Something Shiny, Red and Modern

I got an email from the Credit Valley Model Railroad shop on Friday, that something I had ordered last year had arrived. I had some other previous orders sitting out there waiting on being picked up, so once I’d paid, I went out on Saturday to do a curbside pickup at the hobby shop. When I started the Canyon Road diorama, it was a “modern” diorama, to depict the railway as it is today. To do that, I needed a modern locomotive and rolling stock. Over the past year, I have picked up a modern autorack and container well car, but did not have a modern locomotive. Athearn announced some time ago that they would be doing the EMD SD70ACu rebuilds that CPR has been receiving, which include the ten heritage (5 script lettering, 5 block lettering in Maroon and Grey) and the 5 Military Units. While all modern locomotives have some degree of sameness to them, I actually quite like the SD70ACu’s. That may just be that they haven’t been out long enough to become perma-dirty like most CPR locomotives! In any event, I ordered a CPR Red version for the diorama. If I was going to order a heritage version, I think it would be 6644, the D-Day Commemorative unit, but that was not done as part of this run. Who knows, maybe someday in the future.

Unboxing and checking out CPR 7000 on the Canyon Road diorama.

I haven’t had a chance to put the locomotive on the test track connected to DCC to check out the lights and sound. That will hopefully be a today thing. I spent most of my day yesterday on Saturday doing nothing, and when I did start to do something, it was to start re-organizing the closet in my layout room to better organize things as I need to move some things around in the near future on the bookcases in the layout room so I actually have somewhere to put Canyon Road when it’s done. It can’t sit on top of the IKEA cart I use for tools forever!

The nice part about a newish locomotive, is that it won’t need heavy weathering. Just a bit of road grime along the bottom, and exhaust smoke along the roof. Enough to look used, which means I won’t be taking the nice bright shine off of it. Athearn also, to their credit made the cab roof easily removable. It is held on by two magnets. I have some modern crew figures I ordered from ModelU 3D in the UK, I need to get these painted, but will then be able to crew up the cab easily. I’m even more motivated now to figure out the last of the scenery on the diorama so I can actually take the time to take some good model photographs on it, and mark a project complete!

EDIT: Quick static test video, my programming track is not really long enough for it to move!

Liberty Village’s current locomotive fleet all Kept Alive

Once I discovered the solution to why ESU Powerpacks were not working in older Rapido Trains locomotives for me last week, and got my SW-1200RS running reliably, it was time to do my last locomotive of the current “fleet” for the layout, my Rapido GMD1. Its longer wheelbase seemed to make it more reliable already, but why rely on that when now that I know that I am in fact capable of both making three very fine solder joints, and programming the decoder to use the Powerpack once its in!

Disassembling the Rapido GMD1, figuring out how to fit the ESU Powerpack into the cab (the only open space in the model, three wires soldered to the decoder to connect the Powerpack, and all re-assembled looking into the cab end at the Powerpack.

As with the SW-1200RS, the only open space in the locomotive to place the Powerpack is inside the cab. This does hide some of the interior detail, but you have to be so close to see it, it almost doesn’t matter, and unlike the SW-1200RS, the GMD1 does not have a cab light to turn on and show off the Powerpack. Despite that, I did put a bit of black heat shrink tube over the Powerpack to help hide it from the sides. The ends are still visible, but there are not really places on my layout where you can look end-on at a locomotive. To fit it in, I had to trim away a bit of the cab interior so the Powerpack would sit flat, and so the wires could be run into the body. Once the connections to the decoder were made, everything needs to be carefully fished together through the body into the cab, and re-assemble the cab and attach it to the body once the Powerpack is threaded into it. It was a bit fiddly, but there is more than enough wire to get it into place and ensure that they are routed safely inside the body shell. With everything back together, it was test time, and as you can see in the video below, it passes the tip test to keep running for a couple of seconds from the Powerpacks reserve of energy. Job done. Now I have four reliable locomotives on my layout. I can get back to focusing on scenery and buildings rather than trying to figure out why my trains wouldn’t run!

You have to turn on the Powerpack…

Ahh Digital Command Control (DCC), seems so simple, yet is so complicated when you peel back the layers. Between me blowing up decoders, and not knowing why something as simple as connecting 3 wires to the decoder to add an ESU Powerpack keep alive capacitor to a model didn’t work, I have a lot to learn.

