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Layout Construction Journal

Volume Twelve - March 2010 through December 2010

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December 20, 2010

A lot has been done on the turntable project in the last couple of weeks. A big part of any turntable build is getting the power to the rails on the bridge, and that has been where al lot of the effort lately has gone. I've previously described that the ring rail around the it will be the power source for one of the rails, and both ends of the bridge will have power pickups that will ride on it doubling the contact surface. Below are a few photos of the phosphor bronze pickups installed on the bottoms of the bridge girts. The leads from each of them will be attached to the same rail.

The bronze power wipers installed on the bottom of the girts

The other rail will be fed from the drive axle of the turntable, which is made from brass tube. In order to allow the bridge to be removable but still make electric contact with the tube, I made a bronze insert that fits tightly inside the drive axle and has a tab reaching out to one side. When the bridge is in place, the rail will sit on that tab making the connection.

A small power tap coming out of the turntable drive axleThe Drive Axle installed in the sleeve

I painted the bridge with red primer, and started to work on the bridge rails. I diverted from the instructions slightly and used a few PC ties to ensure the rails were straight and in gauge. Later I'll fill the space in between with wooden ties from the kit. The PC ties make the bridge rails a lot more sturdy.

The turntable bridge rails atop the bridge, before installationBridge rails aligned with the bridge beams. Note how the power tab touches the rail!

Finally I put in some more work on the drive system. As I said before, the round gear is a tight press-fit on the turntable's drive axle. The worm gear and its shaft are supported on a couple of small metal L brackets, and kept in alignment with the main gear by a pair of shaft collars. A universal joint is also attached to the driveshaft, and leads to a small crank on the fascia that can be used to turn the turntable mechanism. Note the small block to the side of the mechanism with the bronze tab attached to it. It contacts the drive axle, and when the power is run to this spot that is where the feeder will be attached for the other rail.

The basic drive system installed in the turntableTurntable and drive mechanism installed on the layout

December 9, 2010

Just a short note to report that the escape crossover in Danbury Terminal Yard got installed tonight, a fun little project getting two turnouts in place right next to one another. Also, the throat of Danbury Terminal Yard is starting to come together!

The new crossover in place in Danbury's passenger terminalThe first few turnouts in the Danbury Yard throat are in place.

December 1, 2010

Good session tonight! A fair bit of trackwork being done by Neil and wiring done by Ted P. Fortunately putting down flextrack goes pretty quickly, we should soon be seeing some real progress in the Danbury area. All too soon now it will be time to start putting in feeders...

Neil Laying Track in Danbury YardNeil Laying Track in Danbury YardTed P Running Electric Bus Lines

While those guys were working on track and electric, I was working on the turntable some more. As you can see in the photos below, I got the other set of girders attached to the interface box to complete that part. I made up some gages to hold the girders in place while the epoxy set up, this way the girts would not hold the ends up in the air (which would result in a droopy bridge when turned over). Eventually it did set up, and I placed it on the pit to see what it looked like. I'm really liking this model, it's going to be very distinctive.

All four bridge girders glued up and dryingThe basic bridge right-side upThe basic bridge sitting on the pit

While the glue was drying on the bridge, I thought I might get some more work done on some other parts of the kit. To support the sleeve the driveshaft turns in and keep it perpendicular, the kit comes with a pre-drilled plate and some wood bits to create a platform about an inch below the base, which will keep everything where it is supposed to be. I glued it up and slid it ontl the sleeve, then clamped it down after checking the angle of the sleeve again - it's pretty good. When that was done I went into my collection of gears I keep for projects like this. Recently I'd bought some new gears from a robotics site, which are a lot better than the ones I used on my first turntable. I used a 1/4" drill bit in a hand-operated drill to ream out the center hole in the big circular gear, and a 1/8" bit to clear the center shaft of the worm gear. The gear kit came with its own 1/8" driveshafts which fit on the worm slugly, and the turntable driveshaft was a good, tight press fit on the round gear. I'm going to build the mechanism similar to the last turntable drive I built, which I thought worked pretty well.

The support box for the turntable driveshaft sleeveThe work and round gears I will use for the drive system

November 29, 2010

As trackwork in Danbury continues, I've also been working on the turntable some more. I'd decided before starting this kit I was going to make two changes to the methods recommended in the instructions. First, I wanted one continuous pit rail as a power pickup instead of the split-rail design (I would power the other rail through the rotating drive axle) and second, I would build the bridge separate from the drive axle. After building several turntables I know these methods work better, and even though I would have to make some serious changes to the kit It would be worth the trouble in reliability. Having a slip-fit interface between the drive axle and the bridge allows the bridge to ride on the pit rail as it should, and any small alignment listakes in the drive axle are not transmittled directly to the bridge. This is the way Diamond Scale turntables are built, and it is a superior method in my opinion.

The first picture below shows the pit rail, a ring of code 55 rail, in place on the pit ties. It was pre-bent to the circular form I needed and painted a rust color before installing it, and a feeder wire was also soldered to the bottom of it to help hide it. The kit comes with a set of tools to help get the rail centered on the ties so the end girts and 'rollers' will sit properly over them. It was nearly impossible to actually spike the rails to the ties (because of the hydrocal beneath them) so I ended up using CA cement to glue them down. The feeder wire was fished down through the bottom through a pre-drilled hole in the pit casting and that pretty much completed the turntable pit.

Pit Rail InstalledThe fabricated Sleeve that will be an interface between the drive axle and the bridgeTwo bridge beams and a girt glued to the Interface boxHalf the bridge assembly wit the drive axle placed for fitting

The drive axle comes with a block of resin cast onto it, to which you are supposed to attach the metal bridge beams and make a rigid assembly. I wanted my bridge separate from the drive axle, so I was going to need to make a shell that would fit around the resin block and also serve to mount the bridge beams to. After some careful measuring and inspection of all the parts, I crafted a rectangular sleeve that would fit around the block and provide a mounting surface that would hold the beams where they needed to be. I had to notch the top edge to fit the small metal projections around the top in, but that worked out fine. I placed a girt on the pointy end of the beams to space them properly, and epoxied the beams to the interface box.

That was about all I got to tonight. Buy I think it's a very good start overall, and I'm looking forward to getting more work done on it.

November 17, 2010

A while ago, the question about how to orient Danbury was finally decided. I opted to go with the plan that placed the turntable closest to the aisle, in the end it seemed there really was no reasonable alternative. With that decided and tracklaying started Danbury is going to need a turntable, so I've begun working on one of the Freshwater Models' Sellers Turntable kits I have collected in the last couple of years. These very nice kits represent an unusual style, but one I have confirmed the Housatonic had at least one of (In South Norwalk just in front of the Norwalk Lock Co.). Since I won't be using one there (it's not needed), I'll use one of them here instead.

The model consists primarily of a hydrocal pit casting with the wall included, and before going very far this needs to be painted. So I went ahead and used some of the stone techniques I've learned recently to color the cobblestones that make up the dished pit surface, and some straw-colored craft paint to color the concrete pit wall. When the paint dried I cut the stripwood included for the ties to fit in the curb around the wall, dyed them brown and glued them into place. And when that dried, I spooned and brushed black sanded grout (ballast) into the cavities between the ties, and wet them down - first with alcohol and then with water. When it all dried I used a dental pick to groom the ballast away from the tops of the ties, and glued the pit to a slab of masonite that comes with the kit. I also fixed a brass tube in the center of the pit sticking down through the bottom, taking care to get it as perpendicular to the base as I possibly could.

The Sellers Turntable Pit painted.

November 9, 2010

A good week after a month or so of very little getting done.  Dave Ramos was kind enough to supply me with a couple more turnouts, which gave me enough to start on the yard throat for the Danbury passenger terminal.  A while ago I had cut the homasote needed for the yard, and when Neil and Ted P arrived for the work session Neil and I placed the homasote atop the plywood panel already in place up there and glued it down.  I also retreived a few extra slabs from the garage we used to extend the panel nearly up to the loop track in Danbury, and then bridged the last bit of it with some turnout templates we had cut some months ago when we were trying to conserve homasote. 

When it was down we still had time, so Neil and I laid out straight lines on the homasote for the body of the yard, and he started to spike down some flextrack. I started placing and gluing down ties for the turnouts in the throat of the yard.  While we were doing all of this, Ted P took some old used Shinohara switches I had bought (15 years ago!) and laid them down across the way from up to start building the new staging yard for the New York & New England East / Housatonic East to Bridgeport and New Haven.  Sounds more impressive than it actually is, just three tracks that will sit behind the Danbury backdrop and feed into the yard at Hawleyville.

A couple of nights later, Jim Lincoln came down and spent a few hours helping out on his way to Scranton PA for the weekend.  After a quick tour Jim and I worked on the Danbury area some more, by now the glue on the ties had dried so Jim started installing turnouts over them while I started roughing in the benchwork to add the turntable here.  Some weeks ago we decided to flip the orientation of Danbury to place the turntable on the aisle instead of 34" back from the edge, which also meant that it would have to stick out into the aisle some. 

