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.

Breaking out the Strong Decal Setter

Decals that never settled, even with multiple coats of Microscale Microsol, but settling nicely with an attack with an xacto knife and stronger Walthers Solvaset.

Recently, I got together with friends for a gathering at my friend Hunter Hughsons. It was the first time I’d gotten together with modellers since our 2020 Febraury meetup in his basement. Funny that right? One of my friends there passed on a tip. Ryan Mendell and I brought the same car amongst our projects, the Solway-Semet car by Yarmouth Model Works. Pierre Oliver who runs Yarmouth had left by the time we retreated to the basement to look at models after dinner, but Ryan gave a tip he got from Pierre, as some of my cars had decals that had just refused to set. He said, get a stronger setting solution than Microscale MicroSol, like Walthers Solvaset. Then, take an Xacto knife, and just poke at the decal hundreds of times to make tiny holes where it hasn’t settled. Then, apply the Solvaset, and let it work. It may still take multiple applications, but 100% even after a single application, decals that I had all but abandoned hope of getting to settle down properly, were settling and the carrier film disappearing. The small victories! I still have 8 or 10 cars to go back and work on, but this simple fix has made me very happy!

Riddles in the Dark…That’s No Train Part 13!

What has it got in its pocketses?” The sound came hissing louder and sharper, and as he looked towards it, to his alarm Bilbo now saw two small points of light peering at him. As suspicion grew in Gollum’s mind, the light of his eyes burnt with a pale flame.
-The Hobbit, Second Edition (1951), John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

This is, an unabashedly Tolkien loving household. We have art, Lego, toys, tattoos, all manner of things Tolkien. When we were in Oxford at the end of 2017, we were the first in line for lunch at the Eagle and Child pub and sat beneath the famed letter written by Tolkien and CS Lewis among others in the “Inklings” who used to gather there. This is a bit of a different “That’s no Train” post, as this mini-diorama using gaming miniatures was a Christmas Present for my wife, instead of something more to clutter my office and layout room. You can read about past “That’s No Train” projects here.

This is my second Lord of the Rings diorama made using gaming miniatures. I previously did the Bridge of Khazad-dum with Gandalf and the Balrog. For this, I was in Meeplemart last summer, a board gaming store on Spadina Avenue here in Toronto. I was in picking up some paints and supplies, and I started looking at the LOTR gaming miniatures. I saw the Games Workshop Middle-Earth set of Bilbo and Gollum and the “Riddles in the Dark” scene where Bilbo, having found the ring, has to outwit its previous owner Gollum to save himself and escape and find the company of dwarves escaping from the Great Goblin beneath the Misty Mountains. The figures are very simple, basically they need cleaning up from the sprues, and painting. I tried something new to me, as I am learning more about painting figures. The black helps to pre-shadow them so that when detailed colour is added, they naturally have shadows and shading. The final thing I tried, was to apply a light reactive luminescent paint to Bilbos sword Sting. We bought this for a 3D printed light switch plate for the Doors of Durin from Moria a couple of years ago. I figured a little bit on the blade and it might just glimmer in the dark at the end of the day.

Painting figures. Trying something new with black primer. Helps pre shade the figures. Also used a luminescent paint that glows in the dark for Sting. We have it for a Doors of Durin light switch cover we have never gotten installed!

With the figures done, that meant I could focus on how to build a diorama to display them. Thanks to sites like Etsy, people sell all kinds of things. I was able to find a 3D printed bowl, in gold that was the One Ring. This would be the perfect base, Bilbo and Gollum having their meeting inside the ring they traded riddles over. Once the ring arrived, it was clearly too deep. Using the leftover insulating foam I used on the layout, I cut out a circle and filled it. Using off cuts, I made a base for the figures and a depression for the dark lake beneath the mountain. I had rock casting molds from doing my previous LOTR diorama, so once I cast a bunch up, I worked them into a look I liked, and glued them in place, I filled the lake area with plaster sheet to ensure it was water tight for pouring, and painted. I again used the black primer, so I could tone and tint the stone with a variety of thinned grey and brown paints until I was happy with the look. The last challenge was pouring water. I have tried this precisely once before in my life, and it was a disaster. Back in University for a design studio model, I tried to pour water. I was using the old Woodland Scenic pellets that you melted on the stove and poured. I swore to never do water again after that experience. 20+ years on, it seemed an unreasonable phobia to continue to hold. I spent a fair amount of time looking for something that was the right balance of cost effective, and seemingly easy to use. I settled on the Vallejo “Still Water”. It can be tinted with paint, and is poured in thin layers that take 24 hours to cure. After I bought it, I made a mini box, and painted it black like the diorama, and started messing around with tinting and pouring layers. My test pours worked well, so I moved on to pouring in the diorama. First layers tinted black, then murky greys, and the final pour was clear. I think to build up the depth I needed I did four pours before installing Gollum’s raft, then one final clear pour to sink it into the water.

Building a base inside a 3D print of the one ring. Using leftover insulation from the layout for a base, then resin rock castings, and finally after paint, pouring water.

