June 26, 2019

Tunnel Motors as Investments? Limited Runs and Layout Designs

A shiny new Athearn DRGW SD40T-2 makes a test run on POLA

I have been thinking about what the next big step for my model railroad projects will be.  My original plan was that POLA would be a temporary project that I built primarily for my book, "Waterfront Terminals and Operations." It would be replaced with something else.  But, POLA has been a big hit with my operators and so it has lasted nearly 4 years.  I even added an extension to the original plan, which remains a Work-in-Progress.  Nonetheless, I do plan to remove POLA and do something different.  I thought about a POLA expansion, but decided against it as  container traffic it would include didn't seem that interesting to model and operate.

A scene from my N scale Soldier Summit layout that I
had to tear down as we moved from that house.
One of the ideas that has been floating in the back of my mind was a redux of the Soldier Summit layout, but in HO scale.  This plan would include the yard at Helper, the climb up the Price River Canyon, past Willow Creek Coal Mine to Soldier Summit. The tracks would then head west and  down hill via Gilluly Loops to another yard, notionally Provo. There would be a large steel mill and Union Pacific interchange. The Utah Railway would also be included via a partial double deck section under Soldier Summit. I had a rough track plan sketched out a few years ago and it looked interesting. But it had been mostly an academic exercise.

Climbing on the last SD40T-2
left in DRGW paint

The feasibility of the concept became much greater when both Athearn and Scale Trains introduced beautiful renditions of the DRGW SD40T-2 tunnel motor- my favorite diesel locomotives, and the primary loco needed for the Soldier Summit concept. I ordered one of the Athearn tunnel motors to evaluate. When the loco arrived, I put it on the layout. It ran well and sounded great. It needs some tweaking with momentum and sound volume, and it could benefit from a keep alive, but otherwise is a nice loco. The see-through screens on the rear are a nice touch.

Now, here's the bad news. The locos quickly sold out since they are limited runs, which is the standard method of marketing in the hobby these days.  Since I wasn't really paying attention, I missed the boat, or should I say locos. I got this one via ebay. Some dealers have a few in stock, but they are not easy to find. (Note - I just learned that Intermountain is also planning to release a HO Scale Tunnel Motor with improved tooling. Maybe this isn't as dire as I feared.)

Now, I really don't plan to do any drastic changes for a few years. But if I wait, the engines will be long sold out, torpedoing any chance of building the Soldier Summit layout.  To be safe, I would have to buy the motive power I would need now, and store them until needed. But, what if I never build it? I could sell them, but that ties up cash that could be used elsewhere until they are sold. If they could be sold at a profit, that would make them investments. But I suspect that is not a likely event.  I guess it all depends on how serious this idea is.

In the meantime, I've been toying with plans for expanding the Aquia Line. When I visited Don Ball, he lobbied for putting in a turn back loop where Falmouth is now to take advantage of the area.  I really resisted that idea as one of the objectives of the Aquia Line expansion was to get rid of the tight curve at Falmouth. But,  I do like the idea of maximizing the use of the space.

I did a little surveying and concluded that I could follow Don's advice by using 30 inch curves.  This only adds 8-10 feet of visible run to the layout, but is all "country running."  The run past Worthington Farm and an expanded Clairborne Creek would make for some nice scenic vistas.

There would be choke points in the aisle at the south end of Stonemans and in the closet. These choke points aren't deal breakers as the aisle by Stonemans is no longer a major switching area. Yes, the closet access will be constricted, but that wouldn't impact operations, just my access to stuff stored in the closet.

Most importantly, the crew lounge remains open. And if it doesn't work, I can blame Don!





June 23, 2019

POLA and Porsches

GP60B unit leads the train back to staging. Running this way requires the conductor to stand on the railing of the
loco and relay hand signals and radio calls to the engineer in the cab. 
We got back from a week long trip to Daytona
Beach to help my mother-in-law with chores on her condo. It was a fun week with some golf, walks on the beach and a little bit of house work. I suppose the highlight of the week was a near hole in one I hit at the Oceans Course at Daytona Beach Shores. I didn't get the ace, but a tap in for birdie isn't bad. Alas, I didn't get any of my planned model railroad work done.

