Tuesday, July 19, 2011

3-D Mockups of Dunes Junction, Take One

I recently tried my hand at using Google's free SketchUp software to make some 3-D renderings of the Dunes Junction Layout. Mostly, I'm using to figure out my scenery and structure placement.  Here's my first cut.

My one hint for anyone who wants to use SketchUp to plan scenery and the 'look' of things is to work in full size rather than in miniature. In other words, my 5' by 1 1/2' layout became a 444' by 130' layout.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On the Passing of William D. Middleton, Who Taught Me All About Electric Railroads

William D. Middleton (Railway Age photo)
Railway Age reports that renowned railroad author William D. Middleton, photographer of trains and author of over twenty railroad books, including two of my favorites, South Shore: The Last Interurban, and When the Steam Railroads Electrified, died on Monday, 11 June 2011 in Livonia, NY, at the age of 83.

Middleton wrote about a wide range of railroad topics--including co-authoring a well-regarded railroad encyclopedia--but in my estimation his most notable contributions were his several authoritative books on electric railroads, trolleys, and interurbans. When the Steam Railroads Electrified is really the singular account of electrified mainline railroads in the U.S.  Originally published by Kalmbach in 1974 and then revised and reissued by Indiana University Press in 2002, When the Steam Railroads Electrified followed up on his earlier electric-focused encyclopedic works, The Interurban Era (Kalmbach, 1965) and The Time of the Trolley (Kalmbach, 1971). Middleton's books have gone in and out of print, but most can be found via Amazon's used book resellers.
1971 cover

1974 cover
The later versions of Middleton's South Shore and WTSRE featured new chapters and new covers reflecting the latest developments on their respective subjects.  I like the additional new material, but still like the old covers better.

Middleton's works were my entry point into historical narrative--I learned much from these books about telling the stories of places and things in words and pictures. They had a formative influence that is still with me today.
2002 cover

2002 cover
A family friend and model railroading mentor, Dr. Alan Roebuck, lent me his copy of WTRSE sometime in the late 70s and I think I kept it for ten or so years.  When I finally returned it to him, that beautiful dust jacket cover had been reduced to tatters because it was my constant companion for most of my middle school years--I must have taken it to school everyday for all of the 5th through 8th grades.

Meanwhile, I had that South Shore book checked out from the Lake County, Indiana, Public Library for something like a year straight during that time.  The glossy plastic cover applied by the library saved it from the weatherbeating taken by Dr. Roebuck's WTRSE.

Over the years since, my travels and experiences have brought me into contact with the subject matter of Middleton's books.  In addition to my childhood adventures on the South Shore (first train ride ever, got to hang out with the motorman between Ogden Dunes and Michigan City) I've been all up and down the Northeast Corridor under wire and on the third rail. And I've seen the Black Mesa and Lake Powell out west.  Through all of these experiences, I've thought of how Middleton introduced me to these great sights and magnificent machines.

Today, I own the Indiana University Press editions, as well a couple of other Middleton titles, such as The Pennsylvania Railroad Under Wire. I leaf through them all often to get ideas and inspiration for Dunes Junction.  And just because I like electric trains.

Bill Middleton will be missed, but his work will forever be a joy to me and many others who love trains.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hacking Ikea: Keyboard Shelf=Model Railroad Control Station

Ikea Summera keyboard shelf=Dunes Junction control center
I recently acquired my first DCC control system, a Digitrax DCS51 Zephyr Xtra. For my tiny layout, the capabilities of this system was a perfect fit.  But I had a hard time figuring out how to incorporate its physical form into the layout, particularly retracting this compact DCC system under the layout when not in use .

I thought about various hinge and drawer arrangements.  I especially liked what the Model Railroader magazine crew did with its N scale Salt Lake Route project railroad last year: that layout's Digitrax Zephyr slid into a drawer in the layout fascia (link requires a password). But I didn't want to alter the 1"x2" grid framing foundation of Dunes Junction or append a (relatively) massive box or drawer to the underside of the layout.

