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Layout Construction Journal

Volume Eleven - May 2009 through February 2010

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February 27, 2010

Well I managed to get a little work done on the layout in spite of the bad weather we had over the last few days (2-day snowstorm that deposited almost 2 feet of snow). I managed to paint a lot of the bright rail flextrack rusty to match the weathered track using a tool I bought a while back from an outfit called Rusty Rails. It's a neat little contraption with a sponge wheel at the end of a thin tube, which is attached to a paint bottle. Paint goes thru the tube and gets on the sponge wheel through a pinhole in the tube, and you roll the sponge wheel against the rail to deposit paint on it without getting the paint on the ties.

It works fairly well, but the acrylic craft paint I was using tended to clog up every 10 minutes or so requiring a lot of trips to the sink to clean it out. Floquil would probably have worked better but I didn't have any rail brown in that brand. Maybe I should buy some And yes, I do have the Floquil paint pens in rail colors, but for some reason using them just isn't as convenient. I mean, there's like no cleanup with the pens which is great but its hard to get them into tight places, and they can spill onto the ties just like this contraption can... Oh who am I kidding? They are more expensive! Craft paint is dirt cheap.

It took a while but I managed to get a lot of the painting done, and that track is now ready to be laid up in Danbury. I'm looking forward to using the Rusty Rails painting tool to color some of the turnouts we've laid down on the RR over the last few years, which are still in bright rail and stick out like a sore thumb. Fortunately it works fast so I can do a lot of them quickly (though I'll have to be really careful around those that have already been ballasted). Ill also have to clean the tool often because it gets messy pretty quick. But its a small price to pay for what the tool offers.

February 24, 2010

A small but productive session this week. Prior to the session I got the ties done under the turnouts we already placed in Danbury, and spiked them down enough to hold them in place while we add new track to the area. This way when the session started we had something tangible to work out from. I also installed a few servo brackets underneath where the switch machines for these turnouts will need to be placed.

I think the bad weather coming scared off many of my regulars, but I got lucky when Tom showed up and we got quite a bit done between the two of us. We got to work on putting down as much flextrack as we could in the NY&NE yard at Danbury, trying to get the mainline connected back up again. Fortunately two new turnouts I got from Dave let us work on completing the main line through the area, and we also worked on trying to connect up or extend tracks from the existing turnouts already laid down last work session. Between us, we put down almost two complete bundles of flextrack by quitting time, and got the mainline in place all around up to about five feet away from the turnout leading into Danbury from the north.

All that work pretty much depleted the track supply I had, which surprised me because I thought I had a lot more. Flextrack gets used up really quickly, it seems. Turns out I was right; after Tom went home I found another six bundles of code 70 Micro Engineering flextrack in the utility closet. Unfortunately, it's all bright rail (not weathered). I must have bought it a while ago when that was all I could get my hands on. Shouldn't be too much of a problem, I have a tool that should make getting it painted to match what's already down an easier chore.

February 22, 2010

Well it's been a few weeks since I updated the journal. I apologize for that, but I have a doctor's note. On returning from the big Springfield show in the end of January, I came down with a case of Pneumonia that really wiped me out. for two weeks I was pretty much immobilized and got nothing accomplished at all, and even in the ensuing week or so since it's been tough to work on anything for more than an hour or two. The weather has also made it difficult, being so cold it's tough to spend more than a few minutes down in the basement at a time. But while I could not work on the layout I did manage to do a little bit of work here and there on some other smaller projects at the dining room table.

One project I've spent some time on is building a Whipple truss bridge out of several Central Valley Pratt Truss bridge kits. This bridge will eventually be placed over the Still River between Bethel and Danbury. I've started a build article elsewhere on the site to document the project (Whipple Truss Bridge) so I won't go into details here, but it'd been a fun project so far that's going to look really unique. Progress is on hold at the moment as I try to get enough new parts cast to complete the model, but hopefully I'll be able to complete it soon.

Another project I've put some work into recently is kitbashing a model of a Burton Stock Car Co. Perfected Horse Car. I've been lucky to find several prototype drawings and photos of one of these cars and had the idea to make one for some time, because I felt a creditable model could be buil from a pair of MDC Overton baggage cars. Well after acquiring a couple of these cars as donors recently I decided to go for it. I cut them up on my miniature table saw (a great scratchbuilding and kitbashing tool) and put them back together making a fairly reasonable copy of one of these cars. It needs a few more touches to bring it to life, including some small round opera windows and storage boxes mounted beneath the floor and over the truss rods, but so far it is coming out really well.

Most recently I got to try out a new product called Transfer Tape, which is like double-sided sticky tape except there's no tape in it, just the sticky part. You apply it to one surface and then peel off the backing strip, leaving the gummy glue on the surface, which you then stick something else to. Works a lot like rubber cement on a tape strip, but it doesn't dry out very quickly. It solves a lot of problems, like how do you glue together dissimilar materials like plastic and wood, and avoids others like warpage from wet glues on paper or wood and solvent glue on plastic parts. I used some to attach embossed styrene panels of slate shingles to a building model I made quite a while ago, and I'm very pleased with how it came out. This is a great tool for modeling and I think you'll be seeing me use it more and more in the future.

And finally though I haven't actually started the project yet, I did spend some time pushing bits around on the computer trying to see if an idea I had would work. Some time ago I bought a Walthers Greatland Sugar Refining Co. kit with the idea of kitbashing it into something more appropriate to my era and location. The idea I had was to remove the top of the end walls so the roofline was the same on all sides, and then place a mansard roof around the top of the building. If it works it would be a fairly close match for a prototype building in South Norwalk, the R & G Corset Co. The kit would fit pretty well into a large open area in front of and south of the Norwalk Iron Works model. So I took a photo of the kit from Walther's website and made some changes to it in MS Paint to see what it might look like with the changes I as planning. And I think it will look pretty good! So that kit will get moved up the list to get built sooner than later.

February 2, 2010

Well, I had a chance tonight to start building up one of my new Amesville Shops New York Central & Hudson River boxcars tonight. I needed to get one built so I could take pictures of the build process for the instructions, which I did while assembling the car. It was most enjoyable, the car itself went together very easily once the floor sides were sanded down to fit in the one-piece body shell. From there, it was a pretty simple process of drilling out holes in the floor for truck and coupler screws, truss rods, and in the car body for grab irons.

I glued the needle beams to the floor of the car and stretched the .015" monofilament over them, after passing the line through the holes in the floor. I had some concerns that the floor might warp under the tension, but it is thick and didn't flex at all when I tugged hard on the lines. A few drops of CA cement secured the ends to the floor well. They look good hanging down from the floor, and I don't have any concerns that they will ever get bent accidentally. Whether the paint will stick to them if flexed? That is a better question.

I also applied all the grab irons to the car while I was waiting for the glue holding the fishing line to set up. This went pretty quickly, the dimples in the car ends made locating and drilling the holes for the grabs very easy. Only the roof required a bit of marking before drilling.I made two of the wire drabs into 'drop' grabs before installing them into the roof.

While I let that dry I carefully removed the brake platform parts from the Tichy K brake set, built up the platform and installed it onto the car end. I had this idea to take one of the brake levers from the set and bend it into a Z shape to make the lower staff bracket that holds the brake staff, but the plastic would not bend without breaking. So I reverted back to a method I used to use, flattening a bit of the end of the brass brake staff with a hammer, then bending the flattened part into a fishhook shape making it look like the bracket. It's convincing if you don't look really close...

I was going to use a pair of Bethlehem Car Works Grasse River trucks under this car, but while looking through my stash I found a nice pair of old Cape Line T-7 diamond archbar trucks. They are not a 5' wheelbase as they should be, but they look a lot like the period trucks that were under the prototype so I went with them. They got screwed on with a pair of #0 screws from MicroFasteners.com, but Kadee #0 screws would have worked as well. Why use such a small screw? Because the prototypical car bolsters are quite narrow and I was worried a 2-56 screw would bust through the side.

January 27, 2010

I had a lot of help tonight! I had Ted P and Tom down tonight right from the start, and I got them working on installing the roadbed and track for the connection between the Danbury loop and the current "end of track" coming out of Bethel. They took some of the homasote roadbed we prepared a couple of weeks ago and started installing it, gluing it down and then putting in flextrack on top of that. Scary Ted arrived down a bit later, and I asked him to grab the drill and start making holes in the joists all down the Danbury peninsula to run a pair of bus lines for track power in Danbury. That kept him busy for a while.

In the meantime Dave Ramos arrived and had with him the first four #5 turnouts he promised to build for me, which I greatly appreciated. I immediately had him working with Ted P and Tom on the South side of Danbury, where the main connects to the Danbury loop. The straight leg of that turnout will lead into the old D&N passenger terminal. As for the rest of the turnouts Dave brought over, they got installed by me around the corner in the NY&NE Danbury yard where I could fit them in. I did not glue them down yet like Ted P, Tom and Dave did on the south side, but pinned them in place and fit some flextrack in around them to start getting the yard ladders built. This was as much a chance to see if the plan as drawn would actually fit! Still not sure if it will actually work without a bit more shoehorning here and there, we'll see how it goes...

So this coming week I have several solo projects to catch up with based on tonight's progress, including getting switch ties cut and in place for the new turnouts, and possibly getting some servo brackets installed. Plus I have to get ready to leave for the big Amherst RR club show in Springfield MA this weekend. I hope to run into many of you up there, if you see me please stop me and say hi!

January 20, 2010

I'm not usually one to make New Year's resolutions, as like everyone else I have a lousy track record. But I have been trying to spend an hour or so working on the layout every day since the new year began. As usual I've failed to keep up, but I have spent a handful of days down there doing a little bit here and there, and even the small efforts have been paying off. Last night I spent about an hour and a half working on making and then attaching control shelves to the new fascia at Branchville, installing a few barrel bolts on those shelves and then re-installing the electrical switches behind them used to actuate the servo switch machines and change the frog polarity of the switch. This required a bit of re-wiring, as some of the track power wires were too short to reach the edge, but that was handled quickly. If I can keep doing this a couple of times a week and still spend a few hours working on the weekend, I think I'll make some real progress!

