Exciting Times

It has been quite a while! Yesterday was my birthday and a number of people came to help me celebrate my first quarter-century of life. Thanks to Ben and Bethany for the awesome looking game, to Katie for the book (the title of which is unrepeatable in a forum such as this) and to Kelly for the deep fryer! Also thanks to Kelly’s grandparents for the money. A weird thanks also goes to our neighbors for letting us borrow the gas for the grill!

It was a very good weekend overall. We spent Saturday in Clifton Forge (a railroad town about two hours away) where the C&O Historical Society had a large event. The C&O 614 locomotive was on display along with old passenger cars available to walk through. The volunteers were very proud of their work, and so they should be! We walked through a combined coach/baggage car as well as going through a dining car. The interior of the dining car has been restored to it’s 1930s appearance, the exterior to it’s 1950s appearance and the kitchen has been modernized to use gas (rather than charcoal) and other modern appliances so that it can actually function when they want to use it.

I walked through the cab of an old diesel unit (I want to say a GP-9, but not certain) where a retired engineer was happy to talk to anyone who asked about different functions it had – or didn’t have. Certainly a cool experience that I don’t recall having had since moving to the US.

There was also a miniature railway providing rides for people around a large loop as well as various vendors selling their items. I picked up an N-scale locomotive for $30 which is planned to go into service on my coffee table layout which has been revitalized recently.

An interesting idea I saw was a pair of statically active steam whistles. Basically I suspect there is a small steam boiler in a brick building, on top of which is mounted two different steam whistles of different pitches. Each of these are linked to a stereotypical rope and wooden handle which can be pulled to make the whistle sound.

On Sunday we spent most of the day being lazy before people started to arrive. We cooked out as planned (the weather held up long enough to cook and eat) before having to rush everything inside due to rain. I hope everyone enjoyed the food even though it took a little longer than planned. The one thing I didn’t think to check was how much gas there was in the bottle for the grill and we ran out after a few minutes. Fortunately our neighbors have a gas grill and we were able to borrow their bottle!

Later in the evening we played Funglish, a word game which is rather entertaining. It works kinda like pictionary where teams take turns playing. One team will have a card with 6 words on it, and a board which has the options “Definitely,” “Kind of,” and “Not.” Spread out in front of them are different adjectives which are placed on the board in order to describe the word on the card. Bart Simpson, for example, was Definitely yellow, American and man-made, kind of human, etc. With the number of teams we elected not to score the rounds but we had a whole lot of fun anyway.

I didn’t get too many photos of the Sunday events but those from Saturday will likely be on flickr at some point soon.

Thanks again to everyone that came and/or wished me a happy day, I only hope your time was as good as mine!

A Range of Updates!

So, there are a few new things worth reporting.

Firstly, my performance review at work came in, and I scored a fairly solid 3/5. Not bad, considering I’ve been there just coming up 6 months (was 4 at the end of the 2010 calendar year). I have a few things to work on, but don’t we all?

Also work related, there is a full time position opening on day shift, which I think I will at least apply for. There are several others in the lab that are interested, all of whom have been there longer than I have and so I don’t doubt that they would get it over me. Still, if I don’t try I can’t ever hope to succeed.

I’ve been to Charlottesville a couple of times in the last month or two, and had a great time. I’m sure there must be more, but so far I’ve only found one hobby shop that was where the maps and information on the internet told me it would be (and even then, I’m not sure it’s one of the ones on the list!) It was near Kroger on 29, not marked very visibly but big “Thomas Trains Here” and “Lionel Trains Here” signs in the windows. I have also spent a fair amount of time sitting around near the Amtrak station near down town, as this is where two fairly busy railroads cross. The Norfolk Southern running North-South to Manassas and Lynchburg sees several trains a day. The CSX running North-East-West (the division, leased by the Buckingham Branch Railroad) connects with the NS at Orange to the North, CSX to the East and through Staunton on to Clifton Forge to the West). There is also daily Amtrak traffic (though I’m not usually there early or late enough to see the majority), in the form of the New York to New Orleans train, the New York to Chicago train (three days a week) and the Washington DC to Lynchburg train.