Back at the turn of 2021, when I was busy blowing up a decoder install as discussed in the post linked above, I was also busy installing an ESU Powerpack keep alive capacitor in a Rapido Trains SW1200RS. I am reasonably confident in my trackwork, but have found that locomotives, especially short wheelbase ones are struggling at times to keep connectivity and they stall. The sound and lights in modern locomotives need good contact and power, something, despite my many efforts to look for areas causing loss of contact, cleaning track and wheels, applying graphite to improve connectivity, nothing was working. My Atlas Alco S2 7020, the first loco for the layout has a keep alive, and the couple of seconds it gives is enough to keep things running and keep me from losing my mind when operating. When I have run my other locomotives, their stalling has been making me want to tear the layout down and see how far an HO scale locomotive can fly when you hurl it. Neither of these are things that I actually want to have happen or do!!

So, for some time now I have been annoyed that it seems I did not manage to solder 3 wires to the decoder board in the SW1200RS, as it did not work. Yesterday, I made a trip to visit my friend Pierre Oliver, who I hired to do the remedial DCC install on the second Atlas S2 after I blew up the first one. When we were chatting, he pointed out when I mentioned my keep alive problems, that buried in the ESU instructions are CV values you have to change to activate the Powerpack. Well, damn, I missed those and hadn’t done that. So when I got home, I immediately tried, and it didn’t work, the decoder wouldn’t accept what I was trying to do. I looked at the manuals on the Rapido and ESU websites, and nothing was obvious that I was doing wrong. Some searching online it seemed that the Auxiliary Functions on older decoders were different, but what ones to change to activate it was the question.

This is where I have to say thanks, I think its important to acknowledge companies with good customer service, and my dealings with ESU have been fantastic. I sent an email to them this morning, and within a couple of hours, I had the information I needed back from them:

That is an older run locomotive with a Select decoder. On all of our Select decoders, Aux6 has to be disabled for the PowerPack to work.  You can do this on the programmer by selecting Aux6 and the changing the output mode to “disabled”.  To do it via CVs, please change the following CVs,

CV31 = 16, CV32 = 0
———————-
CV315 =   0

So, with their response in hand, I put the SW1200RS back on my programming track with the LokProgrammer, and pulled up the locomotive on the computer, within seconds, the changes were made.

Three quick steps in the ESU Lokprogrammer software. 1, go to the Function Outputs; 2 select Aux6; and 3, change to disabled. Then write to the decoder and test.

The video below shows the SW1200RS on the programming track, running away, then being tipped up on one side, and it keeps going for a couple of seconds before it cuts out, just like it is supposed to do with the Powerpack in an working. Now to take some time and run a train with it on the layout to see if the stalling out problems with this locomotive are resolved. If it is still stalling out, now I know its finding track problems instead of it being the locomotive.

There is something very satisfying about getting answers. Thanks to an off hand comment from Pierre about the programming of the locomotive he installed the decoder and Powerpack into for me, I realized something I had missed, which lead to the discovery of something that wasn’t clearly explained in the manuals, which lead to me asking for help from the manufacturer. They replied, and at the end of the day, in a bit over 24 hours I have apparently gone from one locomotive on my layout that runs reliably, to three!!

Two locomotives that didn’t work/weren’t on the layout a day ago, both now working and negotiating track without stalling. Some days, Trains are Good!

Brass Steam projects staring me in the face

I have previously written about my two brass steam locomotives for Liberty Village, a Canadian National O-18a and Canadian Pacific U-3e. Both are small 0-6-0’s that worked industrial areas and yards in Toronto in the 1950’s. While not projects that need to happen soon, both need a lot of work to be re-motored, re-wired for DCC operation, and painted/repainted before they are ready to work on the Layout. I don’t need them anytime soon, but they sit in the display cabinet above my layout/desk where I now work from home and taunt me daily. I honestly don’t know that I have the skill or desire to do the work myself, fortunately, I have friends who do have the skills to make these great runners. I suspect, sometime sooner than later I will be asking one or more of them to take on these projects, as even if I don’t run them much on the layout, I want the option eventually to do so when the layout reaches a stage where inviting friends over for an operating session happens.

