Thursday, March 31, 2016

Modifying the Saybrook Control Board, Part 1 - Wiring

It's nice and easy out on the Valley Line - the local freight meanders along, stopping as needed along the way to shuffle cars and throw switches. On the branchlines, the switches (a.k.a. "turnouts") are thrown by hand - and on my layout the points are moved by a finger (MicroEngineering turnouts have points that lock with a center-over spring).

But down on the Shore Line where the Valley connects in Old Saybrook, it's a different story. The switches are thrown remotely by the Saybrook tower operator. And on my layout, they're thrown by machines controlled by toggles on a control board. It's a pretty cool contrast to how things are done on the branch. But it's pretty annoying when you have to add additional turnouts. In addition to a new machine, every new turnout needs a new toggle (though crossovers can be controlled by 1 toggle), so the toggles need to be added to the board. And the diagram on the board itself needs to be changed eventually too.

The prototype had to do this from time to time as well, so that's some consolation.

Buzzards Bay, MA control board, posted by John S Greene on the New York New Haven & Hartford Railroad group on Facebook
Thankfully, my panel doesn't need to be modified quite that much - and I'm adding, rather than subtracting track, which results in more white pencil lines rather than blackout...

Click to enlarge and see the new markings showing the new track arrangement. The post-it shows where the new toggles will go.
First step was to run additional power lines from the panel to the machines. As I described here, power goes from an old 12v power pack, through two buslines (+/-) in the panel. The toggles are soldered to the buslines and are connected to a terminal strip. From that strip, 18ga lampcord goes 25' from the panel, under the stairs, up and over a doorway, to another terminal strip. And from that strip, more lampcord goes to each machine.

So, opening up the panel, here's what we see (click here for how I built the panel):

I've already drilled a new hole for the additional wires and the new wires are poking through.

Next, I needed to drill new holes for toggles, including routing out recesses (as described here).

I already had one extra hole from before - I wish I'd thought ahead more. Oh well. I extended the center line and marked 1" centers.

Then it was a matter of drilling a small pilot hole (1/8"), then the toggle hole (1/4"), then the recess (5/8" spade bit, then - when that was insufficient a 3/4" spade bit).
Drilling/recessing these holes was my biggest mental hurdle, but once I'd gotten the bit between my teeth (sorry for the pun) it actually went quickly (if stressfully).

Having previously wired up the additional toggles conveniently at my workbench (as I describe here), it was just a matter of putting them in - the most complicated task was soldering the toggle wires to the power bus (I ended up unsoldering a couple of the other connections in the process, but that was easily corrected - once I discovered the problem).

By contrast, one of the least-stressful (and almost relaxing) steps in the process, was cutting the remaining wires to length and connecting them to the terminal strips.

You can see the additional terminals I've added, as well as the additional wires - all nicely labeled.

So Many Wires going up and over the doorway! They come from the panel under the stairs and out through the stud in the lower right of the photo, and end up at the terminal strip under the layout next to the door knob.
It was a long process and I would have been perfectly happy if it hadn't been necessary. But for the most part, there was nothing particularly difficult about it as I'd already done it all before %^)

The pic above show everything all connected. Well, almost everything. As you can see (or maybe not, considering the bundle of wires) there are some loops of disconnected wire. Those are the wires from the new toggles that will go to the LED indicators. I haven't done those yet because 1) I need to find 3 more 5mm green 3v LED bulbs, and b) I need to redo the track diagram (and by "I" I mean Bill, hopefully) and won't know where the bulbs (and their associated mounting holes) will go until that's (re)done and (re)mounted.

We'll make it look all nicey nice when I/Bill have the extra time. That'll be "Control Board, Part 2." But for now, everything is functioning so it's ready to go for my next shake-down session.

Control Board in its current state - 17 toggles, all marked up, and temporarily relabeled.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tuesday Tortoise Tips

Since I decided to redo my East End Staging and Old Saybrook track arrangement (with a little, um, "encouragement" from Randy & Tom), I discovered that I'd need to add 8 more turnouts. And since all of those turnouts would be on the mainline, I decided they needed to be powered.

Ever since reviewing Circuitron's Tortoise switch machines versus Micro-Mark's SwitchMaster machine, I decided to give the Torti a try. Bottom Line: over half of my machines are still SwitchMasters and they work well, but I've discovered that I like the Torti just as well - especially since I've gotten used to putting them together and installing them.

