Saturday Switching Tracks

Well, today was a really good day on the layout. I haven’t been working on the layout much of late, its July, the weather is nice, and we have been enjoying just sitting outside on our evenings and weekends. That said, a couple of weeks ago I did my first Operating Session attempt, and some things that were really problematic, like having trains go where I wanted as only 4 of 12 switches had Fast Tracks Bullfrog turnout machines installed to throw the switches and hold them in position while a train passes over made me crazy have been turning in my mind. On my work lunch break on Friday, for some reason the motivation hit me, and I installed a Bullfrog on the first switch leaving the CN staging yard. It took maybe 15 minutes to get it fitted, mounted and the throw rod on. This was a positive, as it gave me a nice boost of confidence in my ability to do them.

Today, Saturday was a washout here, which motivated me to go put on some tunes loud, and get going with installing more Bullfrogs. All of a sudden, in a couple of hours, I had five more installed, giving me 10 of 12 switches done.

Where there were no installed Bullfrog switch machines on Friday morning, by Saturday afternoon there were six.

The last two switches required some big decisions to be made. Because of where the switch was located, it made a simple straight run for the RC Aircraft control rod that throws the bullfrogs impossible, at least unless I made a change to the benchwork. When I designed the layout, i designed it with the peninsula being mobile, it was designed to be unlatched and turned away to free up room in the centre of the layout room. Over a year of living in the layout room 8+ hours a day thanks to work from home and my workbench becoming my work desk, I have come to the conclusion, that it does not make my life better for it to swing, and once the track was laid and I got a good look at everything, I was never able to bring myself to cut the rails so the peninsula could swing, it basically hasn’t swung since I laid the track. This is good though, as the track now won’t have gaps and alignment problems that could have made operations bad. I know these kinds of things can work, but I have enough alignment issues to work out with my staging yards that I can’t avoid, so why create headaches when I don’t need them?

Fastening the peninsula and removing the hinge. A big design decision for the future of the layout.

The last two Bullfrogs were pretty much standard installs with the decision to remove the hinge and make the peninsula fixed. One of the things that had kept me from doing this was I had some challenges with my first installs, but learning as I went. Because of this, I have spent my pandemic modelling time doing things like building freight car kits, scenery and structures that I had a higher confidence in working out rather than things I’ve convinced myself I needed a friends help to do. That said, several friends have tried to give me the pep talk that I am more than capable of doing these installs, rather than waiting on a time where I can have a friend over. I think, as much as anything, I was putting this off as it is something that having a friend help with would be nice, one of the things remaining that maybe need a friend to help with a construction session on. Though, with me getting them done, when that day which is hopefully coming soon where I can have a friend over, we might be able to run a train without turnout problems at least instead of install turnout controls. I guess I’ll need to get on with finding and solving my few electrical gremlins that seem to still have locos stalling out in places, but that’s another days problem!

Installing the last Bullfrog and marking off the task on my whiteboard of major work areas…what a great feeling.

So, with that, today was a really good day on the layout. I got a lot done, and on at least first passes of rolling freight cars through the switches, the Bullfrogs are keeping everything tight so the wheels are directed the right directions. I have the motivation to work on the layout again that had been lacking, just getting a project done has given me a real lift. I look forward to actually running some trains where I can hopefully be sure they will go where I want them to!

Tuesday Train #256

Literally taken last night on Monday July 19, 2021. CPR 8727 leads Train 101 north at Humber Station Road in Bolton having just departed the Vaughan Intermodal Terminal heading north and west. This was 8:30pm and the sun was down (such as it was with the wildfire smoke this week), and different cameras and angles exposed differently. Metering off the headlights made a dark shot. As you can see below, my point and shoot video camera sees it differently.

And, after 101 had passed, looking to the northwest, the light was a bit better (or more honest, it wasn’t nearly as dark as the lead picture suggest) and we caught FRED (flashing rear end device) merrily blinking as they headed off into the night.

A Tentative First night of Ops in Liberty Village

As I wrote about at the end of June, I am starting to think about what Operating Sessions will look like on my layout as construction progresses, and as things in the world open up to possibly have visitors again to invite friends over to run trains.

Layout all set for the first attempt at a full Operating Session

This first real operations session was a solo effort, and I had to gird myself for frustrations as gremlins were no doubt going to appear as I operated, but this was about learning, seeing what works, and what doesn’t. I expected to find some electrical issues, as it hasn’t been run and the track in spots almost certainly wasn’t properly cleaned after doing scenery work nearby. As well, only four switches have bullfrogs installed, which means a lot of switches don’t stay set the way you want and equipment can force them to move instead of the switches staying put and making the wheels follow the rails.

