Those Optical Detectors

There are six hidden staging tracks serving the Louisiana Central.  Since the tracks are concealed from normal viewing, I decided to use optical detectors at each track to determine occupancy and the locations of trains.  Typically each track has two or three detectors near its end, and one at the entrance marking the fouling point.

Two of those staging tracks are in Monterey, one each for the IC and the T&P.  This weekend I completed the wiring for the photo-transistors and infrared (IR) LEDs, and their connections to the circuit board serving this area.  The fascia panel with the indicators isn’t built yet, so I soldered a couple leads to a red LED indicator and temporarily jumped it across the various output terminals for testing.  I’m happy to report that all the detectors worked perfectly without a single adjustment necessary.  This is somewhat a milestone in the electrical/electronics portion of the layout construction.  There are two more circuit boards over at the Willis side to handle the rest of the staging tracks.  I’ve got most of the photo-transistors already wired, but I need to get all the IR LEDs installed.  Benchwork for the Spencer logging operation can’t proceed until that work is done as most of the staging track is below that, and I want the system complete and operational before starting this new benchwork.

I had a busy weekend working on the layout.  In addition to the above, Wayne and I got the remainder of the sub-roadbed installed in East Monterey (not an official designation).  This area is around the corner from Monterey itself and will support the mainline entering town as well as a couple businesses.

I also got some roadbed laid near the end of the Monterey yard and I took care of a half dozen little tasks that I’d been putting off.  Overall, a good weekend.

Finally, my scheduled visit by a guest from Florida was cancelled due to some family health issues, but I got a semi-surprise visit instead from a co-worker, Van Thomas.  Van has been hearing about my construction for the past couple years and he decided to come over to see what this was all about first hand.  I think he enjoyed the visit, despite the hot and heavy construction going on during his stay.


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.


Pitfalls of Mixing Track

The majority of track in use (and to be laid) on my layout is Shinohara.  I’m also using Atlas code 83 track in the hidden staging areas.  My choice of Shinohara was simply because I already had quite a bit of it salvaged from previous layouts.  However, I wasn’t opposed to mixing other brands of track.  Case in point: I had acquired a number of Micro Engineering switches a while back and planned to use those.

In laying the mainline through Willis, I came to the first location where I’d be using an ME switch.  I noticed immediately that the switch sat higher than the Shinohara track due to a thicker tie base.  As a result, I started building up ramps to match the rail heights.  Near this same location I was also to transition from the 1/8″ thick Homabed roadbed to Midwest cork roadbed, which now is 3/16″ high.  I tried creating those tapers in my ill-fated attempt at using my belt sander (see post prior to this one).  After considerable effort to repair the damage I did with the (now banished) sander, it became apparent that no matter how nice a job I did of tapering the roadbed up to the ME switch, I would still have a hump in the track at the location of the switch.  This was particularly apparent while sighting down the track, something easy to do at this location and with a 53″ roadbed height.  Rats!  I didn’t like that look, and worried that it might cause operational concerns.  The other solution would be to sand down the entire area under the switch to lower it enough to flush the railheads out with the Shinohara.  The thoughts of sanding Homasote down smoothly and evenly over just the length of the switch just didn’t appeal to me, given the hassle of sanding Homasote.

So I decided to simply throw in the towel and purchase some new Shinohara switches to replace the ME switches and be done with it.  Trackwork is already taking so much longer than I anticipated and I am of the opinion that I need to take every opportunity to reduce time spent doing it without sacrificing the quality of the work.

So I have a number of new Micro Engineering code 83, number 6 switches that I will be disposing of.  I suppose I’ll conduct a surplus property sale for them.  It’s a shame they weren’t lower in profile relative to the Shinohara, as shimming them up would have been so much simpler.

Edit: Today (Saturday) I sanded out the tapers that I’d built to accommodate the Micro Engineering switch, then test fit in a Shinohara switch.  Much better!  The mainline is nice and level as it should be.  I’m glad I made the decision to switch the switch….


