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Layout Construction Journal

Volume Seven - July 2006 through the present

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December 28, 2006

In the last work session before the big operating session next week, we managed to get a lot of important tasks done, which really took the pressure off me for this coming weekend.  My list of tasks to complete is still long, but no longer insurmountable.  As always my thanks to everyone who came down and helped, it is greatly appreciated.

I was pleased that Ted Pamperin came out to see what was going on with the Housatonic.  Ted is a great guy who lives out in Northwestern NJ, and is working on a C&O layout of his own.  Weíve met several times and spent some time together during the NMRA National convention this past year.  I spent a little time showing him around, and after that he jumped right in with Ted DiIorio to complete a few projects around Standard Oil (SO).  They got a new throttle plugin plate installed at SO (it never had one before), doing a little re-wiring around the base of Wilson Point to do it. 

After that they picked up where Ted left off last week with the SO tail track.  By the end of the evening they had it installed and working, which Iím really glad of.  At the same time I tried to finish the installation of the switch machines at SO but I was getting in their way.  Eventually I abandoned that plan, giving them room to work. 

Rob was down again and continued his work on the Wilson Point roundhouse roof.  He nearly got finished with it when we discovered that the last couple of door frames on the front of the building do not follow the constant radius they should, and getting the roof panels to fit properly was going to be a problem.  Not his fault, but the pre-cut panels donít fit and we will have to cut new ones.  Unfortunately weíre out of plastic shingle sheets so finishing the roof will have to wait until we can get more material.

Wayne was down (and shocked that the basement was still relatively clean) and helped out by cleaning some of the new track installed since the last op session, as well as all of Standard Oil.  I think I ended up under-utilizing him again, which I feel bad about.  I was running around answering questions and finding tools for folks and such and never got back to him.  But I really appreciate the work he did do.

Finally, after a month-long absence, Ray was down (just in time) and helped get the last few fusees installed on the lower level, including fixing the issue we came up with regarding protecting the towns on either side of the utility closet.  He installed another switch and LED on the other side of the closet, and exchanged the activating switches so that now the right switch lights the left LED, and vice-versa.  This will hold a train (or at least indicate there may be an obstacle ahead) before heading into the closet, where an unseen cornfield meet might happen.  Iím very, very glad he was able to do this before the op session.

For my part, I was able to reconnect the main line the following night by putting in the two switches for the new milk siding north of Winnipauk, and Iíll have the siding track spiked in Friday night and the switch machines installed on Saturday.  My plan is to also finish the switch machines at SO as well, then finish building and decaling about a dozen new cars for the railroad.  And on top of that I STILL need to make up and print all the waybills for the car cards.

Going to be a busy weekend and week leading up to the sessionÖ

December 20, 2006

Better turnout than I expected on the week before Christmas.  Tom arrived first, and I asked him to start working on the fascia we needed for the Standard Oil module.  He got going right away, and a little while later Neil arrived and started helping him out.  I tried to get some new switch machines installed but I was having trouble concentrating tonight.  I went upstairs to cut the switch shelf for them, and wen I came back they had them all installed.  Oh well, nice problem to have.  The new switch machines do install very quickly.

Lots of progress made in getting Standard Oil ready to operate! A simple but effective rack to hold the train cards in staging.

Ted arrived soon after and I asked him to build a simple board with cup hooks to hold all the train cars for the Staging area.  He grabbed the last 1x2 (needed 15 minutes later by Tom and Neil -- D'oh!) and cut out a straight section of it, then drilled holes for and mounted cup hooks in it.  We then mounted it on the wall in staging and now we have a place to store the train cards in staging too.  Later, Ted built the Standard Oil track extension for me.  This will be an 18" board with track on it, hinged to collapse out of the way when not needed, that hangs off the end of the Standard Oil benchwork.  Its purpose is to make switching the oil plant easier.  We would have mounted it but I couldn't find the hinges!

Rob was down too and made more progress on the roundhouse roof panels.  

More progress on the Wilson Point roundhouse roof.

And last but not least, Dave was down for a little while before going home to pack for his family trip to Florida.  He stayed just long enough to get a #5 Fast Tracks turnout built for me that I need to put in the Wilton Creamery siding.  I hope to get that in over the weekend of next week, we'll see if that works out.  There is still a lot to do at Standard Oil to get if functional, though it is now all wired (I spent the last part of the evening under there soldering in the lever switches to control the frog polarity on all the turnouts).  I think it can all be finished with 3-4 more hours of work, then all I need to do is tie in the power sub-bus to the main power but and it's ready to go!  OK, well, the track will need to be cleaned too.

Just over two weeks now until our next op session and there's still so much to do.  I think I'll be ready, though.

December 15, 2006

Well, it's been two weeks since my last update.  Sorry about that, we had a death in the extended family and a lot of time got used up in dealing with that.  I did manage to get some work done the week before, including painting up the last of the new shelves around Wilson Point and Dock Yard, and getting started on installing the new switch machines.  Didn't get too far on that, though, and I decided it would be best to wait on that until after the next operating session, when I'll have six weeks to attack that problem.  Instead I've decided to devote the next two weeks to getting the Standard Oil section ready to run for the next session.  It's only 7 switch machines to install and a few feeder drops.  I think we can get it done in time, and if we don't it won't hurt anything if it sits unfinished.

The transition from pull knobs to barrel bolts at Dock Yard begins...

I also spent some time last weekend working on some more milk cars.  I liked the two I made a few weeks ago so much that I ordered supplies to build four more of them, and last Sunday I started working on that.  I spent about six hours recucing four express reefers and four Overton coaches to the needed parts.  I applied a few lessons I learned on the last few (don't assemble the cars until AFTER they are painted, for one) and spent a little time tonight starting to put them together.  I hope to take them out early tomorrow and get them into a coat of primer, and it they dry quickly enough get a few coats of yellow paint on them (black on the roofs and underframes).

During the week I also took a few photos of a Borden's creamery and ice house I came across and started working up a set of plans for it.  My model comes out at about 5" wide and 30" long, and will sit on the layout between Wilton & Winnipauk.  I'm already planning a very short siding to be placed there, it will hold milk and ice cars to be sent to New York City.  As you might expect, working on the milk cars has started me thinking about where the milk is supposed to come from...

Another project I finished in the last couple of weeks was transcribing a list of about 400 New Jersey industries out of a book loaned to me by Tom Callan.  It was a 1912 Industrial Directory for the state of NJ.  There were tens of tousands of entries, and I culled a short list of names and businesses I thought would still be running in 1892.  This list will get plugged into my Waybills program (by Shenandoah Software) to be used as shippers and receivers for goods entering and leaving my railroad.  I still need to get busy making up waybills for the next session -- I don't have one finished and printed yet.

At the next session I hope to get a lot of help in getting the switch machines at Standard Oil installed, as well as get a bit of fascia hung and another shelf cut and hung too.

November 29, 2006

Wow, great session last night.  We got so much stuff done!  I had a big crowd down and Iím really glad I was prepared for them.  We made a lot of advances towards getting the next operating session ready.

Last week we cut and painted some of the new control shelves that need to go up around Dock Yard, and it was a high priority to get them hung this week.  Ralph was the first to arrive, and asked to help with the shelves, so we got started on that.  It was a struggle from the beginning, because there wasnít much room to work behind the fascia in Dock Yard (last year we extended the benchwork about 6Ē to put in the siding for the Gas Works) and thereís no room to get a power drill in behind there.  So Ralph had to work with this tiny ratcheting right-angle screwdriver to set, and then drive, the 1-5/8Ē drywall screws but hand.  That took a while.

Ralph trying to get the screws started for the new control shelf in Dock Yard. Ralph gets the second control shelf hung in Dock Yard

Dave and Jay arrived shortly after Ralph.  Dave had already told me he wanted to work on Standard Oil, so he went right to work on that area getting the wiring started.  I asked Jay to continue the work I started on the milk cars and he got the needle beams / queenposts and truss rods done on them, which was a big help.  I can get them painted now.  Dave installed new bus lines under SO and got all the existing feeders hooked up to them.  I think we will need to do more; Iíll try to work on that this weekend if I can.

Dave works on getting the feeder wires under Standard Oil hooked up to a bus line. Jay works on my milk cars, getting the underframe details squared away.

Tom arrived next, and I asked him to continue the work we had done the week before.  I had forgotten last week we needed to extend the shelves around the edge of Wilson Point.  Tom grabbed a few 1x4ís and got going on making up the last couple of shelves.  He did a really nice job with it too.  The parts he cut fit really well.

Ted came down, and I asked him to start hanging the new car card boxes under the shelves where they were needed.  Tom joined him after he had finished his project and they quickly got all the boxes hung under the existing shelves.  Rather than wait around, they both got going on helping Ralph put up shelves, so now we had two teams doing that.  They would hang a new shelf, put up the car card box, and go on to the next.

