Tuesday, December 31, 2013

John Pryke, 1940-2013

While 2013 has been a great year in many ways, it's ending on a sad note.  On the day after Christmas, I heard that friend and fellow modeler John Pryke had passed away.  He'd been sick for some time, but I'd received a "test" email from him a little over a month ago (he was no stranger to computer issues) and I replied asking him for an update.  Unfortunately, I never heard back.

Any time I think of folks that have been a great influence on me in the hobby, John Pryke comes first to mind.  His was the first layout I saw that depicted the New Haven Railroad, and his frequent writings in Model Railroader magazine gave me, and other NHRR modelers, lots to be proud of and lots to (try and) emulate.  John's chosen era was September, 1948 and while my choice for the longest time was firmly in the diesel era of 1952, John eventually persuaded me that the Steam Era was far superior.  Due in no small part to his influence, I eventually backdated my railroad to October, 1947 (even further in the past, I enjoyed reminding him) and became an avid "steam era" modeler.

I always enjoyed hearing John tell the story of how his passion for the New Haven Railroad was ignited: he would tell me of a time in September 1948 when he was on the platform of the Old Saybrook railroad station and saw a double headed steam passenger train going by. When I moved to Old Saybrook a few years ago, I enjoyed letting him know that I would eventually be modeling the station area and would be including an HO scale version of him on the platform as a youngster.

John's influence in the hobby is long-standing and pervasive and I consider him one of the giants - up there with the best of them.  My condolences go out to his wife Sandy and the rest of his family. I'm so thankful to them for sharing him with us.

Announcement on the Model Railroader website


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mind the Gaps

About this time last year, I went down to operate the layout and it wouldn't work - there was a short somewhere but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what had caused it and i couldn't track it down.

A panic email to Craig Bisgeier, who had just done a podcast on layout wiring, was a huge help. He said the likely culprit was that a rail gap or gaps had somehow closed. This can happen in at least two ways: in the summertime when the rails get warm they can sometimes expand, thereby causing intended rail gaps to shrink or disappear altogether. A similar thing happens in the winter when, due to the low humidity, wood will contract and thereby cause the same problem.

This is only an actual problem if you have either a reverse loop on your layout or require rail gaps for other electrical purposes. In my case, I have a reverse loop where I had gapped the rails to separate it from the rest of the layout. And sure enough, those gaps had closed. After a few short minutes with my cut off disc in the Dremel Moto tool and ACC-ing little plastic bits in the gaps to keep the rails from coming together in the future, my problem was solved.

Until this year that is… This time I don't have a problem with gaps closing - I've been having a problem with tracks humping.  Apparently, I soldered too many of my railjoints and the rails were too tight everywhere else. So when the inevitable shrinkage of wood occurred, the rails had no place to go - but up.  Thankfully, another session with my Dremel cutoff disc solved the problem. I just cut a couple of gaps here and there to relieve the tension on the rails and everything settled back down to normal.

The take away? If you tend to solder your rails together, be sure you're leaving gaps somewhere to relieve any tension on the rails that might occur. I, for one, will never solder turnouts to the adjoining rails again in the future (this also makes it much easier to remove a turnout for maintenance or repair). Also, where you have to have a gap remain open for electrical purposes, be sure to glue little bits of plastic in the gaps to keep the rails from coming together.

Just remember to do what the British Underground riders do and Mind the Gap(s)!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hot Glue Lessons

As anybody that's been to a work session at my layout knows, I love my hot glue gun. it's such a versatile and handy tool. But today, I learned a few things I almost wish I hadn't...

1) Be very careful using a hot glue gun above your head (this rule applies to soldering irons as well), or any time the gun is pointed "up" - you risk having hot glue drop back onto your fingers/hand.

2) If you get hot glue on you - especially a large amount - do NOT wait for the glue to cool. Get it off as quickly as possible (preferably not with another unprotected hand).

3) Hot glue that is allowed to remain on your skin will remove a layer (or two) of skin. This is especially true as you try to peel off the hot glue.

I'll leave it to the experts to explain how best to treat flesh where the skin has been melted off. I ran my finger under cold water, daubed it dry, and applied Neosporin & a bandage to cover it. We'll see how that works out.

In the meantime, I'm discovering just how important that middle finger is (and not just for flipping off rogue hot glue guns). Hopefully, it won't be too much of a pain when I'm firing the steam locomotive tomorrow...

