A Visit to the Narrow Gauge

This past weekend Wayne Robichaux and I paid a visit to a friend, Bob McNeese, to pick up some Homasote left-overs that he had from his nearly finished layout.  While there, Bob gave us a tour of his pike and I must say, it is something to behold.

It’s in Sn3 scale and is generally based on the former Rio Grande’s narrow gauge operation in the New Mexico/Colorado area.  The layout has a couple small yards, and silver mines abound.  The structures are superb, the layout’s level of detail is quite high and the scenery is spectacular.  There was simply no way to take it all in with just one visit and I’ve already told Bob that I need to visit again to continue my observation.

The proponents of S scale often tout the fact that it is the “ideal” scale, and I have to agree.  I love the size with respect to actually being able to see the finest details, yet still small enough to get a decent sized layout in a modest space.  If I didn’t have 50 years worth of HO collected and was just getting started, I’d have to give S scale some serious consideration.

On the Louisiana Central, a modest amount of work has been accomplished since my last post.  The framing around the lift-up access hatch is done and the drawer slides are installed.  I need a couple more hours to complete the framing required on the hatch section itself to connect it to the drawer slides.

I’ve completed the short run of sub-roadbed needed to tie the Texas and Pacific trackage from staging, into the main sub-roadbed at Monterey.  I’ve extended the T&P track from staging onto the visible portion of the layout, just shy of the yard.

And I’ve advanced the track into Maynard a bit.  I’ve been preparing the two switches that will be required there, and should have those installed shortly.  Further progression of the mainline will be a bit down the road.  I want to start work on the Spencer Lumber Company’s trackage into the woods and the reload point before putting in the LC trackage.  This is because the LC track will be in the foreground and I prefer working from the wall out toward the aisle.  Hence, the logging line needs to be first up.

Stay tuned…


Multi-front Expansion

I’ve been working in two different areas of the layout these past weeks.  As I mentioned a couple posts ago, the Louisiana Central mainline now extends from Willis Junction (the point at which the mainline enters the layout from staging) to the east end of Maynard.  This past week I completed the roadbed through Maynard along with the roadbed required for the two industrial switches in town.  The area is now ready to lay track, possibly starting this weekend.

Here’s a direct link to the layout trackplan.

The other area seeing heavy construction is the east end of Monterey.  I’ve got the sub-roadbed extending from the room corner (where the mainline will curve around to enter Monterey) to the yard ladder.  This section of layout will also contain a wye to be used to turn equipment when required.  This entire area is essentially just a Homasote topped table.  Since the benchwork here is quite deep (the corner being out of reach), I’m providing a lift-up section adjacent to the wye, which will provide good access to the distant area.  The hole has already been cut, and my next step is some framing around the bottom of the opening to support the closed hatch.  I’ve procured some heavy-duty, full-extension drawer slides to use for the lift up guides, à la Charlie Comstock’s method which has been featured in the Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine.  When I get it finished (assuming it works as intended), I’ll post a couple photos showing it.

Come to think of it, I need to take some photos of the present state of layout construction.  I haven’t posted any new pics since back last December and there has been nice progress since then.


Bridging the Gap (rehashed)

I’m getting close to the point of needing the bridge across the doorway into the train room.  Originally I had planned to use a swing gate for this purpose.  Indeed, the track plan still indicates this as the intention.  However, I decided quite some time ago that a swing gate wouldn’t be ideal in this particular installation (read about that here).  If you took time to read the original post, then skip the next couple paragraphs, otherwise let me explain further.

One of the key scenic features that I’ve planned for the layout is a long, low trestle crossing a semi-swampy waterway…something quite common in south Louisiana.  In the early days of fiddling with the track plan, I decided that the only proper place for this would be near the town of Monterey, the western terminus of the railroad.  Monterey is located near the Mississippi River in a low-lying area just south of the Angola State Penitentiary.  As such, I decided that the minimum benchwork width for this needed to be 12″ so that at least a semblance of a waterway could be modeled.  The final location of this area ended up right in front of the entrance into the train room.