Tom works on hanging a control shelf at Wilson Point. The car card box sits on the layout waiting its turn to be installed. A not so scary Ted picture! Tom tries to screw in a control shelf with limited clearance behind.  He feels Ralphs' pain!

About this time there was a loud popping noise, and Ralph sprung up from the floor.  Apparently he has bad knees and one of them went on him as he was kneeling of the concrete floor.  I wish Iíd known, I could have given him a cushion to lean on.  I wanted him to stop, but he declared it was now a moral imperative to finish the shelf he was working on, and he gutted through it and finished that job.  Kudos, Ralph.  Next time you get a sit-down job!

Rob arrived later in the evening, and got back to work on the roundhouse roof.  Unfortunately he ran out of the airplane glue Iíd given him to work with (after just 3 panels) and was having trouble making the MEK work, it evaporated too quickly.  I have to try and pick up some more glue for him, maybe another 4-5 tubes will be enough Ė Iím surprised the whole thing didnít melt down into a puddle.  Iíll bet itíll never move now, though!

Rob poses with the Roundhouse and it's new roof.  Some of it, anyway. Neil fits the blank covers over the old car card boxes that can't be used anymore.

The last person to arrive was Neil, who had just returned from his family vacation.  I and asked him to glue Masonite covers over the old in-fascia car card boxes weíd built two years ago.  He did that, and then stepped in for Tom and Ralph when they had to leave.  At the end of the evening, Neil and I got the last couple of shelves around Dock Yard hung and put up the last of the car card boxes.

So thanks to a lot of good friends showing up, and good planning on my part, I think we got at least two or three weeks worth of work done.  To say Iím pleased with the efforts tonight is an understatement.  Iím feeling very confident about being ready for the next operating session, all the new infrastructure should be in place to support car-card and waybill operations! 

November 26, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving to you!  It's been a nice long weekend of modeling for me, an early Xmas present of sorts.  Thursday before the in-laws were over I got to work on the car card boxes and shelves that Wayne painted -- Turns out he was a little sloppier than I would have liked, I spent a lot of time peeling newspaper off the dried parts, and then sanding off drip marks.  It took a little longer that I would have liked but I was going to have to give them a second coat anyway.  They were nice and dry by Saturday morning -- I hope to get them hung before tonight is out.

Saturday I hung out with the family and worked on small projects upstairs throughout the day.  I started off by working on switch machines, getting the motion arms screwed to the bases.  They I pulled out a project I'd started last month, making grindstone loads for a couple of flatcars.  Some time ago I'd made the grindstones from a dowel, now I broke out the stripwood and built the blocking that would hold everything in place.  It took a few hours but I'm really happy with how it came out.

My handmade grindstone load

Later that evening after dinner and playing some games with the family, I went down to the basement.  In the process of cleaning a few things up I came across some express reefer kits I'd bought back in February as kitbashing material to make period milk cars from.  I was still in a mood to do some modeling, so I grabbed them and a couple of old overton coaches and started cutting.  Having a bandsaw and a table saw makes the kitbashing process go much faster.  By the end of the evening I had bashed the two type of cars together to get a serviceable pair of milk cars for the Housatonic.  They still need truss rods, roof ventilators and some handrail details bet they will be ready to go very soon.  I'm also considering whether to remove the reefer doors and replace them with a set of inward-opening doors which would be more appropriate for a 19th century milk car.

Two of my newly kitbashed milk cars Two of my newly kitbashed milk cars

November 22, 2006

Despite bad weather the day before Thanksgiving, we still had a good turnout.  Ted and Dave arrived first, with Wayne showing up a close third.  I asked Wayne to paint the car card boxes and shelves for me, Dave to work on the track around Wilton (finishing up a siding) and Tom to help me with cutting and fitting the new shelves to go in around Dock Yard.  It's a little easier with help, especially trying to hold two long pieces of wood while you try to determine the right cutting angle...  Tom and I got everything cut for Dock Yard and handed it of to Wayne to paint.  He did a pretty good job, but it's all going to need a second coat.  Guess I know what I'll be doing tomorrow before the family arrives for Thanksgiving.  Too late I realized we should have cut the shelves to finish up around Wilson Point too.  Guess I'l be doing them myself tomorrow also.

Dave hams it up as he finishes up spiking down rails for the Holmes Keeler & Selleck Co. in Wilton. Horray, another industry siding to work! First coat of paint on the shelves and car card boxes to be hung soon.

Rob arrived sometime thereafter, and got to work on attaching the the shingle panels to the top of the Wilson Point roundhouse.  I feel kind of bad, because he has to sand off all the red paint to get the plastic panels to stick.  But he did a good job and got the first few panels on before the night was over.  I'm sure he'll get more done next time.  He seems very happy with the way it is working out.

Rom works on setting the shingles (Plastruct sheet goods) onto the Wilson Point roundhouse.  Sorry about all that paint you have to take off, Rob! Ted cleans up the remaining mess in Wilson Point to help all the cars there run smoother.  It's not the most fun work but it is important!

Ted came down a little later and I asked him to look at the punch list from the last Op session to find and correct some of the problems we encountered.  He did a great job clearing out the flangeways on the Dock Yard tracks around the station, which were a big problem last time, and tried to do a little more but I wasn't ready for him.  I should have asked him to finish the assembly of the new switch machines I started earlier in the week.  I have 20 or so in various states of assembly that could have been worked on.  Oh well, if they still aren't done next week maybe he can help out with those.

November 20, 2006

Well, family commitments kept me from getting a lot of work done this weekend, but I did manage to do one project.  When I decided a few months back to change the turnout controls for the switches to the barrel bolt mechanisms, it turned out all the car card boxes Iíd already built around Wilson Point and Dock Yard were no longer viable.  The new shelves (required for mounting the barrel bolts) run across the tops of the recessed boxes, and you canít reach or see inside of them now.  Clearly another solution is now required, and one that will also work at all the other lower-level towns - even if they don't already have the recessed boxes.

I came up with a new design a few weeks ago that I think will work well.  Rather than having a vertically oriented box as I originally did, I changed the design to sit horizontally and mount underneath the new shelves.  To keep the cards from falling out I set the bases of the boxes to slope back toward the bottom at a 15* angle.  I spent about three to four hours working on these Saturday, cutting all the Masonite dividers and the 1x4ís for the box bases. 

One of the new car card boxes being held underneath a switch machine shelf. A better look at the new car card box design.

I chamfered the front of the base to make the boxes look a little lighter, and cut 1/8Ē slots for all the dividers into the top.  After the dividers were glued into place, I set the tablesaw blade over to a 15* angle and cut the back edge to make the proper slope angle.  A couple more cuts and the boxes were all done.  Iíll still need to make a few later but they should easily be replicated.  I think they will work well, I held one up under a shelf last night and put in a few car cards Ė looked good!

I hope to get these new boxed painted and mounted during the next work session (which happens to be this Wednesday!).  I suppose another project will have to be making cover plates to cover over the old car card boxesÖ

Earlier in the week I spent some time working on the train cards as well.  These cards describe the train an operator is given to run, tell what the origin and destination are for that train, and include basic instructions on what to do during the run.  They usually come with the binder clip seen in the photo, which is used to hold the car cards that make up the train.  I currently have about 20 trains defined, slightly less than half of which are passenger trains.  I'll add a few more, and that total will likely double when the upper deck goes on and we introduce all the trains that route through Danbury.

A sample of the train cards that will be used during Housatonic operating sessions.

November 13, 2006

This weekend I was able to spend some time trying to tie up the projects of last week.  Neil and I had started working on the car inspection process last week and started off with a lot of the Housatonic gondolas and flatcars on the layout.  Many of these cars were underweight and needed decals and numbers, and I chose them to start with because I wanted to get them finished up and out of the way.  So Sunday I got to work on them. 

First I took all the cars that didnít have any added weight and put in as much weight in steel and lead shot as I could fit without them showing.  A generous bath in CA glue cemented them in place.  Once all that was done, I got out the decals and started working on the naming and numbering.  The week before I had chosen numbers from the car series to use, and labeled each car with a post-it note.  As I went through them, I pulled off the post-its and numbered the cars with the indicated number.  About 5 hours later, I was pretty much done and nearly every car was now labeled.  All they need is a shot of dullcoat to seal the decals and they are done.  Well, someday they need to get weathered too, but not today.

I made some progress on the car cards as well; I think there are only a handful of cars now that donít have car cards.  Iím getting into the waybills now and that is turning out to be a tougher nut to crack, requiring a lot more thought than the car cards.  I hope to have enough in place in six weeks for the next operating session.

Cars sitting in Dock Yard with their new car cards leaning against them.  Soon we'll have boxes to put them in!