Status quo ante

Well, mostly....

Here's the Ballantine warehouse area at the north end of Wethersfield after removing all the scenery base I installed last week. As I mentioned in a previous post, the resulting topography - especially the steep slope that was necessary to connect the subroadbed to the bottom of the backdrop - was just unacceptable. This area of Wethersfield is relatively flat.

So, out came the cardboard webbing. Boy, it sure did come out quicker than it went in! Next step will be to "extend" the backdrop lower and redo this area.

Stay tuned - hopefully I'll have some progress to show soon.  In the meantime, here's hoping you and yours are enjoying this holiday season!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Scenery Base Started!

Looking north toward Hartford (staging).  Engine is about where the Rt. 15 overpass will be.
Here's my First Cardboard Webbing Strip!  It's like the Golden Spike, except it's done at the beginning, and it's not track.  But it's a milestone nevertheless.  This strip is at the location of the Route 15 overpass that marks the beginning of the "on stage" portion of the railroad.  As such, the resulting slope is no problem and, in fact, has to be there.

But as I mentioned in my last post, I'm much less confident that continuing this slope southward will be a good idea.  There's no such slope on the prototype, but the height of the bottom of the backdrop makes such a slope necessary (you have to attach the strips to something).  Since I won't know how much of an actual problem that is until I can see it, I decided to just dive right in...

First strips hot glued to side of subroadbed (to keep terrain profile/slope as low as possible)

Strips hot-glued to back of backdrop - again, to keep slope as low as possible.  Also showing base for Silas Deane Hwy.
Once I got the strips installed far enough south to get to the Ballantine site, it started getting real - you can see below where I've mocked-up a flat base & the Silas Deane Hwy...
And you can see how steep that slope is going to have to be to get from the flat industrial area to the Hwy.  Here's a current-day comparison to give you an idea of what the prototype looks like:

This is Jordan Ln. looking west toward Silas Deane Hwy. from the RR crossing.  The self-storage facility is on the Ballantine site
So you can see that this slope is all wrong - what I've got is more in tune with Appalachia than the flat CT river valley.

To try and get at least the Ballantine site flatter, I hot-glued some foamcore board to the bottom of the strips and to allow me to press the strips down as much as possible - and to not cause the Silas Deane to tilt at the same time - you can see that I temporarily installed a strip of masonite on edge to support the east side of the Hwy. (see it clamped in place below the webbing). Problem is, I don't know whether I'll be able to remove that masonite and expect the terrain to stay in place.  But you can see where I've started installing the "horizontal" strips to the north to create the hopefully-sturdier basketweave.

So this is where things sit at this point.  It's not a bad looking scene, but it looks all wrong to me considering the prototype.  I figured I'd live with it for a bit and see if I'd feel any better about it, but I'm not optimistic. I'll probably rip this all out and rework it.  Pieter and I have been kicking around some different ideas, but so far I think the best approach may be to just add a 3" strip of masonite to the bottom of the backdrop, to give something lower for cardboard strips to attach to - and thereby make this whole area as flat as possible.

While I'm at it, I'll probably also install some more plywood to provide a solid, flat base for Ballantines.  As I mentioned in my last post, I should have anticipated this need and provided for it when I planned & cut the plywood for this area.  Fortunately, the L-girder benchwork I used is pretty easy to modify when necessary, so this should just be a matter of installing some additional risers to support some additional plywood.  Then I can do the cardboard lattice again.

At least now, I've got some experience doing that so it shouldn't take as long the next time....

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Prototype Modeling with No Photos: Ballantine Beer Distributors

Possible basis of a sign - John Wallace Collection
Prototype modelers by definition model buildings, scenes & equipment that actually exist - or existed.  Problem is, the further back in history you go the harder it is to find information/photos/etc.

Now that I have a couple successful operating sessions under my belt, I thought I'd turn my attention to creating some authentic scenes for the trains to travel through.  Starting at the north end of the railroad, the first stop is P. Ballantine & Sons beer distributors & Wethersfield Lumber Company, both in the vicinity of Jordan Lane in Wethersfield.

Problem is, there are ABSOLUTELY NO photos of either Ballantine's or Wethersfield Lumber. I'm still looking, but I don't have much hope. So what's a prototype modeler to do?  Just freelance (in a limited way, admittedly, but still...)?  Well, maybe that won't be necessary.  This post will introduce how I'm handling the problem...

