Monday, December 29, 2008

A Great Holiday Train Show

If you are in the Pittsburgh area and you enjoy a good train display and haven't gone yet this year make sure to stop by the Western Pennsylvania Model railroad Museum to see their show. Directions and times can be found on their website

If you are familiar with the show at the Carnegie Science Center, this one is almost twice the size in a scale that is about 50% smaller, so you see nearly 4 times the trains, scenery and towns.

So if you haven't gone already try and make time before mid-January to stop down and see their display. They also have a large Lionel Toy train display as well as several Thomas the Tank Engine tables for the kids to play on. The WPMRM is a non-profit Museum dedicated to preserving the memory of Western PA's railroads. All the staff are volunteers and all the work is done by the volunteers too. Who knows you might see me down there volunteering too!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!!

Merry Christmas to all! I hope everyone has blessed and happy Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

An N-Scale Around the Tree?!? Be Happy with What You Have!

I love Christmas time. I know we are still in Advent and Christmas actually begins on the day most Americans seems to think it ends, unless you are like most of the Pittsburghers I know and leave your tree up until the Steelers are out for the season.

I can't say for certain what it is about Christmas that gives it that magical feel that would make even Walt Disney envious. It could be the presents, Santa Clause, freshly fallen snow, or just time spent casually and freely with friends and family. This is something even I have had a hard time with this year. Between a bad economy, a scary election season, failing companies all over and the increased stress that work has put on my team to provide more and more analysis of our business it's been tough for me to enjoy even a simple Christmas party let alone this wonderful Advent season as I should be.

It's hard to let the excitement and greed of secular and commercial Christmas not get to me. Where does an N scale train fit into all this. Well My wife and kids gave me my Christmas present early this year. It was a really nice HO Scale Locomotive done in the scheme of the Oil Creek and Titusville railroad here in Western PA. My first thought was that it would great pulling some passenger cars around the tree. That however is where things really started going wrong for me.

Search as I might I wasn't able to find my HO EZ-track, and the only store near by me that carries it discontinued all their train products this year and don't stock it any longer, and I just didn't have time to run down to the next town south of me to the hobby shop there last week. This was a real disappointment for me as I really wanted to have that train around the tree. The train around the tree is one of those things that while I can certainly live without one having one adds to the magic for me by linking this Christmas to those when I was a kid and my dad put up a 4x4 plywood sheet layout under the tree.

This year though I was really given a special gift by my daughter in something she said the other day. She prayed the other day that "everyone could be happy with what they have." This hit me hard personally because lately it's been tough for me. We have only one income unlike most of my friends and relatives, and so I have a lot less disposable income. Don't get me wrong I don't feel slighted by this in any way, in fact I'm very blessed and lucky to have all that I do. Sometimes though it's tough to not want more than I can justify having. This little statement helped me put things into perspective, for me one of the things that meant was improvising a little bit of track. While I didn't have HO track I had a bunch of N scale track that came with a small set I bought years ago. So I pulled it out along with its matching power pack, ripped up the tree skirt that was all bunched up and setup my trains.

Most of my equipment is N scale, and has been since the early 90s so after I did this it really started to make more sense. Granted its small, but hey it got my GG1 out of the box and running, and its quieter than my Lionel set that is just too loud in out living room.

This also had the benefit of getting me back into working on my rolling stock. I changed out a lot of old rapido couplers I had for Accumate or Micro trains ones. I also started weathering my cars a bit with pastels which has really made them look better I think. You can see the differences with the tank cars in the lower photo. All in all I think I'm a lot happier to just focus on what I have and enjoy rather than searching for something new to make me feel better. This doesn't mean I won't be buying more couplers since I still have stock to convert, but it does mean that I'll be buying N-scale ones and probably not messing around putting Kadee couplers on my under the tree train this year, or looking to buy a new cheap train set just to get the track from it (I seriously almost did it the other day).

So this got me thinking a lot lately that maybe I should consider something more for next year, nothing huge but maybe just a 40"x48" platform with some foam scenery and a tunnel on it. Something that I could screw the tree stand into to secure it and camouflage it. I guess I'll just have to make sure that if I do build it I make sure to be happy with what I have and not go over board for an basic under the tree layout.

The benefits of my four year olds philosophy are also helping in other areas of life. I'm happier at work, and in fact I'm making an effort to be sure that folks get exactly what they asked for or paid for and not cutting corners just to save me time. I also think that I'll start preparing all the "stuff" in my basement for a full purge onto ebay and out to the Saint Vincent de Paul store. I have a lot of stuff that I've accumulated over the years, most of it I save because it has "value", but in the end it's just cluttering up my house and life and making it harder to do what I want to be doing. If all goes well I'll clean up that stuff and have a nice place to setup my trains and a nice place to play with my kids.

That, is how I'm going to try and be happy with what I have this year, and to try to avoid that greedy feeling that can pop up when I start to see all the "toys" other folks seem to have. I hope you all can have a Merry Christmas enjoying what you have and not focusing on what you don't.

West Forge: Track Detailing

This turned out to be a fun project to let the kids help out with. I decided to use acrylic tube paints for coloring the ties. granted they will not hold up as well as something like Polly Scale or Model Masters would have, but I had them and they are easy enough to clean up that I wasn't too worried about the kids spilling anything. Plus I really didn't feel like dragging the air brush out for this. I choose a dark brownish red for the base color. I'm really not sure why I choose that color. It went on and dried very red looking rather than a dirty brow. Already the track is looking better than the glossy black color it comes.