November 8, 2006

Well, this week Iíve been easing back into some railroad projects after taking a little time off.  I started this past Saturday, with an idea to start something different to help get my creative juices flowing.  A while back I got a book on schooner barges, which were usually sailing vessels converted to tow barges.  These were very likely to have been the types of vessels used to deliver coal, lumber and oil to Wilson Point.  I decided to start building a model of a schooner barge to place at the Wilson Point pier by the crane, to unload coal from.

A first look at the Schooner Barge "Independence", delivering coal to Wilson Point.

I selected a couple of candidates from photos in the book and scaled them for the length indicated in the book (about 250-275 feet, or 26-30Ē), and to fit on the layout next to the pier, about 4-1/2Ē wide.  This will be a generic barge, based on details from several photos.  It will have three cut-down masts (Schooner barges were often square-rigged ships that were changed to use schooner-type sails, and did not require tall masts.  The sails were used to help ease the stress on the tow line and save energy for the tugboat.)  Hatches to the hold were usually located between the first and last masts, and Iíll be including those as well.

I started with a ĺĒ plank of old pine I had lying around and roughed in the shape of the barge on my bandsaw.  Then I put about a 20* bevel along the front and back using my benchtop disk sander.  I took some dowels I had (5/16Ē and ľĒ) and cut them to length, then tapered them a little on the belt sander and drilled holes in the deck to mount them.  Of course, they are not glued in yet!  Next time I work on it, Iíll be adding the quarterdeck, a raised platform at the front of the ship), and a similar platform on the rear which supports the wheelhouse.  Then I hope to plank the sides and the deck.  It should be interesting.  Iím also considering splicing in another 4Ē of length between the second and third masts to make the barge longer; it looks a little short to me.

I went over to Neilís on Saturday evening and Dave, he and I had a car-building session.  We do this every now and then to make sure thereís time to get some new cars built for all our layouts.  I brought one of my New York Central resin cars and an F&C kit of a D&H drop-bottom gondola Iím backdating a bit to use truss rods.  Got them both built up but no details like grab irons or stuff like that yet.

One thing that we realized needed to be done before the next operating session was to put the cars on the railroad through a certification test.  They need to be checked for problems like coupler height, low-hanging coupler glad hands, wheel gauge, free-rolling and swiveling trucks, weight standards and more.  During last weeksí session we had problems with high-low couplers making trains come apart, derailments from glad hands picking the switches, and more.  These problems should be some of the easiest to remedy, so I decided to run all the cars through inspection before the next session.

On Tuesday Neil came over for a while and we started working on the new program.  I believe we checked and certified about 15-20 cars, making a lot of adjustments (a lot of Kadee washers got used up) and really improving things.  Neil was a bit ham-fisted and broke several cars (resin cars Ė aack!) but they should be easily repaired.  We noted that nearly all the flatcars and gondolas we tested were light, and would benefit from the addition of some weight.  So they will get some additional attention this weekend as I try to improve their operating characteristics.  Most of the flats and gons still need to be decaled, so I suppose thereís a fair bit of work to be done there.  Any thatís only about 20% of the fleet. 

Cars scattered around the water in Wilson Point after being inspected.  Most of these cars need decals and additional weight.

I have also been spending some time getting the fleet into MiTrains so that car cards can be made up for the cars on the layout.  After Neil left I continued working on this, typing data into the computer.  I should be able to make car cards for nearly every piece of rolling stock on the layout by the end of the week.  Car cards will be another matter!

November 1, 2006

Well, last night we had the very first ever operating session on the 1892 Housatonic Railroad.  Turnout was a bit light, we could really have used 6 or more folks; we only got four plus me.  Still, we made it work.  We ran three passenger trains, a milk train, two or three local freights, at least three or four through freights. 

Traffic management was a set of hastily written switchlists I tried to prepare 20 minutes before the session began.  The first 5-6 trains ran this way and I tried to keep up with things as the session went on, and I think I did OK.  Not great, but OK.  There was some confusion as the three guys running the trains tried to get used to the place names and industry names (taped to the fascia 30 minutes before the session).  It was confusing and a few setouts and pickups were missed, but by the end of the night everyone had had a good time. 

Dave brings a passenger train south into Georgetown. Ted brings the milk train into Wilton on its way to Wilson Point. Neil gives the morning northbound passenger train a nudge leaving Wilson Point.

I acted as roving dispatcher while also wearing the hat of the superintendent, taking notes on problems found that need to be fixed.  Inevitably, this led to three trains getting stuck in Dock Yard about halfway through the session, and it took some clever work on the part of the engineers to sort things out. 

Part of the problem was that with only four operators, there was no yardmaster at Dock Yard which made things difficult; nor was there an operator in the mole staging yard to recycle the trains as there should have been.  Both these positions are very important, and need to be filled next time.

A busy moment at Wilson Point during the very first official operating session. Tom works the car float at Wilson Point. As tom examines his switchlist, another operator sets passenger cars off on the long pier.

Here are a few impressions I came away with during and after the session, in no particular order:

On the plan things may seem tight, but when you start moving trains around thereís plenty of room between the towns, especially when you factor in time for meets and work and station stops.  The runs are nice and long when the guys run at prototypical speeds, about 20-25 mph or less. 

Itís a long way from Winnipauk to Dock Yard.  Several times eager engineers came tooling down the hill from there only to find that the main and siding at Dock Yard were occupied Ė and now nothing could go north until we got that train into the clear.  The DS will have to pay attention to this, as trains moving in or out of the Dock Yard will need headroom through Wall St. to work in the yard.

During the open house and again tonight, the guys used the services lead at Wilson Point for a caboose track.  This actually worked pretty well, but it will require that when the services cars need to be switched the cabooses are removed, temporarily.  I had to let them do it, there's nowhere else to place them!

The operators used the engine services lead at Wilson Point as a caboose track - clever!

Dock Yard not having itsí own switch lead or an arrival / departure track really makes things difficult.  I knew it would but itís worse than I thought it would be.  At least if there were an A/D track thereíd be an extra place to store a train when things gum up.  And having to go out on the passing siding and main, sometimes, really fouls things up.  Ahh, the pleasures of modeling the prototype.

When I start to add all the new cars on the layout to the database, I need to go through every car and shake it down.  Proper weight, wheel gauge, coupler height.  There were several problems last night that could have been avoided if this work had been done previously. 

It was mentioned to me before tonight that we need fusees / brakemen on either side of the utility room to protect trains working in Georgetown and Wilton, and the session tonight brought that home.  Both towns require a train to work in the utility room to serve sidings, and trains could collide there.  A pair of LED fusees / brakemen protecting the each side of the utility room would mean that whichever train arrived first would be protected as it does its work from a train in the other town.  Weíll have to make that happen right away.

I expected it, but we showed itís going to be really important to have a crew that does nothing but shuttle cars back and forth from Dock Yard to Wilson Point.  We didnít have that and it meant we had problems with the Wilson Point yard man being out of position when trains came there to be worked out on the floats. 

There were fewer track problems than I expected, though there were about three or four that absolutely need to be addressed.  Others (dead frogs) will be fixed when we start replacing the switch machines under the layout soon.  The new design will be much more reliable than the old one. 

One throttle was tagged as having problems making a good connection to the DCC system.  Iíll flag it and try to keep an eye on it as we go.  Might be the cable, tooÖ

Might need to turn down the volume on the sound effects, it got a little loud last night with four sound-equipped steamers all working down on one end of the layoutÖ

Anyway, in spite of the problems and low operator turnout it was a fun first session.  I hope to have another before the year is out, hopefully this time weíll have a full turnout of personnel and have car cards and waybills to work with.  That's what I'm going to shoot for, anyway.

October 22, 2006

OPEN HOUSE!

Well, the day has finally come and now gone.  The last couple of weeks have been hectic, frenetic, trying to tie up loose ends and get cleaned up for the NER convention open house.  It was made a little more difficult because of our recent decision to start the Round Robin sessions in earnest (now that the other guys are building too, I only get one session a month) so I needed a lot of off-session help from some of the guys Ė Ray, Neil, Ted, Wayne, Jay, Tom, Dave and Rob were all over at various times helping to tune track, paint fascia, install ground throws, build more cars, anything that would help.  I owe them all a great debt of gratitude for helping get everything ready to run.

Neil finished and rigged the wharf crane at Wilson Point the night before the open house.  Whew! The Mole staging yard finally gets used, with cars on t he tracks and on the shelves!

And particularly thanks to Neil, who put in many hours in the last few days helping me to clean up the basement.  If you have read this journal for a while, you know that Cleaning is not my favorite thing and itís like pulling teeth to get me to do it.  Neil was my dentist, who made me get off the couch and pick up a broom.  Thanks, man.  Literally would not have happened without you (but you already knew that!)

Here's a couple of pics to show what it looks like when it's clean!