First stop, check out the Sanborn map of the area.  If you're a prototype modeler, you probably already have maps of the area that you used to help plan your track.  These cool maps not only show track arrangements though, they show at least the footprint of the buildings too.

Here's the Sanborn map of the Jordan Lane area of Wethersfield:

North is to your right.  Ballantines is northwest of the Jordan Lane grade crossing.  Wethersfield Lumber Co. is to the southwest.  I've penciled in a few prototype dimensions.  Click to see the small print.
I'm not sure why there is no siding shown at Ballantine's - maybe it wasn't put in yet when the map was produced; maybe it had just been removed; maybe it's just an oversight.  But I know from multiple sources that Ballantine's was, in fact, served by the railroad in 1947 - and the loading dock that's shown on the east side of the building shows the likely location of the siding (despite a fuzzy aerial photo that seemed to indicate the siding curved to the west side of the bulding).

In addition to the Sanborn map, I also have the benefit of John Wallace's personal recollections of the area during the era I'm modeling.  And also fortunately, John's memory is as sharp as a tempered steel blade...  So when I asked him if he remembered at all what Ballantine's looked like, here's what he emailed me:

Ballantine's Beer Distributors - Sketch by John Wallace
Notice where the siding is - right where expected, along the loading dock on the east side of the building.  Followup questions elicited some additional information:  It was of brick construction, the loading platform was covered and the freight doors were spaced to match boxcar doors.  The platform and building were 3 cars long and the siding was a total of 5 cars long.  There was also a track bumper at the end of the siding.  All the windows were on the south side (Jordan Ln), where the office was.  There were no windows on the east or north side (the west side will face the backdrop).

Ok, with a rough idea of how the prototype building looked, how large was it?  Again, the Sanborn map helps, providing the building's footprint.  You first have to figure out the scale of the drawing, which - due to zooming/enlarging - may actually be different than what the scale rule on the drawing itself.  Once you determine a dimension in prototype feet, it's then fairly easy to convert to model (actual) inches using a standard scale ruler alongside a regular ruler (or, for HO scale, you divide the prototype measurement by 87 and convert the resulting decimal to inches)

If you zoom into the Sanborn map image above, you'll see that the prototype Ballantine building measured 58.3' x 83.3' and the loading platform was 116.6' long.  So modeled full-size, without selective compression, the model would measure 8" x 11.5" and the loading platform would be 16" long.

Incidentally, a 40' boxcar is a good standard of measurement - especially in HO scale, where a 40' boxcar is about 6 actual inches long.  So the Ballantine siding, if modeled full size, would be about 30" long (5 cars).  The siding I have is 3 cars long (about 18").

When I went to measure my space, I got a few nasty surprises:

1) Since the prototype terrain here is relatively flat, my backdrop is WAY (about 3") too high, which will require including an unprototypical slope unless it's fixed.  Lesson: Unless you're modeling mountainous terrain, the bottom of the backdrop should always be at least even with subroadbed level. Not sure yet what - if anything - I'm going to do about this.

2) To save material, I tailored my plywood subroadbed to support track only & should have extended it to support anticipated buildings as well.  Lesson: You may not know ahead of time where buildings will be, but your plan should at least show where "signature" buildings/towns are and you should provide nice flat support for such areas.  I figured I could create a flat area at the scenery stage with my cardboard webbing.  That may not be as easy as I thought - especially in this case when I'm trying hard to avoid too much of a slope.

3) According to the measurement above, there may not be enough room for Silas Deane Hwy between the building and the backdrop, especially if the building is modeled full-size.

Since the building might end up against the backdrop anyway, I tried a mock-up that curved the siding from the main in order to gain more seperation, with the result below:

Initially, I liked the look of this, so grabbed an old building to enhance the mock-up:

It's starting to look like an actual scene now (and that's pretty exciting). Unfortunatley, with the high backdrop (and resulting steep slope imagined behind the building), it doesn't look much like Wethersfield. Concern about such facts is one of the things that seperates a prototype modeler from a freelancer. A freelancer would be fine keeping such a nice scene as-is. Me? I've got to make it look as close to my prototype as I can.

So, setting the "slope problem" aside for the moment, I remeasured to see how the prototype building might fit with the more-curved siding:
The prototype building would be too deep, even if placed right against the backdrop.

