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.


Camp 6 in Operation

The past few weeks have been productive ones.  The Spencer Lumber Company’s high line into the woods terminating at Camp 6 (the re-load point) has been completed.  Trackwork is down, the Tortoise switch motors have been installed, wiring is complete, and I even sprayed a coat of Rust-Oleum Camouflage Brown onto the trackwork.

Next up was the double switchback.  The sub-roadbed for that has been installed, along with a nice section of the lower mainline.  This mainline will bring the trains to the mill in Oneida, two townships away.  The mainline sub-roadbed has progressed to the middle of Whitcomb (the first township).  The photo below shows the current state of construction in the area.  I’ve posted about a half dozen photos in the photo section of the website; you can -click here- to go there if you’re interested.

Spencer Lumber Co. Camp 6

This photo was taken while standing on a stool in order to show the track layout better.  The high line roadbed is 60″ above the floor down where the Shay locomotive is sitting.  The mainline at the point where it leaves the photo at lower left, has descended to about 54″.  It will drop to under 52″ by the time it reaches the west side of Whitcomb.  Those three tracks down in the “valley” are some of the staging tracks that will be hidden from normal view by the scenery.

Trackwork will commence on all of this sub-roadbed this coming weekend.  As a side note, all of the sub-roadbed here was cut from the salvaged sub-roadbed of a layout built back in the late 1980s.  The Homasote then was of a much higher quality than that being sold today.  Very little surface prep will be necessary before laying track.

The good news with all of this is that the re-load point at Camp 6 is now operational.  And even better, the Louisiana Central mainline can now proceed westward out of Maynard (that area down at the far end), and on to Whitcomb.

Some electrical work has also been accomplished.  My ace building compadre Wayne came over last Saturday and we twisted and pulled all of the remaining track power buses.  All remaining trackwork can be immediately connected to the bus and powered up as it is laid.

July and August continue to be great!


High Line Completed

The Spencer “high line” to the re-load point at Camp 6 is now complete.  All track is laid, wired, and operational.  As I mentioned in the previous post, I’ve sprayed a coat of Rust-Oleum Camouflage Brown paint over the track.  Later when I start doing scenery work, I’ll go back and paint ties in several other shades of brown and grey, and I’ll weather the rail with a rusty brown color.  I still have to connect the Tortoise switch motors to the panel toggles, but that will have to wait until the panel is constructed.

Next up is the double switchback which will bring the rails down from the hill to the valley below.  This past weekend I got the sub-roadbed for the double switchback cut out and the riser assemblies constructed.  Then I temporarily clamped the risers to the joists and set the sub-roadbed on top.  I’m playing with the grades and I’ll screw everything down once all is tweaked to my satisfaction.  By next weekend, track should start going down on that section.  Then the long mainline will proceed through Whitcomb and on to Oneida where the sawmill is located.

The Louisiana Central mainline can also start to progress westward out of Maynard once I’ve completed the switchback trackage.

It sure feels good to see benchwork and trackwork progressing again!  Stay tuned for more.

The only disappointment this past weekend was with my Bachmann 3-truck Shay.  I decided to put it though its paces with a string of cars.  I was surprised to see it struggling to pull the seven car train up the grade!  Upon close examination, I noticed that one of the six driving axles was not turning at the same rate as the others.  On the third ascent up the grade (with one fewer cars), I heard some popping noises come from the locomotive.  Then it quit moving.  Again I examined it up close and noticed a second axle was not rotating properly.  Bottom line . . . my Shay apparently is victim to the dreaded Bachmann split gear syndrome.  This isn’t good news at all as I’ve read that Bachmann no longer has replacement parts for the Shays.

But there was a bright moment.  I put the Rivarossi Heisler (acquired last year) on the track, and she hauled the full seven car train up the grade without slipping.  Good show!  At least I still have a way to haul the logs out of the woods, albeit not with the intended power.