This morning, Todd Dolkos texted me and asked if he and his dad, Paul Dolkos,  could come over to operate POLA. I said, "sure. I just need a half hour to stage it."  Brad Trencamp also came by to show off his new 2014 Porsche Cayman S.

L to R Brad, Todd, Paul
I got the railroad staged just as all three showed up.

While Paul and Todd operated, Brad and I took a test ride in the Cayman S. I have never driven a Cayman before and I was very impressed. The car offers the traditional Porsche experience of great handling, excellent gearbox and a torquey engine in a lightweight and nimble package.  What a treat to test drive.  I may have to consider a Cayman in my future.
Brad and his new wheels.

For a change of pace, I had the POLA crew use a set of GP60A and B units. When they were done switching, they had to pull the train into staging with the B unit in the lead. Paul wondered if that was a prototype practice, I wasn't sure, so I texted Mark Steenwyck, a loco engineer for BNSF. According to Mark, it is possible. The conductor must ride on the nose of the B unit and use hand signals and radio call to the engineer in the cab to control the train. Since they don't have ditch lights, they are restricted to 20 MPH across grade crossings.

While Paul and Todd operated, I worked on some of the client models I have on my do list. I have a lot of tasks to complete before heading to Utah in a few weeks for the NMRA National Convention.


June 13, 2019

Calm before the storm


DODX 41000  cars weather to a pinkish red with the white primer showing. 

Brian and crew are making great strides on scenery,
but will he have any track down by the NMRA convention?
I've been working on client projects for Alkem Scale Models this week and doing some admin work for the Middle Atlantic Railroad Prototype Meet.

Next week we head to Florida. We'll be back for a few weeks before heading to Salt Lake City for the National NMRA convention. I'll be helping Brian  Brendel with his layout, and giving a talk at the convention. The updated plan for Brian's layout is below.

Lance Mindheim giving some modeling tips to
John Steitz and Scott Wahl at MARPM 2018
The MARPM is about 100 days out. We have a great meet planned. The list of clinicians we have signed up is second to none.  If you don't believe me, check it out here.  If you have never been to a Railroad Prototype Meet you might want to consider this one. We have a bunch of great model railroad activities planned. Plus, the hotel that is hosting the meet is adjacent to BWI airport and the AMTRAK and MARC train station. From the hotel, one could easily travel to down town Baltimore or Washington DC using railroads.

I've started making a new run for my DODX 41000 series flat car kit. This model was been a good seller for us. This will be the tenth (or maybe this is the 11th, I can't remember) run we have made.

We have O scale chain link fence on hand. We are working on the instruction sheets and gathering the parts so we can offer them for sale.

John Soch Liealoha stopped by tonight. He was in town on business. He observed some of my client model work. Then he graciously offered to draw an Army Escort Wagon in O scale using some plans I provided to him. I had been working on these as laser cut models, but John is certain they will look better as 3-D printed models. I hope so.

Finally, I ordered an Athearn HO scale SD40T-2.  There were two reasons, first it is my favorite diesel. I think it will be fun to detail and weather it. Second, I want to test it out, especially the new low profile truck that allows for see-through radiator screens on the rear.

In my mind's deep recesses, I have an idea that I might go back to modelling the DRGW, but in HO vice N scale.  I've even been toying with a track plan. More on that later.

These days, when a manufacturer offers a model you might want, you need to act as you never know when it might be unavailable. So I am getting one of these locos as a hedge in case I decide to build a DRGW project of some sort. If I like this loco, I may actually buy a few more to stock pile.  Scaletrains has a similar model, but theirs uses LokSound and costs a bit more. I prefer Soundtrax, so I went with Athearn.