Forging Ahead

While my medical woes are still ongoing, I manage to get some work done each weekend on the layout.  This past weekend I even got a nice chunk of sub-roadbed installed; the mainline heading west out of Willis yard.  It was satisfying to cut wood again and assemble risers and sub-roadbed.  As is my habit, I topped the plywood sub-roadbed with a layer of Homasote.  Track can now be laid here.

I’ve pretty much finalized the layout for all of the controls panels that I spoke of in the previous post.  I’m going to build a “test” panel and verify that I’m satisfied with the design.  I’m still toying around with the method that I will use to mount the panels to the fascia.  The test panel will be helpful in my experiments with that.

With winter just around the corner, I’ve been giving thought to making a couple field trips.  I’d like to once again travel the planned route of the Louisiana Central to grab a few more photos.  Wayne Robichaux and I have already done this a couple times back when I was planning the layout.  We tentatively laid out the track route on a map, then set out to see how closely we could actually follow that route.  We made tweaks to the route on the map as we traveled, and the plan came out rather well.  You can take a photographic journey of this route on the main website.

The other field trip I’d like to take is to the Southern Forest Heritage Museum up in Long Leaf.  This museum features the former Crowell Long Leaf Lumber Company’s mill operation.  I’ve written about this place in an earlier post, and I love to visit there.  The Spencer Lumber Company on my layout will be loosely based on the Crowell mill.  I don’t plan to model the specific structures at Long Leaf, but seeing and understanding the operation and the flow of the work will aid me in laying out a reasonable mill site on my layout.  I’ve already taken dozens of photos, but want many more.

As always, give me a holler if you’d like to visit or if you have any questions.


I.C. Mainline Complete

The Illinois Central mainline has been completed.  I.C. trains can now roll from the west staging yard, through Willis, and into the east staging track.  The passing siding at Willis remains under construction.

The aforementioned siding will utilize code 70 rail (the mainline uses code 83), and is partially installed.  The interchange track with the Louisiana Central branches off of the passing siding and therein lies the hold up.  I’m using Shinohara track and switches for the layout.  Most of my code 83 switches are the newer “DCC Friendly” variety.  However Shinohara has never upgraded their code 70 products to this same standard.  The problem is that the two point rails are always at the same electrical potential, therefore it is easy to short the track if a wheel happens to bridge the gap between the stock rail and the open point.  With regular DC powered layouts, this generally doesn’t present much of a problem.  With DCC layouts however, things are a bit different.  Within milliseconds of a short, the electronic circuit breaker will shut down the district it serves.  If you are using sound decoders in your engines, this results in the decoder resetting and “starting over”.  Very irritating, indeed!

To correct this deficiency, one must rebuild the points such that they are isolated from each other.  In addition, you must isolate the frog.  The latter is simple; merely cut gaps around the frog.  However, the former is quite a chore.  I’ve read about a couple methods to perform the necessary modifications, but haven’t actually done one yet.  Since I need this code 70 switch installed in order to complete the I.C. trackage, the day of reckoning has come.

I’m also ready to push the sub-roadbed (tabletop in this instance) into the Louisiana Central’s Willis yard area.  The plywood and Homasote have already been cut out.  I only have to build the risers and then install everything.  Once I get the L.C. mainline through Willis, I’ll be free to install quite a large chunk of the L.C. mainline beyond Willis…all the way to Maynard, the next town down the line.

Since I want the entire Louisiana Central mainline installed over the course of this, the second year of construction, I’d best get cracking!


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.

Ready for Track

I’ve had limited time to work on the layout the last couple weekends, but did manage to complete the IC mainline roadbed through Willis and around to the east staging track.  The Louisiana Central roadbed coming out of staging and then crossing the IC main is also complete.  I’ve created tapers from the roadbed down to the base Homasote layer (sub-roadbed) where needed for the IC passing siding and the interchange track to the LC.  And I also managed to do a whole bunch of little nitty tasks to finish off areas that were at about 98%.  All-in-all, not too bad for the time I had available.