Spencer Camp 6

The Spencer Lumber Company will play a significant role on the layout.  Spencer will have a sawmill at Oneida (on the peninsula closest to the top of the track plan), and will have a railroad mainline running from the mill up to Camp 6 (a re-load point) in the woods east of Whitcomb.  Camp 6 is physically located along the wall at the top of the track plan.  The Louisiana Central mainline between Maynard and Whitcomb will also run along this section of benchwork, near the aisle.  My construction protocol is to work from the wall out toward the aisle (a lesson learned the hard way).  Therefore, I needed to build and install the Camp 6 roadbed and trackage before advancing the LC mainline from Maynard (where it presently ends) to Whitcomb.

The sub-roadbed for Camp 6 has been in place since last September.  However trackwork was never started only because I’d not tackled the task of modifying the Shinohara code 70 switches required for this area.  As I mentioned in a recent post, the switch modification program has finally gotten under way, and work up at Camp 6 has resumed.  The high line was designed to be removable for construction work.  Two weekends ago I removed the right half and started laying track.  This past weekend, the track was completed on this section, the Tortoise switch motors were installed, and all wiring was completed.  I sprayed all the track with a coat of Rust-Oleum Camouflage Brown paint (first time I’ve done this), then re-installed the entire section of benchwork atop the risers.  The left side benchwork has been removed and next weekend, similar work will ensue.  As the final step, the double switchback will be constructed which will bring the trackage down to roughly the level of the (future) LC mainline.

Once all this happens, both the Spencer and Louisiana Central trackage can advance to Whitcomb, and then on to Oneida.  This will be a major milestone for the layout.  I am anxious to achieve this progress, and have an excellent start to making it happen.

The trackage along the wall and the peninsula written about above will be powered by the 3rd of the three DCC booster districts.  Booster districts 1 and 2 have already been completed.  This past weekend I set about installing this final district.  The Lenz booster feeds two DCC Specialties PSX circuit breakers, one each for the LC and the Spencer operation.  All components have been installed and wired, and some of the Spencer track bus wiring has been strung.  The only work remaining will be the LC track bus and the Spencer track bus onto the peninsula.

This summer is turning into a fairly productive one.  I’m pleased with the progress being made on the layout thus far.


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.


A Bit o’ Work, a Bit o’ Fun

A few weeks ago I posted an update of layout construction progress and I mentioned several activities scheduled for this month.  So, starting with the first of those scheduled activities, I attended the (3rd annual) Train Day at the Library in Baton Rouge.  This years show surpassed last years (which had surpassed the first year).  Forrest Becht and the folks who are involved in planning and hosting the show are really listening to the feedback provided by the visitors and have made the appropriate changes to reflect that.  As a result, (in my opinion) the show has enjoyed considerable improvement in the few short years of its existence.  Now this isn’t a large show, but rather a small gathering at a local library.  There is a large and very nice photo exhibition of railroad subjects, tables and cases of models are displayed, and several local and regional organizations have a presence with plenty of hand-out literature.  There are on-going slide shows throughout the day, and several small operating train layouts (three rail and some N scale).  It’s fun and it’s free.  Can’t beat that.

Next week Ron Findley and I are heading over to Hattiesburg, Mississippi for the annual banquet of the Mississippi Great Southern Chapter of the NRHS.  Their banquet is always well attended, with lots of displays, sales tables, a good speaker and plenty of great food.  I’m looking forward to that.

Layout activity: I’ve completed the refurbishing and wiring up of 25 Tortoise switch motors and have even installed the first one.  I need to install 18 more to get all the switches presently installed operational.  I also completed the hard-wired aspects of my cab bus (throttle bus).  I ended up relocating the DCC command station to the middle booster location since this was electrically central to the layout.  This has reduced my longest cab bus run by nearly half.  As I add fascia to the layout, along with throttle plug-in points, I will only have to daisy-chain from point to point using pre-made data cables…nice and clean.

I should be getting back to benchwork and trackage this spring.  I haven’t done any of that since last October and I’m anxious to get back to it.  I haven’t added any new photos to the main website since early January since all I’ve been doing has either been done on the workbench or beneath the layout.  However the photos on the site do show the latest in the benchwork progression.

If you’re interested in coming by for a visit, just drop a line and we’ll set it up.


