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.

Customer Service Shout Out

Customer service, it’s not dead yet!  I want to thank Matt from ESU-Loksound, the DCC Manufacturer for his help with a decoder install.  It was my first, and I managed to let the extra wire off the decoder get somewhere it shouldn’t, and fry the amp on the decoder, so no sound.  Matt took the time at the Brampton show to put my model of Canadian National D-1 on their test setup, trouble shoot it, and then, once the problem (of my own making) was determined, he took the fried decoder home with him, loaded a new one and sent it back to me.  I had bought the decoder from a retailler who is an ESU dealer, but since I knew ESU would be at the show, I figured I would try to cut out the middle man, and find out if I had a faulty decoder, couldn’t wire, or had fried the decoder straight from the source.  Despite it being clearly a user error, ESU quickly took care of me.  It’s something I won’t forget when equipping future projects of selecting a DCC control system down the road.

D-1 had a Cat-397 Engine after remotoring, the ESU sound files are a CAT-44 Tonner, but its a similar sound.  But now it rumbles nicely (when the Bachmann mechanism doesn’t almost rock it off the rollers (running quality is a future fix)!!

Learning to Solder… again or properly, or both?

I learned to solder in high school in electronics classes, and have over the subsequent 20 plus years, more or less completely forgotten everything I learned.  I was by no means an expert in high school, but I could competently connect wires.  Over the years, I’ve done a bit of soldering on basic stuff, feeder wires, lights here and there, but its a skill that has so many applications in model railroading that I need to get better at.

IMGP2611RawConvEtched brass grab irons and door handles on a British Railways MK1 coach.  Working on soldering them on.  The brass door hinges just didn’t make sense and I couldn’t manage the size, so I replaced them with 0.020″ styrene rod pieces to look like hinges.

I have a bunch of wiring projects to do, but I am currently working on building a Southern Pride Models British Railways Mk1 Coach.  I recently gave up on the etched brass door hinges, but the etched grab handles and door handles needed to be done, as there isn’t an obvious replacement for them.  These are nicely etched, but very small, and need to be fitted into the holes, soldered from behind to the brass car side, then the soldering filed down so the side is smooth for mounting to the clear interior that forms the cars sides.

I’ve never managed to solder brass parts together, and one of my friends has offered to give me some soldering lessons (and I will be taking him up on that when we find a date that works), but I wanted to keep making process, so decided after watching some YouTube videos, that I would at least take a stab at soldering on my own.

I bought a new soldering iron last year, and haven’t really used it.  This would be a fiddly project, but I recently got some new liquid flux, to help clean the material as it heats and get the solder to flow into where I want it to go, so I figured I would at least have a fighting chance of soldering six handles and six handles.  After some time fiddling around, I did actually manage to start getting solder to flow into where I needed it to go.  Having not done it before, I was being gentle not wanting to apply so much heat that I warped or damaged the brass car side.  By the time I had one side done, I declared the night a success and will do the 2nd side another night!

Soldered in, and filed/sanded down to flush on the back.  It would appear that my solder joints have held after filing off the excess solder and etched brass parts.

My solder joints, while strong, had a lot too much solder.  Finding the handle on getting a little bit of solder to run into the opening around the etched parts is certainly something I need to work on.  That said, after getting the parts hot enough for the solder to run into the opens, and even after filing down my largeish bits of solder the joints held, and the handles are still in place, and the etched brass car side still fits smoothly on the clear plastic inner side.

IMGP2616RawConvOne side done, one to go.  The only damage appears to be a ripple in the car side from where some dolt dropped it to the floor while soldering.

I’m very curious about others experiences with learning to solder and taking their first shots at something.  I see so many amazing modellers that I know and follow online who make it look so easy.  I’d really love to hear some of their story’s of failure and learning, as that’s what this is for me.  A learning experience.  It probably took me 30 minutes to get the first joint done, and I wrecked two etched door handles and three etched hand grabs in the process.  Normally this would generate a lot of swearing, but in this case, the etched fret for the kit has such a large supply of etches, that I’d have had ample extras for the two sides if I’d wrecked three times as many trying to get the technique right.  Fortunately, the next two doors went much quicker, probably 15 minutes for the 2nd and 10 for the third.  With three more to do on the 2nd side, I think I can have it down to a reasonable 5 minute job per door.  Once I do the 2nd side tomorrow night, I can wash the two sides and hit them with some primer to protect the brass and get ready to paint it.

IMGP2612RawConvOne fully fitted out car side, ready to clean, primer and paint, once the 2nd side is done as well.