Saturday, 28 April 2012

Burnham Yard Progress Update

Four months in from the build start date, or about eight months if you account for the planning and waiting time to have the boards built, this is where the layout has got to.

Showing how Chestnut retail hides the transition from what one sees to the hidden return loop. In the background is a mock-up of West Institute Place Hardware. I'm still procrastinating on how I'm going to assemble the parts in the order that is most pleasing; as in hiding the return loop from sight.

Moving left to right across the layout we see Chestnut Warehouse.

Then we see Locust Shipping, a non-rail served industry, and a mock-up of Walton Street tenements using the Walther's Parkview Terrace kit.

Finally, looking towards West Oak Street showing the RIP track, North Shore Freight House, the hidden team track and switching spur, with the caboose track in front.Of course I've now moved on from here and have started painting the track, and sorting out the track that links across the baseboard joints.

Chestnut Retail

Another Walthers Cornerstone kit,.

I'm modifying this one on the fly. The building will act as a scenic divide to separate the yard from the return loop, which has to be hidden due to the insults I've committed to the reality of the return loop. It is not a rail served industry.

Cleaning up all the flash on the back side of the parts.

Second wall now in and I realise that perhaps I need to add another wall to this building, and that cutting the foundation part off was not such a good idea.

So, here is the other wall, with the foundation piece added back to provide support the wall.

And here is the modified building that shows how the front of the building will hide tracks that cut across the back of the structure. Still a ways to go, but this is enough to serve as it is for the time being.

North Shore Freight House

I'm Using Walthers REA building as the basis for my North Shore freight house.

I just pulled the sprues out the box, started clipping and trimming to clean up the parts.

First wall up, getting it all square from the get go.

Second wall a-go-go.

Third wall in. I tried it out on the layout like this, but given the location was that I could see lack of the fourth wall. So I put that in to finish the basic build.

EJ&E 3310: Finessing?

I received some emails about this car pointing out the lack of cement dust. So now with added cement dust.

Comments, as always, welcome.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


Is a parcel from Brian Wisemann of essential trolley parts that I need to be able to make the trolley poles for my GE Steeplecabs.


Is having a load of freight cars without wheels. Those wheels have been ordered, but have not yet arrived, and only a partial order is coming with a large number of wheels on back order.

You are walking down a road and you see a turtle on its back... to misquote one of my favourite movie's.

CNS&M 420: Converted Observation

I got this a while back off eBay, and just hadn't gotten around to photographing it. It is awaiting the parts from Bill so that the power bogie can be replaced with a new design that will allow the car to have a full interior.

I also think that the poles are a bit average, and will be replaced with one's from Bowser. By the time I have fixed a few loose parts I imagine she will also get a spray over. The decals are less than they could be, as the film is quite apparent when you look a the model close up.

I'll soon have to start thinking about the elevated section of the layout at this rate.

Edit: Corrected title as it was pointed out to me that this is not a converted diner car, but a converted observation trailer car. Either way, a cool looking car.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Dead Man's Curve: Part 2

After what feels like weeks, but probably isn't, I managed today to get around to doing all the fiddly wiring repairs and additions to the staging yard that I had been wanting to do for quite some time, which I started in Relaying Dead Man's Curves.

If you compare the shot I took previously then you can see that I have realigned the nearest spur and added a couple of inches to it, which was just enough up the capacity of the interchange track to a full four cars without limiting the size combinations. Both the other spurs had a couple of inches added on the end, which was done to ease the shortness of the spurs and make things slightly easier to switch.

In addition I have added an outer loop to represent both the South Shore and the Roarin' Elgin interchange connections with Burnham yard. As you an see I'm going to have to add a bit more to the baseboard surface at the front, and to be honest  this track layout breaks all the rules for good design, but desperation drove me onwards.