I'm also ordering my final batch of Octopus servo controllers from Tam Valley Depot this week. I want to be sure I have enough controllers to cover the entire layout, and I still need another four to do that - plus I want to have a few spares on hand in case of problems. I've also decided to buy and use one of Tam Valley Depot's Accessory Boosters to power and run Danbury. This Accessory Booster simply passes on the DCC signals present on the power bus and provides up to 3 amps of power independent of the primary booster. It is electronic circuit breaker protected and runs off a small switching power supply that plugs directly into the wall. One of the cool things about it is that it is self controlling - 5 minutes after losing the DCC signal on the power bus, it shuts down automatically, and instantly restarts when a new DCC signal is detected. For just $50 it should be an ideal solution, since I'm beginning to feel I'm reaching the limits of my dual 5-amp smart booster on this railroad. For those with NCE Powercabs this should also be a simple and elegant expansion option.

Finally for today, I've also decided to use one of Tam Valley Depot's Hex Frog Juicers to supply the power for the Danbury turntable and the Maybrook Line duckunder bridge, which will be a reversing section. The HFJ I have is a test unit specially modified to throw two frogs to opposite polarities at the same time, making it ideal for a reversing section or a turntable application. The HFJ will get its power from the new TVD Accessory Booster mentioned previously. It might not be a good solution for layouts with multiple engine lashups to power, but my single steam locomotives should not tax the device very much.

January 17, 2010

Had a pretty good weekend getting things done for a change! Dave Ramos came over on Saturday and we spent some quality time with the table saw in my garage, each of us cutting homasote and masonite for projects on out railroads. It's so much easier to deal with these large sheets when you have help... We spent about an hour cutting up stuff and I got homasote cut into roadbed strips to help continue tracklaying up in Danbury, and masonite cut into panels and strips for fascia around Branchville and Danbury. Most of this was cut up from scraps I had lying around up in the garage so it helped clean up a bit there too.

Sunday I went to the basement to get some work done while watching the football playoff games. And it turned out to be a highly productive day - I was able to get all of the new servo motors we mounted this past Wednesday wired up, including the microswitches at the switch controls. So now all of Wilton, Bethel (the parts already laid) and Brookfield Jct. have been changed over, the only parts of the layout still controlled with the old hardware are Wilson Point and Dock Yard. The Octopus boards just need to be re-programmed now to control the servos properly.

From there, I went on to finish something that has been driving me CRAZY for a long time now - the fascia around Branchville. This area has sat unfinished for a couple of years now because the steel angle irons that brace the thin front edge made it difficult to attach any type of fascia. But over time, I developed a plan to get around that, and now that I actually had the masonite cut out for it I wanted to have it done. Finally. So I spent a couple of hours gluing on shims to the exposed plywood where I could to bring the wood face out past the metal edge, and making and installing L-shaped blocks to mount underneath the thinnest sections to a wood face fluch with the metal would be exposed. Once those were on, I was able to finally screw the masonite panels to the benchwork and cal that project done. Just for good measure I installed a thin-profile horizontal car card box just under the edge that will hold the bills for Branchville. And as the Jets / Chargers game had just ended, that was my cue go up and to eat dinner, and call it a very good night.

January 13, 2010

We got lots done tonight, with lots of help.  Scary Ted and Tom arrived first, and the three of us started working on putting down the roadbed for the Danbury Loop - a half-circle track built on the prototype in 1887 between the Danbury & Norwalk and the Housatonic / New York & New England tracks which were a block apart in town.  Scary Ted and I had plotted out the curve last session, and this time we glued and brad-nailed down strips of homasote over the planned path.  Then Tom and Ted got to work adding a couple of peices of flex track to the new roadbed, gluing that down with adhesive caulk.

About this time Neil arrived, and he reminded me of a conversation we'd had the week before on the way to an operating session.  I had mentioned my plan of including a cutoff track through Danbury that would connect the South end of the Danbury Loop track back to the north leg of the railroad wasn't going to work because of the yard design for the NY&NE yard we are including at Danbury.  I was becoming resigned to the idea of having to bridge the aisle between Danbury and New Milford to create a route for the NY&NE to the West, what would later be the New Haven's Maybrook Line.  I hated the idea because I swore I'd do everything I could to avoid duckunders, but the reality was that this was the only way this was going to work.

Neil wanted to see if installing a bridge here would actually work, and he picked up the old test track lying next to him and placed it across the aisle about where the actual bridge would have to be.  As I suspected I hated it, but the other guys took turns evaluating it and the consensus was that while it wasn't perfect, it was not a show-stopper either.  Neil noted there was almost no grade between the sections, which I knew would be the case (I designed it that way to begin with) Tom pointed out that a similar duckunder exists at a friend of our's layout and everyone has been dealing with it fine for years, and that one doesn't have the aisle width I have (which makes it easier to get by).  In fact for everyone but Neil (who is tall) it was pretty much a nod-under.  It didn't even obstruct the access to New Milford, though it may be a bit in the way for wolks working the north end of Winnipauk on the lower level.  So I guess another compromise is in my future...  I think I will call it the Poughkeepsie River Bridge, because it's over 6 feet long and very high, even if it's some 20-30 miles closer to Danbury than it should be...

After we finished discussing the bridge, Neil and I got to work on replacing the old manual switch machines in Wilton, and re-mounting the servos under Brookfield Jct. and Bethel.  We spent a couple of hours doing this, and got 10 switch machines changed out before the night was over.  Neil was removing the old switch machines and prepping the servos by assembling them and installing the actuator wires, and I was following behind him installing them with the new brackets.  It was a great way to work, I'm sure we got more work done this way than if each of us had to perform all the steps individually.  I now have more work coming up getting the new servo motors wired but that should go fairly quickly.  The majority of the switch machines were already wired for the new method so I really only have to wire four completely!

Dave arrived somewhat later, and he took an interest in working on the roadbed going into the Danbury & Norwalk passenger station and coach yard.  I gave him s slab of homasote and he cut out a number of turnout-shaped roadbed blocks to use when we start working on that section, which could be as soon as next session.  He also said he would have at least a half-dozen turnouts built for me by the next session, so hopefully we will be able to get some more work done on getting the tracks for the NY&NE yard and the Housatonic mainline set through Danbury!

January 4, 2010

Had a few free hours tonight in between helping my son with a school project so I went ahead and glued the homasote down in the NY&NE yard at Danbury, then started to transfer over the track plan for the yard that we finalized last week. At least I thought we had finalized it - as I was laying out the lines I started to realize that there were some major flaws in it operationally. So halfway through the transfer process I stopped and took a long look at what space I had (since I have already cut the homasote based on the flawed plan I'm somewhat restricted in what I can do now).

The issue is two-fold, and a result of following the prototype plan for a yard not designed for classification more closely than I should have. First I neglected to plan in an arrival-departure track off the main, which ended up forcing it to the first yard track, where it doesn't really work well because it's the shortest track in the yard. The other option would have been to use the far track as the A/D, which also doesn't work because it becomes very difficult to get trains back over to the main line at the north end of the yard. For those of you who have read my 10 commandments of yard design, you know this is a major no-no because arriving and departing trains have to cross the yard lead and/or the yard ladder.

While I have not completed the design yet, I think what's going to happen is that I'll add another track between the first yard body track and the mainline. This will become the Arrival / Departure track, and appropriate turnouts onto and off of the main and the yard lead, which should solve a lot of the problems. I'm also going to change the north ladder over from #6 turnouts to #5 turnouts, which should free up about 18" of space at the base of the ladder track. That will help get the A/D track in by clearing up some headroom at the north end where space is tight.

Unfortunately I see I'm going to have some serious troubles trying to get the 'hidden' reversing track in through the middle of Danbury. This track which did exist on the prototype (in later years) allowed trains coming from the north to go around the Danbury loop, cross over between what was the Danbury & Norwalk main and NY&NE main line and return north. This is very important to me operationally because east / west NY&NE trains need to be able to arrive and leave to the north in order for the operating scheme to work. The only option I see at the moment is moving the hidden reversing track closer to the base of the peninsula, where it will have to cross the NY&NE switching lead to get back to the northbound track. This is not ideal, though it will only be used a few times in a session. Putting in a diamond crossing there (too sharp for a slip switch or facing point to point turnouts) will create a derailing hazard, a bad thing on a switching lead that cars are being pushed over. I really don't like that.

I can tie this track into a industrial spur I was going to include on the D&N side, try to hide the connection from one side to the other. But I would like to find another way if I can. Maybe put the switching lead on the south end instead of the north... ? No, that's worse than the current situation. This sucks. The only other option is to return to the idea of a bridge crossing the aisle from the corner of the Danbury peninsula over to what is now New Milford, and I don't want to do that either.

January 1, 2010

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  Hope that you had a good one and best wishes for the upcoming year.  Working on the railroad new years day has become a bit of a tradition and I celebrated today by pulling a sheet of homasote out of the garage, placing the NY&NE yard pattern on it and cutting it out, with some very appreciated help from my son.  I brought the cutouts down to the basement and afterwards and with a bit of fitting got them to fit nicely on the benchwork.  Tomorrow I'll spread the glue on the plywood and screw them down, then transfer the track plan onto the sheets, and next work session we can start putting in track and wiring!  Very exciting.

I also spent some time getting the most recent Octopus servo controller wired in around Winnipauk and Wilton.  the servos and wiring have actually been in place for a while, but today I finally traced out and hooked up all the lines from the microswitches, and then matched up the servo control lines with them.  All six servos (seven once the new spur at Winnipauk is installed) are running with no noise and no overheating.  I'll program the servo travel endpoints tonight and that will be that for this section of layout.  The next sections to be worked on will be over in Bethel (reworking the servos already installed there) and a new group on the other side of Wilton / Brookfield Jct.

December 31, 2009

Here we are, the close of another year.  I have to say it hasn't been the best year for a lot of reasons, and I'm glad it's nearly over.  But I have great hopes for 2010 and hope to get off on a good note tomorrow!  Last night we had a nice work session attended by myself, Lovable Tom and Scary Ted.  After putting it off for months we FINALLY got the NY&NE yard in Danbury laid out - not how I originally planned it but I think it will work out just fine.  Turns out some changes in the geometry of that section of layout required big changes to the plan.  Fortunately the area has a bit of wiggle room so I was able to make the changes without too much compromise.  Now it's time to take the pattern and cut some Homasote out.  In the middle of winter.  Outside.  I'm so blessed...

