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!

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.

Never Stop Learning…But Never Forget Past Learning – The Tale of the Blue Bendy

I was working in the corner of the closet on “Parkdale Yard”, my faux staging tracks, and I wanted to put in a mockup 3rd track behind the two I laid, there is room for about half a width of track. Rather than cut a perfectly good piece of flex track in half, I have some spare rail from the supply I bought for building switches, and a giant bag of pre-cut wood ties, but before I get into what I’m doing track laying, a lesson in the importance of never stopping learning, but also never forgetting learning you’ve already done!

IMG_7239.jpgHow do I get the shape cut on this strip of ties to squeeze into the corner of the backdrop?

My lesson for tonight is in the latter, I was trying to figure out how to get a template for cutting an arc through a batch of wood ties tacked together with tape so they would perfectly slide into the corner of the benchwork, then it came to me, PLAN 110 in January 1999….The Blue Bendy!!!!

img_7238The Blue Bendy in action in the corner.

OK, so no, I haven’t had a blow to the head. But as I was thinking of how to create a pattern, I remembered something from the Introduction to Graphics course in the second semester of the first year of my Urban Planning Degree at the University of Waterloo. The “Blue Bendy” is a tool designed for transferring a line or shape from one drawing to another. It’s a plastic bar thing that you can bend to shape, and it holds the shape when you move it from one sheet to another. If you’re interested in picking one up for yourself, its real name is even less creative than Blue Bendy, the Staedtler Mars Flex Curve…. I’ll admit, the name isn’t super creative, but it does at least do what it says on the box!!

Easy does it, position the Blue Bendy where you want it, trace the side with a pen/pencil etc, then cut along the line with a sharp hobby knife.

With a cut line made from a ruler that conveniently changes shape to that of the corner, it was easy to mark the line, cut the ties with a sharp knife, and then make some minor adjustments. I can’t go any further, as I don’t seem to have any HO Scale Tie Plates or spikes to actually put a piece of rail on the ties. I guess I can probably glue them to the roadbed so that’s done at least, but another step forward on a Sunday night.

IMG_7243.jpgCut and fit into the corner to create half a 3rd track in Parkdale Yard.

I love mail to start the weekend

Nothing like getting home on Friday night and opening a package of stuff for your layout.

Fast Tracks turnout jig for #4 switches, and laser cut tie strips for them.

In this case, it was an order from Fast Tracks, of the #4 switch building jig, and all the other supplies needed to build the 13 switches for my layout.  I look forward to building trackwork.  Most of the switches are going to be built by a friend whose offered to do them, but I have enough material for me to try my hand at a couple as well, which means if they work, I can use them, and if not, it goes in the learning experience pile.

Weathering a Flat Car

I wrote a few months back about a small project to add a load to an older Life-Like Proto 2000 flat car.  While I am not modelling the huge Massey-Harris (Massey-Ferguson) factory just to the northeast of my layout, I wanted to have a flat car with a load of new tractors on it that I could put in a consist to get in the way and be a nuisance from time to time.

IMG_5940.JPGBefore any weathering, nice plasticky shine on the 1990’s vintage model.

The car is perfectly good-looking in terms of detail, I bought it probably while I was in university or even before.  It’s maybe not as detailed as a modern RTR car, but with some weathering and a load of tractors on top, it will look just fine.  Not every piece of rolling stock needs to be super detailed and crazy to be effective.

I recently subscribed to, a paid online video site that is affiliated with Model Railroad Hobbyist, a free online magazine.  Trainmasters is a subscription service, but so far in a couple of weeks, I’ve picked up some great tips and tricks, including the weathering techniques I applied to the flat car.  I’m not affiliated, but after years of hearing about it from friends, I’m glad I finally subscribed.  The “minimalist” weathering techniques are demonstrated by Joe Fugate in the video, and an article in the magazine.

Weathering the Wheels, applying a coat of Vallejo model air earth, and then burnt sienna Pan Pastels into the damp paint.
Weathering the truck frames, shiny black plastic; a coat of Vallejo earth brown; black Pan Pastels over that when dry, and then some more burnt sienna pan pastel for rust and to pick out the details.  All sealed with a coat of Dullcote spray.