Looking the other way, not a view one will normally see as this track is at the back of the baseboards, you can see the modification to the spur that now transforms it into a live junction for the Roarin' Elgin trains to enter Burnham yard by. Again I have broken all the design rules here, so as they say on childrens TV, don't do this at home without adult supervision.

All in all, including soldering extra droppers in, and fixing the broken ones, this took me five solid hours of work to finish this part of the project.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Shake, Rattle & Roll

I am probably one of the few people who is really bugged by axle slop in freight car trucks. I say this, because as far as I can see no one else seems to think it is a problem. The nearest I see to anything about axle lengths is some of the guides one can download so one can order replacement wheelsets with the right axle length by manufacturers like Reboxx and NWSL.

I have been replacing wheels in my trucks since the get-go, which for me was 14 years ago when I started my P&SR project that I abandoned. Back then, and up until a short time ago (last couple of weeks) I've been happy enough to follow the published advice. Until that is I discovered a problem.

Shake, rattle and roll.

Go and pick up a truck, any truck by your favourite manufacturer and shake it. Can you here it rattle? From what I've read the received wisdom on the model railroading sites is that a little slop is good as the trucks roll further when sloppy.

Uhm..., while this may, or may not be true, what is certainly true is that pinpoint bearings are not designed to have pinpoint axles slop around in them willy-nilly. So I've been experimenting, and the way I did this was to order a bunch of Reboxx wheelsets from Caboose Hobbies.

First off, may I just say how nice the Reboxx wheels look, which is my positive thing to say about the product. However, the sizes specified when buying said wheelsets are  less than ideal, because it became clear after measuring that the specified size was an indicator of the maximum length of the axle; not the size of the axle that one is going to get.

Okay, caveat, no manufacturer can supply perfect sized parts, due to manufacturing tolerances that inevitably arise as a part is being made. However, saying that one can expect that all the parts marketed as being to a specification will be within a few thousands of an inch. So then the question is how large is a few thousands of an inch?

Good question, so I look around at other bespoke model railway manufacturers and measured the lengths of their axles. I chose Exactoscale and found that all their axles were within a plus or minus range of two thou. So, for example about a dozen axles were  length X, and about four were two thou shorter, and about another four were two thou longer. Length X is irrelevant, as axle lengths are different for American versus British practice. This seems like a good spread, as the majority are al one length, and consistency is what one wants.

Good new is that Reboxx axles are more consistent than the NWSL wheelsets I had, having less outliers. Bad news is that the axles were all under size, just the same as the NWSL axles I have. So if you really want 1.015 axle for example, then buying the packet marked 1.015 will, I'm afraid to say, lead to disappointment. Furthermore, the replacement sizes recommended are less than ideal, since they do not address the main problem from the experiment of shaking the trucks to see if they rattle, and then checking to see how they roll?

Having bought a packet of each size of axle I thought I needed, or two in a couple of cases,  and having taken all the wheelsets out of all my freight car trucks, and measuring the axle lengths, I was able to do some experimentation.

Using a Kadee ASF Ride Control truck I changed out the 1.015 axles, which were in fact less than 1.015, and by trial and error fitted replacement wheelsets to fit;  until I had no rattle when shaking the truck, but still had a truck that would roll freely. What I found was that Reboxx 1.027 axles worked best in the Kadee ASF truck. Hopefully, this means that all the Kadee trucks that are stated as needing 1.015 axles will actually run with 1.027 axles (Andrews, Barber, PRR 2DF8 and Vulcan are said to all be 1.015 like the ASF Ride Control's).

Next I took the axles out of my ExactRail Barber S2 trucks and repeated the process. The original axles varied from 1.003 to 1.005, and I found that they would run with 1.012 axles.

Result is that I now have five freight cars on my layout with wheelsets that have axles long enough so that the trucks don't rattle when shaken, but the cars roll nice and freely. I also have a fifteen boxes of axles all sorted by length that by-and-large are of no use to me.

