A journal following the history, design, construction and operation of Bernard Kempinski's O Scale model railroad depicting the U. S. Military Railroad (USMRR) Aquia-Falmouth line in 1863, and other model railroad projects.
©Bernard Kempinski All text and images, except as noted, on this blog are copyrighted by the author and may not be used without permission.

June 27, 2011

More fun than a barrel of....

New freight cars under construction
Finally...some time to work on the layout! I was able to build the chassis for two new flat cars. The flat cars are an experiment using acrylic plastic for the frames. I tried acrylic because I was using Grandt Line Stake pockets, as well as Tichy NBWs for this car. I reasoned that they would be easier to glue to the frame if I used acrylic. The problem arose in that the holes the laser cut for the stake pockets and NBWs were a tad small. So I had to open them up with the drill. When drilling acrylic the bit can foul with melted plastic, making the diameter of the drill too large. So I lost control of the dimensions of the holes. It was painstaking having to clean the melted plastic off the drill after each hole. Next time, enlarge the holes on the laser drawing. The other thing I wanted to test was how the acrylic plastic once painted takes decals. I have been having trouble getting the decal film for completely disappear on my wood sided cars. I just can't seem to get a good gloss surface on the wood to apply the decals.

Some of the barrels I stained and painted this weekend

I also stained and painted about 60 barrels. These are wood barrels that were tuned on a lathe. They are produced by John Rendal Scale Models. Walthers had them on sale, so I picked up a bunch. They took the stain pretty well. I then dry-brushed rust on the hoops and added some stave detail with a pen (not pictured).
One of the nice things about modeling the ACW in O Scale is that if you need cars for your layout, you can build them. One of the bad things about modeling the ACW in O Scaler is that if you need cars for your layout, you must build them. There are no RTR cars available (barring the SMR brass cars which are not very compatible with my wood cars).

A corollary of this phenomena is that trips to the hobby shop are considerably less exciting than they used to be as there rarely are new goodies in the shop that I can use on the layout. Nonetheless, I made a trip to Mainline Hobby Supply in Blue Ridge Summit on Saturday to pick up a new decoder and some other supplies. This is a great model railroad shop, especially for HO and N Scale modelers. Brian and Bonnie also do a great job on mail order items.  The drive up for me offers a treat as it passes through Owens Creek canyon where the Maryland Midland still runs on former WM tracks.

Maryland Midland entering the horseshoe curve at Sabillasville, MD on an earlier trip to Mainline Hobby Supply

June 22, 2011

Trouble with a decoder

Tonight the gremlins descended into my basement and started trouble with the QSI Revolution U decoder installed in the locomotive Whiton. It was working fine up until tonight. Now it will only run in one direction. All other functions seem to be OK, including sound and ops mode programming.

I tried resetting the decoder several times. I can get the decoder to speak back "reset," but resetting does not fix the problem. Note the QSI decoders have a talk back feature that helps in programming and debugging.

I made a video and audio recording of what the decoder says when I tried to check its speed using function 10. (See theyoutube video below) When I reverse the throttle, the loco doesn't move and it say something like "Vee -et" even though the throttle is 50 percent of max. In the forward direction it says the correct numbers as it speeds up. I think the "vee-et" sound from the decoder is how the QSI decoder pronounces zero.

The only other O scale DCC equipped loco I have runs normally, so it's probably not the Easy DCC system. Anyone that familiar about QSI decoders know what the problem might be?

Update: I spoke with Tony's Train Exchange and they will replace the decoder under warranty. Tony Parisi, the owner and DCC expert, believes that one of the output transistors has failed. But he suggested doing a hard reset by shorting certain output leads as mentioned in the user's manual. I will try that, but I am not hopeful. If the hard reset doesn't work, they will replace the decoder with a new series of QSI decoders called the "Titan." In either case I need to disassemble the loco.

This might be a good time to do a batch installation and get the last three locos converted to DCC.

June 21, 2011

More tuning and scenery work

Thanks to Linda Dolkos' Book Club, her husband Paul stopped by my layout for a work session. He brought over two Easy DCC throttles to test to see why I've been getting spurious results when I try to use two throttles at the same time. After checking things out, resetting the throttle addresses to null,  and reprogramming the throttle IDs, it appeared that things were running normally. We were able to run the two DCC equipped locos at the same time. Paul was able to run a 6 car train from Falmouth to Brook and back, while I ran the Haupt. Paul also fiddled with the momemtum settings on the Whiton, reducing it a bit to make the engine easier to control. I reminded him that he was the person who programmed the momentum the first time. :) It is cool to listen to the sound chip announced the programming changes through the speaker.

He then went to work on the hillside that he had worked earlier, covering the terrain with kraft paper and reshaping the slope to allow a little more room at the track lpevel.

