February 20, 2017

Woodshop 101

Terry and Alicia supervising the glue up
Rob uses a panel jig to square up the ends
We travelled to Florida for a week of golf and other fun in the sun.  I was able to convince my brother to help in making the hull for the HO Scale bulk carrier to PoLA.  The technique we were to use is a modified bread-and-butter technique. The bow and stern will be built up using wood layers as in normal bread-and-butter construction. The parallel mid-body that connects the bow and stern will be a simple box.

My brother has a complete wood working shop with many interesting tools, including some hand planes that he made from scratch.  That is he made the
Some of Rob's homemade tools
master forms, had a foundry cast the iron, and then he finished them. Yes, he is a serious wood worker.

Cutting the layers on the band saw
I sent him a bill of materials before we arrived. He bought the slabs of poplar, planed them and glued them into boards that were 0.75 inch thick and 11 inches wide. He also used his table saw to square up the ends.

I drew the templates for the layers at home and printed them on my large format printer. I transferred the templates to the poplar wood. Rob used his Inca band saw to cut the layers.

Templates for layers

As each layer came off the band saw, I used a spoke shave to carve the flared end of the bows. The spoke shave works great for this type of carving. Rob made the spoke shave handle from a piece of Mesquite wood.

Using a spoke shave to to carve
the flared bow. Yes, Rob made the
spokeshave too
We used wood screws and  locating dowels to align the layers.

With the bow and stern glued up, we ripped a piece of poplar to the exact width need to make the freeboard of the mid-body hull.
We used the table saw to cut the transom

Then we used the table saw and router to rabbet the bow and stern sections to accept the parallel mid-body.

We will carry the pieces home for the final finishing. The overall size is 60 inches long by 10 inches in beam.
Rob looks over the hull as we wrapped up for the night

The rabbets for the mid-body pieces are
visible in this image

February 18, 2017

Two steps forward, one step back?

PHL 30, an Atlas GENSET with a Tsunami sound decoder with current keeper
sounds great but doesn't run correctly. Hopefully it's just a programming issue.
Or maybe it was two steps back.

First the bad news. The decoder in PHL 66 started acting erratically. A email to TCS indicated that it had to go back for service. So I had to uninstall it. That wasn't too big a deal as I was the one who installed it, so I knew what all the wires were and what to unsolder.

TCS have received the decoder, but have not told me what the trouble is. Hopefully they can fix it. They seem to have a good warranty program.

In the meantime, PHL 30, an Atlas GENSET, came back from the installer with a Tsunami sound decoder and a current keeper. The engine sounds great, but the throttle inputs are erratic.  Mat Thompson, a local modeler with a lot of DCC programming experience suspects that this is a programming issue.  We have set up a trip to his layout where he has a DCC programmer with a booster. Lets hope that reprogramming it solves the issue.

On the plus side, all my O scale locos are operating well. I have new Stanton battery power supplies to install in the battery engines, but that is not a priority job right now.

Hull templates and parallel mid-body mocked up at the borax factory wharf.
I also did some planning work on the large bulk carrier ship for the Borax factory. I had some plans for a bulk carrier hull that I built in N Scale. I enlarged the drawing for HO scale. The hull will be 10 inches wide and 60 inches long. I could make it a few inches longer if I adjust the wharf area.

 The white paper sheets show the hull templates for the bow and stern section. These will be used to cut three quarter inch poplar layers on my brother's band saw.  I will glue up the cut wooden layers to make the bow and stern sections. Once they are carved and sanded to shape, I will connect them with a parallel mid-body section. This is a modified bread-and-butter ship modeling technique.

GP-7 switching cars in Union Bridge on Wes's layout
Terry Terrance and Wes Morgenstern monitoring staging tracks under
Union Bridge on Wes's layout.
This afternoon I visited Wes Morgenstern's O scale Western Maryland layout. Wes is the author (editor) of one of my favorite railroad books, "Working on the Western Maryland." The book is a series of personal reminiscences of employees on the Western Maryland RR.  The stories in it are just wonderful.

The guys at wes's layout handed me a throttle after I arrived and I helped switch cars in Union Bridge. Wes has lots of steam power including some huge WM Challengers, but we had a diesel for this job.

After visiting Wes, I headed to my mom's place to have dinner. While there she gave me a photo she found. It is another photo of the Twinsville layout.  It is a tiny 2 by 3 inch snap shot in bad shape, but it gives a good overview of the whole layout.

February 15, 2017

Piling On

Over the past few nights I was able to get almost all the pilings and piling caps to the wharf at Aquia Landing installed.

