Thursday, October 29, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Ghosts of Railroads Past

(In the "spirit" of the season - and of Throwback Thursday, I hereby repost this from last October. I think you'll agree it's especially fitting this time of year...)

A big part of my motivation for recreating the Valley line is to keep alive the memory of the men & women who were responsible for getting the stuff of life delivered to you, each and every day.  From coal for winter heat or a bicycle to ride in the summer, for over 100 years in this country the stuff of life was delivered by rail.  And sometimes, if you're lucky, historical research will unearth a ghost or two.

Given that Halloween is approaching, here's a question for you:  Do you believe in ghosts?

The answer for me depends on what kind of ghosts you mean. I don't believe in the creepy un-dead or spirit wanderings of departed souls. But I do believe in the ghosts of the past - the hauntings of a place by the memories of the people who were there. Who were they? Did they have dreams and plans like we do today? While dead people don't actually haunt us, the spirits and memories of the past can - and often do. Especially if you're paying close attention.

During this time of year especially, if you keep your eyes open and know where to look, you can see some of these ghosts of the past materializing.  You have only to slow down, pay attention, and keep your eyes peeled. Here's just one example for those interested in the history of railroading in the Connecticut River Valley...
Bridge far
Railroad line from Middletown to East Berlin.  Trust me, it's there - somewhere...
I passed this spot a dozen times back during the summer when I was riding my bike to work, but only recently did I spot a ghost of the old railroad line between Middletown & Berlin across this field. Do you see it there in the distance? How about if I zoom in . . .

Stone arch bridge, Middletown - Berlin line
You'll have to excuse the camera quality of my phone, but if you tilt your monitor just right, you should see, just beginning to poke out of the trees, this beautiful stone arch bridge. The railroad was abandoned and torn up years ago, and the trees have long since reclaimed much of the roadbed. But this bridge remains - a monument to the memory not only of the railroad, but to the spirit of the men who built it.

If during your travels you stop at a spot like this and imagine, even for a few minutes, how those men lived, what their hopes were and whether they ever achieved them, you might see some ghosts.

And if you're especially quiet, you may even hear in the sound of the leaves floating by on the breeze a whisper of thanks from those men for not letting them be forgotten.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Saybrook Jct. Control Panel

I just realized going back through my posts that I never covered the track plan in Old Saybrook or installing the track. With a lot of help from Randy, et. al, I got it done in time for my Open House, but in the craziness (not to mention how fast it got done with all the help) I never dragged you through all the vacillation described how I finalized the plan. I'll definitely describe the track layout more fully in a future post, but for now I'm focused on powering all the turnouts there - more specifically, I'm focused on building the control panel. But first, a brief background...

Originally, I'd planned on having all my turnouts operated manually. I use Micro-Engineering turnouts and they have the handy-dandy built-in spring that will hold the points which ever way you throw them. And they work out great - and prototypically - on the Valley Line, but it occurred to me sometime during construction of the Saybrook scene (not to mention the Saybrook Tower) that it'd be really cool - and more prototypical - if the turnouts in Saybrook were thrown remotely by the towerman. Well, that would require the installation of switch machines, as well as the running of all those power lines from each machine to a control panel (which would, incidentally, be located above my agent/operator's desk on the other side of the room).

With Pete's help, I've started the wiring for all the machines. Now I'm working on the "operator's board" - also known as the Control Panel - for the Saybrook Tower. Fortunately, I have a picture of the prototype...

It's not the best photo, but it gives me a start.
It's kinda cool that even the real railroad had to make do with a slight modification for the wye track. I won't have room for that, but more importantly this photo gives me some critical information:

  • Unlike most model railroad control panels, which are basically single-line track schematics, the prototype had two lines representing the track.
  • I also see - by zooming in - that the location was called "Saybrook Jct. Conn." rather than "Old Saybrook" and "NYNH&H" was on the top rather than "New Haven Railroad" or otherwise spelled out.
  • And - interestingly - it looks like it's printed on some kind of paper.
One of the challenges I've had is figuring out how best to build the panel. Traditionally, you'd paint your board a light color (white), use narrow tape to mask where the track goes, spray the board again a dark color (black), and remove the tape. But I couldn't find any narrow tape, didn't want to make it, and the result of all that work wouldn't match my prototype anyway.

So I decided to follow the prototype and print my panel out on paper as well. At first, I tried the Paint program, but couldn't figure out how to do the "2-line" track - or how to get it to draw white lines on a black background. I must be dense impatient, so I tried Atlas' Right Track track planning freeware. I'd remembered that it can draw track with two lines like I needed, and it was also easy to figure out how to do white on black. Bonus: it (like most Microsoft programs now) will "Print to PDF" - just what my local Staples needs in order to print it to the size I need (12"x24").

