About Those Distractions

In the last post Spencer Sawmill Trackage Complete I mentioned how I kept getting distracted from my trackwork mission in Oneida.  It started when the folks at ESU announced a summer sale for their LokProgrammer.  For the benefit of those not familiar with this device, it is a LokSound decoder programmer that uses a computer interface.  While DecoderPro will program LokSound decoders nicely, this programmer has one interesting benefit that DecoderPro can’t match.  You can download new sound projects from ESU, then load them into your LokSound decoder.  I’m new to LokSound, but I’m quite impressed with their offerings at this time.  Several months ago I purchased my first LokSound decoder and it came loaded with the sounds for an ALCO 244 prime mover.  Then a few weeks ago, ESU upgraded the decoder file for this prime mover to include their new Drive Hold, and several other operating features.  No problem . . . just download the new file, and write it to the decoder.  It is now the latest and greatest.  Lured by this prospect, I decided to take advantage of the sale.  My first task was to upgrade my (still new) decoder.  It went well, and I’m tickled with the result.  Then I found out that I could actually modify the sounds in the LokSound decoder that came in my Rivarossi Heisler (it’s the top-of-line version 4 decoder).  Wow!  I spent several days playing with that and I’m thrilled with what I was able to do.

I also became distracted with my waybill generation program.  Back in the early 90s I cobbled up a DOS based waybill generation program using QuickBasic.  It worked quite well on my small bedroom sized layout of the time.  Then later I decided to write an enhanced Windows version using Visual Basic 6.  I’ve played with that program off and on (mostly off) for years now, and have thoroughly enjoyed working with it.  The program is about 85% complete, but lately I’ve been thinking that it’s high time to get busy and finish the thing up so that it’s ready for use when the layout becomes operational.  Trouble is, I haven’t done much with it for at least 5 or 6 years, and find that I’m spending a good deal of time trying to figure out everything I’ve already done!  To complicate matters, I recently started reading the detailed writings of Tony Thompson on the style of waybills that he and friends were developing and using (I originally saw an article he did in Model Railroad Hobbyist, then later visited his blog where his entire ongoing treatise of the subject is available).  They’ve come up with some interesting “model railroading” waybills that bear a nice resemblance to actual waybills.  They’re greatly simplified to be sure, but they capture the essence of the real thing, and I love them!  Indeed, they have prompted me to completely redesign the appearance of my waybills, and to expand on the concept.  Creating the forms was easy, but then I realized that I needed to add quite a few fields to my database to fill in all the new blanks on these new forms.  And then the code to make it all happen.  I’m not finished with this conversion by a long shot, but I’ve made good progress with it, and think the finished product will be well worth the effort.  The downside to all this was, of course, adding another delay to the program completion.

And that led to yet another distraction.  The new waybills will be printed on 3″ x 5″ slips of paper (I’ve found a source for this paper size and my HP printer can handle it).  Problem is, the larger than “normal” waybill size requires a larger than normal box on the layout fascia to hold them.  I could of course make them myself, but I’ve taken a fancy to the nice boxes that are offered by Bill Brillinger up in Canada.  I contacted Bill and he says he can make up any size that I need.  Excellent.  But after some email exchanges, I realized that I needed to do more homework as to exactly what I’ll be needing (sizes, number of slots, etc.) so that Bill can work up a quote for me.  It was then that I realized that I was doing everything that I wasn’t supposed to be doing (at this time) and I pulled in on the reins.

I got back on the trackwork at Oneida, and I stayed there until the job was completed.  The only trackwork left to do (on the peninsula) is a bit of mainline on the backside of the peninsula that brings the trains from Oneida into Monterey.  I’ll be starting on that soon.