I was a little worried about this, but I was able to attach the new benchwork to the edge without seriously compromising the aisle here, which is shared with the operators over in Wilson Point.  Fortunately experience at operating sessions shows crews don't tend to congregate here so I think it will be OK.  Thank goodness for planning in wide aisles -again!  The bump-out will reduce the space in the area but it is still wide enough for people to move around it comfortably.

It feels good to be getting work done on the RR again. 

November 5, 2010

Wayne Shortman

Just got some sad news tonight - our old friend Wayne Shortman, AKA "The Assassin" has passed away.  Wayne was fighting ALS (Lou Gherig's Syndrone) for some time now, and a stroke earlier this year didn't help matters.  Many of us went to see him in the hospital over the last few months, and he was in fairly good spirits but it was tough to see a man who had been vital and sharp-witted reduced to being unable to speak and get around.  I hope he's in a better place now and I'm glad he's not suffering anymore.  He will be missed.

It's my intention to build and place an industry on the railroad to honor him, at some point there will be a "W. Shortman & Son" dray stable and warehouse to recall his memory.  Wayne spent much of his career as a truck driver so this seemed an appropriate way to homor that.  He also spent some years working for Atlas model RR Co.; chances are if you sent something to Atlas for repair at some point during the 90's or early '00's he probably fixed it for you.

September 22, 2010

Well, let's see - this week I'd hoped to get some plywood cut to start the new staging yards with, but that didn't work out thanks to bad weather. Instead, Ted P and I spent a good hour or so discussing how and where to place the staging yards for the NY&NE tracks on either side of Hawleyville. After some discussion, we determined that the best place to put the eastern yard was actually inside the utility closet, and to reconfigure some things to make it easier to use as an active staging yard. First, there had to be a way to access the tracks without leaving the closet doors open all the time. We decided to cut down the tops of the current doors and install a tilt-out door across the top, allowing access to the upper part of the closet but not the lower. Second, the staging tracks here would have to be immediately removable to allow access to the furnace and hot water heater behind them. Third would be to add some spot-lighting to the closet to illuminate the staging area, which I'll do with some homemade 'can lamps' and a few CFL bulbs.

This also brought the question about what to do with the Operator, who until now has sat right in front of this closet. We decided that the desk could be moved over a bit to a spot under Georgetown without interfering with the operations there too much, and that it was probably time to move the Dispatcher upstairs to the living room as I had always intended to do. A new clock line will get wired up there and until the new phone system goes in, communication between the DS and operator will be over radios.

The Western staging yard is already planned in the right place; that needed no more work. We also discussed how we would add the additional track for the NY&NE through Hawleyville and around the back corner of the room, including over the electrical panel access bridge. We will probably need to add a bit of benchwork along the edge of the upper level in a few places to support this new track, though I'm still wondering if we really need to add it all the way around or if I can just get away with a lead off the Housatonic Main in Brookfield Jct.. Time will tell I suppose.

The other big topic of discussion was about the orientation of Danbury. By this time Dave Ramos had arrived and we had a frank discussion about reaching distance, which I lost. As long as we still had access to the back side of Danbury I could justify having the turntable located as far back as it was - but with a backdrop separating Hawleyville from Danbury now that's not going to work. Dave and Ted suggested I should 'flip' the orientation of the town and put the engine services against the aisle, and not all the way behind the passenger terminal tracks. Possibly even extending the turntable pit into the aisle somewhat, this would allow the tracks behind the turntable to sit closer to the edge.

I have to admit from an operations point of view it makes sense, but from a historical accuracy viewpoint it kind of turns my stomach. I know; I've already done this in several places on the railroad: Hawleyville is completely reversed, so is Branchville and Standard Oil in Wilson Point isn't even located on the mainline! I shouldn't have a problem with this, but I find myself very resistant to the idea. I'll probably do it anyway - operation over fidelity when necessary - but I know it's going to bug me.

We also looked at trying to fix an install I'd started of a Soundtraxx DCC decoder in a Spectrum 4-6-0, Dave Ramos and Ted both spent well over an hour trying to figure it out until they finally realized that Bachmann's own wiring harness did not follow any particular standard! We probably ended up burning out the decoder because of it, but in the end they did figure out the right combination of wires (by location in the removable plug, not by color) for the next time we try to install a decoder in one of these locos.

And for my own part, I spent the time making up signal snubbers to get attached to the DCC bus lines, hopefully to clean up the signal reflections I think are occurring in the command bus. These snubbers are made up of a capacitor and a resistor, get attached to the bus lines at their un-terminated ends. They should dampen what would otherwise become bounced signals that sometimes seem to cause locomotives to go haywire and take off on their own. I'll be installing them on the bus lines at the extreme distances from the command station, we'll see if that helps.

September 10, 2010

A quiet few weeks since my last update. Recent events like Labor Day Weekend, my Anniversary, the Wife's Birthday and my son heading off to college have conspired to make time in the basement difficult to come by. But I've not been completely idle - I've begun working on a computer program to manage car forwarding on the Housatonic. Without going into great detail, over the last year I've been working with my friend Dave Ramos on a waybill-only system he has developed for his own layout. Over time I've come to really like it, and wanted a similar system for mine. I first attempted to emulate it with the car card and waybill system I have in place, but it doesn't work the way it needs to.

It took some time to figure out how to adapt what Dave is doing to meet my own needs, and now that I have it figured out I know there needs to be a computer program and database to keep track of and generate the car movements and paperwork needed. It will be a hybrid car forwarding system - like a prepared switchlist application, car movements on and off the railroad will be pre-determined and arranged well ahead of time. But more like a car card and waybill system, each car will still get its own paperwork that travels with it and allows operators to decide for themselves how to handle switching chores or which train it should be carried on. Interested? Check back in future updates, there will be more information as I move forward on this project.

I did have time recently to start scratchbuilding one of the Pennsylvania RR type GA Gondolas I mentioned in the last update - unfortunately the model warped while the plastic glue was drying and it's no longer useful, I'll have to start the project again. But I learned a couple of things from the first attempt that will help the next copy be stronger and go together faster. The next version will be built as a master model with the intention of creating molds from it and making many castings. If it works out well, the model should be the next available from AmesvilleShops.com.

And on the layout, Bob Hall was over this past week and he and I did some sleuthing around at Wilson Point, investigating mysterious derailments on some of the turnouts there. Over the course of several hours we re-gauged the rails on several turnouts, filed down a few frogs, cleaned out some flange ways and located many dips which we shimmed up with cardstock. In the end we vanquished many of the faults that were reported after the last operating session, and next time the place runs it should do so a lot more reliably.

August 18, 2010

Well, been a while since I updated the blog I see - recently I've been working on the layout changes to Danbury (which we have not started yet), trying to nail down what changes to make and where to make them. And since we were making changes to one of the oldest parts of the layout design I decided to go back and look at the 1892 Sanborn maps again with a more experienced eye. I made a few changes to the passenger terminal to make it a little more like the prototype design (I also added a crossover I knew I was going to need) and while I was at it I took a look at what else was around. I was reminded that like South Norwalk, Danbury had a gas plant that made gas for lighting, cooking and heating from coal, and it sat right before the yard. I considered including it on the new plan, and in the process started researching more about the gas from coal process.

Turns out it is very interesting. Gas made from coal uses the same process that makes coke for steel making - coal is baked in a non-oxygen reactor, which boils off the gases and contaminants. It differs in that coke meant for steelmaking is process to produce a fuel that burns hot and efficient, but the coke left over after gasification is spent, having all the useful compounds baked out. Gasification really got started around 1875 when the Blue Water Gas process was invented, which produced a gas that was good for illumination, heating and cooking. A by-product of the Kerosene making process called Gasoline was sprayed into the reactors during the process to combine chemically with the coal gas, making the flame burn brighter for illumination in streetlights and homes.

Most small to medium towns in the US had coal-supplied gas plants, which in that day were private businesses and not public utilities as they are today. Many turned to or added electric power generation around the turn of the century when that mode of power became popular as a way to offset losses in lighting and heating. Most towns also had a large storage / pressure regulating tank to store gas when not in demand and to regulate even pressure in their lines. It makes for a large but very interesting business to model.

I also learned that the coal used for the gasification process was bituminous coal, as opposed to Anthracite. Apparently the impurities found in bituminous coal worked better for the gasification process than anthracite, which was also more expensive. As I thought about it, I realized this would have a very real effect on my railroad's traffic. I've planned from the start to have coal traffic on my railroad, delivered from mid-eastern ports by ship or barge to the docks at Wilson Point, and trans-loaded from there to Housatonic coal gondolas for distribution. I realized this would be anthracite coal being brought in from West Virginia and the Appalachians, and used for home heating and other specialized applications.

But the gas plants (I have two, remember) would not be using anthracite. And bituminous comes from Western Pennsylvania, unlikely to go to tidewater by boat for New England delivery in the 1890's. I would be getting this from coal belt roads like the Erie, the B&O, the Pennsylvania and the New York Central. And it would more likely be coming in over the New York and New England (from the PRR and Erie) and through Pittsfield from the NYC and Boston & Albany. And it would be coming in the cars of those railroads.