Here is the layout after the red paint was dry. Again not sure why I went so red. It's pretty clear here that the color is too red. You can also see the cut hillside I added to the corner here has the scultpamold but on it now.
This is a close up of the track after I decided to dry brush a grayish brown over top of the red. Things still look overly red here as the sides of the ties are red in a lot of places where the dry brushing didn't touch. Once the ballast is down it should cover up a lot of that. After this shot was taken I wound up replacing the bad section of track (seen as the top track in this shot) and things began to run much more smoothly.

Next step: Ballast!

Monday, December 15, 2008

West Forge: Laying the Track

Now I wish I could say that my track work was great, heck I'd even be happy to say it was good, but at best my track work is passable. That's one of the reasons I decided to start with such a small project. I had a bunch of code 80 flex track, cork and blue foam left over from previous projects and that meant that this project was going to be a cheap way to improve my skills in N Scale.

To get started I began test fitting my track at the least forgiving areas my turnouts and crossover. This let me start to get a feel for where I also wanted to break out my power blocks since initially this layout will be all DC based. I used a blue sharpie this time to start noting where I needed to install insulators and what looked like good spots for my feeder wires. Once I was happy with a particular pieces location I used my dremel tool and a pair of tin snips to cut my flex track and then soldered it all together. I really have to admit that I might choose to not solder any special track next time like the cross over and turnouts as later when I had to clean up some poor track work I nearly ruined a turnout. Note that the solder removing ribbon from Radio Shack works wonders to help get a piece of track free.

Here you can see the first half of the inner and outer loops completed. Looks good doesn't it? Well it wasn't I had to remove almost the entire inner loop seen here because I somehow managed to point the soldered joint on that section. Nothing would run properly over that spot. Next time I will really have to pay more attention to this part and not rush it so much. I think i was over confident in my own soldering abilities. I've been soldering for years and years, but soldering track is a lot different than electronics.

This is what the track looked after it was all layed. Again on this half I did have to replace a second section of the inside loop due to a poor connection between two pieces of flex track. You can also see the blue markings noting where the insulators are installed at.

This is a close up of the connection to the rest of the branch that isn't modeled. At some point if this small module works out well I'd like to make it a semi-permanent piece of a larger layout that shows the rest of the branch and possible an interchange with the Pennsy main line and maybe an interchange with another line (NYC, Bessemer or B&O probably). At this point I really haven't given much thought to what comes next. Also in this shot you can see the ground throws that I installed. I have never used these before but I decided to use them this time because I wasn't using switch motors and didn't want to be using those huge atlas switch machines. For a few dollars apiece they are well worth the investment to me. They have an internal spring that makes sure there is some tension on the points in both directions and they lock slightly at each end to help maintain the points connection to the rails. Plus they were super easy to install.

As I mentioned above I tried to repair some of the bad connections before I replaced them. Here is my example of what not to do. I used a few larger nails to try and push the inside rail into a better position then I attempted to redo the solder, but that just didn't work. I wound up cutting this whole piece out and putting fresh flex track in. You can also see the newly installed feeder wires and spst power switch that I installed to turn this section of rail on and off from the power bus.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

West Forge: Transferring the Track Plan and Installing the Roadbed

So yes life happens. It's been a while since my previous post about the building of my West Forge practice layout. With all that's been happening in the world I've spent a lot of time working providing my employer with detailed productivity reports to help the hospital staff appropriately and in a cost effective manner, but that's another post. This one is a continuation of what I was working on previously. My 2x3 N scale Pennsy themed layout.

In the above picture you can see what became my method of transferring my track plan. I used XTrkCad to print out a 1:1 scale version of my plan, I choose to trim off the excess paper edges and then taped each piece to the blue board in the proper position. I choose to save paper and not print the empty the middle section. Once that was complete I used a thumb tack to poke holes through the plan into the blue board down the center line of all the rails. You can see I also tested the fit of my turnouts to make sure the program had the correct template. Happily it did size all the parts correctly.

In this photo you see the next two steps I took. I used a black sharpie to darken each pin mark just to make it easier for me to see the lines (and it made the work visible for this photo). I then began to fit my cork roadbed into place by following the darkened center line. To hold down the road bed I used yellow wood glue and standard metal straight pins pushed into the shoulder of the roadbed. I made sure to keep the flat top of the roadbed cleared as much as possible so that I wouldn't run into any issues when I installed the track. This was then all left to dry for a few days.

Here you can see the edge of the finished module with the road bed in place. I've added a small cut hillside to the one corner to add some interest The foam layers are again glued together with yellow wood glue and straight pins. You can also see the edge of the foam where I used plain old duct tape to strengthen and protect the side of the foam. While certainly not a nice piece of fascia the duct tape really did help to the protect the sides from getting too banged up while I was working. This is something I will probably do again when working with any exposed foam.

The final step for the roadbed was to cover everything with a light tan latex paint. I used just a cheap flat latex that was a pale sand color. While it does look very pale in this picture, and on the module, I still think it was better to go lighter here and let the ground foam darken the scenery later on. After I did this I realized that I'll have to paint most of the layout again anyway because I'm going to put sculptamold (of whatever the name of the generic version I bought is) onto the board to add some visual interest and to make it look less like a flat board, but I also wanted to make sure that the yellow glue holding down the road bed was sealed before I ballasted. This may or may not have been a good idea on my part but I was thinking that the really wet water and glue combo might damage the roadbed or weaken the glue that I used on it. Thinking back I believe that yellow glue is supposed to not be washable by water after it cures/drys so this step was probably not needed, but it still felt good to not be looking at plain old blue foam any more.

So next is going to be track, wiring and ballasting I guess. I'll try and get the next post up before Christmas, but who knows I still have a bathroom to finish repairing between now and then also. As usual please feel free to comment and let me know if you think I could have done something better.