Industry and Interchange Come to Monterey

I’ve taken a break from sub-roadbed work these last couple weeks and turned my attention to trackwork.  I mentioned in the previous post that I had started some trackwork over in Monterey.  I’ve done more in that area these last two weekends.  The mainline enters the area and runs through the yard, terminating a bit beyond.  This is literally the end of the line for the Louisiana Central.  The Texas and Pacific interchange track is connected to the L.C. main now, and a couple industry spurs have been installed.  There is now a track for holding the wrecker and work train equipment, and the wye is partially installed.  I’ve posted several photos in the photo section of the website if you’d like to see what’s going on (when there, click the  ‘Jump down to the latest photos’  button).

The yard itself and the industrial track down at the far end will be laid in code 70.  This signals the onset of my having to start modifications of the Shinohara switches to be DCC compatible (the code 83 switches that I’ve been working with on the mainline are already so).

Next weekend I’ll be crawling beneath the layout to install the wiring for all this track.  I’m trying not to let track get too far along without the associated wiring being completed.

At this point, Monterey is land-locked in that the mainline cannot proceed any further east than where it presently stops, as the bridge section across the entryway to the layout room hasn’t been constructed yet.  Technically a locomotive could sneak out of Monterey via the industry trackage at the far (west) end by using the loads in-empties out trackage, but that would only be used for testing as the other end of that trackage leads into Willis (the opposite end of the layout).

All-in-all, some nice progress has ensued.


Whupped Into Submission

Hallelujah, I finally got the entire high line sub-roadbed of the Spencer logging trackage installed.  Today I sanded out the drywall mud that I used to fill seams and screw holes, then put a coat of light dirt colored paint on top of it all.  Here’s a photo of the installation:

Spencer high line in the woods.The angled braces are temporary and will be removed after I get the rest of the sub-roadbed installed, along with scenery supporting structure.  The double switchback will connect to this level where the branch is coming off next to the clamp.  The switchback will extend about 10 feet, then will switch again to head back toward the camera, going downgrade the whole time.

This initial section along the wall looks quite simple, but it was the most difficult benchwork I’ve installed to date.  The problem was one of access, both for attaching the risers to the joists (less than three inches of working room, and at some risers, even less), and attaching the sub-roadbed to the riser cleats (not enough room to fit a drill motor needed to drill the pilot holes).  I had written about these difficulties earlier here and here.  My friend and assistant, Wayne, helped me get several risers in place, but I had to do the remainder single handed.  Not having those extra hands required me to re-think how to approach the problem.  Generally, I clamped things where they had to be, then removed the assembly from the main benchwork so that I could permanently attach those parts together with screws.  I did this in four sections until I finally got it all screwed together.

After the track switches are laid, I’ll have to remove the sub-roadbed once again (simply unscrewing it from the riser cleats) in order to install the Tortoise turnout motors and do the electrical wiring.  Again, the problem is lack of clearance to fit the drill motor needed to drill the pilot holes for the Tortoise mounting screws, and the (perceived) difficulty in getting everything aligned properly.  While this will be tedious, it will hopefully result in a much better installation of components.

Once the high line trackage is completed, I’ll put in the double switchback and the mainline run heading west back to the mill.  That should be considerably easier as that trackage won’t have anything below it.

I’ve also started laying track over in Monterey.  I figured the most critical place was the crossing located where the north leg of the wye crosses the mainline.  And that is where I started, laying the crossing, the north leg of the wye and the mainline coming in from the east, all as one unit.  Next I’ll install the north switch of the wye, and the curved switch that is at the entrance to the yard.  To see the trackplan, click this Louisiana Central Railroad link to open in another window.

I’m pleased that I’m able to make weekly progress, and with the fall approaching, I should soon garner even more time to put in on the pike.


With a Clear Head

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about a couple snags I’d run into while test fitting some risers for the logging trackage heading up into the woods.  The problems stemmed from a lack of clearance.  I ultimately decided to walk away from the problems for the time being, then to later re-address them with a clear head.

