, but one will get NY&NE decals and the other hasn't been painted yet).  Here's a couple of photos of the finished locomotives:

A Spectrum 4-4-0 locomotive newly decorated for the Housatonic Railroad. A Spectrum 4-6-0 locomotive newly decorated for the Housatonic Railroad.

The pinstriping on the 4-4-0's came that way from the factory, all I did was apply the names and numbers.  But the 4-6-0's just came with black paint.  The double stripe on the top and the bottom of the lettering is part of the decals I printed, and had to be cut up into 5 different parts to get around the vertical grabirons on the tender and to fit the lettering in its proper place.  The seven I did like that are what took most of the time.  Still, I'm really happy to finally have that task out of the way.  And I was so happy the decals matched the gold striping on the 4-4-0's, well, it made for a feel-good weekend.  A fair bit of time was also spent re-programming all 15 locomotives to their new addresses.  Thank goodness that's the last time that chore needs to be done.

Almost all the parts I need to complete wiring up the new servo controlled turnouts are almost here, I expect the last component (600 feet of hook-up wire) to be delivered tomorrow, and after that I'll be able to start the wiring tomorrow evening after work.  I also have the upper-level train order panels built up and almost ready to go, part of this Wednesday's work session will be to run the new cables to those locations from the control panel and completing the installation.  I still need to get up on the layout and fix the track problems we found last session - that will be Tuesday night's job.

February 18, 2009

A lightly attended work session this week but we still managed to get a few things done. I had help from Ted P, Ray Louis and Wayne. After showing them what I'd accomplished over the weekend (Ted and Ray were both particularly interested in the work I'd done with the servos) we got started on some things for the railroad. I cleaned the rest of the track in Branchville which Neil couldn't get to last time, while Ray inspected the new track and made adjustments over in Bethel. Ted was kind enough to take the three new Spectrum 4-4-0 locomotives I've acquired over the last year and program them for me. It took a while because he thought there was a problem with the decoders taking the programming, but it turned out the section of track he was testing on had been turned off! Once we flipped the switch back on everything worked better.

When I was done cleaning track I grabbed one of my 4-6-0's and started testing out all the new track. This was the first time we had run a train on any of the upper level track ever. I found a few issues such as incomplete gaps around frogs that would cause shorts when the train went over them, and some gauge problems, but they were easily fixed with a file or Dremel tool. When Ted P was done he joined me, and we systematically ran the small train with a few cars over each turnout route forward and backward. We found a lot of small problems with tight guard rails and bumpy frogs, as well as a few broken solder joints. But we were able to fix those issues pretty fast and by the end of the night we had run the train all the way up from Branchville to staging, moving smoothly through all the switches.

The first train arrives in Branchville under its own power! The upper level is now up and running!

We had a funny moment during track testing when we tried to run the train through the stairs from Branchville to Bethel - seems I miscalculated how high the roadbed would be going through the wall. The loco's smokestack bumped into the overhanging sheetrock and stopped it cold! We had a good laugh, then I got out a drywall saw and in a few moments that problem was corrected. But it was kind of funny when it happened.

After the session, Ray e-mailed me to tell me hed found a website with could be described as knock-offs of the HiTec HS-55 micro-servos at considerably lower prices. As low as $4-5 in some cases, where the branded high-quality version costs $13-14. Several of the knock-offs get good reviews from users. Apparently similar knock-offs are all over ebay, sometimes with even lower prices, with free shipping from Asia. Im going to try picking some up and see how they work. If they do work well they will make the servo system even more affordable and attractive to me.

February 16, 2009

Valentines day weekend has been good to me.  My present from my wife was more time to work on the railroad, which was a great gift!  I had a chance to work on a lot of different things, and made great progress on getting things ready for operation.  The first thing I did was to walk around the railroad and start a punch list, writing down notes on post-its and sticking them near the issues that have to be addressed.  Things like feeders that aren't hooked up, track problems, electrical switches that have to be added - a whole host of things.  Then, I started testing the track for short circuits, and found that there were shorts on both of the new sections we've been working on.  First I checked all the feeder wires (OK) and then the fast tracks turnouts - turns out we missed a couple of gaps in the PC ties here and there.  A quick touch with a dremel and cutoff disk fixed that, and in short order Both sections were electrically sound. 

While I was looking for shorts, I took a peek in the boiler room to see how things were in there - it was a mess.  Not only had the feeders not been connected, the heat from the boiler and water heater had shrunk the masonite splines, and there were serious track kinks.  I slid the rail joiners back and trimmed the rail ends with the dremel until the pressure was off, then slid everything back into place and soldered up the feeders.  Another problem solved.  While I was at it, I did a few more feeder wires here and there that hadn't been connected either.  I didn't get to all of them but I made some real progress.

Then it was time to isolate the two sections into separate blocks.  I grabbed the dremel again and figured out where one set of feeders stopped and the others began, and cut gaps in the track.  That went quickly enough, though I figured out I need to install a cutoff switch on the last block into staging - it's currently live with no way to shut it off.  I'll take care of that today.  Again, while I was doing that I saw the track feeders in the new section of staging were not soldered, so I did that too, and installed a couple of Caboose ground throws on the balloon track siding.  That, at least, is ready to go now.  I still need to get in there and do a little more feeder soldering and rail gapping of the new track around staging.

A few weeks back I had started to think about the new train order signals I'm going to need on the upper level at Bethel, Brookfield Jct and New Milford.  When I made the original fast clock panels, I made and bought extra components to take care of the upper level also.  So while I was thinking about it, I decided to make them up.  I cut some masonite panels on the table saw, them marked the holes where LEDs would be mounted and drilled them.  I installed the LEDs, and glued the light baffles over them to match the yellow and black masks I had made.  These panels will not have clocks, just train order signals.  I wired them up, and they will soon be ready to go.

I also got to build a prototype of the newest turnout-actuating barrel bolt switch throw device.  Since I'll be using the the Tam Valley Depot servo drivers to operate the upper level turnouts, I needed a way to actuate them which will both trigger the servo and change the frog polarity.  A DPDT switch would have worked, but I already have all these nice SPDT lever switches.  So I came up with the following simple mechanism to do the job:

Prototype for the Mark V turnout controller, using a barrel bolt and two lever switches. Prototype for the Mark V turnout controller, using a barrel bolt and two lever switches.

The blocks of wood will get mounted upside-down under the benchwork edge, and a small sign will be mounted on the fascia to indicate its location.  The bolt will close the circuits on the two switches when slid into place.  I have already mounted one of these at Branchville, and it is running one of the servos we installed two weeks ago perfectly.  This design can also be modified to work with the shelf-mounted barrel bolts on the lower level if we decide to replace the machines on the lower level too.  Which is a definite possibility...

I also did a little bit of modeling - I pulled out one of the Roundhouse Palace Pullman kits I've been saving for years and assembled it enough to test it around the tightest-radius curves on the layout.  I figured it would be best to know now if they would or wouldn't work before I painted and assembled eight of them.  I was surprised to find it had an ingenious method of swinging the coupler from side to side so as not to drag other cars off the rails.  It handled the curves through the Bellinadrop just fine, even when coupled to a 34' boxcar with a fixed coupler mount.  So cool, I'll be able to use these cars.  Now I have to get a bunch painted.

(Later) Well I didn't get everything done that I wanted to, but I did get a little more modeling in this evening when I scratchbuilt a ball signal for Catherine Street.  I found some photos of a ball signal earlier in the day, and decided it was time to try making it.  So I gathered up some scraps of styrene on my workbench (which I also cleaned up this afternoon) and in about 90 minutes I had what I think is a passable Ball signal.  When it's done, it will be animated with a servo and be run by the Dock Yard yardmaster to hold southbound trains out of South Norwalk at Catherine Street.  I'm looking forward to finishing this one up, I need to get my hands on some 3/8" red beads tomorrow.

A Scratchbuilt Ball signal for Catherine Street on the 1892 Housatonic Railroad layout. A Scratchbuilt Ball signal for Catherine Street on the 1892 Housatonic Railroad layout.

February 4, 2009

Tonight was a fun session. We didn't get a lot done on finishing the upper level (though Neil spent some time cleaning the new track) but we had some fun trying out a new turnout controller designed by fellow model railroader Duncan McRee. I had learned about it from Duncan on ModelRailCast show #48, where he described a circuit he'd built to run his turnouts from his DCC throttle. But the intriguing thing about it was what he was using for switch motors - model aircraft servos.

