Ripping a Gremlin Out

Back in late 2022, I spent a lot of time hunting for an electrical gremlin that caused every locomotive crossing the frog at the first swtich coming out of CNR Staging shorting out and stopping. It had me, at my wits end, ready to scream “Trains are StupidTM ” (TM Trevor Marshall). Suffice to say, the problem was not resolved despite my best efforts, and I was nearing the point of doing legitimate damage to the switch trying to file and grind looking for the cause of the short. After a hard day at work this week, I realized that my friend Dan Garcia who built the switches using Fast Tracks jigs, made me two extra turnouts. On my original track plan, everything was a tight Number 4 turnout. He was, convinced that in one location, I had room for a pair of Number 5’s instead, so he built me two ladders of a LH/RH switch in tight sequence. It turned out, he was correct, the Number 5’s did fit, so I used them. This means, somewhere in the house, I have a pair of Number 4 switches, and could potentially “just” rip out the problem switch. That of course, makes it sound like an easier task than it is, but we will get there.

The spare switches located, and the left hand one for the replacement job split from the righthand one.

First up, how to remove the scenery and the existing switch without completely destroying an end of the layout. Fingers crossed, with careful cutting and scraping, I could get it out. Using a variety of knives and edges, I created an edge around the switch I wanted to take out. In some places, my scenery and the ballast crumbled reasonably easy, in others, I used some warm water to try and re-activate the glues to see if the dirt and ballast would soften. These techniques worked, and in a bit of time, I was able to loosen enough ground cover that I could start to see if I could remove the switch. I glued down my track using silicone caulk, So I was hoping I could get a putty knife in and separate it from the pink foam beneath. I was mostly able to do so, not perfectly clean, but clean enough. I wound up having to cut some of the track at either end, while the diverging track the joiners for alignment slid off easily. at the left side of the pictures, the joiners were completely stuck, and I was trying desperately hard to not mess up the alignment with staging.

Starting with partial scenery in place, working on breaking up the scenery, and then fitting in the new switch and cutting the track down to size to fit the gap of the removed switch.

Once I had the track out, I spent some time cleaning up the debris where the track was, and preparing the area for installing a new switch. I then, very carefully started trimming the rails of the new switch to fit. My goal, was for it to drop in, and use rail joiners to ensure the rails stayed aligned. Once it is in and tested, I will paint it in place, then redo the ballast and scenery. For now, the goal is to get the switch in, working, and wired up to test. I was able to drop the switch in so that I didn’t even have to adjust the Fast Tracks Bullfrog control, the throw rod fit into the bar on the new switch, talk about precise trimming and filing! In fact, the new switch is so tightly fit, and sits so smoothly, I am not going to glue it down as I did with the rest of my track. I will allow the ballast and scenery to lock it into place after I work my way through a methodical testing and finishing process. Tonight, I ran all four of my main layout locos and a couple of others through it back and forth and down the diverging track, nothing stalled. Next up, will be painting the ties and track. After that, another round of testing, then if all is OK, on to new ballast. Then more testing. and so on until the scenery is restored to where it was before I started cutting it away.

Ugly looking prior to painting and re-ballasting/re-scenicing, but, locomotives run through it both ways, no stalls, no strange behaviour.

Far and away my most “temperamental” locomotive is my Rapido SW1200RS. Even with a keep alive installed and active, it is a finicky locomotive, and likes to stall. For a long time, I thought it was this locomotive that was the problem, not the switch frog. While I still don’t know what in the frog was shorting out, I reached the point of determining that it was the path of least resistance to just remove the apparently faulty track, and install a new piece of track. The video below shows the Rapido SW1200RS going through the switch in all directions, which trips the Frog Juicer to change polarity, and keep on going. This is something that would not have happened before the swap out.

I am, to put it mildly, incredibly pleased with myself and feel quite clever. Between the realization I had all the tools I needed to swap a switch, and having the new switch seemingly work, really makes me feel good about the layout. To be honest, I hadn’t done a lot of layout work the past few weeks, but being able to run trains and feel they may work could get me back in the groove here for April and into the summer!

A quick Hopper Project

I am sitting here in a world where this year, I basically have no freight car kits on the go. I have a couple of more freight cars on order, but realistically, more boxcars are not what I need, or freight cars of any kind. I need to finish the scenery on the layout, keep plugging away at buildings, and start making operations paperwork for the freight cars I have so I can invite friends over and actually try to operate the layout and see how that goes. That said, a car I ordered a while ago has come in. I want a model of a GACX Airslide Hopper painted for the “Canadian Doughnut Company Ltd”. I know this car was seen in Toronto, but no idea if it would have ever made it to the Gillett Company Mill. A while back Athearn announced a new run of their GACX 2600 Airflow hoppers, and I had a set of the Black Cat Publishing decals for the CDL car. So I ordered one, knowing I could remove the factory printing from a blank car, and add the decals.

The first thing I do with every car or piece of equipment for the layout is replace the wheels with Code 88 semi-scale wheels, and Kadee 58 scale head couplers. This helps with a bunch of things, in theory, operations as all my cars have the same couplers. I also cut the trip pins off as all my coupling/uncoupling will be done manually. Similarly, for the wheels, using the same wheels means that hopefully any areas where there are issues, when I have to make adjustments, no equipment with different treads causes issues. This is hopefully something that will come home to roost when I actually start operating more (I say that a lot, I really do need to run more trains!).

First up, Couplers and wheels. Swapping out the Athearn Plastic Couplers for Kadee 58 Scale Head, and the Code 110 Wheels for Code 88 semi-finescale wheelsets (I have a supply of pre-painted wheels for when new cars are built or bought).

