Wednesday, December 20, 2017

2017 year end wrap up

As I have mentioned in prior posts the train room can get a bit chilly in December.  This fall we purchased a new electric heater and it has been a big help.  I keep it pointed toward the area I am working in and it is surprising how far the heat is reflected so even it is not raising the temp in the room that much it keeps me comfortable.  It has been a big improvement over what I was using before.

I have not been posting as much as I was in the fall but I have been working on the layout, primarily on the Battle Mountain section that I started last summer.  Here is a round up of the work I have been doing.

The SP / West bound main, siding, and the spur tracks for the two industries at the back have now been painted and ballasted.  I made track bumpers for those spurs from scraps of brass and code 55 rail.  One of those is seen in this photo.  Paint on the warehouse started today with what will be a blue stripe running the length of the building.  This will be masked with tape and the whole building will get a spray of a light gray.

I have been working on rock castings and base scenery along the front edge where the WP / East bound track is.   This is a bit lower than most of this section to help visually separate the scenes as on the prototype they are actually a couple miles apart.

There will be a grade crossing on this track along the front edge.  I would like to add some flashing grade crossing signals with sound to this.  This should be a great rail fan spot. is having the winter layout party again and I'll be posting some of my layout progress there for the next couple of months as well as the regular updates here on the blog. 

This will be the last post of the year so I want to wish everyone who follows a cheerful holiday and good fortune in the new year.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Line side poles - round 2

Last March I had posted about my use of Atlas telephone poles in Line side poles.  As I prepared to do another batch it was bothering me again that 2 of the 12 poles in each set I was not using because of the transformers.  I was also noticing that in the prototype photos the poles all had 2 cross arms instead of the 3 on my models.

So I decided to remove the top cross arm on all of the non transformer poles by cutting the pole at the top of the middle cross arm.

On the ones with the transformers, I cut the pole at the bottom of the middle cross arm leaving only the bottom cross arm.

I then filed a notch through half the back side of the top arm and half the front side of the pole and bottom arm.  This is shown in this photo with both facing the same way so the notches can be seen.  The top arm will be turned around when gluing them together.
After some adjustments in the notches to get just the right fit, the two pieces were glued with Zap-A-Gap medium CA.  With a little sanding and paint it will be very difficult to see the splice.  Using this technique I will be able to use all 12 poles in each box plus have some cross arms left over.

Another thing I am doing is to paint the insulators a different color to differentiate between the two different railroads.  I have no idea what colors either railroad used.  I have been using NYC jade green for the WP and a light gray for the SP.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend we had a train show in the SF Bay Area where my Ntrak group had a layout.  It was another good show for shopping as several dealers had piles of stuff to dig through and I came up with another box of the Atlas poles for $2.00.  A bonus was that there were 18 poles inside so it was actually a box and a half.

There are 36 poles now done and installed on the layout with another 120 "stock" poles waiting to be worked on.  That is more than enough to populate the layout as it is now but I estimate the complete layout will need about 250 poles so there will still be many more needed.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Single turnout control panel

It if often said that a higher layout height gives a much more realistic view of the railroad.  While agreeing with that concept I am also aware that it makes it more difficult to see the position of the points on any turnouts compared to a layout that is lower especially if the turnout is not close the the edge of the layout.   On the Battle Mountain section of the layout I have a long siding and 4 industrial spurs for a total of 6 turnouts.   These turnouts will be controlled by push / pull rods and all are toward the back about 12 inches from the edge.  So I decided I needed some indication of the point position near the control for each turnout.

There will be 6 acrylic panels sized 1.5 x 3.75 inches.  They will be distributed along the front edge of the layout in line with their turnouts.  A paper drawing can be placed under each panel.

A 7th panel is the master for hole locations on the panels and in the front frame of the layout.

I am using a bi-color Red / Green LED connected to contacts on the slide switch that holds the points in place.  A hole was drilled in the front frame large enough for the LED to pass through. 