Part of this, was to look at what things look like for an operator. You can’t run long trains on my layout, because of how the staging traversers are designed, they do allow a crew to run around cars in staging, to change between pushing or pulling cars onto the layout, but there is not a lot of spare space. The layout has separate CPR and CNR staging and operating crews. In theory, both could work at the same time, but there would be conflicts. I set the session up where every car on the layout would be moved, and new cars placed from staging (but not necessarily in the same places). I pre-staged my CPR trains in the order I thought the cars needed to be to make bringing cars from staging easier, and didn’t on CNR to see if I could actually live shunt the cars into useful order on the layout. I am not sure which option is better, other than to say that on the CPR side, the low clearance from the closet shelf makes uncoupling cars nearly impossible if they are on a track behind other equipment.

The first to run for me was CPR. My Atlas S2 seems to be my most reliable performer electrically over dirty track, the keep alive in it seems to do as it should and give it a seconds life when it wants to cut out. I don’t recall having any shorts outs while running this side. I did have some derailments from switches not staying lined, or cars that clearly need wheels cleaned/gauged or more weight added. These are all things that can be fixed. It took about an hour to switch the CPR side and move 13 cars on and off the layout.

The CNR operation, took longer, and caused more frustrations. My current pair of working CNR locomotives, a Rapido Trains SW1200RS and a Rapido Trains GMD-1, both are, to be polite, sensitive performers. They work fine for a bit, then just short out constantly, even on the same track they just worked fine on. I have installed a keep alive in the SW1200RS, though I am not entirely sure my solder joints are good enough and it may not be working. Neither of these are really appropriate CNR motive power for Liberty Village (the SW1200RS is closest), but they are what I have. Between them shorting out, derailments and finding another clearance issue with the GMD-1 that necessitated moving another hydro pole, the CNR side took about an hour and a half to run 14 cars on and off. Neither of these times are bad, and will improve when the electrical and switches become more reliable, and when there are not moments of me steaming and debating throwing trains vs. keeping calm over it being a test session and knowing it would have issues.

Scenes from an Ops Session, things that worked and look good, things that didn’t (like trying to uncouple cars in the constricted CPR staging when you have other cars in front), and what is that 8 hatch hopper doing in the last photo?

Overall, it was a success. I learned some things about my layout that will help me to create better operating sessions, things about where cars can and can’t be set before a session to allow the operators to successfully operate, and I found a bunch of little things to fix. Its also motivated me to look to get a move on with some things like getting the bullfrog controls installed on more turnouts to make operating better for me, and hopefully guests sooner than later.

Tuesday Train #254

Three Trains in one, CPR Train 246 bound for Buffalo passes between a TTC Subway and some hoppers dropped on the siding while local Train T17 works the South Etobicoke Industrial area on Saturday June 19, 2021. But wait, there is more. After a lot of radio, Train 147 (Toronto-Gibson Illinois) which was waiting on Train 246 working at Lambton Yard was originally supposed to make a pull too, for some reason that plan changed, so 147 pulled up and brought Train 246’s conductor to the head end (saving them a long walk through the yard), and then, while 246 was passing me at Kipling Avenue after departing Lambton, Train 147 caught up and overtook, running light engine westbound.

Also of note, in the middle of Train 246 was a really cool bit of Maintenance-of-Way equipment. CPR 420810-420811, a Continuous Welded Rail Unloader. Not sure where it was bound, as there was no Continuous Welded Rail being shipped with it.

Mucking around with Photo Backdrops

In my constant efforts to improve my skills and learn things, for the Canyon Road Diorama, I am experimenting with a photo backdrop on part of the diorama. The curved area on the right side which provides a backdrop for the view under the bridge photo I am trying to create, should have the Niagara Escarpment in the background. This was why I put in the curved backdrop in the first place, so this shot can be taken without it just being the end of the diorama into space. There are a number of ways to achieve this. I could try to paint something on in the background, and may come back to that, but part of the challenge is converting the geography and grade changes of the real world into something believable in 22″ that has no grade change. Part of the issue, is the alignment of the railway and the escarpment means that it is very visible looking one way down the diorama, but should be less so if you view it from the front (the pictures below will hopefully help this make sense).

Looking from a more front view, the escarpment shouldn’t be visible beyond the clear plastic cap. The other two shots show what the test piece of backdrop looks like compared to the real world.

I bought a commercial backdrop recently, I figured $20 is a small cost to experiment. I have cut off a chunk as you can see, where the treeline in the image is a bit too sloped to work for the escarpment which is reasonably straight across the background. I have lots of material to work with, this piece is for messing around with, I’ve test fitted it, and generally, I actually like the look it creates. It is a bit too vibrant for something that should be off in the distance, but I have some “haze” flat paint that I am hoping I can airbrush onto the backdrop to tone down the colours and make it look more like it is in the distance. Along the main backdrop, the trees/brush/telegraph poles and wires will hopefully help hid the eventual blend into the ridge behind the tracks.

As they say, time will tell, but so far, so good with at least the experiment of trying photo backdrops. At the end of the day, I may hate it and bin the thing, but Nothing ventured/nothing gained right?