Of course, this means I now need to concentrate on making coal cars from the New York, Lake Erie & Western, the Pennsylvania, and the New York Central to carry this traffic in. I already had plans to do a Pennsylvania GB or GD hopper-bottom gondola, I've recently decided I need to do a type GA drop-bottom gondola as well. A bonus is that the GB gondola is a good stand in for similar cars of the NY&NE and the NYLE&W so that will help me cover those roads. I hope to do a model of a NYC&HR drop-bottom gondola as well, and all of these projects will get molded and cast into additional copies to one degree or another.

August 2, 2010

well a week has passed and I'm no closer to getting the basement cleaned. I'm really, really bad at this, or couldn't you tell? I did get a couple of other small tasks done in the last week or so though - I removed the lettering from a new Athearn / Roundhouse Consolidation and re-lettered it for the NY&NE, and got a new Spectrum Richmond 4-4-0 lettered for the Housatonic. Both locos will be needed going forward.

I started an experiment the other day to make curved eave brackets for my Wilton Station model - I took some styrene strip and wound it tightly around a paintbrush handle. I got the idea from Evergreen's Styrene Handbook which I've been reading for 5-10 minutes each night before going to bed. I'm not sure yet if its going to work, there might not be enough pressure on the plastic strip to make it curl enough. I may need to steam the tightly coiled strip in front of a tea kettle to make it take the set. Guess I'll try that out tonight and see what happens.

This week's tasks are to finally finish the layout wiring changeover (should only take an hour or so) and complete building a turnout I need in place for the next op session. I need to build one really good dormer window that will go out to a friend who does casting work, since I need 40 of them. And just to make things more interesting, I've gotten the bug - again - lately to kitbash an inspection engine (looks like a 4-4-0 with a small passenger coach smushed on top) but I'm fighting the urge to start yet another project when I have so many going already. I have an IHC 4-4-0 calling out to me, along with an old Overton coach... But I need to finish a few projects before starting any more!

And of course, I still need to clean up...

July 26, 2010

Finally back on my feet again and feeling well enough to work on the railroad. After nearly a month of travel and illness (two colds, one right after the other) I'm finally back to working on projects. I've been working on my model of the passenger station at Wilton for about a month and a half, it's nearly complete with just a few more details to add. I'm very very happy with the way it is coming out. It's the first time in many years I've built a model out of wood and not styrene and it's been refreshing to do something different. I'm thinking hard about making the Danbury station of the Danbury & Norwalk RR since it follows a very similar plan, although it is more complicated. The stations along the D&N share a family appearance with similar features, even though each building is different. The Danbury station has a similar footprint to Wilton but is 2-1/2 stories tall and has a pair of storefronts built into the street side.

It's time to start getting ready for another operating session in August, so I really need to start cleaning up the basement now. That's my plan for tonight, try to get a good start on it. I'm also hoping to put away a lot of the tools and materials cluttering up my workbenches, they are a disaster right now. I've been model building upstairs on the dining room table, and getting a lot of stink eye for it from the wife. She knows me too well. On the other hand, she does like sitting on the couch in the room reading while I work on projects - at least I'm not hiding in the basement. But if I damage that table I'm a dead man.

I'm trying to decide what to work on for this week's work session - I'd like to start working in getting the Danbury passenger terminal in, but I don't have the needed turnouts yet. I'm considering starting to slice up some styrofoam sheets and having the guys help me start laying in some landforms, but the places I want to do that still don't have all the trackage in yet so it's pointless to do that. There is electrical work to do, finishing up the move of the power system to its new location - if I only get a couple of guys that may be the best option. Run another bus line, make the last few electrical connections and make sure the DCC system is still working. That would be a really useful thing.

July 12, 2010

Wow, I feel really sick today.

Not just because I have a cold, which I caught on vacation last week. No, it's because I just learned that the primary resource I used to plan my railroad from the beginning, which I leaned so heavily on for guidance and inspiration - was wrong. Not about everything, but about one particular thing. Probably not very important to most folks who read the book, but in my case it was a critical error, one that I unwittingly planned my entire railroad layout around.

The Danbury Loop was not built until 1896. L. Peter Cornwall got it wrong, stating the Housatonic built it. They didn't. It was the New Haven four years after the takeover. Four Years!

I knew I had read that the Housatonic had built it, early on and repeatedly, and I had gotten that from Cornwall. Danbury was the first Layout Design Element I had built for the plan, right from the details I found in his book. I did not imagine it. The Loop has been core to my layout plan, and my operating plan, from the beginning. Absolutely key to the entire design of the railroad. I mean, we just put it in place four months ago, some seven or eight years since I started building the layout. It represented the keystone, the final element to go into the layout. The point which signifies the completion of the main line.

He was wrong. Cornwall got it wrong, and I followed him blindly down the primrose path and made it the focal point of the north end of my railroad. It wasn't there in my time. What was there was another crossover track called the Link, which was built in 1889 to connect the Housatonic tracks to the north to the Danbury & Norwalk tracks to the south. It was not a loop, just an extended crossover to allow trains coming down from the north to cross over and pull into the old D&N Station. The Link was a part of my design until the very end, it did not fit into the arrangement after I juggled some parts of the White St. NY&NE yard and so it was deleted just weeks after the loop track was built.

As it happens, it was not possible for trains to come down, traverse the loop and continue down out of Danbury towards Bethel. Yes, almost all passenger trains went into Main St Station at Danbury starting in 1889 - but almost every train would have changed locomotives there, with a new loco facing the opposite direction that would take the consist out and go on. After pulling in, locomotives would have escaped to the turntable to be serviced and / or turned for their next trip.

Knowing this would have made Danbury really interesting to model and even made it more of a focal point for operations, and quite likely would have changed the layout design and operating plan significantly from the beginning. For instance, Danbury could have been placed against a wall instead of requiring access from both sides. This would have allowed the interchange with the NY&NE to be much more easily handled in terms of access to staging, as well as staging access for New Haven and Bridgeport trains as well. Or probably two or three other options popping in and out of my head.

On the other hand, not having the loop track here explains why there was not a major freight interchange with the NY&NE here, why it was located a few miles to the east in Hawleyville. Had I realized this from the beginning it's possible the northern end of the modeled railroad would have been Hawleyville instead of Danbury, which could have been simply handled in terms of passenger traffic by simply running the passenger trains into staging after leaving Bethel. Passenger trains are not a passion of mine, they appear on the layout because they were there in real life. Given the chance to select freight operations over Passenger I would have chosen freight every time. So the layout might have been very, very different.

So I feel a little sick today, and a little angry. And very disappointed. But I won't be ripping anything out today, or tomorrow, or in the near future. What I will start to do is looking at options in the long term, start collecting more data about Hawleyville, and start looking at how I might change the layout going forward to see if a shift can be done that would re-align the layout with minimal changes to remove Danbury, and possibly build a version of Hawleyville instead. Not something I'm planning for next week, or even next year. But if a good plan can be found, possible at some point in the future.

Bur first I'm going to try to find a way to restore the Link track that I designed out. At least I can do that much to try and restore the layout to what was actually present in 1892.

June 28, 2010

I had a really fun weekend working on my model of the station at Wilton, CT. After getting the basic walls cut out earlier in the week, I painted the walls, made up the floors (including the platforms) and got the roof panels cut out on Saturday. I assembled the four walls of the building to the floor one at a time, and in between I drew layout lines on the roof panels for the shingle strips, covered them with transfer tape, and applied the shingles. On Sunday I trimmed the roof panels and then glued them onto the building, and covered the joints with paper strips representing flashing and cap strips. I'm really, really happy with how it has come out so far. I don't think I'll get it done before my vacation, so I'll have something to look forward to finishing when I get back. The next few steps are to put on the brick foundation, make and apply the eave brackets, and add the finishing touches - chimney, platform supports, roof ornamentation.

June 16, 2010

A useful and important work session tonight. Probably the most important thing done was the work Dave and Ted did on troubleshooting the command bus system, which has been out of whack for some time now. Through the last year and a half of layout improvements, the cabling between all the UTP panels has been disturbed and/or re-routed several times, and it hasn't always gone back together again correctly. So the guys spent the better part of the evening tracing out all the command bus lines, ensuring they were all plugged in correctly (some were not) and that a throttle plugged into each panel could communicate with the DCC system. We found at least one bad cable that needed to be replaced this way. By the time they were done the system was working just as it should have again.

In the meantime, I concentrated on getting the bus lines for all the layout's power districts organized and re-routed to the new location of the power distribution panel. I didn't get too far as I kept getting distracted by Dave and Ted P, but after they left I got the majority of the lines worked out and rerouted to the panel. I have two bus lines to complete later this week and then two new ones to add. Currently All of Danbury is running off one breaker without benefit of having a cutoff panel breaking it up into three separate districts - White St. Yard, Main St. Terminal and the Main Line running through town. Over the next few sessions I will run new lines from a cutoff panel installed below the yard and isolate the three districts. (Actually if you include the turntable and cross-aisle bridge out of Danbury there are five isolated districts, but who's counting?)

