Saturday, March 3, 2018

Inexpensive End-of-Run UTP

(I mentioned at the end of an earlier post that it's been a tough winter for dads. Fortunately, my dad is doing great after his bypass. Unfortunately, The Missus' dad isn't doing as great - this is the 3rd time he's gotten cancer and he starts intensive chemo this coming Wednesday. Things have been, as you can imagine, very busy between family stuff and work stuff and time on the layout has predictably suffered as a result. Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers. Very much looking forward to things getting back to some semblance of normal at some point.)

Turns out it's been a bit over a year since I "finished" the cab bus for the layout. But operating sessions have a way of adding things back onto the punch list that you thought you were done with. 

Case in point: on one of the feedback forms after my last ops session, KayleeZ mentioned how nice it would be if there was a throttle plug (UTP) over by East Berlin. Apparently, the UTP at Wethersfield was just a little too far to work East Berlin comfortably.

So, I split the line at the Wethersfield UTP and - since the new UTP would be at the end of the branch (therefore no need to daisy chain) - I just used an inexpensive phone jack. $2 vs. $15. Here's how I did it.

An ordinary phone line splitter does the trick, as you see above. Just be sure you split off the outgoing jack (the one that doesn't say "CMD STA"). In the photo above, the line on the right is coming in from the command station. From the splitter, you have the line going out to the radio antenna (center wire) and the line going off to the end-of-run UTP.

Another thing to note is that the connection between the splitter and the jack may not be optimal given the weight of the wires and the splitter itself. The splitter will tend to droop, losing contact and there'll be no juice/signal going through it. So here I've just pulled the center/antenna wire up and stapled it to the underside of the layout to pull the splitter up to maintain contact.

Next, I marked where I wanted the jack to go and used a hole saw to cut the hole. I then used a level over the two faceplate mounting holes and marked them so the jack would be nice and level. I also marked & mounted the brass mounting base.

The last important thing to keep in mind when using a standard phone jack (at least with an NCE cab bus) is that the cab bus/phone cord wires have to be "run through." It's a bit hard to describe, but you can read about it in the NCE manual (where it talks about making your own cab bus cables). Essentially, if you're using standard phone cord, you need to remove the RJ11 jack from one end and reinstall it "upside down" so that the internal wires will match the NCE standard.

What that means for hard wiring a standard phone jack is that you have to reverse the order of the wires. As you can see above, the black wire went to the yellow screw, the red wire went to the green screw, the green wire went to the red screw, and the yellow wire went to the black screw. Trust me. If you don't wire it this way it will not work as a throttle plug.

So there you have it! A handy-dandy UTP in East Berlin for Kaylee or anyone else wanting to plug in here. It's not really necessary since I do have wireless throttles and such, but it's always nice to have the added insurance of a tether.

Given everything going on these days, I don't know when I'll be operating next but hopefully my crews will get to try this out soon!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tuesday Tip: Don't Wait til it's Too Late

mentioned last week how I'd finally gotten out my Micro-Mark resin casting materials (that I got, um, a while ago) and I thought tonight would be a fine time to finally break through and cast my first item.

The first step in casting is to make a mold. But before you can make a mold, you have to make (or have available) a master that you want to copy - and a box to hold the master, and the RTV rubber you'll use to make the mold.

Fortunately, I had a nice junk casting casting of junk on-hand to try copying and I have some experience making foam core boxes (click here for proof), so this was no problem. You can see the results above.

Now came the tough part. . .

I gathered all the materials Dave Frary recommended on the DVD included with the casting kit - and then went to open the first bottle of the two-part RTV (room temperature vulcanizing) rubber.

Well, let's just say that it did not go well. At first I thought all of the liquid had evaporated, leaving just the white residue of Part A. But when I opened it, I discovered it had "just" separated. "No problem" I thought - "I'll just shake it back together again."

No amount of shaking worked. So I decided to try and scrape it all out into a bowl to stir it back together.

Yeah. Not so much. As you can see above, I had to cut the end of the bottle off to even get everything out.

