Visit the Model Railcast Show

Layout Construction Journal

Volume Thirteen - January 2011 through the present

See other Volumes:  One  Two  Three  Four  Five  Six  Seven  Eight  Nine  Ten  Eleven  Twelve Thirteen

Welcome Page     Links Page     Send E-Mail

October 16, 2012

Another long break between updates. At least this time I've been getting things done! In the last six weeks I've managed to get my new car forwarding program called Here To There up and running, and I'm currently doing some testing on it to confirm things are working the way they should. But besides that, I took my momentum from working on the Sellers turntable at Hawleyville and rode it through a project to scratch-build a turntable for Branchville. I based the design on plans I found on the Library of Congress' American Memory website, and used mostly scrap and bits and peices I had laying around to make it. I'm very pleased with how it came out and look forward to installing it very soon.

I've added a bunch of new rolling stock to the railroad, most notably 10 new cabooses. They are a close match to a photo of an actual Housatonic caboose found by Rob Hinkle at the Pennsylvania RR Museum in Strasburg a couple of years ago. They are actually re-painted Walthers DM&IR cabooses I got on clearance recently, nearly stock except I'm changing out the trucks for the Tahoe Model Works 5' wheelbase archbar trucks. I'd already made the decals for this project a few years ago but they did not fit, so I had to re-print smaller (along with some other new and different local railroads). I've decided I'll keep running the Bobber cabooses I made a while back too, it makes a nice contrast.

I also have started my renovation program to backdate and downsize many of the MDC / Roundhouse 36' boxcars (See the posting below from May 28, 2012) I have on the layout. A while back I cast a bunch of new floors for these cars only 32' long, with the idea I would cut the cars up and remove 4' from the center of them to fit the new floor. I started by performing surgery on two UP boxcars that had no business rolling around here, strpping the paint off and shortening them. They will soon get new doors and paint, and be re-lettered for more appropriate Eastern railroads of the 1880's and 90's. These first two will be Michigan Central cars, followed by a a Dominion Atlantic Ry. car and a Chesapeake and Ohio car and three more New York and New England cars.

I also stripped and repainted a number of 30' IHC boxcars at the same time, and these are all being relettered for the Boston and Maine. They were previously collected as a mishmash of MOW boxcars from various railroads, now they will serve as representatives of a more appropriate local connection. I have a few dozen more cars like this I've collected from train shows and stores over the last few years; Mantua, AHM, IHC... These all need to have the same thing done to them, we'll see how many more I can get added to the fleet before this wave of ambition ebbs...

Other than working on the car fleet, I also had David carefully remove the Sellers turntable at Danbury so it could be reinstalled at the proper height (I talked about this in the last update). He was able to carefully cut around it and get it out, though it took him a while and I don't think he enjoyed the stress (we were both crossing out fingers that the hydrocal turntable pit would not crack). But he was successful and soon the turntable will be reinstalled at a more appropriate height.

The last thing to report is that the layout is once again fully operational in terms of track and wiring. We started using the Here to There software a few weeks ago to start getting the railroad ready to run. I'm hoping to have a shakedown session in the near future to see if the car forwarding system will work properly and to see if there are any more little maintenance problems that have to be addressed before we start operating again. Very exciting!

September 1, 2012

Wow, nearly a month - well it wasn't a complete waste of time. I may have neglected to post much this past month but I did get some stuff done. In the last update, we had just cut the hole for the turntable at Hawlweyville and installed a number of turnouts for the engine services area there too. Well, all thouse turnouts are now completely wired and have their controls, and the turntable has been completed. So it's been a somewhat busy month after all. The turntable actually went together pretty quickly, having done the same kit once before and worked out all the difficult parts at that time the second one went up in about half the time. And not concidentally, I had a pretty good time building it without all the frustrating parts to go through again.

I actually learned something fron the first time we installed the Sellers turntable in Danbury - This time I was a lot more careful to make sure the rails on the turntable bridge actually lined up vertically - not just horizontally - with the inbound and outbound leads at standard track height. When we installed the Danbury turntable the height was set months before the bridge was ready to go (based on a "Best Guess") , and when it was all together the bridge was about 1/8" too high. I'm still thinking of trying to find a way to free the turntable there and re-mount it at the correct height - but that will be a lot of work and I'm very worried about damaging the cast hydrocal pit. But I may have figured out how to do it -- stay tuned...

The mechanism to spin the table is very much like the one I built for the first Sellers turntable, but I used a slightly different worm gear that needed some tuning with a file before it fit properly. After epoxying the gear to the shaft I chucked it in a drill and ran a lozenge-shaped file up and down the threads to thin the teeth until it fit well into the planetary gear. Other than that it's pretty much the same. I have run out of universal joints, though, so until I can find more I am going to try using a piece of plastic or rubber tubing to connect the crank with the driveshaft. That's tomorrow's project.

August 8, 2012

After nearly a month of not doing anything on the layout, had a few good days this week. Earlier I repaired a Hex Frog Juicer under Dock Yard that was giving me problems, and also added a bunch of feeder wires to the three bridge tracks up in Bethel. We were having lots of problems up there with trains stalling, and it turned out to be a power transmission issue. That seems to be fixed now.

Today I got two #5 LH Fast Tracks turnouts built, and used one of them to get the rest of the Hawleyville service tracks completed. As I was doing that, I also made up some more homasote roadbed (I was out) and completed the routes to the Hawleyville turntable which will be located in the same area. Later in the day after the gule set up, I went ahead and laid down the track on most of the new areas. Also got a switch machine installed under the new turnout and laid down wood ties to spike the turnout to, and then did that too.

This evening we had a work session, and Dave and Neil showed up. Neil and I got to work on installing and dropping feeders for all the new track and switches in the engine terminal area, and Dave tested the turnouts up in the yard in Hawleyville. When Dave was done with that, he took my jigsaw and opened up a hole in the Hawleyville benchwork where the turntable will be installed. This will be another Sellers turntable like the one installed in Danbury; I bought a second Freshwater Models kit some time back before they went out of production.

We debated wether to add the second turntable lead so that there would be an inbound and outbound lead. Dave argued very strongly to include it, ao I asked Neil to take the second LH turnout I'd built earlier and cut it into the switch lead. He did that, and next time I get down to the basement I'll install the ties underneath it and lay the track going to the turntable pit. In the meantime, I'd better get started building that second turntable.

July 13, 2012

Well! Been six weeks since my last update - there hasn't been much to update in that time. With the summer on I've been working on some other non-railroad projects, as well as some projects for friends. I've cast around 20 of the dormer windows I was working on, and have another casting project in progress for my friend Dave Ramos' New Yory Harbor RR layout. But other than that I've not been up to much until recently.

Last work session which was a bit after Memorial day we got a couple of things started, most notably some basic scenery forms in and around the area of Winnipauk. I've been planning for some time to include a maze of water power canals there between two large mills, and Ted Pamperin and I got started on that, putting in about 8-10 feet of styrofoam scenery base there. We established an area for one of the mills to go, and ran a channel around it that will be one of the water canals that runs parallel to the tracks for about 6 feet and then makes a 45* turn to run under the track (opportunity to build another bridge) and off the edge of the benchwork. I a few weeks Ted will be showing me his method of laying in basic scenery using paver sand and liquid acrylic binder as a cement. I hope to document this for you and maybe share a video of it!

Other than that I spent a lot of time cleaning up the mess that was down there, at least enough to get the floor swept, the boxes and containers shoved back under the layout and the many tools, materals and general crap off the layout in preparation for running trains! Which we did this past Wednesday. Aside from a few problems (a continuing issue around some of the new trackwork with reversed polarities from one electrical section to the next), a couple of servo motors that had gone bad and needed to be replaced and a couple of broken throwbars on a few turnouts, most of the layout performed well. We do still have some issues up around Danbury and Hawleyville with track that has no feeders (turned out it hadn't even been cleaned) and at least one turnout that needs some tuning, but other than that things seemed to work pretty well. I now have a small punch list of things to correct and will get to that next week, and hopefully have the new track running well by the next work session!

May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012 - thank you to all our Veterans who have sacrificed to protect us and our country. It's crazy hot today, so much so that I hid in the basement where it's cool (also happens to be where the railroad and workbenches are :-) So while I was there I worked on a couple of projects to try and get them off my workbench. First, I took the mold I made of the dormer for the R&G factory this weekend and poured a few copies of it, cleaned them up and made a new mold that will cast four at a time. That should help turn out the needed parts much quicker. (The X on the larger mold is because this cavity had slight tears when removing the pattern. It's still useful but not for any foreground parts.)

Second, a few weeks ago I made a new mold to cast a set of steam and sand domes for a steam switcher project I'm working on for a friend, a model of the Erie #612, an 0-6-0T that saw service at the 28th St. yards in Manhattan in the first few decades of the 20th century. Since I hadn't purded that mold yet, I went ahead and did that so I could try to get a little farther on that project.

Third, I have had a test project going for several years to take a BTS Civil War era 27' boxcar and convert it to look much more like one of the Housatonic's early boxcars, which I'm fortunate to have a photo of. I had bought the Civil War era kits, built and decorated them long before finding that photo, though, but the basic car was similar. Over time I stripped one of these cars down and replaced the toof, end platforms and door guides, and relocated the body bolsters to extend the distance between the trucks. Today I finally got around to painting and decaling it, and I'm very pleased with the appearance. So now it will be time to take the other nine cars like it on the railroad and perform the same conversion on them too. Below you'll see photos of the BTS car before and after my conversion.