June 9, 2019

Model Railroad Doubleheader

Panorama of the main room of Mat Thompson's Oregon Coast Railroad. The Swift Meat Plant is in the foreground

Some of the many boats and ships on Mats layout. This scene was featured
in my latest book on Waterfront Terminals
On Saturday I drove out to Gainesville for a model railroad double header. The first stop was Mat Thompson's HO Scale Oregon Coast Railroad for an op session. I joined about 12 other folks for an enjoyable session.

Mat teamed Marty and I to work the Swift Meat  Packing plant that is visible in the foreground of the lead photo. The job is an interesting one as the reefers and meat cars must make several intra-plant moves from inspection to icing and then meat loading. Stock cars also come with cattle and leave empty.  Mat uses timers to regulate how long the cars remain at each location. The icing takes the longest time, about 40 minutes real time. So as plant train crew, you spend some time waiting for cars to cool. But there are other tasks you need to do, so it makes for a very interesting job. This was the first time I have switched a meat plant and it was a lot of fun.

Mat's layout is full of beautiful models. He has dozens of craftsman structures. He also built many boats and ships. All of these helped contribute to his attaining Master Model railroader certification from the NMRA.  Speaking of that, Mat presented to me the NMRA certificates for Author and Volunteer. Mat is our local Achievement Program rep, as well as the organizer for layout round robin op sessions.

Mat has built dozens of craftsman structures for his layout that
helped him attain Master Model Railroader certification
Some nice bridges on Mat's layout








Paul Dolkos makes an inspection visit to Marty's work-in-progress layout. Here they
confer on the layout design and construction.

Marty screws MDF fascia to the benchwork
The second phase of the doubleheader was a work session on Marty McGuirk's Richfield Branch of the CV. Orville, I mean Stic, Harris and I joined Marty for the session.  Paul Dolkos also stopped by for an inspection visit.

Stic installed track lights, while Marty and I installed more fascia. The track light work well with the high ceiling in Marty's layout room.

I used my track saw to cut the pieces in the back yard.  While I was out there, a wood chuck came to check on my progress. Molly and Beauregard, Marty's Basset Hounds, didn't do much to scare the woodchuck away.

After finishing the back fascia on the back wall, we adjourned to the crew lounge where we put Marty's new 85-inch 4K TV through its paces.

I used my track saw to rip the fascia
Molly and Beauregard did not discourage the wood chuck
from checking on construction

Stic Installs track lights. The cartoon is an actual quote from the day's banter.



Marty surveys the fascia on the back wall benchwork. 

June 3, 2019

New England Blitz Tour

Morning panorama at Mystic Seaport Museum

Ken Karlewicz's 
This weekend Alicia and I travelled north to Farmington,  Connecticut to attend the New England Railroad Prototype Meet.  Our trip started with a golf lesson in Columbia, Maryland. We then headed north crossing the new Tappan Zee Bridge. That is a very impressive engineering achievement, much improved over the old bridge. We arrived in Farmington late Friday afternoon in time to get dinner and attend a clinic where Ken Kalewicz gave an impassioned plea to include stark side lighting and dark shadows in your model railroad photos.

Neat tug and barge model



The next day I attended several more clinics, got a chance to try weathering with pan pastels on a freight car, and presented a clinic about developments on my railroad.  Some of the clinics I saw were outstanding with excellent modeling on display. Randy Laframboise's clinic on his Rutland railroad was a real standout. He and his life time buddy, Sparky, have built a gorgeous rendition of the Rutland Railroad in HO scale on two decks in his  house.  His layout was featured in MRP a few years ago, and their railroad has gotten better since then. Hopefully, we can get him to present this clinic at MARPM.

Jim Otto's collection of WWII Army vehicles
The NERPM exhibit hall was very full of models and vendors. I heard that they actually had to turn away some displays due to lack of space. I did have a chance to display some of my O scale rolling stock and show some new Alkem Scale Models products.