The loading platform would fit, even if modeled full size.
While I was measuring building footprints, I figured I'd get a quick view of how Wethersfield Lumber Co. (WLCo) might fit.  Looking at the Sanborn map, there were a number of buildings associated with Wethersfield Lumber, but the largest was the lumber shed at the end of the siding.  In HO scale, it would be 21" long...
Uh oh.
Um, yeah.  Not going to model the lumber shed full-size then.  Selective compression by like 70%?  Looks like it.

Once I got over my initial shock & depression re WLCo., I decided to see if I had a more-appropriate building on-hand for Ballantine's.  Here's what I found:

2 stories, brick, roof overhang over loading doors.
Looks pretty good to me.  Seeing how it would fit was only a matter of taping the inside corners of the walls and setting it up:

Notice I've moved the siding back toward the main to provide some space for Silas Deane Hwy. (and a hopefully more-gradual slope) between the building and the backdrop.  The above shot shows the building mocked-up, unmodified.

Here's the same building with two walls butted end-to-end along the Jordan Lane (south) side to make a more-imposing industry:

Cool loading docks too!  Incidentally, another lesson (or thing for me to keep in mind for the future): Have as many of your buildings/bridges/loading docks/etc built beforehand as possible. This certainly makes it easier to mockup things and see what you really have to work with.  It's not always practical, but if you don't have a layout yet, your hobby time would be well spent building stuff ahead of time.
So, this is where the Ballantine's Beer Distributors scene is currently.  It's clear I'm going to have to compress things.  Is the building (especially the unmodified/smaller version) large enough to justify rail service (two cars' worth)?  And if I decide to move the turnout north and thereby lengthen the siding for more cars, I'd have to make the building even larger.  Any recommendations?  I look forward to hearing/reading what you think.
Next, I think I'll try my hand at some scenery - at least some scenery support (cardboard webbing) - and see whether that slope/backdrop problem is as bad as I fear it may be...

Monday, December 16, 2013

Old Saybrook Coffee & Trains

Old Saybrook is the southern end of the Valley Line.  It looks a lot different today than it did in 1947.

But, even today, it has its - um - "perks" as in coffee.

Yes, Ashlawn Farm has opened a new coffee shop right next to the historic Old Saybrook railroad station...

I spent a wonderful afternoon there recently sipping coffee and watching the trains go by.
The trains that went by were Acelas though - by the time I got out to take a photo, they were already gone.


It's a great place to spend a few hours - and if you get hungry, Pizza Works (which is in the old freight house) is right next store and has two operating model railroads(!)
'Tis the Season!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

HO Scale Modeling with N Scale Imagination

And I thought I was so clever...

I've been pretty proud of myself that I've been able to model the New Haven Railroad's CT Valley Line just about "perfectly" from Wethersfield to Middletown.  By "perfectly" I mean I've included on my layout almost every single turnout the prototype had.  Sure, I've had to compress the linear feet/miles of running track so those turnouts are much closer together, but they're all there.  So I have a prototypically accurate railroad.


Not quite.  Not yet, anyway.

It looks like I've made the rookie mistake of allowing my imagination to write checks my space can't cash. In other words, I've assumed everything will fit - and in my mind's eye, it will.  Folks building their first layout usually make this mistake at the track planning stage.  They look at the space they have and they imagine the layout they're going to put in that space.  Unfortunately, they usually imagine that MUCH more can fit in the space than actually can. They imagine 30 car freight trains running comfortably along a 10 foot wall - forgetting that, in HO scale at least, the cars alone will take up 15 feet - and that's not counting the engine(s) and caboose!

Well, *I* wasn't going to fall in THAT trap.  No, not me.  Sure, I didn't plan my layout in the traditional sense, using drafting paper or even track planning software.  I took what I think is a better approach: I did my track planning full-size, on the floor:

This is where Middletown would end up.  Once I discovered that a train would fit - and look "right" - I knew my layout concept would work.  Fitting Middletown was my biggest challenge; now that that was "solved" I'd just work out from there.

So for the past months, I've been pretty smug & self-satisfied happy with how the layout has turned out. Since I followed the prototype track arrangements so well, the layout has operated - not surprisingly - just like the prototype. But a true model railroad - especially one you want to use as a time machine of sorts - includes much more than just track.  It has to include buildings & scenery too....

Pieter was over for Train Time Tuesday last week and (shame on me) I didn't have anything really pressing or ready to work on.  So I used him as a sounding board to explore "next steps" in my layout construction which, now that the track is down and the ops sessions have gone so well, are buildings & scenery - specifically in Wethersfield.