A micro-servo being used as a switch machine A micro-servo being used as a switch machine A micro-servo being used as a switch machine

A model airplane servo being used as a switch machine Duncan Mcree's circuit board for the Servo-based turnout controls

I've been looking for a servo-based turnout motor solution like this ever since my friend Ray Louis brought up the idea a few years ago. Ray has been dabbling at it for a while but pressures from work and other things have prevented him from following up on it. When I heard Duncan describe his circuit on the show, I felt he might have the answer I was looking for. I contacted him via the ModelRailCast forum where we are both members, and asked him a few questions about his circuit, whether it could be modified to run off a simple toggle or lever switch. Long story made short, within a day or two we had talked, he had redesigned the circuit and was sending me a beta unit with servos to test on the Housatonic.

Well all the parts came in earlier this week, and I set aside at least part of tonight's session to install and test the system. I was very skeptical that the small servo he sent would be powerful enough to move and hold the points of my Fast Tracks turnouts. They are solid-point style (no hinge between the closure and point rails) and require a fair bit of force to move. Previous experience with other switch machines had showed me a lot of force was required to set these turnouts and hold them in place, a lot more than was needed for commercial turnouts with hinged points that slide easily.

Ted P arrived first, and I started showing him Duncan's care package. Ted got really excited like I was, and we started getting everything hooked up. Duncan's circuit is very flexible, it can run off a dedicated 12 volt DC power supply or directly off the DCC track power bus. I had a 12 volt source nearby where I wanted to test, so we used that. The beta circuit can run up to four separate servos, it uses a standard SIP connection to plug into the circuit board making connections very simple. The switches Duncan provided were also pre-wired to plug into the board. In a little while we had everything hooked up and were enjoying watching the servos turn back and forth as we flipped the switches. We were surprised that even the small servo was quite powerful. A larger one he sent was also quite powerful.

Duncan had sent some .023" piano wire along for a throwing pin, but I already knew it would not work on my turnouts from previous experience. Instead I got a length of .047" piano wire, and bent that into a narrow question mark shape. we threaded this through the 'horn' of the servo (the bellcrank-like arm that pivots) deciding to try and drive the turnout directly instead of using a fulcrum mounted in between the horn and throwbar of the turnout (which would double the distance the horn had to move, as well as double the force on the points). We followed Duncan's advice and prapared a square of double-sided foam tape to mount the servo to the spacer block.

We played around with a couple of mounting options, and decided Duncan's recommended method seemed like the best and simplest way. We glued a 1/2" thick wood block to the underside of the spline roadbed (under plywood it would be almost the same) to give the servo some clearance.

The controller has a setting to 'zero out' the servo during installation, ensuring the travel to either side will be equal. We set that, inserted the throwing pin into the turnout throwbar from underneath, and pressed the servo into place. I was skeptical the foam tape would hold the servo, so we operated it at first with the servo clamped to the block. Lo and behold, the tiny servo exhibited it had plenty of power and torque, easily pushing the points from side to side and holding them in place. We then took off the glap and glued the servo in place with the double-sided tape, and it all held up fine.

The only 'problem' I could see was that unlike a stall motor (Tortoise) which stops running when it can't go any farther, the servo reached a point where it couldn't move the wire any farther, but had not reached the position it wanted to be in - so it kept running. This kept force on the points, which is a good thing. But It made a faint humming noise constantly, and over time a spot on the servo became warm, even hot to the touch. I have concerns that this might eventually cause the servos to burn out prematurely. If I could use a lighter weight throwing wire, I might be able to have it bend enough to still hold the points in place but allow the servo to reach the position it wants to be in. I will have to investigate that possibility. The circuit allows for different settings on how far the servo will move side to side, so some adjustment is possible.

The larger servo was installed the same way and seemed to handle the stress better, getting warm but not hot. In both cases the foam tape held the servos in place, even against some impressive torque. A large servo is a relative thing - the large servo is about 1/4 the size of a Tortoise switch machine, which is small. The small servo is barely larger than a $1.50 stack of quarters. Either option makes a good choice for situations where vertical clearance below the switch motor is critical, such as on the upper deck of a multi-deck railroad.

So anyway, the test was a rousing success! I'm sold on the technology, and hoping to move forward with Duncan on this to try and equip my upper-deck turnouts with servo switch motors. Depending on the price point we arrive at, I may even redo the switch motors on the lower level as well in time.

In other news, Scary Ted also came up, and spent the night working on re-powering a brass 0-6-0 switcher (We have identical models, and recently bought replacement can motors for them - if he gets his to work, he'll likely repower mine too. I had some universal joint parts left over from a turntable I built a few years back, so I gave them to him to work with. By the end of the night he'd made some good progress, and was going to bring home the parts to continue the work. I hope he gets it working! When we get my model re-powered it will become the Dock Yard switcher.

At the end of the night, Neil decided he would like to take on getting the Standard Oil scene finished. He spent some time examining the work Jay had previously done and taking measurements, and we looked at some kit options to try and kitbash the loading platforms. In the end we decided it was probably too much trouble to kitbash, a new structure from simple styrene parts would be faster and easier to build. So over the next few sessions he will be working on that. And that's pretty much all there is to say about tonight's session!

January 29, 2009

Well, a very exciting day on Tuesday - Neil brought over the Wilson Point Roundhouse, which is now finished.  Wait, say it with me - finished.  This model has taken over three years to complete, and has been worked on by at least four of my friends and myself.  I cannot believe my eyes - but here it is, sitting on Wilson Point.  I'm very excited to have it back and to display it proudly. 

The completed Wilson Point roundhouse! The completed Wilson Point roundhouse! The completed Wilson Point roundhouse!

The completed Wilson Point roundhouse! The completed Wilson Point roundhouse!

Thanks must go to Neil Henning, who was there at the beginning, he made the masters and helped cast all the parts; and then at the end finished the roof and added all the details; Ray Louis, who assembled the castings; Rob Purcell for doing his best to try and complete the roof (it was a good try); Wayne Shortman for his remodeling work; and myself for assorted odds and ends on the model.  It was truly a group effort and I hope everyone involved can take pride in its completion.

January 27, 2009

Well I just returned from the big train show in Springfield, MA this weekend, and like most years it was great. I believe I read it is 5 acres of space all devoted to model railroading activities and vendors, around 25,000 people attend between both days. For me and my friends it is also the social event of the season as we run into lots of old friends, eat at nice restaurants with each other, and catch up. For me the shopping wasn't as good as last year, but I still managed to get some stuff I could use.


I picked up another Spectrum 4-4-0 I can use for the NY&NE locomotive to pull the Long Island & Eastern States Express;


I also got an old brass 0-6-0 switcher cheap that I can rehabilitate and use for the Dock Yard switcher, which will eventually free up another 4-6-0 for road assignments;


Got a few used boxcars (Roundhouse) but no tank cars or flats / gondolas, which was what I was really looking for;


Got Kadee #58 couplers (40 pair) direct from Kadee, who was at the show, but could not get Branchline 33" code 88 wheelsets in bulk, no one had them. Bought a few Reboxx wheelsets instead to tide me over 'till I can get the Branchlines;


Bought golden glow LEDs from Miniatronics, and got a couple of random brass headlight castings to make oil headlights from. My idea on these is to use the brass castings as the basis for a master pattern (modified of course). I'll then embed an LED in the mold and pour in clear resin to create the headlight part, and then paint everything but the lens. These locos have needed their headlights replaced since I got them, and now I can move forward on that project;


Picked up a few more goodies, including a model which could represent the cylindrical concrete switchstand shelters the Housatonic used along the main line. More on that later.

But the most important part of the show for me was a conversation I had on Saturday with Jimmy Schweitzer, a good friend and often dispatcher on my railroad. We chatted for about 20 minutes about the layout design changes I recently made (see Federal Road references from January 21) and kicked around some thoughts about how to best represent the Housatonic based on the current benchwork and trackwork. I'm going to write up a summary of our conversation and place it in the Operations Journal since it's too much to report here. But I think you'll find the thoughts that came out of it interesting! I know I did and I'm diving into a little more research this week to see if I can make it work. 

I also ran into Tim Warris and the Fast Tracks crew at the show.  Tim was displaying his in-progress CNJ Bronx Terminal layout, as well as selling Fast Tracks jigs and tools.  He had a really nice surprise for me - a laser-engraved "Housatonic Railroad Company" sign based on the image at the top of my home page.  I was speechless - what a nice thing for him to have done.  This weekend it will get hung on the basement door, the entrance to the layout.  Thank you so much, Tim!  That was really great of you.