Decalling an S-2 to give it an identity

A couple of weeks ago I posted an omnibus update that had some pictures of my second Atlas Alco S-2 for the Canadian Pacific Railway fleet on my layout. CPR S-2’s were pretty much ubiquitous in Toronto from their introduction in the 1940’s through the decline in local freight service in the 1980’s. As such, having two made sense for my layout, but I wanted them in two different paint schemes, the short lived early 1950’s “smiley face” maroon that I have with 7020, and the 1955 on “Block” lettering scheme in the more familiar CPR Maroon/Tuscan and Grey (I do not get as pedantic as some on what CPR’s red colour was actually called!).

https://i0.wp.com/www.mountainrailway.com/Roster%20Archive/CP%207000B/CP%207043-2.jpg
A pair of CPR S-2’s in Toronto in 1955. These are the two schemes mine will reflect. I am modelling 7043 in the block, and my “smiley face” is 7020 (though mine doesn’t have eyes. Even in the 1950’s people anthropomorphize trains! Picture from Mountain Railway CPR Roster, originally via Bill Sanderson Collection

After I started decalling my 7043, I noticed I had made a painting error. I continued the grey band around the back of the cab. This was wrong, the back of the cabs were all maroon. So I had to carefully mask and re-spray the back of the cab so it was the proper colour all the way around. With this done, applying the decals was pretty much standard stuff.

In the booth and after correcting the back wall of the cab

This paint scheme has another challenge for me that I wouldn’t be sure I had gotten right until I started Decalling. There is a yellow stripe separating the maroon and grey. When I masked to paint, I had the decals to use as guides, but until the masking was off, and the decals were going on, I wasn’t 100% sure I had gotten the curves and angles right. It turns out, I was pretty much close enough that its not noticeable where there are issues. Most of the issues are on the radiator grills at the bottom, and can be hidden by weathering. You can just see it in the pictures, and its less noticeable in person.

Putting on the stripes separating the primary colours.

For those keeping track, this project has been a little bit electrically cursed, and it has been daunting me in terms of actually getting to making a second attempt at installing the DCC. Fortunately, thanks to a friend who runs a business producing resin kits and building models for others, I am going to send out the locomotive for the DCC installation to someone more competent than I. I want to continue building my skills, but at the moment, the right option is to send it out to someone who can get the job done more reliably than I can. Before I send it down, I am going to finish the body work in terms of getting the decals on, clear coating them, adding some light weathering and then getting the clear glass and such back in, so that when I send it down and the DCC is done, the body can go on and it hopefully doesn’t have to come apart again for a while.

7043 decalled and ready for clear coat and weathering.

I am quite pleased with how it looks. I just haven’t had the motivation to get the paint booth out and put on flat coat and start some weathering. I will hopefully find that motivation this week, but as it seems spring and nice weather is finally sprung here, sitting outside enjoying the warmth and going for bike rides after work has become more appealing than staying inside working on trains!

An April Sunday Night Omnibus Update

I realized I haven’t written about anything I’ve done or been working on for over two weeks, and while that’s not really all that long, its been a weird, though productive couple of weeks, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like that to me. So with that in mind, here is a kind of “month end” omnibus edition post on most everything I’ve been working on (there is one thing with a post upcoming I’ve spent a lot of time on that is not for this post), as I’m not feeling motivated to write a lot of words on one thing, but some pictures and a few words on a bunch of things feels good and again drives home that sometimes, you are making progress even when you don’t always see it! A lot of my writing is not just to share the joy model making gives me, or to share techniques, but to keep me motivated by looking at what I am doing and seeing concrete progress by putting it in words and pictures.

First up, a project that came so close to being “finished” in March, but dragged into April for decals and dull-coating. A pair of Canadian Pacific 10′-6″ interior height NSC AAR box cars. Similar to the two CNR ones I finished other than weathering in January, these are Intermountain undecorated kits built with National Scale Car mini-kits to get the correct doors and ends for Canadian built cars. These are all done other than weathering and any adjustments to make them good runners on the layout. Of course, no sooner do I finish two kits than two more from Yarmouth Model Works arrive to go in the queue. I see a pattern here!!

A pair of CPR Box Cars in final decaling and then dullcoated and on the layout.

Next up, another quick project that has happened on a whim in April! Way back in 2004, I took my first vacation from work, I’d been working for about a year and half after finishing university, and took two weeks to go to England and just do railway stuff. On that trip, I bought a 1/4 scale replica nameplate at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway of LNER/BR B17 61648 Arsenal. This class of locomotive was known as “Footballers” because they were named after English football teams. Early in April, I saw a crazy sale on a Hornby B17, but with the wrong name/number. That is a situation easily fixed. On a Sunday I ordered a locomotive and then replacement etched nameplates and number decals from Fox Transfers, and a couple of weeks later they both arrived across the ocean. A couple of hours of work with isopropyl alcohol and a toothpick to remove the wrong numbers, prying off the factory nameplates, and some carefully gluing, and a quick project I’ve wanted for years, a model of Arsenal to go with my nameplate was done. Didn’t advance the layout one iota (though as you can see, the layout doesn’t do too badly for photographing British Models!)