Tom and I also did a little bit of remedial wiring to fix some issues that came up with the new turnout controls.  Seems like 15+ feet is too far away to place a servo from the controller, or they run wonky.  We halved the distance of the run and installed a new controller board under New Milford to serve that area.  It will also serve the lone servo in Branchville that had nowhere else to go.  We spliced in a new end to the servo extension cord and wired the servo to the new board which will hopefully correct that wonky problem.  We also re-hung the fascia in front of Winnipauk which has been down since we moved the tracks there.

After Tom left, Ted and I worked on extending a string of under-deck CFL lights that will help illuminate the Winnipauk and Wilton areas.  Ted had a bit of a goof and ruined about 10 feet of wire, but fortunately I bought extra and we were able to correct the problem.  While Ted worked on that I went around and completed setting up the microswitch / barrel bolt controls in the Wilton area.  Later this week I'll do the programming for the servo controller in that area and get it working.

So next week (if I can get the homasote cut like I'm planning to) we will actually start laying track up in Danbury - or at least getting ready to, gluing and screwing down homasote and running power bus lines for the new trackage.  Dave says he will start working on the necessary turnouts starting next week when he returns from his vacation, so we might be able to start getting some of those down too in a few weeks.  Here's hoping to hitting the ground running in 2010!

December 16, 2009

Well December has been a poor month for work sessions. On the 2nd I had to cancel because of remodeling work being done in the house, and last night no one showed up for the mid-month session. I did some work anyway, wiring up some of the new servos we installed last month. New wood blocks had to be installed behind the barrel bolt switch throws to hold the microswitches in place, so I made up and installed a bunch of them. I also soldered microswitches to the wires that lead back to the octopus controllers and determine the switch position. I even got a couple of the microswitches installed, and I'll try to do some more tonight.

I also assembled a few more of the kitbashed IHC New Haven flatcars (originally wood tank cars) I've been trying to finish up, and started fixing up a few more of the original donor cars so they can get painted and decaled too. And I spent a little more time working on the floor/underframe for the cut-down MDC boxcars I want to do. I hoped I would be able to use it to make the new shorter floors but it isn't going to be easy, the floor is an odd shape that won't be easy to mold. Taking one of the old metal car floors, molding and casting a copy or two of it and modifying the resin copies, and then molding and casting those parts would probably work out better in the end. But the reality is that the best and easiest method may simply be to scratchbuild a couple of floors and mold and cast them myself. They would certainly look better and take less time. I may have sacrificed one of these new, crisp ready-to-run boxcars for nothing in the end.

December 7, 2009

Well I have to apologize for taking so long to update the website. Truth is, I've been making slow progress in the last few months because I've been feeling kind of burnt out. It happens to all of us every now and then, and I know that at some point I'll regain my enthusiasm so I'm just waiting it out until the spark comes back. I haven't completely stopped working onthe layout; I've been doing a number of smaller projects, even finishing up some that have been laying around for a long time. I kitbashed a bunch of cabooses a couple of months ago, renumbered some off the shelf ready to run boxcars with identical numbers and worked on changes to the car forwarding system. And I recently made up some new decals to letter up the passenger car fleet and make up some new local-area freight cars too. I'm hoping by concentrating on the tasks I really enjoy I can bring myself around again to tackle the bigger jobs I don't enjoy as much.

I've been getting some work done with the latest replacement of the switch machines around the layout. A few months ago Duncan McRee (from Tam Valley Depot) and I came up with a better way to mount R/C servos under the track, solving several issues we had run into with just taping / gluing the servos under the track. A new bracket that changes the orientation of the servo (and adds a much-needed fulcrum to double the force at the throwbar) has made a huge difference in the performance of the servos and the controllers Tam Valley Depot makes. I'm having the brackets I designed cast for me by Motrak Models to save time, and the work replacing all the manual-linkage switch machines is proceeding, albeit at a slow pace. The most difficult part is the electrical switch changes; the machines are fun to do and go quickly. I'm hoping this will be the very last time this needs to be done!

I've also decided I have far too many 'standard' 36 foot MDC/Roundhouse boxcars and reefers on the railroad. Not only are they too large for my period (except in small numbers), too many of them represent far-flung roads that should not be so well represented like Union Pacific. I have a LOT of UP cars! I also have many of these cars that have paint schemes which are too modern. So I'm planning to embark on a program to downsize and redecorate many of these cars. I'm hoping to take a new ready-to-run pre-assembled model and salvage the plastic floor / underframe from it. I'll cut that down to make a master model for a shorter car, one at 34 feet and another at 32 feet, then mold and cast them. At the same time, I'll take the car shells and strip the paint off, and shorten and lower them to the sizes above, more appropriate to the late 1880's. They will be rebuilt with new custom doors and painted, new resin underframes will be installed and then the cars will be decaled with more appropriate North-Eastern railroad markings. By making it into a repeatable process where I can work on many cars at once I'm hoping to improve this aspect of the car fleet in fairly short order.

October 21, 2009

Tonight's project ended up going much easier than I thought it would. The primary task was to bend out some 20 feet of spline roadbed in the Winnipauk area to make it much closer to the edge of the layout. To do this I earlier made a cut through the spline on one end of the town, and figured we would pivot the long section of roadbed on a short single-track section just beyond the bridge at the other end. When Ted P arrived, we discussed how best to do it and started by removing the fascia panels in front of the scene. We also started tearing up the very basic scenery cover in the area to get access to the risers underneath the roadbed.

Ted went around to all the risers and struck a pencil line on each one of them to mark the height against the grid it was screwed to, and I followed behind him with a putty knife and hammer breaking the glue joints that held the splines to the risers, so the track and roadbed could 'float' on the supports. We figured out about where the roadbed would end up, and moved a few risers over to the new position so there would be something to rest the spline on when we moved it. We had to disconnect a few switch machines because with the tracks coming closer to the fascia edge, the linkages wouldn't fit anymore. Anyway, these machines will soon be getting replaced by servo motors, so no big deal.

Finally it was time to bend the spline. We were not sure what would happen when we stressed the roadbed and track - would the laminations come apart? Would the rails bind and kink? Would any turnouts go out of gauge? We slowly pulled the spline roadbed out away from the cut, listening for any telltale pops or cracks - but nothing bad happened. As it turned out, the spline bent gently along a 10 foot section; mostly along the single-track area I was hoping it would, but also along the main and siding through Winnipauk a bit. We didn't seem to have any problems with excessive tension, the spline wanted to spring back a bit but it adjusted to the new curve pretty well.

While Dave and Scary Ted held the bent roadbed in place, Ted P and I went around and re-located all the risers along the way through Winnipauk. Striking the lines on the risers to indicate the correct height saved us a lot of time and effort, and in very little time we had all the risers relocated. The final step was to line up the cut ends so a bridge section of spline could be installed, re-connecting the mainline. We eyeballed the job, getting close enough by holding a straightedge over and to the side of the tracks on either side. The bridge section will be able to adapt to any slight change when it goes it. We did have to put some pressure on the curve to get it to line up though, and this caused a bit of rail kinking on the track above. We'll be able to fix it fairly easily with a few spikes and a quick pass of the Dremel cut-off tool to relieve the pressure at the joints.

After that was done, Scary Ted and Dave worked on installing new upper-deck supports running from the grid directly to the underside of the upper deck under Danbury. Part of the reason for moving the track at Winnipauk closer to the layout edge was to have more room behind the scene to install more direct supports, that will hopefully stop the upper-level benchwork here from sagging so badly. These new supports should really stabilize the upper deck by moving additional legs out towards the cantilevered edge. The backdrop through here will be brought forward to the new legs accordingly.

While They were doing that, Ted P and I worked on installing a new servo switch motor in one of the new mounting brackets I designed a week or so ago. I sent the best four out of six out for casting, but still had the two also-ran prototypes of the set to use. They work, just were not as pretty as the others. Ted and I Applied a square of double-stick foam tape on the bracket and stuck it onto the spline roadbed after lining up the fulcrum hole inder the throwbar, then screwed the bracket to the spline with a 3/4" screw. We bent an actuating wire, attached it to the horn of the servo and then attached the horn to the servo motor, and installed the servo into the bracket, threading the actuator wire through the fulcrum hole in the bracket and the hole in the throwbar of the turnout. We secured the servo to the bracket with a bit of the foam tape, plugged it into the driver board and tested out out. And it worked very well after a couple of very minor adjustments!

The master patterns for my servo mounting brackets

October 12, 2009

I posted something the other day online about how I made up the four cabooses over the weekend, and naturally folks wanted to see pictures! So I made up one more caboose tonight while watching Monday Night Football and photo-documented the process. I didn't get so far as to putting on the end beams but it showed the steps in the kitbashing process pretty well. It didn't come out perfectly as I kind of rushed through the process, but one side looks good. I may see if I can putty up the gap on the bad side (though it might look worse when all is said and done). Since I now have the pics, I suppose I'll make up an article on it for my own website in the next few days.

The two donor models Remove the roof from the 4 window caboose The 4-window caboose disassembled Remove details from the underside of the body

Mark the car for the two cuts that will shorten the body to three windows Cut the body near the lines leaving enough material to file the edges flat section removed from the caboose body File or sand the ends flush and square

The 3-window caboose body glued together Remove an identical amount from the roof, removing the cupola opening Shortened roof test-fit on car, glue halves together File or sand the projections off the roof

soften a plastic sprue over a candle to soften it, then stretch it out thin Several sprues heated and stretched Insert the stretched sprues into the holes in the roof and glue them in Trim the sprues flush with the roof after they dry and sand down nubs

Remove the center sill of the underframe up to the truck bosses Trim truck bosses flush wit the frame, then glue in place under the caboose body The frame and end platforms secured in place Putty the seams and holes in the roof and sand down for a smooth finish

remove the body and weights from the bobber underframe remove the end platforms leaving a mounting pad in the center The underframe ready to be installed under the 3-window bobber Major body modifications completed

October 10, 2009

Well this weekend I should have been working on the layout, getting the trackplan transferred for the Danbury area, But I just felt more like building something. I looked around at the several projects I have going right now but was not motivated by any of them, I wanted to do something fresh (which is why I'm always working on 20 different projects at a time). While poking around I found a shoebox filled with an old kitbashing project; four cut-up cabooses I started over a year ago, and decided that it tickled my fancy again. So I opened up the box and over Saturday and Sunday evenings I completed kitbashing them into four new Housatonic bobber cabooses. When they are done (still need to be painted and decaled) I'll have five of them in service, and I still have another six donor models stashed around the layout that need to be converted. Of course by the time I get around to making those it'll probably be next year sometime.

