Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Web of O Scale Catenary Over at Jay's O Scale Layout Blog

Click through for the very large original
image! / Photo by Jay Beckham

Click through this link to Jay's O Scale Layout Blog or the photo at left to see an impressive web of catenary over multiple tracks at the O scale Cherry Hill model railroad club in New Jersey.

Thanks to Jay Beckham for sharing.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Catenary Crossover in Action!

The mainline crossover at Dunes Junction is now under wire! Check out South Shore 802 and a MARC toaster slithering through the crossover! Woo hoo!

Aesthetics comes next: trimming excess wire, cutting in insulators, and painting and weathering the wires and poles.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What I've Been Reading: Model Railroads Go To War by Bernard Kempinski

Kalmbach's new offering, Model Railroads Go To War, by Bernard Kempinski, caught my eye when I first read that Bernard was penning it over at his US Military Railroad-Virginia 1863 blog.

Bernie is a familiar quantity to long time denizens of the Kalmbach Books/Model Railroader magazine universe, and also to Washington DC-area model railroaders. I first became familiar with him and his work when he was working in N scale and his well-executed NTrak modules were part of the the local NTrak groups Washington exhibitions in the 90s. His N scale work also graced the pages of Model Railroader and its annuals during this period. Bernie since made a radical switch to O scale 1860s modeling, and his aforementioned blog features his unusual Civil War-themed layout.

Many model railroaders either get their starts or otherwise are involved with the other model building hobbies, and I certainly have done quite a bit of military and science fiction modeling. I have always thought about combining my model railroading with my military vehicle modeling, perhaps with an armored vehicle load on a flat car or a convoy of Army trucks and light vehicles on a road on my layout. Bernie's new book covers the topic of military flat car loads in detail, but also goes much further to explain the role of railroads in in modern warfare.

The story of railroads in modern warfare turns out to be one of those intriguing 'hidden histories' that has never been a secret, but hadn't lent itself to the popularized dramatic storytelling that animates the narratives of the American Civil War and the World Wars. Even though I have a graduate degree in history (ahem!) I learned much from this book. I had known, for example, that America's railroads were a key ingredient to US logistics and manufacturing might during World War II, and Bernie added to my knowledge with his presentation of how to model WWII on America's railroads, complete with photos of others' layouts and a track plan featuring a busy WWII harbor loading cargo ship headed to the theaters of war.

However, Bernie's chapters on how railroads played roles in the actual battles of the Civil War and World War I were particularly intriguing to me, and he presents excellent modeling examples and ideas of how to model specific periods of each war. In his WWI chapters, he even explains how to combine various model railroad track gauges with prevailing military modeling scales to create believable models of the narrow gauge railroads that sprung up to supply the networks of trenches that formed that war's battle lines.

The chapters on post-WWII military use of America's railroads will have the most relevance to steam/diesel transition- to contemporary-era model railroaders.  Bernie uses his professional knowledge as defense industry professional to give a very thorough explanation of how the US Department of Defense ships military vehicles via rail. I have actually tied armored personnel carriers and five ton trucks to a flat car or two in my day, so I can attest to the accuracy of this particular section. Something I expected to see but wasn't included were aircraft component loads, such as completed wings or fuselages--though there is a great section on NASA's Cape Canaveral railroad.

Nonetheless, the book delivers on its promise and is lavishly illustrated with drawings and excellent photos, in addition to Bernie's well-written text.  I recommend it to modelers who are thinking about adding a little military to their layouts, or are considering going whole hog on a military-themed layout, or who just want to know more about the role of rail in wider world.

Interesting post-script, featuring Bernie Kempinski and linking model railroading to other seemingly unrelated modeling interests: he announced on his blog recently that he completed a manuscript for an all-new track plan book for Kalmbach, and one of his designs will feature an ore carrying railroad on Mars! Science fiction is one of my other great passions (see the bit about sci fi models above, and the sci fi references that appear on this blog and even in its name, for crying out loud). I will be awaiting Bernie's new book with great anticipation.

Buy it direct from Kalmbach here, or from Amazon here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Catenary Update: Learning from Mistakes, Advice from Wire Jedi, and Test Run Video

Catenary is mostly installed and finally resulting in successful test runs on the Dunes Junction, as seen in the quick-and-dirty YouTube video above.

