Thursday, July 16, 2020

Thankful Thursday & Progress Report

Anybody that's known me for a while knows that I tend to work in a pretty linear fashion, often to my detriment (thus minor roadblocks for anyone else become major, progress-stopping obstacles for me). But thankfully, lately I've somehow worked myself out of that mode - and have been making lots of (minor) progress on many (little) things.

But first, it being "Thankful Thursday," I want to acknowledge a debt of gratitude that's piled up a bit over the last bunch of days...

I finally got around to framing a cool New Haven RR placemat that I got from Pieter Roos some time ago.
Found out that there's actually such a thing as an 11x15 frame!

And it goes awesome with my plates!
Another Pete (Pete Luchini this time) came up with some tanks for Hartford Rayon and an N-scale farmhouse for some forced perspective I'm planning.

I was going to use the farmhouse behind the track at Dividend, but there's just not enough space there for the illusion to be effective - so I think I'll be using it in the "Middlefield" section of the Airline (whenever I can get around to it).

And finally, courtesy of "Add to Cart" (and a great Independence Day sale), I got a large tank for Hartford Rayon, some bumpers, a couple of billboards (including one for Ballantine's!) and enough doors and windows to do quite a few custom structures.

When speaking of Hartford Rayon, you're essentially speaking of Dividend and at the end of my last progress report there I'd just dropped the backdrop. So the next step was to get out the fiberglass mesh tape and topping to cover the joint/seam. . .


After the topping dried on the backdrop and I blended it all in with some of my blue sky paint, I backfilled the void left by removing the old scenery base with some foam board (done like this), glued with PL300, and weighed down.

Just when I was starting to get that old bogged down feeling in the basement, I decided to change tack and spend some time up at the workbench. Besides, I needed to make up some "car protection" for the ends of the new sidings I've put in . . .

The Tichy bumpers are inexpensive, but finicky to assemble. I think I'll make up an assembly jig if I end up doing any more of these.

I also got to the billboards, which turned out to be a pretty fun & quick build . . .

The main "addition" I'd make to the instructions is to use a metal brush of some sort to add some wood grain to the otherwise-smooth plastic pieces. Note the glossiness of the parts above.

And here they are "distressed." It's a subtle effect, but I think my drybrushing technique for making styrene look like wood will work well here.

Billboards all ready to go to the paint shop to be "wood-i-fied"!

Speaking of the paint shop, I got some more "old time" crossing signs and whistle posts from my buddy Chris Zygmunt so I added them to the pile of bumpers and wheel stops that needed to be painted.

I use three colors of rattle-can paint for this - Black (for the crossing signs), Brown (for the bumpers), and White (for the whistle posts).

As you can see, the main "pro tip" for handling such small parts while painting is to use clothespins and masking tape, sticky-side-up. Of course, sticking the tape to some scrap cardboard makes everything easy to handle.

Taking the Missus' admonition ("you have plenty of different things you can do on the layout so you shouldn't get bogged down"), I pivoted from painting to electronics - pecifically, addressing an issue with K-1d #359 and its TCS decoder. As you can see from the photo above, it looks fantastic (painting/weathering not done by me), but it really ran like garbage at the lower speed steps. That really kills the illusion for a local freight engine.

I figured the "easy" thing to do would be to "just" swap out the TCS decoder for a Soundtraxx/Tsunami (which is what all my other K-1 locos have onboard). 

I've done decoder installs before, but just in diesels. It took me a while to gin up the courage to open up the K-1 . . . and I immediately regretted it %^)

Yeah, I pretty much know what all those wires do - and I know conceptually what I'd need to do to change out the decoder - but with an onboard Keep Alive, a hard-wired steam chuff cam, and a speaker in the smokebox, I decided to put everything back together and see if I couldn't solve the problem through some additional programming.

To circle back completely to the "Thankful Thursday" theme - I'm thankful that fellow AMLer Shawn Becher saw my dilemma when I posted about it on the Valley Local FB group and arranged a time for us to get together to try and fix the problem.

But he's in Wisconsin. I'm in Connecticut.

One "COVID Consolation" is the explosion of virtual visits that we've all had to get accustomed to through Zoom meetings, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, and such. In this case, Shawn and I were about to get "together" and work on the decoder.

Thanks to his help, I was able to create a custom speed table that smoothed out operation quite a bit. It's still not quite as smooth as my Tsunami-equipped steamers, but it's nice enough that I created a "Loco Card" for it (which is especially helpful here since TCS has many more sound functions than the Tsunami) and took it back down to the layout.

So that's where I'm headed next - back to the basement. I have to get back to work at Dividend - and I also want to put the 359 on a couple of test local freights to see how it runs when it's not on a test track.

Oh - and speaking of operations, be sure to tune in to the NMRA-x at noon this Saturday. I'll be doing a presentation on how I operate the Valley Line. Hope to see you there!

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