September 21, 2017

Timetable for First Operation Session

Here is the timetable we will follow for the first ops session. This timetable follows the prototype except that it has trains starting from Aquia and  Falmouth at roughly the same time.

Updated operations concept

In preparation for the first operations session Saturday, I've been thinking about how the layout should operate. I want to avoid using car cards and way bills. I do plan to use switch lists and train orders.  I have come up with an idea for a random pick up of cars, which is detailed below. The latest versions of these instructions  can be found on the page of instructions and bulletins. Visitors should always check that page before operating to learn of the latest developments and bulletins.

The idea for layout operation involves a random process to determine if cars are empty. The random concept is based onto fact that this is essentially a one-way railroad. Most cars leave Aquia Landing loaded and return empty. Cars that move loads in the opposite direction are special cases and will be covered by specific train orders. Haupt also insisted that cars be unloaded promptly. If you study the conductors' reports, you see that most cars went out and returned on the same day, though some did stay overnight.

I haven't decided if we need to have a third crew work at Aquia Landing. It would just act as a station switcher. We'll see how the first test op session goes.

September 19, 2017

Layout Status

A friend asked how far along my layout was. I had not looked at the overall numbers in a while, so I did an update.  See the chart below. Note that most of the major construction is done. I now need to add cars to the rolling stock fleet and finish the detailing of Aquia Landing.

Resistance was not futile

Ohm my word, it finally happened. I finished wiring the tracks to the Aquia Line. There were a few glitches along the way,  such as I forgot to gap the turnout on the wharf, that caused a few head scratching moments. But after cutting those gaps, all was back to normal. Also, some of the guard rails of my frogs were not electrically connected to the neighboring rails, causing a few unexpected stalls. I fixed those by soldering jumpers. People that solder their frogs and guard rails don't have this problem.

I installed a Tony Trains Exchange On-Guard auto reverser circuit on one leg of the wye and added 9 Tam Valley Frog juicers to the turnouts. Both items are straight forward to install and worked great.

Engine Haupt,  equipped with a Tsunami sound decoder, chugs across the manual turnout from the Bakery siding
The turnout to the siding for the bakery could not use a frog juicer. This was because a locomotive entering that frog will also trigger the frog juicer on the frog of the adjacent crossover. Frog juicers do not work well when two are tripped by a loco at the same time.  To solve that problem, I added a manually operated SPDT toggle switch to handle the polarity on that frog to the fascia near that turnout. I added a switch plate on the fascia to help operators to remember to flip it when they also move the points.  Fortunately, that turnout is only switched when accessing the siding, so it normally will be set for "main line." This is the only non-automatic polarity switching frog on the layout. Hopefully it won't cause too many operational errors.  A better solution would be to add an under table mechanism, but that would require a new design as my current switch stands and point bridles are scale size and not easy to modify.

Some lessons learned from this wiring exercise.

1. Turn off layout power when wiring
2. Follow a color code to keep track of polarity - I used "red to rear."
3. Test for shorts after each connection
4. Wiring with bi-focals under the layout is tough. Bring a work light with you to better see under the bench work. My desk chair could be adjusted to allow sitting under the layout in some spots which helped make things more comfortable.
5. Testing DCC circuits with an Ohm meter can be tricky. Engines, especially battery powered,  left on the tracks will measure as high resistance shorts. Best to remove all engines when debugging.

With all the wiring done, it is time to do some testing, and that is on going.  The wye works well. I have a few rough spots in the track-work that tuning and adjusting should help alleviate.

I am thinking about modifying my links to prevent them from jamming when cars are backing. As long as the cars push coupler face to couple face they work well. But sometimes, the links jam in the pockets and don't allow the faces to touch. That can cause the cars to lift off the rails. I plan to make narrower links without the middle bar. Hopefully, that stops the derails that sometimes happen when backing up.

September 16, 2017

They came from a land down under

Lachlan runs an engine into Falmouth while Garry videos.

This evening Garry Glazebrook and Lachlan McGuire visited  Alicia and I in Alexandria, VA. 

