West Coast Express commuter service F59PHI #904 rests at Waterfront Station in Vancouver in 1996. The service only started in 1995 so it was still quite fresh and new when I rode it. I was taking an evening train (even now this service only runs inbound to Vancouver in the morning and back at night, no daytime 2-way service!) back to the suburbs to meet up with my dad at Coquitlam Central Station after he was done business meetings. I’d spent the day on my own taking the skytrain, seabus and walking to visit hobby shops, museums and do other stuff on my own in Vancouver. I would have just turned 16 at the time and this was one of the first times I was given free reign on a vacation to go and do things on my own.
Almost two years ago, I bought my first Brass Locomotive, a 1976 vintage CNR O-18a 0-6-0, a small switching locomotive that would have been seen in Liberty Village before diesels took over. Brass locomotives are made in small runs in Korea and Japan, and for many years were the only way to get really accurate models of a lot of different types of equipment. They are however, notoriously bad runners, and require work to be useful on a modern Digital Command Control operated layout, but this is fine, that work is both a learning opportunity for me, and a chance to offer friends who are more skilled than me a chance to make some money to do the work for me! That is a bridge for another day.
Apparently the CBSA didn’t buy he declaration from BrassTrains.com and felt the need to open my package and confirm it was in fact a model train.
So what have I bought for my layout? I hadn’t planned on buying any more brass, but I came across a locomotive that was too perfect and too needed to pass up, a Canadian Pacific Railway U3e 0-6-0 steam switcher, imported by Van Hobbies and made by Samhongsa in Korea in 1975 for an outstanding price, and it is painted. That may or may not come to matter whenever it gets taken apart for a new motor/wiring and DCC&sound installs, but for now, it at least looks good in photographs!
Opening up my “new” CPR U-3e Switcher
After patiently waiting over three weeks from when the order shipped until it arrived at the post office for me to pay duty and collect it. Once I got it, as you can see, apparently the Canadian Border Services Agency didn’t believe that a large light box could contain a model train, they opened it up to take a closer look. Based on the taping at least though, they don’t appear to have gone into the locomotive, I guess once they got it opened the x-ray was clearer without the packing inside the big box to convince them the only thing I was getting was a toy train and not contraband!
Already looking at home in Liberty Village, even though I can’t run it on the layout as it doesn’t have DCC.
This is now my second U3e, Thanks to the generosity of a friend I have a Walthers Proto2000 USRA Standard 0-6-0 locomotive, and I found the right brass CPR tender at a flea market to kitbash it into a passable U3e. The first will need some work, and I see some dimensional differences more clearly now, but the Walthers conversion will still be a fun project some day to do the work of modifying it, but now it will mean that hopefully, I will end up with a pair of U3e’s that can run on the layout.
Comparing the Brass U3e with the Proto2000 USRA 0-6-0, and the CPR u3e with the CNR O-18-a.
With the comparisons and looking at it done, it was time to see if it actually runs at all. As I noted, brass locomotives are notoriously bad runners, and this one is no exception, it does run, but its power pickups appear to be terrible, as you can see from the video below, it needs some convincing to stay on the rails and draw power. There is nothing there that can’t be resolved, but clearly this will be a complete new motor/driveline/gearbox job as part of the conversion to allow DCC and sound. Not a big deal, just more work!
Brass CPR U3e testing on the stationary rollers.
There is one spot on the layout where I know I have a very tight clearance between a building and a telephone/light pole (there is yet another project I’m working on that warrants its own post). The good thing is I am not planning on running longer (50′) equipment very much. My curves and switches are very tight, which precludes long equipment operating. As well, 50′ box cars were not common yet in the 1950s which I am modelling. That said, locomotives and the cars I am using do need to be able to get about the layout without running into things or scraping along the sides of buildings!
Views of the pinch points on the layout, but the good news is the widest and longest equipment does clear them.
As you can see from the pictures, I am working on installing light/hydro poles along the line. These are not railway telegraph poles, but City hydro poles that have streetlights on them. I don’t intend on adding the hydro wire between them, as it would block access for uncoupling, but they are going to have working streetlights, so I am using styrene so I can run wires down them to below the layout for power. There are a couple that create very tight pinches between them and buildings/fences on the layout as can be seen above, but in checking, they are clear, and gently tilting the pole bases towards the front fascia when I installed tubes into the pink foam base, I gained a little bit more clearance. This is almost certainly something I should have thought about more before finishing the track and paving the roads, but I seem to have escaped disaster as things stand as everything still fits!
A couple of weeks ago I installed my first Bullfrog Switch machine. I learned a lot, and so last weekend, I decided I would install three more in the areas where scenery has reached a level that I was comfortable that I wouldn’t likely glue the track together in the future.
My second Bullfrog Install. Not unsurprisingly, it went a bit smoother than the first.