Now, where did I put that programmer?  And I really need to get back to Bill on those boxes…


Back On Track

Really . . . I’m back on track, having reactivated my program of modifying Shinohara code 70 switches to be “DCC friendly”.  Regular readers of this blog will recall that I was suffering from “layout construction fatigue” back in late February.  Well, I’ve been ready to get back at it again for over a month, but have been continually distracted by other things.  To be sure, I’ve been doing mostly railroad related tasks, but meat and potatoes production on the layout, -namely trackwork- has been stagnant.  I spent time evaluating, ordering, and then changing out my DCC system back in March.  And I finally got my plate girder bridge assembled; it’s waiting for abutments and wing walls now.  I finished some miscellaneous support framing for the scenery base that will cover the staging tracks, and that area of the layout is just about ready for the hardboard fascia.  All the wiring is caught up with the installed trackage.  I even put some time in on my waybill creation program, redesigning the waybills and empty car bills to more closely resemble the real thing (thanks to Tony Thompson and his work in this area).  And as you know, I’ve been playing a lot, A Mini-Reunion at Covington.

But I have been distracted from the trackwork for much too long, so I determined that I was going to get something done under that discipline today.  That mission was accomplished.  Now that I’ve broken the ice so to speak, I think I’ll find it easier to get back into the swing of things.  I only have about 30 feet of track left to complete the mainline, but I’m holding off on that as I want to complete the trackage in Whitcomb and Oneida before I continue with the main.  I need eleven code 70 switches to be modified and installed in order to complete those areas, so I really need to get with the program.

It’s good to be back!


Railroad Construction Crews Advance Despite Interference by Others

As I mentioned in the previous post, I have managed to get some work done on the layout.  I’m a couple weeks behind where I’d like to be, but all-in-all, things are still moving along nicely.

The Spencer logging operation received a bit of track, extending from the high line (along the wall), down to the mainline that will head back to the mill.  Last weekend I cut out the next section of sub-roadbed that, when installed, will take the mainline past Whitcomb to the point where the Spencer line ducks beneath the Louisiana Central mainline (see the track plan).

And speaking of the Louisiana Central, the sub-roadbed has been extended from Maynard westward to within about three feet of Whitcomb.  The next section of sub-roadbed, which will carry the line up to the middle of Whitcomb, has been cut out and is waiting for installation.  I’ve also started laying cork roadbed from Maynard out to near the end of the new sub-roadbed.

Electrically, all of the bus wiring that was run a few weeks ago has been tied into the circuit breakers beneath Whitcomb.  Now they are energized and ready for service.  And the Tortoise motors serving the Spencer trackage have their wiring extended down to the control panel location at the (future) fascia.

Finally, Wayne and I made a lumber run and then ripped enough joists, risers and fascia supports to carry us through Whitcomb and Oneida (the next town down the line).  We also cut several sections of Masonite fascia, and even managed to cut some long wooden tapers to use where track needs to drop from the cork roadbed down to the tabletop.

I’d like to complete just a bit more work before posting any progress photos, but I think that will be soon.  I’m optimistic about September and look forward to some solid progress during this month.


Progress on Multiple Fronts

I have to admit that I’ve been in a rut for quite some time at least in regards to track laying.  And it all centers around the (self-imposed) requirement that all of the track switches are to be “DCC friendly”.  I’ve finally embarked on this project and can happily report that as a result, track work is again proceeding.  I’ve modified four of the Shinohara code 70 switches thus far, two of which have been installed.  The Illinois Central passing siding at Willis, and the interchange track to the Louisiana Central have been installed and are operational.  This completes the I.C. trackage.  The next two areas I want to complete are the L.C. passing siding at the Willis yard, and the Spencer Lumber Company’s line up to Camp 6 in the woods just east of Whitcomb.  The latter is necessary as it’s located at the far side of the benchwork in this area.  I want to get this installed and operational before advancing the Louisiana Central mainline (to be located near the aisle side of the benchwork) from Maynard to Whitcomb.

And since trackwork has resumed, I needed a fresh supply of refurbished and pre-wired Tortoise switch machines.  I grabbed another pile of those, performed the prep work, and now have them ready for installation.

