From a Wall Hanging to My Layout, The Bat’leth of Switches

Track, you can’t run trains without it, and I’ve been semi-stalled on doing much with my layout waiting on it. That all ended last night. My friend Dan kindly offered to build my switches for the layout using the Fast Tracks system to hand lay them. This is a great thing, as I love being able to involve my friends in my layout, and he has much more experience building switches than I do (which is zero). For the layout, because of the tight curves and complicated track work, hand laid switches offer more flexibility in adjusting them and making things fit than commercial turnouts would.

IMG_7809
Track as an art piece. The Bat’leth switches hanging on Dan’s office wall. The Fast Tracks Templates used to build it from are taped on the piece of plywood below.

Dan built all the complicated trackage for one corner of the layout as one piece. There are five switches and two crossovers which he built as one combined unit to keep everything in alignment so it would hopefully work. It was built over the printed Fast Tracks templates from their website that I positioned and taped together to make sure the trackage would work. Until this big corner piece of track was in place, I have been holding off on doing any track work as everything else on the layout will be aligned from the Bat’leth (Star Trek Klingon sword, the piece of track looked kinda like on Dan’s office wall). Dan took pictures as he was building the switches, he’s hopefully going to write about it either for here, or for a Model Railroad publication. Either way, if it gets written up here or in print, I’ll post about it sometime.

IMG_7810The big block of track in its future home, the corner of Liberty Street and Mowat Avenue on the layout. Now on to aligning track, and sorting out any issues before getting electrical leads (other than for the frogs which Dan wired) and affixed into position.

I was super excited last night when I got home from a super tasty BBQ feast near his office, that I had to start messing about. First up was to clear up all my temporary bits of flex trackage so I could position equipment and get a feel for things, so I could get the Bat’leth off its board and onto the layout temporarily at least. It’s a big piece of track, but just one of 8 pieces Dan built between it, individual switches, and a couple of combined switches. The rest of my track will be Micro Engineering Code 70 rail Flex Track and Shinohara Code 70 rail crossovers.

Now that I have the piece of track that dictates everything else on the layout, I can seriously start confirming placement of buildings and roads, and pin down the last thing that needed work, the placement of the peninsula. My intention all along has been for the peninsula to be hinged so I can swing it out of the middle of the layout room, when you see the pictures of the penninsula, you can see why, it kind of hovers over where I sit at my workbench, making it a hazard for me constantly knocking it if it’s in place when the layout isn’t being operated. That said, one of the many back and forth thoughts I’ve been having tonight is on trying to find ways to live with that. My intention is to get the trackage down on the around the wall benchwork, then build and install the peninsula, as there isn’t a lot of track on it, and its easier to work when it isn’t there (another reason for making it swing or removable totally).

IMG_7816Mockup peninsula back out, you can see how it crowds the room. I’m of two minds on whether to keep with the plan to hinge it so it can swing to the right in the image in front of book cases, or permanently affix to benchwork.

With my mockup peninsula back in place, I can start making the real world tweaks from the track plan on the computer to make everything fit. I have a plot of the survey of the building that goes on the peninsula, which means I am able to lay the plan out, and check that track can reach where it should around it. I am seeing some spots where I may not be able to achieve everything I want to. One consideration is I have a large blank spot along the wall where the Women’s prison was located. There would only have been a wall there. Instead of further compressing some buildings, I may just make some adjustments given the large chunk of area in the middle of the layout that has no active industries. First things first though, need to sort out the position of the trackage from the plan to the benchwork and see how everything fits.

 

Working on peninsula track geometry. Good news is the peninsula is shifting right which widens the walkway in the “U” on the left for operators, bad news is this squeezes parts of the layout to the right.