This past weekend I had completed installing the industrial trackage over in Maynard.  I was in the process of doing the wiring below the benchwork when my able-bodied assistant Wayne called and offered some assistance for anything that needed assistance.  Not one to turn down assistance, I accepted the offer, and an hour or so later we were staring at the benchwork over at the logging site.  We floated a couple ideas around as to how to do things, then finally just got in there and started doing.  As it turned out, the problems weren’t insurmountable after all.

There’s a three inch space between the back L-girder and the wall, which my cordless drill won’t fit into.  However, I still have my very first power tool which was given to me by my dad back in the early sixties…a Ram 1/4″ drill motor.  This all metal, piece of machinery art still works just fine, and it just happened to be narrow enough to fit within that three inch space.  Great!   Wayne was able to support each riser at it’s location by pressing it firmly against the wall (sometimes using shims to adjust the alignment) while I got below to attach the riser to the joist.  Wayne was as steady as a clamp while I drilled the holes, then (with difficulty) managed to put in the screws using an old-fashioned screwdriver.  We did about nine risers, and by then my knuckles were raw from rubbing the wall and L-girder while twisting the screwdriver in those tight confines.  I have about six more risers to install, and by next weekend my knuckles should be ready for a little more abuse.  It’s all downhill after that.

The important thing here is that we found the solution, and it wasn’t complicated at all.  The solution comes after having a clear and relaxed mind…always does.  I knew this would happen…always does.


A Bit Closer to Revenue Generation

Back in April I installed the mainline track up to the east end of Maynard.  This is the first town down the line (west) from Willis, where the visible portion of the layout begins.  Shortly after that I completed the roadbed through the town and was ready to lay track.  There are two spurs planned for Maynard, one will serve a ready-mix concrete plant, and the other a retail propane dealer.  I had intended to install the mainline and industrial trackage within a week or so in order to start generating revenue for the railroad.

Well, I got side tracked with other things and the trackwork took a back seat.  Since I had decided last week to back off for a while on my sub-roadbed construction for the Spencer logging operation, I thought this weekend would be perfect to get a little trackwork done.  So off I went to Maynard.  The two mainline switches are installed now, and one of the spurs is complete.  I’ll put a little track down for the other spur during my next work session.  The mainline can’t advance much beyond these switches as the track curves here to the side of the room where the Spencer trackage is headed up into the woods (the area I’m taking a break from).  I don’t plan to construct the mainline through this area until all the Spencer sub-roadbed is installed (my new rule: work from the rear toward the aisle).

But that’s okay as I have a ton of trackwork that needs installing over in Monterey now that the sub-roadbed there is completed and the track plan has been drawn out.

I don’t particularly enjoy doing trackwork as it is so finicky, but it was quite satisfying to see it installed at the end.  After I install those last few feet of spur track, I’ll make all the feeder connections below, and then run the Alco and a few cars over it.

It occurred to me though, if I’m going to complete the mainline sub-roadbed by spring per my 2nd Anniversary prediction, I’d best not take too long of a breather with that Spencer sub-roadbed!


Side-stepping Burn Out

I was reading a blog post yesterday Stalledwritten by Trevor Marshall in which he was lamenting the lack of progress on his layout over the past month or so.  His posts of late have been largely philosophical in nature, and that was mostly because of his lack of new work to write about.  He even went so far as to include links to other posts where others had written about being in a similar circumstance.

Now it’s very common for layout activity to slow during the summer months.  Trevor explained that several other commitments were draining his time, plus the previous winter had been quite brutal, and the spring long and chilly, therefore he was really enjoying spending much of his (summer) spare time relaxing on the patio reading books and enjoying adult beverages.  Others responded, mentioning similar activities.

Yard work takes up much of my time during Southern hot, humid summers and occasionally I’ll partake of a railroad related activity that will take me out of town for the day.  But I’m generally working on the layout during the majority of my free time.  Even when there’s not much apparent work going on with the layout, it isn’t out of my mind.  I’m constantly reviewing, refining and planning both the immediate work and the long term tasks that will be required.  While I’ve made some pretty good progress this summer on the Louisiana Central, I’ve been feeling a bit burnt-out lately.  Much of the work has been boring, tedious and/or repetitive, and sometimes quite aggravating.