The caboose trucks for these models come off the Bachmann trainset-quality bobber cabooses, the ones that resemble the classic Pennsy bobber. The truck isn't that great but it works pretty well once you replace the wheelsets. Not really to the point, but it really pisses me off that I can get the high-quality, well engineered and detailed Walthers $25-30 cabooses on sale for $10 or less when I look around for them, but the crappy Bachmann bobbers which ought to cost $2-4 now go for over $10 each! And it's really hard to find them discounted below that anywhere! It's just not fair. Plus the Walthers cabooses come with a nice set of wood-beam trucks I can use on my wooden gondolas, so it's like getting the Walthers cabooses at half price...

I did actually get started trying to copy down the NY&NE Danbury Yard trackplan earlier in the week right onto the plywood, but I screwed up the geometry at some point and it doesn't fit like it should. I thought briefly about painting over the lines and trying again, but instead I'm going to spread brown kraft paper over the benchwork this week (which I should have done in the first place) and re-do the transfer, and then that paper will become the template to cut the homasote for the roadbed. I'm also looking at the industry tracks in Danbury for the first time in years, and I'm starting to see that I might need to make some changes to create some more switching possibilities. There isn't very much to do here besides switching a couple of coal industries and the freight house...

Oh, and Friday night I built a half-dozen of the new servo mounting brackets I designed this past week. These are intended to be masters for the production brackets that will be cast in resin. Now I'm trying to decide if I should cast them myself or if I should farm the job out to another caster. I'm leaning heavily on farming it out because even though it's not difficult I really don't like the production end of this process.

October 7, 2009

Great session tonight!  I had hoped to start getting homasote cut for roadbed in the Danbury area, but I wasn't quite ready for that as I've been struggling a bit to fit the yard tracks in (seems the actual benchwork shape is slightly different from the drawn plan...)  Instead we concentrated on getting the plywood benchwork in Danbury completed and straightened out as best we could.  Tom, Neil, Ted P and I took the last section of 1/2" plywood and marked out the shape of the last missing panel.  We cut it out with a jigsaw and the guys installed it, then we screwed it down to the joists and added an edge board to it to force the panel flat, at least on the edges.  In the meantime, Dave took my one-handed sawzall and trimmed most of the 1x3 joists so they taper to a point at the front edges.  This way they won't be so easily seen when the fascia goes on. 

Dave and Ted determined that the leftover piece of ply would work for the very last section of benchwork that will support the old Danbury & Norwalk station and coach yard, so they added some additional joists (needed to straighten out the wavy plywood) and got it installed.  There's about nothing left to do benchwork-wise now except for the homasote and tracklaying, so that will be the primary focus of the next work session.  

That had pretty much completed my to do list for the evening, but we still had some time left over.  So we started talking about issue on the railroad that might need to be changed, and that brought up how no one was happy with the tracks down in Winnipauk.  Here's the thing:  The upper level (the section of Danbury we attached tonight) extends so far past the benchwork edge of the lower level it makes it difficult for the operator to see under there, particularly the taller guys.  Making matters worse, the tracks in Winnipauk run over a foot inboard of the fascia, making it that much harder to reach for anyone.  It's always been an issue but it's doubly so now that the Danbury benchwork is in.

We talked about what could be done, and everybody felt that (A) the lower level edge should be moved out to more closely match the edge of the upper level, and (B) the tracks should be moved much closer to the layout edge so they can be more easily reached.  As we were discussing if it was worth rebuild some 20 feet of track, it occurred to me that if we cut the spline roadbed just south of the Wilton Creamery siding and disconnected the risers the splines are attached to from the joists underneath, we might be able to bend the spline roadbed out from just north of the Winnipauk bridge.  Spline roadbed can be very forgiving that way; you can coax it a bit this way and that way if it isn't fixed in place at one end.  So I think we could bend the roadbed a bit and move it closer to the edge, and then insert an 18-24" filler strip at the north end and reconnect the ends together.

I wasn't sure about whether the change was worth the effort, but then Tom and Ted P noted that the backdrop could be moved forward in that section too, which wasn't that interesting to me until they pointed out it would also be an opportunity to install more supports for the Danbury area closer to the edge, and prop up the sagging cantilevered edge of the benchwork securely without a need to use threaded rods at the edge down from the ceiling.  That pretty much decided it for me, so next work session part of the plan is to start this conversion. 

October 6, 2009

Been an interesting week this week - Not much time for modeling, as I had a cold all weekend and consequently got nothing done, but I had a chance to go back and look over some e-mails I'd gotten the week before and skimmed over.  In there I found one from Duncan McRee, who makes the servo controller boards I've started using.  I had not understood the message the first time through, but on the second look I caught what he was trying to tell me, which were thoughts hed had about changing the relationship of the servo to the actuating wire (which is used to throw the turnout). 

The problem we've had to date using the R/C servos as switch machines stems from the spring pressure required to hold the points in place.  We set up the actuating wires on the servo horns rigidly, so they would be an extension of the rotating arm on the horn.  The wire is used to flip the points but like most other switch machines is also used to provide spring pressure on the points to hold them in place.  That is particularly important with solid-point turnouts like I have.  But unlike a stall-motor machine (a Tortoise, for example) that runs side to side until is stalls, and can rest while pressing on the turnout points without overheating, the R/C servos are programmed to try and reach a specific point of travel and will continue to fight to reach it, even if the spring pressure prevents it from doing so.  Eventually the servos overheat and burn out, or strip their internal gears making them useless.  And in the meantime they will growl and make loud noises almost all the time which is distracting.  Plus the added current draw overheats the electronic driver boards as well, which end up having to pump out far more current than they should have to.

So I was really interested when I read Duncan's e-mail speculating about the relationship of the servo horn to the actuating wire.  Duncan's hypothesis was that if we were to change the mounting of the wire from a rigid extension of the horn to a pivot, allowing the wire to rotate around its mounting point, we might be able to change how the spring pressure from the wire acts on the servo horn.  He detailed a design that added a fulcrum where the top of the machine meets the sub-roadbed of the layout, similar to how a Tortoise or Blue Point machine works.  Under such a design with a the servo horn would move from one side to the other, and as the horn reached a position some 90* to the actuating wire the spring pressure would no longer be working against the rotation of the servo, but perpendicular to it.  In this way the horn would keep the pressure on the points, but that pressure would no longer be trying to push the servo back the way it had come.  That meant the servo doesn't have to fight the spring anymore, so the servo stops running, makes no noise, and doesn't overheat any more. 

Duncan's idea really set me to thinking about this.  I felt there were some minor issues with his plan, but I could see the general theory was sound.  I wanted to find a better way to make it work and spent a sleepless night with the idea running through my mind.  Finally by morning I had a solution - change the orientation of the servo from a horizontal mounting with the horn rotating vertically (as we had been doing since the beginning) to vertical, moving the servo horn to the bottom of the mount and rotating horizontally from side to side.  Because of the way the horn rotates in this orientation, I started calling this idea a Radial Servo Mount.  It had a lot of advantages, including ease of mounting, maintenance (all the mounting screws face down instead of to the side) and an actuating wire that did not wave as it passed from one position to the other.

I quickly designed a bracket to hold the servo in this position that also incorporated a fulcrum at the base plate, and as soon as I was feeling well enough I made up a prototype out of styrene.  It seemed to work well enough, so I temporarily mounted it to the layout with double-sided foam tape and threaded the wire through the turnout's throwbar.  I was pleased that the mounting process turned out to be very easy, and in a short time I fired up the Octopus driver.  I flipped the switch, and lo and behold it actually worked just as I hoped it would!  The servo rotated side to side and provided plenty of spring pressure on the points above, but because the wire always pushes in towards the center of the hub there is no problem with the motor fighting for position.  It was quiet as a mouse and did not generate any heat or noise at all.

Prototype of Radial Servo Mounting bracket Prototype of Radial Servo Mounting bracket Prototype of Radial Servo Mounting bracket

The new radial design only sticks down about 1-1/2" from the underside of the sub-roadbed which still isn't bad at all (particularly compared to Tortoise and Blue Point machines).  The next night I built a second prototype incorporating some things I learned on the first prototype, and it was better even though some of the ideas didn't work out as well as I'd hoped.  I'm confident now that the next prototype will be refined enough to go to war with.  I've designed it to be easy to cast and intend to make a multi-part mold from it and cast as many as I will need, replacing all of the current installs on the layout and the new ones going forward.  This will surely make the servos I'm using much quieter, work much better and last far longer than they currently would.  So I'm pretty happy about that.

September 26, 2009

Got some time to do more work on the Cape Charles model today.  I took the deck blanks I had made earlier and started working with them some more.  First, I cut out a series of bulkheads designed to support the train deck at a height compatible with the Wilson Point Float bridges, and started gluing them to the waterline blank.  I included just a little bit of shear in the blanks to just suggest a bit of a curve in the deck.  Then I started to work on the train deck.  I transferred the track plan directly from the actual ferry plans, and spent several hours cutting, filing and spiking tracks to the train deck.  When that was done, it looked great and I sidled the skeleton of the boat up to the float bridge to see if the Palace Pullman cars would make it onto and off of the ferry. 

Turns out no, they won't - the six-wheel trucks couldn't negotiate the sharp bends in the interface of the ferry to the bridge.  After many loud expletives were muttered, I pulled up a lot of the track I'd just laid and did it all over again, making the transition from ferry to bridge less abrupt.  The second time was the charm, now the Palace Pullmans roll right on and off the ferry deck without derailing.

I decided to extend the tracks a bit more to the rear of the boat to accommodate four full-length Palace Pullman cars on the ferry.  Yeah, the salon at the back of the train deck is now a lot shorter but big deal, you'll most likely never be able to see it.  And it will make my life easier.  So I'm pretty happy with the model so far, and fortunately I found my file copy of the Keystone (PRR) magazine in which a very nice history of this boat is included.  I had forgotten that under the service of the New England Steamship Co. the appearance had changed somewhat, so now I'll be able to model it a bit more accurately. 

