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.

Monday, September 15, 2008

West Forge: Sub Roadbed and "Benchwork"

So I choose to do something I haven't seen done before for my bench work. Admittedly i was inspired by some bench work I saw that was built primarily from artist foam core mat board. I built my bench work completely from blue extruded foam. I took a piece of foam that I had in the basement (remember I'm trying to use what I have to build this) and I cut it down to a width of 24 inches. This left me with a none to straight 2x4 foot piece of foam. To make it more rigid and flat I cut halfway in 6 inches from each end and snapped the piece back until they layed flat connected only by the plastic wrapping to the main board. I cut out additional pieces to use as cross braces under the foam top (make sure that you use the same sheet or a sheet you know came from the same store at the same time as I have found different batches can be slightly different thicknesses). I then used yellow wood glue and sewing pins to hold it all together, and left it to dry for about 3 days with weight on the top.

Once it had sit for 3 days it was dry, flat and solid, but still very light. You can easily pick it up with just one finger. Below you can see how I layed out the supports. After the glue dried I removed the large pins (all I had at the time) and replaced them with some flat headed steel pins I picked up the store. I decided to leave the pins in place to keep the foam from shifting if it took a hit (something highly likely to happen in my house).

At this point it's rather nice as I was able to just slide the entire board behind my dresser to keep it away from the kids.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

West Forge: My New Layout

So as I've said before I chose my new trackplan recently. The choice was influenced by a few factors.

  1. I wanted a continuous loop for just running something around and around.
  2. I wanted some spurs to have some type of switching action.
  3. I wanted a passenger station, a signal/Interlock tower and an industry.
  4. It needs to be a small table top layout that I can move around the house right now as we are still doing lots of work on the house (and will be for the foreseeable future).
  5. It needs to be affordable, I am working on paying stuff off and just getting by. I had to dig into my savings account for the money for my GG1 and I don't' want to wipe out my savings on a layout (tempting as it may be).
  6. Considering item #5 above if needed to use as much of the track, equipment and supplies that I already had on hand.
  7. A layout that is somewhat expandable is a large bonus.
After all that I found a nice 2x3 layout on a site in my bookmarks. It fit the bill of giving me something small that I could pull out of a closet set up quickly on a table and run some trains either for myself or my kids. Here is the basic track plan:

The basic premise is that this is set near the town of West Forge, PA, a small rural part of Pennsylvania served by a branch of the PRR. The lower track is the branch line coming in from the PRR mainline it is where set outs will be made for any operations and it is where I hope to later expand this layout with a wraparound shelf that could go along a wall.

Over the next few days I will post additional pictures of the construction that has occurred until I get caught up with where I am now at.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Kato GG-1: It's MINE all MINE!

So I have to admit that I have been a bit cheap when buying my rolling stock and motive power on my layout. Most of my locomotives are either Life-Like Ready To Run pieces that I bought off ebay or Bachman engines that came from sets I've bought over the years. up until now I would have said that my Life-Like N scale PA and SD7 locomotives were my nicest. Well all that changed Wednesday night when I picked up my first ever Kato loco and by far the most expensive loco I now own (it's pricier than even the Lionel O27 I bought for around the tree).

The Kato GG-1 is a beautiful engine. It looks great in the pictures, but I will say that the pictures don't even do it full justice. Out of the box the loco comes "paint shed new". It's got a bit of a gloss finish to it that I at first felt looked a bit like un-painted plastic but it is painted and it's just got a waxed up finish. Great if you are using it as a showpiece, or railfain train on your layout, maybe not what you want if you are running it as an old freight car. Since Kato designed it to pull the Broadway limited it's not a big surprise to me that it's shined up.

All of the Lettering and striping on mine are well done. You can clearly read the words "Fuel" and "Water" along the lower edge of the body.

The engine runs well and is relatively quite especially at low speeds, at least compared to my other locomotives. While I have not yet taken it apart to fully examine the interior it appears to have 6 drive axles (the center sets), and it is well weighted. It came with Magenetic couplers pre-installed, i just needed to insert the metal pins into them.

At $140 for the DC version it's pricy, to me at least, but if you are a Pennsy fan or heavy electric fan it's probably worth it for a very nice piece like this. If you regularly buy nicer motive power than this is probably middle of the road pricing from what I've seen.