And finally, Another project I've been working on more recently - a way to shorten the ubiquitous MDC 36' truss rod boxcars which I have WAY too many of on my layout. Taking four feet out of the car body itself is no big deal - but the cast zinc underframe was just too difficult to work with before. Whe MDC started bringing over their Ready-To-Run assembled cars from China, though, they introcuced a plastic floor with a metal weight inside the car. I got one out of a built-up car and shortened it, made a mold and have been casting replacement floors for months now. Finally though I have completed installing the first floor in the first cut-down car, and painted and decaled it. Below you'll see the car itself (still needs a brake wheel added) and the car with one of my cast underframes leaning against it. Now that I'm sure it works, soo I will start removing the 'extra' boxcars from the layout, stripping the paint and shortening them, to be redecorated as cars of more appropriate northeastern and mideastern railroads.

May 25, 2012

Reading about a fellow modelers' project recently on a web forum got me interested in picking up a project I started with a friend a couple of years ago. We were working together on a structure replicating the R&G Corset Co. factory in South Norwalk, CT. It was going well but after a couple of months he stopped coming around, and since then the project has laid fallow. But reading about this other guy's adventures building a structure with a Mansard Roof got me thinking about the R&G project again. We'd actually gotten a lot of work done on it previously, but I'd lost interest about the time I needed to create a dormer window for the roof. I needed about 30-40 of them, identical, so the obvious idea was to make one good one and then mold and cast it.

Well, I had some time to kill kast night so I collected my materials (namely some sheet styrene of different thicknesses and scribing) and tools, and had at it. I based the design on one of the dormers from the R&G building and sized it to fit on the structure. It's designed to fit a Tichy 8032 window which is the right size and matches the windows in the rest of the building. It's about 1-1/4" tall, 3/4" wide and has a slope on the back of about 15 degrees. About 2 hours later, I had my dormer completed. Today I'll be pouring a mold on it (window casting removed, of course) and tonight I expect to start making castings to build a larger four or six piece mold. By the first week in June I should have enough windows to complete the roof of this structure, and maybe get the building completed too.

May 23, 2012

Not much to report in the last couple of weeks, I've been working very hard on trying to complete my new car-forwarding computer program Here to There. I'm pleased to say I've made a lot of progress on it recently and I'm hoping to have something new to show in the next month or so.

I have put together a few more (6) early Union Tank Line tank cars (based on a number of old IHC flatcars of different types) and hope to have them ready to roll in the next week or so. The tank car fleet is now getting nicely filled out with the 11 cars of this type Ive added in the last year, and I still have another 6-8 of the MDC 28 foot iron beam underframe cars to complete assembly on and get running. That should pretty much do it for the tank car fleet, now to move on to getting more gondolas in service...

My friend and fellow early period modeler David Emery stopped by last week and we had a great chat. I showed him my epoxy headlights and he felt that the LEDs were bright enough, especially considering I'm modeling and operating in daylight hours for the most part where an oil headlight wouldn't appear very bright anyway. I've decided to go ahead and make up more of them in preparation of getting my locomotives backdated.

April 27, 2012

A couple of quick shots showing a headlight from the second test. It is not yet painted, the LED is lit by an LED Tester from Ngineering (Available from Microlumina.com). It's a bit dim but the first LEDs I tried were too bright! I'll have to decide if this looks all right or if I should continue searching for something a bit brighter.

The second test of the LED embedded in clear epoxy (to be used on an HO Scale steam engine) was more successful than the first.The second test of the LED embedded in clear epoxy (to be used on an HO Scale steam engine) was more successful than the first.

April 26, 2012

Good work session last night - I'm pleased to report that earlier in the day I finally completed the rewiring job under Dock Yard, all turnouts are now working and all frogs have been juiced! Dave Ramos, Neil Henning and Tom Callan and I spent the evening running locomotives around the railroad, cleaning track and generally starting to put things through their paces to get the layout back up and running. We uncovered a few problems, such as the Dock Yard power district somehow being out of phase with the mainline next to it, but a few minutes with a screwdriver fixed that. We also uncovered some locomotive issues, a bad lead truck spring on one and a short circuit with the side rods on another, I'll get those fixed this weekend. But all in all it worked out very well!

Had a bit of a setback with my chuff cam project, one wire on the cam simply would not pick up power from the wheel next to it. I think it was due to there being epoxy residue on the back of the wheel. So I'm going to try it again, this time using slightly heavier contacts on the cam instead of the .020" wire I used last time. I'll make some strips of phosphor bronze from some sheet stock I have and epoxy that to the styrene tube, and more carefully epoxt that onto the axle. Should be ready to test in a few days.

Also had better luck with my second headlight test. The styrene reflectors seemed to have worked out really well, and after a few attempts to use tape to hold the LED leads together I ended up soldering them together instead which worked well. When I designed the six-piece mold, I set each pair of headlights back to back, figuring I would attach the LEDs to each other to make them hold their position in the mold. This worked out really well, and also this time the epoxy was mixed in a larger amount making the ratio of part A to part B more even. they seem to be setting up much harder this time, plus I'm helping them along by adding some heat. In another day or two I should be able to paint them and see if test number two gets the job done!

April 21, 2012

Well, the home-made conductive glue did not work, so Monday I'll be heading over to Radio Shack to try and buy a conductive-ink pen (used for repairing broken traces on circuit boards) to try and connect the contacts on the cam with the inside wheel face. Also got six more LEDs prepped to make headlights out of, and made up a bunch of styrene 'reflectors' to help make them look a bit better inside the lamp. I also need to stop at AC Moore to get some silver craft paint for these before I try to cast them. I have concerns that the Castin' Craft clear epoxy I'm using for this may not be a good choice, I have read in several places that people using it report it can take weeks for it to fully harden, and often it lever does. I ruined my test model late last week by just squeezing it gently between my fingers as I was trying it for fit on a locomotive. It had been setting up for over a week, not a good sign.

Today it's back to the underside of the layout to complete some wiring I've been putting off under Dock Yard. I have a work session this Wednesday scheduled and I hope to have it all working properly for that!

April 19, 2012

Well I heard back from GME on their chuff cams - they are pretty pricey (but probably worth the price, they are very well engineered). A bit too rich for my budget though, to do all my locomotives would cost over $500! And even at that, they would still not be synched exactly to my drivers (assuming I used a 2-contact cam on the tender axle). But since I still like the idea of placing a cam there, I'm working on a method to do it a lot more cheaply.

I took a length of styrene tubing and a few lengths of .020" phosphor bronze wire, and using my soldering iron I heated the wire against the surface of the tubing until the tubing softened and the wire melted into it. I did this on both sides, trying to get the two wires embedded into the tube on opposite sides and equal distance apart. My first test of this worked better than I expected it to. When I wans done, I scraped any oozed styrene from the surface of the wires and then used a razor saw to cut off a 1/8" ring from the end of the tube. Voila! A chuff cam is born! I used a razor blade to cut a chunk out of the side of it, forced it over the tender truck axle and re-glued the cut out section back on. Then I epoxied the cam to the inside face of the wheel, keeping it out of the way of the power pickups already on the truck.

My almost zero-cost Do It Yourself Chuff Cams

The next step is to connect the bronze wires in the cam to the wheel face, I'll do this with conductive paint or glue. I'm trying to get my hands on some now, I might try making my own (I read if you mix powdered graphite in with epoxy it will conduct some electricity through it), and if that works I'll be able to test the cam in another day or two. If it works, great! If not, it's back to the drawing board OR I'll be writing a big check to GME.

April 14, 2012

Progress on the chuff cam project - If at least ruling out several options is progress. Having now seen an actual Soundtraxx chuff cam, I'm convinced I can make my own from very thin scissor-cut copper clad printed circuit board material (if I need to). The nail polish idea won't work, there's not enough metal surface on the back of the driver wheel to allow me to do that without making serious trouble trying to get the wheels through flangeways. And I checked, there is clearance room on the inside of the driver to attach a very thin cam if I need to do that, so at least that remains an option.

But Bill Uffelman from the EarlyRail group on Yahoo Groups suggested that a cam on a tender wheelset might do the trick. As it turns out, he's probably right - the circumference of the tender wheel is nearly half that of the driver wheel, and a 2-contact chuff cam mounted to the axle on the tender truck might be close enough to make me happy. It won't be perfectly synchronized but the install process will be a LOT simpler and it won't require another wire to be run from the tender to the locomotive.So I've sent off an inquiry to GME asking how much their cams for this installation would cost. If the cost is reasonable, I'll use their product - otherwise I have another idea on how to make my own cam for the tender axle...

April 11, 2012

So I've got this problem... I use Tam Valley Depot's Octopus R/C Servo controllers all over my layout for switch machines. They work great, but my power supplies that run them have an issue. When I plug in the power supply and the Octopii start up, there is apparently a fairly large inrush current (since all the servos are moving at the same time) that causes the power supply to think there is a short circuit, and the internal cercuit breaker kicks in and everything powered by that supply stops working. And it stays that way until I take at least one of the devices hooked up to it offline and then reattach it after all the others have started up. Since this often involves going under the layout with a small screwdriver and physically disconnecting one or more of the Octopii temporarily, this gets old fast.

