Thursday, April 27, 2017

Last Run of Steam - 65 years ago today

The New Haven dieselized relatively early, but if its many "last" runs of steam were any indication, it still had a soft spot for the iron horse (or at least the business acumen to recognize that railfans did).

The last of the last runs of steam took place 65 years ago today - April 27, 1952. It was a gray, rainy day, fitting for the sad occasion. Fortunately, there were some who braved the weather and recorded the event for posterity . . .

All images courtesy NHRHTA, Inc. Photo Library

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Fun: Further Focusing for Fall, '48

For a while now, the tagline of my Valley Local project has been "Modeling the New Haven Railroad's Connecticut Valley lines, c. Autumn, 1947 (or 1948, or '49)" and that's done a good job of conveying the layout's locale, as well as the season (neither of which are easily changeable). But the chosen year hasn't been chosen with any real finality... until now.

While I initially focused on Autumn, 1947 (since that was the last year of the "all steam" era in the area - click here for that analysis), it wasn't long before my era "creeped" to as late as 1949. And additional research on these "bookend" years of 1947 & 1949 revealed an interesting fact: the New Haven's all-steam-to-all-diesel transition in the CT Valley was just 3 years: 1947-1949 (thus, my tagline). Here's a synopsis of motive power on the layout in each of those years:

I still plan eventually to host ops sessions focusing on each of these three years since it'll be neat to have my operators know what year it is by what motive power is assigned to their train (oh, and there'll be an era-appropriate calendar on the Bulletin Board as well, in case they don't get the hint...). But recent ops sessions on the Shore Line have prompted a further focus on the Fall of '48. The choice of season is obvious (you can typically scenic your layout for only one season), but here are some of the reasons for the year:

  • Greater Variety of Motive Power
    • In the "transition year" of 1948, you still have steam on the Valley and Air Line locals - and by Autumn you can run both K-class 2-6-0s and J-class 2-8-2s on the Valley Local, but diesels (Alco S-2s) are already on the Shore Line locals by 1948 and DL-109s (DER-1s) were already almost 7yrs old.
    • I can plausibly run my DERS-2b on the Air Line local, as shown here (Alco RS-2s were delivered December 1947).
    • And I can also plausibly run my DERS-1b on PDX-2 (up the lower end of the Valley line).
    • Finally, I can even run my Alco PAs on the Shore Line, since they were delivered in September, 1948
  • Greater Variety of Rolling Stock
    • During the Steam Era, the New Haven's class NE & NE-4 wood cabooses dominated, followed by all-steel NE-5s starting in 1942. However, I have an NE-6 caboose and those weren't delivered until 1947-48. So I get to use it in Autumn of 1948.
    • The New Haven's first post-war stainless steel coaches were delivered in 1947-48 and I think the SS parlor cars weren't delivered until 1948.
  • More-Complete Information
    • I have a pretty wide breadth of NHRR info, but it turns out that what I have for 1948 is most complete: I have the public and employee timetables, as well as the freight symbol book and package car schedules for that year.
    • And while I still don't have an engine assignment book for 1947, I do have a report from April 20, 1948 (69 years ago yesterday!) that shows what every single locomotive did on the railroad that day.
  • John Pryke
    • John was a well-known and avid New Haven RR modeler and greatly influenced me and many others through his articles in Model Railroader magazine. He was also a firm "steam era" fan and played a big role in getting me to backdate my era from 1952 to 1947. But focusing on Autumn, 1948 has the incidental benefit of bringing John right onto my layout - albeit as an 8 yr old.
    • Anybody that knew John knows the story of how he got interested in trains, and in the New Haven Railroad in particular. On the Friday of Labor Day weekend 1948 - right before the PAs were delivered - he was on the platform of the Old Saybrook station, right about twilight, when the Advanced Merchants Limited roared by at high speed with 22 heavyweight parlor cars behind double-headed I-4 heavy Pacifics. Recreating that scene will be a fitting tribute to his memory and inspiration.
Most model railroaders focus on a broad era ("the 1950s" or "the steam-to-diesel transition"), but if you're into doing really deep-dive research, you find out pretty quickly that it can be a rabbit hole and the deeper you go, the more you learn (and, the more you realize you don't know). That's not to even mention how expensive it can get, having to equip a layout with multiple years' worth of rolling stock and engines - especially for a railroad like the New Haven, which rostered an impressive variety of equipment over the years.