Here are a few quick tips to help you build/install these slow-motion machines. . .


Each machine has 8 (?!) contacts: 2 for power and 3 each for two internal SPDT switches. I decided to do all the wiring at the bench. And the first thing I do is cut all the bits of wire I need. The 2 power wires (which are the outermost contacts) get 20 ga solid wire, about 8" long (I'll cut to length when I install). The remaining 6 wires are 22ga stranded and are 6" long so they can reach a terminal strip installed on the underside of the layout. For now, though, they're just bundled together until I need them.

Next - one of the most important tips of all - use some solder flux on the metal contacts. SUPER helpful for getting a quick and solid solder joint.

Just a touch of solder does the trick. I cleaned off the flux with denatured alcohol and a brush. Looks purdy, eh?

I swear, the first machine took me over an hour to do. The last few took me less than 10 minutes each - from removing it from the box, through testing and cleaning.
The holes under the turnout's throwbar are drilled using a 5/16" bit - which matches the diameter of the lug on this styrene drilling template. The masking tape is to mark how far I can go when reaming out holes that were too small (so I don't end up drilling too far and up and through the turnout!)

Here's drilling template in place. The lug fits snugly in the hole under the throwbar, keeping it in place without you having to hold it. Then it's just a matter of drilling the 3/32" pilot holes for four 1/2" #4 mounting screws.

Since the template (and thus the machine) has to be in-line with the turnout, I will often drill two small (1/16") holes along the tangent rail from above and then use those to draw a line on the underside of the layout, as above. This makes it easier to line up the template - and your machine will be in line too.
Like most things in this hobby, I've discovered once you do it a time or two, it becomes MUCH much easier. Like with prepping the machines, my first install took almost an hour - now I can install one in about 20 minutes. Still not as fast as the MicroMark machine, but not nearly as bad as I'd always feared.

In fact, installing the machines turned out to be the least of my work in reworking Saybrook and staging. Next I have to modify my control board to add the toggles that'll power all these new machines and turnouts! <facepalm>

Friday, March 25, 2016

More supplies...

Look what came in the mail today...

It's been a very productive day working on the Valley Line (thanks to Pete for all the help!), and the postman delivered this stuff just in time for even more fun tomorrow! Trying to get So Much More accomplished before the weekend ends. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Wiring the liftout between Saybrook and Essex

So, I mentioned my latch fail last time. Here's how I ended up dealing with the liftout. (click here for info on how I built it).

First, I needed to get bus power to it. Since the liftout goes into a wye, and the wye will be electrically isolated from the Shoreline mainline, I have the power coming in from Essex. In the pic above, you can see where I branched off from the terminal strip and went through the wall.

And here's where it came out. I thought using a phone cord wall plate was a neat way to cover the unsightly hole-in-the-wall. The two 14ga bus wires fit through the plate nicely, and I was able to install a polarized female plug on the end. I decided on the female rather than the male plug here since it'd prevent it from ever being plugged into house current(!!). You plug something into this outlet, you're only gonna get 18 volts. Even though it would have looked even nicer, I decided not to use a common wall outlet/plate arrangement for the same reason. I didn't want it mistaken for an actual outlet.

You can also see in the photo above how I connect my feeders to the bus using suitcase connectors and wire nuts. If I was going to do this over again, I would have routed the feeders back through the wall and connected to the bus on the other side. It's not too unsightly here though, so I won't bother changing it.

Here's the area with my bulletin board mounted where it was before. Yes, there's enough clearance there. Barely. I'll probably move the board - eventually - and do a short section of photo backdrop around the hole to disguise it a little.

And here's the lifout itself. I covered its construction here before, but I just recently wired it (and just in time for my shake down session last week). All standard stuff: 14 gauge busline with 18ga pigtails connected via suitcase connectors; 20 ga feeders soldered to the rails and connected to the pigtails with wire nuts. All stapled neatly. Polarized male plugs on the ends. I recognize I run a risk (albeit, hopefully, a small risk) that I - or someone else - may try plugging this thing into a wall outlet. That would be bad. But, again, unlikely.

Quick note: It may not be obvious, but I'm using polarized plugs and sockets (the ones with one spade/slot larger than the other) so that I don't get my bus wires crossed. Literally.

