Monday, May 22, 2023

Nooksack: East Staging Part 4

In the post from March 25th, I described a punch list of next steps. Many of them are now complete. One can see several under way in the opening photo. The temporary staging module is bolted in place, as are the legs. A four foot fluorescent fixture has had both tubes replaced with LED tubes, hung over the new staging module, and plugged into the switched power strip along with the other layout lighting. Also, I installed one of the older backdrop panels here on the the east staging. After touching up the sky, it fits in although it will not be the permanent backdrop. While this section will be my focus for a while, I need to remember that while it will be sceniced, it will not be permanent. As I plan scenery here, I need to keep in mind that the staging will move to other locations, likely having what is now the front of the module, later be the back. 

In this photo, the Northern Pacific interchange track in the back and the connection between the staging and permanent module have been installed. In both cases I decided to use a few track nails rather than soldering the rail joiners to make a smooth transition. Later it will be easier to disconnect the staging track and any expansion and contraction will have room. On the interchange track, I just used a few dabs of white glue to hold the track in place until it is ballasted as it will most likely be removed when the staging module is moved. The mainline track connector is held in place with adhesive caulk on the end near the turnout while the end near the permanent module is loose. Feeders are already in place on both sides of this unsoldered rail joint connection, and the track nails are holding the joint securely and smoothly without the kink seen before.

Over the last few days I have replaced any missing ties, prepared the track for painting, airbrushed the track, and then hand painted the ties.

Removing tie plates and spikes: working carefully,
always cutting away from my fingers holding the ties

Scrubbing the soldered joints to remove any flux residue

Painting with 1/3 each: rail brown, tie brown, and thinner

Hand painting with airbrushed color and 
light grey craft paint; not as tedious as it looks!

At this point the staging is ready to be sceniced. I have found a couple of prototype photos that provide inspiration and suggestions for details to include. I attended a clinic at the Rails to Pittsburgh convention several weeks ago that also provided some inspiration. I suspect that exploring the inspiration and the first steps that I take will be my next post. 

Friday, May 19, 2023

3 Weeks, Really? and Rationale Reviewed

It has been over three weeks since my last post, a big gap considering my goal of three posts a month that I set for this year. Model railroading didn't stop during that time. I traveled to Pittsburgh for four days for the MCR 2023 convention: Rails to Pittsburgh, an enjoyable experience on several levels. I tackled many of the "next steps" I listed for working on the new east staging module. Perhaps not as successfully, I attempted several approaches to "an organizational framework for my big picture next steps" mentioned in my last post. I tried brainstorming some SMART goal ideas as one approach. I also researched a graphic organizer, in this case a "concept map." I spent some time with both of these approaches reviewing and/or learning about them and coming up with a draft for each. Since neither really accomplished what I was hoping for (a richer, more concise, and perhaps visual overview) I won't spend more time here beyond noting that I provided a link to an overview for each. I did end up updating my initial rationale for the 4th Subdivision which I will include below. 

Mt. Baker from highway approaching Ferndale, Washington


The 4th Subdivision of the Cascade Division of the Great Northern Railway is set in Whatcom County of Washington State in September of 1954. The branch line travels approximately thirty-five miles through a mix of prototype and freelanced locations from the Strait of Georgia north of Bellingham into the Cascade Mountains. While based somewhat on the actual 3rd Subdivision that traveled from Anacortes to Rockport in Skagit County, the 4th Subdivision is my creation. Running east from the fictional harbor town of Port Gulick, it incorporates part of what was the Bellingham and Northern Railroad (in real life, it became a landlocked branch of the Milwaukee Road) and interchanges with the real GN mainline near Ferndale and the real Northern Pacific line near Nooksack or Everson, crossing branches of the Nooksack River several times. Around the midpoint of the line it transitions from farmland and forest into more rugged foothills of the Cascades. Two fictional towns, Chikamin (Chinook for metal) and Greenrock, still have more than just a legacy of mining and logging in the early 1950s. While the Birch Bay & Cascades logging lines still bring out logs and have trackage rights over thee 4th Subdivision, the copper vein near Greenrock is just about played out, but a major silica sand source is still very active there. 