But that research is just another one of the many fun facets to this great hobby. And choosing one year to focus on primarily (I'm still planning to occasionally go totally crazy and do a 1947 or 1949 session) will get you even deeper into the era - and make the time machine you're trying to create with your modeling as vivid and realistic as it can be.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Fooling Around w/LokSound Steam

I finally got a little bit of time to try out LokSound's new Full Throttle steam file (which you can download here). Good news: I have an engine with an ESU decoder installed. Bad news: It's a diesel. Good news: you can download any sound you want into an ESU/LokSound decoder. So yeah - that New Haven RS-2 you see is a steamer for this test.

They've always said Alcos are "honorary steam engines" - now that's actually the case, on my test track at least....

At least the mogul there beside the test loop has a SoundTraxx Tsunami TSU-1000 medium steam decoder installed that I'm using for comparison.

I've been firing real steam locomotives off and on (mostly off) for 30 years as of next month (ugh! just figured that out... where's the time go?) so I have a pretty good idea of how they're supposed to sound. Well, at least how the engines I've been around (a smallish 2-8-0 and 2-8-2 and a medium 2-8-2) typically sound. So I'm looking forward to seeing how the LokSound compares to the Tsunami.

Unfortunately, there's only one Full Throttle sound project so far (a Soo Line 2-8-2) and I'm not sure yet whether I'll need the FT functionality, so I may also try downloading some of the other LokSound steam sound projects.

And that's one of the main reasons I'm becoming a fast fan of ESU/LokSound decoders: their ability to be whatever you want them to be gives me a freedom that's just not possible with other decoders. Heh - that RS-2 is now a Soo Line 2-8-2, but it's also been a GP-9! And all without having to remove the shell...

As I start my experimenting, I'd be very interested in hearing from any of you that have tried out LokSound steam - whether Full Throttle versions or not. How do you think they compare to SoundTraxx and TCS offerings?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or you can always contact me directly as well.

In the meantime, I'm getting a kick out of hearing the RS-2 lift its pop valves....

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wordless Wednesday #167

Farm between Somerset and Mill Hollow on the "Air Line"
- and a reminder that I shouldn't let scenery become a roadblock.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tuesday Tip: ESU LokProgrammer & Decoder Tester - 10 Minute Overview

So it's been a bunch of months since I first went down the ESU/LokProgrammer rabbit hole (thanks in no small part to BillS loaning me his), but with the impending holidays and other layout stuff to do, I quickly scratched my way back up to the surface for a bit.

Until, that is, when I just recently bought my own programmer - and(!) decoder tester. I'll admit, it all sat in the unopened boxes for a couple of weeks while I ginned myself up to hook everything up. But I needn't have waited. The setup process went more smoothly than I'd imagined. So well, in fact, that I decided to share my experience in my First Ever how-to video in the hopes that I can help clear any fog or fear you may have about these great tools.

It certainly ain't Cecil B. DeMille, but if you'd like a quick overview on how to set up the ESU LokProgrammer and Decoder Tester - from a newbie's perspective - click on my video here or below:

The link to the super helpful LokProgrammer (#53452) Unboxing & Setup video that I mentioned can be found at the top of this page.

And if you don't have the instruction manual for the decoder tester, you can get it here.

I hope you find the video helpful and not too painful! %^) I'd love any feedback! So be sure to let me know what you think either in the comments below or by email.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday Fun - Model Railroad Podcasts

The report of my death was an exaggeration.
- The Model Railroad Hobby
(and with apologies to Mark Twain, who is quoted correctly above)

Despite many claims to the contrary, as well as much associated hand-wringing, I am firmly of the belief that the hobby is not, in fact, dying - it's just moving. And growing greatly as a result.

Sure, I'll be the first to admit - and lament - the dwindling number of local hobby shops. But dwindling numbers of bricks and mortar stores is nothing new - and certainly not limited to our neck of the woods. Folks just choose to shop online more and more. No surprise there.