I shied away from a hinge, partly because I didn't want to eat up space on our pantry shelves to accommodiate the swing of a hinged panel, and partly because I didn't want to drill holes or otherwise void the warranty of the Digitrax Zephyr Xtra with double sided tape, velcro, or the like.

Meanwhile, at my workplace, I recently noticed a mouse pad-sized platform on an extension arm mounted to the underside of my desk. Mouse pad-sized is also Digitrax Zephyr Xtra-sized, so this appeared to be a possible solution for retracting the DCC system under the layout when not in use, but unfortunately, a quick web search showed that these 'ergonomic mouse shelves' cost in the hundreds of dollars!

But that same web search turned up the Ikea Summera pull-out keyboard shelf, a paragon of spare Scandinavian styling priced at a reasonable $9.99.  I rushed to my nearest Ikea store with tape measure in hand to look at the Summera shelf in person.

(An important note here, if you've never ventured into an Ikea store: you aren't allowed to rush, because the Swedish overlords of cheap, stylish home furnishings have engineered the store so customers may only can meander slowly through a highly controlled labrynth, the walls of which are formed by every piece of merchandise offered by Ikea. Also, if you are visiting an Ikea in the Metro Washington area, our 24-hour rush hour will similarly prevent 'rushing'.)

All digs on Ikea and the Capital Beltway aside, the Ikea Hackers web site offers a continuous feed of ideas for using Ikea products for something other than their intended purposes--I know that others have successfully used Ikea book shelves for layout benchwork, and I suppose there lots of other ways that Ikea stuff can add value to model railroading.

I bought the Summera keyboard shelf and mounted it to the underside of the layout with two scraps of 2"x2" lumber.  When it's pulled out, there's enough room there for a beverage and an instruction manual (necessary cuz I'm still trying to figure out this DCC thing). When the shelf is pushed in, the Digitrax Zephyr Xtra is snuggled up under the layout, allowing unobstructed access to our pantry shelves. When I eventually apply a fascia to the front edge of the layout, it will have either a cutout or a hinged panel to clear the DCC controller.

But the best part: it was only $9.99. And it doesn't look too bad.

Friday, July 8, 2011

South Shore Freight Locos, Just For Fun

CSS&SB Little Joe 802 and GP38-2 2002 at Dunes Junction
Here's a South Shore Little Joe and GP38-2 during recent DCC tests on the Dunes Junction Layout

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

American Electrics, "I see these a couple times a week" Edition

Amtrak AEM-7 'Toaster' at Baltimore Washington International Airport in 2006
Hard for this 40-something to believe, but these AEM-7 'Toasters' are actually old--I remember when these locos were brought in to replace then-50-year-old GG1s.  Supertramp and The Cars were on the radio, and I had just discovered girls.

Apparently, AEM-7s are dropping like flies--fires seem to claim them with alarming frequency.  Amtrak recently placed a giant order with Siemens for replacements. Look for decidedly Euro-looking ACS-64 locomotives in 2012 or 2013.  (See below for an artist rendering)

Siemens ACS-64 (image courtesy Amtrak)
With 'fallen flag' and retro/legacy paint schemes all the rage, I wonder if the Amtrak front office will have one or two of these 'new, improved toasters' or 'metal twinkies' or 'Airstream trailers' dressed up in one of the old Amtrak paint jobs, or better yet, Pennsy Brunswick Green or that Mad Men-era McGinnnis EP-5 'Jet' paint job?

Just darin' to dream here . . .

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Catching Up with Dunes Junction--Partially Blame the Beer

Holy smokes! It's been over two months since I've posted to Up Dunes Junction!

First, the excuses: there's work (got promoted, so now I write other peoples reviews and answer to even more people); there's family (#1 son placed in full time, salaried work; #2 son looking at colleges and studying abroad) . . .

And there's that other hobby (see photo at right--that's a pale ale I made recently).

Nonetheless, all of the trackwork and wiring is in, Digitrax DCC is up and running, and I 'hacked' an Ikea accoutrement to make a swell control panel.  Look for a details on all of my progress in coming posts!