Garry and Lachlan are from the Southern Highlands of Australia near Burradoo.   Both Garry and Lachlan have layouts. Lachlan described  his as "small" and currently stored in a shed, while Garry has an extensive model railroad called the Newcastle to Fassifern. It includes an large steel mill, a harbor area, and over 200 turnouts. Lachlan helps Garry with the wiring, a fact that would come in handy later. 

After a quick introduction to the layouts, they had  a chance operate both  Aquia Line and the PoLA.  
videoThey had the honor of running the first train on the new tracks. Like most new operators, the double slip stub turnouts caused some confusion. 

Since the tracks at Aquia Landing are not yet fully wired, they ran a battery powered loco.  They were the first operators to turn an engine on the wye at Aquia Landing!

Lachlan discovered that the locos and cars were shorting as the crossed the boundary between the new booster we added last week and the old booster. Fortunately, Lachlan is a bit of a wiring guru. We spent about an hour debugging the problem. In the end we concluded that there was something wrong with the new booster. No matter how we wired its output wires it caused a short at the boundary. But otherwise it worked fine. At first we suspected that since they were from  down under, that may be contributing to the short. But we eventually ruled that out. We could not find any crossed polarity feeders. We also could not find any feeders that would have been causing two boosters to feed one section of track. In the end, we removed the "new" third booster and reverted back to a two booster system - one for PoLA and one for Aquia. Then everything worked fine. This is another case of, "to err is human, but to really foul things up takes DCC." Anyway, it was a good test of the system. At least it is working now.

It was fun to compare notes with Aussie model railroaders. Perhaps we need to make a visit to the Land Down Under.

September 15, 2017

Feed Me!

Hopefully I haven't created my own little shop of horror, but last night I cut the last gaps for the frogs and soldered the last feeder to the track.   I still have to connect the feeders to the buses and install the auto reverse circuit and frog juicers.

I have a Tony's Trains exchange On Guard circuit for the autoreverse. These are no longer available, as they have an improved version. But I have one on the turntable in Falmouth and it works just fine.

September 9, 2017

Holy Cow! Great Work Session

I'll get to the cow later, but today we had a very productive work session.  Eight members of the USMRR construction corps showed up to work.

Mat Thompson and Pete LaGuardia arrived first. They went to work installing the booster to the Aquia Landing section of the layout. I had previously run the main power buses to Aquia Landing, so just they needed to swap out the wires at the main junction panel. I thought this job would take a few hours, but Pete and Mat finished in less than an half hour. We even tested it by shorting a section, and as designed, the other sections continued to work.

Wooden joint bars
With the booster connected, Mat went to work installing wooden joint bars to the finished part of the layout, while Pete started drilling holes and adding feeders to the tracks at Aquia Landing.  Pete was the model of efficiency as he got all the feeders installed and soldered.

Next "Loco" Leonard White and John Salmons arrived. They immediately went to work spiking track at the wye in Aquia Landing. Over the past week I had finished all the spiking of the new track at Burnside's wharf. With Loco Len and John's work, there are only about 6 or 7 feet of spiking left to do. Whew!

Track spiked, painted, and with feeders. What
are those B&M cars doing there?
Next, John "I read the email and brought my Floquil Pen" Drye arrived. He went to work painting track. Unfortunately, his paint pen was dried up, as were all of mine. So he ended up painting with a brush and acrylic paint. Later I fired up the airbrush and got busy painting rails with Vallejo acrylic paint.

Next to arrive was John Barry (yes that is the third John if you are keeping score). He went to work with Mat adding joint bars. After about an hour or so they used all the joint bars I had prepared. I need to cut some more on my laser.

new freight cars in various states of assembly 
JB Weilepp (no one knows if the "J" in "JB" stands for John. If so, that makes 4 Johns) arrived. He had worked on a box car kit at home. Earlier in the week, Paul Dolkos also brought over a box car kit that he had worked on. With the one I built, and two more flat cars, we now have 5 more cars in various states of partial assembly. JB had to leave, but he took another kit home to work on.

