Monday, June 25, 2018

Ops Session Setup

I held pretty-regular monthly operating sessions most of last year and right up through January of this year. And I just realized that with everything going on these past 5 months, I never did a post/debrief on the January ops session which is too bad since it included two women plus my next door neighbor (and former Saybrook tower operator - you'll want to click here for that story if you don't know it already). I even got to join in on the fun, operating the west end of the Shoreline. I'd planned on a post, but other things diverted my attention. Life and Work happened and - bing bang boom - here it is toward the end of June.

But work has settled down, my dad is doing really well, and the Missus' dad is holding steady. So, with the half-year mark highballing up the track, I thought it high time I host another ops session.

It's been a long time since the layout's operated - although some trains did run during the NERPM open house - so this next session will be a "shakedown" session. Nothing formal (e.g. no crew email), it'll be limited to core/regular operators only (those that know the layout best), and we'll likely stop the clock frequently to identify and fix problems as they pop up (or maybe not have the clock on at all). This session will be all about just putting the layout through its paces and creating a punch list of items to be sure and fix before "formal" sessions start next month.

But the first step, as with any operating session, begins with a "pre-ops ops session." So that's what I started tonight:
  • Located all the cars at all the industries
  • Ran the car movement spreadsheet
  • Created switchlists for each town
  • Started wheel reports for each train
  • Filled-in supplies & noted what more is needed
There's still a lot to do:
  • Pick the right cars needed for each of the four locals and complete the wheel reports
  • Stage the locals, as well as all of the Shoreline trains
  • Complete the remainder of the paperwork/packets
  • Check throttles (they were buggy during the open house)
  • Decide which locos to run, and assign them to the locals
If there's any interest, I don't mind actually posting the "Ops Session Checklist" document I created to keep track of it all. I've found that list super helpful in not only remembering what all needs to be done, but since I don't have to waste time wondering, I can motor down the list fairly quickly.

Heh - but it still takes about 3 hours or so to set up. About as long as the session itself. Sometimes longer. But it's all worthwhile not only to see the layout come alive, but to have another excuse to get together and spend some time with some great folks who share a similar passion and appreciate the fun escape as much as I do.

So here's to the first ops session of the 2018-2019 season - and here's hoping the resulting punch list isn't too long!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tuesday Tip: Model Displays

One of the best parts of a ProtoMeet is the model display room. There is where you'll find modeling in all sorts of stages - from fully completed, super-detailed, and weathered (sometimes even full dioramas), to true works in progress, just a step above loose parts in a box. And it's that variety of modeling effort that's truly educational for all of us. If we only see the completed/superdetailed stuff, as wonderful as that is, we may find ourselves getting discouraged. That is, until we see a model that's just getting started.

Including both ends of the spectrum - and everything in between - without fear of being judged (literally or figuratively) is critical. Sure, the completed show-stoppers are what most inspire us, but the works-in-progress give us a peek behind the curtain and under the hood to learn a bit how such great modeling is done.

Ideally, the modeler him or herself is there in person to answer any questions you might have about their models and modeling techniques. But all too often they're away enjoying all the other opportunities ProtoMeets have to offer (attending clinics, meeting with vendors, and - of course - shopping for more cool stuff). Unfortunately, all that's typically left with the models is a piece of paper giving you the modeler's name and asking you not to touch.

If you've gone to all the trouble of getting your models to whatever level they're at and getting them to the show, this post is a very light-touch request that you try and provide a little info about the models, especially if you're not going to be at the table very much. It may answer a lot of the questions folks would otherwise have, and it'll definitely help them appreciate what it took to create your scale representation of the prototype.

Here's a close-up of something I included with my display at this year's NERPM:

Since I had two engines I wanted to share, I included photos showing the prototypes for my models (especially helpful and fun at a ProtoMeet), and little bit of info about the prototype itself. I then described what model I used as a basis for my project, along with a brief description of some of the challenges I faced. I rounded it out with a list of parts I added to give folks an idea of the scope of the projects. The photos and the parts list encourage comparison between the prototype and the model - exactly the sort of thing I want my fellow modelers to see and appreciate.

This certainly isn't a full-blown how-to article - just some notes to help folks see better what you've done. And maybe they'll get a few tips from viewing your efforts. That's a big part of what I go to ProtoMeets for, so I want to be sure and reciprocate.

Now, my notes are admittedly a little busy and may contain a little too much information. If that's not your cup of tea, then might I suggest a more subtle, elegant approach:

This is Jim Dufour's display of some of his structures. Not a lot of text, but what's there has a lot of impact: a short description of the prototype, a scale drawing, and a nice family look among the sheets of paper - including logos from his chosen railroad. In this case, the quality of the modeling speaks for itself.

