When last we visited the topic of DCC, I lamented that North American DCC manufacturers have been slow to update their control systems to the state of the art of general consumer electronic devices (think iPhones, iPads, Android, Nests, etc.) or even to late-generation European DCC control systems (look at these Piko, ESU, and Z21 offerings). But there are some hopeful signs of life in the North American DCC control market.
Since that post, Digitrax has offered its LNWI module that can serve as a gateway for wifi-enabled throttles and smart phone apps, but there have been few other new DCC control products introduced into the North American model railroad marketplace. The LNWI module can even facilitate use of an ESU Mobile Control II with an existing Digitrax system, so modelers who are interested in dipping their toes into late-generation DCC control can do so without completely recapitalizing their existing Digitrax system.
Meanwhile, there are rumors in the hobby shops and train shows that one of the big US DCC manufacturers will soon introduce a new LCD-faced control device similar to the smartphone-like Piko, ESU, and Z21 controllers, but alas, our hobby is a festering hive of rumored new products, and ever shall it be. But maybe there's something to such rumors?
A recent announcement from Train Control Systems (TCS) indicates that TCS--primarily a decoder manufacturer--is joining the late-generation DCC control revolution. TCS is looking for user experience (UX) and digital design experts to join their development team. The announcement leans heavily into a vision for a graphic user interface approach to decoder programming. In other words--more buttons, sliders, and intuitive approaches to representing decoder programming on a computer screen. JMRI accomplishes some of this now, but the concept could use some modernization and UX improvement.
I'll be excited to see where TCS takes this concept, and to see where the other North American DCC makers take their controllers next.
Monday, October 22, 2018
Monday, October 15, 2018
|The DesignDyne/Shapeways NEC Substation in place on the Old Line Corridor|
|Test Fitting: the DesignDyne/Shapeways Northeast Corridor|
Substation with a little tiny Piko/Con-Cor substation inside
it. Note the bowing of the outside columns.
A few weeks later I received an enormous box containing the N scale NEC substation. It is printed in 'White Natural Versatile Plastic', which is stronger than the 'Frosted Ultra Detail' (since replaced by 'Smooth Fine Detail Plastic') from which OLC's catenary bridges were rendered. On the plus side, WNVP comes from Shapeways 'clean' and is not coated with a waxy film of print residue that must be removed in a bath of hexane or Bestine. A soap and water rinse is all the prep this 3D printing material needs before painting. On the negative side, WNVP has a rough, porous finish. For a background structure model of this size, volume, and lattice detail, the WNVP material gets the job done, and is strong to boot.
My substation was a little warped. The end columns bowed outward, which I suspect is a function of the structure, rather than a flaw in the material: skinny, unbraced lattice columns, and curling in the 1 mm- thick spacer straps connecting the concrete footings at the bottom of the model. Indeed, putting downward pressure on the straps actual mitigated the bowing somewhat. But I also gently clamped a rigid scrap of straight hardwood to the most bowed end columns and applied some gentle heat from a craft heat gun. After each column cooled back to room temperature, I unclamped the wood, which corrected the worst of the bowing.
|What a difference black primer makes! The paint brought out the detail and transformed the look of the model in a short time.|
I used Badger Stynylrez black primer, which, despite being a water-based paint, is a true rugged primer with strong adhering qualities. Stynylrez has some specific instructions that are somewhat unusual compared to other model-oriented paint. It should not be thinned, and is recommended be sprayed at 25-30 PSI using a .5 mm or heavier needle. To get all the nooks and crannies, it took me an hour or so using my Grex Tritium airbrush.
While the primer set for a day or so, I puzzled over how to paint this. These substations were originally painted an aluminum color, which would be appropriate for a 30s-early 60s era model, but from the Penn Central period to the present, most of these substations--along with catenary towers and other right-of-way infrastructure--weathered to a rusty grime color. A few in New Jersey have been repainted in aluminum in recent years, but most I've seen between DC and Philadelphia are weathered rusty grime. So I airbrushed additional coats of rusty browns and dull grays with Vallejo Air colors I had on hand. I also used folded 3x5 cards as masks to shoot the footings with Vallejo Air's excellent concrete color, a buff gray shade.
|The painted and weathered substation glued to .080" styrene cut to fit it on the OLC with Liquid Nails. All that clamping ensures that the model's base is perfectly flat and that the columns are square and straight. It dried for over 24 hours.|
|Blending the base with Vallejo ground texture.|
Once the glue set and the clamps removed, I fit some .040" styrene in between the base straps make a more-or-less flush, continuous surface for attaching the Piko/Con-Cor substation. Vallejo Diorama Effects Rough Grey Pumice ground texture, an acrylic gel-based scenery product, applied with a palette knife, blended the base straps and styrene into a continuous, smooth base.
