October 22, 2016

The show must go on

Strong depot on Lou Sassi's On30 layout
The Tracks to the Triangle MER annual meet is drawing to a close. It was an extremely well run event and I had a great time. I want to thank Jack Dziadul and his crew for inviting me, and providing great support during the meet.

Lou Sassi host an open house for his beautiful On30 layout.
I got to tour four layouts, attended several clinics, and presented 3 clinics myself. I also did the key note talk at the awards banquet. Unfortunately, throughout the weekend I suffered from a severe case of Laryngitis. In spite of my sore throat and weak voice, using a microphone I was able to get through all my presentations.

I am looking forward to next year's event in Harrisburg, PA. I also learned that in 2018, the Potomac Division will be hosting the meet in the DC area. I better get cracking on getting the  Aquia Line up and running before then.

Will Allen's O scale 3-Rail harbor scene on his Duckunder Terminal Railroad

Coal mine scene on Will Allen's layout. 

We had a mini Porsche Paddock in the hotel parking lot as
Charlie, Hank and I  drove our Porsches to the event. (Hank's car is behind me and not in the photo)

October 18, 2016

New Products Announced at the 2016 ACWRRHS Meet

In my previous post I failed to mention that Dave Schneider of SMR trains announced a bunch of new products in O and HO scale. Dave Bright also announced a new book he has written on the Confederate's capturing  and transporting locomotives and cars from the B&O and ALH RR's.

SMR Trains has some of the products already posted on his website. Others will be forthcoming. The first products for sale are laser cut O scale box cars in kit or RTR form.  See the image below.

Next on tap are O scale figures, tools, artillery, and other impedimenta.  He also showed the prototype for models of the Lee-Brooke Gun in O and HO scale.

Dave Bright's new book will be out in a few months. It is a detailed look the facts behind the great locomotive caper and Thomas Sharp's role in it.  Check his web site for more details. 

October 17, 2016

ACWRRHS 2016 Meet After Action Report

Wow, what a great meet. The guys in Tennessee really put on a wonderful event. Special thanks go to Charlie and Ginger Taylor, Thom Radice, Harold Taylor, Charlie Curro, Lee Millar and all the others that did presentations or brought models to display.

UP action in Memphis
The official meet started with talks at the hotel on Thursday evening. However, I managed to do some rail fanning on Thursday morning in Arkansas and Memphis. I saw a double stack train east bound as I crossed the Mississippi, and a coal train westbound, but couldn't get photos. Later I chased a mixed freight east through Memphis.

Large scale model of Sultana in the museum.
On Friday morning the attendees went in small groups to local museums or activities. I went with Don and Becky Ball to see the Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion, Arkansas. It was a major tragedy that is little known. It is still the greatest nautical disaster in terms of loss of life in American history.

Thom Radice giving conductors their instructions
Friday afternoon was the highlight of the trip as we got to tour and operate Charlie Taylor's huge O scale Memphis and Charleston layout. Thom Radice helped Charlie set up an operating session that allowed all of the attendees that wanted to, to operate trains. I was an engineer teamed with my conductor Ron Flowers to run the Nitre (basically bat guano from a mine in a cave - how appropriate)  train from Huntsville to Chattanooga and back. The run took all afternoon, as we had request for numerous photo run bys and meets with other trains.

Charlie's layout is set in a 75 by 35 foot loft above his large garage and guest house. It is a wonderful space for a large model railroad. His engines use DCC and sound. The layout includes two turntables with a unique mechanism based on a "Geneva Wheel" that allows for automatic indexing. They were designed and built by Charlie's brother Harold, a mechanical engineering whiz.  Before dinner Harold took me for a tour of his machine shop. It was fully equipped with a multi head CNC mill and several other industrial grade lathes, brakes, and grinders.

Charlie Curro poses by the O Scale Tennessee River bridge,
one of two huge bridges on the layout.

