Sunday, January 31, 2016

Springfield Show 2016 (vol. 1)

It's gotten pretty busy at work lately as we ramp up to the 2016 legislative fun & games session, so I haven't had much time to post lately. I have, however, been making some incremental progress on the layout (mostly having to do with the west end staging yard), and some great progress on my New Haven Railroad shanty stove restoration (mostly having to do with taking it out to a shop on Cape Cod - then having to (re?)do some of the work myself. Not to mention, um, a house full of smoke - but that's for a future post).

But no matter how busy I get, I always, Always, ALWAYS try and make time for Springfield (aka The Amherst Railway Society Railroad Hobby Show). This event is the largest of its kind in North America and is only about 90 minutes from where I live. Folks come from around the world to attend, and there's typically 25 thousand of us on a typical weekend - even despite New England winter weather. Last year's numbers were a little low due to a snow storm on Saturday - and I couldn't make it since I had the flu. But this year's great weather and 2 years' pent up anticipation guaranteed a great turnout.

Especially since people will literally drag themselves out of their deathbeds to get to this show.

Nothing - not the flu, not TB, not Ebola - will keep folks away from Springfield. I actually saw a guy in a body cast trying to navigate the crowded aisles, his knee resting on a little scooter that he shuffled along on...

KneeRover Knee Scooter, Steerable Knee Walker : WKW-SKS

I'm not kidding! Part of me wanted badly to get a picture as evidence of his dedication to the hobby, but I didn't want to appear rude. At least he wasn't contagious. The stories are legendary of the "Springfield Flu" that afflicts most attendees within a few days of the show, given all the sickees there.

But I wimped out last year, so I was pretty excited to be able to make it this year. I only had one day to get through all 4 buildings (multiple acres' worth), so it was especially nice I had a perfect health-conscious excuse to avoid shaking hands with people so I could just motor through.

It also helped that at this stage in my hobby, I'm not really looking for much - and what I am looking for is very specific. For example, while gathering research on my line's operations, I discovered - much to my shock and surprise - that I don't have a New Haven Railroad Book of Rules. I had the 1956 version at one point, but sold it on eBay during one of my ruthless era-specific cleansings. For my chosen era of 1947, the NHRR's 1943 edition is the one to get. But I've looked for one for a while and haven't been able to find one. I also needed to stop by Bob's Photo and pick up a book on Vermont railroads he'd set aside for me (my library covers anything New England railroad related). Finally, I always keep my eyes open for good deals on class K moguls and class J mikados, not to mention DL-109s. I've got what I need but I'd like to have a few more - especially if the price is right.

Rather than give you a play-by-play of the day, here's a quick sampling of a couple of the more interesting things I saw as I motored walked on by . . ..

Given the limited time, I tend to skip all the great layouts on display, and concentrate on the vendors. But I couldn't help taking a quick snap of this diorama. I plan to "embiggen" this pic so I can enjoy exploring all the details. This was at the Fine Scale Model Railroad Expo booth - another local show I hope to do someday - this year if I can swing the work schedule.

Prototype modeling at its best - an almost scale model of the famous Crawford Notch line of the Maine Central. Beautifully done.

There are also a number of cool educational displays - folks using fine scale modeling to tell the stories of some important history. In this case, we have a display of how the famous Hoosac Tunnel was drilled.

Even though I was generally skipping the layouts, I couldn't resist getting a few photos of this one of the O&W. While the backdrop isn't at all like the area of my Valley Line, the foreground setup is very much like what I plan to do for Essex up through East Haddam.

And speaking of the Valley Line, check out this cool collection of brass luggage tags - certainly nothing like the tags the airlines use today! Many of these are for stations along the Valley Line - very old and extremely rare.

I finally made it to the Rapido booth to see Bill on duty - and to check out the test model of their new RDC. In what will likely be another example of era creep, I may just have to get me one (just one!) of these. It's a whole train in one car length - perfect for a line that has no passing sidings!
Now, without any further ado, I'll answer the perennial question on the minds of folks who weren't able to attend Springfield as well as the lucky ones who did: "Whadja get??"

So here's my booty . . .