A (swing) lift-up wouldn’t work here as the benchwork is angled across the entry, and when swinging the section up, it would crash into the lighting valence already in place.  Hence, the swing gate was decided on.  But there are problems with that.  When I started studying the needed design in detail, it became apparent that it wouldn’t be practical to build something that, when open, would rest up tight to the benchwork, allowing a reasonable passage in the aisle way.  The combination of the 12″ width and the required hinge location point make this infeasible (look at the track plan on the website to see what I’m talking about).

So next, I decided that a swing down bridge might work.  Some preliminary drawings I sketched show something that would probably work pretty well.  The plan is to hinge it from a point several inches behind the joint, and have the bridge section swing down into a “box”.  This box would protect the section while down.  I likely could even come up with something to make it easier to lift such as one of those gas pressurized struts similar to those commonly used in the automotive industry.

This is my most likely candidate.

One other concept I’m revisiting is a lift-up section that would have the entire bridging section lift rather than swing (a vertical lift bridge).  I would use telescoping drawer slides at each end for this to work.  I think the actual bridge design and construction would be rather simple.  I was originally concerned about overhead clearance, but that may not be an issue after all.  However I’m concerned about the final weight of the section.  I suspect that some sort of counterweight system would have to be employed so that the bridge would raise easily, preferably using a single hand.  That makes the design considerably more complicated, though not insurmountable.

I am doing further research on that concept presently.

Once I have a decision, I’ll probably get started with the bridge.  The benchwork at Monterey is well along, but it will be pointless to spend energy and time putting in track until the bridge is in place, as you can’t leave town without it.

Write if you have ideas or comments.


The First Anniversary

This week marks the first anniversary since the start of my layout construction.  On July 10th of 2012 I completed the backdrop sky and cloud painting, and on July 15th I installed the first section of L-girder benchwork.  This past weekend I stood back and surveyed the state of this 645 square foot layout and pondered the progress.

The entire basic structure for the benchwork was completed.  All of the staging roadbed and structure is complete, along with that of Willis (Willis is the long area to the right of the trackplan, and is where the Louisiana Central and the Illinois Central railroads enter the visible portion of the layout from staging).

The staging track has been laid and the Illinois Central visible trackage is about 70% complete.  The Louisiana Central track from staging has reached the crossing with the IC and will soon be entering the LC’s Willis yard.

The two electrical track buses for this area are in, the track feeders have been installed and the DCC system is complete for these areas.

Much of the sub-roadbed for the Willis yard (located on one of the peninsulas), and the heavy industrial area at Monterey, has been cut out (but not yet installed).

All-in-all, not too bad for a years worth of weekends.

But at the same time it is a bit discouraging to think that this is all that has been accomplished over the course of a year.  I’d estimate that I’m only about 20% done with sub-roadbed and about 13% with track.  That means I have a loooong way to go!

But one bright realization is becoming apparent.  The longer I work at this thing, the less time it takes to do many of the tasks as I begin to hone in on the best way (for me) to do things.

My goal for this next year is to get the entire mainline installed and operational.  A bit ambitious you say?

No hill for a stepper!


Disclaimer:  Even with the completed mainline, I will only be at 43% of the total trackage.

Bridging the Gap

The benchwork is coming along nicely.  There is almost 60 feet of L-girder framework erected now.  Hopefully I’ll get another 23 foot section done this weekend.

One of the construction tasks is going to be the fabrication of a bridge section to span the doorway into the room.  I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time and had briefly thought about several different options: a swing-up section, a lift-out section, a lift-up section, a swing-down arrangement, and a swing gate.