In the photo you can see the spacer brackets I made to hold the pilings and piling caps in place while the glue dried. The stringers are not glued in yet, they are just temporarily in place.

 I may enlarge the wider area of the wharf to better accommodate the paddle wheel steamer, which you an see mocked up here on the left.

I am trying to decide what the next step should be. I might pour the water next. That way if I have a problem with the resin, I can access the area under the wharf deck. In the worst case, I can scrape it off and try again. Once the deck is installed, there will be limited access underneath it.  Stay tuned!

February 12, 2017

New Book on Waterfront Terminals and Operations

My newest book is now available for sale. You can order it from Kalmbach Hobby book store, Amazon, or your local hobby shop. If you want to get a signed copy please go to alkemscalemodels.com

February 9, 2017

Twinsville and Hidden Valley

A few months ago I was interviewed by Lionel Strang and Bruce Wilson of "A Modeler's Life." It is a fun little podcast that tries to get the behind the scenes stories of model railroaders and what they do when they aren't playing with trains. This week they published the interview on their website and iTunes. You can find it at this link.

My daughter was listening to it with me in the car when I mentioned "Twinsville." Twinsville was a train layout that my dad built for my twin brother and I when we were little boys living in Brooklyn, NY. That was about 55 years ago.  I remember the layout well, but many of the details faded from my memory. I knew there was a photo somewhere of it, but I did not have it.

When my daughter got home, she found the photo that I remembered in a collection that her mom had. So she sent me this quick cell phone snap. She will be sending the image to me so that I can clean it up in Photoshop as the image looks like it has had some damage in the half century since it was taken.

The two engineers are my brother and I. Note the spiffy bow ties and hats. The girl in the middle was a neighbor who I can't remember.

The steam engine was mine, while my brother had the diesel. I thought it was an ATSF war bonnet, but this looks like a New Haven unit. Anybody know for sure?

Note the station with the name of the town of Twinsville painted on the roof. I remember my dad hand painting the letters. My dad was really a great artist. He excelled at drawing cartoons.  Later in his life he took up acrylic painting and even sold some artwork.

In keeping with the family tradition, I built a train layout for Chase and Danica. They called it Hidden Valley. That layout would slide under Chase's bed. It was a dusty environment for a layout, but they took excellent care of it. I also built a dollhouse for Danica. I still have that in my house in the guest bedroom.

Yes, I am looking forward to grandchildren to continue the tradition.

February 5, 2017

Pier One

Meanwhile, back at Aquia Landing our hero has been sanding, puttying and painting the Potomac River surface. This is necessary before adding the wharves.
First pilings and pilot caps. Note the pile of precut pilings in the background. I need about 390 but I cut about 500.
 While the putty was drying, I cut about 500 piers approximately 0.625 inches long. I initially tried using my chop saw with a stop for the correct length. But the saw was not doing a good job with such small pieces. They were splintering and flying about the room.

The blue is actually darker than this image leads one to believe.
So I resorted to cutting the pilings on the laser. The quarter inch oak dowels were a challenge to cut. It took two passes with the laser to make the cut. I was hesitant to use the laser on stock this thick. The laser leaves a noticeable draft angle when cutting quarter inch wood. That is the kerf (i.e. the cut mark) is wider at the top than at the bottom. But a quick passs with the cut dowel over some sand paper squares up the cut surface.

I made a trio of pilings and pile caps assemblies (see first photo).

I am using a new glue that is optimized for wood. It looks and acts like a CAA glue, but supposedly can be sanded and stained.  Nonetheless, I prestained the parts as that should give the best results. The glue seems to work pretty well. It sets in 30 seconds. That is better than waiting for yellow glue to cure.

Three down and 50 or so to go.

Some touch-up on the backdrop will be necessary

February 4, 2017

CNC Benchwork

I've been working on some ideas for CNC benchwork for a future project. This is an exploded view of the design that would be used for a shadow box style layout.  However, the parts are somewhat modular and could be used to in various ways. The next step is to get some parts cut and see how they work out

Since I don't have a CNC router, I have to outsource the work. I am currently investigating vendors that provide that service. Stay tuned.

January 30, 2017

New England Blitz

Mt Graylock, MA

In keeping with the upcoming Super Bowl, Marty, Stic and I did a blitz tour of New England layouts last weekend and took in the train show at the Big E. And we didn't even get tackled. I can report that New England is in a fever pitch and is ready for the big game, but for this weekend, we could care less as we saw and operated on some great layouts.