It was great to chat with friends and meet new folks too. I had a nice chat with Jim Dufour, who is planning on delivering a clinic on his fantastic railroad at MARPM 2019. Both Jim's and Randy's clinics will be "must see" at MARPM 2019.

The sun popped out at noon for some blue sky shots











One of many ship models on display at Mystic Seaport
The Sunday after the show, Alicia and I went to Mystic Seaport. She had never been there, while it had been over 50 years since I was there. It is a great place to visit. The Mystic Sea Port Museum has some new buildings, including the entrance halls and a neat whaling museum with lots of cool ship models.

Very cool seaport diorama at Mystic. Looks to be about N Scale.
Sabino looked to be in good shape 
The recreated town with bank, smith, carpentry shop, churches, stores, newspaper office, etc, was very well done.  The large seaport diorama was also very cool. However, the featured ships seemed to be very worn looking.  The Charles W Morgan looked like it needs a good overhaul. The fishing schooner, Dunton, was missing a mast and almost all its rigging.  Its wood was in desperate need of maintenance, The trawler Roan, and steamer Sabino looked a little better off.
Charming recreation of a 19th century seaport  makes me want to add a town to my layout

There were two special guest ships at the sea port. First was the Mayflower II, which was in the shipyard undergoing extensive repairs. It was hard to see as it was covered by a large plastic tent. But they had a nice exhibit explaining the work they were doing.

The Draken Harald HÃ¥rfagre without its mast
Alicia in the bow of the Draken
Second, in  the water near the Charles W. Morgan was the Draken Harald HÃ¥rfagre. It is a clinker-built Viking longship, a reconstruction of what the Norse Sagas refer to as a “Great Ship.” The volunteer crew had removed the mast, and were doing repairs to the ship. One of the crew said they would have the mast back up in a week. The Draken is staying in Mystic as a base of operations for maintenance and repairs before doing tours to other ports in the United States, though one crew man said the plans were not yet definite.

Viking cooking
Viking soldier
Alicia really got a thrill from seeing the Viking Ship.  She said she had no idea they were as big as this one.

 In addition, the Mystic Sea Port was hosting "Viking Days" that weekend.  So, the central village green was occupied by a Viking camp. The Vikings were living history reeanctors from the US and Canada.  Alicia and I agreed that Viking dress looked very comfortable.

Later we  did a walking tour of the town of Mystic. It is a quaint New England coastal town.  We had a nice seafood lunch overlooking  the harbor. Seeing the charming town got me thinking that I need to include a town on my railroad. Perhaps the Fredericksburg Extension will get another look.

We left Mystic and headed to Havre de Grace in Maryland. We arrived at sunset, but with enough light to enjoy a walk on their waterfront promenade. Havre de Grace was attacked by the British in the War of 1812 and much of the town was destroyed.

We pose by the WWI diorama


On Monday we played golf at Bulle Rock, near Havre de Grace. Then we stopped at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore where we met with Travis Harry, a curator there. We had a tour of the new exhibit on World War I. A big part of the exhibit was the display of the WWI layout that I constructed for my "Model Railroads Go to War" book. They have installed the layout in a vitrine with the town of Fins on display but with the trench side covered. It is a static display as I did not provide any functioning locomotives. It was a thrill for Alicia and I to see my model on display.  This exhibit will remain for a few more months.


Then Travis took us around the rest of the museum and showed us some of the new exhibits in place now that the 2003 storm damage has been fully repaired.



Of special note was Engine 25. It had been renovated and painted in the correct colors for the Civil War era.  They found traces of the original colors when they restored it. They also fabricated a new, correct,  builders plate. This is the one that goes between the drivers. They used the wood part as a master to make a mold and then cast a new plate in brass.

Alas, the crown sheet  did not pass the 15 year safety inspection. So the loco sits in the roundhouse  as a static display. It will stay that way unless they can get funds to pay for repairs. But it is gorgeous, and a treat to see.