First thing in the day, the fine fellows at True Line Trains hooked me up with not one, not Two, but THREE 1937 AAR boxcars, painted for Canadian roads in schemes and/or numbers I don't already have. They'll be a great addition to the fleet!!

I also found (another) copy of the 1956 edition of the New Haven RR Book of Rules for just $3 from the guy who had the cool baggage tag collection. It was early in the day and I figured it best to get at least some sort of rulebook for my collection - and at only 3 bucks, I couldn't go wrong.

After roaming around for most of the day, and enjoying seeing and chatting with old friends (and meeting some new ones, which I'll get to in a future post), I finally saw what I'd been most hunting for: a 1943 edition of the NHRR rule book!! On the same table was a 1906 edition of Car Service Rules - certainly way before my era, but I expect it'll make for some pretty interesting reading. And all that route information should come in at least a little handy in learning how traffic moved on my favorite railroad (even if over 40 years before my era). I asked the gal how much for both, she said she'd have to check - she thought they were $10 each, but I could have them both for $10. I would have paid $10 for just the rule book, so I feel like I got the other book for free!

During the course of the day, I found a J-1 mikado and 3(!) K-1s, all at the same dealer. The prices were more than I wanted to pay, so I ended up passing on them.... for now. I expect they'll be available next time - it's just good to know there are still some of these around to be had.

Finally, as the show was winding down, my buddies and I headed across the street to Bob's Photo - they to check out the photos, me to pick up a book that had been set aside for me at the Marlborough show (aka the New England Model Train Expo). I'd seen that he had (what I thought were) "both" volumes of "Railroads of Vermont" and I knew I had one of them, but I didn't remember which one. So I'd texted the Missus asking her to check my shelf and send a pic back, but by the time she did, Pete and I were already on our way home. But at least I now knew I already owned Volume 2, so I had Bob set aside the other volume for me to pick up in Springfield. Well, I'd assumed it was Volume 1 (all the better to address my OCD), but it ended up he only had the "Pictorial" which was, essentially, Volume 3 (though not marked as such - but it's the 3rd book in the series). So, suffice it to say, my OCD on this is now even worse than it was before. But he was giving away a free book with purchase, so I got a copy of "Boston & Maine Diesel Switchers and Road Switchers, Vol. 1" which I supposed was to assuage me, but now I wonder if I should get Volume 2 of that series . . .#firstworldproblems

But all in all it was a very good day - and it wasn't over yet! I still had dinner at the Steaming Tender to look forward to, but that'll have to wait until next time...

Friday, January 22, 2016

Friday Fun: Prototype Photo Fun

I needed a break from the heavy layout construction I've been involved with lately, so I decided to have some Foto Fun.

Like many prototype modelers, I'm constantly referring to photos to guide my efforts. My photos are on my iPad, which is super handy for bringing into the layout room. But the iPad's way of sorting photos is, to put it mildly, lousy. Everything's all together in one giant folder, so I have to do far too much scrolling/searching and that wastes time.

Thankfully, with modern laser printers and some glossy brochure paper, you can print out reference photos to full 8.5x11. You won't want to frame them, but they're certainly sufficient for quick and easy reference. Just tack them up in the appropriate locations . . .

East Haddam pics on the wall behind the (eventual) East Haddam section of the layout. The photos are located approximately where the scene will be depicted.

Essex & photos (and even a val map), with East Haddam in the background
Overview of Essex to East Haddam, with the "Mill Hollow" (Air Line) module in the background. You can just about make out Shailerville Bridge in the far back corner.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

(Re)Working My Plan & Making the Grade

In my last post, I mentioned that I'd have to change the existing grade from Middletown to Shailerville bridge. But before I could do that, I'd have to move some existing track.

Here's what I was confronted with. The track/cork/plywood/riser is where I ended up a few years ago when I first punched through the wall to get to E.Haddam from M'town, and had planned on the bridge scene being much further to the right. Well, as Bill and I discovered, there wasn't enough linear feet to include everything I wanted, so I had to move Shailerville bridge all the way to the left.

And forward (to clear the Air Line above).