After the Vallejo ground texture dried, the Piko/Con-Cor substation was glued in with white Elmer's glue, and more Vallejo ground texture built up to blend in the 1/8"-thick Piko/Con-Cor substation base into the overall base. Z scale gravel and turf materials were glued down with thinned white Elmer's glue to blend all together.
|Ground cover roughed in before the painstaking Gold Medal|
Models fence installation. Temporarily sited on the layout,
the T-pins will guide application of glue and scenery materials.
Gold Medal Models chain link fence with barbed wire fence, painted with Rustoleum primer and Camo Brown was installed around the perimeter of the substation. Working with this photo etch product and ensuring that the fence posts were appropriately located and drilled was the most tedious and painstaking step of this substation project.
Once the fencing and base ground texture were dry, a bead of earth-colored Vallejo ground texture was applied to the edges of the substation site on the layout, and a bead of Elmer's white glue on the bottom of the substation base. T-pins stuck into the layout around the edges of the .080" styrene base marked where the ground texture and glue should go. Once the base was maneuvered into position, the T-pins were plunged in to firmly clamp the base to the layout, which set for another day or so.
The T-pins were removed once the ground texture and glue were dry, and final scenery blending commenced. First, more ground texture was added to blend and smooth the base into the layout. Various turf, ballast, and vegetation materials were then added to finally blend the substation into the layout.
Monday, October 8, 2018
|BNSF action: a transfer move overtakes a unit train near Denver Union Station.|
Admittedly, the iPhone camera is limited in functionality compared to a fully-featured camera. But it also has some intriguing low light features, including High Dynamic Range (HDR) capabilities that allow quality photography under a variety of adverse lighting conditions. This capability--in combination with the the fact that it is usually immediately accessible and available--make for exciting photo opportunities. I have found that those limited features force a focus (see what I did there?) on fundamentals of composition and planning.
|A CSX unit train idles, awaiting orders to move out of Nashville's 'Gulch' at Kane Avenue tower on a rainy Saturday in early September 2018.|
|Denver's RTD Light Rail at Union Staion|
|RTD Heavy Rail Service, which serves Denver's distant and sprawling airport as well the northwest 'burbs.|
|Another view of BNSF action in downtown Denver near Union Station.|
|Closer to home, a brand new Siemens Charger diesel pushes a commuter train into Washington DC at Garrett Park, MD|
|Cab of an inbound MARC train, also in Garrett Park.|
|A more 'normal' MARC MP36PH-3C pulling a train into Garrett Park.|
|We travel frequently to Connecticut and ride Metro North from New York City to Danbury area. Here are Metro North M9 electric MUs in Stamford, Connecticut.|
Wednesday, October 3, 2018
This New York Times commentary is very much worth a read. Let's have fun with our trains, models, and games.
Monday, October 1, 2018
|On the bench: Island Model Works/Shapeways South Shore/NICTD Nippon Sharyo body shell (buy it here). A quick test shows it will fit on the Kato RDC drive with a bit of of judicious filing and fiddling. Will need some Faively-style pantographs and some decal-bashing in addition to silver paint and window glazing.|
Walthers updated and re-ran its N SW1200 earlier this year, and offered it in two different Calumet Region paint schemes: Indiana Harbor Belt and Elgin Joliet and Erie. I picked up the IHB version, and would pick up another road number and even the EJ&E version if one presented itself. The SW is a fine loco, but its DCC decoder installation is quite fussy owing to very tricky disassembly that can result in mangling vital pickup wipers. The IHB SW is an excellent complement to Bluford's IHB transfer caboose, two of which I also acquired.
Another N surprise turned up on the Island Model Works store on Shapeways, which is a South Shore/NICTD Nippon Sharyo coach shell. The actual Shapeways item is inexplicably called 'Nss Single 12-2016' but it is unmistakably a South Shore stainless steel coach. It appears to be scaled down from IMW's HO resin offering of this same car, construction of which has been covered here previously on Up Dunes Junction. A test fitting suggests the shell will fit with some fiddling and grinding over the Kato RDC drive. In particular, the interior features posts that extend from the roof down to a few millimeters or so shy of the of side bottom, suggesting it would fit on to a conventional floor as on the IMW HO version of this car. To fit on the thick Kato RDC drive, these interior posts will need to be shortened by another few millimeters.
|Bluford IHB transfer caboose and Walthers IHB SW1200. The decoder install in the SW is a tight, difficult fit, but it is a good runner, no small feat in such a small, light locomotive.|
|The RSM Grasselli kit, based on an iconic Indiana prototype.|
Readers may be wondering: don't I already have an HO South Shore layout? The whole point of my N scale sojourn and Old Line Corridor has been modeling Northeast Corridor prototypes that have been impractical to cover in HO, so why all the fuss over N scale models of Calumet Region prototypes?