In the meantime, Tom Callan was also down and did me a favor by installing a length of flextrack up in Bethel so the next time we operate we would actually have someplace to drop off or pick up some cars. Tom pointed out to me that my computer drawing, though carrying the latest date, did not reflect the actual track arrangement up here. At some point I must have changed the design without realizing I already had some roadbed down here from an earlier plan. Guess I'll need to address that soon, at least to revise the drawing to reflect reality...

June 14, 2010

After getting home from work I decided to ride the small wave of ambition I was on from yesterday, with the intent of finally upgrading my old SystemOne (S1) booster with a "Home Ground". This is a recommended practice when using more than one booster to ensure they operate in concert with one another. "Modern" NCE boosters are designed with a home ground already built in, but my older first-generation equipment needed to be opened up and modified to include it. It was no big deal, just soldering a wire to a post inside and attaching the other end to a mounting screw in the case. Full instructions on how to do it and why can be downloaded at www.siliconvalleylines.com/downloads/HomeGround.pdf.

Since in order to do this I had to disconnect the S1 booster from the railroad, it seemed like maybe it was a good time to finally move the power panel from the back corner of the basement to the spot under Dock Yard I had picked out for it years ago. I finished disconnecting the control system from the distribution panel and pulled it off the wall; then I started to disconnect the various bus lines from the circuit breakers on the panel too. I had to label several of them that were unmarked (including one I still don't know what it powers) until the panel was also free, and it came off the wall too.

While I had the distribution panel off the wall, I made some needed changes. I added another DCC Specialties Dual Power Shield circuit breaker module to it, a couple more terminal blocks and wiring to connect the new breakers to the terminal blocks. The new breakers will support the third booster going into the railroad, helping to provide more to support more locomotives. Finally it was time to move the mounting bracket - a bit of paint and wallboard paper came off the wall with it, but nothing serious. I remounted it about fifteen feet to the right of its old location, under Dock Yard.

With the bracket back up I re-hung the modified distribution panel, and then the command station and boosters, and wired them back together again. Finally I placed a jumper between the cases of the NCE Command Station and the S1 booster together, which completed the home ground process.

Before I called it a night, I got out the new DCC Specialties Magna-Force power supply and wired it up to the NCE Command Station and Booster, and plugged it in along with the old transformer for the S1 booster. I test-ran the two devices, and everything seemed to work just fine. The power upgrade is now complete! At the next work session, one of the main jobs will be to start re-connecting the bus lines back up to the breakers, with an eye towards breaking up the power needs more evenly among the three boosters.

June 13, 2010

Well after a dicey couple of weeks fretting about my DCC system not working, Dave Ramos came over on Sunday afternoon and we spent some time really looking at the system to try and figure out why it wasn't working. I'll save you the troubleshooting details, but in a half-hour or so we had it back up and running well, with the new command station and booster working well. It turned out to be exactly what I suspected was wrong - bad command bus cables.

These are the 4-wire cables that run from the command station to the boosters. I had broken the only one I had when I swapped out the SystemOne command station for the new NCE box, and simply ordered new crimp connectors (you can't buy them at Radio Shack), then used the original cable to make two much shorter cables. Naturally after I did this the entire system stopped functioning. I suspected the cables from the start - The only crimper I had available to me was a crappy one I'd gotten years ago, and it wasn't made to crimp these connectors (which are smaller than the 'normal' RJ-11 phone-style connectors). But I had no way to test them - I suppose I could have tried to go pin to pin with my multi-meter, but I never got around to that.

Earlier we tried a number of things, including isolating the boosters from the tracks entirely (didn't work, boosters still read a dead short) and swapping back the original command station. But when Dave and I started looking at it we quickly determined that it had to be the command bus cables. The cheap crimper simply had not done the job properly. Dave tried a few things without success, until he figured to remove the slop in the crimper by jamming a screwdriver in the hole with the connector to hold the smaller connector in place without shifting. Voila! The crimper still didn't work well, but it worked well enough that now the cables were actually crimped correctly and working. We'll try to find a better crimper soon to borrow from somewhere to finish the job and really get the connections tight.

With the system back up and running, now comes the time to start the great re-wiring of the railroad, adding in a third booster and two more circuit breakers. Another big part of that job will include moving the Command station / boosters / Power panel to its final location under Dock Yard. (It was supposed to go there originally but at the time there was a huge pile of wood in the way, so it went in the corner instead.) That job will be starting this week, and hopefully be done by the end of June.

June 9, 2010

Had a very nice work session last night. A good number of helpers, which is always a good thing, and a special visit by my friend and fellow early-period modeler Dave Emery who happened to be in town. It was a great opportunity to 'pick his brain' and get some advice on several topics. First, we spent some time going over the Freshwater Models Sellers turntable kit I have. Dave has already built one of these kits and was full of good advice on interpreting the instructions and a few minor changes to make the build easier, and the model run well. That was very helpful, and I'm sure when I start working on the model very soon now I'll approach it with more confidence.

While we were doing that, Tom Callan and Ted P. got started installing a pair of threaded rod stabilizers on the edge of the Danbury benchwork around White St. Yard. I kind of always figured it would come to this; the cantilevered and highly leveraged design of the benchwork back here was sure to sag after being installed and sure enough, it did. The guys took a pair of small steel brackets I made from angle iron the day before, screwed them to the floor joists above the layout and dropped the rods through the benchwork, then used nuts on the threaded rod to join and lift / support the edge of the benchwork. When they were done, the effect was what I had been hoping for - the benchwork no longer sagged and it felt far more solid and sturdy than it had before. Having the threaded rods intrude into the scene is unfortunate, but it was really the only way to make this work short of replacing all the benchwork here with steel.

Neil was also down, and I asked him to work on making and installing a custom turnout that sits on the Danbury Loop track ust behind the entrance into the D&N Coach yard. This track will peel off from the loop behind the Roundhouse and serve an industry on the North side of the tracks. Neil was able to get the homasote in place, and glued down the needed ties. He also got a good start on cutting and shaping the rails for the turnout, with the stock rails and frog points already installed. Hopefully he will be able to make some more progress on it at the next session. Or I may jump in and help finish it if I can find the time.

Dave Emery and I, meanwhile, moved on to weathering cars after talking about the turntable. I grabbed about a half-dozen cars off the layout for him to work on, and he proceeded to do a mini-clinic for me, weathering them with an assortment of paints and gouaches. Some were done really grimy and dusty, others less so. He showed me how to fade the white lettering on a car with colored pastels (using something close to the car color) to dull down the bright white coloring. We talked about coloring the top of the cars dark gray to simulate cinders and soot that accumulates there, and using beige colors to lick up from the bottom representing dirt and dust kicked up from the roadbed. He also used a medium-gray light wash of gouache paint to age a few of the cars, making the siding and lettering look old and weather-beaten even before adding chalks. (Gouache is a watercolor paint with marble dust in it to make it more opaque.)

Finally Dave sprayed the cars with a very light coat of matte acrylic finish to set and protect the chalks, which otherwise would be rubbed off by handling. Important since we handle the cars a lot on this layout! By the end of the evening he had done a half-dozen cars and a caboose, and I had a much better idea of how to proceed on to weather more of my cars. I'm uploading photos of several of the cars here for everyone to see.

And while Dave and I were doing that, Ted and Tom were trying to help fix my DCC system. Unfortunately they did not meet with any success, and I am starting to be really concerned that the old SystemOne booster may have screwed the pooch. I sure hope that isn't the case. I have one or two more things to try before I send it off to NCE for diagnosis and repairs, and I'm hoping that I can fix it here. Otherwise I see a hefty repair bill in my future, or worse, the cost of putting in two new NCE boosters to replace it. Either way, this month's operating session is surely canceled because I can't guarantee at this point I'll have anything to operate with.

May 26, 2010

I figured when my friend Dave had his foot surgery and I could temporarily start having weekly work sessions again I would be getting a ton of work done. Unfortunately it hasn't worked out as well as I'd hoped; attendance has been spotty at best. I usually do attract at least one helper every week, which is greatly appreciated. Sometimes having one guy to work with helps more than a handful. But most of the time many hands make quick work. Tonight, my sole helper was Neil Henning, and we managed to get a couple of important things done. Including a task I could not do by myself.

Last week's shakedown session left me with a punch list about a half-page long of mostly minor problems that need to be addressed. I added one more tonight, when we tried to turn on the DCC system and found the SystemOne dual booster was reading a short on both outputs and no matter how many times I cycled the power it would not clear. To say this has me nervous is an understatement. It worked fine last Friday (thank goodness), and now - zip. So several tasks I wanted to tackle could not be done because of the power issue. I'll continue to work on that over the next few days and see if I can't find a way to clear the problem. Im not looking forward to spending several hundred dollars on replacement boosters.

