Friday, January 20, 2017

Locomotive Mugshots, My Latest Hobby Within A Hobby

Amtrak 621, a Kato ACS-64, poses for its mug shot. Turns out one 'needs' locomotive mug shots when one uses fancified German DCC. When I first read Trevor Marshall's posts about how much he likes his new ESU ECoS 50200 DCC rig (here, and here), little did I know I would be learning to enjoy loco mugshotting . . .
The result, a tiny BMP file (that's actual size) that serves as the icon on the ECoS controller. Made 20 or so of these things, kind of like picture day in elementary school or maybe a precinct house after a riot by small fleet of N scale Northeast Corridor electric locomotives and their sympathizers. Look for a more comprehenisive post on my DCC adventures in a coming post.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Trains I Saw in 2016, Veteran's Day Twilight at Railroad Park

CSX freight captured at Railroad Park near Crystal City, Virginia, on Veteran's Day around twilight. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Mass In Motion, AKA the Sensory Surprise of N Scale Trains

When I started my N scale Old Line Corridor experiment last year, one of my objectives was to be able to run trains--whole trains, MUd locomotives, maybe even have meets and passes on the layout. In short, I wanted the OLC to be like railfanning somewhere on or near the Northeast Corridor, where big railroading happens.

Across the basement over at the HO scale Dunes Junction, there are trains running, to be sure, but the experience is decidedly unlike railfanning a former Pennsy (or any) mainline. It's more like a visit to a South Shore or Northwest Indiana railroad museum, where lovingly restored vintage rolling stock does 'over-and-back' moves around a section of restored right-of-way.
Running trains around the a-building OLC has already become an unexpected and satisfying pleasure. I had imagined that once scenery was more complete, perhaps with weathered rolling stock, I might feel a sense of realism. My test runs, however, surprise with the sense of mass in motion and the evocation of being in the presence of moving machinery and bigger-than-life technology. Have a look at this short video for a sense of how freight is moving around the OLC.

It's mostly the small size of N scale that is allowing me to see and experience the trains similarly to how I see and feel them in reality. Rarely do I actually see individual rolling stock up close, as at a museum; I'm more likely to see a locomotive or two trailed by freight or passenger cars that extend beyond immediate my field of view, passing through the landscape of suburban Maryland where I live or in the places I visit.

Realistic and controlled movement play an equally important role. The overall high quality of contemporary N scale locomotives is key to this measured movement of implied momentum and mass, but DCC deserves significant credit as well. The fidelity of control offered by DCC--particularly enhancement of lower speed control but also the ability to program lower top speeds--means that trains move more like the prototype. I've never experienced better or more versatile control of my trains.

Not sure I have ever experienced this sensation of realistic, massive movement on a layout of my own, and if I have experienced it with HO trains it was at a club or museum layout, such as when I visited the San Diego museum layout a few years ago. But I am surprised and delighted to see big ol' trains on my modestly-sized home layout.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Monday, December 26, 2016

Getting Back Up to Speed and Catching Up the Blog

A lot has happened on the Old Line Corridor and in real life since my last post back in September. I am now fully recovered from a serious but happily contained health crisis in early September, and also getting back in the groove of my work in the power utilities industry and travel. As my brother-in-blogging-arms Trevor Marshall recently described in a post on his 'Port Rowan in 1:64' blog, sometimes real life can divert attention away from our hobbies, or at least specific aspects of our hobbies. 

My health recovery afforded me some time to make some progress on my Old Line Corridor project--track is all but complete, scenery roughed in, a rolling stock fleet a-building, a few structures built, and my DCC knowledge and practice is advancing. However, my appetite and attention span for blogging (and frankly a lot of other sedentary computer activities, such as photo editing) is finally starting to return to normal. Let's catch up a bit with the high points, and some future posts will delve into some of the details.

The "front" of the Old Line Corridor with terrain completed, track ballasted and weathered, and the beginnings of ground cover.  Am thinking of calling this "Goldsboro"--seems like every town here in the Old Line State has a street named Goldsboro. 