Bulkheads installed to support the train deck First try at the ferry / bridge interface First try at the ferry / bridge interface - angles are too sharp Tracks on the train deck

September 23, 2009

Quiet session tonight, just me and Neil, but it worked out well.  We were able to work together without distraction to get the last major pieces of the Danbury benchwork platforms up and in place.  We had three major sections left after the last session to install and thanks to the plywood curling up like potato chips it was much harder than it should have been.  The first section went in fine, we cut the biscuit slots in the edges and it mounted right up.  The second panel also slipped right into place, and even though it was really bent up a few screws shot in to hold it to the joists got it to lay pretty much flat. 

The third section was not cooperating at all.  It had curled in a diagonal direction, and because of that it was nearly impossible to get all the biscuit slots lined up properly without some serious twisting.  And thanks to a shoulder injury Neil didn't have the strength or the reach to force it into place.  We eventually got it to sit where we wanted it by placing some temporary cleats under the fixed part of the benchwork and using them to support the far corner while the two of us manhandled the plywood into place.  After we had finally made the attachments it was still crazily bowed though, and even after we screwed it down to the supporting joists (of which there were not nearly enough of) it was still causing humps in the surface like a roller coaster.  We fabricated a couple of supporting intermediate joists from leftover plywood and screwed them to the existing joists and then the plywood down to them, and that helped a bit.  It's still not perfect and the wide cantilevered shelf is sagging, but at least the main platform is up.  Soon enough we will be adding one or two threaded rods at the edge to help support and level the benchwork here.

Danbury deck platform coming together Decking for Danbuy finally coming together

And speaking of the edge, before Neil arrived I had taken some scrap lengths of 3/4" plywood and ripped them down to 2" wide strips, then plowed a 1/2" x 3/8" groove down one side.  When we were done with mounting all the new plywood panels, we took these lengths of plywood and slipped them over the edge of the 1/2" plywood on the upper deck.  This has the effect of making the edge of the benchwork a T-girder and forces the wavy edge into a much straighter plane, which hopefully helps the potato-chip plywood get straight, at least at the edges.  To go around the curved edges, I kerfed or slotted the plywood edging with a circular saw about every 2" leaving a bit over 3/16" of continuous plywood on the front face.  We were then able to bend it around the curved edge with little difficulty.  A few whacks with a hammer got the decking plywood to snug down nicely into the groove, and in short order the platform started to get a lot straighter.

end-on view of the slotted plywood batten that stiffens the deck edge underside view of a plywood batten that stiffens the deck edge

That was about all we had the energy for, and after having a look at the start of my latest structure project (modeling the Cape Charles Ferry) Neil went home.  I have a bit more plywood to hang for the edge of the return loop but following that I'll be ready to start inking in the track alignments, and when that's done it'll be time to make paper templates we can use to cut the homasote for the roadbed.  Since I can do a lot of this by myself, I'm hoping to get some good work done this weekend, and maybe get close enough to start laying some track next work session!

September 21, 2009

Well it was a busy week this week and consequently I didn't have much time to work on the railroad or do much in the way of modeling.  I did steal a couple of hours on Sunday though to start a new project I've had on the shelf for a couple of years.  Ever since I saw pictures of the railroad car ferry Cape Charles I've wanted to build a model of it.  The Cape Charles was bought by the New England Steamship & Navigation Co. in 1891from another railroad in the Chesapeake Bay area who had her built originally, and she was used to carry the Joint-service Long Island & Eastern States Express trains from Oyster Bay, Long Island to Wilson Pt. Connecticut.  She was a very attractive side-paddle wheel steamer equipped with two sets of rails on the main deck, where she carried up to four passenger cars back and forth across Long Island Sound. 

 

Some time ago I was able to get plans for the ship (from the Transfer and the Keystone magazines, I believe), and blew them up to HO scale.  From there the project languished with the plans gathering dust on the spindly benchwork that would eventually become Danbury.  A couple of weeks ago when we were clearing that area off to put up the new benchwork I found the plans, and it got me thinking about the project again.  One of the things that had stopped me from pursuing it was trying to figure out what to build the model from.  Plywood hull?  Masonite deck?  Well since then we got all this nice, thick 1/8" styrene sheet, and I realized it was perfect for what I wanted to do with this model.  I took the plans up to the garage where I had a large sheet of the plastic leftover from a recent project, and I found I had enough to cut the waterline hull and main deck out of.  So I traced the shapes onto the styrene with a pencil and cut the two shapes out with my bandsaw. 

A few passes with a coarse flat file quickly took off the high spots around the edges.  I thin spent an enjoyable half-hour transferring markings from the plans to the styrene main deck.  As I suspected, the space for the passenger cars isn't long enough to hold four 70' Palace Pullman cars, so now I have to decide if I want to push back the tracks to encroach into the aft dining room area to make more room, and by how much...  That was about all I had time for, the next time I get to work on this model I'll cut a bunch of bulkheads to flesh out the hull from the waterline to the main deck, and cut a slab for the next deck of the boat. 

September 15, 2009

I had an interesting experience last night, my first time editing computer fonts.  I had a font that was very close to the style the New York Central used in the late 19th century, but not all the letters and numbers looked exactly right.  In the past I've just shrugged my shoulders and said, "close enough", but this time I'm working on a decal for a model I'm selling through AmesvilleShops.com, and I felt I really needed to take the extra step and nail the decal as well as the model.  So I searched the web for some font editor programs, and picked oue out to download and try. 

I won't go into detail about the process, but it was quite a steep learning curve to understand how a TrueType font 'Glyph' (what an individual type character is called) is created and built.  It isn't as simple as loading it up in a graphics program and erasing or drawing mew lines.  It also took some time to figure out how the editor functions worked.  In the end and after about 3-4 hours, I got the hang of it (enough to be dangerous) and was able to make changes to the 'R', '7', '4' and Ampersand '&' glyphs to more closely match the example photo I have of the lettering face.  The Ampersand isn't a perfect copy but it's way closer now than it was before, close enough to make it work for the decals I need.  One has to figure there were variations from one hand-painted car to the next so I'm comfortable with the finish on it, for now.  The new decals (at least the artwork for them) look realy sharp now and much closer to the style it represents.

I'm looking forward to doing some more work like this going forward, editing other font files and making them closer matches to the prototypes.

September 9, 2009

A quiet session last night, we concentrated on moving the Danbury benchwork forward.  Neil and Scary Ted and I spent a couple of hours cutting plywood, fitting it together like puzzle pieces and putting them together.  We picked up where we left off last week, and quickly confirmed (as we had suspected last week) that the drawing of the area bore little resemblance to what was actually in the basement.  So some of the cuts we made preparing the plywood to fit together were wrong and needed to be re-done.

Considerable debate between the three of us consumed some time, trying to decide the best way to approach the problem.  Because of the way the previous sections had been cut, Neil felt we should take an additional section of plywood I had upstairs and cut a large wedge out of it to finish the elbow bend.  In fact, he wanted to make two wedges from the same sheet because one would not have been enough to fill the space.  It would have required a bunch of careful measurement and cutting to get it right.

On the other hand, I saw where we could use one of the 2' x 8' sheets long ways next to the existing panel and close up quite a bit of the open space, taking advantage of the length of the section as well to cover the extra width across the gap.  We would not need to cut up even more plywood to do this.  Neil felt this would introduce too many joints and make it difficult to keep the platform level.  I thought it would be just as many joints as his method.

We went back and forth until Neil had to go outside to take a phone call, then I went ahead and did it my way. :)  In the end I thought it worked out very well, even though it meant we had to cut some triangles out of the last two 2' x 8' slabs of plywood over Winnipauk so they'd fit up next to the previous section.  I think Neil was annoyed but once he could see what I was talking about I think he understood where I was coming from.

We then discussed whether or not it made sense to fix everything in place now, or if we should keep it loose in order to build the trackwork and wiring 'off the layout' and then fit the sections together.  We decided since we would be using flextrack and pre-built turnouts it would not be as big a deal as hand-laying, which would be nearly impossible considering the overhead clearances.  So we got started screwing the panels down and joining them together with biscuits.  The biscuits really help stabilize the edges and align the heights of the connecting panels, and we'll follow up later with a channel along the edges to further level out all the panels.  We didn't get everything joined and screwed down, but we did enough of the heavy work that I can finish the job myself this weekend.  Then the big job will be to cover the new sections with Homasote so tracklaying can commence!

September 2, 2009

Very productive session tonight.  Last week, Dave was kind enough to help me out picking up some half-inch plywood for the benchwork up at Danbury.  So tonight the project was to start getting that plywood benchwork cut and up in place.  Armed with the drawing I prepared showing the cuts we would have to make in the plywood, Ted P, Tom, Wayne and I went upstairs to the garage, and in the evening twilight cut the corners off two of the plywood sheets to fit the diagrams.  Then we tried to move the sheets down to the basement and discovered (as I suspected) that the nearly complete sheets would not make it around the bend at the bottom of the stairs.  So back up to the garage they went to be cut in two, and then dragged off downstairs again. 

The first new panel we cut in half width-wise, because we had to get it around a lally column,  The cut was made next to the column, and the first half was dropped into place.  Using that, we figured out where the cutout for the column needed to be on the second, but while we had the sheet in the air we also noted it stuck out much farther into the aisle than it showed on the drawing.  Again, as I suspected, the lower level doesn't exactly follow the plan as drawn, not a surprise with spline-roadbed layouts which tend to find their own route within general clearances.  So eyeballing it, we took out about 10" in the center of the panel, cut out the hole for the lally column and set it in place. 

Well, that was the plan - but we quickly realized that there were not enough platform supports in place to set the plywood on.  So we stopped working on the plywood and started getting new supports in to hold up the upper deck over the turn north of Winnipauk.  Aggravating the problem is the fact that the scene on the Winnipauk side of the lower level is about 4 times wider than the scene on the other side of the peninsula, which means the support legs for the upper level are seriously off-center, and don't provide a lot of opportunities for bracing to keep the platform flat and level. 

We were pretty much out of 1x3's to make supports from, but I had a few lengths of 1/2" ply stored under the layout (for years now) so we grabbed a few of those and quickly ripped them down to 2-1/2" strips.  Ted and I did our best to anchor each support as firmly as possible, and several of them we doubled-up with another strip of plywood making the support almost a full inch wide to minimize any sag that might happen.  We managed to get the second piece of the first plywood section mounted before it was time to stop, which I really thought was a good start. 