I've finally decided to fix the problem by putting each Octopus on its own power switch. This way I can turn them on one at a timeand minimize the current inrush problem. I've made up a bunch of small switch panels with LED power indicators to be mounted on the layout fascia, and each will control a single 12 volt device like an Octopus. I made them in the same way as I made the station signs and fusee plates, a color-printed paper image glued over a 1/8" masonite panel. The switch simply goes into the wiring from the power supply to the Octopus and interrupts the power when it's turned off, so that part is really simple. And having the Status LEDs on the panels will make it simple to tell when a controller is on or off. I might even be able to get more devices running off each power supply this way. That would save some money...

New individual power switches for the Servo turnout controllers

(Update 4/14): The idea works, allowing the individual Octopii to be brought online one at a time makes the power supply much happier! I still need to get the LEDs hooked up but I haven't done that yet. However after consulting with Duncan I am now sure of the right way to do this. My first attempts were not so successful...

April 10, 2012

Demolded my test headlight yesterday, for the most part it was a success, at least as a test bed. The epoxy was not, apparently, mixed in the right proportions and after 2 days in the mold was still not completely hard, but hard enough. The embedded LED ended up off center and too far up in the light, but it works. There was also a trapped air bubble in the mold that ruined the top vent, but I cam clip that off and replace it with a pin head if I really want to. Today I gave it a coat of black paint to see if it would indeed cover the part and not let light leak out. Result? Worked pretty well, next time I'll mask off the lens and give it a good coat of flat black primer from a rattle can. Also wouldn't be a bad idea to clean off the mold release either. But it did work, at least enough to provide positive results and to try harder going forward to get it right!

The master model of the headlight, a few of the resin castings from the original mold, and the six-part mold for production casting.The completed test headlight sitting on top of the mold

April 7, 2012

I love having sound in my locomotives. It's a great feature that really gives your rail road another sense of depth you don't get with silent operation. But sometimes getting it set up can be incredibly frustrating. To wit, I've spent several hours recently trying to get the new Tsunami decoders in my fleet of 4-4-0 locomotives to run more smoothly, and also get the "automatic" chuff sound synched up as well. While I finally got the locomotive to perform where I want it to (a very gradual speed change all the way through the 120 speeds steps), the auto chuff completely refuses to cooperate and make it sound like the engine is RACING along at top speed while it's barely crawling down the track. This will not do.

So I'm looking at options to use the cuff sensor built into the Soundtraxx decoders (Tsunami and earlier types) to make the chuff sound work in perfect sync regardless of the speed the loco is running. This can generally be done in one of two ways, both involve installing a sensor wiper under the locomotive. The best method is to install whats called a chuff cam, which is a round or octagonal device, on one of the locomotive axles. The cam has areas set at 90 degrees to each other that are 'live', the rest of the surface is insulated. when the sensor wiper touches one of the live areas, it sends a signal to the decoder to make the chuff sound.

I found some made by Grizzly Moutain Engineering that looked like they would fit the bill, and I was ready to order a bunch until I popped the axle cover off one of my 4-4-0's to check the axle diameter. Turns out there's no room in the area around where the axle goes, it's all filled with metal. Great for the loco's traction, but lousy if you want to install a chuff cam.

So that brings me to the second option, a sensor wiper that contacts the inside face of a driver. since the back of the driver wheel is all electrically active, one has to install an interrupter on the inside face so that only a fraction of the metal is exposed at the four quadrants. This usually takes the form of a decal that gets applied to the wheel. or it can be done by applying nail polish to the inside face leaving small sections uncovered. Either of these methods is not especially desireable, as the pressure from the cam tends to push the driver set to one side of the frame, and that can cause the locomotive to crab down the rails, similar to an automobile with a poor wheels alignment.

April 4, 2012

Had a nice, small work session tonight; just myself, Lenny Harlos and Neil Henning. Lenny was kind enough to troubleshoot the track and turnouts up in Danbury for me, including doing a bit of maintenance on some of the turnouts (broken switchpoint, some sticking throwbars) and a bit of track cleaning. Neil and I worked on getting the last few turnouts in Dock Yard and Hawleyville up and running, installing a control cable here, a switchbox there, and getting a half-dozen or so balky turnouts operating better.

Aft4er tonight's session we now have all turnouts in both main yards operating properly (Well, except for two in Dock Yard that will need an additional Octopus controller installed to take care of them, I will do that this weekend). That additional Octopus will also be used to control several turnouts above Dock Yard in the Bethel area so it won't be controlling just two turnouts. I think another major electrical project for this weekend is to finally wire in one of the majot 12 volt power supplies I picked up a month or so ago from an internet surplus electronics house (MPJA.com); I bought two that are supposed to supply 15 amps at 12 volts, just what I need to run all the Octopus turnout controllers in Dock Yard and Hawleyville, respectively. All I have to do is figure out which of the three inout terminals are the Hot, Common and Ground... Being surplus there were no instructions...

The other project I started this week (which hopefully will become un-necessary if the new power supplies work out) is a bunch of switch panels for the layout fascia to switch on the Octopii one or two at a time. Turns out the 5 amp power supplies I'm using now have a current inrush problem similar to the way a DCC booster trips and won't reset with too many sound decoders on the layout. Each is capable of running 3-4 Octopii, but if you hook up more than two the power supply's built-in breaker trips when you turn it on. So I'm going to re-route the power outputs to individual power switches that will let me add the Octopi one or two at a time and not overload the supply. We'll see what happens.

April 2, 2012

Last couple of days I moved forward a bit with my locomotive headlight replacement project. I took an old brass box headlight casting and filled the reflector cavity with epoxy and let it set up overnight, then I made a mold of it. In the next week or so I'll make a few copies in resin, then make another mold that I can cast four headlights at a time in. When I do, they will be cast in clear epoxy with a yellow glow LED embedded inside, and after demolding they will be painted (except for the lens) and then I can mount them on my locomotives, helping to backdate them somewhat. So far so good, I am hoping that the next few steps go well!

February 9, 2012

Here's another project I've been wanting to do for a long time. I have photos of arc lights around Danbury Terminal yard from around 1892, and I have wanted to model one (or more) as a way of getting some lights on my layout. The hard part has been finding a light source that would be a good stand-in for the large glass globe and brackets that supported them. I've long figured the answer was going to be an LED of some kind, but the big stumbling block there was finding one that had the right shape (round) and also had a very wide viewing angle. Most T-type LEDs are bullet-shaped and have a very tightly focused viewing angle, like a flashlight. I finally found what I was looking for in a straw-hat LED; it had the right shape and a 150 degree viewing angle. Not perfect but probably as close as I would find to ideal.

A scratchbuilt Arc light model standing in Dock Yard, South NorwalkA scratchbuilt Arc light model standing in Dock Yard, South NorwalkA scratchbuilt Arc light model standing in Dock Yard, South Norwalk

I spent some time working with shish-kebab skewers, piano wire and paper, and I came up with this arc light model. It's probably about 50% too large but I think it is a good start, and it captures the look of the arc light nicely. I'll continue to look into some other options to get the light smaller and more scale in appearance, but for now I'm happy with what I got out of this two-night project.

January 3, 2012

Happy New Year, folks. Time for a State of the Railroad address of sorts. While things did not progress as quickly on the layout over the last year as I had hoped, we did get a lot of work done and I managed to complete a number of projects that had been languishing around the layout for years, and got a lot done on a bunch I didn't finish. Overall I figure I completed about nine stalled projects this past year, and while I did not meet my goal of 12 projects I feel very good about the work that did get done. We also managed to get a lot of work done around Danbury and Hawleyville, both of which are very close to completion now.

I did start a major rework project on the lower level back in December, myself and several of my crew agreed that the manual switch controls under Dock Yard in South Norwalk were not sorking the way they should and I decided to go on a program to replace all the manual turnout controls with R/C aircraft servos the way we have at most other locations on the layout. So I ordered enough Hex Frog Juicers and Octopus Switch Controllers from Tam Valley Depot to complere the project and one bight I went down to the basement and removed all of the mantual switch controls. Within a week I had started replacing the mechanical turnout controls with servos and wiring the frogs to Frog Juicers. This will really simplify my wiring and will make anything going on in the yard there more reliable. The downside? It's going to take some time to get it done, just when I was hoping we'd be getting back to operating very soon.