I’ve also found that US-250 is a great alternative to I-64. The interstate cannot be matched for speed at all, but it’s still a great drive over Afton Mountain. At some point I’d like to visit Afton and explore the area a bit more, but for now I’ll settle for having driven past it.

Last but not least, is the model situation. I’m still waiting for my ATX cables to arrive (hopefully they didn’t get lost, or not sent..) so the sections are still leaning up against the wall, same as they were last time I posted. I do have updates, however. A couple of months ago I found that Ollies, a discount store that lives on buyouts and the like, has a fair stock of IHC products. The range isn’t great, a couple of buildings and a few vehicles, a LOT of MoPac RPO cars ($5.99 each, if anyone is looking for some..), but they are CHEAP. I picked up a Factory/Office building kit (constructed over the weekend!), a set of Algoma Central passenger cars (I have plans to model a kind of historic railroad running on a Class I/II when I get around to modeling big), and a few trucks and such. I have a greenhouse which will need some modifications to be realistic enough, and a bunch of “village” accessories which will need some attention before they are considered suitable (by me!).

In the Factory/Office kit were some molded people who I finally got around to painting today. I’m not entirely happy with them overall, but considering I’ve never painted anything in HO before, I’m pretty happy with my first try.

I don’t have any photos to post today, but maybe next time. Trainspotting photos from C’ville will be up on Flickr soonish.

Brief Update – Model Railroad

Yeah, it’s another one of those.

My terminal strips came in, and I’ve now completely wired the track blocks on both sections. Now I just need the other ATX extensions to arrive so I can wire the connections between the two sections and start running trains again.

A week or two ago I pulled out a scrap piece of plywood (roughly 1’x8′) and laid out the track work for a time-saver layout. At some point I think I’ll get things together to build frame work and put that together as well – I like the game aspect of it. I already have a short list of things I’ll do differently – for one I plan to lay cork under the track. I want to try different wiring techniques like soldering to the bottom of rail joiners – we’ll see how that works out. Once track is laid and wiring is done it will certainly take a back seat to the slightly bigger project (the one I’m working on now).

The current layout doesn’t have a name yet… I haven’t come up with something that I like that I can enjoy. I thought about “Dufflyn,” because it is a location at the end of a branch line, ie “End of Line” -> “[En]Dufflyn” but I still think it’s a little too cheesy.

Model Trains Update

It’s been a while since I posted an update on where my model is at, mostly because it’s been a while since I did anything really observable.

Recently, however, I brought the two sections inside from the garage and did a lot of work on wiring them properly. I’ve also bought some cheap parts to finish the job, and I should be set to finish putting wires underneath some time next week. Then it will be on to building a control panel to tie it all together.

The left section is fully wired for track circuits underneath, and this is where the main connection with the control panel will be. The two sections will be electrically connected using 20-pin ATX cables – one side will have a male connector and the other will have a female, and a small extension cable will connect the two together. Connecting to the control panel is another story – a 24-pin ATX connection is being used to begin with, but it won’t be enough on it’s own. This is still to be decided..

The right section is primarily wired for track circuits – I’m awaiting some terminal blocks to arrive so I can wire them all the way to the end. Also, once terminal blocks arrive I can really get moving on wiring turnouts – at present I have one pair of turnouts (a crossover on the left section) wired to a terminal block, but then I ran out of terminals, and so it stalled.

I’m shortly expecting a set of couplers to arrive, ordered for my 4 IHC passenger cars to bring them ‘up to standard’ (IE, have knuckle couplers..). They should be here tomorrow! I also have a bunch of LEDs and resistors for an upcoming project to change the way my locomotive lights work. Hopefully it will also be easily transferred to DCC when the time comes.

I was surprised to find a train set at Gift and Thrift in Harrisonburg a week or so ago, and I bought some parts of it. A Great Northern box car which will end up as scenery, a Chessie System caboose which will also be scenery, and three small Bachmann hoppers (two N&Ws and a Southern). These are on my list to replace with knuckle couplers too, however I need knuckles with a mounting hole smaller than that of a #5 Kadee, but larger than that of a typical Tyco model. I suspect further research is required!