In designing the 4th Subdivision I tried to build on an awareness of my interests and goals. Coming to model railroading with an interest in history and art, I hope to capture the atmosphere, mood, and theme of that time and place by approaching the 4th Subdivision as a three dimensional painting. I also have an interest in the model railroad having some operational flexibility, whether taking a "fun for one" approach or having the potential of holding a small  operating session for a small group as a possibility. 

In building the 4th Subdivision I am taking the TOMA, or one section at a time approach, starting with the town of Nooksack, a connected scenery module, and temporary staging on either end. The Nooksack modules are ones that I started in Meadville and moved while one of the staging sections is a completely new module. With TOMA, one builds a section to completion including scenery, structures, rolling stock, and operations before moving on to additional sections. 

Moving past this need for an overview, I am likely to explore the steps I have already taken to complete the new east staging in an upcoming post. Another likely post will explore an approach to completing a scene presented in a clinic that I attended in Pittsburgh and how I might use it on the new module. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Nooksack: East Staging Part 3

Mainline connection to East Staging module
Today, I ran a train into and out of the east staging using both turnouts and all three tracks. It all worked smoothly. However, at the joint where the new staging module meets the Nooksack modules seen in the photo above, a slight wobble appeared as some rolling stock went through. Nothing derailed, but my goal is to have the best trackwork possible. Now that the new module is bolted in place, I need to remove the slight kink and even the rail height. One option is to solder the rail joiners, and another is to spike the two sections of track into alignment without soldering the joiners.  

Next Steps to Complete East Staging

  • Fix mainline connection discussed above
  • Legs bolted and painted
  • Continue running locomotives/trains to double-check trackwork and electrical
  • Don't forget the NP interchange track!
  • Clean solder and install missing ties (Nooksack too!)
  • Install backdrop
  • Paint rails and ties (Nooksack too!)
  • Light over staging module
  • Fascia and UTP install
  • More basement organization

Transition to "Big Picture" Next Steps

I am not quite sure how I am going to approach this, but I feel the need to clarify my plans for the Nooksack one-town TOMA. With TOMA the goal is to bring this section to completion with scenery and operations not just under way, but finalized before moving on to the next module or section. I am leaning towards revisiting my goals and interests, perhaps creating what Iain Rice called a rationale or others have called a vision statement as well as creating a draft graphic organizer tying all the interrelated parts together: History and Art with model railroad topics of operations, industries, rolling stock, structures, and scenery. All these topics are part of the Big Picture next steps, but I need an organizational framework as a starting point. 

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Nooksack: East Staging Part 2


Cutting, fitting, and laying the track
Although it has been a while since I last posted, work on the new staging module's track work and wiring has progressed over the last few weeks. Because of trying some new or unfamiliar techniques and excellent weather pulling me outside, the work has gone slowly. This module functions as staging, but it will be sceniced and have the same level of standards as the rest of the railroad. I fit the track and turnouts carefully using the same materials: code 83 rail, Peco Electrofrog turnouts with frogs isolated and powered feeders soldered under the rails, around four inches of straight rail into and out of turnouts, and most metal rail joiners soldered. My earlier post from the Ingleton practice plank series describes my process for preparing the turnouts and fitting track with the goal of smooth running.

 The "clear" DAP 230 goes on
white,but dries clear
In this module, I experimented with some new techniques with the benchwork which led to my attempting new techniques with the track. I went into the build contemplating laying the track directly on the foam board, but when my local brick-and-mortar hobby store was backordered until June with HO cork strips, that cemented the plan. With the hollow-core door and foam benchwork, I learned to guide the feeder wires through with a plastic straw. When actually installing the track on the foam board I experimented with glueing the track down with DAP Dynaflex 230 clear sealant. I marked where the moving parts of the turnouts would be located to ensure that they would not be glued down. My approach for my initial attempts started with finding some small wood blocks to prop up the track. I then squeezed a small bead of the sealant under the track before spreading it thinly with a one and a half inch putty knife. At that point I eased the track into place, double checking the positioning before pressing the track down into place. The positives for this technique include that it grabs and holds, the clear dries clear, and it cleans up with soap and water. For me the only negative was that holding the track up while squeezing the caulk gun and then spreading the bead into a thin film was awkward at best. I find caulk to be messy to work with. I'm sure it becomes easier with practice.  