I finally got everything into a (thankfully disposable) bowl and stirred. And stirred. And stirred some more. After a while, I had to admit that no amount of stirring would fix what had separated. The lid had a couple of numbers on it -  "9/15" - and although it didn't say so, I can only imagine that was the "Use By" date. I'd waited too long and it was far too late to do anything about it.
Thank you again to all of you that expressed concern and offered up thoughts and prayers for my dad a few weeks ago. I'm very happy to report that he continues to heal well, there's no damage to his heart, and he's well on the road to recovery. Thankfully, I'll have some more time with him - and I plan to make good use of it.

Unfortunately, now it's my father-in-law's turn. The Missus got some not-great news about her dad last night. We don't have a lot of information yet, and are waiting for some more tests to come back. But continued thoughts and prayers would be much appreciated.
Hopefully, today's Tuesday Tip isn't too over the top. It should be no surprise that our hobbies - our passions - can often provide fitting metaphors for our lives. It's all too easy to wait and put things off until you think you have ideal conditions for doing what you've told yourself over and over that you'll do - soon, someday. Make "someday" today. Don't wait until it's too late - whether it's tackling that kit . . . or making that phone call.

It's easy enough to go out and buy some new molding rubber. Make sure you don't wait too long to do the things money can't buy.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Some more SOMEthing: Painting Fence & Track

First of all, I wanted to do a big shout out to my friend Bill Gill for redoing the banner photo. As I think I've mentioned before, I'm a bit color blind (which is why I'm so afraid of doing scenery....) but even I realized that the banner photo had a greenish cast - especially after I saw how great it looked after Bill fixed it! So THANK YOU Bill! You've made the blog as well as the Valley Local website just a little bit better.

Bill hasn't been the only one working on the Valley Line though. Taking some of my own advice, I decided to do some more quick painting with the little bit of time I had after work tonight. . .

First, a little "writer's license".... I actually painted the fence a little while back. But it was certainly another one of those quick, high-impact-for-the-time projects. Just take a little "rust pen" (courtesy Woodland Scenics) and rub it on the barbed wire <ahem> fishing line . . .

BillS did the fence (and ground work, and bushes... but I digress) but I painted the line at least. And it looks pretty good. Certainly better than plain fishing line!

So now for tonight's project . . .

The Missus wanted to be up in the train room/den, so - after consulting an old blog post for what paints to use - I collected my paints and tools and brought my ballast/track test bed up to paint the ties. . .

The plan is to treat the track on this test bed as I would on the layout. That way I can see the effect not only of weathering the ties (individually!) and whether the weathering will hold up under ballast and adhesive, but also how different ballasts themselves will look with and without weathered ties and with different applications of adhesive and stains.

So you hopefully see above three distinct levels of weathering: 1) none (only spraybombed with brown paint), 2) relatively uniform. light weathering, drybrushing primarily two different colors, and 3) heavier, much more varied and heavier weathering using 3-5 different colors. Having these three options will hopefully give me a much better idea of whether the weathering is worth it after I ballast, apply adhesive, and (probably) stain with either India ink/alcohol and/or a Minwax brown stain wash.

Not bad progress for a little time this evening - and as I mentioned before, I'm a little further along....

Now - as always - I hope you'll weigh in with your thoughts on my work. And if any of you have any tips, suggestions, or warnings about what I'm doing here, please let me know! Bonus if you share your own experience and what's worked for you. As you can see, I'm trying hard to dial in a good, repeatable, and effective process for finishing my trackwork. I have a LOT of track to ballast in Saybrook and I'd sure rather not mess it up & have to redo it! %^)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Do a little SOMEthing

Wow - did Springfield already happen? It's been so nuts around here the past few weeks between family stuff and work stuff that it all just seems like a dream. Good thing I took pictures. Not much time for a show report. Or much else hobby-wise, unfortunately. I even managed to miss posting a Wordless Wednesday - a first, I think, sadly.

But I've managed to do just a little bit this past week . . .

I finally opened up the Micro-Mark casting materials that I got far too long ago (ahem, 3 years?!) with a view to ginning myself up to make some progress on the Rt. 15 overpass. All I could manage though was to watch the video. Dave Frary makes the whole process look pretty easy so I'm itchin' to try it out. Soon.