I dismissed the swing-up section (a bridge hinged on one end) because the 4 foot length of the bridge is too tall and would hit the ceiling.  Then I dismissed the lift-out because of the inconvenience of lifting out, then storing the section.  The lift-up section (the entire bridge rising vertically) seemed outlandish.  I really didn’t think much at all about the swing-down approach (another bridge with a hinge on one end); it just didn’t seem sexy.   I finally settled on the swing gate.

Now I started planning what the bridge would actually become.  I decided early on that I wanted a low lying tract of land coming out of Monterey that would feature the track crossing over a marshy area on a long, low timber trestle.  The only place such a trestle seemed to fit in the trackplan was (you guessed it) right at the point where the track goes past the doorway into the room.  I finally decided that to model the trestle in this location I would have to build essentially a box with a depressed area in its top.  The box would be about 4 feet long, 12 inches wide and likely about 8 inches deep.  I figured the bridge would normally be open, but wanted the bridge to be capable of functioning as a duck under during a session.  As the design developed (and after studying every swing gate I could find on the internet), I concluded that trying to support such a bridge with a hinge or two on the side of one end would likely not work very well in the long term; there would likely be too much twisting and wracking in such a design.  So then I added structure to the bottom of the box to essentially make something more like a Dutch door.  Of course then I lost the possibility of a duck under.

But there was another problem bugging me.  There are five wall switches for lights and receptacles located right next to the door opening.  Going straight across the doorway with the bridge section would have had benchwork blocking several of the switches.  Hence, the bridged section is at an angle as it crosses the doorway (see trackplan on the website), allowing access to the switches.  With this configuration, there is an angled section of benchwork poking out to start the bridged area.  Because of this, and my desire to keep curved track off the swing section, I found that the required hinge point would not allow the bridge to pivot and come to rest flat against the layout when open.  It would instead be sticking out into the aisle, partially obstructing it.  I was becoming unhappy with the swing gate concept.

Next up was another review of the vertical lift bridge (the lift-up section).  I had seen something along that line on Charlie Comstock’s Bear Creek and South Jackson.  He uses that idea to provide an access pop-up on his layout.  It uses a pair of drawer glides oriented vertically and seemed simple enough to build.  I figured I could build a beefier version of this as a bridge.  Then a few weeks ago while erecting the first benchwork sections, a thought occurred (sound of hand slapping forehead).  There is insufficient clearance over this section of layout for a raised bridge due to the lighting valence passing overhead.  Bam!  Idea dead!

So that leads me to my latest thoughts: the swing-down section.  Wayne Robichaux had suggested this so I did a couple quick sketches, and it seems like the idea may be better than I first thought.  By using a rod within some bearings (something akin to an axle), and placing it an inch or so down and inboard of the bridge-box, the thing would swing down nicely and would tuck up under the layout when down.  My next thoughts are ways to latch it in the up position, and whether it will need assist in the lifting operation.  For the latter, I’ll have to figure out how much the thing will weigh, which will probably require me to at least gather some materials of the approximate size required to build the bridge-box.  Once I know the weight, I can more reasonably come up with a design for these other tasks.

So that is where I’m at.  I would like to figure all this out early on, as this bridge is essential to even the earliest operation of the layout . . . Monterey is inaccessible without this bridge.

Got any other ideas?  Comments are welcome.


Cloudy Weather on the Louisiana Central

As you local folks know, this weekend has seen the end of the “mini-drought” that we’ve been having.  Friday afternoon saw the weather beginning to change over the Louisiana Central as well.  Late in the day several clouds started appearing on the horizon over near Whitcomb, and by Saturday afternoon the entire railroad was under cloudy skies.

Yes friends, the layout construction has officially started!  And it started by getting the clouds painted onto the backdrop.  I used old fashioned “rattle” spray cans along with the cloud stencils provided by New London Industries.  Here are a couple closeup photos to whet your appetite.