All in all I'm glad I picked one up. I'll try and get some pics of mine put online later, but for now you can always see what Kato has on their site at

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Choosing a Track Plan

So as I said in a previous post while thinking about how to best get my own trains running again I decided to store away my bendtrack modules and put something new together. I started with my old Model Train bookmarks to look for ideas.

I like what Dave Vollmer has done with his door layout, but I wasn't looking for anything quite that size yet. I also liked the "N-Scale layout that grows" book from Model railroader but with all the switches in it the cost was a bit more than I wanted to spend right now. In going thorugh my bookmarks I found a stray one in IE (which was surprising since I rarely use it) for Mini N Scale Track Plans and I found that I really liked a few of these super tiny layouts. So I'm sort of settled on one of the 2'x3' layouts from that site. In thinking about things I've come up with the idea that i will do a small Pennsy themed branch line that services a small community station, and one of the larger industries in town.

So that's where I'm at. I've chosen the layout, the prototype railroad, and some basic structures for it. Now I need to determine what the name and type of industry will be that is serviced by this branch line and I need to keep moving on finishing my structures and sub roadbed. I will put up some pictured of the new layout once download the ones on my camera.

A New Model RR Project

Well the modular layout I'm working on for the WPMRM is coming along great. I missed this past week but I understand our team finished laying the track on the outer loop that we started the previous week and even got a train running on the outer loop.

Even with all that going on I've been wanting to see my own trains run on something other than a loop of ez-track. Not that I have anything against my ex-track it's just that I'm finding I want more than to just have a few cars go around in a circle. So the seed was planted and I began thinking about my own layout. I've opted to scrap the work I've done so far on my bendtrack modules as the track work is just too poorly done and without other bendtrackers in the area I don't have a great incentive to make modules any longer. So I started looking at other peoples small track plans.

While looking those over and before I decided any specifics I knew that I wanted a Pennsy style Interlocking tower. I picked up a small (cheap) Atlas kit just called "Signal Tower" from my local hobby shop and decided to dig in. I used pictures of ALTO and AR towers as my primary guidance. Here are some pictures showing it off.

This is a picture (courtesy of Walthers) of what the raw kit looks like. It's a "molded in color" kit that snaps together.

Here is what mine came out looking like after several nights of work. I wanted it to be heavily weathered as if it had been standing in a remote location for quite some time.

And of course the obligatory scale picture next to a quarter. This little bugger is SMALL. I was actually quite unprepared for just how small and delicate some of the parts were.

All said and done I think I spent about a week working on this almost every night for at least an hour. Which I considered to be a pretty quick build actually. It was for the most part easy to assemble, and not very difficult to weather. I'm just very happy that it came out looking this good. It doesn't look like plastic which is a huge bonus to me.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Kato GG1

Well looks like I'm off the hook for June as Kato moved the GG1 release back to August now which now coincides with the Braodway Limited too.

While I don't Model the NEC or any PRR electrified lines now, nor do I plan on modeling Eastern PA, I will probably still get the GG1 just because it's my favorite piece of PRR motive power. While I doubt that it will inspire me to setup overhead wires on my proposed layout right now, who knows what the future might bring. For now I don't even have a great layout, just the two test modules I built a few years ago. When I do finalize my layout plans it will contain some passenger operations and a nice loop for passenger trains to just run on.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Moving SQL Server Databases

This is something that I've had to do a lot lately since we are migrating to a larger HA architecture here at work. This article gives a quick list of dos and don'ts to make your next SQL Migration go smoother.

Moving a Database

Here is also a direct link to the Microsoft kb referenced in the above article, this one tells you how to move users from one server to a new server without needing to recreate them and use sp_change_users_login. Check it out here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Practice Layout

Well a lot has changed since I started thinking about my next layout. Kato has released the date June 2008 as the release of their new N Scale GG1 locomotive. Sort of helping me to decide how I want to proceed with my own layout. I will be picking up one unless some major bills come up between now and then, and I'll probably look into getting their Broadway Limited car set to go along with it later on.