Trackwork is completed, including ballasting and weathering. I used Peco's Fine Scale track, which some N scalers find problematic for its decidedly UK appearance and non-conformance with NMRA turnout standards. Aside from the quirks of joining the double-webbed rail, I have found it to be durable and fault-tolerant. For example, Arnold's recently released U25Cs and U28Cs are slightly narrowly gauged and other N scalers have reported that these locos derail on NMRA-conforming Micro Engineering and handlaid code 55 trackwork. I have had no such problems with Arnold U-boats on Peco track. My one complaint about the Peco turnouts is that the points require some fiddling and cleaning to ensure good, solid conductivity--nothing unmanageable or discouraging, however. Were I to build another N scale layout or expand this one, I would seriously contemplate another track system, probably using Fast Tracks system for hand laying or possibly Central Valley's recently released tie strips.

This part of the layout--the "back"--has a name, and it's 'Ivy City', named after the prototype Amtrak facility in Washington DC, and a favorite railfanning spot. It'll also be my visible fiddle staging yard (a concept that admittedly might give fits to any operations enthusiasts who read this post). 

Terrain and ground cover are now roughed in. I haven't done anything adventurous or unorthodox--stacked and carved extruded foam, sculptamold, latex paint, and the usual mix of ground foam. One thing not apparent in the photos is the industrial scale tree making that will transform the look of the layout. While many model railroaders express dread at the concept of making scores or hundreds of trees--even choosing modeling subjects and specific seasons to minimize the need for tree making!--I find tree making to be quite satisfying, as noted here previously.  So far, I have made a batch of Woodland Scenics plastic armature trees that will be background fillers, along with another batch of some cheap eBay trees that were improved using Kathy Millatt's techniques for improving cheap eBay trees. A couple of boxes of tried-and-true Scenic Express Super Trees are up next.

Other things not readily apparent from the photos are the continued build out of the OLC fleet and changes to my DCC rig. The fleet focus is the broadly defined Penn Central-Conrail transition period of late 60s through early 80s but the reality is that anything that ever ran on the Northeast Corridor is finding its way into my collection. Plus a few things that never ever ran on the NEC, notably a pair of Allegheny Midland ES44s, which will look awesome during a modern op session when they go into a siding with a unit train to yield to an ACS-64 or P42 with a Regional Service in tow.

I had been using a Digitrax Zephyr and various old laptop and network adapter doodads to run JMRI and WiThrottle, but I streamlined that to a Sprog3. More changes are coming, with the goal of having a streamlined, user friendly, and reliable DCC control installation. The Digitrax system is reliable but has an ancient user interface; the Sprog, laptop, and WiThrottle are somewhat more user friendly but markedly fussier than what I prefer. Watch for a future post on a significant new direction for OLC's DCC control.

Thanks for sticking with the blog and apologies for the irregular postings over the past year--here's wishing you all the best holiday and a great new year! Hope to read, hear, and see you around! 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Catching Up with the Old Line Corridor After a Tough Summer

Apologies again for the tardy and sparse posts. It has been a summer of business and family health surprises. Nonetheless, more progress to show on the Old Line Corridor. All track is down, ready for weathering and ballast. One of those health surprises happened to me and has caused me an extended convalescence, time that I used to engage in some scenic conceptualizing.

The main line and staging tracks are in, with the industrial spur track laying underway. The DC power pack is out for testing purposes.

A crude sketch of the overall Old Line Corridor concept, overlayed on a photo of the layout. From this side, the scenic ridge will represent the gently rolling terrain of the rural/suburban stretches of the Washington-Baltimore segment of the Pennsy mainline/Northeast Corridor. The other side of the scenic ridge will be more vertical urban scenery, characteristic of the Baltimore and Washington city stretches of this line.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Progress on the Old Line Corridor

Work has me on the road most weeks, and we moved the younger son back from college in the last month, so spare time for model railroading has been especially scarce. Nonetheless, my Old Line Corridor project is making slow but steady progress.
The Old Line Corridor track plan plan fits on a 36" x 80" hollow core door (HCD). The plan draws inspiration from a variety of HCD projects that have appeared in Model Railroader and elsewhere. but especially Dave Vollmer's Juniata layout (which has a significant YouTube presence and several major magazine stories), and MR's Mohawk and Carolina Central project railroads.

Straight outta Marty McGuirk's Carolina Central, folding table legs under an HCD
Cutting extruded foam board to fit the HCD. I used a saber saw fitted with a special foam board blade--quick and neat.
Two layers of foam board, 2" on top, 1" on bottom, glued to the HCD. Per the recent Red Oak series in MR, the 1" layer is cut 2" shorter in length and width to form a wiring chase all the way around the layout. Roadbed is going in.