Carrot cake break
Doug Gurin was the last to arrive. At about the same time my mom showed up with a delicious home-made carrot cake. It didn't take long for the work crew to desert their posts for dessert.

After a tasty snack, I managed to get the crew back to work. Doug took over rail painting duties as JD had to leave.

Planking in between the rails on the wharf
I worked on planking the area between the tracks on the wharf. John Barry helped.

By 5PM, we broke for dinner. Doug and John Barry stuck around for dinner. During the dinner conversation we learned that John Barry not only has a pet horse, which we knew about, but he also has a pet cow. The cow came with the house that he bought in rural Virginia. And to top it off, the cow got pregnant and now John has a calf. How the cow got pregnant when John does not have a bull is a story for another time, but not to worry, it was not an immaculate conception. Of course my mom immediately suggested eating John's pet calf. Even Doug seemed to favor the idea of eating fresh veal.  Geeze, tough crowd!

All in all a great work session. Thanks guys.

September 5, 2017

The Last Turnout!

It took eight years, but I can finally breathe a sigh of relief as I am done with track laying on the Aquia Line. This evening I installed the last turnout including the switch stand. It all works well. It seems to be one of the smoothest turnouts yet.  I still have some spikes to install, but for now we can declare victory on the track work.

I also finished adding the tracks to the sidings at Burnside's Wharf.  I made a new jig using my laser to help spike the straight sections. That worked much better than I expected.

It's too bad I am done with track work as I was just starting to get the hang of hand laying.  In total there are 23 turnouts, about 140 feet of mainline, about 210 total linear feet of track, 6000 ties, and 24,000 spikes.

Clear acrylic straight track spiking fixture.

Next is wiring and electrical gap cutting. I need to add an autoreverse on one leg of the wye. I also plan to add frog juicers to the turnouts. Most of my engines have either batteries or keep alive circuits, but I do have one engine that is just DCC with sound. That one would definitely  benefit from Frog Juicers, which are easy to install. The Frog Juicers will keep the other engines running well too.

August 28, 2017

The Home Stretch

Independence Pass, Colorado

Dr Steve Clarson at the throttle
Using a laser-cut curve template to lay
the curve into Burnside's Wharf
First cars to test the new curve to Burnside's Wharf

After a hectic week that included my daughter's wedding in Aspen, Colorado, 5 rounds of golf at different courses in Colorado, a very late night arrival home, a visit from a old friend, two golf lessons, a class in 3D computer aided machining, going to work and the usual chores, I was able to get some track laying done on the Aquia Line.

I managed to complete 3 more turnouts. That means I have only one turnout left and about 10 linear feet of track to lay.  It's hard to believe after so many years of being under construction, all the track is nearly done.

Dr. Steve Clarson was in town for a conference.  He, Alicia and I, had dinner and then toured the layouts. It's always fun to chat with Steve. Being a native Yorkshire man, he described the Aquia Line as, "brilliant." You got to love those British accents and dialects.

August 14, 2017

Why did the train cross the road?

Prototype scene of traffic sharing road with train on Fries Ave in April 2000. Photo by Dave at EJ&E Archive.
After our unsuccessful attempt to get the "simple" grade  crossing warning lights wired up using the materials I had on hand I decided to tackle the project anew. First step was to read the directions, again.

I am using a Logic Rail Grade Crossing Pro. It is a full function grade crossing circuit that can handle flashing crossing lights, motor control for gates, and a bell circuit. The user has to provide the lights, gates, motors and bells. In addition, if using LEDs, the user has to provide the appropriate resistors.

The wood screw in the center secures the
circuit to the benchwork
The instructions include a chart to tell you what resistance to use for the LEDs for several power supply voltages. I used a 12V power supply, so I needed 470 ohm resistors. Of course I didn't have any on hand.  Luckily, we have a store in the area that sells some electronic components and is open on weekends. My go-to stores for that kind of stuff used to be Radio Shack as it was close to my house, but they went bankrupt. There is a good electronic supply shop in Alexandria, but they have regular business hours during the week and are closed on weekends, which makes it hard for me to get there during a normal work week.