Also, as the track leaves south from Middletown, it goes down a 2% grade to allow it to get underneath Middletown and through the wall to Shailerville bridge. The rest of the southern end of the railroad (E. Haddam-Saybrook) is a few inches lower than the north end (Middletown-Wethersfield), so while the bottom of the grade had been just as the track goes under town, I'd have to continue the downgrade to get to the level of the southern end.

First things first though - gotta take care of the track.

Don't try this at home kids
Of course the track is glued down. Fun Fact: Aileen's Tacky Glue dissolves in water. Well, it doesn't actually dissolve (I wish it did), but it will go back to it's previous state when wet. So I sprayed the track with water, waited, and then veeeerrrryyy carefully pried the track up. Who knew Micro-Engineering spike detail was so blasted delicate??!!

The pictures above show how I kept the track separate from the cork and subroadbed. "Why so far apart?" you might ask. Well, I'll tell you - I had to do this extreme separation in order to give me enough room for, um, to allow me to use, eh, a saber saw - upside down and in awkward, tight quarters - to cut away the plywood & cork.

I'd recommend you plan better than I did so you never find such extreme measures necessary.

Suffice it to say, I don't have a photo of me doing this (though a video would have been priceless). But I relied on my power saw expertise and superior skill & handling to accomplish my goal lucked out. 
Cork & plywood subroadbed removed; flex track now at rest.
I guess I could have left the subroadbed where it was and just moved the track over onto the foam base that will eventually be in this corner. But the transition would have been really tricky - and all this will eventually be hidden, so I didn't want any tricky transitions. What I'll end up doing is gluing the end of the remaining subroadbed directly on top of the foam base and use a shingle to transition down the rest of the grade from there.

Speaking of grades...

Chart from this book
Roughly speaking, a 2% grade goes down 1/2" every two feet. As I mentioned, I have a 2% grade already, but it's all on straight track. The track from the bottom of that grade to Shailerville bridge is all twisty-turny. So I was hoping to get by with a 1.5 or even 1% grade at most, but I'd have to know how many linear feet I had to work with first.

Measuring straight track is straight forward (ahem), but what about measuring the length of curved track?

I use one side of a piece of N-scale roadbed, with measurements marked off. It fits right in between the rails of HO scale track (standard gauge) and will bend to whatever curve you need.

Using this "tool" I determined that I had 8 linear feet to work with (from bottom of 2% grade to end of Shailerville bridge) and I already knew I needed to drop an additional 1"

Great news! According to the chart above, a 1% grade will drop 1/4" every two feet - so my 8 feet will give me exactly the drop I need!

The photo above shows my method for making the grades on my railroad. This is a 2' level. Clamped to the end is a piece of paint stirring stick with a 1/4" mark. The stick is adjusted to that the mark lines up with the bottom of the level. In order to ensure that the track is dropping at a constant 1%, just put this now-modified level on the track. Move your riser up & down and when the bubble is centered, you know your track dropped 1/4" and is at a 1% grade. Then move another 2 feet down the track and repeat the process.

BTW, the other "bullseye" level that you see there on the left helps me make sure my track is level side-to-side or, if tilted on a curve, is tilted to the outside of the curve (superelevation).

Fun Fact: Cedar shingles drop at a 1% grade (at least this one does). This is what I'll used to transition off of the plywood subroadbed and onto the foam.

I hope you do a better job of planning than I did so you don't end up having to cut things out later. But I'm glad that area was never any further along so that I could still get to it (though not easily). And I hope you picked up a couple of tips for calculating and creating grades on your railroad.

As for me, after my harrowing experience with the saw, I think I'm going to go back to the yard...

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Shailerville Bridge Mockup

Shailerville Bridge - as the most dramatic engineering feature on the Valley Line - will be a signature scene on the layout.

It's located along the Middlesex Turnpike in the Town of Haddam, right next to the Connecticut River. While it is one of the highest - if not the highest - bridges on the Valley Line, what makes it even more distinctive are the long stone abutments. Looking at the photo, it appears that they've been added to over the years. And my best guess is that they originally supported a covered wooden bridge. But by my era - in fact, by the late 19th century if the photo is any indication - the bridge itself is a non-descript steel deck girder type. But the cool abutments remain.

On my layout, Shailerville bridge is the next scene "north" (left) from East Haddam and the last scene before the track goes through the wall and under (and up to) Middletown. Flipping the map shows how you'll see the scene (remember, Essex to East Haddam, north is to the left).