 

December 22, 2011

Had a great couple of days this week visiting my friend Lenny Harlos of Thoroughbred Railroad Models. Lenny is a custom painter and specialized in redetailing and weathering freight cars that he sells on Ebay and at train shows. I had talked to him a few months back about airbrushing and how to weather some tank cars from my period, and he invited me over to his workshop to show me how to do it. Well it was an amazing two days as Lenny took the box of tank cars I brought to his place and did an absolutely amazing job weathering them. I wish I could describe his process to you, he does many layers of different paints and techniques using paint markers and the airbrush and the results are just amazing. I learned a great deal from him and hope to start putting some of it to use when the weather gets a little warmer. Here are just a few of the cars he weathered up:

A few UTL tank cars weathered by my friend Lenny HarlosA few UTL tank cars weathered by my friend Lenny HarlosA few UTL tank cars weathered by my friend Lenny HarlosA few UTL tank cars weathered by my friend Lenny Harlos

December 14, 2011

Well, took another big plunge this weekend and attacked a major project for the railroad, replacing the simple DCC decoders in my Bachmann Spectrum with Tsunami light steam decoders. Doesn't sound that big until you realize I have ten of them. I figured it was best to do them all at once so as I got better at it and learned all the better ways to do it I could apply that as I went along. I did it all over two days, which was easier because I had already bought all the new decoders a while back. I did run out of speakers though and a few of them will have to wait a few more days until the new speakers show up. It was no simple drop-in either - The old decoders came out fine, but a circuit board in the tenders had to be removed to get the speakers and new decoders in the cavity. And that meant each decoder had to be individually wired to the leads in the tender, no simple 8 or 9 pin plug-in here. By the third loco though I had come up with a good method, and all except the first two got what I think was a really professional installation. I'm really glad that project is done, that's another big one off my new years resolution list!

December 6, 2011

Well, I'm trying to catch up on a number of old projects and complete them before the end of the year. I made a new years resolution back in January that I was going to try and finish one stalled project a month in 2012. I won't meet that goal entirely but I have used that motivation to complete a number of projects this year, so I'm feeling pretty good about it. One of those stalled projects was this one, an 1890's horse car kitbashed from two MDC 'Overland' baggage cars. I'd done some work on them last year, getting the two car bodies cut up and merged together, but as usual I lost interest in it and moved on to something else. Well in the last day or so I picked it up and did some more work on it.

A kitbashed Horse car project I'm trying to finishA kitbashed Horse car project I'm trying to finish

The most notable changes are the opera windows in the car sides, which were a real tricky thing (and what had stopped me cold last time I worked on this). THis time I tried something different - I took styrene tube and thinned the inside bt sraping it with a hobby knife, then I held the edge close to a candle flame and turned it until the edge melted a bit and took on the look of a trumpet. I let it cool and cut it off, and drilled holes in the side of the car to match the tube diameter. It worked! From there I went on to build the storage bin under the floor, which I made a mold of and then turned out a resin casting for it. I also added a bunch of grab irons to the sides. I hope to finish this one before the end of the year!

November 26, 2011

Been playing around with some ideas for the coaling operation at Wilson Point lately. Some of you may recall I was starting to build a very small tipple here out of styrene some time back, but it really didn't work and now the half-built model is just taking up space somewhere. I had a couple of folks down here a few weeks back, one of whom was Andy Sperandeo who was in town and stopped by. Andy and I and another fellow got to talking about what might be appropriate for this spot, and he suggested a coaling station with a swinging jib crane similar to what I already had, but with a structure around it. A similar one had become the basis for an old Fine Scale Miniatures kit, but something of similar design would probably do the trick.

Through them I got a copy of the original article on the structure from Model Railroader back in the 1950's, and I was able to come up with a design from it that would fit the space I have. There has to be a passageway through it in order to allow the ash gondola to be placed by the ashpit. This will also provide a place for a flatcar that will carry metal pails of coal to be swung out over the locomotive tenders and dumped. There will also be a platform farther down the track for crews to fill additional pails from gondolas on the service track. I may also include a short length of narrow-gauge track to run carts on to carry pails into the coal service building. I'm still not sure if I will do this or not but it's something I'm considering.

A possible new coal shed for servicing locomotives at Wilson Point.A possible new coal shed for servicing locomotives at Wilson Point.A possible new coal shed for servicing locomotives at Wilson Point.A possible new coal shed for servicing locomotives at Wilson Point.

November 23, 2011

Another project completed recently, a pair of New York Central & Hudson River Railroad boxcars by Amesville Shops for my friend Brian Bollinger of BEST Trains Models. Brian and his lovely wife Jill are kick-ass craftsman kit manufacturers and a while back did me a huge favor in custom-cutting one of their kits for me. We arranged a berter deal for it, and this will be the first 'payment' on the kit he sent me. I've been working on these two for a while and I'm very pleased with how they came out, I know he will love them.

A pair of NYC&HR Boxcars for Brian BollingerA pair of NYC&HR Boxcars for Brian BollingerA pair of NYC&HR Boxcars for Brian Bollinger

October 27, 2011

And just a follow-up, here's the EJ&E Gondola all painted and lettered up. The dry transfer markings were not easy to apply, I kinda screwed it up a bit (I managed to fix it though). Definitely needs some weathering now, though it is supposed to represent a pretty new car on my layout. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

The completed EJ&E GondolaThe completed EJ&E Gondola

October 22, 2011

The projects keep right on coming. While I was cleaning up a couple of nights ago, I came across an old Central Valley freight car kit I'd bought at a swap meet a few years back. While I have a number of classic old Central Valley cars running on my railroad, they have all come completed and in running condition from swap meets or train shows. I've never actually built a wooden freight car model kit. So fresh on my success with the tobacco barn kitbash, I decided to tackle this car kit, an Elgin, Joliet and Eastern wooden gondola kit. I was very glad to have read through Bob Parrish's helpful notes on building wooden freight car kits (Can be found on the LaBelle website) as they were very helpful in figuring out what to do.

A Central Valley wooden gondola kitA Central Valley wooden gondola kitA Central Valley wooden gondola kit

The techniques and materials are very different from the type of modeling I'm used to (styrene). But it was a very interesting and educational exercise. Some of the parts like the embossed brass foil used to make the corner irons on the gondola sides were not very attractive or useful, a nicer model could be made using Grandt Line parts unstead, but I wanted to get the full experience of the model so I used them. I did part company with the trucks, I used a pair of modern delrin archbar trucks instead of the recommended Central Valley trucks which I didn't have anyway. I look forward to completing the model and painting it, and I'm definitely not so intimidated by these types of models anymore. I still have a half-dozen or so to build, I' will get to then sooner rather than later now.

Oh, I also finally got around to installing the Whipple truss bridge over the Still River just north of Bethel this week. Here it is with the Motrak Models stone arch bridge in front of it that we finished installing a few weeks ago. The Whipple truss bridge takes you to the wye track in Hawleyville behind the backdrop (to be placed soon) and the stone bridge takes you into Hawleyville yard. A third track and bridge not yet installed will take you from Bethel to Danbury on this side of the backdrop.

Two of the three bridges outside of Bethel installed!

October 19, 2011

Working on the layout can be very challenging at times, particularly when it involves doing things you really don't enjoy doing like wiring. For me, I can get a certain amount of it done, and then I start getting burnt out on it, and I need to do something different to help get my drive sparked again. That's one of the reasons I tend to start so many new projects, it's easy for me to get excited about doing something new, and harder to pick up on a project that I've lost interest in. That's not a very good way to get things done, but it's who I am. This months' foray into the new and different is, well, no different.

A year or two ago my buddy Dave Ramos gave me a Walthers Sparrow Creek Barn kit for my birthday. It was a really a nice gesture, and a very nice laser-cut craftsman type kit. I could not figure out how I was going to use it though, and it sat in a pile of unbuilt kits since then. But recently I had an idea to model one of the lost industries of Connecticut (something I really like to do on my 19th century layout) and the barn kit David had given me was the perfect thing for it.

Back in the 19th century Connecticut, and Norwalk in particular, was known for making quality cigars. There were a number of cigar companies with factories right in Norwalk and South Norwalk, and much of the tobacco grown for their feedstocks came from the Connecticut Valley. I had always known I wanted to represent that industry on the layout, and intended to build at least one cigar factory in South Norwalk. The idea of modeling a tobacco farm had also crossed my mind, but I was trying to decide how I could represent that and give it visual clues as to what sort of crops they were growing on that farm. While I was researching it, I saw several tobacco barns in photos and realized I had the perfect model at home that could represent such a barn with just a little bit of work.

The Completed tobacco barn model

I took out the barn kit and made some changes to it - I placed the doors on the gable end of the building, and then did some surgery on the walls to make it look like the hinged boards that swing out at the bottom for ventilation. This turned out to be pretty tough - the thin plywood the walls were cut from was surprisingly tough, and I broke several knife blades cutting through them. I only did one side and end wall because that's all that will be seen when the model is in place in Wilton, CT at the site of the tobacco farm that will go there. I painted the model using dry-brush techniques to make the paint look faded and old. The roof is Paper Creek Models laser-cut shingles, which look great on this building and were very easy to apply using transfer tape.

September 11, 2011

Recently one of my helper crew, Jim Fawcett, asked if there was anything he could help work on during the tim he wasn't over for work sessions. So I looked around and decided that the Norwalk Mills building I've had under construction for the Winnipauk scene had been sitting around for a long time. And since Jim has been working on that area for me for a month or so now, painting in the water and doing some other scenery magic, I asked him if he would like to take that building and get it going at home. I was pleased that he agreed to take it on.