The panel can then be placed with the LED fitting snugly into the hole made for it in the panel.  The paper drawing is on the outside now but in the final version will be behind the panel.

This pair of photos shows both the aligned and diverging conditions on a temporarily installed control panel for testing.  Once the knob is installs it covers the larger opening made for the 1/8 inch head of the control rod.

I have since added "Pull = Diverging / Push = Aligned" or "Pull = Aligned / Push = Diverging" at the bottom as the positions can be different depending on if the turnout is right hand or left hand.
This is a diagram of how the LED is connected through the slide switch that holds the points.  The resistors are of different values as the red seemed brighter to my eye than the green with the same voltage so I gave it a larger resistor.

I am using a common anode LED.  When using a common cathode LED the voltage source polarity would be reversed.  These LED's will be powered by a 5 volt regulator circuit under the bench work which gets it's power from the 12 volt bus that runs through the layout.  The bi-color LED's are readily available on the Internet.  I get mine from  They have a great selection of items for model railroad controls.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The layout's first buildings are taking shape

Battle Mountain will include the first actual buildings on this layout.  A start has been made on the first two.  They are both shallow relief flats and both are being scratch built.  I wanted to represent some good sized industries and am only modeling the parts that interface with the railroad.

The first industry is a large warehouse that is a scale 360 feet long.  It is intended to ship products by box car and can handle up to 4 at a time.  I plan to also have some interior detail visible through the open doors.

I tried something new with this one.  Because it is very close to the siding I did not want it loose but at the same time I wanted to be able to remove it in case of future maintenance needs.  So I am using two small magnets attached to the underside of the roof contacting long flat head screws.  It was easy to adjust the screws to get just the right height.

The second industry is a company that manufacturers industrial sized plastic pipe.  They ship their products by truck but receive plastic pellets by the car load.

This has been just a quick overview of these two industries.  As progress is made with these I will fill in more details and the story behind each of them in future posts.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Hand throws for turnouts

For the Battle Mountain industries I want to have a hands on operation so the turnouts will be controlled by push / pull rods from the fascia.  This is something I had done on the Los Angeles Terminal District layout and saved all the components for use some day.  That day is here.

The control linkage goes to a DPDT slide switch that has a hole in it for the wire and another for another for a wire that goes up to the turnout.  The switch will hold the turnout points in position and provide electrical switching for frog power and for a turnout position indicator on a panel.

On the LATD layout and Ntrak modules I had first used glass beads attached to the end of .040 piano wire.  Then I switched to using push pin heads with the pin part removed.

Because I am adding a finished fascia to the front after installing the section into the layout this was going to require a different solution because I was going to need to remove the knob to put the fascia on.

One of the common sizes for the shafts of electronic controls is 1/8 inch.  A short length of 1/8" brass tube was mounted at the end of the .040 music wire by notching one end of the tube, making a bend right at the end of the wire, then sliding the tube on from the other end until the bend stops it and rest in the notch.

Super glue can be used to attach the two metals securely and small set screws on the knob will hold it to the brass tube.
A knob was borrowed from a Digitrax throttle to test this.  After confirming that this would work, I visited an electronics surplus store in my area and picked up 20 similar knobs so I will hopefully have enough for the whole layout.

The knob can be removed to allow for the installation of the finished fascia and a small control panel after this section is installed in the layout.

Enough space is left between the knob in it's pushed in position and the frame to allow for the thickness of the fascia and control panel.

More on the control panels and indicator lights in a future post.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Three year anniversary for the layout

It was about this time in 2014 that actual construction started on this layout.  Years of research and planning had come before that.  As this third anniversary passes I reflect on what has been accomplished this past year and make some realistic goals for the next year.

  • Complete Gloconda section including scenery - Done !
  • Build and install the upper return loop above Wesso - Done !
  • Install LED lighting under upper return loop to light Wesso - Done !
  • Install photo backdrops - Done !
  • Mount Wesso and Gloconda sections - Done !
  • Add the bottom LED panels to Carlin section to light staging yard - Done !
  • Build temporary return loop for east end of Gloconda - Done !
  • Start bench work next section after Gloconda - Done  !