This weekend I have to start putting track down.  I’ve always spiked down my track in the past and had good results with doing that.  However over these past several years I’ve been reading about folks simply gluing their track down using caulk.  Even Andy Sperandeo seems to have adapted this method.  So (with a somewhat jaded attitude) I decided to give it a try several weeks ago.  I happened to have a partial tube of Dap Adhesive Tub and Tile caulk on hand, so I laid a test section of track down using it.  I was pleased with the result.  So I laid the IC track coming out of staging onto the visible portion of the layout using the caulk.  Again, success.  I think I’ll continue to use the caulk for at least a few more sections to build further confidence in the method before declaring it my new standard, but I’m optimistic about the method now.

I’m getting perilously close to running out of plywood and other materials at this point, so another trip to the lumber yard is in order.  I don’t want to hold up progress on the railroad for lack of materials.

I’ll be seeing many of you folks this Saturday at Lou’s.  Until then, happy railroading!


Progress thru Willis

I thought I’d post a little update on the layout construction.  The staging yard trackage on the (railroad) west end of the layout is complete including wiring.  I’ve been working along the north wall of the train room these last several weeks (the area along the right side of the layout plan).  This area is the City of Willis and will have a business district along the wall (those buildings will conceal some of the hidden Louisiana Central staging trackage).  The Illinois Central also makes it’s entry into the layout here with the mainline passing through, along with a short passing siding and the interchange spur with the Louisiana Central.  I’m using sheets of plywood topped with Homasote along this wall and most of it has been installed.  I’ve installed some of the raised roadbed coming out of the IC staging yard and through the town.  I’ve one more odd-shaped piece of tabletop to install before completing that.  From there, the IC track will disappear behind an industry building and head into the hidden staging at the east end of the line.

I’ve also starting laying the tabletop sub-roadbed into the Willis yard of the Louisiana Central.  This is the peninsula coming off the benchwork along that aforementioned wall.  I’ll probably go ahead and put in the tabletop for the entire Willis yard now so that I can start working with that area.

Generally, in yard and town areas I’ll be using the plywood/Homasote tabletop surface.  In mainline areas between towns, I’ll be using just roadbed wide sub-roadbed.  I still haven’t decided what method I’ll use.  I really wanted to use spline sub-roadbed for all these areas, however since I’m usually working alone, it might be easier to simply cut out plywood sub-roadbed and top that with my Homasote roadbed.  Of course that greatly increases the cost (relative to the spline sub-roadbed), what with having to purchase so much plywood, and there is always a huge amount of waste when using this method.  But that method is much easier, I think, for one person to cut and install.

Anyway, things are beginning to take shape.  I’ll probably post a couple more photos on the website in a few weeks.  Most pictures that I post now will be after I actually get the track laid in an area.

If you have any questions about anything, please feel free to comment.


More Track Going Down

Layout progress continues at a slow, but indeed at a steady pace.  As you’ve read in previous posts, I’m starting with all of the (mostly) hidden staging track as it’s the furthest away from the aisle and the most difficult to work with.  The Louisiana Central trackage is complete, including wiring, and is operational, sans a switch machine at the entry to the area.  This past weekend saw the start of trackage for the Illinois Central staging area.  I’ve got enough roadbed completed to do all of the staging track at that end of the layout.

I’ve run the power bus along with the track I’ve been installing, and tapping the bus along the way to feed the track as I progress.  I have the bus temporarily connected to the command station/booster for testing purposes.  Last week I installed a backboard and shelf for one of the three planned booster districts.  I’ll be using DCC Specialties PSX circuit breakers to further sub-divide each power district, and I’ve installed the three C/Bs for the district I’m working in.  I still have to run the interconnecting wiring between the booster and the C/Bs, and then connect the power buses.  When that is done, the wiring for the entire sub-district will be complete, and the other sub-districts can be connected as they’re run.

I don’t generally get any work done on the layout during the work week, however I thought maybe I could devote a bit of time in the evenings to working simple projects, like building car kits and such.  I have an old roll-top desk in my living room that is unused, in fact it was my hobby workbench before my permanent bench was completed out in the train building.  I’ve decided to reactivate the old desk as a secondary workbench, and have recently started to restock it with common tools and supplies….whatever is needed for the “simple” projects.  I have read several times that doing small tasks like that can have a significant impact on overall progress, so I’m going to give it a shot.