I'm seriously considering putting in a length of steel angle iron under the big corner to try and help stabilize the upper level platform, if I can find a way to secure it well to the benchwork below.  I still have a couple of lengths of bedframe rail I can use for this -- sometimes that one piece of steel can really make a huge difference, as it did when we needed to stiffen up Branchville.  We'll see how things go in the next few weeks, and if there's a good place to attach it to.  Otherwise we may need to put in another length of threaded rod from the ceiling to stabilize Danbury...

August 19, 2009

Good session tonight.  Had a number of the guys over and we got some stuff accomplished.  Tom arrived first and we got started mounting a set of four plastic cabinets under the mole yard in staging for car storage.  We cut away part of the fascia for better access and mounted a pair of plywood battens under the grid benchwork to mount the cabinets to, and then screwed the cabinet frames up underneath the yard.  These cabinets will be used as a part of the new staging procedures we will be implementing for the next session, based on new practices I learned at the Hartford National NMRA convention and the Rails on Wheels folks.  I think I may need more cabinets, though...  12 drawers may not be enough even with tiny 19th century cars!

Wayne arrived a bit later with his son Scott.  They worked on getting a couple of electrical switches installed at Winnipauk to help complete the changeover of a switch machine we started to do in the last session.  Then they took the new dirt-colored paint and painted the plaster hills through Winnipauk so it no longer looks like the dead of winter through there.  It looks much better now, and we can soon begin starting to put in some more scenery forms through there.

Dave arrived a bit late, but he was kind enough to help out by repairing a couple of broken switchpoints over in Dock Yard that occurred since the last op session.  I'm hoping that once we start getting more and more of the switch machines replaced around the layout we'll have fewer and fewer of these failures, since the servos will put a lot less pressure on the switchpoints than the manual turnout controls do.  Apparently Dave had to replace a throwbar on one of the turnouts which took a while, but he managed to do it without having to drop the switch machine for which I was very grateful.  Trying to work on the machines under Dock Yard can be a real nightmare, one of the reasons I'm looking forward to replacing them with servos.

I was also fortunate to have Scary Ted down, who took me up on starting to put in cardboard forms to lay scenery over.  He worked with me through the later part of the evening and we got a decent amount of forms in.  We can continue over the next month or so to try and extend the scenery forms around through Wilton and then beyond. 

As for myself, I installed a new Octopus in the Winnipauk area before the guys arrived, and later in the session I hooked up the new servo and switches to it electrically.  I roughed in the programming for it and I'll go back later and fine-tune the movement.  After everyone left, I wasn't tired yet so I took out some craft paints and painted the slate roof on the Bartram & Fanton building using some drybrushing techniques I read about on the internet.  I like the way it came out - subtle color variations and some good depth to the slate shingles.  Sometime in the next few days I have to break out the airbrush and paint the windows and belfry in an Ivory White color, then get those installed.  Then that building project will be nearly finished! 

August 14, 2009

Some more updates coming soon but here's a few recent photos of the work I've been doing on the Bartram & Fanton factory building.

Nearly completed model of the Bartram & Fanton Co. Nearly completed model of the Bartram & Fanton Co. Nearly completed model of the Bartram & Fanton Co. Nearly completed model of the Bartram & Fanton Co.

August 12, 2009

Bad weather this week meant I had a chance to do some modeling after work.  For a while now I've wanted to get the bell tower for the Bartram & Fanton factory built, and this seemed as good a time as any to do it.  I'd prepared a CAD drawing of the tower a few weeks back, and so I printed a couple of copies of the image to use as templates.  I trimmed them with a #11 knife and a metal ruler, then transferred the markings to several pieces of sheet styrene - some .020", some .060" and some .125".  The successive thicknesses were used to build up a octagonal cornice by stacking the parts, each cut a little smaller than the last.  I drew the center opening on the assembled blank and drilled out several holes along the line, finally opening and  smoothing the 1-1/2" hole with the #11 knife and files and sandpaper.  When it looked good I glued the dome to the the top (made up from half of a small plastic Easter egg).

From there I used my paper template to mark where the columns should be placed on the underside of the cornice.  I then glued on 2" lengths of 1/8" styrene tube at equal intervals around the cornice.  Then I made up some decorative fascia boards with half-moon shapes cut out of them from the .020" styrene, and glued them around the bottom of the cornice and to the columns.  This gave the tower a much more finished look, and helped straighten out the columns a bit (which I had eyeballed when installing).

I test-fitted the bell tower to the top of the stair tower on the nearly-completed model, and it looked way too high.  So I brought the assembly back to the bench and cut off a half-inch from each leg.  When I test-fit it again it looked much better.  It looks more in proportion now to the rest of the structure.  That was about where I stopped for the night.  When I get back to it next I'm going to add a lightning rod to the dome (made from a steel dress pin) and a few more little ornamentation touches to the columns.  I'm also going to use more steel dress pins to register the bell tower legs in position on the stair tower roof without gluing it on.  I'll probably add lightning rods to the gables of the building too.

July 29, 2009

Took a sick day from work today because I was feeling lousy (migraine).  Since there was nothing to do during the day and no one else was home, I went down to the basement where it's dark and cooler (good things when your head wants to explode), and while I was there I figured I might as well try and get something done just to pass the time.  So I got the model of the Bartram & Fanton factory down and started painting it.  I've been agonizing about how to paint it for months, so I figured I would try painting the stonework in the same way I was taught to paint larger rock castings, and see if it worked.

I started by mixing up a gray color as a base with some acrylic paints, 2 parts white to 1 part black.  I stippled this base coat on with a 1" chip brush, not trying to coat the entire model, just apply some color.  I followed that up with a light brown color, 2 parts raw umber and 1 part burnt umber. I picked this color up just on the very tips of the brush, and stippled it on gently here and there.  Then I tried to blend the two colors unevenly by stippling the brush over them, mixing the paints and leaving some areas grayer and some browner.  I followed up again with a little more brown, and tried to vary the colors even more.  I went back a third time and mixed a little bit of white into the brown to lighted it, and stippled tiny amounts of this color in also.  By the time I was done the model stone had a light brown cast to it with some areas a bit lighter and some a bit darker.  I felt this was somewhat successful, and left a subtly mottled appearance on the stones.

The Bartram and Fanton factory, painted in brown-gray stone color. The Bartram and Fanton factory, painted in brown-gray stone color

I then went in and highlighted a few individual stones here and there with the brown color, changing it here and there by adding in a little more white, or black, or brown.  All in all I doubt I painted more than 75 stones on the model, just enough to suggest some definition and some contrast.  I was pretty happy with how this turned out, so I went and mixed up a light gray color (about 4 parts white to 1 part black) and started painting all the stone lintels and sills on the windows and doors.  Man, that took a while!  There are a lot of windows on this model.  It was tedious and exacting to paint the slightly raised features with a small brush, and I think it took a couple of hours (I wasn't really paying attention to the clock).  Finally I tried dry-brushing a little bit of white onto the stones, but this didn't work out as well as I'd hoped, and I ended up wiping most of it off without damaging the paint underneath.  But in the end I was pretty happy with this also.  And I was feeling better too!

There is more to do on this model - I have about 100 star washers to apply to the walls, a really nice detail I think will pop on this building.  I need to add 12 chimneys along the roof.  Once the acrylics dry (less than 24 hours) I'll start painting in the grout lines on the model with thin oil paints.  I've used this method before and I was really happy with the results.  I'm just trying to decide what color to use - I think I will go with a light tan color to get some contrast.  Once that's done I'll mask off the areas for the signs and paint them black, then apply the decals and install all of the windows.  And finally the walls and windows and signs will get a coat of india ink wash to grime it all down and further blend the colors. 

The Bartram and Fanton factory, painted in brown-gray stone color with Yellow Oil paint for Mortar lines. The Bartram and Fanton factory, painted in brown-gray stone color with Yellow Oil paint for Mortar lines. The Bartram and Fanton factory, painted in brown-gray stone color with Yellow Oil paint for Mortar lines.

I still need to decide what color I'm going to paint the slate roof, and to build the loading docks and rain awnings along the rear extension of the building.  I'm also planning on leaving one of the upper doors open and modeling a scene of several workers trying to lower a crated machine down to the loading dock from an upper floor.  And I also need to build the domed belfry to complete the tower too...  But I'm glad to be moving forward on this project again.  I'm getting really excited about finishing it!

July 22, 2009

This past week's work session was a bit of a bust, though it should not have been - I assumed that the first work session after the NMRA National Convention in Hartford would be sparsely attended, and so didn't really plan well for a basement full of people.  So naturally that's what I got.  The only people that really had anything to do were Scott Dunlap, who helped me out by gluing down all the new ballast in Dock Yard, and Ted Pamperin and myself who spent quite some time working on tuning several turnouts in the Branchville area to see whether it would be necessary to retrofit all the turnouts on the layout with hinged points instead of the solid points they currently have.  The rest of the guys, Neil, Ray and Wayne kind of sat around most of the evening and talked about stuff.  I have to not let that happen again!  Fortunately everyone had a good time anyway, but I did feel bad about not being prepared.

Scott did a great job with the ballast, re-doing some of the work I hurried through before Joe Fugate and his gang showed up at the end of the convention.  I had spread some additional ballast down to hide the exposed homasote and plywood where I could so the layout would look better, but Scott took his time with it and really did a nice job.  Unfortunately the matte medium I gave him to soak it down and glue it seems to have left a white residue in several places which doesn't look good.  I'm going to try giving it a wash with some diluted India ink and see if I can restore the black finish on the cinders.  I'm also going to get rid of the old matte medium!

Ted and I worked together to see if the turnouts I have could be tuned well enough to not need their point rails clipped and re-attached.  The problem is the servo motors - they don't work well as stall-motor machines, because the servo will keep fighting to reach beyond where it can while a stall motor machine would just stop and go dormant.  Because the solid point turnouts require a fair bit of torque to hold the points in place against the stock rails, the servos can't usually be set to move to a specific position and stop because the points won't touch the stock rails.  So they grind and screech sometimes like Sisyphus trying to move the points beyond where they can ever go.

Ted felt that if the turnouts were more carefully tuned - having excess solder filed off the throwbars, sanding down ties under the points that bind up the points and such - that the radical turnout surgery would not be needed.  So I let him try it out on a couple of turnouts in Branchville that were balky and loud, candidates for point surgery.  He spent a fair bit of time on each turnout, and I worked with him trying to tune the servo motors to provide the least amount of force while still getting reliable results changing the turnout position.  In the end, he was definitely able to improve the two turnouts to the point where they threw easier and didn't require as much force, but the servos were still not able to go to a specific position and stop.  They continued to run, but more gently and with less stress than before.

