First Operating Session Report for Liberty Village

Last Sunday afternoon I had four friends over, to actually run trains in Liberty Village. My friends Dan, Lance, Nigel and Thomas came from across the GTA to be the first brave souls to try and run my layout. On Saturday I spend the day cleaning and prepping the layout, trying to have it so it would hopefully operate reasonably well for my guests.

And the layout is all set for its first true operating session, four friends running trains on the layout to see how it goes.

I prepared two sets of work for both CN and CP, not being sure how long it would take people to run a job, and whether people would want to run a second job. Lance and Thomas braved the first job (I only have one throttle, so while two distinct crew jobs exist, only one can work at a time). It was, really remarkable to listen two them act like railroaders in my layout room, Thomas acting as engineer, and Lance as conductor, calling moves to couple, or clear switches. Instantly the layout felt like it was that little bit more alive. The Yardmaster who prepped their switch lists was reasonably magnanimous. All the cars they needed were in a single cut in staging…I just maybe didn’t have them in an order that would make their life easy. It was very interesting to see the decisions they made about how to order cars and which moves they would make first. One thing I learned from both crews, is that they seemed quite happy to drag around more cars to reduce the number of trips into the village, at the risk of blocking crossings and annoying the workers blocking roads while they switched.

After Lance and Thomas finished up a CN job, Dan and Nigel stepped up to run a CP job. I think the CP job list was easier than the CN one. I didn’t really keep close track of time, but based on the photos, it took about an hour for the CN job to run, and somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes for the CP. In terms of operational issues, some things I expected, there are a few cars where couplers don’t centre nicely, a few spots where track angles make coupling hard, and it is very easy to bump the staging traversers and misalign tracks while crossing. The CP staging is also right off a curve, and some of the tracks are not aligned it seems when they look good, and work when they look misaligned. This was a known issue, and one I can work on. We had a few small electrical stalls, which seemed to be resolved be a quick re-graphite of the track. A couple of cars sounded like they might have been catching on guardrails at crossings, but overall, no unexpected problems were encountered. Unlike some, I am not worried if people need to reach in with a bit of “hand of god” action. It happens, none of my equipment is so fragile it can’t handle being held from time to time. I’ll strive to get to bulletproof operations, but the occasional issue isn’t going to phase me.

Scenes from an Ops Session. Two crews, first Lance and Thomas ran a CN Job, then Dan and Nigel a CP one.

The feedback I got was that people enjoyed the opportunity. It was nerve wracking to have people, even friends who I knew would be kind if things went very sideways operate, but as I said above, it was such a good feeling to hear and see it come alive. I understand now what some of my friends must have felt over the years when I operated their layouts and brought their work to life. Operating is fun, I’m sad I went so many years before I had friends where I would get invites to operate. I hope in the years to come as Liberty Village progresses, that I will have many more friends old and new over to see the layout and to run trains.

Revelstoke BC WebCam running on the TV for entertainment, real life crews blocking crossings as we did on the layout, though this was some varnish as the Rocky Mountaineer Railtour passed through!

I am going away for a few days on Friday morning, but I have two more switch lists set, I am going to try and run them either before I head off, or after I get back. There were no problems that occurred that generated major immediate repairs to the layout, so I can carry on with structures and scenery, and look forward to the next chance to invite some different friends over and see what else I can learn about operating my layout.

Scenery Repairs and Final Preparations for the First Operating Session

Been a busy week at work, but managed around the edges of my days to get the layout almost set for its first formal operating session on Sunday.

First up, getting the layout back looking like scenery is kinda done. Having chosen to build a small layout, having it look semi complete is reasonably easy compared to many who have large layouts and lots of benchwork, where just getting the track in and running trains is an accomplishment. Having replaced the problem switch, and it seeming to be working after a couple of weeks testing. During the week I pulled the airbrush upstairs and painted the rail, then put down new ballast and ground cover dirt around that to fill the hole in the scenery. I am not going to start re-applying static grass in this area before my Sunday Ops Session, as that introduces another round of glue and wetting spray, and after the ballast and ground cover dried, the track seems to still be working ok.