Plan B now involves selling all the axles I have and replacing them with ones that are longer.

Addendum: A big shout out and thank you to both Susan Parker of CLAG, and David Fouracre of The Tool Box for their considered input into this piece.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

American Freight Cars 3: Further Additions

Another batch of new cars through the company photography shops. I will of course refer you all back to the a previous post on the roster I'm trying to build.

So no prizes for guessing that I need lots of Milwaukee cars for the layout. They pretty much represent my home road by proxy, or at least according to the numbers I counted when looking at pictures of North Shore Line freight trains. So this is the second of thirteen Milwaukee freight cars I need, joining my ExactRail horizontal rib box car.

I was lucky to get these two Kadee hoppers from Amherst Depot, as they are out of production. Good service from them too. Four down, only another nine Milwaukee freight cars to get.

Next up on my list of needs are lots of NYC freight cars, which is nice, because the NYC was the first railroad I ever chose to model. Got to love those Hudsons, Mohawks & Niagaras.  Here though is another Kadee coal hopper to join my NYC PS-1 box car I already have.

This is Broadway Limited model of the NYC 486 series steel box cars with 7/8 corrugated ends in post 55 Gothic livery. A signature car and loads were made. It has distinctive end grabs rather than a ladder for accessing the running boards. Trucks look nice, but have a unique way of fixing to the underframe, which is going to make replacing them slightly onerous.

An InterMountain 1937 10 panel AAR box car in the NYC pre-55 livery. So now I only need another six NYC cars for the roster.

The B&O was one of the top six or so class one railroads in the period I am modelling. So I need four cars. This Tichy USRA 2-Bay hopper joins my ExactRail M-53 Wagontop boxcar to bring me up to half the number of B&O cars I need.

This model was a bit lighter than its sister below. This turned out to be due to an assembly error at the factory that had led to one of the weight being missing. After using liquid lead it now weighs a fraction more than its sister.

This IC car is another Tichy USRA 2-Bay hopper from InterMountain, and it is the first of four IC railroad freight cars I need.

This is an Atlas 1932 ARA box car. Doesn't really fit the roster, but I just liked the look of it, and I desperately needed to and some variety to my collection of post war PS-1 box cars. Interesting Dalhman trucks too.

This is the only D&H freight car I need for the layout. The Kadee PS-3 hoppers are very sharp models, but are a bit light without the coal load that Kadee use to bring the weight up to NMRA standards.

Another Kadee hopper car. I need four GM&O freight cars, one of which needs to be a hopper. Nice model, but I don't like the way Kadee have done the weights, and the loads are a bit sub-standard for my tastes, and I will use real coal glued on top to improve the look.

An InterMountain 1937 10 panel AAR box car in NP livery. Not on the roster, but I found a couple of shots where once you knew what you were looking at, it was obvious that it was a NP box car, so I had to have a freight car in this livery.

I guess I need to revise my roster numbers now I'm better able to identify freight cars from fuzzy photographs based on the knowledge of the liveries I've been researching?

This is a rather sharp Atlas 70 ton Hart ballast hopper. I'd like to get another in Milwaukee livery, but guess what? They are out of production at this time. Anyway, I need four CB&Q freight cars, so this is the first of them. I suspect that the livery on this car is too modern for my 1959 layout. No doubt someone will tell me at some point.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Relaying Dead Man's Curve: Part 1

I picked up some Micro Engineering Code 70 flex track at the Ally Pally show the other week, which means I can now proceed with relaying the problematical reversing loop. Not that I'm using the flex track for the loop, for that I've got some Atlas Code 80 sectional track, but I didn't have any track for the new transition from the loop to the crossings.

Here is the relaid loop. I've used transitional rail joiners to connect the Shinohara turnout to the Atlas set track. I also plan to change the alignment of the first curved spur that is next to the turnout too.

Looking from above everything appears okey-dokey to me.