Here's the liftout installed and connected. Doesn't take but a few seconds. Certainly not as quick and elegant as other solutions, but certainly easier. And - most importantly - it's done.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wordy Wednesday #111

The Valley Local, southbound at Wethersfield and led by DEY-3 (S-1) #0994. Station house track is diverging off to the right (east), whistle post is for the crossing at Nott Street, north of here. Building on extreme right is 15 Fernwood Street, which dead-ends at the track. John Wallace, who figures prominently on this blog and who provided much of the information for this photo, lived at 12 Fernwood. Any idea when this photo was taken?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Is it possible to solder die-cast metal?

Any recommendations here?

Looks like I'm going to have to add a "dead track" to my layout.... :(

Tuesday Tip: Avoid Sash Locks

Or maybe it's just me.

I thought I'd come up with a clever solution to securing and powering my liftout between the Old Saybrook Wye and Essex.

Old Saybrook end

Essex end
The idea was you'd be able to drop-in the lift-out, turn the locks to secure it in place and the locks would transfer the electricity from the main bus to the bus on the liftout. I was so confident this would work that I opened all four packages - and $18 worth - of hardware.

First problem was that I needed to add scraps of plywood to the top of the 1x3 on the wall at the Essex end to bring it up level to the top of the plywood on the liftout. You can see one of those scraps under the latch on the left in the pic above. And you can see the damage to the wall from having to drill pilot holes so close.

Second problem was that the "metal" locks wouldn't conduct electricity(!) Turns out, they're clear coated, so I'd only have to wire brush the contact areas between the hook and latch using my Dremel.

But before I did that, I encountered my third problem: the latches wouldn't keep the rails in alignment! I used four latches not only for added security, but primarily since I'd attach each side of the bus to each of them - the left latches would carry one side of the bus, and the right latches would carry the other side. But every time I latched the latches, the rails would pull out of alignment, no matter which order I latched them.

So, off came the latches. I decided to use the same method I'd used elsewhere. It's much less clever, certainly less aesthetically pleasing, but it works and is bullet proof.

More on that next time!

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Golden Spike - Modeling Shailervile Bridge, Pt. 2

An additional prototype view, at low tide, showing how tall the abutments are.
How the scene looks today. Apologies for the poor lighting. Road bridge is much higher today than it was 100 yrs ago.
Topo map to give you an over all sense of the area. North is to the left. CT River is at the top of the image.

Val map to give you more detail
So, with all these bits of prototype information, here's the area where the scene needed to go:

As you can see, we mocked up the backdrop and fascia to get a sense of the scene and how it would impinge on the aisleway.

And I just happened to find this photo for inspiration which shows how another modeler dealt with a very similar scene.

At the end of Part 1, I mentioned needing to change the grade to get the mainline from Middletown to match the level of the bridge. Click here for the story of how I did it. The photo below shows me gluing down the track - and gives you a good idea of the constraints I was working with (and in).

After doing a general mockup of the scene and taking some measurements, Bill took some foam home and started roughing in the terrain and abutment supports.

Here's what it looked like when he brought it back a bit later:

The bridge is an unmodified Micro Engineering 50' deck girder, so no big mystery to that. But I really need to see if Bill would be willing/able to describe a bit how he went about modeling the abutments themselves. All I know is that he used some stone-embossed styrene sheets he'd discovered in England and glued them to the foam formers he, um, formed.

Here's how the scene looked after adding the stone sheets (as always, you can click on the image to make it larger):

And with a section of backdrop placed behind it:

I have to say, I had no idea the stone styrene sheet could be made to look anywhere near as good as a hydrocal casting (a la New England Brownstone), but apparently it's all in doing the coloring right. And Bill is a true artist when it comes to that. I, on the other hand, am colorblind. Literally.

Here's the bridge scene with the abutments colored - and a couple photos temporarily taped to the masonite backdrop for some depth:

And, finally, a photo comparing the model to the prototype, so far:

I think it looks pretty fantastic - and can especially say so since this was all Bill's doing. Thanks Bill!

Obviously, this scene is far from done. But what it DID finish was the mainline(!!). Yes, in all the hubbub of my construction frenzy - not to mention working on another part of the layout while Bill was installing the bridge track - it totally failed to dawn on me that the railroad itself was nearing completion. I had no idea until Bill announced - "wanna try running a train over it?"

We'd been working so fast and so focused, we didn't bother with a formal "golden spike" ceremony. So, in lieu of that, here's a video of the first train over Shailerville bridge - and, incidentally, the first train to make it from Old Saybrook to Hartford on the Valley Line!