Couple of pretty cool features here, besides the abutments and the bridge itself. Middlesex Turnpike (today's Rt. 154) crosses the same brook (Mill Creek) that empties into the river - but does so at a much lower level (the prototype photo was likely taken from the road bridge). Also - though not shown on the map - is CT's last shad shack.

It's been here since 1930, so needs to be on my layout, and will make a neat model.
Image from here.
It's a lot to try and get in a small area, and it's especially difficult to try and imagine it in the ether, so Bill suggested we do a mockup.

I guess by "we" we mean "Bill"
While Bill made a mess of static-charged styrofoam dust the mockup, I removed some benchwork to make room for the gorge, stream, and the rest of the scene. I had to remove the L-girder flange to make room for the creek bed. There was also a joist and riser there which will need to be shortened before it's replaced.
The mockup is roughed in - just need to level things up to see where the grade will need to be.
Don't forget to mark where things are before you move them and forget exactly where they were.

Even with just a rough mockup, you can really see how this scene is coming together. I'll put in some plywood to support the foam base and make the whole assembly more sturdy. My biggest challenge though will be changing the grade from Middletown to drop the track an additional inch to meet the level of the foam. Fortunately, all that track is on risers, so it should be a simple matter of clamping them, unscrewing them, refiguring the grade, dropping them, and rescrewing them. Sounds complicated, but it's actually pretty easy - especially with my handy-dandy grade-figuring tools.

The track needs to go where the foam is - and be about 1" lower
What'll be more complicated is trying to move the existing track - and remove the plywood subroadbed and cork laminate from underneath it - all in a tight corner underneath the Air Line.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Dropped Leaf means More Yard Work

Don't worry, I did my share of raking back in November. This time of year, I'm all about a different kind of "yard work" and the dropped leaf actually made my yard bigger. Here's the 'splanation...

Lately, I've been working on the "west end" staging yard (which will represent New Haven/Cedar Hill and points "west"). I started the yard a few weeks back, and after working on some other areas, it was time to get back to it.

As I explained earlier, the yard needs to be sturdy since it's right in the aisle and will have to put up with some folks leaning on it. Nothing innovative - plywood base, on a 1x3 open grid frame, supported by shelf brackets mounted onto the legs of the module. Simple and strong.

I didn't want to have to transition down from the cork to plywood level - especially going around 24" radius curves and a complex of turnouts. So I decided to just run cork throughout the yard as well.

Marking tangent centerlines based on cork roadbed snugged up side-by-side (2" centers), and using a section of 24" radius track to mark out the curves. I'll plan to use rerailers to make it easier to add cars.

This picture saves a thousand words - suffice it to say, the heavily modified turnout had to be moved, and here it is in its (hopefully) final resting place. I just didn't have the heart (or time) to write out a play-by-play of what it took to move. At least it's done, and didn't fall apart (yet). You can also see how the yard throat is mocking up. Note the beginning of the cork in the background.

Yard throat turnouts - yeah, it looks like I'm going to have to modify me some more switches...
Now, the module that the yard is attached to is 8 feet long - but the resulting yard tracks will be much less than that since I lose the throat area and have to get pass the curves and fouling points before I have clear tangent yard trackage.

Sooo..... I got the bright idea of extending the yard(!) Here's where it ended . . .

Air Line liftout in the back/corner

Overview shot
I figured I could get another 2 feet of length if I did a drop-leaf section. That would continue to allow access to the house electrical boxes (always a good thing) AND, hmmmmm.... 2 feet times 4 tracks equals 16 more cars capacity. Bonus: the resulting length just happens to be the same length as the tracks in the east end staging yard.

I've done a 2 liftouts and a drop-bridge so far on this layout - doing a drop-leaf would be a no-brainer, especially given all the benefits it would bring.

I built another open-grid/plywood section and clamped it to the end of the yard.

Then I added hinges - actually a bit easier said than done, when you're trying to mount them in place. Next time, I'll attach the sections and hinges at the bench. Yup - that's an even dozen screws - and all done above my head.