With everything painted, I determined where Bilbo and Gollum would be standing, and proceeded to drill holes in their base to go into holes drilled in the rock, and glued them in. I decided since this was going to be a Christmas Present, it needed a display case. I found a round base and globe just big enough, and the box provided a convenient way to wrap the present too. Yes, I broke our house rules on presents for each other in that it didn’t fit inside our Christmas stockings, but oh well, I think it was worth it! We managed to find the perfect lamp as well for it after Christmas, and now its going to live in the corner of our living room!

All done but putting it in a globe, wrapped and under the tree (its the biggest one at the back), and beneath the new display lamp we got for it in out living room.

With that, another non-train project is checked off my list. Getting the number of these in the house down perilously close to zero , and thus far, inspiration on others is not striking, which is good, keep me focused on the layout!

Progressing with Toronto Carpet

The Toronto Carpet complex is three buildings on my layout. Two in the area normally thought of today as “The Carpet Factory” complex of board and beam offices, and one, on the west side of Mowat Avenue, that had various lives but on the 1950’s fire insurance maps, is identified as “Barrymore Cloth” and which is connected by an overhead bridge across Mowat to the main carpet factory.

A few weeks back, I wrote about making masters and resin casting the windows for this building, I had only done one wall, as the windows on the other are a different shape, so my first task was to quickly make up masters for the windows on the other wall, make molds and cast them. While the molds were curing and then the resin curing, I started setting about sketching out the detail on the walls. I started with what is the south wall, as it is more brickwork than windows, I’m glad I did, but I’ll come to that near mistake later! This building has some lovely brick detailing on the corner tower, with rows of bricks on end in a couple of places and stone trim. I also noted that this building (and others I have done) have bond rows in the brick, where every 6th or 7th course is turned on end so you see the short end of the brick, its an older construction technique to tie the exterior brick into the structure of the building behind it. I don’t know how noticeable it is in HO Scale, I hadn’t noticed that I haven’t done it on other buildings, but it gave me another chance to experiment with a new product. In this case, Rail Scale Models resin impregnated card board brick sheets. It is a nice product, the brick detail is fine, and its supplied either with or without a self adhesive backing. I went for the with adhesive, we will see how that goes over time. I found the material relatively easy to cut, but finicky, this is definitely one where the instructions to use a new sharp blade and make many light passes are important to follow. I went through several blades cutting courses of brick, as I found even a little dulling and the blade even on light passes could pull half bricks off the sheet.

Working on the first wall. This building is far and away the most complicated details brick work I have tried to re-create in miniature so far.

With the first wall done, I was feeling pretty good, I am really pleased with how it looks, right now in unpainted condition, the brick work really pops, I know when I get it primered and then painted, a lot of the detail will fade away, but thats kinda how it looks in real life, the detail is there, but you have to know to look for it.

So on to the near mistake. Starting with he more detailed brick wall set the location for the stone cornice above the 3rd floor of the tower. Its a good thing this did, as when I set the finished side with the unfinished side to start aligning things, I discovered my 3rd floor windows were too tall, and ran through the cornice, instead of stopping right beneath it. If I had started bricking the wall with more windows first, I would have set the cornice at a height where I could not accommodate the brick box detail above it on either side. Another example of measure twice/cut once. I had not paid super close attention to where all the brickwork detail aligned when I drew the building cores to cut on the Cricut, and it nearly came back to bite me hard. Lesson learned!

In any event, once I set the cornice, I was able to backfill behind it, and quickly make a mold and cast the two new windows. This wall was more brick than detail around the windows, but I think when it is painted, the building will really stand out. Its a weird one as its really prominent in a corner of my layout, but its almost the least visible location on it because of where it is behind the peninsula. This will be a building that you really have to discover when you walk in and check out the layout room.

Working on the second wall, quickly making new 3rd floor windows, and then getting it bricked up and to the mock up stage in the corner.

Once I was happy with how the walls went together, I assembled them and added the floor to hold alignment and the first part of the roof. In comparing to the pictures, I may go back and adjust the height and dimensions of the head house that sticks up above the roof, its a bit short looking, and a bit wide on the bridge side. Other than that, I am really pleased with how it is looking, and I can’t wait to get to paint. I have a few more things I might try with this building and the windows, I need to go back and take a look see at older pictures, but I think they should probably be more multi pane. If I decide to do this, it will be a vinyl job for when they are installed. Still working out the logistics of making that work and getting everything to align, stay tuned!

Model Railroading is about creating a scene in miniature, in my case, actively trying to recreate as close as I can the real world. So far so good I think?

This has been a good starter for me on doing more complicated model brick work. The next few buildings, being the Carpet Factory Building 7, the General Electric light bulb factory, and the 135 Fraser “Castle” all have some very distinctive brickwork. Its been good lessons to me in working slow and cutting carefully to get nice lines and have parts perfectly butt up together. Now I need to get back to the windows on Building 7 and start drawing up the plans for the cores to cut them out, I can’t get rid of that cardboard sky bridge until I do!