Every time I imagine Wethersfield, I envision the Ballantine's beer distributor, Wethersfield Lumber, the station, Gra-Rock Bottling, Valley Coal.  Everything fits - in my mind.  Unfortunately, it looks like I've made the same old rookie mistake - just at a later point in the layout construction process.  I'm modeling in HO scale, but my imaginary buildings - the ones that all fit "no problem" on my layout - are apparently N scale or, worse, Z scale.

I did a pretty good job of planning the track layout, but my lack of planning for structures and scenery is becoming painfully apparent now.  I've never gotten a layout past the benchwork & track stage.  I wonder if this "N scale thinking" is one of the reasons why.  Usually, once I discover that my imagination is so constrained by my space, I become frustrated and start over.

Well, I've come too far to rip everything out and start over.  The track plan itself is sound, as attested by the successful & prototypical operating sessions.  And even if I did rip everything out and redid it, I can't imagine doing it much differently, considering my space and what all I want to include.  I guess I could eliminate Cromwell, but that doesn't get me much.  I could move Middletown yard further south and thereby expand it, but my problem isn't too little track - it's too little space for the buildings/structures/industries I need.

So since I can't retreat, I must advance - full speed ahead.  I'll have to develop some good selective-compression skills pretty quickly and start getting better - much better - at what I consider the real "art" of model railroading: the ability to capture the essence of a prototype scene, it's essential elements, when you have only a fraction of the space in which to do it.

If the result of my effort conveys the prototype faithfully enough so that people recognize it for what it's supposed to be, then I know I'll have succeeded.  Otherwise, like any other rookie, I'll just have to "try, try again" until I get it right.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Modeling Influences: Bill Schneider's NYO&W

Well, the holiday season has well and truly hit - with dire consequences for the regularity of this blog.  Since mid-November, other than a follow-up post on CT River Valley motive power, I've only posted the bite-sized candies of the blogging world - the "drive-by" post: Wordless Wednesday.  Modeling and blogging have taken a back seat to shopping and egg-nogging...

So there's not much going on hereabouts modeling-wise - barely a ripple - but there's been some seismic activity in my model railroading world this past week: Bill Schneider decided to retire The Old Woman in the Back Bedroom.

I first saw Bill's New York Ontario & Western in Ted Culotta's Prototype Railroad Modeling magazine - I think it may have even been in the premier issue - which didn't surprise me because it became very obvious very fast that what Bill was doing was "Prototype Modeling."  I'd heard that term before, attached to just about any and every modeling effort that wasn't freelanced.  But this was one of the first times I'd seen it practiced to such an extent.  The only other layout I was aware of at the time that modeled a prototype with such fidelity was Jack Burgess' Yosemite Valley.  I knew right then and there that this level of fidelity would become my standard - or at least my aspiration.

When I finally got to meet Bill & see his layout in person, I was shocked and pleasantly surprised at just how small it was.  I was absolutely astonished how well and how accurately he was able to model two entire towns in the space he had.  And not only did he model the buildings and track layout accurately, he'd modeled the details - things like period billboards & signs, and even flagstone walkways that he knew, from talking to local old-timers, were there in the era he was modeling - and exactly where they had been in real life.  On Bill's layout, everything is in the right place and even some of the figures represent actual residents and railroad employees of the time.  The only way you could experience Roscoe or Livingston Manor, NY in the early 1950s any better is with a time machine.  With this level of fidelity to the prototype and attention to detail - especially given the limited space - I knew I'd found a true inspiration for my own modeling effort. I don't mind admitting that my layout seeks to do for a branchline of the New Haven Railroad what Bill was able to do for the O&W.

Although Bill's current iteration of the O&W will move on, literally and figuratively, I know this won't be his last modeling effort.  Can't be.  Anybody that talented and that passionate about recreating a specific time and place has to give vent to his art & creativity somehow.  Of course, he has an open invitation to work his magic anytime he wants on the Valley Line - provided 1947 isn't too far back for him to travel.  But whether he comes down the Valley or not, I'm very much looking forward to his future efforts and especially to the continued inspiration of his art.