A rare sight, the Housatonic Railroad layout CLEAN! A rare sight, the Housatonic Railroad layout CLEAN! A rare sight, the Housatonic Railroad layout CLEAN! A rare sight, the Housatonic Railroad layout CLEAN!

Despite some problems with the maps the convention prepared, we go about 20 or so visitors today. (Note to convention staff: I donít live in Phillipsburg .)  Everyone seemed to have a good time and enjoyed viewing the layout.  But I think we had even more fun, since it has been just over a year since the last time we ran the layout.  From about 12:30 on, we ran trains of all kinds up and down the line from Wilson Point to Staging just outside of Branchville.  The guys just had a ball working the pier and carfloats, setting out and picking up on the sidings, and breaking up and making up new trains in staging. 

Neil runs the Wilson Point switcher, moving cars onto and off of the car float. Tom and Neil working together at Wilson Point Rob enjoys running a passenger train between Dock Yard and Wilson Point.

It was a busy day on the Housatonic, you can see many of the operators in this picture. Tom re-rails a car in Wilson Point yard.

(I took many pictures, but these were the only ones that came out!)

From what I could tell there were very few problems (except in dock yard, which still needs some work) other than a few low-hanging coupler glad-hands and the occasional light car, and one balky locomotive that never quite settled down.  That made me really happy, and I really enjoyed watching all the trains go back and forth, meeting one another and shuffling around.  I answered lots of questions for some really nice folks, and was glad to hear many of them had actually been here to the website and had come to see it all in person.

In the end, not only was it worth the trouble to put on the show for the visitors, but it was great fun having all my friends run the railroad.  Now that we can, weíre planning to have an operating session one every month or two to actually use the layout and have some fun with it, but we will establish a different night to do it, probably a Saturday.  This way we wonít interfere with work sessions on Wednesday. 

For me, now itís time to spend a few weeks catching up on household chores for the wife and catching up on a monthís worth of television, waiting for me on the TiVo.  Iíll start working on the layout again in a few weeks, after my wife is satisfied Iíve given her equal time!

October 15, 2006

Last big session before the convention, and we were really trying to finish several important projects for the open house next week. Jay was over early and was good enough to deliver the caboose industries ground throws for the staging yard. We both got to work right away getting the throws installed so at least there would be some turnout control in staging for the show. Eventually these will be replaced by tortoise switch machines, but for now they will get the job done. Shortly after we finished Jay had to leave, but it was great of him to take time out of his busy Sunday and help out.

The mole yard at the north end of the layout, with its new ground throw switch controls and rolling stock storage shelf.  Nearly ready to go!

Tom arrived next and spent several hours helping me go through Dock Yard and test / run all the turnouts. We found a number of problems including a mysterious short that cleared up once we cleared enough junk off the rails, and several turnout that needed some TLC to get running again. A little filing, a little soldering, a little cleaning and after a couple of hours we had the yard running well enough for the open house. That was the biggest hurdle left after I completed the turnouts in Wilson Point, and that last major stumbling block we would have before the convention.

Neil came down and spent several hours finishing up as many of the Alkem Scale Models wood-beam trucks as he could. I was taking them as he finished and painting them dark gray, and then finally I started the final assembly steps of putting on the trucks and couplers for the BTS boxcars I decaled up a few weeks ago. They are finally finished now, though they will need a bit of weathering and dullcoat for protection, that won't happen until after the open house -- no time. As it is, we were only able to finish four cars for the session instead of the full ten, we just ran out of time. They are still a welcome edition though and will look great tooling around the layout.

A finally finished string of Red Line Boxcars.  They need some weathering, they are supposed to be over 20 years old!

Rob was down later in the afternoon and as promised got started cutting the plastic shingle sheets for the Wilson Point Roundhouse roof. He managed to get all 16 panels cut before we turned into pumpkins, but the fitting and gluing will have to wait for another day. I think he's disappointed that the roof won't be finished for the open house, but at least the paper templates are off the roof! I'm sure we'll finish that project up in the coming weeks.

David was the last over, and grabbed a pail of black paint and finished all the bare masonite fascia around the layout, as well as some of the newly installed switch machine shelves. He also took the time to sand and stain the ties at the Industrial siding in Wilton, though we probably won't have time to get the track in before the weekend.

My thanks to everyone who was able to come over on Sunday and provide a little help. All these little projects go a long way towards getting the layout in shape to show it off a little, and some of them were of very real importance. I often say how this layout would be nowhere if it were not for the efforts of all these people who come over and help out, and as usual I'd be nowhere without them again. The praise and glory in getting us to this point is theirs, and I hope that they will enjoy whatever compliments we may get next week. They have worked hard for it and deserve every bit of it. Thank you, gentlemen.

October 13, 2006

Well -- it's been a busy few days this last week trying to tie up loose ends before the NER Convention. Earlier in the week Ray was over to help finish up programming all the locomotives, and he gave me a hand working on the last of the switch machines under Wilson Point. We were not able to finish, so this past Friday I finished that job up. Rob was over too and seems to have completed his work with the paper templates, he should be able to start cutting the plastic diamond roof shingle sheets next time.  And I've been doing lots of little things to try and tie up loose ends all over the layout.  There's no shortage of loose ends!

The new signage looks great. I'm very happy with how they came out, attractive and highly visible, which had been a problem with the original Fusee panels. I thought they looked great, but the paint scheme I used turned outto be dull and hard to see against the fascia. In fact, I like the look of the new signs so much I'm seriously considering taking down the existing Fusee plates and replacing them with new yellow and black ones.

October 7, 2006

I was fortunate to be able to devote all day Saturday to working on the layout, and doubly fortunate that Neil was able to keep me company all day.  While I got to work on installing the four new switch machines over in Wilson Point, Neil spent the day working on several items on my to-do list, including cleaning track and tuning up turnouts in Wilson Point and Dock Yard.  In addition to that, he also finished cutting and hanging the fascia around Wilton curve in the back by the circuit breaker panel, and put up a set of masonite 'guard rails' around the tracks going through the utility room.  And we finally started hanging the station signs I made last week.  It had to wait until I was able to buy some double-sided foam tape, which worked great to hang them with. 

An example of the new signs applied to the fascia.  I'm very pleased with it, highly visible and good looking!

October 4, 2006

Had a decent crowd down tonight.  First to arrive was Scott Dunlap, who as always I was very glad to see.  I promise, one of these days I am going to spend more time with him and try to learn a few things about scenery...  But until then I'm really grateful that he shows up when he can.  Scott got back to work on the Dock Yard area where he'd last worked, and now nearly the entire yard area is completed scenery-wise. 

David and Scott share a private moment. Scott spreads new ballast on the main line in front of Dock Yard.

Dave arrived shortly after Scott, and offered to go through my collection of DCC-equipped locomotives and reprogram them to have reasonable numbers.  He also went through and reset some of the sound levels on many of the sound effects.  I hope the result will be better, more consistent sound among all of the locomotives in the future.

Ted came down also and I asked him to work with me on tuning up the turnouts in Wilson Point, which turned out to be a bigger job than I thought it would.  We only got to about half of the turnouts tonight, and found a lot of problems that needed to be fixed.  A balky switch machine out on the carfloat apron.  A turnout that apparently got out of gauge because of kinking from benchwork shrinkage.  Many frogs, points and guardrails with ballast caught in them causing bad operation.  

Ted uses a hobby knife to clear specks of ballast out of the flangeways of a turnout in Wilson Point. Dave looks up the codes to re-program the sound levels in my fleet of ten-wheelers.

We worked on it all night, including Neil who was down a little late, and still there is a lot to do.  I ended up tearing out two very balky machines in the middle of the yard at the end of the night that could not be properly adjusted and replaced them with two of my new Mark II machines.  I'll get the shelf, barrel bolts and linkages mounted this weekend and try to finish up the rest of the tuning before next Wednesday.  I also found two turnouts that had never gotten switch machines at all, and those will have to get done as well.  I have a lot to do this weekend.

Rob was over also, and continued to help out putting together some more freight cars.  He nearly completed two Roundhouse boxcar kits, and though he had a little trouble with them, but I think they came out well enough.  I told him not to spend so much time on them, that they were only stand-ins until the day comes that we replace them with better and more appropriate cars.  But he still put in an honest effort on them.

October 3, 2006

The other day, I was trying to describe to one of my friends where to find something, and I kept referring to the town along the layout that it was under.  Apparently this wasn't helpful, because he had no idea what I was talking about.  Turns out, to my surprise, that no one knows the layout like I do.  Sure, they all know Wilson Point and South Norwalk, but tell them to go find a hammer by Wilton and the get glassy-eyed...  So I figured it's probably time to start hanging name placards on the fascia so they at least have a fighting chance going forward.