I also ran into my friend Jeff Ward at the show who was doing scenery demonstrations for Scenic Express. Jeff had this great tool he showed me - it was a one-handed cross between a sawzall and a jigsaw. He used it to cut some 1/8" styrene he was using as a backdrop on the module he was building - Wow! I gotta get me one of these! It's way cool, and I can think of lots of uses for it, particularly in spots where a regular jigsaw won't fit. I got a bunch of Home Depot gift cards for Christmas, guess I know now what I'm doing with them!

So anyway it was a great show. And I'm fired up about getting the rest of the upper level punch list done so we can get to operating soon!

January 21, 2009

Decent session tonight, with a good bunch of help. Ted P arrived first and I asked him to complete the turnout installation at Bethel that Neil started last time. Tom and Dave arrived shortly after that, and I got Tom to work on finishing up the electrical tasks in the staging area - The new return loop track had to be wired up to the reverser circuit, and the track feeders had to be wired up to the sub-bus lines. Also, track had to be gapped to isolate the reversing section from the rest of the staging power circuit. I asked Dave to shim up a low rail in the Branchville area where the ties had been sanded incorrectly by slicing into the homoaste roadbed with a knife and inserting cardstock shims to push up the roadbed under the rail. I got to work on hooking up the last bits of track back in the area I'm now calling Federal Road.

I should explain that - There is a siding on the layout between Brookfield Jct. and what will eventually be Danbury. For a while now I've been calling it Hawleyville, but that is confusing to anyone who knows the real-life railroad. In real life, a Diamond shape is formed by the Housatonic's tracks around Danbury. Bethel, to the south, splits off two lines - one goes northwest to Danbury, the other northeast to Hawleyville. Those lines both continue north and re-converge into one at Brookfield Jct.

On my layout, I'm only modeling 3 of the four towns - Bethel, Danbury and Brookfield Jct. Representing the route to Hawleyville, I have put in a 'cutoff' track that runs across the base of the Danbury peninsula we're calling the LY Cutoff. The cutoff represents the route to and through Hawleyville, bypassing the Danbury area. One end starts in Bethel, as might be expected. The other end should be in Brookfield Jct - but because of operating needs there is an extra siding in between Danbury and Brookfield Jct. I just started calling it Hawleyville a while ago for lack of a better name. But I soon realized if the name stuck, it would cause a lot of problems once operations commenced.

So instead I looked at the maps of track between Danbury and Brookfield Jct. The NY&NE passed thru Danbury also, and the Housatonic's track paralleled it for a mile or so before they separated. Just before that point the tracks run alongside a street called Federal Road, which seemed to me a somewhere a short siding could have been placed. I felf if not examined too closely this double-track section could appear as a siding. And thus a new siding at Danbury - Federal Road was created and named.

Federal Road siding will be a 'station' in timetable terms, but there will be no train order office here. It can be referenced in the timetable and on train orders too, but no orders can be picked up here at any time. Because it is a junction with the LY Cutoff it will be a register station so train crews will be able to tell if certain trains have passed already, ensuring a safe path ahead.

Back to the session. When Ted was done with the switch, he started going around and adding lever switches and additional feeders to the rest of the turnouts around the upper level. This will really speed up the mechanism install when I find the time to build them! Dave went around behind him and continued hooking up feeder wires to the bus lines. I think almost all of them are installed now, which is great. Dave also made the hookups to the main power bus for the Branchville - Bethel section of mainline, so now that section is powered (but not tested yet).

Neil arrived late because of a meeting he had to attend, but he and Tom worked on installing what will likely be some of the last spline roadbed on the layout, a short spur track off to the new turntable in Branchville. They left it long, sometime soon we'll cut it to length and install the new turntable there. It will be a Sellers turntable made by Freshwater Models, which I'm very excited about building. It has a very unique look to it, and while I'm fairly sure the Housatonic never actually had one they could have, and I don't mind employing a bit of modelers license here. If they are still available I nay use another one in Danbury when the time comes.

The switch controls have been held up in production as I figure out how to fix a snag in the design. The barrel bolt and mounting block I intended to use is about 4-5 inches in length, a problem because most of the upper level turnouts are close to the edge of the layout. this extends the bolt far beyond where it needed to be. So I'm working on a mechanism to have the bolt move an arm behind the assembly close to the layout edge. Hopefully that will enable the device to reach behind itself to the turnouts close to the edge. It's Rube Goldberg, but so have been most of my other designs...

January 12, 1009

Ugh. I've been feeling very poorly for the last 10 days or so, and as a result have not gotten as much as I wanted to done on the layout. I have this cold that just keeps kicking my butt, and after I get home from work each day there's just no energy left to get things done. Maybe it's the flu.  I'm hoping I start feeling better soon, there is much that needs to get done.

Since I haven't been up to the physical tasks because of the cold, I've spent a few hours here and there on my computer working on the paperwork for the next session. In its own way, it is just as important as getting the switches wired up and track laid down. If the dispatcher, yardmasters and road crews don't have a very good idea of what is going on with the railroad during an op session, it's pretty much a guaranteed failure before you even start. The paperwork is critical because it helps the dispatcher know what trains are / should be on the road, what time to call them, what they do, and how they will affect the railroad. The yard crews need to know what trains will arrive in what order, and when, so they can prepare ahead of time and be ready to switch the right cars when they do. And the road crews need to know where they are supposed to go, what they are supposed to do and where the other trains are on the railroad. New waybills have to be prepared to serve towns that didn't exist before. This is all driven by the paperwork - timetables, line-ups, train descriptions, waybills. With them you have a good chance of a successful operating session. Without - you're just playing with trains.

Now that the layout is nearly doubling in size, there are a lot more things to account for - train schedules need to be expanded and adjusted, Train work descriptions have to be updated, and new trains have to be added to serve new locations. Maps have to be expanded. On top of that, I've expanded the schedule to approximately 16 hours of operations from the original 8-10. Of course this adds more trains - passenger, in particular - to the schedule. I counted up all the jobs the other night, and including the switching jobs and transfer runs there are now about 50 trains that need to be run during the session, up from the low thirties. And when we get Danbury online next year that figure will expand again. Now chances are we'll never run a complete 16 hour schedule with all 50 trains. It will probably be broken up into two consecutive operating sessions, but it still has to be prepared as a complete session, and that's a lot of work.

So I've recently completed updating the timetable, the train descriptions, and the new route maps. I'm in process of creating new line-ups (a general line-up for the DS and operator, and time-adjusted line-ups for Wilson Pt., Dock Yard and Mole Staging). I've also been working towards adding about 30-40 new waybills for Branchville, Bethel, Hawleyville and Brookfield Jct. to the system over the last couple of months. There is still more paperwork to do, a bunch of hours of work on train preparation cards for staging, Carfloat sailing schedules, and other stuff - but I think I'm more than halfway done now and kind of glad I won't have to be cobbling this stuff together a few days before the session. Got to get back to the wiring and trackwork soon though.

The new paperwork will be available for download on the website soon.

January 7, 2009

A very productive work session tonight! The new year brought Neil down, who has been missing for months due to the economic downturn and family obligations, Dave and Scary Ted. And boy, did we get a lot done. Neil arrived first, and I asked him to go around and add feeder and frog wires to all the turnouts on the upper level that did not yet have them. I went ahead of him and cut the feeder wires, stripped them and left them by the turnouts for him to solder onto the rails.

Dave arrived shortly afterwards, and I asked him to get the trackage around the entrance to the mole yard put back together. Somehow he managed to insert himself into the Branchville benchwork, and managed to get the last few sections of flextrack installed there, completing the connection to the rest of the upper level. While Dave was stuck in there, Scary Ted arrived and I asked him to complete the wiring work around the new sections of track in the mole yard, or more correctly behind it. Ted had to re-route the 'old' reversing loop wiring from what is now Ridgefield Staging up to the new reversing loop section, and connect Ridgefield Staging up to the staging yard power district. Yeah, it's confusing, and it took me a few times to explain it correctly myself. But Ted took it in stride and managed to get it done properly.

The newly redone throat of the Mole Yard Scary Ted wiring up the return loop of the mole yard Scary Ted wiring up the return loop of the mole yard

After Neil got done with the feeder wires, I asked him to give me a leg-up on the wiring of the upper-level turnouts. I gave him a box of lever switches and a wiring diagram, and asked him to start wiring up the blue frog wires plus red and white power leads to the switch terminals. Eventually (sometime very soon I hope) these will be installed into switch machines that will control the turnouts, and having the switches wired ahead of time will speed installation and definitely make the wiring tasks easier.