Wordless Wednesday #8

Friday, November 29, 2013

More Steam in the CT Valley - The Air Line in particular

"Long time" readers (heh, if you were around last month, you're already "long time") may recall my post on the End of Steam in the CT Valley wherein I do my best to analyze when diesels arrived in regular service on the Valley & Air Lines.  Based mostly on an Engine Assignment Book and photo evidence of a wrecked 3011 in Dividend, I concluded that the end of steam on the Valley must have been between December 21, 1948 (date of the wrecked 3011) and April 24, 1949 (date of the Engine Assignment Book, showing diesels already assigned).

The window for the end of steam on the Airline was/is a little tighter.  Based on a John Wallace photo from "winter 1949" and knowing that a diesel would be assigned by April 24, 1949 (again, based on the EAB), I concluded that the end of steam had to have been sometime between January/February and April.  Considering the (lack of) snow cover in John's photo, my best guess was March, 1949.

What continued to bother me though was my uncertainty about Leroy Beaujon's photo of 3022 in Canaan in the "Winter of 1949."  I didn't expect that the 3022 did any "traveling" so I concluded that it had been assigned to Canaan after it left the Air Line.  So I figured "Winter of 1949" must've meant "December 1949."

Well, looks like I was mistaken.  According to Tom Curtin (NHRHTA board member and one who's as particular as I am about such things), the 3022 did do some traveling - and got to Canaan much earlier than I thought.  Here's what he wrote (quoting with permission):

"Here’s an addition to your info. The 3022 did some traveling in 1948. It may or may not have been the last steam on the Air Line local but it surely was the most regularly used one near the end. That’s the clear evidence from both John Wallace’s and Kent Cochrane’s photos. I don’t know when it last ran there but I do believe steam ran later on the Air Line than on the Valley (perhaps only a couple of months later but definitely later).

"Lee Beaujon’s photo of 3022 on the Berkshire was taken about the same time, perhaps even the same day, as the derailment of 3011 on the Valley. The story is there was a bad storm on or about 12/20/48 (That’s the snow visible in the 3011 derailment photo) which caused some bad flooding along the Housatonic [River], and water on the tracks. The Berkshire [Line, which goes through Canaan] had been fully dieselized since early January 1948 (almost all RS-2s but an RS-1 did show up). The RS-2s couldn’t run with “wet feet” so to keep some kind of freight going there the RR sent 3022 over for a couple of weeks. That’s when Lee got his photo. Casey Cavanaugh who lived in Cornwall Bridge and was a high school student at the time has recollections of this event too.
"Now … since it is pretty sure that the Air Line was still in steam in the winter of 1949, what ran the Air Line local when 3022 was over on The Berkshire? Well, I have no idea but it could obviously have been another J OR perhaps a 3300 (R-1 4-8-2). A 3300 showed up on the Air Line too."
Hmmm.... Very interesting for sure.  (well, to me anyway).  Tom confirms that steam ran later on the Air line than the Valley line.  I'll have to see if I can find any photos of other J-class mikados working the Air Line toward the end, but we know from photos that 3300s also ran on the Air Line, and John Wallace's recollection was that this was especially true during "stone season."  There was a major trap rock quarry on the Air Line at Reed's Gap (Wallingford/Middlefield) and quarrying took place as long as the ground wasn't frozen and the rock wouldn't freeze in the cars.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this hobby is the research that's involved in modeling a prototype.  There's always some new information to uncover and you can have a lot of fun with all the historical detective work.  While this "breaking news" is best put in the form of a blog post, I'll be updating the "Steam on the CT Valley" page on the website as well (see under "Choosing an Era" in the lefthand column).  That way, this additional piece of the puzzle can be put in its place and provide an ever-clearer picture of what happened on this line almost 70 years ago.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wordless Wednesday #5

Valley Local southbound at Rocky Hill with girders for the Baldwin Bridge, Summer 1947

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Train Time Tuesday - On Sunday (Tool Tips)

So I didn't have a chance to do much during this week's edition of Train Time Tuesday, but fortunately it was a nice, rainy Sunday (hence, no yardwork!) so I got to "pay it forward" on the layout front.  Here's what I did....

The "Dividend Hump" (aka "The Problem")
During my last operating session, the mainline through Dividend inexplicably decided to lift up a few scale feet(!).  I can only guess that the combination of heat in the basement (due to many operators?), too many soldered rail joints (more likely), and insufficient Aileen's Tacky Glue to hold everything down, created an HO scale "frost heave."  Fortunately, there were no derailments, but fixing this certainly became Top Priority.