As I’ve mentioned before, I operate regularly on Lou Schultz’s C&O Railroad over in Covington.  I’m sure most of you know that Lou has been going through quite an ordeal with a health issue for the past month or so.  Please keep him in your prayers to help get him through this.


Track Going In

Well January and early February were just chock full of railroading events.  I think there are a couple more things coming, the Louisiana Rail Run for one.  Now that things are slowing down a bit, I’ve had more time to put in on the layout.

I have installed the hidden staging track for the Louisiana Central.  Last week it became apparent that I was short on rail joiners for the Atlas code 83 track that I’m using in the staging areas.  Due to production problems in China, Atlas track and accessories are extremely hard to come by presently.  Art Houston stepped up to the plate and mailed a bunch of joiners to me so that track laying can continue unimpeded.  Thanks Art!

I also soldered the electrical feeders to the installed track and pulled the track bus wiring below the area.  I’ll be hooking up the feeders to the track bus this weekend.  I’m going to sub-divide my booster districts into several smaller districts fed through DCC Specialties PSX series circuit breakers.  I have three on hand presently, so I can complete the wiring to this track.  I hope to do that this weekend so that I can actually run a train!

Next trackwork will be the Illinois Central hidden staging track.  The sub-roadbed is already done, so track laying will come soon.


January – It’s Been a Busy Month

January has been a great month for railroading.  I’ve been attending events for the past three weekends, and have yet another this Saturday coming.

The Crescent City Model Railroad Club in New Orleans held their annual open house early in the month.  They’re in the process of converting their layout to DCC operation, and since the layout would be down, they decided to remodel several major sections.  Wayne Robichaux and I went down to inspect their progress and also to hit the few remaining hobby shops in the area.  Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a single decent model railroad shop left in south Louisiana.  A few shops we hit had nice selections of Lionel and similar, but us “scale” guys are left in the cold.

The following weekend Ron Findley and I drove over to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to attend the annual banquet of the Mississippi Great Southern Chapter of the NRHS.  Those folks put on a fine get-together.  There were several vendors displaying their wares, the dinner was good, and the guest speaker was quite interesting.  It was good seeing old friends and acquaintances over there.

This past Saturday several of us drove over to Covington to operate on Lou Schultz’s C&O layout.  Overall the session went well, there were plenty of snacks to chow down on, and as usual, it was good to meet with fellow model railroaders.

And finally, this Saturday, January 26th, there will be the Train Day at the Library event at one of the local libraries here in Baton Rouge.  There will be numerous displays about railroading (prototype and modeling), possibly a display layout, and many slide presentations by Forrest Becht, a noted railfan and photographer.

Oh, BTW . . . I actually managed to get a bit of track laid on the Louisiana Central.  I’ve been struggling back in the corner of the room it seems forever, but we’re finally getting rail down.  I’m using Atlas code 83 track and switches for my hidden track (which is what I’m laying presently), and I’m not too impressed with the construction of the switches with regards to soldering jumper wires to them.  Soldering rail feeders isn’t too big a deal, but soldering jumpers to the points is!  They’re just formed sheet metal and I found it quite difficult to tack a wire to the lower portion of the point so it would clear wheel flanges.  Despite my efforts, I had to do considerable filing afterwards to clear the NMRA gauge nubs.  And the frog . . . what a pain!  The frog doesn’t accept solder well, but there is a small tab with a hole sticking out to one side of the frog.  I couldn’t find my taps, so drove to a friend’s house for him to tap the holes for me.  Then I screwed a 1-72 screw to each and added a nut to the bottom.  I placed a dab of solder below the nut so it will never come loose, then soldered a jumper to the screw.  Despite the precautions I took (good hot iron with freshly tinned tip, and a fast in and out technique) the thin plastic surrounding the tab melted away and the cast frog on one switch came loose from its mounting in the switch.  Now I need to figure out what kind of adhesive I need to use to adhere metal to slippery plastic so as to permanently reattach the frog on that switch.

That’s about it for now.  My main focus on the layout will be to get track laid, hopefully at a steady rate.  Leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.