A few minutes earlier, I had asked Dave to start connecting up the new feeder wires and to also install an extra setter of feeder pigtails for the electrial switches. My idea was to have Dave hook up the extra wires to the buses and then have Neil solder them to the switches, but we hit a snag - Dave wanted to use wire nuts to gather all the wires together, then have a single lead to the bus line - but I didn't have the correct wire nuts. So they fumbled around with it for a little while, installed a few switches, and finally gave up on it promising to pick it up again when I got the right supplies. So I guess we'll continue on that project next session, because it was after 9 pm and it seemed silly to drive out to Home Depot for parts with only an hour left to work.

Dave Ramos uses a linesman's pliers to crimp suitcase connectors.

While they were working on that, I was on the other side of the layout in the Hawleyville area (over lower-level Wilton) completing the installation of several turnouts there. When the track here had been installed there were gaps left between where the turnouts ended and the track began, so I was filling the gaps with short lengths of flextrack to finish making the connections. We're now just a couple of hours of work like this away from completing the upper-level track circuit around the room. I noticed that where I had hoped to include a siding here it looks like there may not be enough room - my fault, I think I neglected to mention leaving space for it when the crew was putting the track down. Maybe I can add a couple of inches to the front edge...

Anyway we made some great strides tonight, and are much closer to getting the layout running again. I'm getting very excited.

In other news, Scary Ted let us know that our friend Wayne, long-time member of the construction and operating crew here, has been feeling under the weather lately.  On behalf of myself and the rest of the Housatonic crew I'd like to send Wayne our regards and best wishes for a speedy recovery from what is ailing him.  Hurry back, my friend.

January 5, 2009

Well, as it has been my custom for the last several years, I spent a few days over the new year's holiday downstairs working on the layout. I put all Dave's hard work before Xmas to good use as I installed 7 of the new turnouts he built, and also completed hand-laying the rest of the track in the Branchville area, the last section of the layout that will be laid that way. I have to admit to a certain melancholy regarding it - I actually do enjoy hand-laying track, and I love the way it looks and flows, but it is so time-consuming... So it was with mixed feelings as I set the last few spikes in place. For better or worse, the rest of the layout will all be flextrack.

Beyond Branchville, I also set almost all of the turnouts in place along the rest of the upper level. There is just a little bit of work left to do hooking up the flextrack to the ends of these turnouts, and then the circuit will be complete. A few more feeder wires, and the installation of the switch machines and we'll be able to start running the upper level. With a work session coming up this week I am hoping we will finish the rest of the track, and then it will be up to me to get the switch machines built and installed. But I think my goal of being able to run the upper level by the end of January is an attainable goal.

Visit the Model Rail Cast Show!

Friday I had an open house for the listeners of the Model Rail Cast podcast show. We had three visitors who stayed for about two and a half hours, and I showed them all around the layout, answering all of their questions, and we all had a lot of fun. We then went over to my buddy Dave's New York Harbor RR layout where we se=pent another hour or so, as Dave played host. It turned out to be a great day, and hopefully we'll be able to do that again sometime soon.

As for the rest of the weekend, Dave and I went to visit another one of our friends who is building a layout, and in a long morning and afternoon session we managed to get almost all of his layout wired and running on DCC. My task was to assemble and wire up the power supply, command station and breakers to power the four sections. Fortunately this was my fourth time setting up one of these systems, and between Ralph, Dave and I we had all the proper components to do it right. It took me most of the day, but I was really gratified when we started it up and it all worked the first time. We even found and corrected the only two shorts on the layout within ten minutes of turning the system on, which has to be some kind of record.

And then on Sunday I was over at Dave's place helping to make some of the final switch installations on his High Line section of the NYHRR railroad layout. So it was a total immersion long weekend in model railroading, which was great. On the down side, I seem to have caught a cold and started feeling lousy on Friday night, and I've been dragging along ever since. But you have to take the good with the bad, and I'll gladly make that trade-off. Here's hoping that you had a good new years too, and that you'll have a great new year in your hobby and your life.

December 28. 2008

Since my regular work session this week would have fallen on Christmas Eve, I pushed the session back to the following Sunday.  I was not sure I would get any help in the middle of the hoidays, but I was pleasantly surprised that Scary Ted and Dave Ramos showed up, and both gave me 4+ good hours of work.  We accomplished a lot through the long afternoon, getting several  projects much closer to completion.

Ted took on the project of laying down new track in the staging area, as when we raised the mole yard a few weeks ago we left behind the track and benchwork on the back wall to become Ridgefield staging out of Branchville. A few weeks back we replaced the benchwork with a new shelf, and Ted went to work laying new track for the staging return loop on that.  Using up what was left of the Atlas code 83 flex track he re-laid the two tracks along that shelf and installed a few Atlas rerailers too.  While he worked on that, he also re-laid the track on the Ridgefield staging shelf, straightening and extending the tracks.  Before he left, we re-aligned the shelf vertically on the wall so it would match up with the track coming off the layout at Ridgefield.

Rather than drill holes through the shelf and run the feeder and bus lines underneath (which would have interfered with the already close Ridgefield staging tracks below), I had Ted keep the track feeders up along the top of the shelf.  Later this week I'll go in and re-run the power bus lines along either side of the track and hook those feeders back up to the reversing circuit, and rewire the Ridgefield tracks to the mole staging yard bus. It's staging, who cares if the wires show?  I just hope I remember to gap the rails before I turn it on!

Dave came down a little while later.  A few days before at Christmas, he had given me a great gift - a boxful of Fast Tracks turnouts he had made up for me over the last few weeks.  I can't begin to describe how helpful this was, and how very much I appreciate his taking the time to do it.  He got right to work on finishing up the rest of the track feeders for the upper level between Danbury and staging.  He also helped to set a few of the turnouts into place more securely that had previously been tacked in place by earlier crews.  He managed to finish all of that work up to the edge of staging, where he stopped because there was no more track!

After that, he performed another important task by adding power feeders onto the frogs of all the turnouts in Branchville and Brookfield Jct.  This was a huge help also and will save a lot of time as we hook up the switch machines in the next few weeks.  Next session I hope I can get him to do all the other ones on the upper level (it's only about 6-7 more at this point).

A pleasant surprise visit came from John Montenegro during the session, who happened to have some free time and dropped by to see how things were progressing.  We havent seen John in over two years, though he has stayed active on our Yahoo group.  It was good to catch up with him and show him around; weve done a lot of work since he was last down to help.  I hope now that his situation is improved he will be able to come down more often and be involved with the group.  Weve missed him.  John expressed an interest in helping out with scenery, which would be greatly appreciated.

As for me, I got an early start on Saturday evening tackling the trackwork around Branchville, and by the end of the afternoon on Sunday I had installed four of the turnouts Dave gave me and hand-laid about another 6-8 feet of track in and around that area.  I realigned some sub-roadbed which used to be part of the 'temporary' connector track from Branchville to staging to represent an industry siding in Branchville.  I also laid down what will likely be the last of the wood ties we'll use to connect the new Branchville tracks up to the old mainline coming out of Georgetown, finally bridging the final gap between the upper and lower levels.  I hope to get the rail down on these sections Monday, which will essentially finish the main line tracks along the entire layout.

I need to decide soon if it's appropriate to have a golden spike ceremony when the main line is finished, or if I should wait another couple of years until we complete the Danbury area (not to be started until 2010).

There is now only about ten feet of track left to be laid, some hand-laid and some flex, to complete the upper level mainline.  There's a bit more power feeder work to be done, mostly the upper-level turnouts, but very soon we'll be able to start running trains the full length of the railroad (minus Danbury, of course).

December 10, 2008

Well the holidays are coming, and I got a nice little gift tonight with a good sized group of elves to work on the layout. Scary Ted arrived first, and he and I cut some plywood for the new mole staging return loop up in the garage before the others arrived. Shortly after that Ted P arrived, as did Wayne. Wayne went to work with Ted on the staging area, and Ted went to work on finishing up the benchwork approaching staging from Brookfield Jct. We had previously built the transition to go around a jog in the wall, but hadn't installed it yet - so Ted P took that on.

Ted P sees the ghost train approaching... I think Wayne gave me this rash... Scary Ted aligns the two new bits of benchwork behind the Mole staging yard. The Teds share a lighter moment during construction of the layout.  We do have a good time!

David arrived a bit later, and I asked him to work on getting the last of the flex track glued down, which was fine - but we could not find the caulking gun anywhere. After a few minutes, Dave decided to go to Home Depot and pick up another one. How embarrassing! About 20 minutes later he returned, and got to work on fixing down the last bunch of track at Brookfield Jct. Ted worked with him on getting the turnouts in the area installed as well. Later they worked on making the track connection between staging and Brookfield Jct. happen, and nearly completed it. I still haven't found the old caulking gun yet. (12/11 - Of course I found it the next day right where it was supposed to be...)