Also, since then the model railroading class I have been taking has come to end and they have announced a sort of "graduate" session. Those of us wanting to continue on can join the museum as probationary members and participate in the building of a new modular layout. It will be HO scale and designed for transporting to other locations for shows, but still a very cool project. I'll be heading down there tonight to turn in my application and start participating. I figure that this is a great chance to spend some time learning more about the hobby before I dive in and start buying supplies. Plus if all goes well I'll have some time to run trains with the folks at the museum, which I hope will help me decide what aspects of railroading I really want to model.

All in all for the $15 membership fee and 18hours of service required I can't complain. It is certainly worth my time to build something with other more knowledgeable modelers. They are providing all the materials and guidance which means it's unlikely that I'll screw up any major components that would cost me a lot of money to replace.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A new N scale Layout

Well I've been thinking a lot about what I want to do with my own little model railroad. While my current BendTrak modules are nice, they are big, flat, the track work is on the poorer side and they loud while running (gluing the track down was NOT a good idea). I've been toying with the idea to build a 4 foot straight module that would go between my current modules, but after evaluating the track work I just can't justify that. The track work is bad in some places and needs major repair (more like rebuilding). So I am left with the option to rebuild the two existing balloon modules or to work on something completely new.

At this point in time I do not have any local hobby groups building modules, and the one person I knew who was building modules has moved away and was using a different standard than me anyway. After seeing some of the great non module displays that folks are making in the class I’m taking, and in Model Railroader magazine I’m leaning toward a small (3x5 foot/ 91x152 cm) semi permanent layout. Now the question is do I model part of the NEC to justify having the GG1 when it comes out, do I model a part of the PRR main line or do I do a Pennsy themed freelanced layout?

I think I’ll make up some sample track plans in XTrkCad and see what works.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Paper Train?

While sitting in on the model railroading class I have been taking I learned that during WW2 the Lionel company released a paper train for around the Christmas tree. This sounded neat and I went looking for such a thing, I was also searching for a cheap Acela model also as I just don't have the cash to pick up the Bachman one right now (who knows maybe I'll luck out for my birthday). Those two searches converged to one place:

While not the Lionel train (although the above picture is showing the N-scale paper version next to my Lionel Pennsy set), and not a running N-scale Acela this was sure a fun little project. The Instructions are very detailed and very well written, and with a good hobby knife and some craft white glue this went together quickly. I would say that the first power unit took me a bit more than an hour to complete, and the remaining cars all took me much less time. In fact the more I built the faster I got. I built the final 4 cars in just a couple hours by pre-scoring the parts, cutting them out, and finishing with the glue.

In the end I wound up with a very nice display piece and several evenings of entertaining projects that kept me off the laptop. All in all I can't complain about it. Time well spent.

Wooden Train Layout

So I've wanted to build one of those wooden railways layouts for my kids (you know Thomas the Tank Engine/Brio). I remember when I was a kid seeing those in the stores and wishing I could have something like. Well now I can, although I'll let the kids play with it to.

The Table

My Father-In-Law built the table for the kids a while back, it's a nicely made wooden table with just a plywood top and what I think are oak sides. It's survived my three kids for at least three years now. It was originally built to hold a wooden train but it was very useful for other stuff too. So we never wound up installing the wooden track onto the table. The end result was that the kids ripped it all apart and after a few days we would shove it into a box and say screw it.

The Track

After a quick trip to a few toy/hobby stores that all had fixed wooden track layouts my wife one evening setup a few loops of track onto the floor for the kids to use. That lasted about an hour before the youngest had the whole thing destroyed. My wife rebuilt it to surprise the kids the next morning. To none of our surprise once again my youngest destroyed it within a few minutes. So I decided that since they liked it so much it was time to stick the track to the top of the table. This of course involved a few trips to the hobby stores to pick up those few missing track pieces and some glue. After reading the back of the Gorilla/Rhino glue I wasn't sure I wanted to use that in the house (and being all of 8 degrees F outside I figured working in the open garage wasn't going to be pleasant either), so I opted to try out some plain old yellow wood glue. Which worked at first but only lasted a few days before, yet again, my youngest destroyed the whole thing.

Finally, I broke down and started using the Rhino glue. It didn't have that bad of an order to it and it certainly seems to hold well. The only downside is that you have to keep clamping the whole thing down (I used cans and jars as weights) so that it can cure properly. We also used some kids paint to cover the wood with greens and blues and once I am sure that they can't destroy this version I'll start gluing down the trees, buildings and signs for them.