Even though I was only using the crossing lights, there were still 14 different wires that had to be attached to the circuit and run to different spots on the layout. I made a wooden chassis with a terminal strip to try to help keep all the wires organized. I engraved letters on the wooden chassis for each connection. The large letters are easier to read when the circuit is mounted on the layout upside down.  I also built harnesses for the wires that I ran to each signal and photocell. I used heat shrink tubing to make the harnesses. Unfortunately the magnet wires that came with the signals were fragile -  two broke in the harnesses and two others shorted inside the tube. So I replaced all the magnet wires in the model signals with 32 gauge stranded wire.

The Grade Crossing Pro uses a series of 4 photocells to determine train occupancy and direction.  You put the two photo cells on each side of the crossing and if you wire them correctly they will control the crossing in a realistic manner. The circuit includes potentiometers to adjust the photocell sensivity.  I found that the adjustment would only work well when all four photocells were hooked up. Then it was simple to adjust for room light.

If I turn off the room lights the grade crossings will trigger if their power is on. So I have to make sure that switch is also off when quitting for the night.

Here is a video showing its operation.

August 12, 2017

Summer Reinforcements

It was a steamy rainy day as reinforcements arrived on the Aquia Line to help with various tasks.

Leonard White arrived first and he went to work in trying to wire up an automated grade flashing warning light system on the PoLA layout.

Joel Salmons and his son John were next up. They went to work laying rail and spiking track at Aquia Landing. This was John's first visit and he had a great time. He even asked to come to more sessions, including learning about operations.

Doug Gurin arrived next and also went on spiking brigade.

Leonard, with some help from me, did not have much luck getting the grade crossing signal system to work. I think we have a problem with the polarity of the LEDS on the grade crossing signals. I will have to take them off and double check that they are correct.

While we were working, Normal and Daylene Wolf stopped by to visit. They are on a weekend trip to visit DC to see friends and take in a Nat's baseball game. They hadn't seen the layout in several years and seemed to like it. I handed them a throttle and they had a chance to run a train around for a few minutes before they had to leave.

Right before dinner I glued down the ties for the new sidings at Burnside's wharf. After a great BBQ dinner where Joel and John joined Alicia and I,  I went back to work on track laying and nearly finished one turnout before calling it a day.

August 8, 2017

An achievement of sorts

Tonight I finished glueing down the last pieces of road bed for the Aquia Line. The roadbed is 1/8th inch poplar plywood glued to 1 inch of foam. I like this method of construction as it is fast, strong, light weight, and accepts spikes with no problem.

While I was laying the track I was thinking about how to switch this siding. I concluded that the original idea of having a turnout here is very handy, as it would prevent trains from having to back all the way across the wye to make pulls and spots.  So I put the turnout back in the design and added a piece of roadbed for it.  There is room in the siding for a 6-car train, which is also my design train length, plus 3 cars at the warehouse. The warehouse is recycled from McCook's Landing..

Here is the track plan with the siding shown at Burnside Wharf. I call it the set-out track, but it is like a visible staging track.  Cars destined for Burnside Wharf will be spotted here.

The prototype photo below shows the area that this scene emulates, though it is on the wrong side of the landing in my layout due to the constraints of the room.

This is how the ridge behind the landing looks now. I
could expand the ridge to the left, but I like how the river
recedes into the distance in this view.
I could repaint the horizon on the backdrop to show the ridge line on the west since that would match the geography better. In that situation, the tracks would run along the right and then turn right into the river. But the prototype Aquia Landing is on a pointy peninsula surrounded by water on three sides.  That is how I have the scene depicted my backdrop now. I like the way it came out, so for now I plan to leave it like it is. I just need to adjust some of the boats on the back drop as they are artifacts from before the expansion of Aquia landing.

August 6, 2017

War on Two Fronts

I started the layout revisions for the former Burnside's Wharf area of the Aquia Line layout. I use some pink foam I had on hand and the warehouse from McCook's Landing to quickly mock-up how it might look.  I immediately liked it.  This test convinced me that the revised plan is superior to the former plan. The revised design gives me nearly the same level of operation potential and looks a lot better.