So, hopefully by the end of this coming week I may be able to run trains again! We’ll see.. Here are some photos. I apologize for the lack of quality, I used my cell phone camera!

This is the underside view of the wiring for the first pair of turnouts to a terminal block. This will eventually be wired to the main terminal block (to the left in photo).

And this is the top view.

This is the left hand module, to the left is the main terminal block which has all 8 blocks of track circuits wired for both sections plus common. To the top is the connection to the right hand section, which is yet to receive the remaining turnout wiring.

This is an overall underside view of both sections.

And an overall top-side view of both sections.

This is the underside view of the wiring for the first pair of turnouts to a terminal block. This will eventually be wired to the main terminal block (to the left in photo).

Diary, Model Railroad, 7, etc..

This is really stretching out! Anyway, since the last post I’ve done little but prepared much. Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

What I’ve achieved: Completed painting both sections.

Yes, that’s all.

That said, I have ordered more ballast (since I have one pack of light and two packs of dark – not very close to meeting my requirements), I have ordered more terminal blocks (so I can rewire the second section much more cleanly), I have ordered a 20->24 pin ATX adapter and a 24->20 pin ATX adapter – this should give me both male and female sockets for 20 and 24 pin. I’ve also ordered DPDT switches and momentary on switches – enough to build a control panel. I’ve also printed onto paper some cardstock buildings, and I’ll be gluing those to the poster board that I also acquired at some point in the near future.

My coming plans involve forming a road (I’m thinking a paved road and a dirt/gravel road or two) through part of a section. The problem I’m having is deciding where. I thought I had left space in the track layout, but it seems there are some tight spaces where I’m thinking of putting buildings. It would also be cool to have a rail-in-road space somewhere, I’m thinking along the back where I was planning on putting a one-car container terminal, and building a fence around the facility for security etc. Lastly, I realized that I hadn’t made any account for uncoupling magnets, and I don’t like the idea of them being incredibly visible (unless they can be disguised as something else in some way?) Therefore I either need to lift pieces of track just enough to squeeze magnets in underneath (perhaps thin magnets?) or use stronger ones under the baseboard.

These problems and more to be found and hopefully resolved, soon. Here are some photos.

The messy module is seen above a Lighting Direct box (all the way from New Zealand). It is also the one with the least paint (although it is now finished – no photos as yet.) The other module is facing the wrong way, but is otherwise ready for the next step, whatever that may end up being.

Diary of a Model Railroad, Part Five

Alright, alright. Yesterday I promised photos. But today I’m too excited to wait until I’ve uploaded them all – it’s done!

I once heard on a video that “a model railway can be finished, but it is never completed.” This is very much true for mine, which is presently nameless. I finished up the wiring this morning and tested it all, and all tracks work electrically, and I was able to fix most of the problems. I have a couple of pieces that I will need to pull out and actually fix (including a very sharp turn that I was aware of when laying, but ignored. Now I get to fix it.)

It is a very operationally intense layout. To get any of the cars from storage to a business requires the loco to run around them, and with one exception requires at least one switchback. I’ll draw up a diagram later and probably post tomorrow (with photos?) to show where things are and how it is intended to work.

Once I fix the couple of minor track faults I’ll be ready to consider scenery. I also need to create a control panel which will also involve tidying up the wirings underneath, then I can look at wiring turnout motors (and hoping they all work electrically). Another pressing issue is the electrical connections between the two sections and the control panel. The right side needs to have 4 blocks plus ground (so 5 pins) and the left needs 6 blocks plus ground (7 pins). Additionally, the left side has 5 turnouts that need to be switched and the right side has 8. Some of those can be combined, but I still need 4 pairs of circuits (9 pins – 4×2+ground) to the left and at least 4, possibly 5 or 6 to the right.

Such questions can wait to be answered tomorrow. I have more practical things to do tonight, like socializing!

Diary of a Model Railroad, Part Four

I had hoped to have some more photos ready for this post, but they’re on my camera and that’s in the car, 20 minutes away. Maybe next time.