The long arms of Dave Ramos come in really handy when you have to reach across wide benchwork. Feeders?  I got your feeders riiiiiight here...

Tom was a late arrival, but I was glad he made it. He continued working on installing track feeders between Bethel and Brookfield Jct., and managed to get all the way into the utility room. I later followed around behind Tom and made the hookups of the feeders to the bus lines below the subroadbed.

I think one more session and we may have feeders installed all the way around to staging.

Meanwhile Scary Ted and Wayne got a lot done - they replaced the 12' long missing section of the staging loop (we left that part of the loop in place at the lower level to become Ridgefield Staging outside of Branchville) and also got the remaining staging area benchwork sections lifted installed as well, and we once again have complete benchwork in the Mole area. Kudos to them for the hard work! Now there's just a bit of trackwork that will need to be done to re-connect the mole yard back up. Looks like I will need to buy a couple more Atlas code 83 turnouts for that, and a caboose ground throw or two.

Well here's your problem, you're standing on the wires! Mouse?  What Mouse? Another scary Ted moment as the ballon track approcah is set into place. Yes... It is good, my minions.

It was a really good night and much was accomplished! We are getting closer and closer to operating again, which I think is just great. It's been silent too long, and I really want to get a few sessions in before the visitors and operators from the NMRA National start showing up in July 2009.

November 26, 2008

Well, I wasn't expecting much of a turnout for the day before Thanksgiving, but I was pleasantly surprised to host Ted P, Tom and Wayne for the night.  Ted continued doing what he had started last time, installing turnouts on the upper level.  Naturally, and fortunately, I found the missing turnouts in plain sight as soon as everyone arrived.  Oh well.  at least I found them and Ted had something to do.  Tom did his part by installing and soldering more feeder wires in the area above Wilton, including the lift bridge in the corner. 

Wayne and I took on getting the mole staging yard ready to be hoisted up to its upper level position.  First, I moved all the locos in the yard up to the storage shelf, and Wayne pushed all the cars in the yard down the mainline out and away from the area we would be working in.  Then we severed the track connections at either end, leaving the double-track shelf on the back in place (it will become staging tracks for the Ridgefield branch out of Branchville).  We also disconnected the bridge plates at either end of the yard, and removed the fascia to make it easier to get ahold of the yard from below. 

Towards the end of the evening, we got Tom and Ted to come over to the mole yard, and while they supported the benchwork I removed the 10 screws holding it to the wall.  They hoisted it up the four and a half inches, and held it in place while I drove the screws back in.  And just like that, in less that three minutes, the staging yard went from the lower level to the upper level.   

So I guess we're committed now, since we won't be able to operate again until the upper level and mole yard are finished!  Great incentive to get the work done.  I'm hoping to get some more work done over Thanksgiving weekend, maybe get the last bits of track set down and the turnouts set into place. 

November 24, 2008

Took a day off from work today to get some work done on the railroad.  I managed to get several more sets of the ties for the Fast Tracks turnouts set in place and glued down, but I could not find the turnouts David and Ray worked on.  I spent quite a while searching for them, and doing a little cleaning up here and there.  I never did find them - hopefully they will turn up before Wednesday.  Unfortunately I didn't get as much done as I wanted, but it felt good to be around the layout again.

I also spent some time today developing the under-deck turnout control we came up with last session.  I spent a bit of time in the garage cutting some wood to make mounting blocks for the barrel bolts.  I think the idea is still sound, but a potential problem is that the upper deck is narrower than the lower, and the tracks tend to be located closer to the front fascia.  This may make it difficult to set the linkages underneath the way I want to - but I think it is worth trying to work it out. 

November 14, 3006

Visit the Model Rail Cast Show!

Surprise, I was a guest again on the Model Rail Cast show, this time to talk about my 10 commandments of model railroad yard design.  It was a very last minute kind of thing, I think they had a cancellation and needed a guest to fill in.  I was happy to help!  I hope you'll pop over there and download Show #39 and have a listen. 

November 12, 2008

Great session tonight.  Progress was made on several fronts:  Wayne helped out quite a bit by making up a number of tie strip sections for the fast tracks turnouts we need to install on the upper level.  Ted P took some of those and installed them in the Bethel area, gluing them down and getting them aligned.  Ray was down, and he helped by completing some of the details on the fast tracks turnouts Dave made over the last few sessions - installing throwbars, making some quick last-minute repairs.  He then handed off several of the turnouts to Ted P, who installed them on the ties he had previously glued down.  I helped out a little there too, where I could. 

Dave arrived, grabbed a pair of spiking pliers and went to install another few rails over in the Branchville area, very helpful because this is the last area on the layout that will get handlaid, and there is still much work to be done there.  Every little bit helps.  And Scary Ted was over as well, and was really helpful by installing some more feeders through the Bethel area.  As usual, I spent a lot of the evening running around and finding tools and materials for everyone to use.  Thanks guys, you all rock!

Towards the end of the session, I pulled Ted P aside and we talked about options we had for actuating the turnouts on the upper level.  I decided some time ago for consistency we would use the barrel bolts as we had on the lower level, but I was looking for ideas on how to mount them.  I have been thinking it would be necessary to install a control shelf as we had on the lower level to place the barrel bolts on, but wasn't happy with the idea because it meant a deeper fascia and an extension to the edge. 

Ted mulled it for a bit and suggested mounting the barrel bolts upside-down underneath and just behind the layout fascia.  To operate the turnout, you would reach just under the layout edge and operate the bolt.  The in-out horizontal orientation could be maintained, and they would be easier to reach from underneath than on top.  I wasn't sure about this, be we decided to test it out.  We took a new barrel bolt and mounted it to a splice plate under Bethel we had installed when we built the benchwork.  I was really surprised to find that it actually worked pretty well!    I had worried that an operator might rap their knuckles on the layout underside, or scratch their wrists on the bottom of the fascia, but those did not seem to be issues at all. 

We also tried mounting the barrel bolt on a vertically-oriented chunk of wood that projected below the fascia by an inch, and that worked OK too, but the underneath mounting was less obtrusive and easier to reach from either side.  I really have to thank Ted P because I would never even have considered it had he not suggested the idea.  We can now keep the upper level fascia all around the layout as thin as possible and still easily operate the turnouts from the edge.  It's just like I always say, it pays to talk to your friends and fellow model railroaders, and ask for advice.  After all, I can't think of everything. :-)

October 11, 2008

Well, I had a fun weekend - First, I got up early on Saturday to be interviewed by Ryan Andersen and Will Ayerst of the Model Rail Cast Podcast show.  They had me on to talk about early period model railroading, and to talk a bit about my business.  It was a fun couple of hours talking to them, and I hope you'll check out the show to hear what I had to say.  It was a great two hours and I could have kept going for much longer, they will just have to have me back again at some point in the future.

If you haven't yet heard it, check out the show by going to and downloading one or more of their podcasts.  I've been listening for a little while now and I find their show to be very entertaining and informative.  If you'd like to hear my interview please download episode #34.  Whichever episodes you listen to I'm sure you'll enjoy it.  It's also available for download on iTunes, and if you don't have an iPod or MP3 player you can listen on your computer using iTunes or Quicktime.  It's commercial free, just done by a few guys who love model railroading and do it for the fun of talking about it.  New shows are posted just about every Monday, so be sure to go back and pick up the 'cast every week.

After doing the interview, I jumped in the car with my friend Dave and sped down to High Bridge, NJ to participate in the Northeastern Fallen Flags RPM (Railroad Prototype Modelers) meet, and had a great time there.  I showed the products from Amesville Shops .com and also gave a clinic on the evolution of the 1892 Housatonic Railroad layout plan.  Both the products and the clinic were well received, and it was great to spend time with other modelers in a relaxed and informal setting.  Many great models were on display as well (which is the primary reason for these meets, displaying your work in a non-competitive atmosphere).  If you ever have a chance to attend one of these small meets, by all means do so.  They are a great opportunity to meet other folks, learn a lot about a wide variety of subjects, and see some really good modeling up close.

 October 1, 2008

A good, well attended session tonight, which was all centered around track as many sessions of late have been. Working around the distinct lack of turnouts (I've had no time to work on them between sessions) we managed to pick up where we left off last session, laying down flextrack to fill in what's left of the upper level. I had Tom and Ted P on one crew working to finish the roadbed around Brookfield Jct., while myself and Scary Ted worked on completing the track around - well, we'll call it Hawleyville for lack of a better name. It is the narrow area over Wilton between Danbury and the utility closet.