Don't be surprised if at the next ProtoMeet you see that I've outright stolen this idea for myself :^)

I hope you'll give some thought to how you share your modeling efforts. Providing at least a little info will help your models tell your story when you're not able to be there in person. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Use it or Lose it - Some Decoder Programming

There are many reasons to try and avoid long hiatuses (sic?) from the hobby, including mental well-being, making sure the layout still operates, etc. But something that maybe doesn't occur to you right away - at least it didn't with me - is how much you forget. Boy, if you don't stay in the game, pretty soon you find you've fallen behind.

Case in point: I decided to start my ramp up tonight by doing some DCC programming for my buddy Pete. He'd dropped off some New Haven DER-1s (Alco DL-109s for you non-New Haven guys) and wanted them programmed to match the others I've done for him. "No problem" I thought - what could be hard about basically copying/reading a programming file into a few new locos.

Use it or lose it, they say - and I just about lost it trying to remember how to do even that simple task. Thankfully, I'd long ago written down notes on how to hook everything up - from my NCE Power Cab to my ESU Lokprogrammer. I hooked the programmer to the test track, booted up the computer, opened the Lokprogrammer software, and realized that it has been a while since I've done this...

I'd missed not one, but two software updates since the last time I did this (the pic above shows the download progres....). Once everything was updated though, I was pleasantly surprised that I remembered how to do all the programming I needed to do - and after only a few fits and starts (don't worry Pete - everything's ok. Now.)

Having finished all the DLs, I decided to see if there were any DCC/programming things on my punch list I could do since I already had all the stuff out and set up. Turns out, there was:

That's a loco card for the 3304 (New Haven R-1, nee Bachmann Light 4-8-2) that's been marked up a bit during the past few ops sessions. I started out with the factory settings for the Loksound Soo Line 2-8-2 but, as you can see, I and my operators decided we wanted to switch things around a bit and include a few more functions. Since this sound file is probably the most-commonly-used Full Throttle capable steam file Loksound has right now, I thought you might be interested in how I set mine up.

Here's a cleaned-up card:

Functions 0 through F4, and F8 are the same as the factory settings. After that though, I moved Drive Hold from F9 to F5 and the Independent Brake from F10 to F6. That puts both of those functions on the screen of an NCE dogbone throttle where you can see whether they're activated.

When you're a fireman, shoveling coal into the firebox and turning on the injector are a big part of what you're doing during your run. So I assigned these functions to F7 and F9 since, while they're not visible on the screen they are certainly audible, and still just a one-button push on the throttle.

The ash dump and blowdown functions are certainly necessary before, during, and after a run - but only occasionally. So I wanted to be sure and include them, but it wasn't critical that the functions show up on the screen (since they're audible), and it's not a big deal that they're a two-button operation (since you only need them occasionally). Pressing "Shift-PROG/ESC" for F10 and "SHIFT-EXPN" for F11 on the NCE throttle gets you there.

Finally, during my era, headlights weren't used during the daytime and that's when my trains run, so Rule 17 dimming isn't critical. Thus, that function is assigned way up on F12 ("SHIFT-28/128").

My other two steamers have Soundtraxx Tsunamis in them and I really like those too, but I don't think you can beat how easy it is to remap functions on the ESU decoders - provided you have the Lokprogrammer, of course. Thankfully, the Tsunamis are already dialed in to my liking, but I'm still learning about the new ESU steam decoders.

I'd be interested in hearing about how you have YOUR steam decoders set up. In the meantime, I'm going to try not to let too much time pass before I do some more programming. I certainly don't want to risk forgetting whatever I've learned so far!

Which reminds me .... I'd better dust off my airbrush pretty soon . . .

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday Fun

Spotted this as I parked by car at work this morning. Yup, this is the long-awaited Connecticut commuter rail train between New Haven/Hartford/Springfield. You can read more about it here - and be sure to visit the website at

While not technically Valley Line related, this may be the first new passenger service coming into Hartford since - well, since the Connecticut Valley Railroad started running trains through here in 1871.

In any event, it's historic. I just wish CTDOT had kept alive the tradition of painting its rail service engines in New Haven RR livery. And - bonus! - this Saturday and Sunday you can ride the train for free.

Happy Weekend!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Ramping Back Up

I have to admit, given the first 5 months of 2018 I was starting to wonder whether I'd fallen off the model railroad wagon without any chance of getting back on. Things were going well and I was making progress right through Springfield Weekend, including (almost) finishing the B&O flatcar I was working on. But then work & life intervened in a big, unexpected way. Thankfully, things are finally calming down now and dads' healths are improving, which all bodes well for focusing on other things (heh - like yard work). And also thankfully, the NERPM came at Just The Right Time to re-ignite my model railroading mojo.

One of the first things on the agenda is dealing with the in-progress stuff on my bench (which I alluded to in last week's WW):

In due time I'll get to those projects - hopefully soon.