Meanwhile, I did some more tuning. I re-gauged one of the turnouts at Stoneman's as it was tight. I also adjusted the ride height on one of my box cars. This car was riding high enough, that when it was pushed, the link from the neighboring car created an upward thrust that was derailing the car on some of the turnouts. By filing the laser cut acrylic bolster I was able to get the car to ride lower by about 0.040 inches. That seemed to help.

After that I painted some barrels and finished the windows and doors for the depot at Falmouth. I had to recut the door openings as I had made then too tall. It was a realtively easy fix.  I also cut an access hatch in the floor of the building to allow me to add some interior details. Now I need to come up with some way to detail the interior that is simple and quick. It is very hard to see into the building, but one can look lengthwise through the building as one gable wall is right by the aisle as you enter the room.
Finally I demonstrated the laser cut iPhone tripod adapter I made for holding my iPhone. At some point I'll post some test videos.

June 13, 2011

HD Video Test

I was able to borrow a Canon EOS 60D from my brother to test its 1080p video capture features. I shot this video in HD, but was unable to upload it to Youtube in HD using the version of iMovie that I own. The highest resolution is 360P.

I subsequently learned how to export an iMovie using QuickTime and was able to upload a HD version to youtube. This one should be viewable in high definition modes. The viewer can select the definition desired when watching the video. At the time I uploaded this video the highest resolution Youtube  allowed was 480P. I am not sure why, as it should be 1080p.I think this is a problem with my version of iMove 7.1.4, as it only allows exports of 920x680, which youtube down samples to 480p. I may have to try a later version of iMovie, as we have a copy on my wife's laptop.

June 12, 2011

A Layout Visit and Layout Tune Up

I had the chance to operate on Paul Dolkos' new HO Scale Baltimore Harbor District layout this weeekend.  It is an urban switching layout based on Baltimore, MD, but not a literal interpretation. It's more  a prototype freelance design in that the layout features railroads, scenes and structures from Baltimore but doesn't attempt to replicate any exact scene. The scenes that Paul has completed are completed to his usual high standard and are very well done.

Paul's layout was documented in MRP 2010 as the cover story.

After the op session at Pauls' layout, Gerry Fitzgerald visited my  layout where we spent about 3 hours testing and tuning track and engines.

I was able to regauge the southern most turnout at Stoneman's switch and it now operates well.

After numerous test runs over the northern most turnout at Brook, we concluded that there was a slight bump in the turnout. I lossened some of the spikes and added a 0.020 inch styrene shim. That help smooth operations. I also noted that one of the guards rails was a bit tight. I fixed that by filing the restrictive section.
The styrene shim will be invisible once the rail is painted.

We also spent a good amount of time trying to debug the intermittent short that the Whiton has been experiencing. A bright spark showed that the short was happening at the front truck where the pilot truck wheel was striking the cow catcher. After several disassembles, re-soldering parts and adjustments the engine ran without a problem. One of the problems seemed to be that joints where the main frame was soldered to the the cylinder saddle were broken. It took two irons, my 35W iron and my soldering station, to get enough heat to re-solder those parts. That got the cow catcher pilot back in correct alignment. I'm not sure how they broke in the first place, but they are fixed now.

We also discovered that the radio throttles were having trouble getting a clean signal when the hand held transmitter as at the far end of the room. i.e. near the Falmouth turntable. I may need to move the radio base unit around.  Through out the test we were unable to get good performance out of my second radio throttle. There may be something wrong with it. More debugging is needed.

June 7, 2011

More visitors

Oran (left) and Rob (right) bring the Whiton into Stoneman's Switch
We had more visitors tonight, humans this time. My brother Rob is in town for business. He and a colleague, Oran Dial from Houston, Tx, stopped by to visit the layout. They are working on an important proposal for their company. Oran is not a model railroader, but was interested in the history of the area and war. He had a chance to operate the Whiton and a 6 car train from Falmouth to the entrance to Aquia Landing.  Along the way he dropped 4 cars off at Stoneman's Station. Thus he got look at the basic operational aspects of  the layout including using the  throttle control, sound features, coupling and turnout operation.  I think he enjoyed it.

The Whiton front truck derailed at the siding into Stoneman's Switch. Afterwards I checked the turnout and sure enough, the gauge was tight there.  I placed a note to fix it when I get a chance. Funny how only the Whiton front truck derailed there. It is the most finicky locomotive I have. Hopefully as we operate more, these types of problems will manifest themselves so I can do repairs and fine tuning to improve the operation. But I can use the Whiton as my flaw detector.