The other cool thing abut this plan is that it gives me an additional option if I decide to expand the Aquia Line. I can go with either an extension on the Falmouth side, or run a more complete rendition of Burnside's wharf as roughly shown as the track plan at the right. But that is in the future. For now it was time to initiate hostilities at Aquia Landing.

It was a simple task to cut the foam pieces to fit and glue them down with Alex Plus caulk.  I also puttied in the gaps with fast and final spackle.

While the glue was drying on Aquia Landing, I shifted fire to the PoLA layout to continue to work on the Borax silos. I had to do some fit adjustments to the top plate of the silos. Then I proceeded to scratch build the unloading shed. I used a laser cut acrylic core, with some plastruct I-beams inside and Evergreen styrene corrugated siding on the exterior.

I had previously measured the height of the structure to insure that the stairs would fit in an even number of flights. My model is selectively compressed so it will only have four flights of stairs, while the prototype has six. There is a lot of cool detail on top of the loading shed. It will be fun to build that.

August 4, 2017

Yet another Aquia Track Plan Revision

I've been thinking about the track plan for the Burnside's Wharf area and I decided to make some changes. The most immediate change is to eliminate the second wharf planned to represent Burnside's Wharf.  I concluded that it was going to be too crammed in the spot I planned for it. I also want to get this part of the layout done before the ACWRRHS group arrives in September. I don't think I can get the second wharf done in time. In fact, I cut the number of tracks from two to one as I don't think I need the second track. (I can add it later once I start laying track.)
In terms of operation, I can still use the track in that area to represent trains that are destined to Burnside's Wharf. It would function like a visible staging track.

This design also makes the option of a continuous run more feasible by adding a removable track across the door to the dispatcher's office.

The second big change is at Falmouth. This would happen once I decide to remove PoLA and expand the Aquia Line. The more I live with the borax factory peninsula on PoLA, the more I realize I don't like it there. It's a little too tight for daily use. It also creates a choke point especially when I have visitors. So I took out the wye at Falmouth and reduced the bump out to only accommodate a tunable.

Last Friday we had a torrential rain that lasted most of the night. That caused some minor flooding in the basement. There was no damage to the layouts, furniture, or computers. But some boxes that I carelessly had placed on the floor got wet. I also had to pull stuff away from the walls to spray disinfectant. In the process I purged a lot of old stuff.  The recovery is almost done, so I'll be back to building layouts soon.

July 28, 2017

Steam into History

I found this photo on the Steam into History Facebook page.  I thought it was a great depiction of a civil war era railroad scene as there are no anachronisms visible. Well, maybe just three. Can you find them?

Updated: Of all the comments below, no one picked up on the steel joint bar. In the ACW joint bars were made of wood.

Other items people spotted:
1. Headlight should be off in daylight. ACW oil lamps only run at night
2. Knuckle coupler should be a link and pin
3, Air hose and air compressor. ACW era trains did not have air brakes.
4. Paint horse not correct for ACW era cavalry in Pennsylvania
5. Road may be paved - if so, not ACW correct
6. Camps chairs may be too modern.

Steam into History is a nonprofit, educational, charitable organization. They operate a steam train that chronicles the role York County, PA. played in Civil War history.  They are holding an event this weekend to recreate a confederate raid on the railroad. There is more info at this link.

July 25, 2017

Updated PoLA Plan

In between golf, chores, and binge watching Game of Thrones, I did an update to the Revised PoLA plan based on some feedback from the client. He plans to reuse an existing staging level with a helix. Since he already had those built, it wasn't a big deal to modify the plan to include them. He also asked to include the option to include some ship models on the layout. Finally, he asked for suggestions on what to include in the second room, which the first design listed as future expansion. This version reflects those changes as well.

July 20, 2017

A Revised PoLA for a Reader

One of the readers of my book, "Waterfront Terminals and Operations" asked me if I could develop a modified plan of my PoLA layout to fit his space. He was currently modeling a plains railroad in HO scale but was unhappy with its design. In particular he felt he had tried to cram too much stuff in his layout. He liked the PoLA design for its operation potential and manageable scope. He also requested wide aisles to ease access. He has two rooms available for his layout with an assortment of doors and windows. The overall space is 31 by 15 feet with a few obstacles here and there.