This two-story brick structure is designed to sit on the bank of the Still River in Winnipauk right outside of the Bellinadrop turnback loop on top of a stone foundation with tall arches in it. A couple of the archways will be outlets for the water power system that runs part of the mill. The mill building is actually re-purposed castings from the South Norwalk Iron Works building model that Neil Henning and I made a few years ago. While the molds were still viable, we cast a number of extra parts with this purpose in mind. To make the Norwalk Mills building, we cut off the bottom story of the wall sections and lowered the roof pitch on the gable end walls to remove the window in the attic. I also cut in openings for three freight doors on the land / railroad side of the building. And that was they way it has sat for a number of years, in a pile of parts.

But recently I'd started to do some more work on it. I'd finally gotten around to getting the walls all glued together and also fabricated an interior styrene floor to give the structure some strength, and glued that in. I made up some roof supports that I glued into support the roof, and made up a roof of Evergreen metal roofing scribed styrene (backed up with a base of 1/8" sheet styrene, this puppy is NEVER going to warp) and even added in a small ventilation shed dormer on either side (I used a plastic ladder from an old kit to represent the windows in the edge of the dormer). And that was about the state of the model when I handed it off to Jim. We'll see what he can do with it, I have high expectations based on the work I've seen from Jim prior to this. The building entrance, presumably, would be on the far face that we do not see.

The Norwalk Mills BuildingThe Norwalk Mills BuildingThe Norwalk Mills Building

September 10, 2011

I've been busy again working on the Double Warren truss bridges. With several truss frames in the bag, I started creating the bridge floors. At first I tried to use bits of girders cut from Central Valley girder bridges, but that wasn't working out very well. So eventually I abandoned that and decided to build the floors entirely from 1/8" styrene sheet. It's a bit heavy but since almost all of the floor structure will be obscured by the truss frames and bridge ties, I'm willing to take that hit in the name of strength and simplicity of construction. In the first photo below you'll see the structure, with the floor beams lined up to meet with the truss panel points. I've started applying gusset plates to the floor beams that will hold up the assembled truss sides and get linked up with lateral bracing in a diagonal pattern.

The floor of the first Watten truss bridge span under construction

And once the gusset plates and lateral bracing straps are attached the floor is pretty much done. Here's a few photos of the truss frames sitting together with the floor giving a lood impression of how the model is coming along.

Two truss frames sitting alongside the bridge floorTwo truss frames sitting alongside the bridge floorTwo truss frames sitting alongside the bridge floorTwo truss frames sitting alongside the bridge floor

September 1, 2011

This week was a good work session, with lots getting done.  So was last week's session though it was hampered by my not having certain needed supplies to make even more progress.  But I had that corrected for this week and we were able to move several projects along.  First, Neil and I worked on getting the new switchboxes for the turnout controls mounted.  These new boxes are similar to the ones I built a few months ago, since then I refined the design a bit and had a bunch cast by Motrak Models.  It mounts behind the barrel bolt's business end, which is screwed to a control shelf on the fascia.  When the barrel bolt is pushed in it contacts the plunger, which presses down on the switch levers completing the circuits.  It works but the idea still needs some adjustment.  We mounted about eight switchboxes in various locations (mostly Bethel and New Milford) with good success, including cutting and mounting several new control shelves needed to support the barrel bolts.  There's still a few switchboxes to go before everything is hooked up and running but we're much closer.

Tom Callan also continued working on the scene in Bethel where the three bridges will cross the Still River.  He spent a fair bit of time laying in styrofoam blocks to build up the landforms of the riverbanks around the bridge abutments and setting the abutments in place where they will be able to support the bridges.  If I can I plan to spend some time doing some scenery work up there in the next week or so trying to get the landformes fleshed out and the water painted in before the bridge models get permanently installed.  I don't think Tommy will mind if I do that!

Scary Ted was in the house, and I asked him to work on a special project for me.  A little while back we put in a new staging yard in the Utility
closet between Brookfield Jct and New Milford representing the New York and New England's Western connections, like Beacon NY and Poughkeepsie.  When the guys put it in they included short masonite fences on the edges to keep cars from falling off to their deaths - which was very thoughtful.  However, it made fiddling the cars in the yard too difficult because the fences blocked the view of the wheels when the operators were trying to get cars on the tracks.  After all this is intended to be a active staging yard and cars will be added and removed often.

I gave Ted a sample bracket made from 1/8" soft wire, L-shaped with a loop on each end.  The loop on the short leg was for mounting the bracket to the plywood floor of the staging yard, and the loop on the longer was to take a length of elastic cord.  The idea being that the elastic would protect the cars from falling off the plywood but could easily be pushed out of the way by a human trying to place trucks on the rails.  I told him to make 14 more and then start screwing them in.  When they were all up he strung the thin elastic cord from one bracket to the next.  In the end he did a great job, it came out just as I had hoped it would. 

And last but not least, Jim was down and this time he brought his paints and markers with him.  He patiently worked on the stone foundation wall that will support one of the mills in Winnipauk and gave it a nice gray-brown stone paint job.  The mill above will be a brick building so the contrast of colors and mediums should be very nice.  I think I shall have to put some time into getting that model started so Jim can contile to work his magic on it as we go forward.

As for me, I spent a fair bit of time this week reviving an old project.  Some time ago I built the Danbury & Norwalk / Housatonic Station at Wilson Point but never completed it; partly because the roof I'd made and spent hours applying shingles to curled up into pagoda shapes shortly after it was done.  But recently I decided I wanted to re-do the roof, and bought severa lsheets of 1/32" plywood as a base to build the roof on.  Usingf the old roof sections as a pattern I cut new roof panels, braced them heavily with 3/16" stripwood and started applying laser-cut peel and stick shingles to them.  I haven't gotten much farther than cutting out all the parts but I'm looking forward to getting more work done on this in the coming weeks.  It would be a nice christmas present to myself to have this done before the end of the year.

August 10, 2011

Well, we continue to make progress on getting the railroad up and running.  This week I completed several tasks including handlaying a curved turnout at the base of Hawleyville yard; modeled, molded, cast and painted a pair of stone bridge abutments out of hydrocal to support the Whipple truss bridge between Danbury and Bethel, and re-wired all the frog-polarity switches in Hawleyville to connect directly to the power bus lines instead of being daisy-chained together (the way I did it when they were first installed - mistake!).  All of that represents about 12-15 hours I put into the layout this week, mostly on the weekend.  That's a lot of time but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now and I really want to get back to operating.

A hydrocal bridge abutment cast from a rubber mold

By the way, if it looks shorter than the original master it's because it is. I cut it down about an inch as it was too tall, the new height is just about right.

This weeks' work session was good too - We had a first-timer down, Jim Fawcett, who did me a big favor by painting the water surface of the mill pond in Winnipauk.  I've been working on this scene for a while now and hesitant to attempt the job because of my color blindness, and he was willing to take a crack at it.  I handed him my tray of acrylic paints and let him have at it!  I thought he did a great job - the deepest parts of the pond came out a dark black-green, and that color transitions to a muddy brown and wet-sand tan color out at the edges.  I'll let his work dry for a few days and then hit it with one or two coats of gloss medium to give it a wet appearance, and when that dries I'll touch-up the crests of the waves with a white dry-brush for subtle whitecaps.  Jim also installed a couple of Caboose ground throws in the new staging tracks west of Hawleyville, and next session we'll install a couple more at the East staging tracks just outside the utility room.

I gave Tom the job of getting the new abutments installed, which turned out to be more involved than I expected.  Since there are three bridges to go in here of three different kinds (an iron through truss bridge, a stone arch bridge, and an iron deck truss bridge) and they sit pretty close together, it's a bit of a juggling job to get everything in place harmoniously.  Plus, Tom put a lot of time into trying to get the best look lining up the bridges one in front of the other, and we had to make a couple of adjustments until he was satisfied it looked right.  I appreciated him taking the time to do that. 

We had to carve out a few inches of scenic foam on the south bank to move the bridges back a bit, but in the end we could see it was the right choice.  this coming week I'll see if I can get the abutments for the Whipple through truss bridge and the stone arch bridge glued in place, and start to set up some of the landforms that will make up the banks of the Still River to either side.  Tom rightly pointed out that we will have to deal with the scenic elements sooner rather than later because once the bridges are in place it will be very tough to paint water or put in trees.  It's like dealing with the construction of Wilson Point all over again.

Dave came down a little later and we discussed the turnout we were going to need to install in Bethel for the station / House track.  Dave had volunteered the week before to build it.  We originally thought it was going to need to be a curved turnout but after looking at it we decided a #6 wye would be best here.  Rather than try to build it in place, Dave glued a paper template from Fast Tracks to a hunk of Homasote and sat down at my workbench to build it.  He used a combination of track spikes to hold everything in place, until he could solder the rails to several PC ties he built the switch on top of.  It worked out great, the finished turnout will be a drop-in replacement there.  I also found a plave to install one of the BK Enterprises #6 stub switches I found a few weeks ago on an industry track in Bethel.  I hope to get them both installed this Sunday.

And as for me, I tried to clean up a bit and also did some wiring work, finishing the hook-up of some track feeders and frog-polarity switches in New Milford. 

July 29, 2011

I was getting tired of everyone asking me when I was going to be installing the Whipple truss bridge at Danbury, so a couple of days ago I made a bridge abutment. I first tried to use artist's gesso spread over a wood block; the idea was to wait for it to get tacky and them carve the stone face into it. The get the stone face I had wrapped the gesso in crumpled aluminum foil so it would pick up that texture. Well, it didn't work at all, the gesso bonded to the foil and I had to throw it away and start over. This time I used a coating of hydrocal over another wood block, and I got the stome face this time by slapping a flat stick against the hydrocal surface as it set up, which geve me a pretty good surface to work on. Just sort of happened by accident.