So moving down the list, one thing that caused problems was that I was over-extending the accessory power supplies mounted under the railroad to run electronic like the Fusee controls and Tam Valley Depot's Octopus servo controllers. I have several 12 volt power supplies mounted around the railroad to support these devices, but apparently I needed a few more because they started going wonky just before the session, cutting out intermittently like a DCC breaker. So Neil and I worked together to get two more power supplies wired up and added to the 'grid' underneath the layout, and moved several devices over from the existing supplies to the new ones to spread out the load. It's fortunate I bought a bunch of these power supplies surplus a bunch of years ago for a good price, because it turns out we will need a bunch of them.

After that, I needed his help with getting a turnout hooked up in Standard Oil. During my hours-long ordeal with trying to re-program several Octopi last Thursday and Friday, I had to pull off and replace a servo right at the throat of this small industry yard, and because it is in a tight spot I couldn't get it hooked up alone. So while Neil observed from above and directed me to putting the actuating wire into the throwbar, I was hunkered under the benchwork popping this wire up and down, trying to thread the needle without being able to see what I was doing. Eventually we got it done - actually we did it five times for various reasons - but eventually the servo got properly installed. One of my next big jobs will be to replace all the manual switch machines in this location with servos.

We also started looking at how to mount the turntable in the Danbury Main St. terminal. The 'pit' is simply a round slab of cast hydrocal, which will need to be carefully supported from below. It's my hope to have this turntable in place and operational for the next session, but that may be too ambitious. We sure could use it though. I'm considering trying to build a second identical turntable kit I have for Branchville at the same time to leverage the time spent working on the model. But that will only delay my plan for finishing one of them by the next session. More efficient, but not as fast.

May 17, 2010

Well, I'd written an update for the 12th of May but apparently it somehow got lost in the ether, so I'll try to recap it and give more details from later in the week.

A lightly attended session but we got some good work done. Scary ted was down and helped me by starting to fill in gaps in the rails with plastic. This is important to prevent gaps from closing up in dry weather (which can cause short circuits), and sometimes to prevent derailments if the gaps are too wide (which happens sometimes). I also had Ted Pamperin to help, and Ted did me a big favor by installing DCC decoders into two MDC/Athearn 2-8-0 Consolidations I picked up on Ebay a while ago. I had tried installing them myself but ran into some trouble trying to fit them in the tenders and gotten frustrated. I bought inexpensive decoders that plugged into the on-board PCB in the tenders and they were a very tight fit, but Ted managed to get them in there and program them. Someday I'll replace them with Micro-Tsunamis or something, but not today.

While they were doing that, I was going around installing switch machines in a few spots that needed them. Earlier in the week I had finished installing the aisleway bridge between Danbury and New Milford Dave and I had started the previous Wednesday, installing the turnouts and track necessary to route trains over it. Naturally this required a new turnout in New Milford to run track to, and I'd installed that earlier - and now it was getting a servo to control it. I also placed one under the turnout leading to the Danbury Main St. coach yard (even though there's no tracks in there yet) because I needed the servo to hold the turnout closed until those tracks go in.

A couple of nights later I was happy to have Jay over; Jay and I have been doing some structure modeling for the last few months a couple of times a month. But this time we worked on getting the bridge wired up. First I had Jay install several feeder wires on the New Milford side to power the approach there to the bridge. While he was doing that I wired and installed a Hex Frog Juicer (Available from Fast Tracks), specially modified for me by it's inventor (Mr. Duncan McRee of Tam Valley Depot) to run reversing sections or turntables.

About the modification: Where the standard frog juicer is designed to react to one short circuit at a time (when a locomotive wheel goes over a frog), this one was built to switch two rails to opposite polarities together like an auto-reverser. And with three paired outputs the Frog Juicer can run up to three different current-reversing constructs - reversing loops, turntables or wyes. So it's less expensive than buying three full-blown auto-reversers if you have the need for more than one device. It does not have its own circuit breaker the way an auto-reverser does - it runs off track bus power and relies on a traditional breaker farther up the line for protection. It's also not made for running four-locomotive consists over, but my situation was ideal for this and so Duncan made a special exception for me.

The new bridge does create a reversing loop so it was necessary to use the Frog Juicer to power it. I mounted it under Danbury since eventually it will be used to run the turntable there as well. It's also possible someday we may put in a connecting track from one side of Danbury to the other around the NY&NE yard, if we do that will be run off the third output of the device.

Jay and I got the tracks wired up enough to test the bridge and make sure it worked as it was supposed to. The New Milford end worked flawlessly but the Danbury end kept stalling the train as it would cross the gaps, which were staggered. Duncan had told me this might happen if the two rail gaps in the track were not right across from one another, and the solution turned out to be quite simple - we added gaps to create very short isolated sections of rail with no power on them. These un-powered gaps were only about 3/4" long, short enough to be crossed even with my short wheelbase locomotives. That did the trick and now the bridge works well in both directions.

Over the weekend I did some more work on the bridge. I had grave concerns about someone leaving a switch open and running a train out of the yard and off the 5 foot plus high edge to the floor, so I wanted some protection. I was able to isolate one rail on the approach from either side and rig it to a lever switch under the bridge's mounting block. When the switch is open (bridge not in place) it cuts the power to those rails, and a locomotive venturing onto the bridge approach will stop cold as soon as all the wheels are off the powered track. It won't stop cars from being backed off the edge but at least anything going forward will be stopped.

I also put in a failsafe switch on the Danbury side that automatically closes the turnout leading to the bridge approach - and won't let it open - until the bridge is back in place. So I'm pretty confident now that nothing will go rocketing into the ether from Danbury now. I'm trying to decide if I need to do the same thing on the New Milford side, eventually. This all worked so well I think eventually I'm going to go back and put in dead approaches to the other two removable bridges on the line. We've never had an accident yet, but why wait until something happens?

I also started getting the servo motor for the bridge approach in New Milford wired up. In the process I discovered that I'd never run power to the Octopus control mounted under New Milford, so I had to install some taps in the accessory power line and run a few power drops to it. I got the switch control built but didn't complete it, that will have to happen later in the week. I also took out the 'twofer' control wire that ran the crossover in Danbury that led to the bridge approach and set up the two turnouts to run independently. I had to do this to make the failsafe work properly, the switch on the other end off the mainline into the yard had to be able to be thrown independently and could not be locked out in the same way.

May 9, 2010

Well, Mothers' Day turned into Mothers' Weekend for me, so where I thought I'd get some things done on the railroad I ended up doing very little. I did manage to get the new turnout Dave made installed at New Milford, and laid all the track on the Maybrook Line bridge connecting Danbury and New Milford. I had hoped to get it wired this weekend but there was no time to do it. I wish I'd stayed up a little later on Friday night to do things. Oh well. I also managed to get the remaining car cards I needed printed and matched up with their cars done on Friday, so that was a little bonus.

The only other thing I got done was on Sunday, I had a couple of hours with no one around so I strung truss rods on someof my passenger cars with monofilament. I hope to finish up putting details on the 8 underframes I worked on and get them painted black tonight. If I can do that I can start bringing the kits to work with me so I can assemble them at lunch.

May 5, 2010

Small session tonight, just myself, David and Neil. Before Dave got here I spent a little time in the garage cutting the parts for and making up the lift-out bridge that spans the aisle between Danbury and New Milford. The bridge represents the New York & New England route west out of Danbury, which would be known later as the Maybrook line of the New Haven. The bridge spans over six feet and is only 2" deep and 3" wide, and built as lightweight as I could make it while strong enough to withstand someone walking into it. I employed a method of construction called core-box to keep it from sagging or warping over time, but just in case I left provisions to install a truss-cable system later if the center needs more support. This will work similarly to the truss rods used on early railroad cars to prevent sagging.

Dave and I got to work setting the bridge into place. We placed the bridge onto the benchwork (I made it a bit long so it over-hung the edges) and marked where it needed to go. I measured the angle off the Danbury fascia to the side of the bridge (38*) and went upstairs to cut a block of wood that would become the mounting block. That got screwed into the benchwork 1/8" below the edge, so the bridge floor was level with the roadbed in Danbury. Then we cut the bridge end at 38* also to have it sit flush with the edge of the benchwork. Meanwhile, Dave figured out how much fascia to cut away on the New Milford side (the bridge penetrates the fascia to reach the benchwork over here) and cut away the space where the bridge would lay.

While we worked on this, Neil showed up and I asked him to go over the new track up in Danbury White St. Yard to make sure everything was running well. He spent about 20 minutes moving different locomotives and cars through the switches and ladders and pronounced it fit to use. We did have to adjust one servo to make it throw the points to either side better but that was it. When he was done with that I had him do some repairs on the lower level drop-bridge in front of the house breaker box. A few months back we had some renovations done and the electricians accidentally ripped up some of the rails on the bridge. He had that working again in short order.