Part of the reason I write this blog is to keep a record of what I’m doing and have done, and to help keep myself grounded and motivated.  Contemplating the peninsula, and playing around with the various switches (and discovering naturally a few places here and there where some adjustments will be needed to track gauge or guard rails so equipment will reliably track through them), I started getting what for lack of a better description was an anxiety attack about the whole layout building process. Too many things piling up in one short period of thoughts, need to fix this, and do that, and I haven’t done this, or I don’t know how to do that, or I need to change that…and just letting myself get away from myself and run ahead of myself at the same time. Its a recipe for a mistake, and I could feel myself careening towards something bad like dropping a locomotive or breaking something.

Feeling that way, I walked out of the layout room about 3 hours ago now feeling daunted and frustrated and more than a little apprehensive that even this simple layout is biting off more than I can handle. I am still nervous, the but feelings of angst from puttering for an hour when I got home from work tonight, as super excited as I was to see track and start making progress, told me it was time to down tools. Dinner and a movie on the sofa with my wife and ignoring trains has helped enough to at least let me write this post, and writing this post is giving me comfort as I know I can keep going slow and steady, and that I have friends in the hobby I can reach out to help me work through the “problems” and keep building. I’m sure tomorrow or in a couple of days, whenever I next put in some time in the office working on the layout, that a clear head will help me move forward again!

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Operations at the Filmore Avenue Roundhouse

I still consider myself to be a novice when it comes to operating layouts. I haven’t done it a lot, and by not a lot, I can still count my number of ops sessions on two hands, and the number of different layouts I’ve operated on one hand. That said, the quality of the layouts I am fortunate enough to get the chance to operate on is incredible. And the latest is one that I’ve seen in photographs and in print, but never in person until last weekend.

Overview of the Filmore Avenue Roundhouse layout. The whole layout is terminal, operations are taking locomotives from arriving for servicing, through timed servicing, to be ready to be sent back out to work.

Getting to visit amazing layouts like Rick DeCandido’s “Filmore Avenue Roundhouse” and operate them gives me inspiration for my own layout, that it can operate as well and look as good as the layouts I’ve gotten to see do. Rick’s layout is a “proto-freelanced” layout, that is a layout based on a prototype and realistic operations, but which never actually existed. It is based on a proposed new engine terminal adjacent to the Buffalo Central Terminal that the New York Central was planning in 1929. Work hadn’t started when the stock market crashed in October 1929, and by the time World War 2 was over in 1945, the writing was on the wall for steam locomotives, and the NYC never revisited the proposal to build a new facility to service passenger locomotives. As such, the buildings are all based on NYC prototype practices (other than the gorgeous Canadian Pacific 2 road coaling tower based on John Street in Toronto, modelling it is on my to do list and Rick’s is drop dead gorgeous!). Rick’s modelling skill and attention to detail is second to none. Everything has that perfect life worn and used feel, with the right amount of weathering and grime to look like buildings that are out in the environment where work and steam locomotives are around constantly.

Some examples of Rick’s fabulous modelling. His coaling tower (a model of the CPR John Street tower at the Toronto Railway Museum as it fit his space), and a view into the stalls of the roundhouse to see locomotives being serviced.

The layout is operated in real-time, with each session about 2.5 hours long. While that may on the face of it sound like not a lot is happening. It takes three active operators and a dispatcher updating the digital “chalkboard” of the shop for incoming, under service and outgoing locomotives, plus service trains delivering supplies and coal. The session started out with a half hour or so introduction to the layout and the operator jobs. I think Rick was maybe a bit worried it is too much, but I have to say it was just perfect. He was able to clearly lay out everything we’d be doing and tie that to why the railroad did things so it all made sense, and the three of us could figure out how we were working together. Along with my friends Ryan and Doug, we’d have a lot of movements to coordinate between the Staging (me, bringing locomotives in for servicing and departing after, as well as aligning the staging for service trains), the Assistant Holster (taking over from staging after entry to the layout, running service extras, and helping the lead as needed), and the Lead Holster (taking locomotives from assistant, onto turntable and into stalls, then back out to the ready tracks for departure).

Doug has a laugh while I focus on something working the staging yard. Ryan focuses on bringing a switcher off the turntable onto the ready tracks.