And it's nothing to be afraid of. We have available to us a breadth and depth of products that our Forebears from the Fifties - that "Golden Age of Model Railroading"- could only have dreamed of. On the basis of product variety alone, I'd argue that NOW is model railroading's Golden Age.

Aside from product though, is community and that is something that and the other online stores can't provide. One thing that the "first" golden age had (and which was still common until recent years) was the Bull Session down at the local hobby shop. Many of us still remember the great conversations we had and the folks we met while drooling over everything from brass engines to blue boxes.

But, again, through the wonder of the interwebs we've got that covered too. Online forums, Facebook, YouTube, etc have all stepped in to fill the community vacuum that would have otherwise persisted in the hobby. And as a result, there's more model railroad community than ever.

One of my favorite places to hang out is, arguably, the closest thing to what I remember hanging out at the hobby shop, listening to the old-timers (anybody just a few years older than me at the time!) kibbitzing about model railroading:

Model railroad podcasts.

If you've never heard of podcasting, you're missing out. You can find folks talking and sharing information on a variety of subjects, and model railroading is no exception. My favorites are below:

a ModelersLife
I listen to all these podcasts regularly and look forward to new episodes popping up in my feed. But if you tied me to the tracks in front of an oncoming train and I was forced to pick, a Modelers Life would be my favorite - if only on the sheer abundance of episodes available. Lionel Strang (former contributing editor to Model Railroader) produces a truly impressive number of hours of content, all stamped with his quirky sense of humor and aided & abetted by equally impressive co-hosts (I'm looking at you Bruce, Jim, Uncle Larry & Shane). These guys just love this hobby and that really comes through the speakers. And they're pretty darn funny - at least I think so. Hmmmm... that may be saying something...

a ModelersLife RSS Feed
This is the paid side of a ModelersLife via the Patreon app. I just signed up cuz, frankly, I Need More Model Railroading! Looking forward to listening to my first show.

Model Rail Radio
One of the Granddaddys, I first discovered MRR shortly after I got my first iPod and experienced a particularly snowy winter. Let's just say I spent MANY hours that year shoveling my driveway - and it was made bearable by this radio-call-in format. Yes, MRR is a live radio talk show which you can either dial into via Skype, or listen to later when it hits your feed. Some of the old episodes are legendary(ily long), but if you have the time there's plenty to listen to here. Lots of interesting people with some great layouts and many tips to share.

Ryan Andersen's Model Railcast Show
Started by then-newbie Ryan Andersen, this podcast catered to those that were just starting out. Ryan had a knack for asking the questions that many of us have, but were too afraid to ask - and we learned a boatload of great stuff as a result. Ryan was fearless - no question wasn't worth asking. Unfortunately, cancer took him from us way too soon but Craig Bisgeier and Tim Harrison have picked up the baton and continued producing a great show, featuring interesting and informative guests, and still asking the great questions.

Mike and Scotty Live
The old Scotty Mason show was another of those granddaddy shows I picked up during the loooong winter of 2011. It was never produced as often as I wanted - which, to its credit, just meant that the show always left me wanting more. I miss the old crew which included Joe Duckworth, Jimmie Simmons and others, but my two favorites - Scott Mason and Mike Rose - have reworked and rebooted the old show into something possibly even better. Their separate segments were always my favorite, and that of course makes up almost all of the new format. M&SL is still not in my inbox as frequently as I'd wish, but I'm glad they haven't gone away.

Model Railroad Hobbyist
A distant favorite, only because I seldom get to it after going through all the others. But I'm a huge fan of the MRH magazine and a subscriber to their video channel, TrainMastersTV (um, which brings us full circle since Lionel is a host on TMTV too. Must be something about his name....). During my busy time of year at work though, I'll be on the road more than enough to catch up on the episodes. Can't ever get enough model railroad talk!

Speaking of driving, listening to these shows are a perfect way to make a long commute go by more quickly - and along the way, you'll probably learn something new - either a new technique, a new product coming out, or discover a new friend or resource.