We decided to call it a night early since Dave wasn't feeling great, and after the guys left I kept working on the bridge mountings. I cut a piece of plywood to fit under and inside the bridge and glued / screwed it into place to provide a more secure mounting for the New Milford side. Then I cut another plywood scrap to fill the gap between the bridge end and the benchwork. As it happened the bridge angle from the New Milford benchwork as almost exactly 45*. That got screwed into place also, and then I took some homasote roadbed and laid out the location for the turnout off the siding and out to the bridge. This track will also be (eventually) a team track and a switch lead for an industry on the left side of the town so it had to go in a specific place avoiding other industry tracks that will come later. I glued and nailed down a few lengths of roadbed up to the end of the bridge, and I called it a night myself.

This weekend I'll be installing track and feeder wires to complete the bridge route. The bridge creates a reversing loop, so it will be isolated from the power on either side and fed through one of Duncan McRee's Hex Frog Juicers (available through Fast Tracks). I have one Duncan modified for me for use in reversing loops and turntables; this one will power the turntable in Danbury (when it comes online) and also the long aisle bridge. Other things I need to figure out are saftey interlocks to prevent trains from flying off the end if the bridge is out. There will be dead track sections on the approaches to either end, and I'm planning to have an override that will lock the turnout leading to the bridge in the diverted position when it isn't in place.

April 28, 2010

I wasn't as well prepared for tonight's session as I should have been, but it went well in spite of that. I started off intending to just get the clutter off the tracks, get the tracks cleaned and do a little bit of running to locate any problems that had to be addressed before the next shakedown session. But my crew overtook me, and in short order we had myself, Neil and Tom bustling about getting things put away. I felt kind of bad about it as that's not a fun job but the fact is I'm terrible at it, and really needed and appreciated the help.

While we were cleaning up, Scary Ted was going around cleaning track all the way from staging down to South Norwalk on both levels, and Ted Pamperin worked on tuning up White St. Yard in Danbury beyond what I had done already. As part of that, he was complaining about how the 4-6-0's he was using for testing were losing traction on the rails (which rise and dip a bit), and he decided to investigate further. He discovered that the lead trucks were actually holding the drivers up off the rails when the locos would get into a dip or trough. He asked what to do about it, and I told him "fix it if you can". So he and Scary Ted proceeded to collect all the 4-6-0's on the layout and adjusted the lead truck mounting to allow greater movements up and down. The fix they made seemed to help a lot! the engines are exhibiting a lot better pulling power on uneven track now.

Tom cleaned the track in Dock Yard and worked on getting a lot of the cars strewn about organized and moved into the yard. He also found a broken switchpoint there which I fixed - I can't wait to get under there and replace the switch machines with servos. The manual mechanisms still work great but they apply so much pressure it busts the points off the throwbars! After I helped clean a bit more track, Tom and I spent the rest of the evening hunting down cars without car cards and car cards without cars, trying to match them up. There's still a dozen or so cars missing, and another dozen that are new and need new car cards. But for the most part things went really well. There's still a lot of stuff to be put away in the next week or so, but thanks to the guys we're much closer to being ready to operate!

April 25, 2010

A productive weekend, finally! I managed to spend about 8 hours in the train room between Friday evening and Sunday. mostly working on the tracks and switches in Danbury yard. Starting at the south end, I ran one of my 4-6-0 locos through each switch, both routes in both directions. Turned out there were many issues that had to be fixed, not the least of which was low spots in the rails. They are tricky, they act like spots where the gauge is tight. The wheels of the locomotive appear to be forced up and over and off the tracks, but really they are simply riding over the top of the low rail and falling off. It's always the second thing to check right after a careful check of the gauge rules that problem out. Here it was caused by one or more of three reasons: Variable thickness in the Homasote roadbed, lumps in the plywood deck and transitions from flextrack to hand laid track.

By far, the most problems were caused by transitions. The Micro-Engineering ties on the flextrack are thicker than my wood ties, leading to dips in the track around turnouts. I cleared up most of the dips by shimming under the PC ties of the Fast Tracks turnouts with cardstock, and also shimming under the rails where necessary with very small bits of the same cardstock. This worked very well to improve tracking and reliability but it does take time to do properly. It also has the unfortunate effect of raising the rails up off the ties here and there. It isn't too noticeable unless you are looking for it, and I think I'll be able to hide some of that with ballast when the time comes. There's also the option of splitting or sanding down some of the leftover wooden ties I have and stacking them on top of the low ones. Time consuming to be sure, but maybe worthwhile in the worst places even if just for appearances.

Another thing that ended up taking too much time was wiring the frogs up. I had tried to save time when I was installing the electrical switches for the turnout frogs by pre-soldering them to a common electrical feeder serving all eight turnouts. That went fast, but when I finally got the Danbury area running I learned that six of the eight turnout frogs were wired backwards. And now the controls were already mounted up under the deck and so were that much harder to reach and work on. So much for saving time. But I worked through it and the south end of the yard is now running pretty reliably. I also adjusted a few guard rails here and there and had to reset some points because the locomotive's lead trucks were picking them.

I also got the wiring nearly done on the north end of the yard. I haven't had the chance to adjust the track there too much yet but very soon, I will. Part of the fun there was wiring up the frogs for the two crossovers. Last month Ray had worked out a way to throw two frog switches stacked one over the other, but when I tried to adjust the levers the superglue shattered and the connector came off. I took another look at it and quickly figured out if I bent one lever so the end stuck out 90* to the side about halfway up, that tab would sit under the adjacent lever and be pressed down by it. No soldering or superglue necessary. It works like crossing your fingers and pressing down on the top one. This actually worked really well and I installed two switch sets like this in the north end. One more dual-switch set needs to go in on the south end too.

I expect to have the trackwork and wiring issues mostly addressed before Wednesday's work session. I really have to name this new yard, so until something better comes along I'm going to start calling it White Street Yard, after the street and station it parallels.

April 21, 2010

A very lightly attended work session last night - most of my regulars were not available, but fortunately David was and I was really glad for his help. I was still dealing with trying to find a pair of annoying short circuits (one in the Danbury area and one around Winnipauk) and Dave has a real talent for finding them. We got started by clearing the Danbury tracks of all rolling stock and objects that might cause a short, and checking each and every gap around the turnouts, and double-checking that the PC ties in the turnouts were all gapped properly. Dave found one tie he thought might not be gapped right and filed a notch in the copper cladding, but that didn't really help. Next, we disconnected all of the white feeders by removing the wire nuts and separating all the strands, and that didn't clear it up either. Then at some point, Dave must have run a finger down the tracks and all of a sudden it started to work! It turned out that the short was being caused by a small piece of wire or solder, probably a tiny piece snipped off a feeder during the wiring process, that was laying across a gap.

Since we had that success, we decided to start trying out some of the track in Danbury to see if it ran all right. We cleaned the track with a pair of sanding sponges (which cleaned the paint and weathering off the Micro-Engineering rail faster than I could have imagined) and got a locomotive up there to run around. For the most part things were OK, we did find some hinky track gage problems in some of the turnouts, and apparently I wired a couple of frogs backwards when I hooked up all the switch controls. Those will take a bit of time to correct, but now that the power is on up there it will be much easier to identify and fix those issues.

The other shorting problem we were having was with the track going through Winnipauk. This part of the railroad has been down and working for years so we knew it had to be in the work I did recently, which was replacing the manual switch controls with Servo-based machines. We did as we had on the upper level, clearing the racks and checking all the gaps. We had performed surgery on this part of the layout last year and bent the spline roadbed back to bring it closer to the fascia edge, and Dave was worried that we might have closed up a rail gap in the process. Good thought, but that wasn't it. We operated all the switches to see if a frog switch was cross-feeding somewhere, no dice.

Finally Dave said we should just cut the power wires going to the frog switches one at a time; if there was a bad switch somewhere there was a good chance that if would be revealed when we cut the power to it. And if it wasn't that, well, it was only 12 wires to re-solder. We started around the creamery in Wilton, and after we cut the first white wire I was pulling up the frog power wires for the second switch - and the short went away. I still need to investigate that more carefully to see why it was happening, but with both shorts cleared I was calling it a good night's work. This weekend I'll have to make some time to correct some of the wiring problems we found and complete the wiring on the north end of the railroad too. But we're back on track, if you'll forgive the pun!

I also decided recently that the turnout control method we've used in some places on the upper level, mounting the barrel bolts under the benchwork, just doesn't work out like I'd hoped. It seems un-natural when you consider the whole point of using barrel bolts was to capture the feel of throwing a switch stand. Mounted upside down, you don't get that feeling. Plus everyone fumbles around to find the bolt because you can't see it, and I have saftey concerns in some spots because of 120v lines strung next to the switch controls for lighting. I don't want someone sticking their fingers into the base of a bulb socket by accident!

Instead, I just ordered some mini-barrel bolts with the intent to replace the under-slung controls with them. The mini-bolts are only 1-3/4" long and will be mounted on top of a narrower 2" shelf than the 'standard' bolts for horizontal clearance. I feel this will get us back to the proper look and feel I was going for all along, and contribute to operator safety. Once I've confirmed the new smaller bolts will work out OK, I'll start replacing the under-slung bolts when there's time to do so.