(as always, you can click for a larger image)
Here's where I am so far. I just hope it's not too crowded for toggles and LED indicators. I'd originally planned on locating the toggles on the turnouts, with LEDs on each diverging route. Now I'm thinking it'd be better to just have a row of toggles along the bottom. But then I'd have to number each turnout, which would clutter things up further.

And since this is track planning software I'm using, this is actually "full size" track on a 4'x8' table. I'm hoping that the print shop can just scale it down and print it to the 1'x2' size I need.

Once I refreshed my memory on how the program works (it's been a couple years since I used it), I was able to do this in an evening - not too much time invested yet. Sooooo..... if you have any recommendations for any better way of going about this, please let me know.

Next step may be to do a test print to see how things really look . . .

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Extending the Air Line to New Haven: Superelevation and laying track

Now that the drop-down across the doorway is finished, it's time to lay track. I already laid the cork roadbed along the "easemented" lines I'd created (click here for how I did it), and the smooth, long S curve looks great. But I think the track itself would really benefit from some superelevation - it'll be cool to see a long Air Line Local leaning both ways around the long S.

A quick search of my library led me to a trackwork book that had a section on superelevation. The author suggests using styrene strips of .010", .020", and .030" thick to gradually raise the outside rail, but the first step is to mark where the outside rail will be...

Measuring from the centerline, I made a mark on the outside of the curve where the outside rail - and thus the strips - should go.

I used the styrene I had on-hand - all the right thicknesses, but dissimilar widths. Shouldn't matter. They're glued to the line with thick ACC to give me some time to position the strips (I think thin ACC would soak into the cork and dry too quickly)
While the recommended practice is to have each strip be a standard car length long (12" for passenger cars, 6" for 40' freight cars), my curves weren't that long, so I fudged it a bit and used (much) shorter pieces.

I don't think it'll end up mattering though - the elevated S curve came out great and works well. The only thing I'd change in the future is to go up to a .060" thickness. The .030" height doesn't make for as dramatic a lean as I'd hoped. On the other hand, considering how short these curves are, I wouldn't have been able to transition up to .060 quick enough without risking operational problems.

Tip: when you have a long curved section like this, you'll want to solder the track together first, even if it gets a little unwieldy. I tried to solder as I went along and found that to be even more difficult than handling one long piece of track. It might be different if you're working with a buddy, but working alone you just run out of hands. Add to that the fact that I wanted to glue the track down and things got really stressful for a bit, trying to do everything before the glue set up. As it was, I used track nails to hold things in place - most necessary when using Atlas flex (which is ultra bendy) rather than MicroEngineering (which you can bend to a curve ahead of time and have it hold). Another tip: if you're going to use track nails, pre-drill the holes and don't try to do that along with soldering and gluing. Save some stress!

After the S curve was done, all that remained was the simple matter of continuing the track across the drop-down bridge...

Hinged end: Lay the track right across the gap. Again, it's critical that the track remain rigid here - so I nailed down the four ties on either side of the gap AND applied a healthy thick dose of Aileen's Tacky Glue (my track fixative of choice) all around the area. That should hold the track in place after I cut the rails.

Drop end: I treated the other gap the same way - you can see the Aileen's still setting up.
I hate to give Randy the satisfaction, but after a lot of hemming and hawing I finally decided to take his advice and extend this track all the way to the corner of the room, behind the backdrop that's already there (of course, that required some deconstruction). I was worried about access, but discovered that I could still reach the end of the track from underneath. It's not easy access, but it's doable and considering how tight things are, it's unlikely that anything will derail back there. But I may put a rerailer there just in case. AND that little extension gives me another 40" of tracklength - enough to allow the entire Air Line Local to be staged without being on the drop-down bridge at the start of the session. So I think the destruction deconstruction change will end up being worthwhile.

Now I just need to figure out how best to wire all this. I'm considering attaching the wiring bus to magnets so that when the bridge is in place and the magnets connect so does the power. BONUS: when the bridge is down, there'll be no power to the tail track. At least that's my thinking at this point - but I welcome suggestions, as always!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Quick Weekend Work: Powering Switch Machines, Finalizing the Drop Down

Since I've been busy enjoying our New England Autumn lately, I haven't worked too much on the layout, but with a little help, I made some significant progress on powering the switch machines in Saybrook.

While the Valley Line is all-manual as far as turnout control goes (I use MicroEngineering turnouts with center-over springs on the points), I wanted the Saybrook switches to be powered by "Saybrook Tower" - just as on the prototype. I think it'll be a cool contrast for a crew to go from the 74-train-per-day Shoreline and mosey up the branch. Getting clearance from the Tower each time you need to switch a switch (and having the towerman actually throw the switch for you) will go a long way to supporting that illusion.