The Solution
Also fortuantely, I had on-hand a cool "new" toy for my Dremel MotoTool: a 90-degree attachment!  I'd actually got this one Christmas a couple years ago, but since my Dremel is semi-permanently connected to a FlexShaft and mounted to my bench, I'm loathe to disconnect everything.  But the best way to remove the hump in the track is to provide sufficient expansion joints (just like the prototype, go figure).  So, to insure that my cuts would be as perpendicular as possible, I decided to give my new toy a workout.  Heh, it's not really necessary that the cuts be perpendicular, I s'pose, but it did give me a good excuse to try out the attachment.

The Result
I offset the cuts by about 6 inches, but I didn't install railjoiners. Do you think that was a mistake?  It's amazing how quickly and easily everything snugged back down once the rail had someplace to go.


Before I started my Train Time Tuesday Sunday, I went with the Missus to CVS and - as usual - I kept my eye out for model-railroad-adaptable items.  CVS isn't too much of a stretch as a source: I needed a dental mirror to be able to see in some tight spaces, and I figured CVS would be a decent place to check.

Jackpot! Model RR Tools from an unlikely place. Not sure how I can "repurpose" the tongue cleaner though.  Ewww!
Not only did I find the mirror I was looking for, but it came bundled with a couple of metal dental picks as well.  I remember reading someplace a long time ago that those picks are great for scoring styrene, but I had another use in mind - which I'll get to in a minute...

Model RR Tools?  Why, yes!
While I was looking for the mirror, I also discovered these funny looking "toothpicks" that have a bit of a serration(?) on one end.  The bag has, like, a BILLION of these little guys and I plan to try them out as cheap & disposable ACC/glue applicators.  I'll let you know how they work (unless any of you have beat me to this idea and can let ME know how they work out, while I have time to return them.  I don't really need funny looking toothpicks for anything else I can think of).


How you can prepare pre-weathered rail for soldering feeders
So, I have some pre-weathered Micro-Engineering rail and my soldered feeders came off during a recent ops session.  I suspected that the joint wasn't all that great since I didn't really get the weathering off the bottom of the rail.  Ok, I didn't even bother trying.  How do you do that?!  Well, I guess ideally I'd have some sort of tiny brass brush that I could fit under there.  But I discovered another way: Using my handy-dandy new dental mirror to see underneath the rail, I use one of the dental pics to scrape off the weathering.

Voila!  No weathering - and the beginnings of a perfect soldering joint!


Not related to my recent ops sessions, but something I noticed a few weeks back that bugs me no end: My backdrop seams cracked!  Ok, I made the rookie mistake of not TAPING the joints before adding the topping.  But I used "latex vinyl" topping, so I thought I'd be ok.

I wasn't.

Here's how the backdrop looked:

Masonite crack (tape those joints!)
Our previous house had plaster lathe walls, which we didn't discover until after taking down the wallpaper.  THEN we discovered why the paper was there: millions thousands of cracks in the wall!  I was able to cover most of them with putty & paint, but the corners were a different issue.

Figuring the corners were subject to the most stress, I decided to try using paintable latex caulk.  The corners still looked great when we moved.

Sooo...... I'm thinking the same thing may hold true here.  But first you have to create a place for the caulk to live.  Here, I widened the crack with an old can opener (the pointy triangle type):

Crack/joint widened with can opener
Then it was just a matter of shooting the caulk in the (widened) crack and smoothing it with my finger:

Crack/joint filled with paintable latex caulk
This particular caulk is "clear" but it starts out white.  It'll dry clear.  Like I said, I used my (moistened) finger to smooth it out.  That's all fine and dandy and works well - except that the caulk in the crack itself is a little concave.  I think I should have used a flat-edge putty knife.  No problem - I'll just apply another coat of caulk - and this time use a putty knife to smooth it.

Then it's (or should be) just a matter of painting.  The caulk should be stretchy enough to withstand any expansion/contraction.  I'll be sure to let you know how it works out.