It just so happens that the front of the yard overlaps the end of the wall by about 3/16" - but no need to extend it any further. And I hold the end up with a hook & eye I had on-hand.

And here it is all finished and in place.
The toughest part of this project was attaching the hinges - but that was because it didn't occur to me to extend the yard until after it was already in place. Next time (if there is a next time), I'll definitely build all this at the bench.

I still have a good amount of work left to do - finish laying out the turnouts and transitions to the yard tracks, install the cork, modify the turnouts, and install the track - not to mention wiring it all up. And I'm planning on covering it all up with a top/shelf which will be hinged to the front. Pretty clever, if I don't say so myself - it'll provide a handy work area, but at the same time will protect all the staged trains.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Friday Fun - Getting to Know Your Neighbors

One of my favorite shows growing up was Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood - and not just because there was a trolley. But I clearly missed an episode or two somewhere along the way. How else can I explain this Christmas Miracle. . .

The Missus and I (full disclosure - mostly the Missus) came up with a fun project to do for Advent this year: We'd bake Christmas cookies for our neighbors. We were already acquainted with our neighbors on both sides of us, having weathered some pretty severe snowstorms - and even a couple of hurricanes - together. But we haven't been much more than acquaintances, so we thought it'd be nice to get to know them a little better. And what better way than with cookies - and what better time than at Christmas?

Well, what I learned about one of my neighbors came as quite an embarrassing shock.

After knocking on the door and being invited in (we were bringing cookies, after all), the conversation went a little like this:

Neighbor: So, do you live in that house full time? I hardly see you over there - except on Thursday nights when there's a LOT of people there.

Me: Yup - we live there, but we're gone a lot for work. And we have volunteers over on Thursday nights to work on our photo archive.

Neighbor: Photo archive?

Me: Yup - a bunch of us volunteer for the New Haven Railroad Historical Society and catalog photographs from their collection. We've done over 11,000 images so far.

Neighbor: That's very neat - you know, I work on the railroad.

Me: Really?? What do you do?

Neighbor: Well, it's mostly desk work nowadays - I'm about ready to retire - but I used be in operations.

Me: Really??! That's so cool! Were you in engine service? MOW? ???

Neighbor: Tower operator mostly. In fact, I was the last tower operator at Old Saybrook.

Me: (passed out)


I couldn't believe my ears. Here I've been, researching Old Saybrook operations, building an operable model board for Saybrook tower, and am about ready to build a model of the tower itself for pete's sake, and the guy next door to me worked there - and was the last guy to do so before it closed forever.

Suffice it to say, I'll certainly be getting to know this particular neighbor very, very well in the coming months.

So get out and meet your neighbors - don't pass up opportunities to meet new people, especially the older ones. Otherwise, you'll never know how much knowledge they have to share - or how helpful they can be for your modeling!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Christmas Week Progress Pt 4 - Starting East Haddam

I'd only bought enough foamboard to do Essex and Deep River since I'd assumed I'd do East Haddam using plywood constructions because 1) I have plywood on-hand, and 2) the track coming from Middletown south (and through the wall) was mounted on plywood. I knew I was going to have to transition from foam to plywood again at some point - why not at the north end of Deep River?

So that's how I started out - kraft paper on the joists in East Haddam (on the left). Deep River is mocked up on the right. You're looking "north" at Deep River and "south" at East Haddam.

Even Bill agreed with my reasoning re the benchwork, so we got busy plotting out how the East Haddam track arrangement would work. I have about 12 feet to work with here and thought I'd have PLENTY of room for the turnback curve (from DR to EH), the 3 track double ended yard/sidings, a hill for Camp Bethel as the left side view block, and the Shailerville bridge scene before the track had to duck back through the wall to Middletown.

Well, the mockup doesn't lie. I guess I was thinking in N scale again(!)

As we were figuring out the East Haddam track & scenery arrangement, we decided we could sacrifice some Deep River real estate in order to maintain our aisle - and give East Haddam some additional breathing room. The masking tape shows where the foam will be cut.

As we got to the Shailerville bridge area, things were really getting pinched. You can see in the background there about where the bridge should go (in front of the upper level curved track - which will be hidden behind a backdrop).