I’ve started work on the sub-roadbed for the Spencer Lumber Company’s line up to their reload point in the woods.  There’s a 20 foot stretch of roadbed that will span almost two thirds the length of the longest wall in the room.  I’ve cut out the plywood and Homasote, pre-installed the splice plates for the sections, and fabricated most of the risers that will be required.  I started test fitting the risers Sunday and ran into a nasty surprise.  The risers will attach to the very end of the joists butted up to the wall.  The existing risers supporting the lower staging yard are attached to these same joists.  Unfortunately, the attachment point for many of them is also at the end of the joists.  While I can simply put the high line risers on the other side of the joists, the problem is not having room to clamp the risers to the joists.  I generally clamp the risers temporarily so I can adjust them for both elevation and level, then permanently attach them with a couple screws.  And that leads to a second complication: I don’t think I’ll have enough room to get a drill motor in position to drill the pilot holes for the screws.

If I had been more forward thinking, I would have installed the high line benchwork first, then unscrewed the sub-roadbed from the risers, placing it aside while I then installed the staging yard below.  As it is now, it isn’t reasonable to uninstall the staging yard to move it out of the way as it is complete with track, wiring and all those optical detectors.

That was when I decided that I needed a little down time to clear my head from the aggravations that sometime occur during layout construction.  When I read Trevor’s column, I realized that one mustn’t let the hobby devolve into something that becomes a chore rather than a pleasure.  While I fully intend to continue construction of the railroad, I realize that I probably should add some other activities into the mix in order to keep my sanity and enjoyment of the hobby intact.  In a few days, I’ll begin pondering the sub-roadbed situation and I’ll figure out a solution.  But the solution will come after having a clear and relaxed mind….always does.

So forgive this somewhat lengthy ramble; I’m just clearing my head.


Assaulting Homasote Joints

Regular readers will recall the disaster I incurred in my attempt to use a belt sander for tapering roadbed and truing joints between Homasote sheets (Banning the Belt).  In laying the sub-roadbed for Monterey, which is essentially a Homasote tabletop, I was faced with three wide joints with a significant mismatch in height.  As I’ve mentioned several times, Homasote isn’t known for its consistency in thickness.  These height mismatches between panels were as great as a 16th of an inch…much too great to simply lay track, or even roadbed and track over.

Hand sanding large expanses of Homasote isn’t practical.  It just doesn’t sand like wood.  This past weekend I knew I had to get these joints matched up before track laying could commence.  So I tried another approach to the problem.  I had a Surform tool in my toolbox so I tried it out.  Surprise, it actually started shaving off the Homasote.  Now, it wasn’t pretty.  It actually grabs little chunks of Homasote and rips them out.  The tool clogged quickly, but a small stiff bristle brush worked well to clean it up.  I didn’t want to simply do a quick taper right at the joint, but rather I wanted a gradual taper of at least 3-4 inches in width.

Once I got it fairly close with the Surform tool, I decided to try my finish sander for the final sanding.  I attached some 50 grit paper (pretty coarse for a finish sander) and started working the surface.  This worked out much of the roughness created by the Surform tool.  I worked it for quite some time and ended up with a pretty decent taper and surface.

The final step was to smear a coat of drywall mud over the joint, building up from the formerly thinner side of Homasote up to the joint.  I’ll sand this down tonight and apply another coat.  After doing this two or three times, I should have a pretty decent joint between the panels and will be satisfied.

It was several hours of work, but in the end I think it’ll be worth it.  Did I mention the layer of fluffy dust over that area of the room to clean up?

On another note, I had intended to keep my electrical wiring current with the track laying.  But I’d let the wiring slip over these past couple months.  Surveying under the layout, I realized that there were about two dozen sets of track feeders that hadn’t been connected to the power bus yet.  I took the first step in installing the terminal blocks at each location (which serve as the interface/disconnect between the feeds and the bus), and I crimped spade lugs on all of the feeders.  Over the next weekend or two I’ll make taps into the power bus and run the heavy gauge taps to the terminal blocks.  My method, though tedious, works quite well and should result in dependable wiring that will also be easy to troubleshoot when necessary.

All in all, a pretty busy weekend especially since I was away from home most of Saturday.