Track wiring complete!
With my wife's help, I unclamped the staging module and we turned it upside down on a bed of bubble wrap on a rolling cart. Using my typical wiring standards (as seen in this post from January)planned for the rest of the railroad, the work went relatively smoothly. Things really do become easier with practice! One relatively minor new step included pulling the straws after sanding the somewhat splintered bottom surface of the door. My choice of employing the Peco spring in the switch rails and manually operating the turnouts here in the staging module rather than switch motors means that I also chose to use the Tam Valley "Dual Frog Juicer." The frog juicer comes set up for DCC use for two turnouts, so all that I had to do was attach the tinned jumpers and DCC jumpers to the bus wires to the appropriate screws. 

We returned the module to the Nooksack module, clamped it back in place, and ran a steam switcher and some rolling stock through it successfully. After the first successful tests I bolted the modules together and removed those clamps. After another trial run, I will be confident enough with the trackwork and wiring to move on to some next steps.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Nooksack: Trial Runs and Revisiting Goals


Drop-offs in place

While work continues on the east staging track, I have run a train and done some switching in Nooksack a couple of times in the past week. 

Yesterday I adjusted the turnout rod on the west passing track turnout, and it appears to be fixed. Thrown in one direction the rod would catch. I adjusted the fulcrum on the Tortoise switch motor and rebent the wire; of course managing to disconnect the wire from the hole in the throw bar. After returning the wire into place and making some more adjustments, the turnout is now throwing completely in both directions. All the other turnouts are working smoothly. I have identified and corrected a couple of areas where my initial track cleaning was not sufficient. I also found at least one spot where a short piece of track is powered only by unsoldered rail joiners after lengthening the passing siding. The next time I am soldering rail on the east staging I will correct that. I am close to having the track working without issues, so I am also close to the next steps of repainting some sections of the track and potentially creating new issues. 

In doing that switching last week, I think that I answered one question for myself and created a new one. I now plan to just rely on handwritten switchlists indicating set-outs and pick-ups for initial fun-for-one operations. While that may not be the ultimate solution, that will be the initial approach. The new question concerns how and where the operator will work. I found myself setting the throttle, switchlist, and uncoupling pick down on the (now unsceniced) layout surface. That will not be an acceptable approach, but what will be the acceptable approach? Operator with apron and pockets? Some sort of tabletop built into the benchwork? Roll around cart/desk? Tool holders, throttle pockets, and carcard boxes? I do have a space and desk for the agent/dispatcher, but that doesn't solve the problem of work space for the conductor/engineer. 

A related issue connected to the new question of operations work space came up last week when Dick Bradley emailed me with a link to Nick Kalas's blog post concerning fascia color. While the question of fascia color and size (height in this case) is interesting, what really hit me was the question of how clear or cluttered the fascia would appear. I also read several of his other posts concerning backdrops and the fascia/valance/shadowbox approach. This led me to thinking about the old form versus function question. Nick Kalas suggests that it can be seen as "telling a story" versus operations. With my branchline railroad set in the Pacific Northwest I am trying for the best of both, I think. . . (or am I biting off too much?) At any rate, to settle the question of what might (or should) show up on the fascia I need to revisit the goals for this railroad, both the initial Nooksack section and the larger future 4th Subdivision. 

So, while the 4th Subdivision is freelanced, not a real prototype, it is based on a prototype railroad and prototype locations. I definitely am striving for realism, but not a typical model railroady kind of realism. Not a reenact railroad operations realism, but a capture the look and atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest. But with some caveats: not the dreary, drizzly, Pacific "Northwet," but rather a sunny September day. I am striving for the look of a three dimensional painting, but not a static diorama. I do want some operations fun and operational options moving forward, but the overall look is the bedrock. Having said that, I guess I have answered my own question: I should be thinking of the fascia as part of the frame of the picture, not the operations toolbelt and workbench.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Nooksack: East Staging Part 1

East staging location coming off trestle scene
As mentioned in several earlier posts, the TOMA Nooksack plan includes staging at both ends to facilitate one-town operations. My plan for this east end is to construct a staging module that will be sceniced and used repeatedly. I have had a plan on paper for awhile based on using a hollow-core door. Over the past few weeks I have started the module (seen under construction in the opening photo).