For the moment, my focus will remain on NEC prototypes in N and Calumet Region, including the South Shore--in HO. But I'm thinking ahead to my future model railroading, where I anticipate time and resources for model railroading but maybe somewhat less space or more transitory space. My spouse and I are eyeballing our possible (retired) future without a large house--or even living between multiple smaller houses.
In other words, a portable, space-conscious approach to model railroading is likely to be in my future, perhaps even modular model railroading using the T-Trak, N-Trak, or Free-Mo standard. The modular approach would give me an opportunity to build some Calumet Region layout design elements, and provide an appropriate venue for running Calumet Region equipment.
Fortunately, I live in prime N scale module territory: our excellent local Northern Virginia NTrak (NVNTrak) club has both NTrak and T-Trak divisions. I'm looking forward to getting to know the NVNTrak gang in the future, and modeling my favorite Calumet Region railroads.
Monday, September 24, 2018
|The source photo, before extensive|
Photoshop-pery to blend it in.
|Before: that oblivion look. Is that the end of the world? Or just a high cliff overlooking Lake Michigan? Many visitors to|
the layout—my father-in-law in particular—immediately call attention to this gaping sight.
Monday, September 17, 2018
|Quick! A train! I caught this CSX freight snaking out of Radnor Yard while we were conducting an impromptu craft beer crawl after a biscuit-heavy brunch in The Gulch neighborhood of Nashville.|
|A CSX intermodal train passes hip and trendy condos in the Gulch. Not visible to the right, my new railfanning pal Brian Schmidt cursing me for distracting him from his railfan photography with my irresistible conversation skills.|
|A GP38 road slug set knocking covered hoppers around the Gulch.|
|Get a load of this lovingly painted transition-era Louisville and Nashville Geep at the Tennessee Central museum.|
|Serious dudes trying to stay out of the way|
of real railroad operations: Andy Elkins,
center, yours truly on the right,
|Another of Tennessee Central's workhorses is this SW wearing early Illinois Central-inspired colors.|
|Ex-Amtrak F40PH #121 powered our Music City Star train.|
|Obligatory front-end view of F40PH #121.|
|The cab end approaches the Nashville station. The car's Chicago Metra heritage is|
apparent in the colors and lines.
|In this cab car view, our inbound train is in the hole for a meet with an outbound train.|
|Outbound view from the F40PH cab. Unlike many commuter rail lines, the Music City Star route is curvy, single track, and features many interesting bridges and scenic views.|
Monday, September 10, 2018
Monday, September 3, 2018
|Welcome to the O Scale Convention! This intricately scenicked On30 logging camp module greeted registrants. While oft-discussed On30 was present at the O Scale Convention, it was not as dominant as I expected.|
I visited the convention mid-morning on a Saturday, and the crowd was just picking up. There was an extensive schedule of clinics, layout visits, and other rail-related tours, as well as a model contest. A good sized vendor floor offered a large selection of O scale and general model railroading wares. Most of the rolling stock for sale was mainline, standard gauge fare, which surprised me a bit—I was expecting more On30, pre-WWII, and even traction gear.
O scalers are, for some reason, more prone to model heavy electric, and I was pleased to see a significant contingent of big electrics on the vendor tables as well in the in contest room. Even modern electric equipment gets its due, and I saw several chunky AEM-7 and Siemens motors on display. An O scale AEM-7, ironically, is about the size of a small toaster!
The event afforded me the opportunity to meet some manufacturers and model railroaders of note. Dave Herman of ESU was showing off high-amperage decoders (particularly relevant to older O scale equipment that can draw well over 2 or 3 amps!) and the new CabControl product. We discussed the ECoS controller and Mobile Control II, which I have been using on the Old Line Corridor after having reading about it on Trevor Marshall’s Port Rowan blog.
Tony Koester, that genial statesman of model railroading, was also on hand with his modular ‘Wingate’ O scale modular layout that will be featured in upcoming issues of Model Railroader magazine. Tony and I swapped stories about our alma mater, Purdue, Northwest Indiana, and railfanning the South Shore. I learned that Tony was involved in campus radio at Purdue, but I should have figured that he had some broadcast or performing arts in his background--he has 'the voice' and the knack for a great, immediate story.
|Model Railroader columnist, author, and raconteur Tony|
Koester telling rail tales while displaying his Wingate, IN
O scale modules.