April 7, 2010

A very busy and well-attended work session last night! I was really glad I had made a list of projects because I had about a half-dozen helpers show up, more than I've had in a while. Everyone who came down was really happy with the progress I've made recently, and I was glad to have jobs for everyone to do. We accomplished a lot in a short period of time. Unfortunately I don't think I'm going to make my goal of having a shakedown session next Friday, as there is still a ton of work to be done, and probably not enough time left to do it in despite all that's been done in the last few weeks.

First in the door tonight was Ray, who hasn't been around in a while; but I was really happy to see him. Quickly following him in were Tom, Ted P, Scary Ted and Wayne, and finally Neil who also hasn't been down in a while. So I had a full house going, which was great. I started Tom and Ted P off installing feeders on the south side of Danbury which hadn't been done yet, and had them finish up later with installing ties and a throwbar on a turnout I had missed leading into what will be the Danbury & Norwalk passenger and engine terminal. I got Ray going with a Dremel tool and had him go through and carefully cut electrical gaps in every turnout frog up in Danbury, And got Scary Ted to continue hooking up feeder wires to the power bus. As usual I had Neil working on odd jobs, first repairing a fusee that had the wires torn off the switch, and later making Y cables for the servo motors used at the three crossovers in the NY&NE yard at Danbury.

When ray was done gapping the turnouts, I asked him to help me come up with a solution to my frog power problem at the crossovers. I'll be using only one barrel bolt control to actuate these crossovers (two switches and two motors). The motors are no problem and are operated with one lever switch, but since the frog polarities are opposite I need to use two different electrical switches to change their polarity correctly. So we needed to figure out how to gang together two lever switches so the barrel bolt would throw them both at the same time. Between us, we figured out a way to stack two switches one on top of the other, and join together the levers with a bar that causes both to operate when one is pressed. That should get the job done nicely! I'll make two more like it this coming week to run the rest of the crossovers with.

As the night started to wind down, Neil started bugging me to fire up the new section so we could run a locomotive on it. We hooked up the bus lines to the booster and flipped it on, and not surprisingly, there's a short up there somewhere. We spent about 30 minutes looking for anything obvious - a crossed feeder, a trace on a turnout not completely severed - but we couldn't find anything. So next time I go down there it will be time to start disconnecting all the feeders and see if it is possible to isolate where the short is by starting to hook them up one by one. That is unless the short is in the track, which means more work to find it. And that's why I probably won't make my next Friday target date for operating.

April 5, 2010

Well it was a grind of a weekend, though I did enjoy most of it. All in all I spent about 14 hours working on the layout, almost all of it in and around the Danbury area. Writing about it now after the fact, it's kind of a blur. I know I started off by installing ties underneath the last few turnouts in the north ladder, and attached the last half-dozen throwbars to the turnouts in the same area. Then I got really busy putting in feeder wires to every track that needed them on the NY&NE side. Then I went through and installed the rest of the servos into the brackets Dave and I put up last Wednesday, and wired them all up to the Octopus controller boards which I also installed. Turns out there were 8 turnouts in each end of the yard, which worked out perfectly because each Octopus controls - you guessed it - 8 turnouts. (Think that's why it got that name? Coincidence?)

Because the turnouts in the yard are clustered together, more than half of the servos were close enough to reach the Octopus driver with a single pre-fabricated 18" servo extension cord. The rest had to have extended cords made for them to reach. That wasn't difficult but it did take some time. I also decided I wanted to get DCC decoders into the two Roundhouse Consolidations I bought recently for the NY&NE, so I spent some time disassembling the tender of one of them and looking at the PC board inside. Looked like it should take a plug-in 9-pin NMRA connector, so I ordered a couple to try them out. And that took me to the end of my first day.

The following day I had to make some decisions about how I was going to control the turnouts in the yard. I had been thinking about placing the controls on an overhead panel and even done some testing to see if it would work - I think it would have - but I decided I still wanted to have the controls on the fascia like it is done everywhere else. Then the decision was whether to put the controls under the upper deck, or to install a control shelf around the edge and place the controls on that. We've done it both ways on the upper deck, and each way has good and bad points. In the end I decided there were too many obstacles mounted under the deck like light fixtures, and I didn't want to risk anyone getting a 120 volt shock fiddling around trying to find a control. I made a control shelf but compromised a bit by shaving 1/2" off the regular width to try and make it as compact as I could.

Then it was time to make the turnout controls. Just like everywhere else on the RR, this area required special attention to make the barrel bolts and hidden electrical switches work. I futzed with it until I came up with a wood block I could mount the switches to that would hold them the right distance from the extended bolt, then I made 16 of them and attached the switches to them. Once that was done I tool a power drill and made the holes in the fascia to poke the barrel bolts though, and as usual I had to enlarge the holes with a round file to ensure smooth operation. I unpacked and screwed down all the barrel bolts, and then started wiring the switches to the frogs and the Octopi. This part of the job was fairly simple but like most wiring jobs, tedious and time-consuming.

To save on the number of wiring connections, I ran a feeder bus around to all 8 of the south ladder frog switches and made one connection tot he power bus at the end. If I figured it correctly, this should work no problem. If I figured it wrong, it's going to be tough to correct as I did it while all the switch bracket blocks were still dangling from their wires. The hardest part was mounting the switch bracket blocks to the benchwork after they were wired up. I drilled a hole in each block and screwed them to the benchwork one by one, which sounds easy but you can't imagine the contortions required to reach the screw with the drill...

After I finished the first 8 turnouts on the south ladder, I took a break and started consolidating the feeder wire drops into groups of three or four wires, adding heavier gauge pigtails to link one group to the next. Boy, doing this job with wire nuts sure makes the job a lot simpler. I then went to work on wiring up the north ladder turnouts, but only got about halfway done before I turned into a pumpkin and had to go to bed. I had hoped to complete the wiring this weekend, but it ended up taking a lot longer than I thought it would. I still need to complete the control switch wiring, gap all the turnouts, hook up some of the pigtails to the power bus and hook up the DCC Booster. And then, hopefully, there won't be any short circuits!

March 31, 2010

Well, last night, March 30, 2010, after about 6 years and counting, it finally happened. I almost missed it. It happened without my realizing it at first, without fanfare, without the pomp and circumstance to which it was due. I'm speaking, of course, of the completion of the Housatonic's main line. We now have an absolutely unbroken pair of rails running from staging through every single town on the railroad all the way to Wilson Point. It may still need ties in a few places, plus another few dozen feeders and a handful of switch machines, but the main line track work from start to finish is finally complete.

I went down to the basement last night after dinner with the intention of installing the last three turnouts in the north ladder of the NY&NE Yard in Danbury, which I did. I completed that work before 10 pm so I figured I'd keep going. Last Wednesday during my work session I got the roadbed for the yard's switch lead down, so I got out the caulk and flextrack and quickly added the nearly six feet of track from the base of the ladder out to the end of the lead. And while I was at it, I put in the last five feet of track between the inbound turnout for the NY&NE Yard to the turnout dividing Danbury from the Hawleyville Cutoff.

A few minutes later, as I was collecting tools to put them away, it occurred to me that I'd just completed the last stretch of mainline track on the layout. I had to stop for a minute and think about that. I always figured when it happened I'd see it coming, that I'd be working up to it handlaying the last few sections, and that when it happened I'd have a big party with all my friends who had worked on the railroad to celebrate. How had it gotten past me so easily? I knew the answer right away - flextrack. It goes in so fast, it lets you do so much in a short period of time that you don't think about it on the same time scale. I knew a few weeks ago that that section of track was the last one to go in, but I've been concentrating so hard on installing turnouts and them simply filling in between them with flextrack, that I didn't see it coming and almost missed it completely.

I have a shakedown operating session scheduled for two and a half weeks from now - I think before the session starts we will have a quick celebration to mark the occasion, open a bottle of bubbly and have a toast. It seems the least I should do.

March 24, 2010

A bit disappointing tonight, as I was expecting two or three people to show up for my work session and only got one. But David and I managed to get a lot done in 2 hours, because I had done a fair amount of prep work before the session. While I was soldering throwbars onto the last few turnouts in Danbury that didn't have them, David was putting in servo brackets underneath the other turnouts. One by one he located them, pressed them into place using the double-sided foam tape, and then screwed them in permanently with a hand screwdriver.

When we were both done doing that, I got started unpacking the servo motors and installing them into the brackets, while David used wire cutters and pliers to cut and shape the J-shaped throwing wires for the servos. He had to leave early but after he was gone I took the J-wires he'd made, crimped them onto the servo horns and installed them into the servos I'd mounted to the layout. It may not sound like a lot, but that really helped me out by getting so many consecutive steps pushed out of the way really clears up the way forward for getting more things crossed off the to do list.
David also came through and finished the last three turnouts I needed to complete the north ladder of the NY&NE yard in Danbury. He brought them with him tonight, and I would have gotten them installed if I'd had more people show up. No matter, I'll get them installed as soon as possible. But it will have to wait a bit because tomorrow we leave for the Malvern RPM meet. I'm so looking forward to this trip!