March 9, 2016 10:58pm

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Shailerville Bridge? Not!

One of the signature scenes on my railroad is going to be the Shailerville bridge in Haddam, CT. As pretty as the Valley Line is, meandering its way alongside the Connecticut River, it isn't all that dramatic and the high bridge at Shailerville is arguably the most dramatic feature of the line. Click here for a more detailed introduction.

The other reason I wanted to model the Shailerville Bridge is that it figures prominently in the opening credits of the Doris Day movie It Happened to Jane which was filmed primarily on the Valley Line in the late 1950s.

Or so I thought.

It's pretty standard fare 'round these parts to refer to the Shailerville Bridge as "that bridge that's in the opening credits to It Happened to Jane" - so much so, that it's become "common knowledge" that that's the fact.

Problem is, it's not.

I recently found the movie (at least the opening credits - all I really needed) in order to get some additional - and color - images of the bridge I plan to model. The bridge in the opening credits is definitely carrying "the ol' 97" (nee NHRR J-1 #3016) and its train over some waterway. But that waterway isn't Mill Creek. And that bridge - with its center pier - isn't the bridge at Shailerville.

This type of discovery is part of the, um, "charm" of prototype research - but it certainly won't keep me from modeling the Shailerville scene as planned.

But do any of you have any idea which bridge is in the opening credits of IHTJ?? Inquiring minds wanna know!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Fun - Stove Story

I've posted pictures of this before, but just realized I haven't told the story about my pot belly stove.

It started a couple years ago when I started looking for a caboose stove to put in our den/railroad room. I was in no real hurry, so my search was pretty casual - and I didn't find anything.

Fortunately and serendipitiously (sic?), I happened to mention at dinner during the Springfield show last year what I was looking for, and somebody said - "I have a railroad stove - it's not a caboose stove, but you're welcome to it if you want it." Turned out that the stove came out of the New Haven Railroad's South Main Street crossing shanty in Millbury, MA and had been used for many years to heat the parlor car that's now at the Steaming Tender restaurant. Coincidentally, that's where we also happened to be eating dinner at the time.

Stove pictured "in-service" after retirement from the railroad.

Also coincidentally, the stove had been used to warm volunteers who worked on the Shoreliner magazine years ago. So moving it over to the NHRHTA Photo Library room to warm the present-day volunteers on Thursday nights seemed especially appropriate. While I'd started out looking for a caboose stove, those tend to be pretty boxy and utilitarian. I think this little pot belly looks a lot nicer in the railroad room, which has a lot more in common with a shanty or station than a caboose anyway.

Once I got the stove home, I did some further research on it. Turns out it was produced by the Stamford Foundry in Samford, CT (an on-line industry for the New Haven). The "Ledger Model B" was their pot belly model stove and the No. 9 was their smallest version. It heats up our large den/photo library room, so it must've been more than adequate for a little crossing shanty, even if it was uninsulated.

The Stamford Foundry. Click here for more details.
Fortunately, I already had a hearth and a tie-in to a separate flue, so all I really needed to do was give it a once-over and connect it. As part of my combo Christmas/birthday present, the Missus paid to have a stove restoration shop go over it, convert it from coal to wood, weld a couple cracks, sandblast it, reseal it, and give it a new coat of stove black. It came back looking like new, but after firing it up I noticed that a couple of the seals weren't completely "sealed" - I could still see some of the flame through the joints.

No worries - I expected there'd be a "settling-in" period. So friend BillC (who was visiting during this year's Springfield show) and I got some stove cement and took apart part of the stove.

The stove was built in sections, each cast separately and connected together with screws, bolts, and threaded rod. It was a little bit of a pain to get it apart and then have to scrape, chisel, and wirebrush the sealing surfaces. But once that was done, all I needed to do was add a "generous" bead of the cement. Once it was all put back together and "cured" it was time to fire'er up again.

Have you ever added too much batter to a waffle maker?

Well, I guess I should have known the cement would expand when heated. Fortunately, it's black - and I was able to scrape most of it away as it came out (no, I didn't use my finger) so it isn't noticeable. At least you don't see any flames anymore!

And after another minor snafu when I realized that even "high temperature" paint will chip off if not fully cured, things are finally settling in nicely. We've fired the stove up a bunch of times and it certainly makes for a wonderful, railroady atmosphere.

All I need now is a cracker barrel and a checkerboard!