The weekend began with a fumble as American Airlines only realized they were short a pilot to fly our plane after they dragged all the passengers out to the aircraft on a shuttle. Marty volunteered to quarterback the flight, but since he's only ever piloted a Navy LST, the airline took a time out instead. The airline eventually got us to Hartford after one hour of booth review and we began the epic weekend.

Marty and Jim (l to r)
First down was Jim DuFour's Cheshire Branch layout in the far suburbs of Boston. It depicts a Boston and Maine branch line in the 1950s. It is a jewel of a layout, with heavy prototype basis. We got to run some engines and they performed flawlessly. Jim has some of the best sounding engines too. He and his technician helpers have been able to program the sound systems for very realistic sound effects. We met a bunch of neat folks at Jim's including George Corey, a 92 year old railfan that has amazingly vivid memories of the B&M steam operations, friends from Canada (who were captivated by the fact that Stic was once a professional hockey player) and the staff of MRH.

Marty, Chris and Stic (l to r) . Chris is showing us his New Haven
Library and artifact collection on the second floor of his home.
The layout fills the basement
After a few delightful hours with Jim,  we threw a deep bomb on second down and headed south to the Connecticut shores of the Long Island Sound to operate on Chris Adams's Valley Line. He models a New Haven branch line that happens to run about 50 yards behind his house, though now as a tourist line. The prototype railroad was not running, but we made up for it by running nearly a full set of downs on the layout. Chris's layout is strictly prototype based. It is still being sceniced in some areas, but the operations were great. Lot of switching and interplay between trains. I got a choice job - the Valley Local. I was lucky to have Pete as my conductor while I handled the throttle. Pete was very capable and we had a great time. The little 2-8-0 we ran was flawless. We also had a great time meeting his regular crew, several of whom said they are readers of the blog. Thanks guys. Leave a comment every and now and then to say, "hi".

We were exhausted when we arrived at the hotel in Springfield  just before midnight. We punted and went to bed.

Tom Piccirillo (O scale modeler) and Hal Miller at MR Booth. (l to r)
The next day was the train show at the Big E. It was a huge show spread across 5 buildings. My objectives were to buy needed supplies for the Aquia Line and other projects. I was very successful, even though I did not get to see everything at the show. It was fun to see some old friends, like Tom Piccirillo, and meet a lot of new people, including Hal Miller, editor of Model Railroader magazine. That night we had diner in a restored dinning car at the Steaming Tender Restaurant in Palmer, Massachusetts.

Jason's lift our section using linear actuators. There are actually
three actuators, one is not visible in this photo.
On Sunday we visited Jason Fountain and Neil Schofield's layouts in Charlton, Massachusetts. Both were outstanding layouts. Jason models the Southern New England, one of my personal favorite railroads even though it never existed. His layout includes dozens of craftsman structures arrayed in a very realistic manner. It creates a very believable impression of a New England town and countryside  in the steam to diesel transition era. He has a lift-out section that uses three linear actuators that is very impressive and clever.

Jason, Marty, and Stic (l to r)

Fantastic Mill on Jason's layout

Photo line of model railfan at Neil's layout. That's Don James in the
foreground with the tripod. In addition to being a retired locomotive engineer,
a fantastic modeler, and an Alkem Scale Models customer, Don is
 one of Stic's biggest fans.

Neil's layout is set in the 1980s on CP trunk line in northern Vermont from Wells River to Sherbrooke. After two years of work his layout is about 1/3rd complete, but what he has finished is utterly outstanding. It is hyper-realistic scenery essentially on a narrow shelf. He showed us his layout plans and it looks like it will be an amazing design. I look forward to going back and operating it as it gets further along.

Shot showing some of Neil's realistic scenery

On Monday we headed northwest from Springfield through some gorgeous Berkshire scenery (see first photo above) to visit Dick Elwell's Hoosac Valley layout. Dick has essentially completed the layout and it is gorgeous.  He has hundreds of contest quality craftsman structures on the layout. They are skillfully arranged in a realistic manner and have no whiff of caricature that frequently accompanies these structures. When you stand in the basement you feel like you are in rural New England on a brisk fall day.  Thelayout also features  operational signals, CTC, sound, and it runs great. Seeing this layout was a real treat. I have to rank it as one of the top layouts I have ever visited.
Stic, Dick and Marty (l to r)

We returned home safe and sound. All in all a great weekend. Thanks to all our hosts for their hospitality and friendship. We model railroaders are so fortunate to have friends around the world that so generously share their time and hobby with us.

BTW this was post 800 to this blog. There have been over 1.2 million visits.