I’ve decided to go with recessed control panels similar to what I mocked up recently.  There wasn’t much point to mocking up my other ideas as the recessed version was what I really wanted and the mock-up confirmed that the idea would be workable.  This past weekend Wayne and I cut out the components for the four panels that will be in the vicinity of Maynard.  I hope to start the actual construction of these panels within a week or so.  Once these are installed, I’ll be able to paint that section of fascia.  I’m studying color samples and hope to decide on a color soon.

I’ve also made a minor lighting change in the train room.  In addition to the fluorescent lighting behind valances, I also have recessed can lighting over the aisles.  These have had 75 watt incandescent lamps in them.  I decided to change the incandescent lamps out to 5000k LED flood lamps, the same color temperature of the fluorescents.  These match the layout lighting quite nicely and I think it will be a visual improvement.  I also installed a twin head emergency light fixture near the entrance to the room as when the lights are out, that room gets very dark (as in black).  Interestingly, the first day after I installed the light we had a heavy thunder storm pass through and the lights went out for a couple minutes.  The emergency light did an outstanding job of lighting the way out.

And finally, freight car construction continues, although at a slightly reduced pace.  I have about 45 cars assembled and checked out to be road worthy at this point.  Only about 250 kits remain.


The Tall Timber and Santa Fe

Last Saturday I managed to drag myself out of bed early enough to make breakfast over at the Warehouse Restaurant in Baton Rouge.  An informal group of railroad enthusiasts and modelers usually gather there on Saturday mornings to socialize and enjoy a good breakfast together.  Jim Lofland was there and after the meal, he invited a few of us to drop by his home for an impromptu operating session on his Tall Timber and Santa Fe Railway.  Wayne Robichaux and I accepted, along with Gary McMills, and shortly after we were getting a tour of all the latest things to happen on the railroad.  Gary had other obligations and couldn’t stay for the session, so just Jim, Wayne and I started the trains rolling.

Jim’s layout has been in existence pushing 40 years now.  Even though the construction is very “old school”, it still looks good and operates very well.  Jim keeps everything in fine tune and trains run smoothly.  The layout recently received a make-over with hundreds of new trees installed.  Jim loves to build structures and as a result, industries on the layout frequently change as newer buildings replace the old.  I hadn’t been to Jim’s in several years, so there was an awful lot of new stuff to check out and study.  The short session went well and I’m happy that Jim invited us over for a visit.

I’ve hunkered down beneath my layout these past few weeks and have been busy installing Tortoise switch machines.  The weekend before, Ron Findley and I had gone over to Hattiesburg, Mississippi for the NRHS Mississippi Great Southern Chapter’s annual banquet, and as usual it was excellent.  The advertised guest speaker had cancelled at the last minute due to illness, however David Price and Dan Watson put together a splendid presentation about their exploits back in the 60s ferreting out and visiting quite a few shortlines (many of them steam powered) in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.  They ended the show with me clamoring for more.  After the banquet while heading toward home, we managed to catch a couple freight trains passing the depots at Hattiesburg and Slidell.  A really nice day!

This Saturday Ron and I will head over to Hammond for the NRHS Southeast Louisiana Chapter’s banquet, and we’ll probably hang around the depot over there for a bit afterward.  The traffic has increased on the CN line and it’s not uncommon to see BNSF and UP power on the trains.

And I’ll be installing more Tortoises the day after.


Just Chipping Away

I’ve been chipping away at lots of little mundane tasks these past several weeks.  The fascia project was held up a few weeks due to inclement weather, however it’s complete now (well, it’s complete to the planned stopping point).  It looks good even unpainted.  I’ve been taping panel mock-ups on it and I’ve finalized where they will be located.  I even installed my first throttle plug-in port though I’ve yet to wire it up.

