Wednesday, June 12, 2019

West End Extension

Cardboard template in place to the west of Willow Springs
Despite the scenery issues raised by positioning the benchwork back from the aisle and coming into direct contact with the sloping ceiling, that appears to be the best approach for navigating around the top of the stairs. The discussion of the problems navigating around the top of the stairs and the trapdoor was the topic of my previous post.

I started construction based on the basic shape of the cardboard template. The first steps were to draw up a plan and make some lumber purchases at the local big box store. I picked up some 1" X 4" pine boards and a 2' X 4' 1/2 inch plywood "handy panel." Although I had thought about using L-girder construction, I decided to stay with the open grid framing I have used so far on the benchwork for the 4th Subdivision. I used the cardboard template to trace the curve on the plywood before cutting it out with my jigsaw. 

Working in the shop out in the barn
Then using both the drawing and the actual plywood "top" as a template under the framing, I started measuring and cutting the framing boards. The one somewhat tricky part involved the angle cuts for the diagonal brace at the curved front of the section as they were not an even forty-five degree cut. Other than that it was just a matter of careful measuring and cutting on the miter saw.
Double checking the plan with flex track

While figuring out the basic construction of this new west end extension's benchwork, I also did some sketching of scenery ideas on paper and full size plotting on the plywood "top." With some flex track, I was able to mock up how the track might fit on what is essentially an S-curve through the scene. While the allotted space did not allow for the 150' Pratt Truss Bridge that I had been thinking about, I still wanted to include a bridge scene. 

I had a small bridge from a collection of HO stuff from my younger cousin, James. Researching bridges a bit, I learned that this was a pony truss bridge (no connection across the top) and although not labeled, it was probably a Life-Like brand model. The bridge has some nice molded-in details and with a paint job, will look good considering its toy train origins. Doing more research, I found a prototype pony truss bridge with several nice photos on the Little Prickly Pear Creek Bridge, a BNSF and ex Great Northern bridge in Montana. So, with the bridge from James, now the creek, the bridge, and the scene have names; it will be the James Creek Bridge scene.

Having finalized the bridge scene concept, I went ahead and cut away some of the 1" X 4" stock for the grid framing to support the plywood base of the creek. I also have a cardboard template started for the creek base. 

At this point, the next step will be to glue and nail the framing together for this new section of benchwork. Then, I will be able to clamp it in place, figure out the support system (legs etc.), and move forward with additional planning of the trackwork, bridge placement, and terrain construction. A lesson that I have supposedly learned is to complete the cork, trackwork, and electrical work before the benchwork is permanently in place, allowing me to tip the section up on a workbench rather than working from underneath. As I move forward, I will need to keep this lesson in mind.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Issues With the Current West Staging

Last week I had a couple of guests from the Meadville Model Railroad Club over to see the 4th Subdivision and run some trains. While I have had some issues with the fold-up, west-end staging running trains by myself, the issues were exacerbated with three of us up in the train attic. As I am seriously considering expanding the model railroad to host more than just fun-for-one ops-sessions, the existing staging potentially creates some real problems.
West-end fold up staging deployed
While it is not a problem at all when it is folded up, when deployed, the west staging is awkward and potentially dangerous. Due to the three-track staging yard's location at the top of the stairs to the attic when in use, rolling stock can not be set up prior to the session. As the situation stands, this staging must be unfolded and rolling stock positioned as a part of any ops-session. Anyone involved needs to be up in the train room, as the stairs are difficult to navigate. With just one folding leg, the staging can not be used to support someone trying to get through.

With the trap door open, humans have to try to navigate with only thirteen inches between the trapdoor and the staging yard. At the shoe level, one has to step down one step while moving sideways across the top of the stairs. Very awkward if one needs to get to the other end of the room during an operations session or, worse yet, go up or down the stairs. Gracie, the cat in the photo, has no problem. My human guests were also concerned about the lack of bumpers or other ways to stop rolling stock from crashing to the floor off the end of the tracks. If that was the only problem, it would be an easy fix.

With the trap door down, dodging the trap door cable and styrofoam insulation is an even tighter squeeze. While I intend to replace the rope with sturdy metal cable and to cover the insulation with a plywood cap capable of withstanding folks standing on it, it still would be a major bottleneck and/or a tripping hazard. While fun-for-one operations by myself will continue to be a major use of the railroad, I am planning on finding ways to have more model railroaders occasionally join me. The fold up staging yard is not working out as well as I thought it might just operating by myself; it will not be an acceptable feature as I transition to multi-person ops-sessions. 