But in the meantime, there's another fun development I can report on . . . Just check out the (2nd to) last page of this month's Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine. Long time followers of this here blog will recognize one of the photos there, but for those that don't, here's a little teaser:

Maybe that farmhouse in the lower right corner will look a wee bit familiar. :^)

Between the RPM meet and finding out I'll soon have my first-ever feature article published (as opposed to an op-ed piece), I've really gotten a HUGE shot-in-the-arm of modeling motivation. Thanks for hanging in there - and especially for all your well-wishes, thoughts, and prayers - while I was out of it for a bit. I'm looking forward to making more progress and sharing it with you!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Talky Tuesday - Kelly Questions

Still digesting the NERPM meet last weekend - what a great time! And folks are starting to post reports and photos on FB and their blogs. Check this one out by Don Janes over at the White River Division blog - it has some great photos (despite at least one questionable choice ;^)

* * *

I've mentioned before how much I enjoy listening to model railroad podcasts, but I'm afraid I've gotten woefully behind in them lately. But I'm catching up and I'm apparently not the only one behind . . .

One of my favorite podcasts - A Modeler's Life - has a segment called the "Kelly Questions" where they ask their guest a series of questions to get to know them a little better, very quickly and I was one of the victims guests. It was recorded about a year ago, but it just got posted last month - and I just discovered it this morning on my way in to work. I guess a bunch of us are trying to catch up.

Unfortunately, like my Springfield interview, this 'cast is on the Modeler's Life paid site (costs as little as $5/month), but if you want to check it out click here and scroll down to May 14 to the episode called "Kelly Questions Rounds 33-34-25"  Yup, there are two other much more interesting fellas on that episode as well, so you get a little value-added for your money :^)

And, as always, you can browse & listen to the content on the main site by clicking here. There's a LOT of great model railroad talk to make long drives and cutting the grass just a little less awful.


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Quick Post on the NERPM

What a Whirlwind Weekend! Yes, it was ProtoMeet weekend and since I can only make it every other year, I try to cram as much as I can into its 72-hour bucket. Started off bright and early Friday morning, attending as many clinics and presentations as I could right through Friday evening, including having dinner with my buddy PeteL, as well as CraigB, JimL, and LouP (Kaylee was, regrettably, at another table). Next morning was even earlier, meeting Pete, Pieter, Randy, and Tom for breakfast (minor miracle since we'd lost power at our house overnight). Then my presentation at 10:30, lunch with Randy, and great afternoon & evening clinics - as well as dinner with BillS, JimL, Randy, JimF, Mike & Mel. Then up again this morning to prepare for my layout open house, which was awesome due to the great folks that made the trip down to visit.


Among the many cool new things I learned over the weekend, three things stand out right away: 1) this hobby is MORE than alive and kicking (there were not only a high number of attendees, but many younger folks as well), 2) ProtoMeets provide a much-needed dose of motivation to get back to your own layout and make some progress, and 3) I really suck at documenting them.

But such as I have, I share with you. So herewith are some pics and video from the weekend. I wish I could say these are the best selected from what I have - these are pretty much ALL I have.

Enjoy! And if you ever have a chance to attend  ProtoMeet, you certainly should. Just be sure to take more and better photos %^)

A wonderfully done scene on the O&W by Mal Houck. I'll just say this here and now, because it's true of all the model photos I took this weekend (such as they are) - pictures don't do the modeling any real justice. Really amazing work. Be sure to attend in person so you can see this craftsmanship firsthand.

I wish I'd done a much better job not only at taking more photos, but remembering who did such amazing work! Fortunately, I captured Jim's great "description sheets" in this photo. What a great idea! Shows off the modeling and ensures that the modeler gets due and proper credit for their art.

Thanks to MelR, I have proof that I actually gave a presentation at the NERPM. Thanks to all that took the time to attend - and special thanks to the folks that came up to say hi and offer encouragement. We do this as a labor of love, and the appreciation & feedback we get back from sharing our work is truly priceless.
Thanks to BillS, we had a sign for the Layout Open House (especially helpful to clear up any confusion since my next-door-neighbor is the one that has an actual RR crossing sign hanging on the wall of his house).

No layout tour is complete without the Guest Book (which you must sign :^) and - of course - snacks!

As an added bonus, this weekend marked the first of the monthly Saybrook Specials run by the Valley RR (aka Essex Steam Train). Intrepid VRR photo WarrenD is over on the left, but my Open House helpers Pete, Bill, and Randy took a break with me to head down to the crossing to catch the action - at least some consolation for all the work they did to help me with the layout tour.

Special thanks to those you made the trip down to see the layout - and if you took any pictures, I hope you'll share them with me. I'd love to have some shots of/by folks that were there! And I promise next time to check the RR schedule and have the Open House earlier so visitors have a chance to see the train too.

I wish I had more or better photos of the 'meet, but be sure to check out the NERPM website. Dave Owens does an excellent job not only of putting on a fantastic weekend, but he's much better than I at making sure there are lots of photos from the weekend posted on the site, so be sure to visit. And make plans now to attend next year!