In keeping with the family affair, Charlie's nephew,  Will, painted the backdrops and his 90-year old mother built many of the smaller structures on the layout. Charlie Curro, a long time colleague of Charlie Taylor, built most of the big structures.

It was a delightful experience for me to operate on another ACW O scale railroad.  Dave Schneider, owner of SMR trains, told me that we (Charlie Taylor and I)  are the only two layouts he knows that actually operate his O scale engines.

Harold's Geneva wheel

Some of Curro's structures
The "Charlies" and I compared notes on techniques and tips.  Charlie uses Digitrax DCC with Tsunami sound decoders. They sounded quite good and ran great. His cars use link and pin couplers.

After a genuine Memphis BBQ dinner, we had more talks back at the hotel.

Diorama in Shiloh Museum
NS on the former M&C in Germantown, TN

On Saturday, we went by bus to Shiloh Battlefield National Park. The park includes Corinth and Battery Robinette. Lee Millar, as a CSA Captain,  lead the tour.  First we stopped in Germantown to examine a 19th century boxcar hidden in a storage shed. Once at Shiloh, he gave many of us a chance to load and fire blanks with a musket, showed us the key points on the battlefield, and told a bunch of groan-inducing jokes, usually with a unreconstructed rebel theme.

Thom Radice fires the musket
The Shiloh Battlefield is about what I expected  in terms of gently rolling and wooded terrain. However, I was surprised at the small size of the final position of Grant's lines on the first day. I expected them to be a bit larger. They really where crammed in between the creek and the river.

Overall the battlefield is well preserved and undeveloped. The woods were allegedly not as thick then as they are now, but the open fields are very similar to the way they were in 1862.

The crossing at Corinth was interesting, even if all the ACW era stuff is mostly gone except for the location of the tracks. The crossing diamond uses an continuous track for the Norfolk Southern  east-west line. The north-south line has guard rails as the wheels have to "jump" the East-west rails- at slow speed I imagine.

KCS loco on display in Corinth
Unusual diamond crossing
On Saturday night we had a couple of presentations on the ACW TTRAK.  Joel Salmons set up a small layout and ran some trains. 

This was one of the nest ACW meets that I have attended (I haven't been to all of them). I am looking forward to next year. Martinsburg-Harpers Ferry and Antietam might be a possible location.  Maybe with a new TTRAK module and hosting an op session on the Aquia Line.

From Nortraks website.  One-Way Low-Speed diamond frogs are used in their namesake diamonds, often referred to as OWLS diamonds. These types of frogs are analogous to lift frogs in turnouts: the higher-trafficked line crosses the diamond on a normal rail surface in tread-bearing mode, and the lower-trafficked line crosses over the higher-trafficked line in flange-bearing mode. Because there is no flangeway gap to cross on the higher-trafficked line, vehicles using this line can cross the diamonds at the maximum speed allowed by the track design. Because the lower-trafficked line is in a situation where gauge restraint is reduced and because it has to cross over the flangeway gap for the higher-trafficked line, vehicles using this line are limited to speeds at or below 10 miles per hour. OWLS diamonds are commonly used where a rail line with very little traffic operating at low speed crosses a rail line with considerably more traffic operating at higher speeds.

October 11, 2016

Decoding the Civil War

Thanks to my mother in law I recently learned about a series of U.S. Military Telegrams that needed to be "decoded." https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/zooniverse/decoding-the-civil-war

Here is how they describe their effort.

Over one hundred and fifty years have passed since the end of the United States Civil War and it still captures the imagination and passion of young and old. The war and its participants — the policy makers, the generals, and the everyday troops and citizens — are perpetually fascinating to members of the public. Drawing together the expertise of four organizations — The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens; the Papers of Abraham Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum; North Carolina State University; and Zooniverse — along with a two-year grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), Decoding the Civil War's goal is to use the transcription and decoding of Civil War telegrams from The Thomas T. Eckert Papers to harness this fascination and engage new and younger audiences using crowdsourcing technology to spark their curiosity and develop new critical thinking skills.
The transcription and decoding will contribute to national research, as each participant will become a “citizen archivist,” creating materials that will be of use and openly available to scholars interested in telegraphy, cryptography, communications during wartime, technology, civilian-military relations, and many other aspects of the Civil War or American history more generally. Perhaps the most meaningful outcome is that the collaborative will provide public access to previously unavailable historical records in a format that will lead to a better understanding of communications, technology, and the course of the Civil War.