Eyeballing the join shows something is catching the light. Though the testing by rolling cars threw the joint, even with my most notorious tank cars and longest gondolas, have all proven trouble free so far.

On close examination of the above enlargement I could see that it was the change in the width of the railhead at the joint that was catching the light. I might run a file over it to smooth out the transition. More to come in due course.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Dynamic Mass Control System (DMCS)

This is a description of what is needed to control our freight cars in way that more accurately reflects real world factors that influence performance. It's obviously not for everyone as certain aspects of the system will only appeal to people who can appreciate the cost/benefit analysis of more realistic model response patterns and operational enhancements which come as an extra to DMCS.

The heart of the system revolves around the use of established ideas, but taking the concept to the maximum limits of the technology. There are four parts to this system.

1. A digital processor control system. Your home computer will suffice with the right software and interface module.

2. A controllable master unit for each train. A suitably equipped locomotive of choice will be ideal.

3. An intelligent linking system for the train. This can be carried in the freight cars.


Each freight car will need three components to work with DMCS:

- The first is a way of adding momentum effects to the car itself.
- The second is a control system which can respond to commands.
- The third is a link to the master unit.

1. A motorized axle on each truck, using coreless stepping motors, will power the freight car and provide dynamic braking. The other axle will support the linking system.

2. A infra-red transceiver module will fit on the outward facing axles to provide a continuous link through the train. These will use a slow IRDA protocol at approximately 256kbits per second.

3. A custom active digital control chip which will receive commands from the master unit and apply appropriate modulation of the current to the coreless motors.

The result is the first step towards a distributed intelligent control system. Now briefly as the rest of this is off topic as it deals with parts of model railroading that is not directly related to freight cars.

The controllable master system is a chip in our locomotives (which now have infra-red IRDA transceivers), when it couples up to a train, takes control of all the freight car mounted chips.

As a bonus it is possible to add to the locomotive a method of detecting grades, thereby through a time code cause the freight cars at the end of the train not to respond to the grade change until they reach it. So for example when going uphill the rear of the train doesn't respond to the gradient until all the train is on it. Secondly when cresting the summit different portions of the train will respond in a realistic manner.

Additionally the digital processor can can be encoded so that realistic applications of the trains brakes can be applied. Of course since this is a digital control system all the other benefits of such a system can be employed to enhance the railroad simulation. For instance why only have sound in the locomotives. Since each freight car has a chip it too could produce sound effects, like the squealing of brakes and even the sound of the knuckles as the couple/uncouple.

Advance User Functions for DMCS

Since each chip in each freight car is inherently programmable by the user the following functions cascade from the application of DMCS.

1. Integrated waybill attachment and re-billing of cars. The system can have a map of the layout and know where every freight car and locomotive is. A hidden bonus here is the quirky fun stuff like bad order bills. A freight car can actually cause operational difficulties by random actuation of its coreless motors.

2. Load simulation. Here you can automatically have the operational characteristics of the freight car changed to represent a loaded or empty car. In addition it's possible to simulate liquid loads sloshing around in tank cars. Again done by varying the braking effects upon the individual freight car through the coreless motors.

3. Automatic layout re-staging. By fully integrating the turnout control to the digital processor control system. This is a "Tower of Hanoi" problem in a sparse network environment. However, since the waybill generators can already be controlled by the computer software this should just be a matter of a database look-up function. Since all the units within the system are controllable, one can envisage an automatic shuffling of them on the layout.

Commercial Development

The commercial possibilities for DMCS are promising, as there are several bonus control spin-offs. Manufacturers of toy trains can exploit this to good effect. For instance the "Thomas The Tank Engine" Line could have models where the faces of the characters could be animated using pizzo electric actuation. They could be made to smile, move their eyes and talk using the sound capabilities of the chips. In addition, since the trucks have coreless motors capabilities, they can be real troublesome trucks and actually run away from Thomas when being shunted. Or bang against each other recklessly.