Voila, from 61665 “Leicester City” to 61648 “Arsenal” in a couple of hours. The replica nameplate can be seen in the background.

Another non-layout project is what started as a”Blank Canvas“, aka an Ikea shelf! I have been busy on this too, working on other scenery skills I don’t necessarily need for the layout, but which are good and where I felt I needed something different to work on to break up working on the layout scenery which is very much samey across the layout. Since I last posted, I have been working on learning to use a Hot Wire Foam Cutter to cut and trim the foam base for the terrain on either side of the tracks, along with laying and painting the track, and building the signals. I have gotten it to the point where the track and roadbed is down, the foam is carved to shape and glued in, and the signals are built and almost finished being painted and assembled. The Hot Wire Cutter probably deserves a post of its own, and I may take some pictures of me cutting a mock-up pieces to do that. Its definitely one of those things I’ve seen people write about over the years, and while I haven’t built much scenery, the difference between my rough carving the block of foam and the mess that made vs. using the Hot Wire is immense. Now I get it!

Going from a 3″ thick chunk of foam to formed terrain for along the tracks and to support the wooden bridge (currently in fancy cardboard mockup form). The GO Bi-Levels are the closest I have to AAR Plate C modern freight cars in size, so not quite tall enough, but they are a great help for making sure I have clearance. As always, any available heavy items including a “Heritage” Don Valley Brickworks brick are used to weight down track when its glued!

My layout has no signalling, but the diorama kind of needs them to make the scene I am building an homage to. Now, having built two signals that don’t even change aspect (I’ve built them with single colour aspects showing for photography), re-affirms that I don’t have the patience or wiring skills to do more than that! I ordered the kits from a company called Showcase Miniatures, and they are awesome, even if I’m no good at wiring. If you are looking for signals, I can highly recommend their kits based on my experiences thus far. What they have also illuminated, is how lucky we were pre-pandemic to just pop out to the hobby shop. I am constantly finding things I don’t have, that will then take weeks to get potentially, like the discovery that I don’t in fact have a sheet of black lettering for the signal ID boards, so I’m kinda ground to a halt, though luckily one of my local suppliers TMR Distributing had them and some other bits and pieces I need for various projects, so I may have what I need this week if the post office cooperates at all (not that I have much faith in Canada Post).

Images of signal building. Multiple aspects of this probably deserve their own post, and who knows, maybe I will get motivated to do that! Simple things, like tiny balls of blue sticky tack in the light openings while painting to protect the LED’s. Sometimes the simpliest things get the best results.

Back in December, I was briefly super excited by my progress in wiring a decoder and programming it into a second Alco S-2 for the CPR side of my loco fleet, then, I blew up the decoder with a wiring short. I managed to not throw the loco, and this weekend made some progress on painting and decalling. This locomotive is going to be in CP’s early maroon and grey “Block” lettering scheme. I have been offered by a friend to do the 2nd go round of the DCC install for me, and I am going to send the locomotive to them in a few weeks once the shell is finished, so that they can do the installation, and when it comes back to me, hopefully I won’t have to take the shell off anytime soon, and won’t risk shorting it out again!

Masking and painting the maroon parts of a CPR Also S-2 switcher. Needs a quick shot of clear coat for the decals, then I can apply lettering.

Just to prove that not everything I’ve been doing is not advancing the layout scenery itself, the last few things have been small, but important painting and learning on the buildings.

Continuing work on painting buildings. Masked and painted windows on Brunswick Balke, working on some “Natural” red sandstone details on 60 Atlantic, and testing Roberts Brick Mortar on the Brunswick power house. The super salmon pink colour on 60 Atlantic will be, toned down! The brick mortar looks better in pictures than I think it does in person. I haven’t quite got the application technique down yet for it to be subtle. Hopefully when I apply some pan pastel weathering it tones it down to the sweet spot in person and in pictures!

So, as its been said before, probably even by me, a little bit of time every day turns into big progress. I have lots of things on the go, things I am working on, things I could be working on, things I think about working on, things I should be working on instead of coming up with new distractions, but all put together, some of that scatterbrained projects all over the place is a part of my hobby as much as making progress is. I don’t know about others, but for me, hitting a point of “oh hey, that worked and looks really good” just seems to sneak up on me from periods of not feeling like I am actually doing anything.