And if you're concerned about the current state and future of the hobby, I hope you'll check out one or more of these great programs. Without exception, all of the hosts put in a lot of work to produce a quality broadcast - you'll learn a lot and be entertained a bit as well.

So give'em a listen - and if you do, and especially if you have a favorite I haven't listed here, let me know in the comments.

Have a Great Weekend!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Weekend Work on the Shore Line

The tail continues to wag the dog in my basement. Yes, the Shore Line continues to demand my attention and takes away (a little bit bit more than a little bit) from my primary focus on the Valley Line. But it's my own fault, so I can't complain too much.

After staging all the Shore Line trains I'd need to run for a "typical" ops session (as "background". Um, yeah), and reviewing the intricate choreography required in moving 33 trains through a 9' scene over 178 minutes, I had a few trusted co-conspirators/instigators over for a dress rehearsal.

And it went actually went pretty great. The videos give you just a little taste. It sure gets busy in Saybrook! But I did end up with a punch list of things to do.

So I spent a good block of time over the weekend working through the list, trying to get as much of it done as possible in time for the next session....

First and foremost were guardrails. Not the kind you're thinking of - those inner rails on a RR bridge. But the ones that keep your car from going off a cliff. They work the same in HO scale, and can be made pretty easily and cheaply. Given the speeds of trains on the Shore Line, keeping cars from careening off into the abyss (apparently, it's a family tradition) is a high priority. Fortunately, it doesn't take much to prevent disaster. In the photo above, you see I just wedged in a scrap of masonite on the outside of the curve, and stapled a cardboard strip on the inner side. And it took less than 5 minutes. I really should have done this a lot sooner.

Since there's so much traffic on so (relatively) few staging tracks, and I'm trying to cram as much into those tracks as safely as possible, I need to make it clear to the operators not only which track is which, but how many cars will fit on each track. I had just used bent business cards between the tracks showing this info, but they were either in the way or would get hidden.

So I hit on this idea of using a label-er (loaned to me by Roman) to make labels that would go between the rails, out of the way of cars. Also, I made sure that the end of the label would go right on the fouling point. So as long as the label is visible, you not only know what track you're looking at and how many cars will fit on it, you know that cars on adjacent tracks can pass safely.

Unfortunately, once the staging lid is closed, you don't see ANY of this(?!) So....

I got out one of my many handy-dandy power saws (though I'm partial to the Sawz-All, I used a saber saw here) and cut off part of the "lid" from the staging box and moved the support wire back.

The last thing I did - and what took the most time - was expand the West End Staging yard. I'd already built out the East End staging as much as possible (click here for that saga...) - and that was already the bigger of the two yards! So I should have known that an extension of the West End was inevitable. My Shore Line Shake Down confirmed the need for - literally - just a few more inches (I was 3.25 inches short of being able to accommodate two DL-109s on my premier 7 car passenger trains). But I really didn't think it would be possible.

The above photo shows what I started with. As you can see, the end of the staging yard is a drop-down extension that ends right where it would start to hit the lift-out that connects the two Air Line modules.

But "all I needed" was a few more inches. Here's how I did it.

First, I took out the Air Line lift out so I could get to both sides. Then I made/added a 10" box/benchwork/extension. Yeah, I know I only needed 3.25 inches, but I only wanted to do this once - and this is the absolute maximum I could go before hitting another truly immovable obstruction.

I then clamped everything together, including a plywood splice along the back.

And then screwed it all together while still clamped.

Since it was only 10 inches longer, I figured I could continue to use the hook & eye support I'd been using to hold it up.

Oh, and what about the initial obstruction - namely that Air Line liftout?

Well, I already had my saber saw out, so it was just a matter of, um, "increasing the clearance" a bit. You can see the final result in the photo above. I put back my plywood lip/bumper at the end and added some rerailers to help my operators with equipment swaps.

And West End Staging went from 4 tracks of 16 cars each to 1 track of 17 cars and three tracks at 18 cars each! Certainly a lot more than "just a few more inches."

I'm really looking forward to seeing how these new additions work. I still have some stuff left on the punch list - not to mention having to come up with something easier than this

for the crews to read & follow. But all in good time. If things get too crazy on the Shore Line, I can always go back to the Valley Line.