Mocking up plan on the door
After removing the hardware from the door, I experimented with mocking up the track plan seen in a previous post. It seemed like the staging plan based on this hollow-core door would work. Well into this phase, I was intending to use some older Shinohara turnouts and Code 70 flex track that I had on hand. Following the advice of Dick Bradley about the difficulty of making said switches "DCC friendly" and the concept of using the same brands and sizes, I later decided to stick with Code 83 and Peco turnouts. More or less following the draft plan for the door benchwork from my last post, I started work on turning the door into staging benchwork.

Bolting end lip
After enlisting my wife's help to hold the door up in place, I calculated the height of the legs, cut them to length, and moved on with constructing attachments. On the clamp-to-the-module side I glued, screwed, and angle bracketed a piece of clear 1" X 4" lumber to the end of the door. The door is positioned upside down for this. During construction I will be clamping the staging module into place, but ultimately it will be bolted to the trestle module with 1/4" carriage bolts. 

Leg bracket

On the other end, I created a platform for the 2" X 2" legs to hold up the staging module and a lip for the legs to be bolted to the staging at this end. Here, I found myself deviating quite a bit from my original draft drawing. For one thing, in working with the hollow-core door, I noticed that the wooden frame on the inside was fairly narrow and that the veneer was not particularly thick. To avoid any potential crushing or penetration of the veneer by the ends of the legs, I decided to have the ends of the legs supported by part of the L-shaped "bracket" platform. While the two boards making up the bracket are glued and screwed, the platform itself is screwed (without glue) to the wooden frame of the door in case any future adjustment is necessary.

Mocking up track in place
After finalizing the "brackets" and clamping the door and legs in place, the next step was to position the 1" foam insulation board in place. Using a piece of cork roadbed to form smooth curves, I marked the foam with a transition from the width of the existing module to the width of the narrow door. Working back and forth to double check possible track mockups, I approved the transition and cut the foam board. Then I used Gorilla brand construction adhesive to glue the foam board in place and weighted it down with a few bricks overnight. 

Most recent status of "East Staging"

A little shaping of the terrain at the joint with the trestle module and a couple of sessions with the Peco turnouts and Code 83 flex track led to finalization of a track plan. I am using a gentler than minimum curve radius, at least 4" of straight track in and out of turnouts, and a 3" center line between tracks for smooth travel and ease of handling in staging. The track position is marked and the green foam is painted with a wash of my brown "dirt" latex paint. Next steps will be trackwork and wiring. 

Monday, March 6, 2023

Nooksack: Next Steps for One-Town TOMA

Backdrop painting and rolling stock unpacking started

Before tackling the next steps, I should update what I have accomplished since my last post. As seen in the opening photo, I painted the initial backdrops with a sky blue fading to white along with clouds along the horizon. It took two coats to cover the unprimed hardboard and to attempt distant clouds. I am waiting until the scenery planning is further developed to add more atmospheric haze or distant hills or treelines. Also since my previous post (despite taking several attempts) the track connecting to the trestle now meets acceptable standards. My first attempt at soldering an extension of the flex track and sanding the riverbed under the trestle resulted in minor kinks and uneven rail heights. The second try, with a short length of sectional 24" curved track fitted in worked much more successfully. I plan to wait for more trial runs and the east staging to be completed to identify any additional rail joiners that should be soldered. I also plan to wait until after the east staging trackwork is complete to set up the airbrush for track painting. 

Staging plan drafted in my notebook
The east staging track is my current high priority and next step. While it will be sceniced for use now and for down the road, I don't want to invest a lot of money into it. On the other hand, I want to have it match the standards of the rest of the railroad. I learned from following a "good enough" protocol in parts of my last railroad, that I would not be satisfied with that approach in the long term. I decided to follow up with my plan to base the staging on a narrow hollow-core door that we have on hand. I also found that I have a lot of code 70 flex track and numerous older Shinohara turnouts. I will need to learn how to make the older turnouts "DCC friendly" and how to work with foam board and hollow-core doors, and these will likely be my next steps to make Nooksack operable as a one- town TOMA. In my mind, one feature, rather than obstacle, of model railroading is learning new approaches or techniques, particularly if one can break them down into manageable steps. I suspect those steps will be the subject of my next couple of posts.