I had a wonderful time. Rick was a great host, and his layout operated perfectly. The only things that went wrong were operators like yours truly putting locomotives in the dirt by failing to check that switches had been set for where they were driving!! I hope some time I can invite Rick to my house to repay the favour of an operating session in Liberty Village and that it runs half as well as his layout did!

A Water Tower for Hinde & Dauch Paper

As I am working on my layout, I’m actively looking for opportunities to ease the amount of building I have to do so I can focus my attention on the parts of buildings that really make them distinctive the shapes and little details. With that in mind, I recently ordered a kit from JL Innovative through my usual hobby shop (as much stuff as I buy online, if its available from the distributor through a Brick and Mortar shop, I try to buy from them to keep them alive, but that’s a whole other post/discussion for another day). In this case, the kit is the “Red Rock Water Tower“, a generic early 20th century water tower. It’s about the right size and shape for the water tower on the Hinde & Dauch Paper Factory, and using a kit is a much faster proposition than unnecessarily scratch building a water tower. It’s the same principal I am using for the industrial chimneys in the area. I can find ones that are close for the most part, and as long as I don’t use the same chimney on every building, the effect will be the same as the real Liberty Village.

The instructions and the kit were pretty straight forward. I’ll have a few comments at the end and thoughts for anyone who finds this post and is considering building the kit, but overall, it went together fairly well by doing what the instructions said. As such, this is mostly a photo heavy post from here out for a bit.

IMG_7685The tank wrapper is laser cut card. The rivets were added using a Pounce Wheel as shown in the images below from the inside before the wrapper is laminated to a piece of cardboard shipping tube.
The tank roof is also a piece of laser cut card stock. drawing out lines on the underside, the Pounce wheel carefully rolled along the lines creates dents on the outside that look like rivets.
The safety railing on the platform is a laser cut piece that easily held in place with a bit of weight, in this case, a pair of helping hands that were a gift from a fellow modeller. The finished tank is pretty good-looking.
Assembling the legs, easily the hardest and most frustrating part of the kit.As you can see, they went together, and I wound up notching a piece of styrene sheet to hold the legs in place as everything set up. They were wobbly, trying to hold two sets of half the legs in place while installing the support between them was an exercise in agony. Once they went together, it did stand on its own nicely, but it was aggravating.
Set in place against the mockup of Hinde and Dauch. Looks the part and I can make some adjustments once the actual building is built from styrene.

So, another piece is kinda done. It will get painted in due course once I have a paint booth set up in the house. I’m sure I’ve said that before about many projects, but I’m actually close to finally actually setting up my paint booth. I’ll post about it once it’s up and running.

So, the couple of warnings or notes about the kit. As noted above, the legs take a lot of care and patience to get together. Same for the wire cross supports. There aren’t any pictures of that work in progress, as I came perilously close to tossing the kit at a wall trying to get them to adhere and stay in place. I don’t know if it’s the kit design or if i was having a bad/impatient night, but be warned. The final, was the bottom of the tank. It’s a cast plaster piece. I don’t think it’s hydrocal or something like that, but actual plaster of paris. I say that as it crumbled adjacent to where I was filing to make the required notches for the legs. It wasn’t so bad that they couldn’t be filled later with putty to fix the shape, but its a broken part waiting to happen if you aren’t paying attention.

All in all, for a few nights work, it achieves my goals and should look great once it’s painted and weathered and attached to the roof of an actual building model vs. sitting on a temporary riser behind a matte board outline.

 

Alco S-2 DCC Quick Update

After forgetting to take a video at Trevor‘s of the working locomotive after doing the DCC install, yesterday Trevor loaned me an old Lenz entry-level DCC system, not nearly fully featured by todays standards, but enough to control a locomotive to start-up, move, and trigger some basic functions.

IMG_7696A ghostly primered S-2 with a Lenz Digital Plus throttle being put through its paces.