Alicia at the throttle an Allegheny 2-6-6-6
All in all a great  weekend.

May 27, 2019

Let's Get Dirty

Some of JD's new cars


Jake and Alex use prototype photos
as a guide to weather a flat car
In honor of Memorial Day today, Paul Dolkos, John Drye, Jake Brendel and Alexandra Cannole joined Alicia, Mom and I for a cookout. On the menu were grilled sausages with veggies, home made pierogis that mom and I made yesterday, fresh corn salad, grilled chicken wings, fruit, brownies and ice cream.

After the delightful dinner, we descended to the basement for a weathering session. The primary purpose was to jump start John Drye's conversion to HO scale by weathering a bunch of HO freight cars.  Jake and Alexandra offered to help. Paul Dolkos watched the festivities and got inspired to go home and do some of his own cars.

In a few hours we managed to weather about a dozen cars.  Probably my favorites were the covered cement hoppers that I weathered in part with a slurry of white chalk dust and water. When it dries it creates a most convincing look of dried dust.

Hopefully, this gave JD a good head start on his new layout.


Love these cement hoppers
Now that work on my layout is winding down, I am hoping to help my friends with their projects.   I do plan to expand the Aquia Line, but not until after we host Northeast Interchange next November. Also, Alicia and I are coming up on a busy travel period where we will be on the road about half of the time. So I won't be getting too much down on my layout.

Speaking of travel, we will be in Connecticut for the NERPM next weekend. I'll be presenting a clinic on Saturday evening. On Sunday, we plan to visit Mystic Seaport. I haven't been there in over 50 years.

JD posing by his new freight  cars

May 11, 2019

ProRail 2019 Road Trip



I just returned home from a fantastic two-week road trip to ProRail 2019 hosted by the Tulsa, Oklahoma  model railroaders. I decided to attend the event via an extended road trip.  My wife opted to stay home, so I made the trip solo. Therefore, I took it easy each day and made sure I visited sites that interested me along the way.

ACW Model RR at New Market
The trip started on the Sunday before ProRail with a stop at New Market Battlefield in the Shenandoah Valley.  This battlefield is a must see for ACW modelers. In the museum they have a nice, but dusty HO scale model railroad diorama showing typical civil war era scenes. While the battlefield is interesting, the restored Bushong Farm is a great reference site for ACW era modelers. That deserves a separate blogpost later.

I stopped at Clifton Forge to railfan. There I saw three trains, a mixed freight with CN and UP power, AMTRAK and a eastbound coal train. The first night I stayed at Hawks Nest in WV. While there I did some rail fanning, spotting a few more coal trains, and hawk watching, hence the name.

Next, I travelled to Lexington, KY where I visited my son and cousins from my wife's side of the family. We had a great time including a dinner at a nice restaurant that Gus Fieri deemed to have the one of the top 5 burgers in America. I ordered it and enjoyed it but could only finish half, while my son got the rest. After a morning round of golf with my son and BBQ lunch (the first of many on this trip), I drove to Mammoth Cave via the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, KY.  The old mill buildings at the distillery were quite charming. I didn't have time for a tour but I took several photos and stocked up on bourbon and bourbon ball candy.
Local switching at Clifton Forge
with an insect for air cover

That evening I partook in a 3 mile hike in a portion of the Mammoth Cave system via illumination from gas lantern light only. That was fun, but not interesting enough to justify me to go back for a second hike the next day, even though I had already purchased the ticket.

Instead of a second cave tour the next morning, I headed south to visit Stones River National Battlefield near Murfreesboro, TN.  I had studied this battle extensively in the past, but I have never walked the terrain. It was about as I expected, expect for a very flat yet stony region they nicknamed the "slaughter pen." The terrain by McFadden Ford was very steep. Here massed Union guns destroyed a confederate charge on the final day of the battle. That has been a common theme on several of the battles I have visited recently.  The suburban area of Murfreesboro is encroaching on the battlefield site, but the park service has preserved a good portion of it.