We all worked on fitting in the last few bits of homasote roadbed in each location, and then laying in the flex until we pretty much ran out of flextrack. Not having the required turnouts made it tougher since we had to work around those spots, but we still managed to get the upper level about 90% completed. I will have to work harder on getting more turnouts made so we can finish linking up all of the separate sections.

I see I forgot to mention that Scary Ted also got the remaining track feeders in Branchville connected to the bus lines at some point in the evening, and that Dave really helped out by taking on the sit-down job and making a couple of Fast Tracks turnouts that were desperately needed. Both of those contributions should not be overlooked since they really help move us towards the day very soon when we get the upper deck operational. I think we are close enough now to schedule the raising of the Mole Yard to the upper level for the next work session in two weeks!

Oh yeah, and I think I know what I did wrong with the Grassinator last week. I was holding it high above the area as I sprinkled the grass from it -- I've since learned from a short YouTube video by Joe Fugate that you have to keep the applicator very close to the scenery base to get the static grass to stand up properly. I'll see what my results are the next time I try it; I'll follow that advice and see if it doesn't work better.

September 29, 2008

I made some time this weekend to do some scenery work on the layout for a couple of reasons.  For one thing, I wanted to practice some of the techniques I learned a few weeks ago at the Empire Junction '08 NER convention.  And second, I needed to take some photos of the Bellinadrop area for an article I'm preparing for the next Layout Design Journal, and I wanted to update the scenery in that area little before taking the photos.  I wasn't able to get everything I wanted done, but I did get a fair bit accomplished.  I'm really happy to say that the methods I learned recently worked fine on my home layout as well as they did on the styrofoam block I worked on at the convention. 

I painted the foam rocks I had on hand early, and got started decorating the scene in the afternoon.  I glued the rocks onto the scenery base, and then troweled on a bunch of Structolite plaster to build up the landforms.  While the plaster was still damp, I painted on a brown paint/white glue mix over it and around the rocks, then sprinkled dirt and ground foam onto that.  This was followed by some ground-up leaves I made a few years ago, and a bit of tiny pebbles screened from my Connecticut dirt bucket to represent talus at the base of the hills.  I'm really pleased with how it came out.

Some new scenery built next tothe Bellinadrop on the Housatonic Railroad

I also had a chance to try out my Grassinator static grass applicator I build a few months ago.  It worked, but not as well as I had hoped it would.  I will have to try it again soon to see if I made a mistake with it.  It seemed to work better in areas away from where I was actively applying static grass than right underneath.  I also had some trouble with the grounding wire, which turned out not to be long enough and repeatedly fell into the paint, messing up the scene (so I had to go over it again and again until I figured out how to keep the wire from drooping).  I will try to make some improvements and try it out again, but so far I'm not really thrilled with it.  It's better than the pneumatic gun I made and better than sprinkling the stuff on, but not as good as I hoped it would be.

The thing I didn't have a chance to work on was putting in some trees on the new scenery.  I hope to get a bunch of Supertrees made and get some on there next weekend, as well as try to get the inside of the Bellinadrop painted beyond the sky and clouds and scenicked a bit.  That part will likely be too late for the LDJ article photos, but I'll be really happy to get that part done.

In other news, Ive excited to have been contacted by Will and Ryan who run the Model Rail Cast podcast ( about being a guest on their show in mid-October.  Ive spent some time this week listening to their show during my commute to and from work, and Im very impressed with the show they put on.  Im not sure yet exactly what we will be discussing but I hope youll all tune in and listen.  They put on a pretty good show even when Im not on it, so go ahead and download a few episodes from iTunes or their website when you get a chance.

September 17, 2008

A decent little work session tonight, good turnout.  It was a wiring extravaganza!  Wayne arrived first, and he helped me unspool and twist up the final (non-Danbury) bus line needed for the upper level, as did Tom when he arrived.  It's always tough to get these long wire runs twisted up properly and this was no exception.  However, after a bit of difficulty we managed it, and strung it along under the new benchwork.  Dave arrived at that point, and I asked him to attach the new bus line to the underside of the new benchwork.  I gave him the stapler (his stapler, actually) and in no time he had hung the bus line all along the benchwork.  Wayne, in the meantime got a start on getting the basement swept up, which I really appreciate.  Gettin the layout room cleaned up is a big task in the next month, as I'm hoping to have another op session on the layout in the middle of October. 

I asked Tom to pick up where Ted P and Wayne had left off last time, around Brookfield Jct on the upper level putting in homasote roadbed for the upper level.  He got to work on that and about that time Scary Ted showed up, and I asked him to start working on adding feeders to the tracks already installed from the stairs to Bethel on the upper level.  Dave went to work with him and together they soldered feeders to the rails and attached them to the bus lines with suitcase connectors.  It sure did make it go fast, they got about 25 feet of track wired up in only about 90 minutes.  Now I just need to get the turnout ties down, holes drilled in the benchwork for the throwing pins and get the Fast Tracks turnouts installed - and that is just-so-much more track that will be ready to run.

Myself, I performed my usual tasks of running around and getting tools for folks, but I also managed to finally put up the stops to hold the lifting section of benchwork up in front of the electrical panel.  Now the panel can once again be accessed at will by my wife or workmen without worry of damaging the layout. 

After everyone left I was looking at the scene around Brookfield Jct as I have been for several weeks now.  The area here was originally designed for the lower level, and was to have a quiet pastoral scene between Branchville and Georgetown with a calm lake and distant treeline, and the railroad track gently curving around the front edge of the scene.  But that plan is long gone, and the space now transferred to the upper level to model Brookfield Jct. 

The reason I keep looking at it is because I'm considering changing the benchwork here to accomodate the new scene instead of the old one.  The benchwork here juts out well over 30" deep, which was fine when it was all scenery and the tracks ran across the front.  But now the tracks are much higher and in the back by the wall, and I'm thinking it would be a good thing to cut this whole area back to 18-20" deep.  This would open up one of the tighter aisles on the layout, and give more room for operators here to stand on stepstools while other folks move along behind them.  Not to mention the tracks along the back will be much more accessible to the operators in the aisle too, with a much shorter distance to reach.  It should also still be plenty of room to fit in the few local industry tracks as well as the branch line that will reach over the aisle to Danbury someday via a removeable bridge. 

I'm thinking it make more sense to do this now than after we start filling up all that space with scenery...

September 16, 2006

I've just returned from attending the Empire Junction '08 convention put on by the NMRA's Northeastern Region (NER), and wanted to say a few things about my experiences. First of all, I've seldom met such a nice group of people as those who were working hard to make the convention a success. My thanks to all of you who gave of your time to help make things run so smoothly. Second, a big thanks to Bill Brown, MMR and Brian Curry, MMR who put on a "Modeling with the Masters" program at the convention. I and 23 other lucky folks got to spend 8 hours over two days with these two gentlemen in a hands-on free seminar where each of us learned to paint and assemble a small laser-cut structure (donated by Bar Mills Models) and also paint and scenick a small diorama using their techniques that they shared with us.

It was a serious investment of valuable convention time and we all missed seeing some good clinics and a few local layouts, but I think we all learned a great deal (I know I did) and had a great time to boot. The things they taught me will go a long way towards jump-starting the scenery on my own layout, because I now have enough confidence to go forward on my own with it. (Those of you who have been reading this journal for any length of time know all about my aversions to working on scenery.) If for no other reason, attending this convention was completely worth the time and expense. I strongly recommend participating in one of these seminars if you have the chance to do so in the future. You will pick up a lot of tips and techniques, meet some great people and thoroughly enjoy yourself.

Here's a short list of some of the things we learned how to do:

bulletSeveral unusual methods to paint 'wood' walls emphasizing peeling paint and rotten wood
bulletBasic craftsman kit assembly techniques
bulletThe correct steps for preparing and painting structure parts before assembly
bulletCleaning up and painting metal castings for use
bulletHow to weather roofing
bulletTwo methods of painting rock castings to look realistic
bulletForming scenery with Styrofoam
bulletAn all-at-once approach to scenicking from bare Styrofoam to trees and ground foam
bulletHow to make your own ground foam scenery materials
bulletMaking trees - three methods
bulletSifting / grading dirt for scenery use
bulletIncluding additonal scenic details like dead tree branches and talus
bulletPlacing a structure in a scene so it doesn't float over it
bulletBallasting track

And there was much more. I already knew how to do some of these things but learned new ways to do them which was great, and I'll probably adapt some of the ideas they showed to go with my own methods where I felt what I do worked better for the result I want. But I just can't say enough about how helpful this seminar was. I hope the NMRA will encourage more programs like this on the Regional level because it is a great way to help the rank and file members find value from the organization. There are so many talented people involved in NMRA who have the knowledge and can reach out to people in their area, and they should grab that ball and run with it.

I also met a man to whom I wanted to kneel down to and say, Were not worthy! Jim Heidt, who was also one of the convention organizers, has a great multi-deck layout we went to visit on the last day. A master tinkerer, I would call him he has an actual staging elevator along the lines of what I had considered doing myself, that runs and works very well. It was nice to see that it can really be done, that I could have found ways to make it work. That said, I think Im glad we found the extra room and went with the mole yard anyway. But I did almost shed a tear for what might have been

Jim also has a brilliant Rube Goldberg switch machine control system that is way more complicated than anything Ive ever come up with I was impressed. It has its own tiny motor, two relays, four switches (two for frog polarity and two limiting), a tiny pushrod, a 1-1/2 pipe cap, a length of 2-56 threaded rod with a moving shuttle on it, a 115 volt light switch, and a bi-color LED to indicate position. Phew, and thats all for one switch. And he has one of these for EVERY switch, and its not a small layout.

Like Bill and Brian above, Jim prides himself on ingenuity and thrift. The key element in his controller a dollar-store lipstick container used to actuate the whole shebang. Im hoping to include a much simpler variation of it in my DIY switch machine clinic for the Hartford National convention next year. It even interfaces with his C/MRI computer control system. What doesnt this contraption do? Come to think of it, these assemblies are fascia-mounted, I never did find out how he actually throws the turnouts with them

On the home front, we had a work session back on the third of August and had a light turnout, but still managed to get a fair bit done. We got the roadbed almost completed around the upper level and laid down a lot of track on what had already been laid. My thanks to Ted P, Wayne and Scary Ted for making it out and putting in a great night's work. In addition to that, Ted P and wayne did some more work on getting some new rock molds made (a good thing too because I am going to want to start adding some rock castings to my own layout soon!) This week's session coming up will focus a lot more on electrical, getting feeders attached to the rails and geting the second to last power bus installed under the benchwork from Danbury out to staging. I'm hoping to get a couple of turnouts built tonight so we can continue getting track laid in around the room too, in case we get a number of people down for the session.

August 27, 2008

Another very productive night.  Ted P was down first, and we decided to complete the work from last week that hadn't been done yet.  There was one more small triangular benchwork section left to put in around Brookfield Jct so we went ahead and did that, then we went on and installed stops on the lift section by the electrical panel.  These stops hold the lift panel in place and good registration when it is down.  While we were doing this, Wayne and Scary Ted showed up, and I got them working on installing the roadbed on the newly finished sections of benchwork.  They started on the shelf over Wilton, worked their way over the lift section into Danbury, or the first 8 feet of Danbury anyway.  Ted P and I did our best to get in their way while we installed some extra screws in the shelf over Wilton, as it was a bit rickety and seemed like it would topple over as the guys were working on it.

After that, Wayne and Scary Ted moved over to the Brookfield Jct. area and continued installing roadbed over there, while Ted P and I did the same thing over in Bethel and Danbury, putting in the roadbed that will link up the Bethel scene to the shelf over Wilton, the stretch of track I call the Hawleyville Cutoff.  Of course there was no such thing, this 10-foot length of track that cuts across the base of Danbury represents a 10-12 mile run of track that went Northeast of Bethel to Hawleyville, CT, then looped back to the Northwest and ran to Brookfield Jct..  There was no room to model any of this, but I wanted to maintain the operational characteristics of this line, so now we have the hidden Haweyville Cutoff.  This means the section of track between the north end of Danbury and Brookfield Jct. / staging actually represents three different routes - the New York, Housatonic & Northern (fancy name for a 5-7 mile connector track from Danbury to Brookfield Jct.), the Hawleyville line described earlier, and the New York and New England west of Danbury (the east side of the NY&NE will be a removeable bridge from downtown Danbury spanning the aisle leading to a connector at Brookfield Jct.).  Time will tell if this single track with two passing sidings will be able to stand in for the 4 tracks that make up the real-life routes...

We also performed some surgery on the layout.  In real life between Bethel and Danbury there had been a thru-truss bridge that ran over the Still River, and I have wanted to include that bridge since we came up with the new plan.  Ted P, Wayne and I brainstormed a bit before getting down to work early on and figured out where we could remove a section of plywood that would not affect the stability of the upper deck.  Later, Ted P and I cut out that section of plywood to open a span of about 12-14" in the Bethel section near the corner.  Unfortunately both the track from Bethel into Danbury AND the Hawleyville Cutoff will have to span it (the lines were miles apart in real life) so the scene won't be as prototypical as I would have liked.  But I'll just use a simple through girder bridge in the back for the cutoff.  I have plans to kitbash a Through Whipple Truss bridge for the track in the foreground.  That should be fun!  It all depends on whether I still have the two Central Valley bridge kits I bought years ago...

Well, we didn't get any trackwork started but next week that job will be in full swing.  that along with running a new bus line under the upper level from Danbury through to staging, and adding tons of feeder wires -- It's going to be a busy weekend for me, but I'll try to have more turnouts done to help get the upper level line all connected up!

August 20, 2008

Another really good work session tonight. We now have an unbroken path of benchwork all the way around the room along the upper level, thanks to the efforts of Tom, Ted P, Wayne, Neil and myself. I left Tom and Ted to work on the benchwork for Brookfield Jct., and they did a great job on that. I helped them put up a cleat on the wall to attach a 16" wide by eight foot chunk of plywood to, then they notched the plywood, made up a set of risers and hung the panel. This will make up the base of most of the Brookfield Jct. scene. They had to be very careful of not fouling the track on the lower level, running as close as 4-5" away from the new platform overhead. After that was all in, they cut and mounted a couple of triangular transition pieces to either side of the new platform.

Tom C and Ted P work on building the latest, and learly last, benchwork on the layout by Brookfield Jct. Tom C and Ted P work on building the latest, and learly last, benchwork on the layout by Brookfield Jct. Tom C and Ted P work on building the latest, and learly last, benchwork on the layout by Brookfield Jct.

While they were doing that, Wayne gave me a hand putting up the plywood on the first 8 foot section of the Danbury peninsula. We had put up the crossbars that support this last week, and now with the glue dry it was time to get the deck down onto it. We put up the plywood and screwed it down to the crossbars, and it settled down very nicely. Then we needed to fill the spot between the this section and the lift section in the corner, which we did with a scrap of old plywood I had laying around for years (never throw anything out!).

It turns out there's an open section between the Danbury and Bethel benchwork because the two plywood sections didn't exactly match up - I think I will try and widen and deepen this a bit to put in a short river scene. In real life, the railroad crossed the Still River right about here over a neat wood and wire cable truss bridge. I may as well take advantage of the gap I already have and place the river here.

I haven't mentioned Neil - he came down and was kind enough to make some more turnouts. A pair of #6's, which will come in really handy next week, because it will be time to start laying in more track! And boy are we going to need more turnouts when we start doing that. My big job for this coming week (after I finish a big honey-do for the wife) will be to set down new roadbed in the areas where we didn't have any before, so the track crew('s' I hope) will have a place to ply their trade. I did cut up that quarter-sheet of homasote earlier this week, so the roadbed is ready to go - I hope there will be enough.

Neil makes a pair of #6 Fast Tracks turnouts for use in the Branchville area.

Oh, and just for S's and G's I threw the new Bartram and Fanton Manufactutring Co. building up onto the new benchwork at the end of the night. I wanted to see how it would look in position - I think it will work well. I'm also considering adding a small boiler house to the end of the building similar to the one that was on the prototype. It looks like the clearances and sight lines will work with that, but I'll probably finish the building as-is first and then add that later. As you can see, it's now got a coat of primer on it as I get ready to do the actual painting.

The Bartram and Fanton Manufacturing Co. building in progress, sitting where it will go when it is finished at the base of the Danbury Peininsula.

August 17, 2008

Had some time to spend downstairs today, so I did a little more work on the new mill model. I finished up the roof on the rear extension, plugged the bottom half of the windows in the back of the tower, and added some more details like old ledger boards along the back of the main building where loading docks used to be. I really distressed them and gave one a broken-off appearance, and added a bunch of NBWs to it. I think it came out great.

I also finished the flat roof on the mill, adding a flat panel and including a fence around the edge, but set back away from the cornice. Finally I washed the model off with soap and water and dried it, and took it outside to paint. I had barely enough primer left over in two spray cans to finish it. I suppose Ill need to go paint shopping again time to try out the primer paint from Walmart, which Ive heard is really pretty good.