It was another good year.  I was able to accomplish everything I had set out to a year ago and then some.  The  section east of Gloconda ended up being called Battle Mountain and already has the track and wiring done and is ready for basic scenery.  Also the scenery in Winneamucca is beginning to take shape.  To me one of the biggest changes is actually being able to run trains on the layout that is completed so far.

Below is a crude drawing of the layout as it is right now.  The Battle Mountain section had been temporarily fitted in to the layout to check bench work and track alignment but is now again on the saw horses in the middle of the room to complete the wiring and start the scenery.  Not shown are the Carlin section above the staging yard and the east end return loop above the Wesso section.

So what is my plan for the next 12 months ?  Being careful not to be over confident but at the same time maybe be a little more ambitious with the building schedule.
  • Complete the Battle Mountain section including structures and scenery.
  • Begin the bench work for the Harney section that will be to the east of Battle Mountain.
  • Continue to fill in details and scenes at Winnemucca, Wesso and Gloconda.
  • Add the last of the cabinets in the train room to clean things up.
  • Add the additional work bench using a Maple top I bought at a garage sale. 

Of course I'll continue to post regular updates as this layout grows. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Update on the Battle Mountain section

The bench work for the 8 foot long Battle Mountain section was completed at the end of August.  Since then the track plan was finalized, Fast Tracks turnouts built, cork roadbed and track laid, and now wiring and turnout controls have started.

This is a view of the track layout at Battle Mountain.  There will be a siding on the west bound track long enough to accommodate any train that fits in the staging yard.  And there will be 4 industries served from the west bound track. The eastbound track runs through at a slightly lower level as it's not part of the same scene.

The space under the module is getting filled with wiring and controls. Manual Push / Pull turnout controls are being built and installed on each of the 6 turnouts.  More on that in a future post.

Again I am doing all of this work prior to installing the section into the layout as it is so much easier this way.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Finishing the cattle ranching scene

I already had some un-decorated cows and decided the simplest paint scheme on a cow would be Black Angus. So I picked up a set of Woodland Scenics Black Angus cows at my local hobby shop as a reference.

Checking several shades of black paint I found Floquil weathered black to be the closest match to the reference set.  I did not try to paint the eyes, hoofs and noses.

I added one of the Woodland Scenics built-up windmill sets at the end of the pasture that has the gate in the fence.  The area around the windmill was given a tiny bit more green and soil colored ground foam and a few grass clumps to show some dampness there.

Once the cows were all painted they were placed in several groups around the pasture and secured with adhesive.  I ended up having 16 adult sized and 4 calves for a total population of 20.   These are the first figures on the layout. 

Here is an overall view showing most of the ranch scene as an eastbound Western Pacific TOFC train passes by.  Still plenty of little details to be added to the area but overall I am very happy with the results.

Monday, October 9, 2017

On the road again - Hill City, SD - CB&Q trail

One more post from our September trip to Montana and South Dakota.

Not far from the 1880 train depot and the rail museum in Hill City I spotted a trail shelter.  It was part of the 114 mile long trail that had once been the CB&Q / BN line through the Black Hills.

I photographed two of the signs at the trail head shelter in Hill City.  The images should be large enough to read when viewed in full size.

This trail also ran right next to the RV park we were camped at so that was my starting point for a little exploration. There was a mile marker post where I started that was marked 58 so that would put it almost in the middle of the old rail lines 114 mile length.

The RV park had lots of space for tent camping near the trail so I suspect in the warmer months those riding bicycles the length of the trail may make camp here.

I was on foot and with a limited amount of time so I only walked about a half mile or so in each direction from our camp.

In the southward direction I came upon a bridge.

The trail bridge was built upon the old railroad thru girder bridge that goes over US highway 385.