So, while most (sane) people have their powered turnouts controlled by a toggle on the fascia near the turnout, I need to have all my toggles on a control board in the "tower" on the other side of the room. That means I need to have two power wires going from the toggle all the way over to Each And Every switch machine. For someone that enjoys the simplicity of wiring that DCC and manual turnouts affords, all this "extra" wiring is a pretty daunting task.

But with Pete's help - and a little bit of patience (and a lot of time) - it's not at all difficult. And if you keep pretty zen about it and work methodically, it can actually be a joy therapeutic not too bad.

The key is organization and doing one machine at a time:

I ran lamp cord (which has two wires) to each machine, one at a time, and temporarily labeled each wire as I went to keep track.

The other end of the wire is labeled the same. Here they are dangling waiting for me to install the terminal strip on that board and attach them all.
In addition to some wiring, I finalized the dropdown on the Air Line "New Haven" staging. Here are a couple close-up pics:

The "bridge" is a 1x2 L-girder mounted to a piece of plywood that provides a mount for the hinge.

You can see the other end here - the bridge's 1x2 subroadbed is cut back to allow smooth entry into the receiving slot.
This is the first time I've done a drop-down (as opposed to a simple lift-out) and I'm pretty happy with how it's come out. The key is to have the mounting for each end be absolutely rigid. Then, once you have things all lined up, it's just a matter of laying the track right across the gaps and cutting the rails in place. That's what I'll plan to do next so we can get the Air Line's "New Haven extension" finally done.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fall Foliage Fun

As you've probably figured, October is one of my favorite months. And New England is - IMO - one of the best places on the planet to enjoy it. Fortunately for me, some of the best places are within easy reach. The only downside is that if I'm out and about, I'm not in the basement working on the layout. But no matter how hardcore a model railroader you may be, it's hard to be in the basement on a bright, sunny, fall day. So these past couple of weekends, layout work has taken a back seat while I get outside for some brisk autumn air. Here are a few shots from my recent trips...

Stafford Springs, CT on the former Central Vermont Rwy (now New England Central)

Palmer, MA station on the former Boston & Albany (where the Central Vermont crosses). The station has been restored to a must-see/must-eat-at restaurant called The Steaming Tender.

The "blue cabooses" in Deerfield, MA, along the B&M's Connecticut River Line. Visiting these is an annual event for me and the Missus (I get this same shot every year going back close to 20 yrs now).

East Deerfield Yard on the old Boston & Maine, now PanAm/Norfolk Southern. Some pretty cool power laying over.

East Deerfield Yard from the "Railfan Bridge"

Former New Haven Railroad freighthouse in Shelburne Falls, MA - now the site of the Shelburne Falls & Colrain trolley museum.

#10 originally ran on the SF&C and has been beautifully restored and is fully operational.

Hoosac Tunnel, MA on the former Fitchburg RR/Boston & Maine. I haven't visited here in probably close to 20 years, so I'd forgotten how impressive it is. This is the east portal and very accessible (unlike the western portal). Used to be double-tracked, and electrified during the steam era.

Looking east from the tunnel at some beautiful foliage. Those are former catenary towers along the left.

Bridge over the Deerfield River just east of the tunnel. The Hoosac Tunnel & Wilmington Railroad connected with the B&M on the other side of the river.

Looking across the bridge at the former station site. The HT&W branched off to the left to head north to Wilmington, VT.

Heading over to Adams, MA I happened across the Berkshire Scenic Rwy's new operation, including this recently-restored Budd Car.

In New Haven RR green & orange, the BSR's SW-8 switcher provides the power. Unfortunately, either they weren't running that day or had already ended ops.

Beautifully restored station at Adams, MA with the end of the BSR foliage train on the main.
Living in southern New England this time of year is like living in Disneyland, between the beautiful foliage, the quaint villages, and the railroading. I haven't even gotten to the steam train yet, but that's coming. I tend to follow the foliage as it peaks from north to south, so I have a little bit of time yet before it gets to the lower Connecticut River Valley.

In the meantime, I'll soak up all the modeling inspiration I can from these sojourns outside of the basement.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Extending the Air Line to New Haven - Hinged Drop Down

Now that the subroadbed is to the wall & doorway, things get a bit more complicated. I'd already cut through the wall, so I routed the subroadbed through there, supporting it on a riser & 1x3 attached across 2 studs:

My preferred method of subroadbed support: 1x3 with riser attached allows for easy height and tilt adjustment.
But there was a slight problem with where I'd cut the hole...