I suspect that many messages relate to railroad movements. So if you have some spare time on your hand lend a hand in this crowdsourced effort to decode the thousands of messages.

October 9, 2016

Speed Module Challenge - Complete

I wrapped up work on the TTRAK module challenge. Here is a photo on the front yard in direct sunlight. This video shows a time lapse of the construction. Enjoy.

Some thoughts on the experience. The last two N Scale projects I built (the Pioneer Mills Diorama and this module) were fun, but they did not make me want to change my ACW layout from O to N scale. I believed and still believe that O is the best scale for ACW if one has the space.

My N scale eye balls were not calibrated properly for this project. I should have made the fence with thinner wood stock.

I was very pleased with how the dirt, paint and weeds made the Unitrak look like weathered civil war track.

The 1 foot square TTRAK format is really tiny. Even in N Scale it was impossible to fit in all the planned elements. For example, the planned shed and some of the trees just didn't fit.

Overall it was a fun diversion. It will be fun to see trains run on it next week. If you will be at the ACWRRHS meet in Memphis next week you will probably see it in operation.

October 8, 2016

Speed Module Challenge - Day 3

The base ground cover dried overnight. So I added the first coat of scenery using various ground foams, dried leaves, static grass and other scenery materials I have on hand. I then used a photo flood light to help dry the dilute white glue that I used to secure the scenery to the base coat.

While the glue was drying, I worked on the station building. It's a simple model I made with laser cut 0.032 inch plywood, Grandt Line windows and paper shingles. The columns are tooth picks.
I painted the walls a Vallejo Cavalry Brown, a reddish brown color, as that is what the B&W photo suggested to me.

Weathered Kato Unitrak looked surprisingly good.
Once the base scenery was dry, I removed the protective masking tape from the track. Then I airbrushed the plastic Unitrak roadbed, ties and rail in various shades of Vallejo Rust and Mud Brown. Using fine sand I added more ballast to the Kato Unitrack hide the ties to make the track look a bit more weathered and worn.  I was pleasantly surprised at how that worked out.  I added small tufts of Silfor grass  in between the ties to make the track look even more weathered.

I made a simple worm fence with small pieces of basswood. I pre-stained the parts before gluing to the scenery. Then I added some of the trees I made two nights ago. I didn't use all the trees I made as there isn't enough room on the small module. It's looking a little crowded already. Lets call it selective compression.

Bachmann 4-4-0 as a destroyed loco- should I use it?
Next tasks are the back drop, the destroyed rail cars, a landing platform, and some figures. I have an old Bachmann 4-4-0 that I could use as a destroyed loco (see photo at left). But I never really liked the look of that model, so I'll probably not use it.

Speed Module Challenge - Day 2

base coat of ground cover
After dinner tonight I shaped the foam terrain and added the base coat of ground scenery to Appomattox Station. For the base coat I used a mix of Durhams Water Putty, sifted dirt and red-brown acrylic paint.

While that was setting, I drew up the laser file for the structure shown in the picture. I am not sure if it is the station or just a home. (This link has a good description of the battle and t he location of things)I had a very similar N Scale model I built several years ago, so the file was easy to draw. I modified the windows to use N scale Grandt Line castings, of which I have a good supply.