Photo of Clouds - View 1Photo of Clouds - View 2Photo of Clouds - View 3

In a week or so I’ll get several larger photos uploaded to the web site for your perusal (Edit:  they’re there now).  I tried to capture typical Louisiana weather on a summer afternoon, with bands of clouds popping up on the horizon and then rapidly moving over the area (where you’re at, naturally) as an afternoon thunderstorm.

It’s hard to see in these small photos, but there is a faint line near the bottom of each picture.  That line is roughly at track level.  Much (probably most) of that bottom layer of clouds will end up behind trees, buildings and other scenic features.  But where there is a wee gap in the landscape, I want the clouds to show through.

Next up is benchwork.  I’ll likely get a start on that next weekend.


Practice Clouds

Well, today I got a little more cloud painting practice in.  I had talked about my initial efforts a few weeks ago in the post Navigating the Roadblocks.  In that exercise, I had used white “rattle can” spray paint with modest success.  Today I fired up my new Paasche spray gun and put it through its paces.

The results were disastrous!

I was using acrylic craft paint for the test.  The paint was spraying with a very course pattern.  I tried about four different paint consistencies, from virtually un-thinned, to very watery.  With each consistency, I tried several different pressures, from about 15 psi all the way up to 40 psi.  Generally, the higher the pressure, the better the result, though none of my results were satisfactory.  At the higher pressures, the atomization of the paint improved, but the volume of paint became too great.  Also, the thicker the paint, the better result I achieved.  Problem is, I wanted a very light, translucent effect for the clouds to help imply distance at the low horizon (based on my observations of clouds these past weeks).  If I need a denser cloud, I can simply use multiple passes of the spray gun.  But I found that spraying a heavy bodied mixture at high pressure (giving an almost acceptable result) just put down too much paint in a single pass.

With this disappointing result, I decided to spray another panel using a recently purchased (therefore, fresh) can of white spray paint.  The results were much better.  No spatter like I had experienced in my first panels a few weeks ago.  The spray can (surprisingly) had a much finer spray pattern and I found it easier to control the paint volume.

Conclusion:  I will not be using the spray gun for the layout backdrop.

One of the primary reasons I had  purchased the spray gun was so I could mix some darker shades of blue and gray for cloud bottom accents.  I’m disappointed that I’ve only been able to find flat colors of spray can paint in white, black and gray primer.  Yes, I know that you can get those tiny little cans of Testors model paint in more colors, but it would cost a fortune in paint if I elected to use those little 3 ounce spray cans.

So, I’m going to buy another spray can of white and one of gray primer tomorrow, and I’m going to shoot another panel or two during my July 4th holiday.  Hopefully I’ll get a satisfactory result which I can then use on the backdrop in the train room.

In the meantime, I’ll be offering my spray gun up for sale.  Despite the course spray pattern, it does fine if one intends to actually put a solid coat of paint on an object (I tested it in a small area, and it did fine in that capacity).

Photo of Paasche Model 62-2-3 Paint Spray Gun

It’s a Paasche 62-2-3 spray gun, and it retails for $47.00.  I’ll let it go for half of that.  If you or someone you know might be interested, please drop me a line.


Navigating the Roadblocks

I haven’t posted anything since April so I thought perhaps I should report about what’s going on.  Unfortunately I’ve made very little progress since my last post.  If you recall, I was going to paint some scrap Masonite panels Sky Blue, then use that to practice some techniques for painting clouds.  Not long after my last post, I procured the paint and rolled it on the Masonite practice panels.  Now I was ready to start painting clouds.  Well, not quite.  I discovered that my old airbrush hose had dry rotted and was leaking, so I ordered a new hose.  I went ahead and ordered a 10 footer so I would be able to move around better.

In the interim, I had to get into truck buying mode as my old 1998 F-150 was definitely showing its age and I decided it was time for some new wheels.  I spent the next three weekends checking out the local car dealerships offerings.  I couldn’t find a single vehicle that even came close to being what I wanted, but fortunately my local Ford dealer was able to locate a new F-150 at an out-of-town dealership that was almost the perfect match for what I wanted.  A week later, I had my new ride.

