Sunday, February 11, 2024

Finishing a re-cycled fire station

On my last layout which was from 2002 to 2013 I had a California Department of Forestry fire station which I built from a Rix Products kit.  If I had taken any photos of it on that layout I can't find them now.  When researching things for this layout I found that the fire station in Carlin was of a similar design but with an extra door.  Since I still had the old model, I decided to use it again on this layout but with some upgrades.

One of the things I wanted to be able to do with this structure was to pose each of the doors either as opened or closed.  The solution I came up with was to use Velcro on the back of each door and on the inside of the roof of the building to store the doors when they are open.  The fit of the doors into the wall is snug enough that they don't need any glue to stay in place.

The building sits on a removable base that has blocking of styrene strips around the inside of the walls that hold the building in place.  The building can be easily picked up to change the position of the doors or move around the fire engine models.

Some of the details added were rain downspouts made of .035 styrene rod added at each corner of the building and some signs that were made on the computer and printed on paper.  I only have a couple of fire engines right now representing different eras but plan to add more in the future.  As the layout is modeled in different eras from the mid 1970's to mid 1990's I plan to have at least 2 set of fire equipment that can reflect those different eras.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Building the propane dealer - Part 3

With all of the detailed piping done on the base and with the chain link fence installed around the perimeter, the base was ready to be glued into place within the styrene strip borders.  That area in front of the tanks will get some additional N Scale ballast gravel to blend it in with what is on the base.

As mentioned before, the office building that came with the kit was used in another area of the layout as it would not have fit in the area I had for this facility.  Turns out that the prototype facility that this model is based on has this modular trailer as an office and I wanted to include something similar in the model scene.

This is my scratch built version of the office trailer.   The prototype is estimated to be 50 feet long but I compressed my model to 40 feet.  The structure itself was made from Evergreen styrene sheet and strips.  The roof vent was a cast resin piece from California Freight and Details, the office door was from Tichy, and the steps were made from Plastruct stairs.

Here is the scene with some details added.  The ladders were made from Plastruct ladder stock, the barriers and trash can are 3D printed models I purchased and painted.

The spare customer tanks came with the kit.  They were in two halfs and required a bit of modelers putty, sanding, and painting to get them to look right but do add something to the scene.

Here is the entire lineside industry ready to go to work.  Just need to add one of two propane delivery trucks.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Building the propane dealer - Part 2

As this is a bigger project, I am presenting it more than one post.  This is part 2 of what will be 3 parts.

The larger building from the Walthers Cornerstone Central Gas & Supply kit had already been used as the Southern Pacific Operations office in Carlin.  The two smaller buildings and the pair of storage tanks from the kit were assembled so it could be determined how they would fit in the area that I plan to place the industry.  Once that was determined, a base was cut out from a sheet of .040 styrene.

Using the base as a guide, a border of .040 x .060 styrene strip was glued to the layout deck so that the .040 height will match the height of the base.

The base with most of the more delicate piping components was then assembled at the work bench.  When finished, it can then be installed on the layout as a major sub-assembly.  As my layout of the components was quite different than the stock kit, much of the piping was cut apart and re-assembled to fit.  I also used some of the Plastruct plastic coated wire in some areas.  Once the layout of the tanks and small structures was confirmed, styrene strip borders were added to lock in the locations.  Then a layer of N scale ballast for gravel was applied.  When the gravel base had dried, the tanks, small buildings, and pipes were installed.

The scenery was built up around the outside of the .040 x .060 styrene strip borders.  This view shows where the base will go.  There will also be another .040 styrene base to the right of it that will also be part of this industry but will be built in place as it will not have any delicate piping to deal with.

Gold Medal Models chain link fence was installed around the perimeter of the facility.   Holes were drilled along the styrene border strips using the hole guide that is part of the fence kit.  Canopy glue was used to secure the fence in the holes.  The part along the front edge will be left open suggesting that the facility extends further out. 