I will have more time tomorrow to start the scenery and details.
laser cutting the house
Testing the placement of the house

October 6, 2016

Speed Module Challenge - Appomattox Station

Last weekend Joel Salmons mentioned to me that he had an extra TTRAK module that was unfinished. He asked if I would be interested in finishing it.  First a little background, the ACWRRHS started a TTRAK project a few years ago at one of the annual meets. Since then several members have built TTRAK modules with ACW themes.   I agreed to take on the project to join in the fun. The only drawback was, it had to be ready by next Tuesday as Joel departs for Memphis via automobile on Wednesday. I will fly out on Thursday. Can I do it?

Before Joel delivered the module, I thought about what I could do.   A standard TTRAK module is only about 1 foot square. Not a lot of room, even for N scale.  I looked at what N Scale ACW stuff I had on had. It wasn't much. I have lots of N scale locos, cars etc, but almost all oriented on 20th century.  So I decided to keep it simple- a scene in the woods with a dirt road, worm fence, trees and perhaps some wagons and cannons marching past since I had those miniatures on hand. Perhaps a farm house on the backdrop.

As I thought about it, I remembered the famous photo of Appomattox Station after the battle (see lead photo above). It had most of the elements I was looking for, and it would make a nice "book end" for the ACW RR story as it depicts the last strategic use of rail by CSA forces (see plaque below), which ended with a burned train. That would be simple to model. The sketch below is the final design.

Nothing like a good cavalry charge to get you fired up.
This scene will not be included in the module.
Tonight Joel delivered the unfinished module.  I started work. The ACW modules use one track, while standard TTRAK uses two tracks. Since this prototype photo shows a main line and a siding on the Southside RR, I decided to use both TTRAK tracks. I glued the tracks to the wood with acrylic caulk.

A challenge will be to make the perfect Kato Unitrack that the TTRAk standard calls for look more like poorly maintained CSA track at the end of the war.

Next I cut out a piece of ground foam and caulked it to the plywood frame to create the basic terrain. Once the caulk is cured, I will do the initial terrain carving.

While the caulk was setting, I made about 10 N scale sized Super trees.  That's it for the first night. Early golf tee time tomorrow.

Planning the scene
Stay tuned to see if I can make the deadline.

Miniatures I have on hand
some N Scale "Supertrees"

October 2, 2016

Secret Frequency 16

Whew, what a weekend! It was a fun time. On Saturday morning my mom and I drove to Falmouth, VA to attend the MARPM 2016. It is always fun to drive past road signs on the highway that relate to spots on my civil war layout such as Aquia, Potomac Creek and Falmouth.

Norm and crew had the hotel set up for a great show. Attendance was down from previous years, but the show was still a lot of fun. The clinic line up was great. Butch, Marty and others did small hands-on clinics in the display room, while a long line of speakers presented talks in the theater. The hotel had a new projector that was excellent. It had great image quality. I did a talk on marine terminals and wharves. At least one person, my mom, said it was interesting. Daylene Wolf and her helpers catered the lunch, which is a great idea for an RPM as it saves time during the day for more mingling and RR events.

Vivian, Attila and Alexander operate the USMRR layout. As usual the kids got
the biggest kick by driving the trains through the tunnel. Alexander really enjoyed running the layout.
Joel and Len running the USMRR all afternoon.
Mom and I  returned home on Saturday evening. I had some work to do on the PoLA layout to get it ready for the open house.

On Sunday my helpers showed up early, so they were drafted to work. A big thank you to Leonard who helped mom make the cream puffs, while regaling us with stories of his late dad that lived just around the corner from us, when Del Ray was still a home to many professional railroaders.

More thanks go to Ben Hom, Marty McGuirk, Stic Harris, Paul Dolkos, Doug Gurin and Joel Salmons who ran trains through out the day. Leonard and Joel get special meritorious service medals as they stayed at their posts even after the MARPM guests left, but when my neighbors and kids showed up to run trains.

Ben Hom offered to be a car knocker and confined  himself in the staging closet. There he worked on swapping Atlas couplers with Kadees. In a humorous moment, he grabbed cars off the train that Paul and Doug were switching not realizing they were part of the active session. That caused a small bit of consternation when Paul realized a third of his train disappeared!