Repairing ballast and base scenery around a replaced switch. Thankfully I had plenty of the mix of ballast I used, so it will blend right in as if nothing was ever ripped out.

Second up, paperwork and DCC. I have been thinking a lot about how operations will work, and realistically, all trains on my layout are yard jobs. This means, more than likely, rather than the crews having to deal with individual paperwork, they would be given switch lists from the yard master telling them which cars to collect from on-line industries, and which cars to delver to industries, and where to spot them. This means, for now at least, the where for cars destinations is less important, I can simplify by simply treating anything coming on layout as going to a destination, and anything leaving to a yard for onward travel. With that in mind, I split my switch list into two, a “Loads to Pick Up” and a “Cars to Spot”. This will let me, as effectively the yardmaster as the host prepare the lists in advance, so the challenge for the crews will be figuring out their order of operations in terms of which cars they pick up before they can spot any cars, and not running out of room in the staging yards to run around cars and change their locos location between pushing cars and pulling cars.

Slightly revised switch list for tomorrow, switching to cars to pick up and cars to spot. And my ESU Cab Control throttle and running tests before having guests.

Finally, today I will spot cars, do final cleaning of the track, and clean up the home office/layout/workshop. I am really excited to see how it runs in the hands of four of my friends. I really wish I had a second throttle though, with 4 people coming over, that is I think my maximum number of guests, but it means if they split into a CN and CP Crew, only one can work at any given time. I am really excited to see how tomorrow goes, and reporting back on it afterwards.

Paging the 1950’s Photographically…and planning an Ops Session

OK, so I am in prep mode for something that I sometimes haven’t been sure was actually going to happen. I am having people over next weekend to operate Liberty Village. It is, both exciting and terrifying. I am incredibly excited that a few friends who have never seen the layout will both get to see the layout, but more importantly, try to run trains and see how it goes. Do I expect it to run perfectly? Hell no, but I expect other people running it will find issues that I don’t see being around it all day and in my running of trains. It will also give me a bit of a kick in the rear to finish repairing the base scenery around the replaced Gremlin Switch before next Sunday!

A pair of shots of the layout taken on a manual focus film camera, using Ilford Delta 100 Black and White Film. Channelling the 1950’s technology to capture the layout.

I have written before about starting to prepare operations paperwork, but, the more I have thought about it, at least initially, I am going to forego car cards, and just prepare switch lists for the crews working. Liberty Village was effectively yard track, I expect in reality rather than the paperwork for individual cars, crews would have been given a switch list from the yardmaster of what cars to pull and what cars to spot, the where and the why wasn’t as important, and its not like it was a road crew going from point to point stopping along the way collecting new paperwork. At least initially, this simplifies things for me, as my crews can be handed a list of cars to find and pull on-line, and cars to spot from staging and where they are going. I may revisit that, but for now, simple is good, I want to focus on the ability to work trains, not the logistics of the paperwork.

Next Sunday should hopefully be some fun for us all, and it will be really nice to kind of stand back and see the past almost 5 years work (we moved into our house June 2018) turn into something that is being shared with others.

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!

Family Christmas “Operations” Prep

This coming weekend we are having our first Family Christmas since 2019, where my parents are coming down to Toronto for a few days. With this in mind, having been out hunting for operational gremlins recently, I wanted to run some trains after work today. When my parents are down, I won’t be doing serious operations to any kind of set switch list, but I want the trains to run well for my parents, my mom in particular has always just enjoyed seeing my trains run, and the happiness them doing so gives me. After all the bad of the past couple of years, I am really looking forward to some happy time with loved ones for a couple of days.