I had arranged to be off work for four days during Memorial Day weekend, and I had planned to do my practice clouds that weekend.  Right before my vacation time, the next roadblock occurred . . . my back went out!  And it went out without any warning or provocation on my part.  I had a similar back “outage” back in late December through early January.  I had scheduled two weeks of vacation for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday and that happened on the second day I was home.  I was unable to do anything in the train room the entire time I was off . . . a real bummer.  To have this problem again during this, my very next vacation was extremely disappointing and aggravating to say the least.

But there is a little positive news to report.  I wanted to establish a baseline elevation around the train room to aid construction of the layout, so I built a water level to accomplish the task.  I picked up a 20’ coil of 3/8” clear vinyl tubing and found an old small plastic trash can out in the garage.  I drilled a hole in the side of the can near the bottom, then stuck the end of the tubing in the hole.  A liberal coating of GE silicone caulk around the joint on both sides produced a water-tight seal.  I set the can on a stool in the middle of the room, filled it with water, poured a bit of food coloring and a few drops of dishwashing detergent into the water, and I was in business.  The coloring made the water easy to see, both to verify there weren’t any bubbles in the line, and to see where the water level was when the tube was held up against the wall.  The detergent helped break the surface tension of the water so it stayed level in the tube (didn’t creep up the sides).  It worked great!  I made marks on the walls about every 8 feet.  Then at one mark, I measured 47” up from the floor (that was to be my benchmark elevation).  I measured the distance between the water level mark and the 47” mark.  Finally, I went around the room measuring this same distance above all the other water level marks to get my 47” benchmark all around the room.  The whole project went quickly and smoothly.  Yes!

And there’s more…

I had ordered some cloud stencils back in early May and after examining them, I determined that the cardstock from which they were made was just too flimsy to hold at the wall while spraying.  So I ripped some ¼”x1-½” strips from a 2×4 scrap, then stapled a strip to the top of each stencil.  That added the needed rigidity so the stencil could easily be held up near, but not touching the wall.

This past weekend I got a little cloud practice in.  I didn’t feel up to making-up the spray gun, hose, regulator and big, ole’ air compressor.  But I did have an old rattle can of white paint sitting in the garage, so I thought “I’ll just shoot some of that for the heck of it”.  And I did.  The first panel I shot came out so-so.  I studied it for awhile and decided on a few corrections I should make.  I shot the second panel with much better results.  A few things I learned from this:

  • Keep the spray moving.  Don’t hesitate even for a second, or you’ll get a “blob” of paint that will destroy the translucent look you’ll get from the moving can.
  • Don’t use the same stencil a second time anywhere close to where you first use it.  Don’t even use a little piece of it close by.  It’s amazing how quickly your eye will pick up on the repeating pattern, even if ever so slight.  Keep rotating through the stencils for each and every shot.
  • Don’t let the stencil touch the backdrop even in one place.  The resultant cloud will have a very sharply defined border at that point.
  • Don’t paint long rows of clouds, then move higher and paint another row, etc.  When you step back, you’ll see that you now have long parallel rows of clouds . . . not at all realistic.  This is something I’ll really have to work on when I do my next set of panels.  Even my second panel shows distinct “layering” of the clouds.  Much more randomness of cloud elevation will be needed.
  • If the spray can “spits” or sputters, even for a second, that section of backdrop is doomed.  Trying to spray paint over the specs just doesn’t work.  Maybe you could use blue and white paints with a  small artist brush and disguise them, but I didn’t try that (not much point since it was just a practice panel anyway).  I hope that my spray gun won’t have that problem.

Overall though, I’m relatively pleased at what I’ve done.  But I want to get in significantly more practice before I tackle the real backdrop.

As I write this, my back problem is still significant, but I hope I can at least take short and easy steps to keep things moving.  I have simply GOT to see benchwork and track this summer!