Dr. Roebuck and I even went to an 80s iteration of this O scale convention, and there were both similarities and important differences in the 35 or so years since. The models were just as big and substantial as I remember--and electric prototypes were in evidence as well. But today the models are better--the hobby's greater overall fidelity to detail was certainly apparent in both the contest room and the sales tables, and more likely to be made of plastic. As late as the 80s, disdain for plastic as a modeling material was still in vogue among O scalers. But in the years since, the high quality model manufacturing methods that have been refined in HO and N have been employed to great effect in O scale. Track is another area of substantial improvement over the decades--more scale sized rail and detailed flex track and turnout products.
Despite my nostalgic affection for O scale, and what seemed like acres of available models of interesting subjects, I didn't walk out with any O scale models or even inspiration to launch an O scale project. It is difficult to imagine arranging my real estate in such a way as to accommodate these monstrouns models, even though they are impressive and satisfyingly substantial (There was an O scale AEM-7--that toaster-sized 'Toaster' mentioned above--at a low, low price that was indeed very tempting. And sound takes on a whole new meaning in those seemingly cavernous O scale boilers and locomotive bodies!) But I did enjoy catching up with O scale in person, and meeting and talking to other model railroaders, including latter day O scalers.
Monday, August 27, 2018
|Silver Springs on Jim LaBaugh's modular Nn3 layout. That foreground street scene is as full of character and as well executed as anything produced by George Sellios, Malcolm Furlow, or John Allen--despite the very small size.|
The layout uses N scale to full advantage to depict the lonely, sparse character of classic Colorado narrow gauge in the Rockies. Many narrow gauge layouts miss the low-density, ramshackle aspects of backwoods railroading, but to my eye, Jim and company got the ratio of track to scenery right, particularly in the rural parts of the layout I neglectfully didn't photograph. And where there is urban development on the layout, the craftsmanship is impressive. The structure and vehicle modeling is among the best I have seen in N scale, and accurately captures the look and feel of rural mountain Colorado in the 40s and 50s. The vehicles in particular have set a new standard for the Old Line Corridor.
A Rio Grande K-27 Mikado did laps around the layout while I visited with Jim and we swapped stories about the joys and travails of niche modeling in N scale. I learned a lot about how N scale narrow gauge has evolved and its relationship to Z scale. Nn3 modelers are an inventive and persistent bunch, and I look forward to seeing more of the NVNTRAK gang, including the Nn3ers, around in the near future.
|Thompson Valley is located on a river. The number and quality of era-appropriate vehicles is remarkable--often a shortcoming on N scale layouts regardless of era or modeling subject.|
Monday, August 20, 2018
|A westbound South Shore train at Mineral Springs Road in early July 2018. This location--which formerly was the location of the Dune Acres flag stop--is the inspiration for my Dunes Junction HO shelf layout.|
I tagged along on a Chicago business trip with my wife, Rachel, in early July and visited the SouthShore railroad in the Indiana Dunes, as well as Chesterton, a well-documented hot spot with plenty of CSX, NS, CN and Amtrak action. During my visit to the Dunes area, I was able to complete a long-overdue task for my Dunes Junction layout: I finally got some photographs of Mineral Springs Road to use on the Dunes Junction backdrop.
|Looking north toward Lake Michigan|
on Mineral Spring Road. This photo will be used to fill that pesky gap in the existing Dunes Junction backdrop.
Look for a post on filling the gap
in the near future.
|Mineral Springs Road on the Dunes|
Junction layout. Currently looks like
it ends at a cliff overlooking Lake
Michigan, which has bothered me for
so trackside at Belmont was exciting and rewarding.
|Where steeple cabs, 700s, and 800s once roamed: an eastbound South Shore Freight engine move at Mineral Springs Road. A wood flag stop shelter stood where those instrument sheds are now when this was Dune Acres|
|Freights like these come fast and furious through Chesterton. Railfan photography was actually banned here for a time due to several near misses. I took care to give the trains and the police a wide berth.|
|Chesterton station, now home to a museum, as a NS coil train rumbles past.|
|Westbound Metra train at Belmont. Even during non-rush hours, an hour or so will yield four or five trains.|
|Eastbound freight at Belmont. The sun was already too high for my taste by 11 AM or so, but that blue sky made up the difference.|