Several wives of my helpers also attended, Linda Dolkos, Doug Gurin and Chris McGuirk. Special thanks to them for helping out and keeping my mom entertained. Thanks to Chris for bringing cookies too.

Brad Trenkamp, who I learned is a fellow Del Ray resident,
was one of the guests who stopped by to visit the layout.
Special thanks to my mom, and my wife, Alicia for all their work to get ready for the open house. The snacks were great including Venetian three-layer cookies, fresh Profiterole(Italian cream puffs) and chocolate brownies.  I am so blessed to have such great supporters.

We had about 30 visitors to the layout. They included (these are the ones that signed the guest list) Fred Scheer, Steve Hudnut, Roger Boyce, Steve Samul, Brad Trenkamp. Jeff Mutter, Tom Potthast, Terry Terrence, Glenn and Mary Downing, John and Marget Huntzinger, Chris Williams and his daughter Bracklin, Dave Thompson, Attilla Koccis and his children Vivian and Alexander.

The layouts ran well, but we did have some trouble.  In my haste to get the paving by the Borax factory installed, I had accidentally caused two of the turnouts to the Borax factory to be stuck. That was an easy fix.

One of my Easy DCC throttles refused to work properly. With fresh batteries and rebooting, all it did was light all the LEDs and refuse to accept any commands. Luckily we had one other RF1300 that worked. Later I did a test and found out that the throttle works even though all the LEDs are lit.  I don't know what that means. The throttle may have problems.

On the USMRR, the Whiton battery died about 5 minutes into the session. So we ran Fury and McCallum. Joel reported that Fury ran "flawlessly" for about 3 hours on battery before going dead. Whiton has gone through several batteries in the past. The lack of a battery charge indicator is a serious drawback to this system. I am planning on switching the battery locos back to DCC with keep alive circuits. McCallum uses regular DCC with all-wheel pickup and runs quite well.

After about 30 minutes I remembered that the T5000 radio throttle I have needs to be set on radio frequency 16 to work the Stanton Battery locos. This is not documented in the version of the Easy DCC manual that I have, it is a "secret" frequency. However, newer versions of the T5000 manual do mention that Frequency 16 can control Stanton Battery powered decoders. Once I remembered that, that throttle was available for use to power the Stanton locos.

Paul and Doug operated the PoLA layout. They had several instances where the locos lost control. I think that may have been due to us accidentally creating interference from the other Rf1300. Later  Stic and I finished the PoLA session and the throttle ran great, without any loss of control.

After most of the MARPM guests left, my colleague Christopher Williams and his daughter Bracklin and my neighbor Attila and his children, Vivian and Alexander stopped by. The kids got to run trains with Joel providing some unobtrusive supervision. I always enjoy watching kids run the layout.

Dave Thompson, who runs Harbor Belt Lines, also does DCC installs. He agreed to install a Tsunami Sound Decoder with a keep alive in my PHL Atlas Genset. Tsunami has the correct sound decoder in this loco, but getting the keep alive circuit installed with a speaker could be tricky. That's why I was glad to have Dave, a professional DCC installer take care of it.

September 29, 2016

Paving PoLA Extension

The unloading tracks for the covered hoppers
can now host 6 cars, same as the prototype.
The tail track and the factory siding are now about twice as long as before.
The piece of pink foam is a mock up of the future Borax factory. It will be
 18 inches long and 3 stories tall.
Over the past few nights I got the track to the PoLA expansion installed, wired and tested. Then I paved the ground surface using my Taskboard technique. It works really well and is the best way I have tried to pave large areas.

Taskboard paving installed. Now waiting
for patching plaster to harden.
I used Patching Plaster to touch up gaps and screw holes. It needs at least 24 hours to cure.  One thing about using Taskboard, you can not sand it when it is wet or even damp. It needs to fully dry before sanding.