While I can’t do much with the Lenz other than stand test locomotives, at least it let me play around with a few other DCC locomotives in my collection to check if they’ll respond to commands. Whenever I have my own system and get some track laid, I can see I’ll need to do a round of locomotive tuneups as well!

Video of the test run, Alco’y turbo’y goodness!

Springish Sunday

It was the first sunday of Spring today, and to celebrate, the thermometer hit double digits. I still haven’t gotten around to setting up a spray booth now that we have a house, and I can actually get set up to paint inside (it’s coming though). As such, projects are still hitting airbrush/spray paint limbo where I can’t go any further as I can’t paint. I’ve held onto one of my old cardboard box paint booths for painting outside (it’s basically just a backstop to catch paint. I couldn’t do a lot today between available time, and lack of desire to drag out the compressor and airbrush and then have to clean it, but I did rattle can on some flat black onto two parts of a project that’s been gnawing at me for months as it needed paint. Now that at least the underbody bits are painted, It looks like something and that will hopefully help motivate me to get the paint booth sorted so I can paint the more care required visible bits of the model!

IMG_7681.jpgQuick hit of paint from a flat black rattle can. Nothing fancy, but feels good to do something paint wise!

Digital Comand Control for an Atlas S-2

IMG_6290.jpgStarting Point for a Saturday, one Atlas S-2 mechanisim, ready to have its electronics removed and DCC Installed.

Yesterday I got together with my friend Trevor Marshall, an accomplished model railroader. He recently did a DCC install in a Walthers Southern Pacific SW-1, a similar small switcher with a tight body for working in to my Alco S-2 for Liberty Village.

IMG_7655After stripping out the Atlas Board, and unclipping the wires, there is lots of room to hard wire in the decoder.

As the only DCC Install I’ve done was a plug and play into my CNR D-1, for this install, even though the Atlas board had an 8 pin socket, in discussing with Trevor, he advised that removing the factory board would allow for a better install that can better use the features of the ESU Decoder than plugging into the Atlas board. I was game, but I’m not the best solderer, and there is a lot going on in rewiring a locomotive. As Trevor is experienced, when I asked if he’d be interested to do/show/help me on an afternoon, he generously agreed. We started out session out with lunch at his local The Harbord House, and then retired back to his basement to his workshop to work through the install.

Installing two speakers, ESU Sugar Cubes, one in the front where Atlas left space for a speaker, and one in the cab along with an ESU PowerPak Keep alive.

For the Install, I had an ESU Loksound Micro decoder, two sugar cube speakers, and the ESU PowerPak keep alive capacitor. This last unit means for a short locomotive like the S-2, any small gaps in power from electrical shorts or dirty track are not likely to shut the engine down while the layout is operating, a nice feature.

IMG_7664About half way done, moving on to the rear to complete the speakers and PowerPak Keep alive.

One thing I learned is how important it is to think your steps out before you take them. For the most part, we didn’t have to undo anything, though a couple of wiring runs and hook ups we definitely managed to make harder than they had to be. Watching Trevor work I now understand how everything can go together, the challenge will be making it all happen when I get to the point of doing an install myself.

While the sound files loaded, we looked at a bunch of projects Trevor has on the go, including one where I can apply some 3D design and printing to help him get something done that he hasn’t otherwise been able to do, but that’s a post for another day.

One of the things I like about ESU is that their decoders come without sound, and you can download the sound files for a huge variety of locomotive types from their website. With the help of a LokProgrammer, a tool which connects a computer to a track for programming, you can set up and test all the functions of a locomotive. Buying one of these is high up on my shopping list.

IMG_7665Success, loading sound files. The locomotive was successfully programmed and running. As usual, I neglected to get any video of the sound once we had the body back on and everything adjusted.

It ran fantastic, nice and slow, the sounds were great. All in all, a successful day. I was able to watch and learn from someone who understands what he is doing, and hopefully for the next time I’m doing this, I can work on my own now that I have a sense of what all goes into doing the job and doing it well.

Now to get a paint booth sorted out so it can get some maroon on the primer and let me move this project further on to completion.