I was able to get under the bridge to look and take some photos.  It appeared that the railroad ties were still in place and that the deck for the bridge had been built on top of those.

Click This Link to find out more about this trail.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Modeling barbed wire ranch fencing

It had always been my intention to include a scene of grazing cattle in the foreground of the Wesso section.   The recent driving trip through areas of the country where herds of cattle are a common sight seems to have motivated me to get started.  One of the things I needed for this project was barbed wire fencing to keep the cattle off the tracks.

Turns out that that there has not been much done in N Scale for ranch type barbed wire fencing.  One product that I did know about was this one by Yesteryear Creations.   They only had 4 N Scale brass kits and I had built all the others - Windmill, Fire lookout tower, and Sawdust burner and found them to be really nice kits.   None of these seem to be in production any more so I have been picking the fence kits up every now and then on ebay.

I recently found out that N Scale Architect also offers a similar type of product and I plan to try that one out as well.

I had a rather large area to do so I made the sections up into several assemblies.  As these fence sections are made of brass, I can solder several sections together.  I line them up and tape them to a straight edge to keep them aligned.

To bend for the corners I hold the corner post with a pair of locking tweezers then bend the wires around the tweezers.

These sets come with extra posts.  I solder these extra posts to a few of the regular posts so that they will be long enough to stick into the scenery base making the fence installation stronger.

I avoid adding these to the posts where two sections are spliced together so those solder joints don't come loose.

I paint the assemblies with a rust color.  The wire would rust and the poles could be wood or if they were steel poles they would also rust.

Holes are poked in the scenery with a push pin corresponding with the locations of the longer posts.  A drop of white glue was placed into each hole and then the fence section is set in place.   Push pins are used again to hold the fence in place while the glue dries.
After the glue had dried holding each of the assemblies in place, I then apply a small amount of ACC (super glue) to the end post of each assembly and clamp them until they dry.

Any places that were missed when painting get touched up now.

As only a few of the post were extended and secured into the scenery there may end up being a few wobbly places. On those I apply a drop of white glue to the bottom of the post and if needed use a push pin again to hold it down until it dries.
These sets come with 10 fence sections, 3 gates and a cattle guard.  On this project I only used one of the large vehicle gates but may use the others in the future.

The gate was painted with Floquil old silver and then dry brushed with rust color.

Ready for the herd !

Sunday, October 1, 2017

On the road again - Hill City, SD - 1880 Train

From Montana we drove to western South Dakota.   Somewhere east of Livingston, Montana we spotted an unusual train very similar to this Internet photo going by in the opposite direction.  I did not get a picture of it myself but spotted the name "Skagit River" on the last car.

Searching the name on the Internet I was able to determine that the Skagit River is a special track inspection car that had been built from a bi-level commute car.  This train operates all over the BNSF system so we really did spot an unusual train.

Our time in South Dakota included a ride on the Black Hills Central Railroad, also known as the 1880 train.

It runs on about 10 miles of what had been a narrow gauge branch line between Hill City and Keystone.  The line had been rebuilt to standard gauge for the 1880 train.

At Keystone the engine moves to the other end and pulls the train while in reverse.The platform at Keystone was a modern concrete arrangement at the full height of the rail car floors.  While common in Europe and Japan it is not often seen in the US on surface railways.  The way this worked was to have the track far enough out from the platform for clearance and then put out bridges for passengers to cross.
Right next to the 1880 train station is a small but well done museum in what appears to have been a 2 stall engine house at one time.

While it is called the South Dakota State Railroad Museum, it is private and has no connection to the state government.
The centerpiece of the museum is this nicely restored Minneapolis & Saint Louis caboose.

There are still tracks in the floor that led to a set of doors at one end of the building so I suspect that they could swap exhibit cars from time to time.
The museum also includes a nicely done HO scale layout with 3 trains that run on 3 separate routes for 5 minutes when a visitor presses a button.

This is the museums website: