Semi-wasted Fridays (AKA, I really need to acquire a scanner)

The last two Fridays have been train-watching days, one relatively more successful, though how you determine which is up to you.

March 25th saw me arrive fairly late in Staunton, and I was greeted almost immediately after arrival by the BBRR local arriving “home” for the day, coming in from the West.

It consisted of BB12 leading BB6 and 3 cars. It backed down towards the flats and shut down around 12:30.

The Eastbound Cardinal (AMTK 50) was well late, arriving at around 2:25pm led by Unit 92:

The Westbound Cardinal (AMTK 51) was only a few minutes late, coming in at 3:05 led by Unit 123:

And that was about the level of action I saw for the day.

April 1st made me the fool, and would have been a whole lot easier had I been in possession of a radio scanner – I would have done a lot less running around, that’s for sure!

I arrived in Staunton at about 10:45 to find three BB units about to drop a cut of cars at the Shenandoah Valley Railroad.

I pulled in to the small road off behind the SVRR offices and took several photos – I suspect it was while this was happening that the FRA car went through without my realizing it, either that or between while I was at the SV and driving down to sit at Brand, a crossing loop just outside Staunton to the East, for a while.


I came back from Brand with nothing, and decided to sit at the station for a while. I happened to turn around and saw three bright lights and a solid snake creeping around and jumped out of the car:

Literally 5 minutes later the last car went by…

Growing a little bored and knowing that #50 was running almost an hour late I decided to adventure eastward towards Fishersville and Waynesboro, and I had just turned the corner giving visibility to the NS bridge in W’boro and I saw an unknown train (now known to be 38Q, thanks Yahoo Groups) passing over it. A snap decision was made to follow it North, eventually getting ahead of it. Too far, in fact. I stopped and turned around (BAD idea), and caught it again. What was I saying before about needing a scanner? When such an acquisition is made I’ll also need to carry timetables in my car too.

Anyway, I finally got far enough ahead of him to stop and get photos at “Rocky Bar” and at “Island Ford” before heading straight through to Shenandoah and then heading home to Harrisonburg.

Other photos are up at

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).


I’ve learned a few things over the last week or more (mostly more). I find organization to be easy in some areas, and difficult in others. My ability to stay on task can sometimes be hampered by my willingness to do things I probably shouldn’t be doing. For example, I’ve recently spent a lot of time (and gas) driving around the area looking for trains to either watch or take photos of. Not something that hurts anyone, but it’s not something I should be doing every day – it’s unproductive and it costs money that is better spent on other things. I’ve also been spending a lot of money on fast food, because a lack of planning means I don’t have time or motivation to stop at a grocery store and get something better for me, and definitely better for my budget.

So this week I’m trying something new. I’ve alotted time for the things I like doing, like trainspotting, and a little eating out, but also making sure that I’m spending my time at home productively, not needlessly wandering around the countryside because it’s what I felt like doing.

So here is roughly how my schedule works:

Monday is very much a domestic day. It’s the day I’ll be doing all my laundry, and after lunch I’ll be making a run to the store to get lunch and dinner supplies for the week (4.5 days)

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are comprised similarly – I spend three hours in the morning working on “something” (this week it’s supposed to be the bookshelf that I stopped working on a few weeks ago for no real reason). Then I make lunch, Tuesday’s and Thursday’s I’ll walk Crash (Wednesday’s will be a cleanup day for either the green room or the bedroom), then I make/organize dinner and go to work.

Friday, assuming I’ve achieved all I set out to achieve during the week, is the day I get to go wandering. I doubt that I’ll go very far every week, but based on the assumption that I’m not going to Staunton or Elkton every day of the week, I can justify making a trip to Charlottesville or Roanoke on a Friday. I also have a few other places I’d like to try out, but it may be that I just take the day to work on things too.

Speaking of schedules, my work schedule is slightly different the next two weeks – to take the day off on Thursday (Thanksgiving) and still be able to make 70 hours for the fortnight, I’m electing to work 8 hours a day over 9 days, rather than 7 hours each over 10 days. Doing that will also mean I get to leave early next Friday, as usually ends up happening.

I’m still working out how I might get close to the 70 hours after Christmas/New Year in order to make up the entire week off for going to North Carolina, but that’s not quite so important.

I just got a message from my Google Calendar that it’s time to leave for work, but I just wanted to add in completely unrelated news, my wishlist has been revised for the 2010 Christmas year (I’ve already had a few questions about whether I was updating it for this year).

Trainspotting Failure

I like trains. I think everyone knows that. I like looking for trains, taking photos and videos of trains, following trains to find out where they come from and where they go. I don’t always succeed in my quests to find, and take photos and/or videos of said trains. Sometimes I just don’t see anything at all.

The other day I knew the train had headed through Broadway going north, and after a visit to Harrisonburg I decided to see if I could snap some photos of it headed through Timberville, as there is a really nice bridge visible from the park there. It was around 2:30pm, and I know that if they get too close to 3pm then they park up in Broadway and drive the crew back to the Burg. I drove down main street in Broadway, no sign of it. “Excellent,” I thought, and continued on to Timberville. I parked up at the park, and waited. At 3, after no sign of the train, I decided to wait until 3:30. 3:25 came and I gave up. I snapped a couple of photos of the playground equipment and headed off to work. Driving back down main street in Broadway, I saw the train. I’d gone around it while driving to Timberville..

Today I headed out to Elkton around 2. I’d planned to go earlier, but decided to stop and see my wife in Harrisonburg on her break, and hang out with her for a while. I got to Elkton around 3, and drove around a little to acquaint myself with the rails in the area. Last time I’d gotten close a couple of times, but really just headed north to Shenandoah and didn’t hang around Elkton for very long. This time I sat in a park right on the tracks – I thought I heard a horn a couple of times, and after a mad dash with SLR and DV camera across to the fence, I waited, and waited, and waited, and nothing. I left Elkton around 4 to head back to Harrisonburg to be ready for work at 5.

I’ve joined a couple of railfan groups on Yahoo! and will be watching for the next day or two for messages coming through that might help me in my train-hunting efforts. Also coming soon will be some photos I took a while back with the SLR, developed yesterday. What I’m excited about is the Black and White film that I put in it yesterday! Now I just need to find subjects to photograph with it..

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… 6?

I think I’m up to part 6, at least. Anyway, there was a long period of no-development on the layout mostly due to finance. I now have a job (cheers, applause, etc, etc) which means in addition to being able to pay all our bills, we have enough spare money that I can devote a little more to the trains.

A while back I picked up a cheap terminal block on eBay, and will likely need another one soon for the other half. Also, I bought a sampler-sized pot of brown paint yesterday and I utilized both the terminal block and the paint this morning.

So today there were three things achieved, albeit small. Firstly I replaced a section of track that had been bothering me for a while, ever since I laid it and it didn’t really work out. So today it was removed and replaced with a better job. I’m yet to test it, but it looked fine to the eyes.

The second job was rewiring the underside of one module using the terminal block. It now looks a lot tidier, and I just need to run the master feeds back to the end and work out how I’m going to connect the two modules electrically.

The third and final task completed today was painting around the track with the brown paint. The idea behind this is that when I put down grass or whatever other scenery, if it becomes chipped or I miss a spot, it looks more like dirt than just a piece of real-sized hardboard. It probably needs a second coat, but that will have to wait.

That leaves my to-do list rather short: I need to figure out the electrical connections (20/24 pin ATX connectors?), I need to figure out how I’m going to cover or otherwise hide the turnout motors (long ones, sitting along the straight-leg of each one) and I need to actually wire the turnouts, even if they don’t go anywhere. I’m also planning on ballasting track soon, so my t0-buy list is slowly growing again: another pack of lighter colored ballast, another terminal block, some DPDT switches and some momentary switches for the atlas turnout motors.

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..