Apparently, I'd cut it about a 1/2" too low. But that's easily remedied with another pass of the drywall saw.
Now through the wall, progress slowed to a crawl as I figured out how to engineer a hinged drop-down across the doorway. Looking at the doorway, I spied the first part of the solution - a hinge! I'm not going to use the door there anymore, so I could just use one of the hinges that was there.

Standard door hinge mounted on a 6" length of 1x4 for solid backing and rigidity.

I screwed a short section of scrap L-girder directly into the stud/doorpost. The flange is up against the wall and the web sticks out to support the subroadbed. A shelf bracket could work also, but I think this set up is much more stable and rigid - which is the key. This area has to be bullet proof and rock solid - and it is. The 1x4 & hinge are placed on top of the L-girder and the subroadbed screwed through the 1x4 in four places - twice directly into the L-girder. Again, for rigidity.  

Close-up of the assembly
Once I attached the span to the hinge, I discovered that the span was slightly "off" - it went off at an angle when I wanted it to be straight. Unfortunately, I'd already screwed in the hinge and would have to turn is ever so slightly - but how?! How could I keep the screws from just going into the old holes and pulling everything out of alignment again??

Well, here's a PRO TIP I got from my carpenter father-in-law which he showed me when we were working on a doorway last summer...

Just fill in the hole with a dowel or something similar - here I'm using a bamboo skewer - and snip it off. You can then drill a new hole and screw in at a different place without having the screw "travel" into the old hole!
Once that was done, the span spanned the doorway just how I wanted...

And here it is in it's lowered state:

Detail of the "other" end:

I constructed the "other"/receiving end much the same way as the hinged end. I again used a scrap of L-girder screwed into the doorpost stud. But this time I added 1x1s on either side of where the span would come up - these act as a track to guide the span into place. I also customized the 1x4 "cap" (the piece on top of the L-girder) to fit around the door moulding and cut a slot to accept the end of the span.

I then attached subroadbed on top of all that. Note that the subroadbed goes over top of the slot to meet the end of the span. Also note the use of business cards to shim in a few places to get things perfectly level and tight. For now, I just place a piece of 1x3 in the slot, cut to the correct length, to support the span when it's in place.

Once the cork is dry, I'll lay track directly across the span and use my Dremel cut-off wheel to cut the rails where the need to be. I'm considering laying Atlas rerailers across the joints and cutting the rerailers, but I haven't decided on that yet. I'll let you know!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Extending the Air Line to New Haven - Final Lines, Cutting/Installing Subroadbed

As I mentioned in the previous post, I wanted to save that plywood 24" radius curve I'd already cut out as a template for cutting out a duplicate. But the new piece would need a nice 24" radius centerline. Hmmm... how to do that.....

Turns out, it was easy - just a matter of having someplace to anchor your trammel, and somewhere to position your subroadbed for marking. Incidentally, my trammel is just a yardstick with a screw at one end and a pencil-in-a-hole at my desired radius. I've seen variations of this where the pencil is guided by a binder clip clamped onto the yardstick (so you can clamp it anywhere you want).

My subroadbed curve needed about 6" of tangent to get to the doorway, so I offset my tangent line from the curve centerline and freehanded a short easement as above.
Next, I marked the edges of the subroadbed so I'd know where to cut. Normally, this doesn't have to be that precise, but I may have this track be on top of a fill, so I didn't want excess subroadbed "overhanging" too much, needing to be trimmed later. Based on some quick research, I determined that 2 1/2" is the correct width for the top of an HO scale, single-track fill. Thus, I needed to cut at 1 1/4" from either side of my centerline.

One way to do that is to use a compass - put the point on the centerline and the pencil 1 1/4" out. But I didn't have a compass handy, so I used my ruler . . .

Pro Tip - Turns out, two of the holes are spaced exactly 1 1/4" apart. So it was only a matter of putting my Sharpie in one hole and guiding the ruler along the line, using the other hole as a window.  Alternatively, you could just follow the centerline with any marking on the ruler to get a different distance.

Here's the subroadbed, ready for cutting.

Pro Tip: Cover any models & track BEFORE you cut - especially if your staging yard is in your shop. Ask me how I know....

After my nice S curve was cut out and spliced to my 24" curve (using a plywood splice that is 4x longer than the width of my subroadbed), I glued down cork roadbed following my centerline and tacked it in place to dry overnight.

Now comes the fun part - installing the subroadbed/roadbed. It's just a matter of placing it in place, leveling it out, and screwing it all together.

But be sure you know where your risers are going beforehand! I guess I could have just used a block of wood as a riser on top of the plywood here, but I like how easy traditional risers are to adjust. So I cut out a section to allow use of a traditional riser. Just remember to cut out enough so you can still screw it into the subroadbed from below!
Now that the subroadbed is up to and through the wall, it's time to deal with the doorway and dropdown. . . .