Wood and Hydrocal bridge abutment

Anyway, I used some dental tools to carve and chip away grooves in the plaster and came away with a useable stone abutment master. I painted it with gloss paint (I had Red around so I used it) and very soon I'll make and pour a rubber mold of it to make the actual abutments I'll be using to install the bridge on. Very exciting!

July 26, 2011

A lot has happened lately but really not a lot that shows; meaning it’s mostly behind the scenes stuff.  A lot of wiring and track tuning has been the focus of late, but there are a few new things.  We recently completed all the trackwork and wiring in Danbury, the passenger terminal there is now all hooked up and ready to run.  We've fixed several electrical issues that have come up thanks to some wiring changes between Danbury and Hawleyville, and we still have a few to address. The new staging tracks representing the New York and New England and the Housatonic's New Haven and Bridgeport lines are all in, and just need switch machines to be installed to control the entry and exits (I haven't decided yet if I'll use servos or caboose ground throws yet, either would work). 

The Ball Signal at Catherine Street was recently finished; it is now animated with a servo that pushes the red ball up and down, controlled by the Dock Yard Yardmaster through an Octopus servo controller.  I love animated details on a model railroad.  I'm looking forward to building and animating a series of train order semaphores at some point in the future. Click on the link in this paragraph to see a short video of it in action.

Let’s see, what else?  I built up my very first Stub switch a month or so ago, and installed it up in New Milford.  I’ve wanted to have a few of these on the layout since we started, but hesitated because they can be difficult to set up.  Two innovations from different sources helped make it a success – Tim Warris from Fast Tracks recommended soldering short rail joiners to the bridle (throwbar) to keep the moving rails (there are no ‘points’ on a stub turnout) from binding, allowing a smooth curve into the reversed leg, and Andy Dodge came up with a method of limiting the moving rails by soldering hard wire pins to the sides of the stock rails for the moving rails to rest against.  The combination of ideas worked out great, I’ll try to include a few more here and there as we finish up the last few sections of trackwork in New Milford, Bethel and Hawleyville.

Stub Turnout made with Fast Tracks JigStub Turnout made with Fast Tracks JigStub Turnout made with Fast Tracks JigStub Turnout made with Fast Tracks JigStub Turnout made with Fast Tracks Jig

And here's a few pics of it installed in New Milford...

Stub Switch installed in New MilfordStub Switch installed in New MilfordStub Switch installed in New Milford

I also added a new spur siding in Winnipauk for the Norwalk Mills industry.  This was necessary after we re-aligned the tracks a few years ago and lost the space the structure used to sit on.  The old spur is now the house track / team track for the Winnipauk station; and the mill will be relocated to the far side of the tracks.

June 23, 2011

A week or so gone by, and more progress on the Double Warren truss bridges. I've completed two of the truss sides now, complete with all their gusset plates. This takes some time to do, there's a bit of cutting ad fitting going on here. But the results are great so far, two identical truss sides that will soon be another bridge!

A pair of identical trusses!A pair of identical trusses!

June 17, 2011

A few months ago, my friend Jim Schweitzer was up in Connecticut in the New Milford area and took some photos of a bridge on the Housatonic there. When he showed them to me I loved it, and I really wanted a model of it on the railroad. How fortunate for me that when we changed the layout plan last year we decided to include New Milford on the layout (in the space that Brookfield Jct used to be). It was a three-span riveted double Warren truss bridge, a really neat design that, based on my recent experience with the Whipple truss bridge I'd built, I felt I could do a good job on. Jim was kind enough to send me a CD-ROM including all the bridge photos he had taken, and after looking them over (and a trip on Google Maps to see it from a satellite point of view) I was off and running.

Three-span Double Warren Truss Bridge, New Milford, CTThree-span Double Warren Truss Bridge, New Milford, CTThree-span Double Warren Truss Bridge, New Milford, CT

Prototype photos by James Schweitzer

Admittedly, the structure probably dates to some time after my period of 1892, but it is just too cool not to model it. I spent some time recently preparing some construction drawings of the bridge, and when I got to a size and plan that looked like it would fit, I started collecting the parts I would need to model it. The top and bottom chords of the truss, as well as the portals, will be made from Central Valley A-B and B-B girders. The diagonals making up the interior of the truss will be made from Plastruct 1/4" I-beams. And finally the vertical elements will be made from Plastruct 1/4" Warren Truss (lattice) beams. Really, the diagonals should be made from the warren truss beams as you can see in the pictures. But they are very expensive compared to the standard beams, annd if I switched around the two types I'd only need half as many to complete each truss. The remainder of the parts will be made from sheet styrene and other parts from the Central Valley donor kits.

Because it is very important for all the trusses in a bridge like this to be identical, I took the time to make a jig that holds all the major truss elements in place until they can be cemented together. The jig is made from a small sheet of masonite with the truss plan glued to it, and small wood blocks glued onto that to hold the various beams in relation to one another. From there, I started assembling girder beams and cutting them to length, and placing them into the jig. When all the parts were in the jig, I cut the necessary gusset plates from sheet styrene and glued them to the girders with MEK cement. When one side was completed, I popped the truss out of the jig and glued the gusset plates on the other side, which finished a single truss side. Then it was back to work to make five more!

A jig to help construct a double warren truss panelPlacing all the beams into the truss jigFirst Double Warren truss nearly finished

May 31, 2011

Recently I had the bug to do a bit of scenery work. I made up some new rock molds from ballast stones I found while railfanning, and since I had the plaster out to make castings from the new molds I did a little more work besides. After smearing a bit of plaster around on the cloth draped over the area inside the Bellinadrop, I painted it brown with latex wall paint. I set down some of the rock castings on top of that after painting them, and smeared some glue around them and used my home-made static grass tool to lay down grass over the flatter surfaces. I built up some of the areas around the rocks with clumps of colored foam and groud foam, and finally I used the gray blend of play sand we bought a while back as ballast for the main line passing through the scene. After a couple of days, this is what it looked like. There's a lot more to do (including painting the water surface and assing gloss medium over it) but it's coming along well if I do say so myself!

May 3, 2011

I finally bit the bullet and got in a new product to use as ballast. After Dave Ramos discovered it last year, I felt I had to give it a try. Dave took a chance for his 30th St. New York Central railyard scene and bought and used black play sand. Turned out it worked really, really well and was a fraction of the cost of other types of 'ballast' you can buy from model railroad stores. Some of it is in crazy bright colors but enough is in regular colors like black, white and gray. So I took the plunge and ordered about 50 pounds of play sand myself in a number of colors. Mostly gray, but I bought some white and teal to mix into it for a little variety. And I picked up some of the black too in case I needed more cinder fill in any of the yards. Anyway, it came in a few days ago and I spent a couple of hours transferring it from the bags it shipped in to more user-friendly buckets and cups. I also took some time and mixed up what will be my ballast color, which is 10 parts gray, 1 part white and 1/2 part teal sand. I did a couple of inches to see how it would look and I'm very happy with it! I also bought some dispenser bottles with long come tips from the vendor to help get the sane where you want it, it works better than a teaspoon. So far it seems like a win!

April 22, 2011

Here's a few more upgraded trainset cars I made up a few days ago. this time I was a little more careful than I was with the Lackawanna Line car, and gloss-coated the cars first. These two represent cars from the Old Colony RR and the N.Y., West Shore & Buffalo. they still need to be given a shot of dullcoat and then weathered.

Newly decaled trainset carsNewly decaled trainset cars

April 18, 2011

The walkway planks and ties are installed, painted and weathered on the Danbury Turntable, and I got a small piece of bronze shim stock soldered to the same rail that contacts the power tab from the drive axle. Plus the rails (and the tab) have been painted. This pretty much completes the Danbury Turntable.

This smallmetal tab conducts power from the turntable drive axle to the rail.

April 13, 2011
Had a great work session yesterday, we worked on getting the switch controllers in Danbury installed.  For a while I have been trying to come up with a better way to mount the electrical switches that comtrol turnout position and frog polarity , which are actuated by the barrel bolt switch throws I use along the fascia of my layout. I had an idea to create a 'Switchbox' that would hold two switches aligned together and imcorporate a plunger that would throw them together. I'm very pleased to report I created a few prototypes using sheet and tube styrene, a roofing nail and a small linoleum brad, and together it all seems to work quite well! They seem to make the switch throw setup much simpler, make setting everything up a snap.  We got eight controllers installed, from the miniature barrel bolts on the control shelves to the switchboxes behind them, and managed to connect up all the control wires to the Octopus controller, and got all the switches throwing correctly when the bolt is thrown, and got all the frog power feeders and control wires soldered to the switches in the switchbox.  All the servos are now powered and happy as little blue and white clams as they swing back and forth. I think I will take the nicest one and send it to my buddy Jeff Adam at Motrak Models and have him cast me a bunch in resin!