So that's it for this edition of Train Time (Tuesday, Sunday, whatever).  I'm finally learning that making some time to do even what you might think are little projects sure does add up.  Some of these things I (hopefully) will never have to do again - and now they're done.  Pretty cool.  Hopefully my experience will inspire you to get to even just a few of those "little" jobs that have been nagging you.  If nothing else, hopefully the tool tips (isn't that dental mirror awesome?!) will have you looking at new and novel ways to use everyday items.  With the dearth of the LHS (local hobby shop), we need to find our tool sources anywhere we can!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Operating Session - 11/14/2013

The First Officially Official Valley Line Operating Session is now in the books.  After the shakedown session, I had a punch list of items to do, and I got to most of them during the last Train Time Tuesday.  I even cut a viewing hole in the right end of the Somerset module so operators can see when they're close to the end of the tail track (which is in a tunnel - ugh!).  I didn't get to power the points of the switch that's in the tunnel, but the operators did ok with it anyway.  It helped that Joseph was there - he's fairly tall, and the bamboo skewer/uncoupling tool was long enough to reach.

Nathan, Joseph & Roman on the Air Line Local switching Somerset.  Note hole cut in fascia on the right.
Ah, but I'm getting just a little ahead of myself.  You haven't met Joseph yet.  Actually, this session included THREE folks that were not only new operators, but had never even been to the house!  Roman & Nathan were able to come too.  To the extent that ops sessions are social events, this was a pretty cool development.  Bonus: all three of them are in their teens - it's very cool to know there are some young folks interested in the hobby and in operating.  Experienced operators & long-time Photo Library volunteers Dave and Tom also joined the festivities, operating the Valley Local.

Dave & Tom on the Valley Local switching Middletown.
I used the same paperwork as the shakedown session, but even though the switchlists and work was the same, this session timed out much differently.  I expect since 1/3 of the Air Line Local crew had never operated any layout before (kudos for his first time!), and I think that crew made an early tactical error switching the first town, the Air Line Local was very late to Middletown.  Consequently, they held up the Valley Local, much to the chagrin of the grizzled more-seasoned operators.
Youth won over experience though - the Valley Local had to wait.  I'll likely rewrite future paperwork to allow the Valley Local to leave Middletown when it's done with its work - at least on the days it doesn't go south to East Haddam (when it would need to wait for Air Line interchange cars for delivery to down-river customers).  The Air Line Local would still have to wait for the Valley Local since (on my layout at least) it turns at Middletown and would need to take New Haven and westbound cars back to Cedar Hill yard.
But that was a fairly minor glitch in the operation, which I suspect will also be mitigated by installing "O'Rourke's Diner" (i.e. a refreshment table) at the diamond in Middletown, just like the prototype!
Other than the scheduling this time around, the only other glitches were in trackwork.  Rocky Hill/Dividend continued to be the troublespot.  The south switch at Rocky Hill was (pretty much) fixed with the installation of a tension spring on the far side end-of-ties (I decided to keep turnout control consistent and not use a CI ground throw after all) and it operated fine during the session.  But the north switch at Rocky Hill was balky, not wanting to easily seat when lined for the main (thanks to Tom for pointing it out).  Fortunately, once I got a close look at it, I discovered that the throwrod/tie was rubbing/binding against one of the adjacent ties.  A little scraping with a #11 x-acto blade freed everything up and I'm happy to report that that switch is now operating flawlessly!
The only major glitch of the night was a newly-developed "Hump yard" at Dividend!

The "Hump" at Dividend

Another view of the "Hump" at Dividend, looking "north"
I don't know if there was an especially high amount of hot air (ahem) that evening, or what, but this track was fine as of Wednesday night when I last checked.  By Thursday night's operating session, the Valley Local crew had to run over a "frost heave."  Fortunately, the weight of the engine & cars packed everything down ok to allow operations, and nothing derailed.  Sending out a work train to fix this during the next Train Time Tuesday will be Priority Numero Uno.

Despite these relatively-minor items, I think it was a very successful session.  In addition to lancing the hump (ewww...), another few items were added to the punch list, including numbering the frog-polarity switches on the Air Line to correspond to the schematics (alleviating a lot of the confusion - and the resulting annoying buzzing when shorts occur!).  The list of "must do" items is, thankfully, dwindling, but I'm sure the next ops session will add some more....

That's ok though - with every session, the railroad is getting better and the better it gets, the more enjoyable it is to run!
Air Line Local at Mill Hollow, heading back to Cedar Hill Yard.
I plan to skip December as far as ops sessions go, to allow for the holidays and associated schedule.  But I also hope the time off will allow me to get to some other construction projects, including fixing the cracks in the backdrop, hopefully starting some scenery in Wethersfield, and maybe even (gasp!) extending the Valley Line south of Middletown to East Haddam!

Guess I'll have to see if Santa has any "extra time" in his bag of gifts that he can give me....