I'm also trying to dial-in my choice of ballast, so I took a few minutes on another day to make a "test bed" to try the different ballasts and see how they fare with different adhesives & stains. So I got a scrap of styrofoam, painted it brown, and laid down some Aileen's to glue the track down...

Then I spread out the glue and stuck the track to it. And there it sat for most of the week since I'd run out of my my favorite brown spray paint (Rustoleum Camo Earth Brown) that I use on the track.

But tonight, after another late night at work, I figured I'd swing by the store and spend a few minutes while waiting for dinner to heat up painting the track . . .

Now, I can't do anything until that paint dries, but at least it's painted. 15 minutes well spent.

Which leads to the moral of this post, if there is one: Always try to do at least a little SOMEthing. It's a lesson that easily remembered but all-too-often forgotten. If you do nothing, you'll never advance. But if you do a little something - even 5 minutes worth - you're just that little bit further along. And anything hobby-wise is better than nothing.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Dad Op

It's been a crazy week. My dad had a heart attack on Tuesday and a quadruple bypass the next day. And I flew down to Tennessee early Wednesday morning. I'd hoped I could get there before he went into surgery, but even in this modern age it took forever to get down there - or at least it seemed that way. But I was there when he woke up. And I am very happy to report that the surgery went well, no complications, and he's recovering. There's a long road ahead, but the road ahead looks so much better than it did last Tuesday/Wednesday. The hospital he's at is in Cookeville, TN and I'm very impressed with the expertise and care dad's received there. They've won multiple awards for cardiac care, so I know he's in good hands, but please keep him in your thoughts and prayers - and my mom too: Dad isn't such a patient patient. . .

Suffice it to say, I much prefer Dad Ops to a Dad Op(eration)!

While I was there, I also discovered that the hospital isn't too far from the mainline of the Nashville & Eastern (I heard the tell-tale grade crossing horns one afternoon). So when we (my brother Jeff and I) went out to run a couple errands one day, we happened to see the local doing some switching. Since this is a railroad-related blog, I'll sign off for now with some photos and a video. I wish dad had been able to join me and Jeff on our little impromptu railfanning, but I look forward to some other time - hopefully in the not-too-distant future - when we can all get together again under much better circumstances.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Flat Car Friday - Finishing the P-11 Decals (RTM)

After decaling the first side of the B&O P-11 flatcar, using Future floor wax on a satin-finished side (as described here), I decided - before doing the second side - to actually read the manual. The "manual" in this case was the instruction sheet that came with the Speedwitch decals:
  1. Start with a glossy surface, adding a gloss coat if needed.
  2. Using a fresh x-acto blade, cut out the decal leaving as little decal film around it as possible and dip in distilled water.
  3. Place the decal on a paper towel to wick off excess water & allow the decal to loosen from the backing.
  4. Slide the decal off slightly to expose just enough paper backing to allow you to grab it with tweezers.
  5. I then brush some MicroSet onto the model where I will be putting the decal (the instructions say to brush on some water, but it beaded up on the glossy surface).
  6. "Lay the paper on the model while still holding with tweezers and slide the decal on to the model." (direct quote from the instructions). Use something dull (I use a toothpick) to hold the decal as you pull/slide the paper backing out from under it.
  7. If necessary, use the toothpick to move the decal into final position. Be careful you don't damage the decal!
  8. Once in position, leave it alone until it dries completely. You can use a corner of a paper towel to wick away any excess fluid/water. But then, leave it alone.
  9. Next day, if there's any "silvering" or air bubbles, prick with a sharp pin and add a decal setting solution (I use MicroSol) at the edges of the decal and at the pricked parts. Capillary action will pull the solvent underneath the decal. Leave it alone and allow it to dry again completely.
  10. Repeat step 10 if necessary, using Walthers Solvaset if needed to get the decal to really settle in and snuggle down over detail and into crevices. But beware - Solvaset is very aggressive.
Here's a photo of the first side, done with Future over a satin finish:

You can always click on an image to enlarge it.
Not bad - though I did mess up a little by trying to wick fluid & position after applying setting solution. Big mistake, but it turned out ok.