I turned attention to refurbishing my Tortoise switch machines this past weekend.  I’ve quite a few that were used on a layout back in the 80s and early 90s, and an even larger stash of never-used machines that I’ve been squirreling away for years.  Due to their age, I thought it would be prudent to open one up for inspection.  As expected, there was little trace of lubricant inside.  I inspected the machine for wear (virtually none), then applied fresh lubricant (Labelle #102 as recommended by Circuitron) very sparingly to each bearing surface and a bit to each set of gear teeth.  A very thin smear across the contacts on the circuit board and it was done.  Note that once the label is punctured to remove the center case screw, the warranty is void.  However as these date from the 80s, that wasn’t an issue for me.  I did however, open up one of the newest machines (purchased in 2010) just as a comparison.  I was a bit disappointed to see that the oil had migrated away from the bearings and gear teeth and had settled along the outer case lines.  I would assume this wouldn’t happen for machines in regular use, but I feel compelled now to open all 70 of these things for inspection and possible re-lubrication.  Yep, I’ll loose the few years of warranty left on the new ones, but I figure a dry set of bearings will undoubtedly result in a shortened working life of the machines.  I figure the best way to tackle this will be to do a bunch of them on an assembly line basis, say 20 or so at a time.

Another task for the Tortoise machines is to pre-install the wiring to the contacts.  I use eight pole barrier strips at each machine as it makes installation easy and trouble-shooting simpler.  I’ll solder leads to each contact and terminate each with a spade lug.  Then after the machine is installed, I can just screw the lugs to the barrier strip.

I’m finally near ready to start modifying all of my Shinohara code 70 switches to make them DCC friendly.  I’m going to etch all the copper off the PC board switch rods (the throw bars) and then I’ll be ready to start production on them.  This project has been a major hold-up for continuation of the trackwork beyond Maynard.

One of my favorite times of year is near…NRHS meets and banquets.  I’ve made my plans to attend the Mississippi Great Southern Chapter’s affair in mid February, and the Southeast Louisiana Chapter’s get-together a week or so later.  Oh, even earlier than that is the 3rd annual Train Day at the Library in Baton Rouge on January 31st.  This is evolving into a pretty nice “show” each year.  I’m looking forward to all of these events.

That’s about it for now.  I’ll post updates on the Shinohara/Tortoise projects when they’re done, and hopefully I’ll have news about further trackwork progress.


Dressing Up

I had mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d post some photos of the new fascia being installed on the layout.  However, progress had come to an abrupt halt as available time to work on the fascia coincided with rain.  I do all my cutting outside these days to avoid sawdust collecting in the train room.  Yesterday however, the sun was out and Wayne came over for a short work session.  We knocked out another section of the fascia, giving a total of about 22 installed feet now.  We’ll put in one last eight foot length next weekend (weather permitting), and that will do it for a while.  The balance of benchwork has track switches and plenty of under table work remaining.  Fascia there would just be in the way.

Fascia Nearing Maynard
What a difference even this unpainted Masonite makes!  I won’t be painting it for a while though, as I’d like to get some of the hole cutting (for panels and throttle plug-ins) done first.

Fascia at Maynard
Panning left a bit from the previous view, the fascia extends up through Maynard.  Those “panels” you see are just mock-ups for me to study.  They’re merely photocopies taped to the fascia.  I haven’t decided yet whether to recess the panels, or just surface mount them.  Since I’m close to needing some now, I suppose I’d best make the decision soon.  I’m also mulling over what color I’ll be using for the fascia.  I’m leaning toward a dark greenish-grey, but nothing is off the table yet (except flat black).


A New Drill Press (and other ramblings)

What with all the functions and family things going on at this time of year, I’ve scarcely had time to do anything of great magnitude out in the train room for several weeks now.  I have however, managed to pick away at lots of little things.  I thought I’d post this quick update of what’s going on.

I’ve mentioned a couple times that I needed to start modifying all of my Shinohara code 70 switches to be “DCC friendly”.  I have about 40 or so of these things to work on, and trackwork has come to a grinding halt until I get some of them done.  A drill press should make the task considerably easier.  I’ve had a large floor model press for years, however it simply has too much run-out in the chuck (or perhaps the arbor) for it to be of use with tiny wire size drills.  So I ended up purchasing a small table-top model that I think will be better suited to the task.  Upon arrival and assembly, the first realization was that I didn’t have anything suitable to sit it on out there in the train room.  So I cobbled together a small table from scraps, slapped a coat of paint on it, and now have a stout, compact place to operate the press on.  I chucked a pin vise adapter into the machine and inserted a number 70 drill bit.  I’ve only run it for a minute or so and haven’t drilled any holes yet, but I can tell the bit is running much truer than it would have in my large floor press.  Hopefully I’ll be able to start work on the switches soon.