I have defined the existing staging yard opposite the trapdoor at the top of the stairs as a major problem. What are some solutions? The space between the stairs and the opposite sloping ceiling is tight. Should I just give up on the attic as the location for my model railroad? I don't think so, as I have no practical alternative without winning the lottery. I think having permanent trackage located farther from the stairs is the approach I will explore. The first step that I took was to craft a cardboard template to see if this approach allows more convenient movement around the stairs. It is easier to navigate around the stairs and trapdoor with the template I came up with in place.

Building a new section at the west end of the existing Willow Springs section solves the existing problem, but raises a series of design issues to be worked out:
  • How much of this section will be sceniced?
  • With a lot of the new section right up against the sloping ceiling how will a backdrop function?
  • How will the existing/planned backdrop and valance from the rest of the railroad transition to this new section?
  • Will I be able to use my new Central Valley 150' Pratt Truss Bridge kit in the sceniced portion?
  • With the S-curved shape of this section and the potential of a river cut out, what kind of benchwork will be most applicable?
  • Will the fold-up staging yard work "permanently" mounted to the west end of this new section?
Sketching out some track locations on the cardboard template, I continue to see this as a workable solution. One possibility is to have a sloping backdrop behind some of this section, while the existing backdrop and valance curve into some kind of end cap. I am leaning towards L-girder benchwork due to its flexibility with odd shapes and multiple levels. I need to research it further and start drawing some plans.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Car Forwarding on the 4th Subdivision -- Part Four: Switch Lists

In this final car forwarding post, I am discussing switch lists, which, somewhat ironically, are how I first started with operations.

GN switch list form I created
 in Word and used in a
Seattle modular group 
To start with a definition: switch lists are widely used railroad forms used to plan and record car movements. While used in a variety of different ways, all switch lists have spaces to identify cars and destinations - the essence of car forwarding.

Prototype switch lists are nearly universal, used by railroads from their beginnings until the 1990's. Typically the form would be printed on card stock with one form using a half sheet vertically at 4.25 X 11 inches. By using a switch list, the conductor would have one sturdy and convenient sheet to work from, leaving the waybills in the caboose. Examples can be found online such as this Great Northern prototype Form 55, found at the, incidentally, a great resource for researching all things Great Northern or Northern Pacific. Examples of prototype switch lists can also be found at railrodiana sources: train shows, swap meets, specialty bookstores, or eBay.

To create switch lists, one can just photocopy blank ones, either prototype ones or the generic one available to subscribers on the Model Railroader web site (How To>Track Planning & Operation> Operating paperwork for David Popp's New York, New Haven & Hartford layout). I found that it was relatively easy to create my own authentic looking switch list by utilizing Word features such as tables and text boxes. I included a simplified list of AAR car types on the form. When I was satisfied with my version, I took it to the copy center and had it copied onto "buff" card stock.

Just as switch lists were used prototypically in a variety of ways, they can be used in different ways by model railroaders. As a member of a modular group in Seattle, my first experiences in operations were with switch lists. During "slow" periods when our layout was on display, I would identify switchable "industries" from the group of modules at that show and add rolling stock to spurs to be picked up. Then, I would list appropriate cars for the industries in the order of the destinations on my switch list. I would also include the pick-ups in the list or as a separate list at the bottom of the form. Then I would make up the train in the yard and run it based on the switch list's list of cars to set out and pick up at the various industry locations. While having trains continuously running around our layout for display was our main goal, I really enjoyed sneaking in some operations during  "down time" such as in the late afternoons.

Switch list on the 4th Subdivision
Now, with my GN branch line railroad in the attic using sequence operations, I am still using switch lists. While car cards determine the destinations of my rolling stock, I find that switch lists are helpful in planning the action. As seen in the photo, I am using a slightly smaller version of my switch list (two-up horizontally) and mini clipboards to hold the paperwork. One example of the use of switch lists in my current plan is at the following point in the sequence:

Step 5: Road Switcher sets out and picks up for Box Spur, Elevator Spur and Team Track; returns to yard with Pick Ups from Greenrock Turn.