Moving on from the basic mechanical upgrades, I needed to strip the factory printed lettering to renumber the car, and change build dates and data. To do this, I started with my least noxious chemical, to see if it would work. This being Microscale Micro Sol, a solution intended to help settle newly applied decals. I don’t remember the last time (or if I’ve ever) tried to strip Athearn printing, but I’d head online Micro Sol would soften their printing from a short application. This turned out to be entirely true. In less than a minute, the lettering would start to scrape away with a toothpick. This is, still something you want to be gentle doing, and quick;y clean away the Micro Sol. It also effects the overall coating, and the goal is to not create big patches where the base colour is too distorted. A bit of distortion is OK, as the new lettering and weathering will hide it, but you want to gently scrape away the existing letters as they become soft. You can always apply more Micro Sol after a scrape and wipe up to soften any bits of lettering that are clinging on.

Removing Athearn Genesis lettering with Micro Sol and a Toothpick.

There was a lot more lettering to remove on the sides, but fortunately, with the blank generic GACX car as a base, there was nothing in the way of the “Canadian Doughnut Company Ltd” lettering and logo. the hardest part would be getting these aligned across the car. The decals are printed in parts, designed to provide a gap over the ribs between panels, makes getting them to lie flat easier, keeping everything aligned, harder! I did a combination of things, none of which I got usable pictures of, but using various straight edge rulers and tape, I gave myself alignment lines for each row. I think there are a couple of minor misalignments, but I can live with being close as I have to really squint to see them!

Stripping printed markings from the side, and applying the Black Cat Decals.

Once the decals were down, and had a chance to set, it was back at them with setting solutions and a knife, to poke holes so the Walthers Solvaset could get in beneath and melt away any air pockets. After a few applications, the decals settled down and the carrier film all but disappeared along with any air bubbles caught beneath the decals.

Did this rare car ever actually serve the one mill in Liberty Village? I don’t know, but I know I wanted it as an option for an occasional appearance, and I’m happy with how it came out.

Another one for the “to be weathered” pile. Always something else to do, but for now, at least this quick project of a couple of evenings work is done and looking snazzy prior to being dirtied up!

Adventures in Experimenting with Resin Mold Making and Casting

Always with the side projects I am. In this case, something that may or may not turn into a bigger project, but I am always looking to improve my skills at things. In this case, looking at getting better at making different types of molds to cast parts in 3D or with detail all around. I’ve read plenty of blog posts and articles, and decided for something I’ve been puttering at where I need some extra tires cast, taking the tire from a kit and trying to re-cast it would be a good way to learn.

There are many ways to make molds. One I have seen for small parts is using a film canister and hanging the part in with a post so that the mold wraps the part, and the post/sprue acts as a way to pour in the resin. I have lots of film canisters, so this was worth a shot. I was able to hang the part, and pour resin around it, what I wasn’t able to do, was demold the canister from the resin, despite having applied mold release. There was just too much surface tension. After I cut the canister, I was able to peel it away. The next step is to just carefully cut the mold open to release the master part. The mold is held together for pouring resin by an elastic band. The resin I have is short pot life (time between mixing the A and B parts, and starting to cure). This means I only have a minute to get resin into the mold before it starts to set. This turns out, to be a major problem as even my most gentle pour into the injection point generated air bubbles, and I didn’t have a syringe type tool to inject resin. My efforts at parts from this mold were, just bad. As well, the mold didn’t cure fully, and had some nasty air bubbles.

My second attempt, was closer to a more traditional flat mold, but with the part held just off the base so the mold silicone would wrap the part when poured, but have a very thin top wall when pouring resin that I could pop the part out of. This mold worked better, but I still had an iffy pour of the silicone had air bubbles I didn’t get out when pouring and tapping it to try and release/burst air bubbles. The first pour revealed the hole for pouring was still too small, but I was able to cut the opening bigger and get reasonable parts, but discovered again the mold had air bubbles. Fortunately, for small molds and resin pours, its a small amount of material and the costs of failure are low. The effort to learn and experiment is worth the cost of time and materials.

Adventures in making molds. Trying to make a full 3D mold of a part from a kit so I can make modifications to it to turn it into something else. Without much success in actually getting the resin in to make parts (or good molds to be honest with the silicone)

After the first coupe of tests, it was re-evaluation time, and I went back to what I know, a mold where the part is flat on the base this loses the potential for a 3D part with detail on all sides, but for where I will be using the wheels, this won’t matter. This style of mold is also much more forgiving in being able to see if you’ve got air bubbles and getting them to come out of the future part before the resin starts to cure. My experiment was really about pushing myself to learn by doing. That my experiments failed is really less important to me than that I tried, and learned in the process. Going back to a typical mold, I quickly got three wheels that are good enough to use.

Third Time’s the Charm (going right to left for 1, 2 & 3). My 3rd mold (on the left), where I basically abandoned having any backside detail that wouldn’t be visible got me a good enough to use mold and three reasonably clean castings.

I did learn a few things, one, part of the reason some of my molds don’t seem to cure is a reaction between the SmoothOn Moldstar Silicone and the material being cast. I’ve had this problem before, and I clearly hadn’t read the instructions well. Some materials will prevent the silicone for the mold from fully curing. It seems a spray of clear coat to seal the parts is needed. Noted for my next batch of 3D printed window masters where I have sometimes had this problem. I also think, that I need a slower curing resin with a longer pot life (the time between mixing and starting to set) for some of the molds I was trying to make, as the quick setting resin not giving me enough time to get it into the mold and get rid of air bubbles.