Wayne Robichaux came over to lend a hand and we’ve installed the first 15 feet of fascia to the layout edge.  It sure makes a difference in the appearance, with even Wayne remarking how it made the layout look like a real layout (whatever that means….).  Nah, just kidding, I know what he’s getting at….even unpainted, it adds a nice finished look to the edge.  We will install perhaps another 20 feet or so along the mainline between Willis and Maynard.  I’ll hold off installing it in other areas until all track is down and wired, and the switch motors are installed.

I keep crawling under the layout to connect more track feeders to the power bus.  I’m connecting feeders to each switch and to almost every length of flex track.  That’s producing a LOT of feeders.  The only track sections without feeders are those soldered to an adjacent section that has a feeder.  I hope this pain now will be rewarded years down the road with good, dependable electrical performance.

I’ve another half dozen minor tasks that I’ve completed, but this post is becoming long-winded, so I’ll spare y’all the details.  Now that I have some fascia applied, I can begin installing some of the fascia mounted items such as throttle plug-ins and switch panels.  I’ll also have car card boxes, work shelves and a few other odds and ends on the fascia, but those will come much later when we are nearing operation.

I’ll post a photo or two in the next week or so when we finish the fascia project.

I’d like to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a great New Year!


National Model Railroad Month

It’s that time of the year.  November just kind of snuck up on me this year.  Art Houston sent out an email announcement the other day with a list of all the model railroad events scheduled for the Southeast Louisiana area during this month.  I was surprised at how much activity is planned.  Just a couple weeks ago we had a nice event with the open house of the club up in Jackson, Louisiana.  There are one or two events scheduled each weekend for the rest of this month.  A couple of the clubs have open houses scheduled, and several private layouts will be open to guests.  The only thing missing is a regional show with both portable layouts and droves of vendors peddling their wares (sorely missing in this neck of the woods).  While I won’t be able to make everything, I plan to attend at least a few events.

Layout progress has slowed a bit over the last two or three weekends as I’ve had a number of diversions.  Aside from the distraction provided by the new Heisler, I attended the open house in Jackson (mentioned above), and last weekend I went down to New Orleans for the fly-in and exposition at the Lakefront Airport.  It was hosted by the WWII Museum in New Orleans, with aircraft provided by the Commemorative Air Force.  Among the aircraft displayed were a B-29 Superfortress (Fifi), a LB30 Liberator (freighter version of a B-24), a B-17 Flying Fortress, and a B-25 Mitchell.  Several P-51 Mustang fighters were in attendance, along with an SB2C Helldiver, a C-45 Expeditor transport, and some trainers: an SNJ and a PT-17 Stearman.  Most of the aircraft were making occasional forays into the sky with passengers (for a tidy sum).  What does this have to do with model railroading?  Perhaps nothing, but if I didn’t have my trains, I’d probably be an airport bum, especially when it comes to chasing old war birds.  I just like ’em.

There has been some progress on the layout though.  I’ve gotten a bit more track down, done some more wiring beneath the layout, and assistant Wayne and I cut out a whole bunch of Masonite hardboard fascia panels.  I’m close to needing fascia installed so that I can start building and installing panels and controls.  And I even hosted a small operating session (with only me in attendance) this past Sunday.  There is just enough track laid at Monterey that I was able to do some switching.

I love this time of year!


Fascia Anyone?

I need to be thinking about putting up parts of the fascia around the layout.  The fascia will be much more than just a nice piece of trim on the layout’s edge.  It will be supporting the various control panels, throttle plug-ins, beverage holders and various appurtenances as I may think of in the future.