I list the set outs and the pickups on the switch list, planning the action; in this case, two cars to set out and three to pick up. My car forwarding system using both car cards/way bills and switch lists was somewhat inspired by David Popp's videos on MRVP. Here is one with an overview of the process (including an introduction to the use of switch lists) that can be viewed for free without subscribing: Switching the Southbound.
Switch list example from
Tony Koester's book

Another way that model railroaders can use a switch list is to aid in yard sorting. As I don't have a substantial yard on my railroad (yet!), I am using an example from Tony Koester's Kalmbach book: Realistic Model Railroad Operations-Second Edition to demonstrate this usage. His process is to first list the cars in the order that they arrived in the yard on the switch list. Then, as yardmaster, designate yard tracks for different destinations (and trains) and notate on the switch list (based on information from waybills). In his example, track #1 is "propers" (to be delivered in town). Track #2 is "shorts" (to be delivered within the division). Track #3 is "throughs" (cars going beyond the division). Then, using the switch list, the cars are blocked into trains, ready to be sorted into station order.

Both prototype and model railroad switch lists are versatile and useful forms that can be an essential part of car forwarding. Switch lists provide a simple introduction to car forwarding for a beginner in the operations "game." Even for an "old head," or one striving to be one, switch lists have the potential to be powerful tools.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Adding a sound decoder to a Bachmann Gas-Electric Doodlebug -- Part 1

The Great Northern "doodle-bug" 2320 is a regular runner on the 4th Subdivision, but it sadly has no sound. Adding a sound decoder to it has been on my to-do list for a while, as seen in this previous post.

At the Railfest show in Kirtland, Ohio this past weekend I picked up a Tsunami 2 TSU-1100 P. N. 885004 "For Baldwin and Other" decoder. This decoder includes files for a "Galloping Goose," Dual Whitcom, and GE Cummins prime mover sounds, any of which would be more or less appropriate. I also purchased an 810140 Current Keeper and an 810078 speaker to complete the install. In talking with other members of Division 12 (Brad White, Mike Hauk, and Doug Sandmeyer) while we manned our table at the show, their consensus was to tear out the Bachmann board, as it does not have a great reputation, and start from scratch. The one caveat they all suggested was to use the existing eight pin and light board to identify the wire sources and mark them with paint or tape, rather than cutting wires willy-nilly. Today, I canvased my parts bins and found some LEDs and resisters that may be an appropriate choice as well as some shrink tube. It looks like I now have the materials on hand to tackle the project. So, the decoder install adventure begins.

It has been years since I installed a decoder, and I have never hardwired one. So, for me, the first step was to do some research. Among the many Soundtraxx videos on YouTube was this one on installing a similar decoder in a K-27 that gave me an overview of the process.

The first step in the video was to remove the tender shell, so my first step was to remove the shell or body of the doodlebug. Using a chisel bladed hobby knife, I slipped the blade between the shell and the frame along the underside. I slipped toothpicks into the open gap to hold it open while popping the other tabs to remove the shell.  In the photo, the toothpicks roughly point to the four tabs I found located on each side. Working slowly and carefully, I was able to remove the shell without any damage. Upon inspection I found several issues. One, that I knew about going in, is that the figures in the coach compartment are too "tall" and need to be reconfigured. It appears that although it should be relatively easy to identify wires, one wire to the back truck had broken at some point previously and I will need to re-solder it. Finally, it looks like the speaker I bought at the train show is going to be too large for the space behind the motor where I planned to locate it. I may need to add a different speaker to my new shopping list along with a pencil-tipped soldering iron and solder more appropriate for electronics.

That was it for the first day of this adventure. The next step is to identify and tag/flag all the wires as I prep to remove the Bachmann board and plan placement of new components.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Car Forwarding on the 4th Subdivision - - Part Three: Car Cards & Waybills

Adding several cars to my roster while revisiting my car forwarding techniques has led me to create several new car cards and waybills. In this post I will try to be less esoteric than my last post while explaining how I use car cards and waybills.
GN gondola brought up to standard, weathered, with a
scratch built load, and accompanied by its paperwork.
First of all, I'm using Micro-Mark's Car Routing System Starter Pack (#82916) instead of getting involved with some of the more realistic waybill systems popularized by Tony Koester among others. With this system, one starts by filling in a yellow car card and folding it to form a pocket for each piece of rolling stock. The information on the card includes kind of car, car initials, and the car's number. One can also include the AAR Code, a description, empty car return information, and, as I have done, the car's build date.

The second phase of paperwork is the waybill, in this case a "four-cycle" waybill. The waybill contains information about where the car is going and where it is coming from. The "consignee" is where it is going, the "shipper" is where it is coming from. The "lading" is the contents (including the possibility of "MTY" or empty). Based on the amount of research done, these all can be more specific or more general. Starting with these new additions to my roster, I am using two other lines on the waybill form. One addition is to use the routing line to indicate "sure spots" such as "door #2" or "loading dock track." On the via line, I will indicate how the car is entering or leaving the 4th Subdivision; at this point, whether it is going to or from the rest of the world through the Lake Terrell Yard or the NP interchange. 