I made up some name plaques in Microsoft Word after work on Monday, and used one of our high-quality color laser printers to print them out on heavy photo paper.  They came out nice!  I took them home and coated them with clear gloss paint (Dave's idea), then cut a set of 1/8" masonite blanks to glue them to, about 1/8" around larger than the black background so as to make a tasteful yellow border that wraps around the sides.  I made up a bunch of them watching the football game on Monday night, and this is what they looked like:

Several of the new station name plaques that will be mounted to the layout fascia.

I will start applying them with double-sided foam tape in the next few days.  I want them to be removable in case I need to re-paint the fascia again at some point, a near certainty.  The plaques have both the name of the station and the two-letter call sign that will be used when writing train orders.  I've tried to make them as authentic as possible, going with the old New Haven codes when I could.  But some had to be made up -- I hope I haven't duplicated any other real codes by accident.  I also made up a few North and South plaques to help people get oriented when they are operating.

I like these so much I'm considering re-doing all my Fusee switch panels like this, so they will be more visible.

I also wanted to take a few photos of the Mark II switch machines we've been installing lately to show them off.  First is a wide picture of the entire mechanism, with the shelf on the fascia and the barrel bolt actuator.  Jut behind the fascia is a guide block that holds a dowel in alignment, the wire pushrod that's held in a hole drilled in the dowel, and the machine itself under the spline roadbed.  The other pictures show the motion arm of the machine and how it works along with the micro-lever switch mounted next to it, throwing the switch's frog polarity depending on which position the arm is in.

A photo showing the entire switch machine and actuating linkage we've been installing lately. The Mark II Switch Machine with the arm in the relaxed state, and... ... The arm in the tension phase, Note the spring is extended and the micro lever switch is not latched.

October 1, 2006

Great session today. I started off in the morning doing some cleaning up, putting tools away and vacuuming the floor (it really needed it). Neil came over about 11 am and we got started on finishing the switch machine installations. We had three more to finish around Georgetown, and it took a little while but eventually we got them all in. I continue to be really happy about the way these work compared to the old system. 

Jay arrived around noon, and he got to work finishing up on the wiring we started last week. He went around all the new areas and attached a bunch of plastic wire clips so we could hang the cab bus lines up and out of the way. It took him a while to get used to the air stapler, but eventually he got the hang of it. He also helped out by extending one of the power bus lines that had been cut short by the drop bridge in the back corner.

Ray arrived a little while later, and finished up his work on the DCC installations in the 4-6-0 locomotives. We now have seven locomotives we can run for the open house in a few weeks, which takes some pressure off. After that, he diagnosed a problem we had with the wiring under the peninsula, and figured out we had never cut rail gaps between the sections on either side of the main peninsula. Five minutes later and a couple or rail gaps, and the problems we were having went away. 

When Ray got done, he came over and started helping me and Neil with hooking up the lever switches to the new switch machines. The lever switches are actuated when the motion arm swings back and forth, and are used to power the switch frog polarity. We located them with the arm in the rest position and drilled a mounting hole, then bolted the switch to the machine. After a couple of miscues trying to figure out the correct wiring pattern, we finally got it right and all seven frogs in Wilton and Georgetown are now powered well. 

Rob Purcell came over later in the afternoon and was all set to continue working on the roundhouse, but I asked him if he could assemble some car models instead. He managed to get three freight cars together before he had to leave, and did a pretty nice job with them. I may ask him to do a few more next week, it he's willing. 

And my day ended a lot like it started, cleaning and vacuuming the room. All in all it was a very good day.

September 27, 2006

Well, Iím glad Ray and Rob showed up tonight, otherwise I would have been here all by myself.  I guess it's a good thing I decided to call off the operating session, there's no way we could have been done now.  The light turnouts just kill your momentum. 

Rob continued trying to piece together the roundhouse roof, I think he finally has it set now (well enough that we can start cutting plastic instead of paper).  I suggested to him that we might want to start by placing down a section cut as accurately as possible, then cutting the next piece a hair larger and sanding it to fit before installing it.  He seemed to agree that the idea had merit.  Weíll try it out and see how it goes in the next few weeks.  

Ray picked up where he left off last week, and got the sound decoders installed in the three 4-6-0 locos he started last week.  We played around with some of the CV values for changing the chuff rate as the speed goes higher, but couldnít really get an optimal selection for all speeds.  We settled on a rate that matched the drivers when the loco was moving at medium speed, more or less.  We both decided we will need to install a wiper arm on the back of one of the drivers, eventually.  Weíll probably do it when we replace the headlights at some point in the future.  All he has left now on these locos is to finish weighting the tenders and reassemble the models, then I can decal them (as soon as I get the Ďgoldí tender decals finished, of course).  That will give us seven 4-6-0ís to work with in the coming months. 

Myself, I went around and took care of mounting all the new panels and switch machines on the new areas of the layout fascia (which I painted this past weekend), and that took a fair amount of time.  Installing all the throttle plug-in panels, the power cutoff panels, and re-mounting all the barrel bolts to operate the switches took most of the evening.  I also started looking at whether a casting of the Spectrum 4-6-0 boiler would fit on a Rivarossi 4-4-0 chassis Ė the answer is yes, but itís just a little too beefy.  I have some other options there Iím going to look at as well, but the huge flanges on the Rivarossi drivers may make any attempt to rework these models moot.

If Iíd had more help tonight I might have been able to get started mounting some new switch machines, or tuning up the yards.  I guess itís a good thing I decided to cancel the operating session for the NER convention; otherwise Iíd really be in a hole now.  As it is Iím going to be hard pressed trying to get the layout operational to even have an open house in three and a half weeks.  Charlie Tobin has had issues trying to get the diode matrix controller panel built out in Long Island, so I need to come up with another method of throwing the turnouts in staging in the next couple of weeks.  I'm sure we'll figure something out.  I may try using the leftover slide switches I have on hand from the mark I switch machines, and build a temporary control panel to handle the yard for now.

September 25, 2006

Mondays Suck.

Today I had to make a decision that I didn't want to make.  I wrote to the folks at the NER convention and told them that despite my best efforts, I would not have the railroad ready to host an operating session for the convention as I'd promised.  I've been concerned about it for a while, and after hearing yesterday from Neil that he would not be attending any more work sessions in the forseeable future, I had no choice but to call it off.  Neil is a really good modeler who I've come to count on quite a bit, and without his help there's no way I can be ready in time.  

I still plan on hosting an open house that weekend so folks can come by and see what we've been up to.  And while dropping the op session does relieve me of certain tasks, there is still an awful lot of work to be done to get the layout ready to run for visitors.  

I didn't have a lot of time to work on the layout over the weekend, but I did get all the hardware removed from the fascia and get a single coat of gloss black on all the panels.  

September 22, 2006

An extra Friday session tonight.  I was lucky to get Jay over as promised and we had a really productive evening.  As expected, we got the last of the bus lines for the new construction all hooked up to the power system, including the remote power panel in the new staging area (which consists of a PS-One circuit breaker and a PS-Rev Auto-Reverser / Breaker for the loop tracks.  We also started stringing the flat 6 conductor cable out between all the new mounting holes for the throttle plug-ins and crimping on the telco connectors.  It was a night of teaching Jay how it all goes together, and he got a lot of good experience doing most of the work.  By the end of the night Jay had a really good understanding of how my entire layout is wired, and we finished nearly everything. 

We had a few trouble spots, especially on the main line sections where I'd forgotten to gap the frogs on several turnouts (oops) but about 15-20 minutes with a dremel and a handful of spikes and that problem was fixed.  We also could not get power on in the reversing section in staging for some reason, though the main yard was working fine. Later after Jay had to leave, Ray and I took a few minutes and looked at the problem, and found a 3m ScotchLoc connector that hadn't been fully crimped where a splice had been made.  We replaced it with a new connector and the reversing section worked like a champ after that.  

Ray made more progress tonight working on the locomotives he started on a couple of days ago, starting to get the sound decoders into them.  I'm really glad he likes this stuff -- I'm sure I could do it if I had to, but I wouldn't enjoy it like he does.  It's better for everyone this way!

September 20, 2006

Forgive me, I'm writing this from a week after it happened, so my recollection may be flawed.  Ray and I talked the week before about how critical it was that we had more locomotives to operate for the upcoming operating session, so tonight he broke out his Sherline milling machine (which he'd brought over a few weeks ago) and started working on milling out the tender frames for the collection of 4-6-0's that I have.  Very exciting!  Naturally everyone was interested, especially Wayne, who actually pushed Ray out of the way and took over at some point.  Annoying to me, because he had been helping me cut and put up fascia panels before that.  But David arrived shortly after that, and he and I worked on the fascia instead.  

Dave uses the chop saw to cut fascia panels to length.