A simple box I constructed that holds two lever switches and a plungerA simple box I constructed that holds two lever switches and a plungerA simple box I constructed that holds two lever switches and a plungerSmall Barrel bolts I found for controlling the turnouts on narrow shelves

I did learn that I missed a switch machine so there are actually nine that need controllers - which is a problem because an Octopus will only control eight!  But since I'll need another controller for the Hawleyville engine service area on the other side of the peninsula, I'll just run an extra line from that controller to the ninth switch on the Danbury side.  It'll all work out all right.  So this weekend I'll be doing a lot of tuning work on the switch machines and turnouts to get them all working well.

April 11, 2011

The Whipple truss bridge is finished! I finally completed the lower chord and added the tension wires for the first panel, and painted the whole thing. It's ready to be installed now, I just need to get the abutments made now.

The completed Whipple truss bridgeThe completed Whipple truss bridgeThe completed Whipple truss bridge

The completed Whipple truss bridge

April 8, 2011

Played around with some trainset cars I recently upgraded and repainted tonight. A while back I'd prepared some Delaware, Lackawanna & Western "Lackawanna Line" decals but never got around to using any of them. I have some set aside for F&C 1890 boxcar kits I will build one day, but I decided to use a set on one of the trainset cars just to see how it would look. I rushed it of course and reglected to put on a coat of gloss paint before application, so the decal had issues when I tried to get it to settle on without showing the film. Oh well. I weathered it a bit to try and hide the decal edges (that didn't work so well either) but its finished now, and it will be just fine as a placeholder for years to come until it can be replaced with a more accurate model. I'm actually looking forward to making up some of the F&C cars and getting them running as well. I need more New Jersey and Pennsylvania cars running on this layout!

Upgraded trainset car with DL&W Decals

April 6, 2011

We had a good work session last night.  Neil and Tom showed up first, and they got to work on adding track to the staging yard in the utility room.  I gave them some old Lima flextrack I've had forever, a couple of packages of Atlas rerailers and an old Shinohara 3-way switch I got ages ago.  Dave modified the switch to make it DCC friendly last month, so they got to work installing all of that.  It's a good way to use up older, clunky-looking materials that would otherwise end up in the trash, but are fine for staging purposes.

Dave arrived a bit later and he and I worked on adding fascia and control shelves to the Danbury area.  We had cut several strips of masonite fascia on my tablesaw earlier in the week when the weather was better, and we worked our way along the edge of the benchwork.  We marked and cut lengths to fit over the benchwork edge and mounted them, then we identified the areas where we needed to install control shelves and cut lengths of 1x3 to fill them.  We had to use about 4 or 5 separate boards to go around an inside curve at the throat of the coach yard.  We used my Kreg pocket hole jig to screw the shelves into the fascia from below - and not behind - which worked really well.  The 1x3's are narrower than the shelves around the rest of the layout (1x4) because I'm trying to conserve head and shoulder space in what is a fairly tight human area for my layout.  I'll use smaller barrel bolts controls here to keep the barrels from sticking out into the human space.

Scary Ted showed up sometime later, and I asked him to go around and staple the bus and feeder wires around Danbury and the staging tracks on the other side up and out of the way.  I also asked him to find a piece of Masonite and mount a Tam Valley Depot Octopus board to it so the board could be attached under the benchwork with one screw, and taken down quickly if necessary for maintenance or programming.  He used some left-over servo parts (screws and rubber mounting pads) to attach the PC board to the masonite panel which worked well.  That was a big help and we got a lot of the servos plugged into the board before everyone left.

Actually Ted had a really good idea that I thought a lot more about after the session, to use a set of metal friction clips that would grip the masonite panel and hold it in place, but you'd be able to pull off the panel in a moment if needed and re-mount it without tools.  I'm going to look into making this happen, great idea Ted!  Thanks!

At the end of the night the braintrust working on the staging yard reported they were finished, but they had neglected to drill out holes underneath the turnout throwbars for switch machine mounting and did not realize it until they had already glued everything down!  They also added masonite fences along the edge of the staging yard to keep cars from falling to the floor when handling them, which was good thinking on their part - but I think I'll take them down and replace them with a flexible elastic-cord fence that won't get it the way so much. 

There was also some debate about the order in which the bridges between Bethel and Danbuty / Hawleyville should be placed.  I've planned all along to place the large Whipple through truss bridge I've been building in the foreground of this river crossing on the Bethel / Danbury route, with the open deck truss behind that on the Bethel / Hawleyville route, and the Double arch stone bridge in the back on the Hawleyvill bypass route.  Neil didn't like that, he felt the large through truss bridge blocked the view of the other bridges in the scene, and re-arranged them into what he felt was a more pleasing order:  The open deck truss bridge in front, the stone arch bridges in the middle and the Whipple truss bridge in the back. 

Neil argued that the deck truss in front allows you to see the stone bridge behind it, and because the first two are deck bridges (the tracks are laid on top of them) you can still see the Whipple through truss bridge behind them very well.  He's right - it is more aestetically pleasing - but from my point of view it puts the bridge I'm most interested in all the way in the back, and the plastic kit bridge all the way in the front.  I think Neil was surprised when I agreed with him, and even more surprised when I said I would probably take his advice and make the changes.  I'm not sure why everyone is surprised by this - my crew are smart guys and I'd be foolish not to listen to them.  I don't do everything they suggest but I try to give every suggestion a fair shake, and I actually accept a lot of them in whole or in part. 

All in all everyone seemed to have a good time and much important work got done.

March 26, 2011

About a month since the last update. Some progress has been made, the turntable at Danbury is nearly complete, so is a lot of the trackwork there. I've even nearly finished with the Whipple Truss bridge too, it's time to start thinking about making some abutments to rest the bridge on for installation.

One project I took on recently was a favor for my friend Jeff Adam of Motrak Models. He has a new craftsman kit coming out soom called the MOW Shed, and when I told him how much I liked the design he asked me to build the first one as a beta test for the kit and the instructions. I had to get it done quickly, so when it came last week I dropped most everything else and started working on it nonstop. After about 3 days I was finished, and the photos below are the nearly finished kit. It still needs a few details like the stovepipe and some weathering, but you get the idea.

The Motrak Models MOW ShedThe Motrak Models MOW ShedThe Motrak Models MOW Shed

I like it so much I'm probably going to buy several of them as section houses and place them at various spots around the layout. This one will eventually be located in Winnipauk. I painted in in the freight services scheme of my railroad, iron oxide red and medium gray trim. I used a drybrushing technique on the walls to make it look like the paint has peeled a bit. I'm not usually one for heavily distressing structures, this is about as wild as I get.

February 27, 2011

I've been on a roll! More done on the Whipple Truss bridge in the last couple of days. I reworked the portal bracing and the struts along the top that join the two trusses at the panel points, and started gluing them in place. Since this bridge is a bit narrower than the Central Valley Pratt Truss kit, the modifications were important to get right. I added diagonal braces across the panel points at the top, and when the glue had set up I did a test fit of the truss on top of the bridge floor. Pay no attention to the loops of wire connecting the truss to the floor, this was a bad idea that was abandoned soon after I took these photos. The prototype bridge had them, but they caused too much of a registration problem on the model so off they came.

As you can see I still have not dealt with attaching the lower chord to the bridge portal yet, or the tension rods that support the first link of the lower chord on both end. Soon enough that will happen, but I want to know everything works as it should before making the final connections.

The modifications to the connecting truss strutsThe truss sitting on the floor, together for the first timeA view of the Whipple truss bridge from the portal

February 24, 2011

For the second night in a row, much production was realized.  Dave came over to help out and between us we got a few things done.  While I worked on building a twenty-something degree crossing by the turntable in Danbury, Dave cut in a turnout that would lead to that crossing off one of the station tracks.  Then he ran a length of track from the west turntable switch to the turntable.  And finally he took a bunch of flextrack and laid the NY&NE line from the staging yard in the utility closet to the switch by the entrance to Hawleyville yard.  All the while I kept working on the crossing, even after he finally went home, until about midnight when I finished it.  It still needs to be tuned but it is pretty much done. 

And much has been done on getting the Danbury Turntable closer to completion. You can see in the photos that the wooden ties have been added and the track has been fixed down to the bridge. The bridge itself has been painted black, and soon it will be time to trim the bridge rails to length. I'm a little dismayed though that I seem to have misjudged the rail height of the completed bridge, the whole turntable seems to be about 1/8" too high to sit comfortably with the tracks leading to it.

Start of the crossing in Danbury Terminal YardCrossing nearly completedThe Danbury Turntable is nearly completed

February 23, 2011

A good work session tonight, I had help from Ted Pamperin and a new person, Phil Chiavetta.  We got a pretty good amount of work done in a couple of hours, I was quite pleased.  Phil was a huge help and managed to wrestle the small forest of feeder wires under the Danbury yard throat into submission, getting them hooked up to the bus lines so the power will flow to the rails.  While he was doing that, Ted and I worked on starting to get two of the three bridges crossing the Still River between Bethel and Danbury / Hawleyville built and installed. 