As mentioned, these are four cycle waybills. That means that between sessions the waybills are turned. In my example waybill, cycle 1 is the empty gondola traveling from Lake Terrell Yard (west staging) to Nooksack Lumber and Shingle (east staging until Nooksack is added). Between sessions, the waybill is turned to expose cycle 2, which is the gondola with a load of 18' 8" X 8" timbers being shipped to Dunn Lumber in Seattle (west staging). I have not finished the third and fourth cycles, but they could be a load of pipe traveling from west staging to Slease Supply in Willow Springs for the third cycle and then returning empty to staging for the fourth cycle. In addition to the waybills I have two overlay cards that slip into the pocket in front of the waybill. One, printed on blue paper is a "Blue Flag, Do not move! Loading/Unloading" card. The other, printed on green paper, is a "Car on Hold" overlay. It signals that the car can be moved, but it must be re-spotted. These overlay cards keep the cars at their current location for an extra session. Okay, the cars are at their current location, where should the car card and waybill paperwork go?
Five compartment bill box for Willow Springs (Interestingly, two
of the cards are misfiled in this photo.)

Bill boxes, the location of the car cards and waybills when they are not moving with a train, make up the third part of this system. For many operations-based layouts, a bill box with three compartments, located at each town or industrial complex, is divided up into set-out, hold, and pick-up. I am using a different system popularized by David Popp on MRVP and explained in more depth at the Quaker Valley Railroad website. In short, each track that could potentially hold cars has a name and a compartment in a bill box. The process is fairly simple: the crew read and heed; if it reads to that track, don't pick it up; if it reads to somewhere else, it is ready for pick up. The cards go or stay along with the car. 

Car routing on the 4th Subdivision utilizes one other piece of paperwork, switch lists, that will be the topic of another post.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Car Forwarding on the 4th Subdivision -- Part Two: Car Flow

While recently running trains on the 4th Subdivision, I realized that I could be more purposeful in adding rolling stock to the Greenrock Turn beyond what I was setting out for Willow Springs. Since I have drafted plans for Nooksack, adding cars for that, as yet unbuilt, extension and adding additional traffic to the N. P. fiddle interchange will necessitate implementing (and perhaps tightening up) my process of "developing and organizing" car flow. In this post, I will expand on an earlier overview of my car forwarding process.

The first step is to research real and plausible industries. While planning Nooksack, I did a fair amount of internet research with the results described in an earlier post. Sadly, the industrial film about canning, linked in that post, has been removed from YouTube. More recently, I found additional information about potential traffic through the N. P. interchange. Kendall Quarry, near Sumas, Washington, shipped limestone to the Olympic Portland Cement Company in Bellingham on a local rail line. In my reality they will ship on the N. P. and the 4th Subdivision. In looking at a railroad atlas, I found that Yakima, Washington was served by the N. P. exclusively. has an essay on Yakima including apple crate labels from the 1940s. Apparently the "real" American Fruit Growers of Yakima liked the quality and price of my fictional Beise Box Company's fruit crates.

After research, the next step I take is to develop an on-line industry list. David Popp of Model Railroader created a blank example available for download and has written about using this form to assess demand. It is an easy form to recreate using the Word table tools. By using it to think about and record ideas, one can answer a number of car flow considerations:

  • What materials will be shipped in and out of each industry?
  • How many cars? What kind of cars will be needed?
  • How often or how heavily will each industry be shipped?
As seen in my example, after filling out the chart, one can total the rolling stock to the right for the week and then, by dividing by the number of days of operation per week, an average number of cars a day. On the left, I found it helpful to write down a rough estimate for daily frequency of traffic for each industry.  As one creates these industry lists for the towns of their railroad, the lists can help determine if the railroad's capacity, in terms of staging and passing track length or number of trains, match the demand. 

In working out my original operations plan for Willow Springs, I wanted a way to move from weekly demand to a daily traffic flow that was fairly consistent from day to day. I ended up sketching out a car flow matrix with industries listed on a column to the left and days of the week listed across the top. Despite one glitch, to be discussed below, I feel this technique was successful enough to draft a blank form in Word to continue the same process for Nooksack. In my original matrix, I just included color-coded squares for the day the inbound or outbound car would be moved. I am still in the process of figuring out the scheduling or delivery of empty cars. My original system, ignoring empty cars, "worked" perhaps because I had a mix of inbound and outbound each day, so the travel of empty cars, from staging to "outbound" beforehand and from "inbound" to staging later, evened out. I jump started operations by pre-placing cars in outbound positions for the first day. 
Just a day or so ago, I tried going back and sketching in empty boxes for the empty cars to be delivered, but I don't know if that is necessary or desirable. 