Thanks to my earlier searching for gremlins, I was able to quickly sort a couple tonight. In the area where I recently re-did the scenery, it was pretty clear I closed a couple of gaps around switch frogs with glue or something. Tonight, a quick saw through the gaps, and a re-application of some graphite to the rails to help with connectivity, and the locomotives started running right through the switch that seemed to be a problem on the other end of the layout. Proof of concept that you can learn something when you are doing things! Instead of messing around, I went for what looked to be an obvious problem, and sure enough, it seemed to fix it. Clearing the gaps around the frogs, and the problem was basically resolved. There are still a few spots where I had some stutters on the layout, but I have two more nights after work to run trains in these areas and look for causes and solutions. Most of the problems are in spots where the tracks are passing through the street. I think, these come back to my road paving and I need to do another round of clearing out the gaps to make sure good contact with the rails is happening.

So, with that, some videos of running trains in different parts of the layout tonight, trains running successfully, including my somewhat finicky Raipdo Trains SW1200RS running both ways through the first switch that has caused me so much grief recently. I am, particularly enthused by the first video below, it really is a window into the layout, where all there is is the layout. Yes, I see plenty of things that need work, but oh man, it really makes me happy at how real it looks getting my phone into the scene to take videos!

A couple of Gremlins Down

Well, after last week’s post about hunting for a persistent electrical/mechanical problem at the very first switch coming out of the CN Staging yard, I have made some progress. I have worked through a variety of possible sources of the ill behaviour being seen. I have gone back and re-gapped the copper rails, and the gaps around the frog in the switch. I have also cleared the flangeway gap in the frog to remove some excess solder and free up the flangeway. I am, to be perfectly honest, not sure which action individually seems to have solved the problem, as I was frustrated as my efforts weren’t getting anywhere, and I defied the scientific method and did multiple things before testing. Yes, I know, defeats the purpose of trying to follow a logical path of action. I am willing to live this this given that it seems to now be functioning. I need to go back and touch up the paint on the ties, as you an see from the pictures, the re-gapping has made a bit of a mess of them!

Looking at the problem location, rolling through a truck (could feel it bind at the frog), and re-gapping the rails.

As I said, I don’t know for sure what action solved the problem, but it seems to be working after a fair bit of testing. I am willing to live with that, as I was really getting upset by my inability to get a train to run onto the layout without stalling out and stopping.

Moving on, the next switch is actually permanently shut, but it had a regular issue where it was catching cars coming around the curve leading into it. As the switch leads off the edge of the layout, and is fixed, its purely scenic, I pulled out the soldering iron and quickly heated the end of the rail on the throw bar and widened the flangeway.

Widened flangeway at the top of the image, not visible that its over wide in normal viewing, but the gap now doesn’t catch any wheels and send them the wrong way.

The final Gremlin I have gotten to is one of the curves on the Bat’leth switch in the corner. The guard rails for one of the road crossings were clearly too tight, as cars would jump in two locations, sometimes dropping back in gauge, sometimes derailing. Using the truck being pushed through by hand, I could feel and see the locations where the truck was riding up. The good news was that it appeared both problems could be resolved by moving the same guard rail to give a little more wiggle room. The problem is, this area was already paved. This meant some time carefully chipping out my drywall plaster road paving between the rails so I could adjust them. This is of course, something I should have done long ago before paving the road.

I also found a secondary gremlin in one of the switches. One of the switches in the road had a guard rail for the road that needed to float freely so the switch rails could move. It was riding up over the height of the rail adjacent and was tight enough it was lifting the wheels of cars, causing some to derail. This was a simple fix, I cut a few mm off the end of the rail, so it was no longer close enough to gently lift the wheels of cars and toss them in the ballast.

The Bat’leth, multiple little problems, but the biggest to fix required pulling out the paving between the rails.

I am going to run trains through this for a bit before I re-pave the road, lets learn from past mistakes! Much easier to further adjust the guard rail if needed, thank to have to scrape out the paving again! Thanks to everyone who engaged with last weeks post, the suggestions are appreciated, and I certainly got a couple of ideas from them for things that I thought should be fine but where they may actually have been causing the issues.