I would need to bump out this bridge scene a bit in order to create enough depth to do the scene justice. Not only is there a high railroad bridge there (click here for a prototype photo), but Rt. 154 (old Middlesex Turnpike) crosses the same creek at a lower level.

So, this scene sits while I try and figure out how to fit everything in - and by "everything" I mean mostly the bridge, since it'll be a signature scene. My next task: build a mockup of the bridge and its distinctive abutments to see whether how it'll actually fit.

One thing I figured out though . . .

I decided I'm not going to use plywood construction for East Haddam after all. Yup - it's another flat area and I'm impressed by how quickly Essex & Deep River are progressing. So I went out and bought another two 2x8' 2" foam boards which you see here.

I guess I'm becoming a foamer after all . . .

So that concludes my report on "What I Did on my Christmas Vacation." I got Essex to East Haddam (a.k.a. the Southern End) started and well along, got the West End staging started, made a bunch of modifications along the way, and even got a bunch of smaller projects (like the drop gate fences) done. I ended the week with my birthday (yay!) and used my birthday money to order the last(?!) of the track and roadbed I'll need to finish the railroad (Double Yeah!!)

Of course, I still have a LOT to do before the Southern End is operable. I'd hoped - way back a couple months ago - to have an operating session including Essex to East Haddam sometime in January. But I don't think that's gonna happen.

Nevertheless, I'm happy with the progress I'm making. I just hope I don't have to wait until my next Christmas Vacation to get so much done!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tuesday Tip - And A Yard Is Born (Christmas Week Progress Pt. 3)

During my Christmas Week Push, I spent a lot of time under the layout. That work is made much more comfortable with an old roll-around desk chair (set as low as it will go), and it's made much more convenient with this little contraption I cobbled together:

I got a 3 drawer cart, clamped a piece of plywood to the top to form a stiff tabletop (I've got lots of plywood lying around now that I'm using foam for my subroadbed!), and put another, smaller 3 drawer organizer on top of that. The smaller drawers hold small tools, my electrical stuff, and tracklaying stuff. The larger drawers just hold extension cords and larger tools (drill, saber saw, soldering iron) for now, but there's plenty of space for more there.

So that's your Tuesday Tip - a convenient, rollaround work cart for under $30.

West End Staging Yard

Ever since I decided to have the Saybrook Scene operate a bit more prototypically than I first planned, it became painfully obvious that I needed some staging at the "other" (west/New Haven/New York) end of the scene. In fact, when I redid the west loop, I included a severely modified Micro-Engineering turnout to go to said staging.

Well, with the Essex peninsula quickly developing, I needed to make sure I reserved enough aisle space between it and the west end staging yard. And the best way to do that would be to actually build the yard - or at least the benchwork.

The yard will only be 4 tracks (8") wide - 1) because I only need 4 tracks to do at least the minimum of what I need to do, and 2) 8" is about all I can spare in that aisle. Since it'll essentially be a shelf (well, 1x3 open grid with plywood on top), I decided to use shelf brackets attached to the already-existing legs of the Somerset module.

Once I had the brackets up, I could clamp a long 1x3 to them to show me where the front edge of the yard would end up. This was invaluable in knowing how far out the Essex peninsula could expand. I wanted to maintain a 2 foot minimum aisleway.

Once I did that, I used a clamp and some plywood to mockup where the staging lead would swing off the west loop, beginning where I'd installed my modified turnout. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the staging yard lead would end up too far out in the aisle. I really, Really, REALLY did not want to move that turnout. My modifications had made it very fragile and it was pinned in place with a number of spikes and track nails. Worse - I already had a switch motor installed under it.

So I did another mockup to see how much aisle space I could save if I moved the turnout (secretly hoping against hope that the answer would be "not enough to justify the work.") I traced the modified turnout on some paper, taped that to some other turnout templates, and moved the assembly around the loop as far as I could go and still be able to get into the yard.

Do you see what I see? Yup, almost 7" of aisle saved. That makes a huge difference when you're down to a 24" choke point.

I couldn't yet bring myself to ripping up the track and moving the turnout - at risk of it falling apart entirely. So in the meantime, I decided to at least build the benchwork for the yard itself...

And here's a closeup of where all the turnouts are going to go . . .

once I get around to moving that turnout . . .