I stopped at Parkers Crossroads for a brief look at the battlefield museum. This was a battle during the early stages of the Vicksburg Campaign where N.B. Forest got caught between two Union forces. He famously "charged in two directions and escaped." He continued to bedevil the Union until the war's end.

Harold and Charlie looking at future site of a cotton crane.
Harold will build and make operational
I stopped for the night at Dr Charles Taylor's house. He, along with his wife, Ginger, and brother, Harold, were gracious hosts.  We had another BBQ dinner. Then we had fun running trains on his large O Scale layout, and taking pictures and videos.

I departed the next morning for Tulsa. I took a scenic detour on the Pig Trail through the scenic Ozark Mountains on my way to see the Pea Ridge battlefield. The weather was perfect and the battlefield is beautifully preserved. The information plaques at each stop on the battlefield tour were some of the best I've seen at a NPS battlefield. The plaques depicted scenes from the battle with the same orientation as the viewer would have standing by the plaque. They were sponsored in part by Sams Club and Walmart, whose corporate HQ is nearby.

CSA gun line at Pea Ridge
Pea Ridge is called the "Gettysburg" of the west as the Union victory here ensured that Missouri would remain in the Union, despite the large number of slave owners in the state with secession tendencies.  The battle was another example of massed Union artillery smashing confederate lines. The Union artillery commander at Pea Ridge was Franz Siegel. He was the overall Union commander at the first stop, New Market, where his artillery was insufficient to ensure victory, though one battery did cover the Union retreat. The rebel commander at Pea Ridge was Earl Van Dorn. I lived for many years with my backyard facing Van Dorn St named after him, despite he being mostly unsuccessful in battle and murdered during the war by a jealous husband.

I arrived in Tulsa to find the ProRail hosts manning a table at the hotel. Many of my model railroad friends were present. It was fun to reconnect with them.

Dan Thompson (l) and Tom Fausser by his SBTRR
I had a chance to test the Proto Throttle on Steve Davis's KCS layout.
 It is interesting. A fun way to run a diesel. I really liked the horn switch
Over the next 4 days I operated on 4 nice HO scale layouts: Sammy Carlile's Sante Fe line, Tom Fausser's South Brooklyn Terminal Railway, Jim Sinclair's SP Donner Pass and Dave Steenland's  HOn3 Silverton & Lake City. I also visited 4 more layouts. Tulsa has a surprising concentration of nice operating model railroads for a city of 1 million folks. Two more BBQ lunches were wedged in between the op sessions.
Jim Sinclair's layout is a large mushroom design












































Port of Catoosa switcher
On Monday I headed up to Kansas City with stops at a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Tulsa, Westhope,  historic Route 66, and the Port of Catoosa. There I was able to watch a local switch engine shuffle a car.

Don Ball 
Don and Becky Ball hosted me for two days in KC. We toured the WWI museum and saw two layouts, Mark Steenwick's HO scale beer line and Mike Fyten's S scale Kaw valley,  in addition to Don's magnificent Stockton and Copperopolis RR.








B-2 and SR-71 in the cold war exhibit
After saying farewell to Don and Becky, I left KC,  and headed toward Dayton, Ohio to visit the National Museum of the US Air Force.  Wow, what a museum. It is huge. I spent 5.5 hours walking around and saw most of the air craft, but not all the exhibits. My impression was that the Vietnam era exhibit was the best, but the cold war exhibit had some of my favorite aircraft, especially the B-58 Hustler and the XB-70, the only surviving example.  There was also a B-1 and B-2 and two variants of the SR-71. It's well worth a visit.
B-58 Hustler

On the final leg of the trip, I stopped in Pittsburgh to visit my daughter and son in law.  I went to a yoga class she taught. I needed it as my legs were sore from all the walking at the USAF museum.

I took hundreds of photos on this trip. If you want to see more, you can visit the Facebook Album at the link below.

FacebookPhotoAlbum