Bottom line - I think there is value in Ted's approach, but I'm not convinced yet that this will be the final panacea.  My plan is to spend some time this weekend performing surgery on a couple of turnouts, clipping their point rails and reconnecting them with rail joiners.  I'll see how quickly I can do it, and if it improves the servo situation enough to warrant the changeover.  So I'll know soon enough if this will work or not. 

I'm also thinking about using a floating throwbar that isn't firmly connected to the point rails.  this type of throwbar has a thin tab on the top shaped like the top of a pennsy keystone - the two tabs get used to grab the rail base on the point rail and forces it over to the side of the stock rail.  The closure/point rails are a solid part, and are designed to be at rest when they are floating away from the adjacent stock rail.  When the throwbar catches the rail and moves it, it only has to move one rail over, not two, and because they points aren't soldered to the throwbar there's no additional torque to overcome.  But will it work?  We'll know soon...

Next session I plan to have some basic topographical maps prepared in order to help the guys understand where and how the scenery supports on the open areas of the lower level have to go.  It's time to fill up all these gaping holes to either side of the tracks...

July 15, 2009

Well I really got hoist on my own petard tonight.  I was not expecting to draw much of a crowd after the convention and all the work that had to be done, so I didn't prepare a list of jobs for more than 2-3 people.  So naturally, I got 5 people down.  I was not surprised when Scott showed up since I'd mentioned we'd be doing some scenery work tonight in my work session notice.  I put him to work right away on the ballast I'd poured in Dock Yard a few weeks ago prior to Joe Fugate's visit and the OpSig operating session.  Scott got right to work on getting the ballast properly spread and glued down - I think he was really the only person who accomplished anything all evening.

Shortly after that, Ray Louis and Ted P showed up, followed by Neil (whom I really had not expected) and Wayne.  We all talked a bit about the op session and how the layout had run, and then it was time to get to work.  What I'd really hoped to work on was to start getting some cardboard forms in place on the lower level, so we could work on closing up the gaping holes that trains could fall through.  Great idea, but no one except me knows what the topography of the layout is supposed to be. 

In the meantime Ted P and I were discussing whether or not it was really necessary for me to start changing all the turnouts over to hinged points.  Ted argued that many of the issues could probably be corrected with more TLC applied to the turnouts as they are.  So he and I spent the next two hours experimenting with several turnouts and servos in the Branchville area to see if his ideas would work.

Of course, this meant I ended up ignoring Neil, Wayne and Ray through most of the evening, which I didn't mean to do.  Poor planning has killed me again.  Still it seems as though they had a good time just hanging out, so I didn't feel too bad.  And Ted convinced me that we could probably fix the majority of the turnout issues I'm having by carefully doing things like sanding the wood ties under the switchpoints (which seem to be a cause of friction that defeats the servo's ability to move the points) and some other issues where parts may be catching where they should not.  So the evening was not a total loss by any means.

For the next session I'll have some very basic topo maps made up showing where and how the ground forms need to be placed in the areas I want the guys to work, so they can get that work started without my constant supervision.  I'll also try to have the tools and materials ready to go and available for them to use.

June 28, 2009

I had a very productive weekend, and managed to really dot the I's and cross the T's on many almost-finished projects on the layout.  I started off completing the work Tom and I had started this last Wednesday, getting several new servo switch machines wired up to complete their installations.  Tom and I had done the wiring to hook up the barrel bolt / control switches that control turnout position and frog polarity, but we didn't have time to run the power and signal lines from the controllers to the servos, so I did that on Friday night. 

What that involves is splicing extra long wires into the much shorter (18") extension cords I bought a while back.  The pre-made cords are only 18" long, but buying them this way, cutting them in half and using bulk wire bought from electronic surplus stores to extend them costs half as much as buying the actual components and making them myself.  It probably takes close to the same amount of time too, as I need to strip the ends of 12 wires, solder them together, braid the extension wires so they stay together, and get heat-shrink tubing around all the solder joints.  That takes about 20 minutes for each power and signal 'cable', so making up just a few of them can take up a fair bit of time.  Still it isn't hard to do, so it's hardly worth complaining about, but it is not a very interesting task, just one of those things you have to get done.

I got started late Saturday morning on that long list of almost finished projects.  The loop track in Staging had never been truly laid down after the yard had been raised, just tacked in place.  So I grabbed some spikes and a pliers and evened it all out, hopefully getting rid of a nasty kink back there.  While I was there I also made a dozen or so feeder connections that had not been completed, and trimmed back several extra lengths of power bus wire that were dangling from the benchwork to make things look nicer.  And again while I was back there, I began re-staging the railroad for the upcoming op session on the 12th.  It was kind of exciting really, it's the first time I ever got to do that - usually the time between sessions is so long the entire layout needs to be completely reset.  This time all I had to do was flip the waybills all around the layout and move a couple dozen cars to their correct spots.

And I did even more back in the staging yard.  A few weeks back Tom suggested I should get another shelf up back in staging to provide more car storage space and room to sort cars ahead of time for upcoming trains.  This has long been the plan but until recently there were not enough cars on the layout to justify the work.  Now, there are.  I stopped at Home Depot earlier in the day and bought more shelf brackets like the ones I already had, and installed them on the tracks to support a new shelf.  Actually when I was done I moved the original shelf up to the new, higher brackets to see how it would work.  It seemed to be fine (though it is not as easy to see what's on that upper shelf anymore) so I'll leave it as is now, and spend some time later this week getting a second shelf built.  When the two are up I will label different areas of each shelf so cars going to like destinations can be stored with each other, making the train building process easier.

After all that I was feeling the itch to build something, and so to keep my momentum up (and because I was asked during the last session what the short siding in Wilton was for) I pulled out one of the Walthers Ice House kits I've had in storage for some time and assembled it.  That took about an hour, and then I placed a plank on risers behind the milk siding to mount it.  Now at least there's a visual clue there to provide some idea of what the siding is for.  I was surprised the model ended up looking so much like the building I was going to model it after, just show to go you how similar many of these structures were.   At some point in the future I'll get the adjacent creamery scratch-built to go with the ice house.  That should be a fun project.  A wicked-cool clapboard sided building with multiple gables and a whole bunch of dormer windows...

I also had some signage issues I wanted to finish up.  A while back I'd had a few more signs for the layout printed and never gotten around to mounting them, so I spent a little time upstairs in the garage cutting up some 1/8" Masonite scraps into useful rectangle shapes that I could glue the heavy paper signs to.  I managed to get a bunch of the signs glued to the Masonite blocks before it was time to take care of some family matters, so I quit on that project halfway through and found some time to finish it up on Sunday.  I still need to do a bit more before the session but I got the really important signs finished and hung on Sunday.  So all in all it was a very good weekend.

June 24, 2009

A fine session tonight in which we got a lot done, and came much closer to making the layout ready for the OpSIG operating session next month.  We had gotten a lot of items crossed off the punch list last session, and I managed to address a few more things in the meantime, so it was a fairly short task list of items to handle.  The first job I assigned was to Ted P, who spiked down the Atlas turnout at the entrance to staging.  That turnout had worked itself loose during the rebuilding of the staging area some months bask, and had popped up in the center making it difficult for the steam engines to maintain contact with the track going over it.  That problem should now be fixed.

Dave arrived with staples (thank goodness) and I asked him to go around and staple up any hanging wires to make the layout more presentable.  He and Ted P worked on that, and also mounted several of the Octopus servo controller boards up and out of the way.  They also added some cardboard under Branchville (which is all open grid with spline on it) to catch any trains that might fall off the railroad in that spot if something happens.  Looked like they did a good job to me!

Tom and I worked together on installing / replacing more of the servo motors in key positions around the layout.  We replaced a balky turnout linkage in Wilton with a servo, and installed a new servo in Dock Yard on a difficult to reach switch in the back (leading into the Armour Meats track).  Boy - the latest install method using a masonite pad and hot glue works so incredibly well, I couldn't be happier with the results.  The location in Dock Yard was under / behind several structural joists, and nearly impossible to install one of my manual machines in a couple of years ago.  This time, the servo is so small it was easy to get it in place and glue it in in just a couple of minutes.  Tom handled most of the electrical connections, soldering up the switches the barrel bolts contact to switch frog polarity and running the controlling wires back to the Octopus, and installing them there.

Scary Ted was down too, as well as Wayne.  Wayne once again did me a huge favor by picking up my junk from all over the room and getting it organized in one place, which will make it a lot easier to clean up in the next few days.  He also did some work on the railcars around the layout, checking coupler heights and adjusting trip pins on many of the cars.  Ted drew the short straw and I asked him to paint the layout fascia on the upper level.  He did a great job on it, going over everything twice to be rid of thin spots and brush marks.  I can't blame him for the complaining, it is a lousy job but I'm really happy it got done.  

In the end we managed to cross off everything on my punch list from the last shakedown session.  I have a little more work ahead of me to finish the wiring on a few switch machines, and finish the clean-up job, but we're ready to host the session next month!  My thanks to the entire crew who has worked so hard on the layout to get it ready for this.  I hope they will take as much pride in it as I do next month when the Boomers come to call.

As a reminder, there is an open house on the Housatonic RR Sunday July 5th from noon to 5 pm if you would like to come and see the layout.  Please contact me if you would like to stop by for directions.

June 10, 2009

Wow, what an extraordinary work session tonight!  I had a great crowd, and they were highly motivated.  We go a ton of things done, crossing several major items off the punch list from this past weekend's op session punch list.  I was fortunate to have Tom, Neil, Wayne, Ted P and Ray down, and they came ready to work!  First, Ted arrived and immediately went to work on tuning up the trucks underneath all the rolling stock.  It turned out many of the cars' truck screws were too tight after the initial shopping, so Ted methodically went around the layout and adjusted every car so the trucks turned freely.  That should make a big difference in the next op session.

When Neil arrived he started working around the Dock Yard area, checking turnouts and running locomotives to see if they needed any fine-tuning.  He was cleaning wheels and such when he determined that the lead trucks on every single 4-6-0 on the layout had at least one wheelset that was tightly gauged, and that was likely the cause of many problems with those locomotives.  He set about working on those locos trying to get them running better.  Tom joined him in that work after helping fix the frog polarity on one of the turnouts in Brookfield Jct that was a problem during the session.