Roadbed is glued in, sanded level and smooth, and trackwork begins. This is Peco Code 55 Finescale, which balances appearance with good ol' fashioned sturdiness and reliability. Looks a little too British for some folks, but looks swell to me.
Another view of a-building track and roadbed. This is my first go-around with foamboard benchwork, and impressed so far. The quirks haven't driven me away yet!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Washington DC's New Streetcar

Car arriving as another departs the western terminus of the new DC streetcar line at Washington Union Station. The streetcar opened just a few weeks ago after literally years of legal and bureaucratic wrangling. My wife and I took a ride a weekend or so ago to check it out and have an afternoon out on the city's vibrant new H Street corridor, or Atlas, District.

Metro train crossing over the eastern terminus of DC Streetcar. Unfortunately the only
walk on transfer location is at Union Station--there is no Metro stop at this end of the line.
Turnaround at the terminus as a two-car set begins its westbound run.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Thoughtful Blog Post on the Near Future of Model Railroading

Titus over at the Some Railroad You Never Heard Of blog has a thoughtful post about the future of model railroading (look for more 3D printing and CNC cutting--laser cutters, Cricuts, and the like--but some things like track as we currently know it are here to stay) and model railroading media (streaming video is the future, print fading away). Stop what you're doing and go read it. He's got me wondering if I should have a YouTube channel alongside or even in place of this blog . . .

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Capitol Limited Blog Makes Neighborhood Trains Look So Dramatic

The Capitol Limited/Robert Kaplan
Bob Kaplan is practically my neighbor, though I've never met him. He chronicles his global travels and railfan adventures on his Capitol Limited blog, and his photography eye is excellent.

I enjoy every one of his posts, and this one capturing CSX and MARC in Gaithersburg, MD during a recent snow storm (one of those events that paralyzed the National Capital region, BTW) particularly caught my attention. It's a fine example of a photographer using what's at hand to make railroading that might otherwise seem ordinary (to me, anyway, by dint of its familiarity).

Sunday, April 3, 2016

N Scale Toaster Project Pieces 'n' Parts

A contemporary Northeast Corridor roster would not be complete without an AEM-7, also known as a 'Toaster'. I'm in another intense period of business travel, which has been cutting into my modeling time, but one of the many joys of arriving home is catching up with the model train packages that arrived in my absence. Some key N scale AEM-7 pieces and parts came my way this week.
Prototype AEM-7s were built by EMD based on the Swedish ASEA Rc4 electric locomotive design, so a fitting start to the N scale Toaster project is a proven Rc4 locomotive model. This Fleischmann model (#736503) is an Austrian State Railways Class 1043, which is the European export version of the Rc4. The model is equipped with a European NEM DCC socket, heavy frame, and excellent drive, and the single-arm pantographs are similar to the AEM-7's and can thus be re-used for this project. In short, the Fleischmann model will be an excellent foundation for the N scale Toaster project.
This Imperial Hobby Productions AEM-7 shell and parts printed by Shapeways is the other key component of the N scale Toaster project. The parts are crisply detailed and sturdy, and the fit to the Fleischmann Rc4 seems very close at first blush. The shell and parts represent an early or 'as delivered' AEM-7, appropriate for 1980s and 90s. A more recent or rebuilt AEM-7 would also have recessed ditch lights on the nose between the pilot and windshield, number panels on the sides, as well as some additional frippery on the roof. I'm excited to get this shell prepped and primed!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

3D Printed N Scale Penny Catenary Bridge

Recently arrived from Shapeways: this 3D printed N scale Pennsy catenary bridge. The designer is
arqtectdesigner, and he has a variety of N and HO Pennsy items on offer at his store on on the Shapeways site.
The bridge is very crisply detailed and the material appears sturdy and flexible, with mounting holes in
the footings for a strong mechanical attachment to the right-of-way.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Comedy Writer at The Onion Knows Trains

Courtesy of
We've noted here previously that the slips an occasional train bit into its seeming never-ending feed of satirical comedy. Here's the latest, riffing on the intersection of unrealistic beauty standards and Thomas the Tank Engine. (Turns out Thomas is a frequent target of the Onion's skewer). Someone on the Onion's staff knows trains! And comedy! Great to know a leading media institution has been infiltrated by a train freak, or at least someone who knows train freakdom.