There are a total of 13 turnouts on my layout, one of which, I am still debating if I am going to put in service or not (it is basically a switch that leads to a spur that would launch cars off the side of the layout to the floor, modelling what was there, but probably not going to be a “used” bit of trackage). We shall see on that, but after the first switch installation worked after some adjusting and experimentation, I felt capable of moving on to the other three switches that were ready to be installed. The first was equally straightforward, in an easily accessible area beneath the benchwork, and with a straight line to the fascia. The next two are probably the tightest installations because of their location in the corner of the closet at the narrowest part of the layout.
Installing two Bullfrogs at the pinch point in the closet as the layout curves from the main room into the closet staging.
The third and fourth are about the most complex installs on the layout, as they have very short throws and are in a tight corner where the layout wraps around a bulkhead in the closet. Nothing that can’t be done, but as can be seen in the photos above, one of them exits the fascia at a jaunty angle! Both of these are in a fairly tight and exposed area, so I am likely going to look to add some kind of a shelf beneath them to try and protect them from me smashing into them and damaging them. As well, the wooden disk handles from Fast Tracks are most definitely temporary, long term I will be finding something a bit nicer looking and easier to grab, but for now they work just fine. Sadly, one of my long term thoughts of doing working brass switch stands like my friend Trevor has is likely a no-go, as the company which made the working G-Scale brass stands he used has stopped making them. Oh well, they were an expensive “want” rather than need for the layout, and who knows what will be out there in a few years when I’ve got a more complete layout and am looking to make upgrades.
Videos of the third of four bullfrogs from above and below showing the rails moving, and how the mechanism itself works.
With these four done, now I need to do some more basic scenery (mostly ballasting/rough ground cover) to be in a position to install some more of the bullfrogs. It is nice to actually use the controls to change switches when running trains, rather than reaching in and moving them by hand.
So something that is critically important for my layout, has constantly been getting punted down the road, the lighting! While my layout room is fantastic in the daytime thanks to the skylight, it still needs proper lighing for operations and photography. I have been struggling as to change out the room lighting, which is a single fixture off-centre (because of the skylight), would be a challenge. I used some leftover LED lighting from our kitchen to light the CPR staging in the closet, but I didn’t think it would be powerful enough to light the layout, as the ceiling is 36″ above the benchwork, and I did not design/install a lighting valance when I built the benchwork. There is also the challenge that the end of the peninsula is beneath the skylight.
Fortunately, my friend Mark has recently installed and been testing lighting on his Comstock Road layout, using LED light strips, and his valance is give or take 36″ from his benchwork…starting to sound familiar here.
After a chat with Mark during our weekly Train Night In Canada Zoom, I dug out the remaing LEDs from the kitchen, and set about testing in the closet, where the open area that needs more lighting is closer to 24″ from the benchwork. Fairly quickly it became apparent that the LED strip lights stuck to the ceiling would provide more than enough light.
LED Strips just hung in place to see how it looks.
Pretty quickly it became apparent that I love the look of the LED strips, so it was on to figuring out the best way to control the light direction and get it onto the layout instead of all over the closet. The way I build the backdrop I have just enough room that I can install a styrene valance across the corner of the layout to direct the light strips down onto the layout. I was also able to connect the LEDs to the power supply already in use for the closet, so all the layout lighting in the closet is now on one switch.
Showing the LED strips installed, left with the closet light on (yellowy CFL), centre the two strips behind the valance, right, the LED light only.
With the closet lighting resolved, I have moved on to looking at the main layout area. I left enough space above the backdrop before the Ceiling that I actually have room to install a lighting valance to support the LED’s and frame the top of the layout. I hadn’t intended to do this, but I think it will actually be a net improvement once I figure out exactly what I am going to build. It will need to be reasonably lightweight, but the LED strips weigh next to nothing. Simple shelf brackets like what supports the layout can hold a lightweight wood frame that the LEDs can be mounted do, and I can then add a styrene skin to form the valance and match the fascia on the benchwork.
I was worried about Mowat Ave and installing a lighting valance, but the room fixture is just further from the wall than a lighting valance will need to be.
So now I am working on a design for the lighting. I’ve got a few days off around the Civic Holiday weekend that starts August in Ontario. I may get materials and try to do the lighting then, but I suspect I will do some other things on the layout this weekend, and get on the lighting come Labour Day weekend in September just so I am not rushing myself into the design and decisions. At least it looks like one of the critical things in how to light the layout that has been flummoxing me is finally nearing a resolution.
Revisiting the Canadian Pacific Bridge over the Grand River in 2003, CPR SD40-2F 9022 in the “Two Flags” CP Rail System scheme leads a train of autoracks across the bridge. The shot below gives a better look at the short lived “Two Flags” paint scheme.