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.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Things You Can't (and Can) See in N Scale

Steering clear of the trains: fenceless cattle avoiding the
Santa Fe main line on  Jim Kelly's N scale Tehachapi Layout
Photo: Jim Kelly | Model Railroader |
The March issue of Model Railroader magazine had a commentary about how certain details just don't show up or matter in N scale. (Here's a link to the beginning of the piece; the full article is apparently paywalled, or find an actual copy of the magazine). The author, Jim Kelly, is an MR 'old hand' who was bravely modeling in N back in the 70s and 80s; now he has a more-or-less regular column thinkin' and musin' on N scale.

Jim started off discussing how fences and the like aren't visible from a distance, so he doesn't model fences. Later, he went off on a bit of a tangent regarding not modeling things he doesn't like, like rutty temporary access roads. 

Re-reading this article and looking at the accompanying picture from Jim's inspirational Tehachapi layout, I realize that I agree with Dr. Jim's diagnosis but not his treatment. Regarding fences in specific, I don't think omitting them completely is as effective as modeling the parts of the fence you actually can see from a distance--such as the fence posts. 

How to meet the challenge of interpreting and representing small or gossamer details is one of the differentiating features of excellent N scale and indeed all small scale modeling. Closely related to the artistry of fine detail in small scale is the artistry of color in small scale-- gloss and highlights, and colors generally, should be muted on smaller models. In short, N scalers can't just reproduce detail rivet for rivet or match a color chip--they have to get good at suggesting detail, and portraying color as if from a distance. 

To really see the mastery of such tiny detail and subtle coloration, just Google 'best 1/700 naval models'. Here are models some four or more times smaller in scale than N scale trains. The really outstanding 1/700 ship models are masterfully painted and weathered, and have just enough detail added to make the viewer fill in the blanks of what is actually invisible from thousands of feet or even miles away. 

As I plan my Old Line Corridor N scale layout, I have given thought to a particularly gossamer but pervasive detail around the Northeast Corridor and electrified Pennsy lines: catenary. Lately I've been looking at every electrified railroad picture that comes my way and asking, 'Can I see the wire?' And the answer is, 'it depends'. Depends on the angle, distance, lighting. Sometimes in close-ups it's there as if scrawled onto the photo with a Sharpie, but a lot of time the wire is wisps or traces. Other times, it's a crazy miasma of lines, arcs, and planes (the geometric kind) over the tracks.

The better question is, 'What do I see that makes this an electric railroad?' Poles and cross bridges are the obvious answer, but one detail that's sticks out is insulators, which often are the visual queue or hint that there's a wire running this way or that. And when wire is visible from a distance, it's not a lone wire, but a tangle, or it's not the contact wire but some other kind of transmission or guy wire. 

I've noted previously that 'fake' catenary is a thing worthy of consideration, particularly in smaller scales or for photography. My next step is to experiment with the accoutrements of fake catenary--I'm accumulating a small collection of poles, bridges, string, wire for a fake catenary experiment. Check back in a few weeks to see the results.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Trains I See, Vidalia, Georgia Edition

Back on a rainy afternoon in October or so, this Georgia Central freight went by the hotel at which I was staying in Vidalia, Georgia. The 'Off the Beaten Track Branchline Railroading' group on Facebook was helpful in figuring what this is.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Old Line Corridor Horsetrade

Fussy pans that made my
catenary building better
Loyal Up Dunes Junction readers probably have picked up on my penchant for pretty much any pantograph-equipped North American locomotive or car, in addition to my professed favorite prototype Chicago, South Shore, and South Bend RR equipment. As a result, I accumulated a fair bit of HO Northeast Corridor equipment over the years, including a beautiful GG1 and a stunning FL9 (very tiny pantograph), not to mention examples of Bachmann's and Atlas' occasional heavy electric offerings.

That vestigial micro pan worked
like buttah!
The question that has nagged at me over the years of accumulating these gems has been, 'when or where will I ever run them?' All of these models were part of my regime for testing my catenary, so I can honestly say that they have run under wire (which was pretty easy for the FL9).

Excellent runner and captain of
the catenary testing team
But running them as they were intended, followed by strings of passenger or freight cars, under Pennsy H-bridges or even New Haven triangle catenary did not appear to be in the cards. I had even given thought to joining up with a group of heavy electric module modelers up in Philadelphia, but alas that is hundreds of miles away and my new work travel schedule has dampened my desire to spend whole weekends away from hearth and home.

This guy was a growler
An unsung hero of a model: excellent
runner done right, but apparently
Bachmann couldn't give 'em away. 
So when I started thinking about the N scale display layout that I am now calling the Old Line Corridor, it didn't take me long to figure out that a major horse trade of my modest HO NEC fleet could net me the core of a new N scale NEC fleet.