The mock up is the foot print of the next ship. It will be based on this ship, Sir Albert (9173355 ), as shown above. This is a "small" bulk carrier  with a DWT of 16,000 Tons. Compare that to some of the monster bulkers that can have DWT of 100,000 to 300,000 tons. Nonetheless, this ship has the "chunky" look (large block coefficient)  that I want to capture in this model.

September 14, 2016

Upcoming Events

The weather has cooled slightly in Northern Virginia and the days are noticeably shorter. That means it's time for....model railroading. I will be travelling to several events in next month to present talks. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by and say hello.

On October 1 I will be at the MARPM in Fredericksburg, VA presenting a talk entitled, "Down to the Sea in Trains." This will be an overview of how railroads and ships interact at marine terminals from the early days of railroading to the current era of unit trains, double stacks and massive container ships. The talk will complement my next book due out in 2017.

October 13th I will be presenting an update on my USMRR Aquia Line to the American Civil War Railroad Historical Society at the La Quinta Inn on Primacy Parkway in Memphis, TN. This is part of the ACWRRHS annual meeting. There is also a layout visit to Charlie Taylor's O scale civil war era layout and a bus trip to Shiloh planned. For more info see the ACWRRHS Yahoo Group

October 20-23rd I will be presenting three clinics and the keynote address at the 2016 NMRA MER convention in Raleigh, NC. For more info see Tracks to the Triangle website.

September 12, 2016

Getting the Band Back Together

Rail fanning near Ogden 21st Street Yard
Last week I visited Utah for golfing with Alicia, rail fanning, layout work and operation sessions. The golf was great as the thinner air at 7,000 feet makes you feel like Rory McElroy. Alicia and I had a tournament over three rounds that was quite close. We split the first two matches, but I won the rubber match helped by making back-to-back birdies.

Steve Blodget's 1890's layout.
Milton Turn working the cement factory on Spangler's layout
The op sessions were part of Great Basin Getaway 2016. This is the 27th year they have hosted the event (usually every other year). As usual the Utah folks put on a great event. I operated on 3 layouts and visited 5 others.

One of the layout visits was to Steve Blodget. This was my second visit to his 1890's era layout. It is a gorgeous layout that almost no one outside of Utah has heard about. It is  a freelanced railroad set in the 1890s in central Utah.

Post lunch refreshments at Quinton Foster's
N Scale layout
In the op sessions, I was lucky to draw the Milton Turn on Rob Spangler's layout. That was a fun job with lots of switching in two towns.

I also operated on Quintin Foster's N Scale DRGW layout and Ted York's HO scale Cajon Pass layout, and had a great time at each.
Brian painting the base colors

Jake adding distant tree detail

I stayed with Brian Brendel for the last part of the week. We did some rail fanning and work on his layout, primarily backdrop painting.  As usual Michelle cooked some awesome cakes and pies. John Drye and Jake Brendel also joined us, completing the reunion of the February Altoona Railfan Group.

Brian had previously installed the hardboard skyboards and gave them a base coat of bright sky blue paint. I was there to paint the clouds and terrain. In order to expedite the process, I gave Brian and his son Jake a quick lesson in backdrop painting and put them to work. Brian added the base terrain color coats, while Jake painted the far line of distant trees. I added the clouds and closer trees with more detail. I also added some rock out crops, and other details as appropriate.

Overall, the detail on the backdrop will match the scenery techniques that Brian will use. His layout traverses some of the least populated and heavily forested areas of Virginia. He uses a tried and  tested technique that combines Woodland Scenics Foliage Clusters and Supertrees to simulate dense forests. Here is a sample shot from some previous work he has done.

We also discussed some revisions to the track plan that I will update.

Panorama of backdrop work so far. The room lighting was very uneven so getting a good shot was difficult.

That's a lot of locos!

Here are some railfan photos we got during the week.

Morning walk with the dogs-  7,000 steps, 12% grade
and two trains.
Brian lives a short distance from the UP Transcontinental main line, a great morning walk with the dogs.