Here is the plan that I developed for his space. It's an enlarged version of my own plan with longer sidings and a few extra industries. Initially his back room is reserved for staging, but the layout could easily be expanded in that space later with some of LA's shoreside industries.

This layout supports a lot of varied operation. There are industries for tank cars, auto racks, covered hoppers, box cars and a break bulk terminal that can accept just about any type of car including double stacks, gondolas, depressed center flats, steel cars, etc.

The long sidings add interest to the operation especially when combined with industry spot numbers. For example, switching the single siding at Vopak can be quite involved when cars have to be placed at specific spots.

Some of the sidings are quite long, in contradiction to normal model RR design practice where designers try to cram more, but smaller sidings into a design. I don't like that approach. First, most of the industries on a modern layout have long sidings to provide the rail transportation service they require. Otherwise, they probably use trucks. So designing a layout with longer sidings is prototypical.

Secondly, switching long cuts of cars on a layout feels more  prototypical than the usual one car out-one car in used on some layouts. It  requires good engineer - brakeman coordination. It also presents an imposing spectacle. Watching a string of 15 auto racks going in and out of WVL is really cool. See the video below for an example.

The same concept would apply when switching Pasha, where there are 4 parallel long sidings. This could almost quality as a model railroad yard. Switching this industry can be akin to working a yard with sorting and blocking. The operation can be made even more involved if some cars on the long sidings must remain, while other cars deeper in the siding must be pulled. I do that on my layout when I have more advanced operators to make the tasks more interesting.

July 19, 2017

The Generals

I was looking through my old photos and thought this one would benefit from some clean up in Photoshop. So here it is.


July 8, 2017

Lyceum Exhibit on Alexandria in WWI

Overview of part of the exhibit where the sub chaser is displayed
The Lyceum has opened it's exhibit on Alexandria in WWI. My mom and I stopped by today to get a look at it. The exhibit has an interesting array of artifacts. While I am proud that the sub chaser model I built is prominently displayed, the exhibit that I find the most amazing is R. Fawcet's chest. He was the first citizen from Alexandria to die on the war in an flight training accident in Illinois. The military shipped his belongings home in a footlocker just as he had left them. The Fawcett family kept the chest for 100 years and left it unopened for 80. It was quite moving to see the man's uniforms, texts and personal effects largely untouched 100 years later. Alas, I didn't take a picture of the footlocker.

Mom poses by the sub chaser model

Mom really enjoyed seeing the civil war replica costumes
used in filming PBS's TV show "Mercy Street"
The WWI weapons are on loan from the NRA Museum.

July 2, 2017

Reconfiguring the Borax Pier

I finally had a chance to work on the layout this weekend.  First, I looked at some ways I could get rid of the Borax peninsula by making the silos and wharf parallel to the back wall, similar to the way I first had the layout, but with deeper bench work. Using the ship and silos as mock-ups I realized none  of the ideas were satisfactory, so I decided to leave the track and benchwork as is.

 However, I decided to modify the borax wharf to allow a bit more sea room for the ship.  The tracks stayed where they were. I removed a wedged-shaped sliver from the wharf. This allowed me to move the ship a few inches away from the edge of the benchwork.

The task was easy because I used foam and task board for the terrain in this area. Both are easy to cut with a knife. The ship's hull will hide most of the cut area, so patching the gap will be easy.

The ship looks better with a little bit more water around it. The extra water surface will help protect the fine details on the ship from errant sleeves and elbows as people move in the narrow aisle between the borax peninsula and  Aquia Landing.

I also purchased 12 more feet of 3-inch PVC pipe to make bigger silos. The pipe is much less expensive if you buy it in longer pieces.

I cut the pipe on my chop saw, a messy job that took more time to clean up than to cut.  The new silos are 10.75 inches tall and 3.5 inches OD. The new silos better match the cargo ship in volume capacity. They also act as a nice view block.