I liked the video and the technique, its simple, and mostly uses supplies I already owned.  I haven’t done a lot of weathering, and this seemed like a good opportunity to try some techniques on a car.  I wanted to weather the flat car and have it look like it’s been used a bit.  The tractors on the car for the load will be bright and shiny and new, so the car should look a bit road weary, but not ruined at the same time.

Using the Armor All Window Cleaner as thinner as recommended in the technique seemed to work well, I’ve always had trouble thinning paints and such for doing washes, but this seemed to work for me as described and demonstrated.  It’s nice to find simple techniques that I can now experiment with as I go knowing that it seems to work for me on the first attempt.

Trying to show the weathering on the side and on the deck, not my best pictures unfortunately.

I wanted the deck to look a bit more worn and beaten up.  The plastic deck didn’t look terrible, but I gave it a couple of washes with the thinned grey I used to weather the sides, and when dry, worked some black pan pastels thinly across the deck to make it look a bit dirtier and beaten up.  When sprayed with the Dullcoat, the brown shades of the original factory paint job that attempted to have different shades of grey/brown boards came through just enough to create the effect I was looking for.


The car on its own with the weathering sealed and reassembled, and with the load of factory fresh tractors sat in place to see how the look.

Next steps for this car are to start installing the tractors and the blocks/load chains to hold them in place.  A couple of nights fiddling with tiny chain and swearing are clearly in my future!

My First Switch Machine

As I work toward starting layout construction, I have been looking at things I can do to build the skills needed for constructing my layout.  Back in June, I picked up a single Fast Tracks Bullfrog Switch Machine kit.  The hand-operated Bullfrog machines are one of my top candidates for operating switches, and I wanted to see if they went together as easily as Fast Tracks claimed, and then play around with installing and setting it up, before having to do so on the layout when I need the installation to work right.

IMG_5853Bullfrog Switch Machine Kit, laser cut wood along with the necessary screws and a micro switch for power routing. They say they go together in 15 minutes.

The kit is a nicely designed set of laser cut wood pieces.  They snap apart and with a quick rub with some sandpaper, the parts clean up and are ready to assemble using  regular white glue.  The kit can be assembled to face right of left depending on which way you want to run the control rod to throw it.  I assume this is primarily to provide flexibility beneath benchwork.  It may be something I need to pay more attention to when building machines for the layout, but for my little test, it wasn’t a critical consideration.

Assembled Bullfrog, showing both sides. It took me about 27 minutes.  Having done one, I’d say the 15 minutes advertised is reasonable once you know what you are doing.

For my switch test, I’m using some leftover bits of wood and some old bits of track.  Using an old Atlas Code 83 Number 4 switch, and some off cuts of flex track, I’ve built just enough track for a locomotive of freight car to traverse the switch and go either way through it.  I thought this would be a good way to see how it actually goes in, and if something that advertises itself as simple, really is.  For my small layout, I will only have 11 switches that actually are thrown (there are 2 more that would lead to falling off the side of the layout if they were operated!).  Given this, I don’t feel the need for introducing more wiring for me to learn to have powered machines (I already need to learn how to wire the layout for a DCC system).  I think having the switches thrown by hand will also help with making operators think while the run the layout.

My first Bullfrog mounted under the test board to see how it goes and learn how to install switch machines.

Based on what I could see from looking at the range of travel on the switch, a 1/4″ hole was needed to allow the throw bar from the Bullfrog to move the rails and ensure good hold on both sides when the switch is thrown.  As everything is still temporarily affixed, I’m not sure its fully working, but it seems to be.  The wood I had available is a bit thicker than what I will be using for the layout, though it’s not as thick as the combined 1/2″ Plywood and 1/2″ foam that the benchwork will be.

My short switch test track setup, made using a leftover bit of 1″x6″ and some 1″x”3 risers.  Instead of the control rod, my temporary throw is a bit of twisted wire.

Since today is the Civic Holiday Monday here in Ontario, all the hobby shops are closed, and since it turns out I don’t have (or at least couldn’t find) any cork roadbed in the house, I won’t finish off the test board this weekend.  I’ll run out to a store next weekend to get a piece of cork roadbed to glue down beneath the track so I can finish the install and play around with testing the switch.  I’d say, based on my experience at playing around with the Bullfrog so far, it’s very likely that I will use these on the layout.  They are cost-effective, and based on everything I’ve heard from others who have used them, they hold up well to use and operations.