Ray uses his milling machine to start cutting holes in the steam loco tender floors for the speakers. Uh, sure, Wayne, you can have a look... Precisely when did I lose control of this? Detail showing the milling machine in operation

Jay helped out by cutting holes in the new fascia panels for throttle plug-ins and power cutoff panels. which I had previously marked out.  He did a pretty good job on that, and it was another job I didn't need to do myself, so that was a big thing for me.  He's going to come over again on Friday and we're going to complete the DCC wiring, hooking up the last of the power buses for the phase III construction, and running the cab bus lines and putting in the throttle plug-in panels.  

David and I also looked at the turnout motor situation over in staging.  Seems that we neglected to cut holes under the points of the turnouts when we put them down on the mole staging benchwork, and now we have to figure out how to get them to work.  As I noted a few weeks ago, I'm planning to use Tortoises here for automatic control, but there's no room to mount them underneath in many places (poor benchwork planning on my part) ao we will need to come up with some sort of side-mounting that will go on the edge of the benchwork in those difficult spots.  I'm hoping that Charlie Tobin will have the diode matrix controller ready soon, we will be needing it!  

September 9, 2006

Got a bit of work done over the weekend.  Now that the fascia is up around the towns of Wilton and Georgetown, I was finally able to start the switch machine installation in those towns.  I got four and a half machines installed on Saturday night, which included the installation of several shelves to mount the barrel bolt mechanisms on.  Iím very, very happy with the way they work, though I may need to install some more spikes at the turnouts because thereís so much torque it actually pushes the rails apart a bit.  I hope to get another two or three installed in the next couple of days.

A new working shelf with barrel bolt switch throws mounted to it.

I also had time yesterday to break out the spray booth and paint up several models, including the four BTS boxcars that have been sitting on my desk and a bunch of passenger cars too.  Unfortunately I had an oops with the can of gloss clear I used to coat the models before decaling, and ended up with several bad drips on some of the models.  Some (including the BTS cars) will be salvageable, the others, mostly passenger cars, will need to go for a dip in paint stripper after the convention and be re-done.  I'll still build them up and use them for the operating session (thank goodness an entire passenger train can be modeled with two coaches and a baggage car) but they just can't stay that way.  Too bad, several hours of painting down the drain.

Later that night, I pulled out the decals I'd made a few weeks ago for the BTS boxcars and started decaling them up.  Here's how they look before the dullcoat and weathering goes on -- I'm pretty happy with them.  The decals aren't a perfect representation but they are more than good enough to represent 20-year old cars still hanging around in the 1890's.  They will get a lot of weathering.

The BTS Civil-war era boxcars painted and lettered for the Housatonic's boxcars in Red Line service. The BTS Civil-war era boxcars painted and lettered for the Housatonic's boxcars in Red Line service. The BTS Civil-war era boxcars painted and lettered for the Housatonic's boxcars in Red Line service.

Yeah, they still need trucks.  It's on my list.

September 6, 2006

Good session tonight.  First off, Scott Dunlap was down, surprise!  We havenít seen Scott in a while, so it was great to have him around.  He put in another 3-4 square feet of scenery around Dock Yard, more or less where he left off a few months ago.  I hope he will be able to make it down more often, we really need his skills.

Scott takes a moment to pose for the camera!  If we find all the pictures of scott since we started, you'd see his bald spot is getting bigger! Scott spreading new ground foam over the engine service area at Dock Yard in South Norwalk.

David and Wayne helped me cut some new fascia material for the phase III benchwork, and started hanging it tonight.  This was great, because now I can go ahead and start installing the new mark II switch machines (which attach to the fascia).  Unfortunately I cut some of the panels a little too narrow, so we were not able to do everything Iíd hoped to.  But the Masonite will not go to waste Ė weíll use it on parts of the fascia for stage IV, or weíll cut it up further for splines.  Little goes to waste here.  Of course, now I need another sheet of MasoniteÖ

New fascia up at Georgetown New fascia up at Winnipauk New Fascia up at Wilton

Rob came down again and continued working on the roof of the roundhouse.  I feel bad, heís working so hard on it trying to get all the roof panels to fit right and look even.  When heís done Iím sure it will look great.  Ray was down too, and got busy installing new Fusees on the phase III sections.  I didnít check on him before the end of the session, but it sounded like he got pretty far along installing the three new devices.

Rob Purcell continues to cut paper templates for the Wilson Point roundhouse roof Neil has a good laugh as he works on a new replacement mold for the Iron Works building

Jay was down for the first time in about a month, it seems.  I asked Jay to start working on another structure, the Norwalk Mills building in Winnipauk.  Itís going to be a centerpiece on the layout, a brick mill building with a set of water wheels beneath it, standing on an arched stone foundation.  The Still River snakes around it and then flows under the Housatonicís deck bridge at the front edge of the layout.  The model will re-use some wall components from the Iron Works model in South Norwalk, but we are making a lot of changes to it in order to disguise its appearance.  Two stories instead of three, we changed the roof pitch, etc.  So Jay got started with that, and did a pretty nice job so far.  

A quick test shot of the new New York Central & Hudson River RR 32' boxcar model, built up from my own resin castings.  Pretty Nice!

Neil and I did some casting work together, putting up parts for another NYC&HRRR boxcar and trying out a new mold for a building weíre working on for a friend.  The combination of the new resin (Polytek 1512) and mold release (Smooth-on Universal Mold Release) is making the casting process a pleasure once again.  Some of the guys donít like the 1-hour de-mold time of the resin, but Iím really pleased with the properties this stuff shows.  It makes firm castings that hold their shape after curing, and it machines well without being brittle.  I also really like that it has about a 7-10 minute pot life before it starts to set up, give plenty of time to tease the bubbles out of the mold before pressing the glass on.  For a resin with a long open time it doesnít require the molds to be heated and Iím glad to have found a good resin again, and the mold release makes the parts pop out of the molds like peas from a pod.  Even better, they slide right off the glass backing plates, which was always a problem before.  I think this current set of molds will last longer than any Iíve had in the past.

 

August 30, 2006

 

A very nice turnout tonight. Tom continued working on the tracks in staging, making some last-minute connections and documenting the wiring with new name tags, as well as cutting isolation gaps and inserting small styrene blocks in the gaps to keep the rails apart. He also added a few more feeders in the back. Of late, Tom has made the staging area his domain. Next week I will ask him to start installing Tortoise switch motors on all the turnouts in staging. 

 

What? Craig is putting electric switch motors on the Housatonic ? Yes, but only in staging because it is, well, off-stage, and convenience and simplicity will be very important to the operation of the mole yard. Old friend Charlie Tobin from Long Island has agreed to build me a diode-matrix control panel for me that will control the two ends of the staging yard and will work with the tortoise motors. Hopefully, he will be able to complete it and we will have the motors installed so he can install it before the middle of October. 


Wayne put in his work by getting started on the next wave of backdrops in the rear corner of the room between Winnipauk and Wilton . He managed to get in several new vertical supports for the backdrops before he had to leave, Iíll ask him to continue that work next time he is down. Rob continued his work on getting the roof ready for the Wilson Point roundhouse. I have to say, he has been very diligent about making sure the roof will be symmetrical and balanced with his paper templates. When he is ready to cut plastic, I have no doubt the parts will fit perfectly. 

 

Neil constructs the mold box, or dam, out of lego bricks. Craig eyballs the rubber mixture as he and Neil prepare to pour a new mold. David works on the Gilbert & Bennett siding in Georgetown

 

Neil did a few odd jobs around the layout when he arrived, including soldering in the feeders Ray put in around Wilton last week, tuning up a couple of the new turnouts, and later we worked together on casting some more NYC boxcars and re-pouring new mold for them to replace the damaged ones. David finished up the tracks in the Gilbert & Bennett siding, and gave Neil and me a hand when he was finished. We also made a new mold for one of the walls of his Erie 30th st. freight house. Neither Dave nor Neil had ever seen the vacuum chamber in action, and they really got a kick out of watching the RTV rise and break as the air left the chamber. 


August 23, 2006 


We welcomed down a new helper tonight, Rob Purcell, who comes to us from Ray Russell. Rob started working on the roundhouse model from Wilson Point, which has laid fallow for a while now while we worked on other projects. Rob is getting started working on the roof, fitting scalloped shingle sheet stock on the roof sections. It's going to take a little while, but I'm glad to see work getting done on that project. Be nice if it gets finished by the convention, it's a centerpiece of that scene. 


Tom was down and helped me out by finishing up the wiring on the staging area, getting the rest of the feeders in for the reversing section and running the bus lines back to the new breaker panel. I hope to finish all the wiring up this weekend making the final connections at all the breaker panels. Next week we should be able to run a test with a locomotive all the way up the new mainline.
Ray came from work and didn't bring a change of clothes, so no crawling around on the floor for him. He helped me out by tuning up a few turnouts over in Wilton that needed some help, and found some track there that did not have feeders on it, so he put them in. Glad he was on his toes and looking for problems. Later in the evening he was going over parts of the layout we haven't touched in a while, starting up a 'punch list' of problems that need to be fixed before the big Op session in October.†


And David went back to work over in Georgetown , and got one of the tracks on the Gilbert & Bennett siding finished. One more to go there and then the only thing left is the industrial siding over in Wilton that I still haven't put down roadbed for (maybe this weekend).