Anyway, I have very nearly completed the first half of the layout. The right-hand side has all but two pieces of track laid, and all but one set of track feeders in place. I’ve begun laying the matching track pieces on the left hand side, and this is basically where I’m holding myself up. 4 pieces of track cross the line between the two sides, and of these 2 are done and dusted. The third needs me to lay a curved piece of flex track across the line, and this is where I lose excitement. I want to do this section first, because the fourth and final section to cross the line is the one that actually has a useful purpose on the left hand side, rather than just being sidings to store cars for businesses that the model will ‘serve.’

I divided the whole layout into several sections. I doubt I’ll ever operate it with more than one person, but in theory it could be operated with two engines, and with the split sections that becomes a little easier with basic DC power (since I’m underfunded for DCC right now..). For now I’m tying all of the feeders for the sections to each other and then I’ll link those to a single pair of wires to the controller until I make a real control panel with switches etc. I also need to find some 3-way wire to wire the turnout motors, but again that can wait. My goal is to be able to drive on at least part of it by the end of the week.

In other news, I’m fast running out of solder, so I may need to hunt down some more..

Diary of a Model Railroad, Part Three

Finished! Well, not quite. The bench-work is mostly finished. It needs to be sanded off at the ends especially, and I still need to finalize how they will attach to each other. I’m thinking maybe a clip on each side to hold it horizontally, and maybe a door lock thing to hold them in alignment? Other than that, I’m mostly happy. I have photos too, I’ll tell the story from when I started (again – the successful attempt ;-))

July 7th

It starts out with Crash looking like a lazy dog. He really is.

This is an overview of where I was up to on July 7th. The outer frame of one section was complete, and the cuts had been made for the second section, with pieces screwed in to line the up, it was ready to glue and screw together.

These are the pieces. Give or take (I measured them to be the same length as each other, not to an exact number of inches) they are 2x 5 foot pieces and 2x 1.2 foot pieces. Screwed and glued into each are two 3/4″ x 3/4″ pieces which are used to easily align each piece with it’s join partner. They are then glued at the corners and clamped together for a couple of hours, then screwed. Below, an end has been glued and clamped.

July 8th

I realized that there wasn’t a great deal of structural support, and that for sections that are likely to be pulled out and put away fairly regularly support is probably a good idea. So I measured and cut two support pieces to fit roughly half-way down each section and then drilled three half-inch holes for wiring to go through, and glued and screwed in the same way as the rest of the base. Here, the first is clamped and waiting for glue to dry.

The support supports are gluing on the second frame, when these are dry some more they will be screwed down into the outer frame and the support will be glued to them and then screwed.

I hung out with Crash for a bit while the glue dried!

The frames were finally finished. One is fairly warped, but I don’t plan on exhibiting this layout and it’ll likely be warped with time and transporting anyway, so I’m not overly worried. With the ply nailed down, it doesn’t seem too terrible. I doubt it will cause any major issues (famous last words?)

July 9th

“I claim this foot in the name of Doglandia Forever Woof Woof!”

I nailed down the tops this morning. Here are both from the bottom…

And one from the top. Basically, because they are 5 ft by 1.5 ft each, I used a 4ft square piece of ply and cut two lengths of 4′ x 1.5′ and then two pieces of 1′ x 1.5′ and had a 1′ square left over.

This is the end of one of the sections – both sections have one end like this (I guess the sides weren’t exactly 5′ long!) and one has sides that are a little like this too. They’ll both get sanded back at some point, probably next week now.

I only had 3 incidents while nailing. Two like this, where I nailed at an angle far enough that it poked through the frame. One on each section, and I was able to push them back out so that with some sanding they probably won’t be noticed. I’m considering some 1×4 to go around this all, partly for strength, partly for keeping most track below top surface level (and thus protected a little more). The third incident was near the end of the first section. I’d been using a pair of vice grips to hold the nails to try and keep them vertical, and I elected to do one with just my fingers. Some of you may have seen my earlier tweet that read “OW! Thumb + hammer = pain” – and that’s precisely what happened. Fortunately it is my left thumb that is afflicted, so while it is still pulsing a little (some two hours after I hit it) it’s not causing me too much problem.