Perhaps in charting out the potential flow for the additional rolling stock, I will use a two-toned bar for inbound and outbound to include the empty car travel. At the cannery in Nooksack, the same boxcars that deliver the can blanks will take away cases of finished canned goods, perhaps moving to a different door, but certainly not returning to staging during that time adding an additional variation. Having a blank form, with the industry names typed in, will give me the flexibility to try out some different ways of visually charting the car flow at Nooksack.

The next step in implementing adding rolling stock is to make sure that I have appropriate cars; that if they are kits, I have built them; and in either case, that the cars all hit my rolling stock standards. The next step in planning for car forwarding with new rolling stock is to start the car card and waybill process. Both of these steps are just now barely under way and therefore potential topics for future posts.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Scenery Experiment -- First Layers With "Ground Goop"

In my last post I left off with some new landforms in place drying between the trestle and box factory areas. Since I'm experimenting with "ground goop" in this first area to have ground cover applied, the next step, after the plaster dries, is to paint the stark white plaster cloth with my earth color, a flat latex paint. The point of this is to make sure none of the white can show through later layers. Also, before applying the "ground goop," I try to protect the track, backdrop painting, and and other areas such as, in this case, where the background box company building is going to sit with blue tape and wax paper.

"Ground goop" is a concoction popularized by Lou Sassi in his scenery books and videos. It is made up of:
+ one part vermiculite (home and garden store: Home Depot))
+ one part CelluClay (art or craft store: Hobby Lobby)
+ one part flat brown latex paint (paint store: Sherwin Williams)
+ two thirds part white glue (art or craft store: Hobby Lobby)
+ one capful of concentrated Lysol (Dollar Store)

Mixing it up in a sealable container allows the unused potion to be saved for later use. Adding the Lysol prevents mold from growing. After it is mixed, it should be the consistency of peanut butter. I add a few teaspoons of water, if it is too thick initially.

Applying a thin layer of "ground goop" works best with an artist's pallet knife and accomplishes several goals. It covers the gauze pattern of the plaster cloth, hides any gaps or patterns from the plywood, provides a surfaced in which to imbed plaster "rocks," creates a naturally irregular surface, and allows me to treat mainline and non mainline tracks differently. In an earlier post and an even earlier post I discussed differentiating the different kinds of trackage. In addition to rail size and tie regularity, I can use the "ground goop" to emphasize the differences. To do this I can spread the "ground goop" gradually right up to the top of the cork on the siding, so it will appear that the track is laid directly on the ground. On the mainline, I leave a narrow "ditch" of uncovered plywood and create a bank opposite the edge of the cork emphasizing mainline drainage.

Following the techniques that Mr. Sassi suggests, I can apply my first layer of ground cover right over the freshly applied "ground goop." No need to let it dry! My choice for initial ground cover materials includes medium sifted real dirt, tube sand, and several Woodland Scenics products: Fine Turf--Earth, Blended Turf--Green Blend, and Course Turf--Light Green. I have a standard procedure for applying ground cover. I sprinkle on a layer of real dirt and the Fine  Turf--Earth over most areas. I spoon on a layer of tube sand and its small rocks under rock castings and along the base of any cuts before pinching a small amount of the green blend foam in some areas. Then, after wetting the ground cover with 70% denatured alcohol, I use an eye dropper to flood the area with Woodland Scenic's Scenic Cement. (One could use thinned artist's acrylic matte medium or even thinned white glue.) Then to add a bit of variety, I placed a few pinches of the course turf in a few areas.

For the most part, I am quite pleased with the "ground goop" experiment, both for creating a natural irregular surface and for helping to differentiate between mainline and sidings. Applying a base layer of ground cover as I go also seems like a time saver. This section is ready for track ballasting and the addition of trees, buildings, static  grass, or other additional textures.

On the other hand, one minor problem with the "ground goop" is that some of the vermiculite particles don't absorb the brown paint and their light, almost metallic, color telegraphs through. The worst of this can be hidden later with clump foliage or static grass clumps; adding additional texture is a good thing! Also, I am not that happy with the closest layer of backdrop painting in this area of the layout. The green in the backdrop trees don't "go with" the ground foam colors I am using. While the short ridge disguises the right angle between baseboard and backdrop, the painted trees directly behind it will need to be redone as I develop the plan for the 3D trees on the ridge.