Myself, I decided it was time to try out the new casting resin I bought a few months back (before it goes bad right in the bottle). I got out my New York Central boxcar molds and tried mixing up a batch of the new resin, and had mixed results. I think the resin worked fine, but the molds were probably damaged from the last crappy resin we used, and one of them had some tear-outs. Unfortunate. I will spend some time this weekend making new molds for this car and then get to work trying to make more castings. We need more cars on the layout! 

August 15, 2006

Tuesday night session this week, got a few of the guys down.  Tom picked up where he left off last week and finished up the benchwork and trackage around the staging balloon track, we now have a continuous mainline between Staging and Wilson Point!  Hurrah!  

Tom finishes ispiking down the last of the balloon track in staging.  Hurrah!

Ralph's busy schedule has changed and he may be over more often now, which is great.  He and I got together tonight to test out the new switch machine idea we have been working on for some time.  For years I struggled to find a way to use barrel bolts as a switch-throwing mechanism.  I was ridiculed for it, they said it would never work -- but by gum, Ralph and I never gave up hope and tonight we installed the prototype of my Mark II Switch Machine and barrel bolt actuating system!

Making adjustments to the new Mark II Switch machine Closeup of the new Mark II Switch machine, the pushrod and plunger assembly under Wilton. Ralph continues to make last-minute adjustments tot he new Mark II Switch Machine The barrel bolt mounted on the text piece of fascia and utility shelf The whole system, from soup to nuts.

It's been over two years but the first successful barrel bolt switch throw is finally a reality!  The mechanism works perfectly, better than the old Mark I device.  I could not be more pleased with it.  Now it's just a matter of putting in the next eight switch machines in over the next couple of weeks, which means we'll be needing fascia put up soon.

We had a new guy down tonight, Rob, who had a good time and might be joining up in the future to help out with some of the work.  That's him in the blue shirt.   Welcome Rob!

August 11, 2006

Well, it had to happen eventually, one needs to keep up with the Joneses, or in this case the Ramoses.  Ever since my buddy Dave installed a surplus air conditioner in his basement, everyone has been complaining about how hot it is in my basement.  (I remember the days not so long ago when they used to enjoy watching me sweat...)  I was actually hearing them say they were going to boycott my layout until September because it was too hot to work.  Wussies!  Well, with the October operating session quickly approaching I had no choice, off to the store I went with Neil and David to buy an air conditioner.  It was a big nut, but tonight there are 8,000 BTU's of cold air floating around the room where before there was just warm essence of human being.  This is definitely better.  Of course now they will just find something else to complain about, but at least it is more comfortable.

August 9, 2006

Decent session tonight, but it could have gone better.  It was my fault, disorganized again.  We had a great turnout, but I didnít have enough jobs set up.  Iíd made a good list but left it on my desk at work.  Good job.

Anyway, Ray arrived early and got started where Phil left off on Sunday, hooking up feeder wires to the rails and bus lines.  He did almost the entire back wall and all of staging Ė great work.  I should be able to complete all the wiring and track for Phase three by the end of this weekend.  Hooray!  

I was working on the wiring too, putting together a new remote breaker panel for the staging area.  We have a Ďhotí bus that runs directly from the booster to the mole staging yard on the other side of the room, which will feed this remote panel.  The mole yard will get a breaker of its own and a reverser for the balloon track on the opposite wall.  It worked out great, but it took me most of the night to build and wire the panel. 

Ray finishes up soldering the feeders on the balloon track in the staging area. The remote breaker panel mounted under the mole staging yard.

This was a problem because several of the guys were standing around with nothing to do while I worked on that project, and I wasnít able to concentrate on keeping them busy.  Wayne left early after cleaning all the new track, and Jay left annoyed at the end of the evening feeling like he did nothing.  Iím sorry, guys, my bad.  Iíll try to do better next session.  But it points out the difficulty of what Iíve been struggling with for several months now.  Itís tough to be a manager all the time during work sessions instead of working along with everyone else, but thatís what you need to do as the layout owner.  Itís not much fun.

Tom Callan setting the last of the benchwork for the balloon tracks in place. Making sure everything is level (or close to it). Neil and Dave working together on the Gilbert & Bennett siding in Georgetown, CT. The Gilbert and Bennett siding under construction.

Tom was down and continued to fill in the gaps around the balloon track.  He was able to complete that job and Iíll be able to install the last sections of track this weekend.  Neil competed the work on the rail around the drop bridge in Wilton, though I think it will need to be re-done (gaps are too big) and then went to work with Dave on laying the track in the Gilbert & Bennett siding. 

So we got a lot done tonight, but I could have had more done if Iíd been more attentive to my friends instead of doing something fun.  So where I should feel good, I feel bad because my friends are annoyed and guilty because I tried to enjoy myself.  And that makes it harder to get psyched about working on the layout. 

August 6, 2006

Well, we had a really good session on Sunday.  I was really pleased that Phil Monat came out, I have been wanting to have him over for ages but since he normally has work sessions on his layout Wednesdays, he can never make it.  Phil arrived right on time at 10 am and we spent some time touring around the layout, then I asked him to help me work on the wiring of the new sections which we have been working on lately.  Phil did a great job, suggesting some changes that would help clean up the wiring we have already done, as well as for the new sections.  He was here for five or six hours and did a great job.  Thank you Phil!

Phil Monat is very meticulous about how he keeps the wiring in order.  We'll do well to follow his examples.

Ted dropped over around 1 pm and helped out by finishing up the electrical cutoff panels Jay and I were working on last Wednesday.  He mounted the terminal strips and switches in the panels and then wired up the switches to the terminal strips.  He completed four panels for me, which took several hours.  That's great, because I was able to concentrate on other needs during the day today.  It was really good to see him too, because he has had some issues lately with making the regular Wednesday sessions.

Neil managed to make some time to get over too, and took care of putting in new feeder wires around the balloon track in staging and out along the the mainline sections where flextrack (hidden areas) was installed.  As usual, I was running around making sure everyone had the tools and materials they needed, but I did manage to find time to install the last of the roadbed on the temporary section linking the mainline in Branchville to the staging yard, and to install flextrack on that.  I even started to lay down the last bits of handlaid code 70 rail in one of the last spots that needed it.  As of tonight, there are less than two feet of track to be installed to complete the mainline from staging all the way down to Wilson Point.

I feel bad that I did not get any pictures today, but hopefully Phil will make it over again sometime and I'll be able to take more then.

August 2, 2006

Today was one of the hottest days of the year, and the basement was not exactly comfortable.  But several of the guys came over and braved the heat anyway.  I set up every fan Iíve got and we got a good bit of work done in spite of the conditions.

Tom arrived first, and I asked him to work on getting the last few filler sections on the staging balloon track filled with benchwork.  He spent most of the night fighting with ľĒ plywood and homasote, and got most of it in place.  I should be able to finish up that job this weekend.

Ray arrived next, and I asked him to help out with running the new power bus lines we need for the new railroad sections and staging areas.  He ran a Ďhotí power bus for staging (direct from the booster, which will feed a remotely mounted breaker and reverser circuit for the mole staging yard and the reversing balloon track), a new main bus for the Georgetown to Branchville section, and a sub-bus line between Georgetown and Branchville. 

Since the power cutoff panels were not ready yet, he left the bus lines as they stood and started working on getting the strain relief nails set in place under the mole yard.  Iíll be able to complete that job this weekend as well.

Jay was down, and I asked him to help me prepare the power cutoff panels that will hook up all the power bus lines and sub-bus lines.  We took measurements from the existing panels I made last year, and Jay laid out and cut the panel faces.  I took some scrap wood and cut it to size upstairs on the tablesaw, and then cut it to the right lengths to build up the panel edges.  Jay drilled out the switch holes, and I finish-cut the holes to the right size with a jigsaw.  Finally Jay assembled the panel edges and that was it for him on the night.

Neil and Dave arrived a bit later (hoping to escape the worst of the heat, I think) and both of them worked on track.  I had Dave continue getting the balloon tracks in staging hooked up (Tom brought down more rail joiners Ė hooray!) and Neil worked on the rails around the drop-bridge in Wilton in front of the electrical panel.  I think he should be able to finish that up by next week.

All in all it was a really good session, but I really need to do something about cooling the basement down during the summer.  Iím looking for a bargain air conditioner that will fit in my basement window (16Ē x 29Ē).  If anyone knows of one please let me know!