Diary of a Model Railroad, Part Two

The last update on this project was two months ago. Far too long, now that I am thinking about it.

However, progress is finally being made. I forgot at the beginning, that my ability to cut straight is entirely defined by what I happen to be using as a guide. When that guide is my eye and a steady hand, it doesn’t work out so well.

I had to use one of my 1×3’s to reinforce some of the breaking slats on the base for our bed, so it was a useful way to recycle the cuts I had made that were mostly useless for this project anyway. Now having borrowed a miter box and come up with a better design for connecting the pieces together, the whole thing is coming along much more smoothly. I just took a few photos of where things are at, but I’ll probably just upload those with Part Three, which I expect will be later in the week some time.

The layout is going to be in two sections, each roughly 5 feet long. The outer frame for one section is complete, the second one is undergoing it’s second-to-last gluing, which will then be screwed together followed by the final gluing and screwing. After that I will be considering the need for a cross-brace in the middle of each, especially considering the need to be able to relocate the sections multiple times. I also need to acquire some suitable nails with which to attach the top to the frame, and figure out a cheap and easy way to line up the ends of each section accurately when I’m putting them together. Maybe some locking clips on the sides?

For now though, I need to go fill out job applications while my glue dries.

Diary of a Model Railroad, Part One

For all of you who thought I couldn’t get any nerdier and didn’t know of this hobby, I guess I’m about to get nerdier (in your books, at least).

Over the last couple of months my dreams of creating a layout of some description have started to take shape – from expanding my rolling stock collection to buying track. Tonight the benchwork was laid – somewhat literally. I bought a 4’x4′ piece of plywood, and marked it up for cutting and made the first cut. I also began the mental planning for the surrounding benchwork to hold it up.

The plan is for two 5′ sections bolted together to form a 10′ long by 18″ deep shelf layout. A modified version of Atlas’ Southside Connecting layout (see here) is the trackplan – I’ll be using #4 switches instead of #6’s, I’ll also be replacing the turntable with a turnout. I need to start laying the track before I buy any diamond crossings – lest I buy the wrong angle. Although mostly using set-track as laid-out in the plan, I’ll be replacing sections with flex also.

Because I’m still too poor for DCC, I’m intending to wire the layout for two DC controllers (although it’ll also be just one controller for now). Further, I plan to wire for electric switches – whether they get used up front or not remains to be seen.

I have some ideas for scenery, I’d like to have a chicken-wire style fence with an opening gate (slow-action point motor is most likely, maybe something more custom) and a road crossing in my bustling industrial area. I’m thinking a container terminal would give purpose to my husky stack cars, an oil refinery almost seems to cliche for my tank cars, a warehouse holds an obvious purpose for box cars, perhaps a grain silo for my covered hoppers. I also have some open hoppers which could see some form of purpose, and some passenger cars which most likely won’t run on the layout (except for a push up and down to make sure they roll acceptably).

The ends of my run-arounds will need to be big enough for my long 6-axle locos – prototypically used as switch locos in my area. I’ll also then be able to run the small switch locos back to back or almost any other number of switching possibilities.

Still to be thought about is the placement of uncoupling magnets. I also haven’t decided on how I’m going to do backboards (or even if I’m going to do backboards). In terms of connecting the two sections together I’m probably going to do the traditional bolts, but I’m also working on a reliable way to ensure accurate lining up every time. I don’t want to deal with D-sub connectors, but 24-pin ATX plugs may work. The biggest flaw will be the number of sections I need to switch on and off as well as the number of switches I need to cater for. Also, I need to work on legs, and I have an idea for a case which all the parts will slide into securely for transportation and storage.

So to sum up, once again, I have all the engines and probably rolling stock I need, I also have most, if not all, of the track that I need, and I’ve finally started working on the benchwork. The next steps are to finish putting the lumber together to form a solid table that can join and separate reliably, and then finalize the track plan based on the finished benches.