March 22, 2010

Had a great weekend working on the layout. Though it doesn't sound like much, I got about a half-dozen turnouts installed, got ties under them, spiked them down, got throwbars installed, put on a small forest of feeder wires to them and a lot of the newer yard tracks, and also got 15 passenger cars painted and 9 of them decaled. Of course my knees are killing me now after hours standing on a stepstool to reach all of this, but it was worth it. Well, maybe it does sound like a lot after all.

The highlight of the weekend though was definitely building and getting the lap switch installed on the north ladder in the NY&NE yard in Danbury. I stopped by Dave's on Saturday to spend some time keeping him company while he made up parts for me for the two switches (both left-hand # 5's. When he was done, I brought the parts home and got to work. In a few hours, it was done - and I can't be happier about it. The installation looks great, and works just like I thought it would. I wish I had thought of doing this in some other spots on the layout, it would have made some things possible here and there which I never got to do. It still needs a wee bit of tuning, but it works really well already.

Dave gave me one more LH turnout on Sunday, and it's already installed on the other side of the crossover leading from the main into the lap switch. He also committed to trying to get the last three turnouts done for this yard by Wednesday; if so then we can get the last few turnouts installed this week, and get the control systems (electrical, turnout controls) installed and running over the next 10 days. If I can do that I can get the layout ready for a shakedown session next month. And I'm going to try really hard to do that.

March 20, 2010

Ahh, yes - that came out well...  Thanks to Dave who helped out by getting the parts made for me.

A Gantlet turnout constructed for the NY&NE Yard in Danbury A Gantlet turnout constructed for the NY&NE Yard in Danbury

March 16, 2010

Well after dealing with a weather disaster this past weekend (a huge rainstorm came through and knocked out our power for 27 hours, Our basement started flooding and we spent a lot of time bailing water) it's back to working on the layout. Dave has been doing a great job getting turnouts built for me, we should have most of the south ladder of the NY&NE yard done within a week or so, and we'll begin trying to finish the north ladder next week. As we get closer to that, I have had to think hard about how that ladder will be designed.

Without getting into morbid details, there really needs to be a crossover from the mainline into the yard about halfway up the north ladder - but of course there's no room to fit a turnout in there because the ladder turnouts are very close together, heel to toe. If the crossover goes in above or below the ladder, it either fouls the entire north ladder every time a train moves in and out, or the trains will stick out of the south end fouling the main. A double slip switch replacing one of the ladder turnouts would solve the problem, but I think it represents a solution that's too heavy-duty for the scene. Like using a 4-8-2 to switch a small yard. But I think I've come up with a prototypical - but unusual - solution that will get the job done.

What I'm going to try is overlapping two # 5 left hand turnouts in the same space facing in opposite directions, with the points from one turnout arranged to just clear the frog from the other. I've seen this used before in situations like tight urban switching areas. It looks a lot like, and takes up about as much space as a single or double slip switch, but it is less complicated. The big difference operationally is that in a slip switch, both straight routes are valid and one or both of the curved routes are valid. In this 'lapped' or 'gantlet' switch, both curved routes are valid but only one of the straight routes is valid. On my lapped turnout, the straight route will be aligned with the north ladder track. A train coming off the main won't be able to move directly into the main yard, but that's OK - I don't want it to.

As a test, I printed out several copies of the # 5 turnout template from Fast Tracks and with a scissors and tape, superimposed one turnout over the other. I found that I could overlap the turnouts along the straight route and get the points of one within about an inch of the frog on the other. All of this without the closure rails interfering with each other and maintaining enough room for the wheel flanges to clear the adjacent rails. It actually turned out better than I thought it would! So I'm very encouraged now to give this a try. I think, if I can get Dave to make up most of the parts for me ahead of time (he has all my jigs) , I can try and get it built and tested out for real this weekend. And we'll know right then if it will work -- or not. I think if it does work it will make the operation in this yard a lot more interesting...

March 11. 2010

Quick update - I raced home from work tonight to catch the last of the fading sunlight, take advantage of the (relatively) warm weather and beat the imminent rainstorm of biblical proportions being forecast to get a coat of primer on the 15 passenger cars I prepared earlier in the week. I just barely got it done before the conditions overwhelmed me. I won't get a chance to break out the airbrush and give them a few coats of the final color until next week, but already having the primer on will help me hit the ground running when I do. By then the weather should be clear and warm and the sun will be out until 8 pm or so thanks to the time change.

I was surprised that it took nearly an entire spray can of red primer to paint the body shells of 15 passenger cars, and that was even with me trying to be as efficient as possible. I hope I have enough of the brown craft paint left to complete the fleet... I'd better try and get another bottle if I can. Anyone got a spare bottle of Delta Ceramcoat Dark Chocolate Brown they can send me?

Oh yeah and I checked the decal supply, which I foolishly printed out before discovering how many cars I actually had to paint - I think there will be barely enough.

March 10, 2010

Well, not as much got done tonight as I had hoped for. I had hoped for a bigger crowd, but got only Scary Ted, Wayne and Dave. Several of my other regulars were out of town or had other committments. I understand, life happens and people have to take care of things. But it sure makes it tough to get the railroad built.

Dave, who is still hobbled by his heel injury, came over and managed to get a #5 right hand turnout built for me in 2.5 hours. He tells me he can build a complete turnout in 25 minutes? Guess there were a lot of distractions... It came out great though, and I'm grateful to him for taking on the job. Ted brought Wayne over, who's looking pretty good all things considered. Wayne served to distract Dave quite a bit all night, no doubt leading to the low turnout production rate. Ted took on the electrical job and went around attaching pigtails to the power bus with suitcase connectors, and the wire-nutting feeders to the pigtails. He got all the feeders I've run so far hooked up, and then drilled more holes to run more feeders on the newer tracks that hadn't been done yet.

Myself, I got busy with spiking down the 4 or 5 turnouts in the NY&NE yard at Danbury that had already had ties installed under them, and then added ties to the few left that hadn't been given them yet. That took most of my time though the evening actually, though I thought it went pretty fast. Hopefully Dave will be able to make more turnout in the next few days (no one will be going anywhere this weekend thanks ot the huge rainstorm they are predicting) so he should have some time to work.

March 8, 2010

Took advantage of the wife being out for the day and got a lot more done up in Danbury pretty much all the track in the NY&NE yard is now laid down and waiting for turnouts to complete it. Even though the Micro-Engineering flextrack is difficult to work with, you do develop a groove when working with it so each piece goes in faster than the next. Im looking forward to the work session coming up this week; I hope that we can make some real advances.

When I got done doing trackwork, I sat down at my workbench and decaled four passenger cars I found the other day that were built up (judging by the weight in them probably by my friend Henry) but hiding in boxes sitting under the layout. It wend fairly well Im not completely thrilled with how the decals came out (my fault entirely, they dont look as good as Id hoped, a bit model-railroady) but they went on fine and look decent, if a bit heavy. I know I need to pull out about half the weight Henry put in these monsters, they are just too heavy.

This inspired me to try and get more passenger equipment done, so I fished out all of my undecorated 50 Roundhouse passenger cars and washed the bodies in preparation for primer paint. I was surprised to learn I had five baggage cars, one RPO and nine more coaches, all undecorated hiding in my project cabinet. When these are all built-up it will put more than 20 cars on the railroad, and finally end the shortage of passenger and head-end equipment weve had since the beginning. If the nice weather holds up, I can get them painted soon.

March 3, 2010

No work session this week, but I managed to spend a few hours working on the layout. After Tom and I got so much track in last week, I wanted to try to build on that and work toward getting what we have down now operational. Two tasks jumped out at me: Turnout throwbars and feeder wires. And since both require soldering, it seemed like a good time to do both. I quickly drilled holes next to the rails for feeder wires to pass through and cut a bunch of 20 ga. feeders to about 12-14". I stripped and bent the bare ends into a dogleg shape and tinned the ends. Then I got out my dremel tool (both of them actually) and with a wire brush I cleaned the weathering off the rails where I had drilled the holes and tinned those sections too. And from there is was a simple matter to drop the feeders into the holes (red to the rear!) and solder them to the rails by touching the iron to the wires and melting the solder on both parts together.

When that was done (at least on one side of Danbury) I got some PC throwbar stock, cut several strips to length and filed a gap into the copper cladding across the middle. I used a utility knife and dentist's chisel tool to scrape away some of the homasote under where the throwbar would be to ansure it would not bind. Then I placed the throwbars under the turnout points and soldered them to the points. I was going to go ahead and drill out the holes for the actuating wires but by then my wife woke up and wanted me to spackle something. Oh well, at least I got some work done! Next time I'll finish up the throwbars and start taking pigtails off the primary bus line to wire up to the feeders. And hopefully next week we'll have put down more track, and this process can start again!

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