So I put all of my HO NEC gear up on eBay. I also liquidated my collection of unbuilt rare Star Wars kits also destined for closet glory. The result was a tidy PayPal nut that covered not only new a N scale Pennsy/NEC fleet but also a supply of Peco code 55 track and turnouts.
Dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria: N scale Northeast Corridor equipment, living side by side with my HO South Shore and Chicagoland equipment. The Kato ACS-64 and the GG-1s are especially fine models, but the Acela will be an, ahem, project. Bonus points if you can identify the sci-fi subjects on the edges of the photo.
Most of the N scale gear I picked up is Kato. Kato's N GG-1 caught my eye when it was first introduced a few years ago, and a photo from one of Kato's ads showed up here once. I mentioned Kato's ACS-64 here in a recent post, but is currently only available in a set with some beautifully done Amfleet I passenger cars. I'm already looking forward to seeing this locomotive offered with new road numbers and in the special new Veterans paint scheme.  Bachmann's HHP-7s and Acela round out the modern fleet--they look great but require some tinkering to get running smoothly. The 'Hippos' came with DCC, and decoder installations for the Kato gear were easy with Digitrax drop-in decoders.

Tinkering with these models--installing DCC, couplers, and the like--was intimidating at first, but it didn't take long to get accustomed to the smallness, nay, the tininess of it all. The power and appeal of these models really came across during test runs and programming. I am now looking forward to building the layout on which to run these models.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Railfanning Cumberland, Maryland

In mid December, my photographer and beer connoisseur friend Mike Collins and I railfanned the Cumberland and Frostburg, Maryland area. The highlight of the trip was the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad's 2-8-0 #734. Here it is arriving at Frostburg on a cold clear day.
735 turning on the wye outside of Cumberland.
The engineer oiling his magnificent machine.
Steam on the road.
Mike and I also spent some time at the Cumberland yard location known as 'Mexico'. No idea why it's called that, but the light and the action was interesting.
Another departure from Mexico.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Thinking About An N Scale Display Layout: The Idea

The Dunes Junction is an HO interpretation of beloved childhood railroading memories, but for as long as I have been involved in model railroading I've had an eye on N scale.
Couple of reasons for this: the first model railroads of which I have any memory are N scale--I think an uncle or older cousin had N scale trains back in the late 60s or early 70s. Among my earliest memories of reading about model railroading are the Clinchfield project railroad articles that ran in Model Railroader magazine in the late 70s. (Here's MR old hand Jim Hediger telling funny stories about the Clinchfield layout.)
I've even owned N scale trains over the years. I started a very tiny, very lightweight N layout while I was stationed in Germany with the US Army. The end of that story is worthy of an episode of the A Modelers Life podcast: I think I ended up trading all that N stuff away for four bald tires or a water pump or some such that I needed for my ancient Mercedes 230.4. Twenty or so years ago I started building another modest N roster, which I subsequently parlayed into a spray booth and airbrush accoutrements for robot and military model building.
This YouTube Thompson River Canyon video catalyzed my latest infatuation with N scale:
I think it came to my attention via the CP Rail Manitoba & Minnesota subdivision blog, but it kept surfacing in my other online model railroading haunts as well. The video shows a nice time-lapse of the construction, and the story behind it is interesting and affecting as well.
The concept is what really got my attention--a manageably-sized, light weight, and visually appealing N scale scenic vignette--scenery in the front, staging/fiddling in the back, simple trackwork. The magazines have shown track plans and concepts like this in the past, but precious few actually built examples.
Seeing this smallish and achievable N scale display layout prompted me to revisit some other smallish N scale layouts of note. I went back and studied namely the Red Oak, Salt Lake Route, and Carolina Central project railroads that ran over the past few years in Model Railroader, Dave Vollmer's Juniata/Pennsy layout, and its inspiration, Lou Sassi's Mohawk Division, also an MR project layout that later appeared in a Kalmbach book on small layouts.  The Red Oak, Carolina Central, Juniata, and Mohawk layouts, like the Thompson River Canyon, were all built on a hollow-core doors.
The Juniata and Mohawk layouts showed that a simple double track loop could actually host longish locos and passenger cars against believable scenery, and the internet video of most of these layouts show trains running. With my interest focused lately on the Northeast corridor (see thisthis, and this), I immediately made the connection that such a display layout might scratch an itch I've had for a while to somehow 'casually' model Pennsy and post-Pennsy electrics.
Where is this all going? The hollow core door and other benchwork accoutrements have been acquired, as well as a supply of Peco track. I'm thinking this new thing will be called 'The Old Line Corridor' (a Maryland riff on Pennsylvania's Keystone Corridor) and if I do it right, it'll look something like a Mohawk or Juniata Division with catenary.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Southwest Chief and Southern California

My wife and I visited our older son in Southern California over the holidays, and we rode most of the way there on the Amtrak Southwest Chief. It was a glorious ride, though we quickly realized that it would have been a more enjoyable trip on longest, rather than shortest days of the year. Here we are on an extended stop in LaJunta, New Mexico.
The front office.
Big Western railroading in Cajon. We took a side trip away from my son's home town of Santa Monica to see some of SoCal's famed vistas.
UP at Cajon
The scale is breathtaking 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

What's Been Happening Around Dunes Junction

Coming Soon: Southwest Chief Adventure!
It's been a good long while since my last post in September, and all I have to offer are my usual excuses about work and family responsibilities competing for scarce time and resources. Work has indeed kept me hopping, with lots of travel and interesting new boss responsibilities. But trains--both the prototype and models--have very much been on my mind. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll post on a holiday cross-country train trip and some new exciting new directions with my heavy electric modeling. Stay tuned!