And here's a photo of the other side that I did over a glossy surface as I described above:

I think this turned out better - the edges of the decals are just about invisible and everything is snuggled down nicely. I also didn't mess anything up by disturbing the decal as it was setting.

Actually, both processes yield good/great results. Having done them both, I will try and add a gloss coat first and decal the recommended way described in this post. However, it's nice to know that if I have a model that has a less-than-glossy surface and I can't add any gloss for some reason, using Future as a base rather than MicroSet will be ok. Heck, I've even used Future to add decals to a car that had a flat finish - but I wouldn't recommend it.

Either way, after I add a dull coat and do some weathering, I bet anyone would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two sides. And that's a win in my book!

(Happy Friday and Happy Springfield Eve to all coming to the BigE Train Show this weekend! If you do, please say "Hi" if you happen to see me - hope to see many of you there!)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Prototype-Based Ballast Choices

I think yesterday's Wordless Wednesday got more comments than any other WW before - and not just because there were some actual words in the title. I subtly solicited opinions and was very glad to see them start coming in.

So now, "here's the rest of the story."

Actually, I guess it's pretty obvious: I'm approaching the point where I need to make some decisions on what ballast to use and, being a "prototype modeler" I'd like it to be as close to the prototype as possible. While the list of considerations is short - availability, size, and color - it gets a little complicated, as you'll see.


One of the most important considerations for a layout this size is that the ballast product continues to be available for a while. I'd rather buy as I go, willing to accept minor color variations (what the Missus - a knitter - calls "dye lot") and don't want to have to buy a 50 gallon drum of the stuff all at once. Unfortunately, one of my early choices - Highball Products - is no longer in business (anybody have an alternative?). So I plan to check out additional options at the Big Springfield Show this weekend.

This should be relatively straightforward, but . . .

The photo above is Woodland Scenics "Medium" ballast, supposedly for HO scale.

And above is WS "Fine" ballast. Offhand, it looks a little too small to me - but that may be because most of the HO model railroads I've seen use the larger "HO" ballast. Comparing this size to prototype photos, though, tends to show that smaller is better.

Speaking of prototype photos, let's segue to the toughest consideration - and not just for someone who's a bit colorblind. Here's what I mean . . .

circa 1947-1948

circa 1949-1952
Above shots are at Wethersfield, showing the Valley Line. But only the north end of the Valley Line. The Hartford-Middletown portion of the line was reballasted with white gravel (not traprock) during the summer of 1945. But the remainder of the line south of Middletown to Old Saybrook was a mix of sand and cinders . . .

The shots above are at Chester during the filming of It Happened to Jane c. 1957. Looks like I'm going to have to develop some sort of custom superfine brown/black mix . . .

So at least 2-3 different colors (and 2 sizes) for the Valley Line. What about the Air Line?

According to John Wallace (the source of most of these photos, including the ones above), the Air Line had traprock ballast due to heavier traffic on the line (including documented use of the New Haven's big 3500s - likely wending their way back from Readville Shops, not in revenue service). This ballast appears to be a dark grey.

And what of the Shore Line? One of the commenters on the previous post were asking about my use of brown ballast - not what you'd expect on a New England railroad, right?

Well, behold...

Ok - I admit my colorblindness, and it could be that that's actually a dark grey - and an almost-70-year-old photo is bound to have some color shift, but that looks brown(ish) to me. And is consistent with the color of traprock mined in Branford and Wallingford, CT - major sources of ballast for the New Haven.

But consider this . . .

Also on the Shore Line, and a much-more-typical gray traprock ballast we're all familiar with.

But modeling the New Haven is often, um, complicated . . .

I don't know about you, but I count THREE colors here - gray traprock, on top of brown traprock, on top of cinders (heh - presumably on top of dirt/sand....)

So that's a little sampling of the prototype photos I'm looking to for guidance in choosing which size and color ballast to use on my layout (which, remember, depicts the Valley Line north AND south of Middletown, the Airline, and the Shore Line).

However, just as important as the photos are all of YOU that can lend a little guidance on color/size and advice for what products to use. So please weigh in!