While working with Tom on that turnout problem, I found that one of the Octopus servo controllers seemed to have stopped working properly.  I don't know if it overheated or what, but the servos were not moving when the switches were thrown.  I fiddled with it but could not bring it back to life.  Fortunately I had some new Octopus controllers from Tam Valley to replace it with, and after I installed the new board everything was back to functioning properly.  I'll probably send the bad controller back to Tam Valley for a post-mortem on why it died - I'd like to know, just in case I might lose another to the same issue.

In the meantime Ray arrived, and Ted asked him for me to take a look at the electrical system on the layout to find out why certain power blocks were shorting out at the same time, when they should not have been.  Ray spend some time shorting out various parts of the railroad, trying to narrow down where the problems were.  He asked me if I had cut gaps in the track to isolate these areas and naturally I said "Of course!  I'm not an idiot!"  Well, ray and I spent about 45 minutes tracing out the various bus lines to see if there were any feeders that were improperly connected to the wrong bus - there were not.  Finally Ray said, "OK, show me where all the gaps are cut in the rails."  So I did - and wouldn't you know it, I had never gapped the new siding coming into Dock Yard from Winnipauk.  Several raucous I Told You Sos later, I cut a gap in the siding and lo and behold the cross-feeding situation was corrected.  To make matters worse, We discovered a similar situation at Standard Oil where the tracks were gapped to tie SO to the Wilson Point power district, but the SO Bus was connected to the mainline bus!  So Ray got under the stairs and switched the SO bus to the Wilson Point bus, and I gapped the rails just past the turnout, and another cross-feeding situation bit the dust.  Finally all the breakers and power districts are working properly.

About this time, someone asked about the 4-6-0 upgrade program Ray and I have been talking about doing for the last year or so.  The group decided to get an assembly line going to complete the upgrades on all the 4-6-0's right then and there.  So they disassembled all the tenders, drilled holes in the floors, soldered fine flexible wires to the tender truck wipers, ran them through the floor to the decoder pickup and added weight where they could to the tenders.  Of course then they had no idea which tender body went with which chassis, so Ted and I took each chassis and placed it on the programming track to see what shell it belonged to.  In short order the locos were all identified and back together, and were running better than ever before! 

I had so much going on that I was not able to do anything with getting the new bracket-mounted servo motors installed, but that's really not a big deal.  There are easy to do by myself, and I have put aside all day on Saturday to get those done. 

June 7, 2009

Wow, it's been nearly a month since my last update!  Sorry about that, I've been working hard on the layout to try and get ready for the layout tours and Op sessions in conjunction with this years' NMRA National Convention in Hartford, CT.  There's been a lot to do, mostly troubleshooting issues all over the layout and getting them fixed.  We've been fixing and adjusting the manual switch machines, fixing track gauge problems, getting old and new cars ready for operating, and tackling electrical problems.  Lord knows there has been plenty to do.  And on top of all that, cleaning up the mess all over!  Boy I hate cleaning, but it just has to be done. 

I finally had that shakedown operating session I mentioned in the last update, but it had to wait until this past weekend because we were not ready yet.  Even still we only had seven people to run it with.  It worked out OK though and it served its purpose, we located a few more problems here and there as we were running around the layout.  Some we were able to fix right away, some we took notes on and will be fixed in the near future. 

During the session we discovered that most of the cars are now overweight for the conditions the railroad has to operate under, as I suspected they might be, and the locomotives can barely pull a train of 7-8 cars up the ruling grade.  That value should be 12 cars.  We're going to have to re-shop a lot of them and remove some weight to get things rolling well again.  We also found that many of the cars had the trucks screwed on much too tight, and we will have to re-shop every car again to adjust the screws.  The tight trucks were causing derailments right and left all through the session.  I don't wish to sound ungrateful, I very much appreciate all the hard work that Henry and Jonathan did on the car fleet, and I see these as minor adjustments to complete all the work they did. 

The other major problem we identified was with the new servo motor switch machines.  The original method we used to mount them, double-sticky foam tape, has not worked out well.  During the op session we lost the use of at least 3 turnouts when the tape holding the servos to the benchwork came off, and the servos became disconnected from the turnouts.  After we kicked around a few ideas after the session I decided to go back to my original idea when I first contemplated using these servo motors - making a mounting bracket for them that would hold them securely.  But this time the bracket design would be a lot simpler, fast to make and easy to install.

The photos below show what I came up with last night.  It is simply a 1/8" masonite pad with a couple of blocks on either side that the servo motor slips in between.  The motor gets mounted to the bracket with the mounting screws it comes with.  The brackets are made up from long lengths of masonite and wood, then cut on the chop saw to lengths of about 1".  I made a spacer the same width as a servo to ensure the motors would fit snugly, and the walls would take most of the torque, not the screws.

New servo mounting bracket to replace double-sided foam tape  New servo mounting bracket to replace double-sided foam tape  New servo mounting bracket to replace double-sided foam tape

Following a suggestion from my friend Tom, we will be mounting these brackets with hot glue.  The holding power is really good, the glue provides 10-15 seconds to adjust the machine position before it hardens, and does not require screws to be driven in tight quarters.  Plus if it ever needs to be removed, a chisel and a few light taps with a hammer will take care of removing it cleanly.  If the servo mounting screws are accessible, the bracket doesn't need to be removed at all!

As you can see I made up a bunch of brackets (about 25) and even mounted a couple under the layout for testing. The installation was really easy, and seems to have worked well.  So far the new brackets are holding up to the stress just fine, but time will tell over the next few days and weeks if we have a permanent solution or not.  This Wednesday's session will involve replacing all of the foam tape-mounted servos with bracket-mounted servos like these, which hopefully will turn out to be more reliable.

May 13, 2009

A decent session tonight - I was fortunate to have Ray, David and Neil down to help out.  While David and Neil were going around the layout troubleshooting track and turnout issues, Ray and I worked on programming the Octopus servo controllers from Tam Valley Depot.  The Octopii have two operating modes - an automatic mode where the servos move a set distance based on a set of jumper settings, and a manual mode where the chip can be reprogrammed to provide fine control of each servo.  We went through and tested each servo, and by trial and error we set the endpoints to stop in the spots they needed to be.  This allows the servos to work just hard enough to hold the points in place, reducing the stress on the gears and the noise they make.  It also keeps the controllers from overheating too.

The mysterious short-circuit that brought down the railroad for over an hour last work session occurred again tonight.  This time, it only took about 10 minutes before Neil noticed a piece of metal on the tracks by the lift bridge in the corner.  He cleared it off and Voila!  Everything working again.  It sucks to be short and working on a layout with track so high you can't see it - especially when it is YOUR layout!

I have scheduled a shakedown session for a little over a week or so from now, so it's really important I get all these servo controllers working.  I have a few more to set up in the next few days, and a couple of punch list items from David and Neil that need to be addressed.  I should be able to get to it all and clean up some more by then, we'll see if I can get enough people down for that session.  I may need to open it up to some new folks to get enough operators.

May 6, 2009

Well it was a pretty screwy night on the Housatonic.  I started off trying to have the guys do a little running of trains all along the layout to try and find trouble spots, bot for the first hour or so we had some serious problems.  We could not acquire locomotives, entire sections of the layout were electrically dead and locomotives were turning themselves on and off randomly.  After a while, ALL of the breakers started flashing and the whole railroad was dead.  So we turned off all the power cutoff switches and started bringing the railroad back online one section at a time.

Eventually we isolated the problem to a single breaker, and then to a specific section of track (upper level between Danbury / Brrokfield Jct and Staging).  We checked to see if any rails gaps around frogs were closed up, if any feeder wires were crossed, if there was anything metal across the tracks, or if a frog power switch was miswired.  Everything seemed to be in order.   And after about 90 minutes of head-scratching, the problem just up and went away with no explanation I can find.  I sure hope it doesn't happen again. 

Anyway once things got rolling again, we had a few trains moving around on the layout.  I didn't hear too much about problems which I hope is a good thing.  I did see / hear that there were one or two issues with switch machines in Dock Yard, a busted point rail and a turnout not throwing when the control was changed.  Ted P was able to get a train with a set of Palace Pullmans up the entire length of the railroad once the shorting issues were fixed.  I know the other guys were also running trains around other parts of the layout, but I didn't get much feedback from them before quitting time.

Most of my night was spent trying to troubleshoot some issues with the Octopus Servo drivers, which I was trying to reprogram for the first time.  Unfortunately there was an error in the controller program I could not work around that made some of the servos go crazy, so it will have to wait until I can get a software fix from Duncan at Tam Valley Depot.  Fortunately I was expecting to be doing some reprogramming along the way so I bought the programming key right at the start.  It was a great investment because I don't have to send back my controllers to Duncan when he has software updates, and I can actually make changes myself if I need to.

The bottom line was that there's still a few things that need to be finished but we're very close to being able to operate.

May 4, 2009

Well, it's been a busy week and as usual not enough time got spent on the railroad, though I did get some stuff done.  I managed to get the last few servos for the upper level wired up and running, so we're ready for an informal shakedown this week running some trains around and trying to find any last few problems.  In the next night or two I need to do a little track cleaning to prepare. 

Unfortunately I also noticed this weekend that the double-sided foam tape on one of the first servos I installed had separated from the benchwork and left the servo hanging.  The double-sided foam tape doesn't seem to be working out too well all by itself, too much torque it seems.  I am therefore rethinking my mounting strategy.  The servos come with mounting ears molded into the case, but that would take too much time and effort; plus in many places there is nothing to mount a bracket to.  Instead Im going to make some simple wooden clamps to hold the servos in place against the benchwork.  Along with the foam tape (that will keep the motor from twisting) this should finally do the trick.

Its a really simple L-shaped type of clamp called a hold-down thats used in woodworking all the time.  The particular style Im going to make is most similar to the blocks used to hold a tabletop down to the table apron.  A simple lever, the servo fits into the open part of the L, and the short leg becomes a fulcrum against the base of the benchwork.  Tension is placed on the clamp by a screw mounted through the clamp near its center, forcing the open long end of the clamp to squeeze down on whatever is under it in this case a servo motor.  They can be made from scrap 1-by lumber and so cost practically nothing.  Just for giggles, maybe Ill make them from some Cherry wood cutoffs I have upstairs in the shop

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