June 5, 2011

A Modern Visitor

Today the layout had a special and unusual treat. Jeff and Christian Peck brought over their new Atlas O Scale MP-15 Switcher equipped with a factory installed QSI sound decoder to test run on my layout.  Jeff is in the process of building an O Scale, shelf-style switching layout. While he is designing and building his O scale project, he wanted a chance to test out his new DCC locomotive. I too was curious to see how a modern engine would do on my track. The test was very informative from a number of perspectives. Here is a short video documenting the test.

The first observation was that the modern locomotive, even though it is a small switcher is still much larger than my civil war era cars and locomotives. The MP-15 had clearance problems with my tunnel and at the wood rick on the turntable lead track, which is on a sharp curve. Thus it could not traverse the whole layout, and could not take a spin on the turntable.

In the process of setting up Jeff's loco, I decided to put a second wireless throttle into action. It took a bit of RTFM to figure out how to do that. At times we also were getting some odd lack of control behavior from the wireless throttle. I need to sort this out further, but when I tried to run my sound equipped loco, it sometimes caused Jeff to lose control of his loco. When he left I was able to get the two wireless throttles to control my two DCC equipped locos without trouble, so who knows what the problem was.

I was pleased to see Jeff's loco run flawlessly over my track. I was surprised to see that the wheel flanges of the standard gauge O Scale locomotive had no trouble with my code 100 rail. It also had no trouble taking the 28 inch radius curve on my layout, albeit without pulling any cars. Truth be told, the diesel ran markedly better than my steamers. I would rate the diesel as a 10 out of 10 for operations while my steamers rate an 8.  The diesel never once derailed or stalled anywhere. The same can not be said for my steamers as they run well, but have a hiccup every now and then.

Since Jeff's loco had knuckle couplers, we were unable to hook any of my link and pin cars to the engine. Given the weight of the loco, I bet it could haul a good number of cars.

The Atlas loco came with factory equipped DCC and sound. It worked great.

All in all it was a fun test. Jeff has a real nice loco on his hands.

June 4, 2011

The War Came by Train

The B&O Railroad Museum has a special display to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War called, "The War Came by Train."  The display takes their existing collection of Civil War era railroad artifacts and embellishes it with special displays, placards, some videos and lots of American flags. If you are at all interested in Civil War era railroads you must visit this exhibit.

Bill posing by the 4-6-0 Thatcher Perkins
I went there Friday with my father-in-law, Bill Worthington. He has genealogical connections to the B&O, C&O and  Maryland. One of his ancestors, Captain John Worthington, immigrated to the US through Annapolis in the seventeenth century. He is buried on the cemetery on the state house hill in Annapolis. Bill also had relatives on his mother's side that helped build the B&O main line in Ohio. Bill's father was a Methodist preacher in Kentucky and had a pass to ride on the C&O. Bill grew up in Pikeville, KY where he saw first hand C&O steam engines pulling coal out of the mountains.

Locomotive 2-2-2 Pioneer from Cumberland Valley RR
The B&O Museum has an excellent collection of Civil War era railroad equipment. The 4-4-0 Mason engine is still operational. It has appeared in several movies and is occasionally used in steam excursions. Other civil war engines in their collection include the 0-8-0 Mennon, the 4-6-0 Thatcher Perkins and the 2-2-2 Pioneer, which I must admit I found quite charming.

The museum also has several freight cars in the collection including an iron pot hopper, an iron box car and some coaches.  They also had an Adams Express Wagon on display showing cargo being transferred to an iron box car. The cargo included various crates, hard tack and a coffin.

There were several realistic mannequins depicting CSA Capt Sharp, two Union soldiers including a member of the construction corps, a young brakeman and a female passenger.

0-8-0 Mennon, which was heavily damaged in the roof collapse,
is back.
It was great to see that most of the damage from the 2002 roof collapse during an ice storm has been fixed. The flag display was also very cool.

The museum is well worth a visit. I do not know the time frame for the ACW display, so check with them if you want to see it.

We also visited the Ellicott Mills Museum, the oldest railroad station in the US. It had more Civil War related displays including the creation of a Provost Marshall office in the station agent office in the station.

I need to get a Lincoln painting like they had over the fireplace.

The Ellicott Mills Station also served as a engine house and freight depot. A turntable was added in 1863. The turntable was filled in when it became obsolete and then partially excavated in the late 20th century as part of he museum display.

Later that evening my mother-in-law Anne Worthington and sister-in-law Susan, visited the layout and took some trains for a test ride. Susan got a kick out of operating both the Whiton and Haupt using the wireless DCC throttle. Needless to say, it was a first time experience for her.It's times like this I wish I had more finished on the railroad.

Sister-in-law Susan drives the Whiton while her mom supervises.

Bill inspecting the depot at Falmouth with the intent of recommending a good location for the field hospital. Bill was a Navy doctor assigned to a USMC unit just after WWII.