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.

February 26, 2017

A hull of a lot of sanding

We are getting a bigger boat
After a good nights sleep and three cups of joe, I headed down to the basement to see if the GENSET still worked. I fired up the DCC and, yes, it did!  Alleluia!

Then I dived into the Soundtraxx decoder manual and technical reference, which I found on-line on Soundtraxx's website. After about 3 hours of arcane reading about bits, indexed configuration variable pages, function mapping, and OpsMode programming I was able to get the GENSET to operate with momentum, braking, and automatic ditch lights. I even did some remapping of the function keys. It now runs very well and sounds great.  The independent brake function is really nice. One push to apply and it makes a nice squeal as it comes to a stop. Push again and it makes an air hiss sound as the brakes release and the loco moves.

 The current keeper makes for stall free operation.   All in all a sweet running loco. It looks good too. Now to add some slight weathering.

The EasyDCC system has a nice control panel that simplifies programming CV values. At one point I was setting individual bits on the ditch light CVs. It's very easy to do with the EasyDCC system. No need to add up binary and hexadecimal numbers to get desired effects. There are thousands of combinations of settings. Seriously folks, this DCC sound stuff is getting out of hand. You could make loco sound programming a hobby all to itself.

Sanding the bow on the deck table. This is going to
get serious....
Just before lunch I began work on shaping the bulk carrier hull. I initially used a table on the back porch to sand the hull. But I decided to get serious and set up my portable saw horses and work table.

I used a belt sander with a very coarse belt for rough shaping, then an orbital palm sander to smooth out the rough surface. Finally, some putty and hand sanding to get the surface almost to the finished smoothness.

Rough sanded bow
I added a quarter inch to the top of the forecastle layer to bring it up to the correct height. For that I used a piece of quarter inch aspen plywood that I cut with my saber saw. That worked out pretty well.

I glued and screwed the parallel mid body pieces to the bow and stern. We had cut rabbets in Rob's shop, but they were off a bit. A few shims were needed to get everything square and level. The reason for the glitch is that we used a router to cut the rabbets, and not the table saw. My brother was concerned the wet glue would trip the safety stop of the table saw. So we used cruder methods to cut the rabbets and we were off just a bit.

Hand sanding around the bulbous bow

Belt sander makes quick work on the stern section
Next I will start sealing and sanding. The deck will be covered with a skin or styrene. I have not decided if i will skin the hull sides, or just seal and paint.

I ordered a bunch of detail parts from Deans Marine in the UK, but they have not yet arrived.

Puttying the holes and gaps
Using a box to mock up the superstructure.  The silos and ship will make a good view block. 

The Mysterious Ways of Dr DCC

While I was in Florida last week, I purchased a Soundtraxx PTB-100 Programming Booster. The booster is supposed to provide "reliable programming of all Soundtraxx DCC decoders." It was simple to wire up, except that I had to cut the power input wires to my Easy DCC system to splice in the taps for the input power to the PTB-100 circuit. It turned on and the status light gave a reassuring blinking green glow.

I put the troublesome GENSET loco with the Tsunami 2 sound decoder on the programming track. Alas, the PTB-100 status lights gave brief red flashes when I entered programming instructions, indicating that there was insufficient voltage input to the circuit. I got these red indicators for both the GENSET and one of my O scale locos with a Tsunami decoder.

I put the GENSET on the rails and it fired up. Things seem to work normally. But, after about a minute the loco would not respond to inputs. I shut everything down, checked my wiring and input voltage to the PTB-100. All seemed OK. I tried to program again. Red error lights again. But when I tested the loco it worked properly.

I did a full reboot cycle to see if to would still work and it did. I have no idea why it worked, but for now I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

There are two special functions FX26 nd FX 27 for ditch lights that I can't access from the Easy DCC system as there is no way to address as 2x function (or perhaps I can but don't know how. I may have to remap these to different function buttons. But having read the manual, I have no clue how to do it. I also have no clue what the dynamic brake function does. Gosh, I hate DCC!)

Also, when we arrived home, the USPS had already delivered the bow and stern parts to the bulk carrier  ship model that I mailed from Florida. Good job USPS. I placed the wooden ship hull on the intended wharf area. It fills the space quite nicely. I may make the borax pier an inch narrower, and the water area a matching inch wider to have a bit water between the hull and the fascia. Right now the hull comes right up to the edge of the fascia.

So all in all a good day. One more loco in service, and the ship hull in house. The jury is still out on the PTB-100.

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.