January 26, 2017

Springfield Bound

Marty McGuirk, Stic Harris and I are heading up to Amherst Model railroad Society Annual Train Show in Springfield, Mass this weekend.  Perhaps we'll see you there, though the odds are low as it is such a huge event. I will be stocking up on supplies for a new project. But we'll talk more about that later. We also plan to see and operate some layouts.

Meanwhile John Steitz stopped by tonight to pick up some detail parts for his N Scale steel mill modules. John is a member of NVNTRAK. I used to be very active in that modular group, but had to cut back as other projects took up too much time.

Some goodies arrived today. First, the wharf kit arrived. By wharf kit I really mean a really big box of strip and sheet basswood  and lite plywood. I will start building the wharf after the Springfield Show.

Also, I received new BPS circuits from Neil Stanton. These circuits will allow the Stanton decoders to run from rail power while also charging the batteries. So the batteries essentially become keep alive circuits. I will retro fit Whiton and Fury with these soon.

On a down side, the TCS WOW decoder in my PHL engine 66 is acting up. I have to remove it and send it in for repairs.

Tight gauge, kinks, and other assorted maladies

I have spent a few hours the past nights adding more spikes and  test running a typical train. I found a few tight gauge spots and a kink at the easement to the first turnout to Aquia Landing yard. I resolved these.

Most cars are working well, but I did notice a pair of cars that were consistently misbehaving. As they encountered certain curves, their links would jam in the couplers and lift the wheels off the track. They would run fine on their own or if they were not coupled. The problem was in mismatched coupler heights between the two cars. I have also encountered some other problems when pushing, such as bumpers interfering on tight curves, but those was not the problem tonight.

To resolve this issue I need to do a complete coupler height check on all my rolling stock. Over the years I have tried several different truck designs and freight car builds. I was not very careful in ensuring that they had matching couple height. But with my tight curves and link and pin couplers, I need to tune all the cars and engine to the same couple height.

For a break from the drudgery of spiking and tuning cars, I took a photo of an Osceola on the engine house lead track before I put the rails in. The track is long enough to hold two engines.  I think it looks good. It will be fun to finish this scene.

January 23, 2017

Almost Halfway there!

I installed three more turnouts today. That makes 5 so far - almost halfway there!  I also used up the first bag of 1,000 spikes.
This switch stand had to be mounted away from the points
due to lack of clearance between the tracks,

These are key turnouts as they feed the yard tracks to the wharf and wye.   So far they run smooth. I need to cut gaps before running trains through.

I decided to add an additional stub track off the nearest yard track. That will serve the bakery. This track is nearly long enough to hold a 7 car train, so it can also be used as slough track when switching the yard if the bakery spots are empty. That's why finishing 5 turnouts is not quite halfway. I now have 11 in Aquia Landing.

January 21, 2017

Piney Branch Mill Revisited

The water wheel and race are long gone. The building received new siding in 1963

I took my mom for a drive today to Manassas to work on Marty McGuirk's backdrop. He said he would be blogging about that on his Central Vermont RR blog. 

On the way out there we took a "short cut" along Pope's Head Road in Fairfax County. That took us past the mill at Piney Branch. This mill served as the prototype inspiration for the mill on my layout.

Here are some photos I took of the prototype mill and my finished model of it.

Meanwhile work continues on track laying at Aquia Landing. I glued down a bunch of ties for the complex east end of the yard. There are five turnouts that are adjacent to each other here.

January 18, 2017

Two down.... eight to go.

I installed the second turnout in Aquia Landing tonight. I didn't install the guard rails yet, but it works pretty well without them.  Below is a short video showing the operation. (Note the Safari web browser may not show the video)


Plans for the Wharves

As I am laying the track in Aquia Landing, I realized that the wharves have to be installed before I can put track on them.  Project managers would say the wharves are on, or are getting near to, the critical path. Depending on the ordering time to get materials, they are on the critical path. So tonight I spent a few hours designing the framing and decking for the wharves. From these I generated a bill of materials to order from my supplier. It's a lot of wood- too bad I don't have a table saw to rip my own.

I plan to build the wharves stick-by-stick. I will do this because it is prototypical and it allows me some flexibility in making changes as I install it.  For example, the curved track leading to Burnside's wharf will probably resemble a trestle more that a dock.

I plan to laser cut all the piles to exact length. That should allow me to build the piles and pile cap assemblies on the bench using a jig. Then I will install them on the painted water surface. I will add the water later using Magic Water, a lot of Magic Water.
Note tracks coming from the left appear to be on a trestle as they approach Burnside's Wharf. It looks like the workers
are adding a wagon approach access on the lower right.