First we tackled the two stone arch bridges that will carry the Hawleyville Wye track (formerly the LY Cutoff), trimming their height and getting them more or less into place.  The bridges are made from Hydrocal by Jeff Adam of Motrak Models, who told me to trim the height of the castings I should just mark a cutting line and carefully use a saw to remove the waste.  I was a little nervous but he was right, the saw cut through the plaster like cold butter and did not crack or chip.   I used a japanese style saw that has a thin kerf and many agressive needle-sharp teeth; I'm sure an american style saw with a thicker blade and wider teeth would have worked too - but I'm glad I used the one I did.  The two bridges now fit nicely under the track that goes along the route closest to the wall.

The middle bridge was next.  Here I am using an interesting deck-truss bridge made by a German company that I bought from Scenic Express at the Springfield show.  They call it a half-timbered bridge but it doesn't lookt at all like it's made from wood.  Actually I'm using two of them because one span was not long enough to bridge the gap.  Ted and I decided the best way to plan how the bridge would go in was to go ahead and actually build the spans and the abutments (They come with the bridge kit) and fit them into place. 

So we assembled the two kits (very well engineered, we both felt) and trimmed the height of the abutments with a razor saw to fit in the scene.  With two spans we needed a center pier, but a simple solution turned out to be kitbashing one from the additional abutment parts in the second kit.  We propped up all the parts in the scene and discovered the combined span was a bit too long, I'll remove one section on the truss on each side and it should be just right.  It did look really good and should be an excellent addition to the scene.

When Phil was done with the feeder wires I asked him to do a little track maintenance up around the east end of Hawleyville where I had left a small gap in the track that needed to be filled.  He also soldered on a stray feeder he found while he was up there.  Not long after that we called it a night.

This weekend I have to get some more work done on the Whipple truss bridge which will be the third and final one to span the still river at this location, and get the stone arch bridge and deck truss abutments painted to go into the scene as well.  If there is time I want to start laying in some of the riverbanks around the three bridges scene with some styrofoam chunks, and maybe even get a layer of plaster cloth over it so I can start getting the river scene set up.

February 19, 2011

Once again the itch to start model building has come upon me, as it does from time to time. But unlike my regular M.O. which is to start yet another project, I elected to get back to work on one I had already begun last year. Namely, the Whipple Truss bridge that will go over the Still River between Bethel and Danbury. Attention has been focused here lately because we are nearly finished with the surrounding trackwork and this bridge (plus two others) has to get built and installed if we are to reconnect the tracks and get back to operating.

Some time back, I had been having a lot of trouble trying to fabricate the eye bars for this bridge. It is a pin-connected type, and uses eye bars as the lower chord and as diagonal bracing within the panels of the truss. I tried a lot of things to get the parts I needed, including cutting them out of cardstock with scissors and hobby knives, making one set of really good ones and molding / casting them in resin, and a few other zany ideas that I won't even mention. Nothing I tried was consistent enough to make regular and identical parts for use on the bridge in the numbers I needed. Frankly it stopped me cold on this project and it languished on my work bench for months while I tried to figure out what to do.

Finally I approached Bernie Kempinski of Alkem Scale Models, a friend who owns a laser cutter. Bernie was able to take a CAD drawing from me of the eye bars and straps I needed, and cut them on his laser out of laserboard (which is a resin-impregnated cardstock product). A few weeks later I got a package from Bernie with the parts, and they were perfect! As you would expect they were exactly uniform in shape and size, and the fit on the model was nearly perfect (I was off a couple of thousandths on the length - big deal!) So thanks to Bernie I was back in business again.

One of the first things I did was to drill the holes in the bridge truss vertical girders to accept the steel pins that would be used to assemble the rest of the truss. It's vitally important that the holes all be the exact same distance down from the top chord of the bridge or the chain of eye bars will not be straight, and the appearance of the bridge will suffer. So I got out my calipers and carefully marked where each hole had to be drilled in each vertical, and then drilled them out.

Using a caliper to mark and drill pin holes on the truss

With the piano wire pins cut and installed in the truss, I started adding the laser-cut eye bars and straps to the model. I was thrilled, they fit nearly perfectly and looked amazing! I quickly learned I had to file the pin holes in the eye bars a bit to get the fit exactly where I wanted it, but that was no problem compared to the trouble I'd already been through with this. the parts went on smoothly and quickly and in what seemed like no time the truss was starting to look very complete! Note how the diagonal straps overlap the next vertical girder as they rise to the top of the truss, this pattern is what makes it a Whipple Truss design.

Sheet of laser cut eye bars and straps, first parts installed on trussMore eye bars installed on trussMore eye bars installed on truss

Closeup of eye bars and straps on both sides of trussAnother closeup of eye bars and straps

With the eye bars and straps applied, the next step was the cross-bracing in the truss. Whipple Truss bridges used an iron rod to counter-brace the straps within the truss, and to represent those I chose to use .021" piano wire. Brass wire would have been easier to use, but it's so soft I was afraid that even gentle handling of the bridge might cause the wire to bend, which would destroy the realism I was working so hard to convey. Steel music wire is much harder to work with but would never bend with casual contact, you'd have to destroy the entire model to force a bend into it. So I formed a number of lengths of wire with a simple eye loop in one end and simply a straight end on the other. I disassembled the joints at the bottom where the wires had to be placed, wove them through the center of the vertical beams and up into the top chord of the truss, then passed the steel pin at the bottom through the bracing rod and re-assembled the joint.

Steel wire Bracing Rods added to the truss

It was about this time I was really regretting not having made the joint pins longer, the eye bars kept falling off them as I moved the truss around. I tried gluing the laserboard parts together, but it turns out they don't adhere well with PVA (white or yellow) glues. Eventually I had to scrape that off and use CA cement instead, which worked a lot better. To complete holding everything on and cover up the joints around the pins, Bernie had also cut me a large number of hex nuts from the same laserboard material, and those got glued over the ends of the pins, hiding the bits of filing I had to do on the eye bars. To say I was thrilled with how it all worked out is an understatement.

Finally I also got some work done on the floor of the bridge. I'd originally tried to use the diagonal floor bracing provided with the Central Valley bridge kit, but because I had doubled up the number of floor beans to make the Whipple design they did not fit well at all. I removed them and replaced the floor bracing with gusset plates cut out of sheet styrene and braces from styrene strip. I was much happier with how this looked when it was all done. After that I cut off the small diagonal gusets on the top edges of the floor beams, because I wasn't sure if they would end up interfering with the bridge track one it went down later. It was a lot easier to take it off now, so I did.

Scratch-built diagonal floor bracingScratch-built diagonal floor bracingThe small gussets at the tops of the floor girders have been removed

February 9, 2011

Well, again I've gone far too long without updating the construction journal.  Partly because in recent months there has not been much to report on.  The holidays put a damper on things, plus several trips to RPM meets and train shows (Prototype Rails Cocoa Beach and the West Springfield Train Show) in January cut into a lot of time thet would have been devoted to the railroad.  Add in the crazy winter weather we've been having here in NJ since the end of December (record snowfalls one after the next) and its easy to see why not much has been happening.  Every time I schedule a work session lately we get another 18" of snow!  But that is starting to change now that February is upon us.

So lets recap a bit:  The big project since the Summer has been working on the big changes to Danbury, which is being split into two locations, Danbury and Hawleyville, mostly down the middle of the peninsula it sits on.  The loop track has been removed, a wye into Hawleyville is almost completed at the base of the peninsula, and the primary track for both Hawleyville and Danbury is now nearly completed.  A new turntable is getting installed in Danbury to support the passenger terminal there, and a similar one will be going in across from it at Hawleyville soon for the freight trains. 

Two new small active staging yards are going in to represent more offline connections out of Hawleyville (particularly the Eastern branches of the Housatonic to Bridgeport and New Haven and the New York & New England East and West.  One is already in, the other is nearing completion.  With some luck and even more help we should be ready for some shakedown sessions in a month or so. 

Tonight was a very productive work session, the first with more than 2-3 people in some time.  I was pleased to have Scary Ted, Ted Pamperin, Neil Henning, Tom Callan and Dave Ramos all present and working hard to get things done.  The big nut to crack lately has been the electrical requirements of the new track sections.  Many of the remaining gaps in the track were filled with flextrack by Neil, and many feeder wires were dropped and soldered around the Danbury passenger terminal and opposite that in the NY&NE East staging yard courtesy of Dave Ramos, Ted Pamperin and Tom Callan.  Scary Ted helped out by assembling and installing a bunch of servo switch motors for many of the new turnouts I built and installed over the last few months. 

Later, Neil helped me by cutting in the last turnout to complete the last leg of the Hawleyville wye in Bethel, and had to re-direct the roadbed a bit to make it fit.  That turnout will be installed later this week, along with an auto-reverser made by Tam Valley Depot to control the electrical polarity on that leg of the wye (which would otherwise cause a short-circuit).  And later in the session, Ted and Tom started installing the benchwork for the NY&NE West staging yard in the utility room.  Tom brought this neat pipe clamp that takes a length of 3/8" threaded rod that they attached to the gas line for the water heater that will serve as an intermediate support, and then built brackets on either end of the utility closet to support the rest of the board.  Now it just needs homasote and some track to be completed.

It felt really good to be making progress on the layout again!  I'm hoping my friends and I can keep the momentum going for the next month or so and get the railroad beck to running condition.  I think once we do we will see a lot of benefits from the changes we've made over the last year.

Go back to Volume Twelve - March 2010 thru December 2010  

Welcome Page     Links Page     Send E-Mail