But I can’t reasonably start any type of train operation until I get at least a few panels installed and a hand full of the throttle plug-ins.  Thus, I need some fascia.

The fascia will average 8″ in height, the top undulating to match the terrain and elevation at any given location…pretty standard fare.  I plan to use Masonite hardboard for the fascia, and have been thinking of laminating two 1/8″ thick panels together.  My reasons for this two-ply configuration are twofold: I think working 1/8″ material around a tight radius will be much easier than using 1/4″, and the two plies should give me the rigidity of a single 1/4″ panel.

My general plan is to screw the first panel to support blocking on the benchwork.  Then I’ll come back and glue the second panel to the first using yellow carpenter’s glue.  Clamping the panels together until the glue sets is a bit problematic.  I’ll be able to clamp along the bottom of the fascia, but will probably have to use some screws along the top to clamp that.  The downside to that would be having to remove the screws and fill all those holes afterwards if I wish to keep the fascia “clean”.

I’d love to hear from you folks out there if you have other ideas or suggestions as to how I might accomplish this task.  It would be good having alternatives to think about.  Any thoughts would be welcome, everything from materials to methods.


Monterey Yard Sub-roadbed Complete (and other things)

Things have been pretty busy around the Louisiana Central these past weeks.  Since completing the lift-up access section a few weeks ago, I’ve gotten the remainder of the sub-roadbed down for the yard at Monterey.  This completes the benchwork along the east wall of the building and represents about three-fifths of the total area of layout.  The west wall and the second of the two peninsulas will not have so much “table top” sub-roadbed, but will be heavy in the single track variety as this is where much of the mainline is located.

This past weekend, Wayne and I mocked up the Spencer Lumber Company’s line up into the woods.  This is the trackage that will be over (and will conceal) the three track staging yard along the west wall of the layout.  I’ve had concerns over the accessibility of these tracks since the day I started construction.  The track will be reachable from below the benchwork, but not easily visible.  I’m hoping that the crude mock-up we’ve erected will enable me to study the concept satisfactorily, and to make the decision to go with it or not.

Next weekend I’m expecting a visit from a fellow hobbyist from Florida.  I had planned to clean and straighten up around the layout in anticipation of his visit, however, lack of time will likely kill that plan…hope he understands.  I also need to take some time to visit the library that is currently hosting an exhibition of photographs taken by local photographer Forrest Becht.  Forrest takes images of many things, but railroads are his specialty and I always enjoy viewing his work.

There’s a fellow up in Canada, Trevor Marshall, that is building an S scale pike based on a Canadian National branchline set back in the 1950s.  I believe I’ve mentioned him before in this blog.  Anyway, Trevor maintains a blog chronicling the construction and operation of his mini-empire, along with other little tidbits about what’s going on in his world.  I really admire Trevor’s approach to the hobby and many of the things he does to model the CN branch and to enhance his operations.  I also enjoy his writing style and the variety of topics he rambles about.  If you’d like to give his blog a look-see, you’ll find it here: Port Rowan in S Scale.  To quote Trevor, “Enjoy if you visit“.


Sneaking Into Monterey

One can now sneak into Monterey via a subterranean entrance.  I completed the lift-up section this weekend.  Now I’ve got reasonable access back to the tail track of the wye and the surrounding area.

Lift-up section - closedAbove: Here’s the lift-up in the closed position.  The seams are very tight (merely the thickness of a jigsaw blade).  The wye will be to the right of the lift-up.

Below: And here’s the view of the lift-up in the raised position.  The center cross brace is about 3″ above my head.  I can comfortably reach the corner over to the right now.

Lift-up section - openThe drawer slides I used have release latches in them and it’s easy to lift the hatch and support legs completely out of the hole.  After setting the assembly aside, the area all around the hole is completely unobstructed.  I also can then stand on a stool if need be to enable an even further reach into the corner and to get my tired old eyes closer to the work.  That might be useful when scenery work begins.  There are a few more photos you can view here on the main website.

The lift-up works quite well, is easy to operate, and I’m very pleased with it.