I also found a quarter-sheet of homasote in the basement tonight, which means I may just have enough to finish up the roadbed I need to install on the new upper level benchwork. Guess Ill be milling that up tomorrow night, well be needing it for Wednesday!

August 13, 2008

It's the second week of my marathon string of weekly work sessions, and tonight we had a great turnout. Ted P arrived first, and I got started by showing him the work Tom and I had done the week before on the lifting corner platform. I had gone out after the last session and picked up the heavy-duty 16" drawer slides we would need, and also put up the wood battens over the studs to attach them to. We were just getting started with that when Tom arrived, so I stepped back and let Tom take over for me. They did a fine job on it, and I helped out here and there while they did the brunt of the job. In the end they had bolted the platform to the drawer slides, and we all worked to get the slides attached to the wall and lined up correctly. We now have a corner unit that sits at the upper level trackage, but between sessions can be lifted up almost to the cieling and secured there, out of the way of the house electrical panel. It is a great solution, and betwen it and the drop bridges on the lower level there is great access. I'm very pleased with the way it worked out.

Wayne showed up a little later, and he and I worked for a while on getting some of the plywood subroadbed over Wilton hitched up and secured to the brackets on the wall. Now that the final corner benchwork is in place, the big race to connect up the upper level and get it running before the next op session is on! There's just a little more benchwork to do over by Brookfield Jct. then it's time to put down the rest of the Homasote roadbed and get flextrack down on it. I need to get some more turnouts made in the next two weeks!

And speaking of Homasote, I was chagrined to find earlier tonight that the last three sheets I bought from Home Depot last year are not a full 1/2" thick, but only 3/8". They will still work out fine for Danbury when we start that (what I bought them for originally), and for sidings as well (having them drop 1/8" would actually be a good thing) but I can't use them to match up to the existing 1/2" roadbed I've already put down. Time to start scrounging from my friends to see if I can get some scraps, enough to finish the the upper level areas. My roadbed method make it easy to fill in with scraps because whatever I get gets ripped into 5/8" wide strips, doubled up to full tie width of 1-1/4", so even small sections with funny shapes can still be used. If you are buying Homasote at Home Depot, be careful about what you are getting. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just thinner.

Later in the evening I was pleasantly surprised to see Ted D (Scary Ted) show up, and we had a lot of fun then. Ted and Wayne got to work on putting in an important wall cleat to stabilize the end on the Danbury peninsula, which had to match up with existing benchwork to either side. They handled it fine, and from there we all decided to try and get the crossbeam supports in place for that first 8-foot section of Danbury benchwork. We pulled down the temporary beams (which have been there for a year), set heights and leveled the new beams into place, cut them to fit and glued and screwed them on to the supporting posts. There may be some issues with the plywood leaning or sagging in the future because it is heavily cantilevered out over Wall St., S. Norwalk, so we are trying hard to brace it as best we can now.

Finally before everyone left I got their opinions on the latest mill building I've been working on. It has stalled a bit because I was having trouble getting the round windows I wanted for the mansard roof on the tower, and it's been sitting on my bench for about 10 days now. In that time I've come to like the look of the tower roof the way it is, flat. I even taped up the mansard roof panels and put them on the building for a few days, it doesn't look like I'd hoped it would. I showed the model to the guys both ways and asked what they thought, and they all like it flat too. So it will stay that way. I'm annoyed now that I cut up a perfectly good roof panel but such is life. This weekend I'll begin painting the mill.

And that was pretty much it for the night. During this coming week I'll finish some bracing Scary Ted, Wayne and I talked about to help stabilize things further, and hopefully fnish up the basic benchwork around Brookfield Jct. Then it will really be time for the guys to start laying that track.

August 6, 2008

After a month off it was great to have my friends over to the railroad again. Although only two were able to make it because of travel and and schedule conflicts, we got a fair bit done. Tom arrived right on time, and we discussed a few ideas before getting down to working on the upper-level benchwork in the back corner of the basement over Wilton. We took a scrap of 1/2" plywood I had left over and recut it to fit in the open spot we needed to fill, then got to talking about what to do around the electrical box in the corner. We needed some sort of removeable section here to allow electricians (and myself) access to the house panel. I had been thinking of a removeable lift-out corner, but Tom had a better idea.

We had recently created a lift-up benchwork platform on my friend Dave's New York Harbor RR layout, not removeable but attached to heavy-duty drawer slides so it can be lifted up and secured out of the way. The hatch allows access to a bathroom behind the layout, and the drawer slides ensure the parts stay in alignment. Tom suggested we do something similar here. The situation is a bit different because of the lower level on my layout -- Dave doesn't have one, not in that spot anyway. But we have a corner to work with where Dave had two free-standing ends of rectangular benchwork to connect. Tom and I reasoned out we could place three slides on the walls, one at each edge and one all the way back in the corner so that none would protrude beyond the backdrop but still provide plenty of support for the section. The section could be lifted high enough on the slides to clear the electrical panel or even removed with a few screws, just in case.

This corner section lifts up on drawer glides clear of the electrical panel when not in use.

About then Dave himself arrived, and he got to work installing some new rail over in Branchville. He also got another couple of switches installed there, which is great - I need to get more turnouts made this week to continue the work back there. I got two done already this week while watching TV but I need to make a lot more. Soon that section will be done and we'll be moving on into Bethel - where I'll need another 10-12 turnouts. And I'm not even thinking about Danbury yet. Maybe I can talk the wife into letting me make turnouts at the kitchen table while we watch TV together. Quality time for both the family and railroad! Maybe...

So while Dave did trackwork Tom and I continued working on the lift section in the corner. Last month we had cut a corner section from a large plywood sheet to go into the other corner on the back wall (over Georgetown), we were able to get another corner section for the lift section from the opposite corner of the ame sheet. We framed it out with some 1x3's to keep it from warping, and made plans for next week when we will try and actually mount the platform. I have some hardware to go out and buy, but I don't see this being any kind of difficulty.

We also talked about how and where to mount the new turntable in Branchville, and how to run the inbound and outbound leads to it. I was originally going to use spline roadbed, but we discussed it and figured a plywood sections with homasote on top would give us better options when deciding exactly where to locate the tracks between the siding and the turntable. I'll work on that this weekend, and maybe get started on building the Freshwater Models Sellers turntable kit too. All in all it was a really good night and I'm looking forard to next week!

August 3, 2008

Wow, it's been a long month.  All through July I promised the wife that I'd take time off from the layout and spend time with the family, and I did - but now it's August and it's time to get back into the swing of things!  I have a laundry list of projects that need to get done, but there's been one project on my list for several weeks now and I've been itching to work on.  So I gave it my full attention this weekend.  Basically it's a large kitbash project of three stone-walled IHC "Novelty Iron Works" kits into one much larger T-shaped mill building for Danbury.  The challenging part was to take the three unused end walls and convert them into a stair tower with a Victorian mansard roof. 

Construction of the Bartram and Fanton Mfg. Co. Construction of the Bartram and Fanton Mfg. Co. Construction of the Bartram and Fanton Mfg. Co.

It required a lot of cutting, filing and fitting but I managed to do a really good job with it, if I do say so myself.  The mansard roof isn't ready yet, I'm trying to come up with an appropriate Second-Empire style round window for the roof sections (actually 4 windows) before I glue it together and stick it on the model.  But you can get a good idea of what was involved so far by looking at the photos above.  I'm really proud of how it is coming out, I think it looks great.  I've gotr about 16 -18 hours in it already and there's probably another 6-8 modeling hours to go, and then a lot of time painting and detailing after that.  But it's been great fun so far. 

Construction of the Bartram and Fanton Mfg. Co. Construction of the Bartram and Fanton Mfg. Co. Construction of the Bartram and Fanton Mfg. Co.

When it is finished (and when the benchwork is built for it very soon I hope) this structure will be the Bartram and Fanton Manufacturing Co., makers of "The Best Sewing Machines In The World".  It will sit right at the base of the Danbury peninsula with the front of the building facing the backdrop, and will serve partially as a viewblock between the two sides of the Danbury peninsula along with several other structures to come.  The actual Bartram and Fanton factory was smaller than the model and not unlike the unmodified IHC kit, but I wanted a larger building for the location so it got expanded somewhat.  The rear wing (not shown in photos yet) and the tower are supposed to represent an expansion in the 1870's - 1880's and that's why I have the Victorian features on the tower, an attempt to show the company's prosperity.

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