There's been quite a bit of experimenting to get to get to this point, but I've got the hang of hanging catenary now. Translation: I hung, tore down, and re-planted poles and re-hung and adjusted catenary.  Others call it failing, but I call it learning, and it has been a rewarding process. And still no burnt fingers!

I actually got catenary up over the entire main line, and initial testing wasn't pretty. My MTH 800 (Little Joe) dewired regularly, and some of my other test models--a Bachmann E33 and and Atlas AEM7--fared somehat better.

Insufficient tension and too long of wire runs were the culprits. My pole distances were wrong--spaced too far apart, and not uniform. I removed and repositioned poles to achieve a uniform 19" spacing for the 20" stock Model Memories catenary sections, and also made a hidden anchor bridge from heavy brass stock that is neatly tucked behind the US 12/20 overpass to address the tension problem.

At first, the respaced poles and rehung sections worked only marginally better for the 800, with dewirements continuing. I admit, I was disheartened. So I reached out to two people I who know a thing or two about model catenary: Don Silberbauer of Model Memories, the maker of catenary components I use; and Rick Abramson, New Haven modeler extraordinaire and HO heavy electric expert who has been blogged about here previously.

Thanks are due to Don and Rick, whose heavy electric Jedi abilities include sensing a distressed fellow heavy electric modeler across vast distances.  Both of these generous gentlemen promptly got back to me with advice and encouragement.  Most importantly, Don and Rick affirmed that trial and error and an embrace of momentary failure are an essential part of the model catenary experience.

Both pointed out that the pantographs on most commercially available HO models are for show only, too tightly sprung or otherwise barely functional.  "The manufacturers never figure on the pans actually running under wire," Don wrote me via email. The excess upward force caused by the tight springs on the MTH model was at least contributing to dewirements.

Rick echoed that observation during a telephone 'pep talk' that ultimately inspired me to go back and double check my wire work. He also mentioned wire "flapping in the wind"--without appropriate tension or rigidity--as a possible problem.

I went back to my wire work and discovered that not only did I need more tension, I also needed to be more conscientious about gauging, or centering the wire over the rails. The angle and direction of my work on the wire is dictated by the fact my layout is on a shelf and is at shoulder height. Unless I take extreme care, the wire ends up to the inside of the gauge because I see the gauge blocks from the side rather than directly above, and thus I discovered a consistent bias to my wire gauging. The comparatively narrow shoe surface on the 800 pans didn't react well to the inside-leaning wire. But my recheck and fixes of the wire gauge appear to be working well with the 800 now.

So now my main line has working wire, as seen in the YouTube video above. Woo hoo! My next step is wire over the crossover, about which I am nervous. A final touch will be painting and weathering the catenary. Look for future posts on my wire progress!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

More Catenary Construction

Quick iPhone snapshot of wire hanging progress at Dunes Junction. The upside down plastic cups are protecting cross bucks and other scenery details.  Wood wire height/centering gauge blocks, per Model Memories' instructions, are in the background. Other accoutrements in include solder, extra hands, emery board, alligator clips and a Viessmann catenary wire gauge.
Catenary construction is progressing faster than expected. I'm more or less following the instructions included with Model Memories catenary parts, with some deviations here and there.

My soldering skills have improved with each successive joint and splice, so anyone undertaking a project like this might want to practice--I wish I had!

Here are a few insights and tips:

  • Clean and prep everything on the joint or splice you are about to solder. Emery boards, needle files, and wire brushes are useful for this essential task.
  • Use alligator clips and self-closing tweezers to positing everything BEFORE applying heat and solder.
  • Position alligator clips and self-closing tweezers as heat sinks to protect nearby solder joints and to focus heat on the joint you are working on.
  • A good soldering iron is worth the extra money. I'm using a Weller WPS18MP High-Performance Soldering Iron (got mine at Amazon), which was worth the money and the slight wait. Its ergonomic grip also keeps the hot tip from touching surfaces on which it is resting, and it uses a wall-wart power supply, which keeps that grip light.  An on/off switch and ready light are also extremely handy and useful. There's also a an LED light that illuminates the tip.
And still no burned fingers!