Friday, January 08, 2010

Toy Trains and Nuclear Fusion

In a really neat way some researches have found a great way to use a normal everyday item for a lot of us in a whole new way. The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory used a model train engine with some californium-252 on it to test their neutron sensors in their fusion reactor. Being a train enthusiast who has a Bachelors in Applies Physics I find this doubly interesting.

Check out the full artical at

Friday, January 01, 2010

West Forge Layout: Operations!

First off Happy New Year everyone! I hope that everyone has a great holiday weekend.

Now onto the topic of my post. I have to admit that aside from playing with my kids Thomas train layout I've never really operated a layout of any type except for the ones that went in circles underneath Christmas trees. I do recall as kids my sister and I making the train or the trolly car go around a few times and then stopping it at certain spots that we decided were stations to pickup and drop off passengers. However, I've never done anything that I would really consider operations. The club I belong to doesn't do operations yet, and I don't seem to know anyone in the western PA area that does this at home. If you happen to be in Western PA and in need of crew member let me know.

Anyway, having never done this before and using a track plan from a book I was left with trying to figure all this out myself (aren't model railroading books great!). I have to say I was really hoping that I liked it after I went through all the work to build this stuff and get it running well. So today after watching a movie with the kids and my wife I sat down with a notebook, pencil and track plan and tried to figure out how to operate my little module. The very first thing I realized is that this module lacks anything that even resembles a run around. This was clearly another rookie mistake on my part that meant that all my switching moves had to be pre-planned and the cars positioned properly in the consist. Once I got over that problem I was able to come up with a 12 step operation plan that involved switching four locations: Nathan's Warehouse, C & E Hardware, The General Store/Railway Express Agency, and the Lumber Yard.

After my kids went to bed I decided that it was time to try this plan out. My original goal when I started planning this layout was to be able to operate the layout for 15 minutes with a crew of 1 person. I was pretty sure my plan would do that and maybe take even longer. In the end though the operation plan took just over 12 minutes to complete, but that time didn't include using the passenger station at all. I decided that I can either add passenger operations to this plan or change that siding to an additional small industry to add a few more minutes to the operations. Overall though I'm very pleased with the way things worked. I found a few small track issues I need to work on on the spurs, but aside from that I had a very pleasant 12 minutes running my trains in more than just a loop.

I do think that larger scale operations would be a great deal of fun, and look forward to trying those someday. All of this makes me happy as I have a better understanding of operations now, and that just became one more thing that I have learned from this little 2'x3' layout.