August 1, 2006

Well, today came a very welcome and exciting bit of news -- My friend Bernie Kempinski from Alkem Scale Models has announced a new line of HO scale early period railcars and accessories.  His first release is a set of 1860's and beyond wood beam trucks, laser-cut kits with nylon bearings for smooth running.  These look great!  He will also be releasing a laser-cut Pennsylvania RR 28' stock car with another variety of wood-beam trucks.  I spoke with him at the NMRA National Convention last month, and had asked him if he would be interested in helping me develop some early-period cars to populate my layout with.  He said he'd be happy to help, but I never expected him to get going so quickly.  Way to go Bernie!  Now lets see if we can get a few boxcars going!

Alkem Scale Models PRR 1870 Stock Car Alkem Scale Models Ridgid Bolster wood-beam truck on a BTS models Civil War boxcar 

Alkem scale models Ridgid Bolster Wood-Beam Trucks in HO Scale!

July 30, 2006

Well, with everyone ribbing me that I don't spend enough time working on the layout when they are not here, I spent the last two days doing my "mole in the hole" routine, as my wife calls it.  I started Saturday with finishing up the yard ladder on the left end of the mole staging yard, and when I was done with that I spent the rest of the day dropping feeder wires from every track in the mole yard.  I even got the loop of the balloon track around to the back side of the staging room.  I would have gone all the way around but I ran out of code 83 rail joiners.  I'm still going to need more Atlas code 83 flextrack to finish staging and track the hidden areas on the upper level before all is said and done.  On the other hand, I do have some code 100 flextrack laying in a box in the utility room, perhaps I'll find a way to use that up.

The completed Left end of the Mole staging yard tracks. A birds-eye view of the return loop at the left end of the mole staging yard. Under the mole staging yard, showing feeders dropped from the rails above. 

Sunday I took the two benchwork extensions that Jay and Wayne built last session and got them hung in place at Georgetown and Wilton.  Boy, they make a big difference in the appearance of those scenes.  Let that be a layout planning lesson to anyone -- plan from the beginning for very wide aisles in case you screw up and need to borrow an extra 6" here or there.  These two planning gaffes were fixed without compromising a significant amount of aisle space.  There's no hardship going from a 4' aisle to a 3'-6".aisle.

Benchwork Extension at Wilton doesn't intrude too far into the wide aisle.

I sanded down and stained the new ties in Georgetown for the Gilbert & Bennett siding.  If I get someone down who wants to lay track Wednesday, this is one job that can get mostly finished -- I need to build one more Fast Tracks turnout to complete the scene.

Ties at Gilbert & Bennett siding sanded and stained before rail is laid on them.

I also spent some time working on a new and improved switch mechanism, which I'll be able to retrofit onto the existing machines I've already built and installed all over the layout.  It will be a bit of work (after October) to make the change but I think the operational improvement will be worth it.  It also means I may get to go back to my original switch throwing mechanisms which I was forced to abandon -- Barrel Bolts!  I finally figured out how to make it work.  Stay tuned for more details...

July 26, 2006

With four guys over last night, we made some progress.  Wayne and Jay worked together to make the benchwork extensions I needed for Wilton and Georgetown, accounting for the extra space I needed for scenery and structures in those locations.  Tom and I needed to poke through my scrap plywood supply up in the garage to cut more 1x 3 boards for them to work with, though.  Weíve finally gone through the second batch of ripped plywood boards and will need to make some more in the near future.  In the end they had just enough materials to build what was needed.

Neil arrived and got right to work on building a curved #5 turnout in the back corner that leads into the Gilbert & Bennett siding.  I felt bad, it was very hot in there and he had to take frequent breaks to cool off.  By the end of the evening he had finished laying the turnout in and spiked another 5 to 6 feet of rail down back there.  Next week he will take on the corner in Wilton by the drop bridge, and when thatís done weíll have a complete main line all the way from Wilson Point up to Branchville.  Next week we will also start getting the wiring going on the new sections.

Tom and I worked together on putting up the return loop section for the back of the staging area.  When that was done, I went to help out Jay and Wayne with cutting the angles for the new benchwork, while Tom got started connecting and spiking down the yard ladders at the right end of the staging yard.  Later Neil got in there and helped him, and they finished the ladders at that end by the end of the session.

I worked on a little self-preservation project at the end of the night, attaching several tubes of foam pipe insulation to the undersides of the duckunder leading to staging.  Three times already since we put it up Iíve scraped my bald head on the frame, and thatís three times too many.  This way if I hit it again I may still get a headache but at least there wonít be any blood!

Pipe insulation stapled to the undersides of the duckunder framing to protect my widdle head!

Finally, before everyone went home and for some time after, I started working on putting together the left side yard ladder in the mole staging yard.  I got about half the turnouts in before I called it a night, cutting and trimming them to make it all fit.  I will hopefully finish it up on Thursday or Friday, as well as put down the tracks on the other side of the return loop.  Then next week we can start adding feeder wires to all the tracks in staging.

July 22, 2006

Well, this weekend I decided I wanted to spend some time doing some modeling work to keep my interest up.  I find if I do some modeling at least a few times a month it keeps me motivated to work on the layout too.  This weekend I decided to spend some time working on new rolling stock for the railroad in the form of several 26' boxcars from BTS models.  These laser-cut craftsman models are actually civil-war era prototypes, but cars this size were still built up into the 1870's and the Housatonic still had at least one hundred cars like this on the roster in 1892.  I was so impressed with them I bought ten at the National Train Show a few weeks ago, and I hope to be doing more business with them too.  These will be some of the first non-stand-in cars on the layout!

Four BTS Models craftsman kit boxcars on my workbench. What fun!  

As you can see in the photo, I've nearly completed building four out of the ten; what you see here represents about 12 hours of work.  The parts fit together incredibly well, it's a very well designed kit.  They still need to be painted with a finish color and decaled, as well as get trucks and couplers.  I'm hoping to have some really cool trucks for these cars coming in the next few weeks, but that's a secret and I can't say much about it yet.  I really enjoyed working on these cars.  When they are done they will be getting lettered as Housatonic boxcars in Red Line Fast Freight service.  

July 19, 2006

A fairly quiet session today, just myself, Neil, Wayne and Jay.  Tom had come over the night before for an hour or so and helped me hang the shelf back in staging that will make up part of the return loop, and also helped put down some of the new roadbed over by the new Gilbert & Bennett siding in Georgetown.  That was really helpful, it's one of those things that's really hard to do by yourself.

Tom lays in roadbed sections on the Gilbert & Bennett siding. Finding studs in the wall to hang the return loop track in staging. The return track shelf is hung in staging.

Wayne was the first to arrive, and the man took pity on me and once again volunteered to clean up.  Bless his heart, I don't know what I would do without him.  I hope he knows how much it is appreciated since I can never seem to motivate myself to do it.  As he was doing that, Jay arrived.  Since we are starting to run short of time for the open house and operating session I'm supposed to have for the NER convention this year, I asked Jay to stop work on the oil loading platforms for now and help out in other ways.  He agreed, and we got started putting up the narrow upper-level hidden trackage shelves that will run behind Georgetown and Branchville.  After that, we worked on completing the return loop for the mole staging yard, which still needed benchwork for a return loop on the back end.  Before the evening was over, we also got started on laying out the right-side yard throat for the mole staging yard.

The narrow shelf that will carry trains from Danbury to staging is hung behind Georgetown. Jay trims the plywood section we're using to finish the return loop in the mole yard. The right-side yard throat of the mole. The six mole yard tracks laid and ready to get hooked up to the throat.

Neil worked off on his own, installing some new fast-tracks turnouts back in Wilton and spiking down some more track around Georgetown.  I wish I could say more about it, it doesn't sound that important -- but it is very important.  Until we get those rails spiked and wired up, we aren't going anywhere.

July 12, 2006

After returning from the NMRA National Convention in Philadelphia, I am really stoked up about getting back to work on the layout.  Unfortunately, I seem to have caught a cold the day after I got back and have been feeling poorly all week.  I canceled the 7/12 session but Neil didnít get the message so he showed up anyway.  We called Dave and had him come over too, so we got a little bit of work done anyway.

Neil and I started off building the shelves for the low-relief hidden trackage on the upper level behind Georgetown and Branchville, and also the shelves for the back wall in the mole yard.  We had pre-cut all the materials a few weeks ago and it all went together very well.  Just as we were finishing that, David arrived and the two of them started getting the flextrack down in the mole yard as well as a number of Atlas re-railers to help make it easy to build trains.  They got in a lot of track before we quit early, mostly because I was starting to feel really rundown.  I built a framework extension that will probably be un-necessary after all, so I didnít accomplish much.  I hope to get more done this weekend.

July 5, 2006

Hiatus during the NMRA National Convention in Philadelphia

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