The tank car unloading and delivery truck loading area was scratch built using various bits of things I had laying around the work bench.  On the fence near the spur track, I painted an .010 by .020 styrene strip silver and glued it about 3 feet from one of the fence posts suggesting a gate.  As the spur track is outside the perimeter of the facility, workers would need a way to access a tank car and this gate would do that.  

End of Part 2.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

A crane for the scrap yard

 I wanted a small crane for the scrap yard in Carlin.  GHQ makes a pewter kit of a Bucyrus-Erie crane and I've been happy with how my other GHQ kits came out so I ordered one.

I was not sure if this was going to be realistic for the era of my layout but after seeing an on line advisement for a 1965 Bucyrus-Erie model 30B I knew it would be a good fit for the 1970s / 1980's.  The GHQ model is a 30B.  This photo also serves as a good reference for painting.

The most difficult part of this kit for me was the boom which is made from etched brass.  It was folded as directed in the instructions then any seams were soldered.  Some smoothing with a jewelers file was necessary afterward but I prefer that to trying to glue it.  Afterward the cast pewter top was glued into the square hole at the top of the boom.

I wanted to be able to rotate the crane cab in relation to the track assembly, so I cut the small guide pin off from the bottom of the cab and drilled and tapped a hole for an 0-80 screw.  Another hole was drilled through the small hole in the track assembly.   The stock kit did not leave enough clearance for the cab to rotate over the tracks and the cab seems to sit low compared to the prototype photo, so I glued a #6 washer in place as shown in the photo.

On to painting.  For the yellow of the cab I used some Floquil signal red then when it had dried I masked it off and sprayed the top half of the cab with Floquil ATSF yellow.  Both of these paint bottles are quite old but still worked great in my air brush, I sure miss Folquil paints. The track assembly, the boom, and the cab floor were sprayed with Model Master pale green.

The prototype photo I used in this post did not have the logo or model number but in other photos either one or both are evident, so I decided to add that to this model.  Decals were made which included both the Bucryus-Erie logo and the model number.  After the decals were set, the sub assemblies were sprayed with Dullcoat.  The cab and cab floor were super glued together and then attached to the track assembly with the screw. 

The boom was glued into place with super glue and some black thread was used to simulate the various cables.  I ran the thread over a wax candle before installing it.  This helps to keeping it from getting a fuzzy look and also makes it a bit easier to work with.  I made my own electromagnet boom from one of the hook parts that came with the kit, a styrene disk punched out with a hole punch, and a #6 washer for weight.  I plan to set the bucket part that came with the kit off to the side to indicate that the scrap yard also uses that on occasion.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Building the propane dealer - Part 1

In the actual Carlin, Nevada there is a rather large rail served propane dealer.  As shown in this Google maps satellite view it has 10 storage tanks, 2 spur tracks, and covers an area of about 650 feet x 200 feet.  This facility is about 1/2 mile east of town.

Here is a Google street view image of the facility from Chestnut Street.  Some of the details spotted in this view are the chain link fence with barbed wire on the top, the large tandem trailer delivery truck, and the trailer used as an office.  The storage tanks are just visible in the far left.

This is the area I have on the layout for my representation of this propane dealer.  This is on the extreme east end of the layout and has an overall area of about 290 x 55 scale feet including the spur track.  I don't want to overcrowd the scene so I will need to do quite a bit of compression.

Surprisingly there are not many options available for this type of industry in N Scale.  Plastruct offers a kit with the tank shapes and materials to build a customized facility and there is the Walthers Cornerstone Central Gas and Supply kit which is what I am going to use.  To be continued....


Monday, January 1, 2024

Layout visit - SP San Ramon Branch

It's fun to get out and see other layouts.  Recently a friend from the Ntrak club and I visited an N Scale modular setup at a museum about 40 miles away in Danville, California.

This layout has been set up in the Museum of the San Ramon Valley for the past several weeks by a group of N Scale modelers including Paul (in the red shirt), who is my partner in the AsiaNrail modular layout and is also active in our Ntrak group. 

The layout represents the Southern Pacific San Ramon Valley Branch as it would have been in the 1920's.  This was a point to point setup running steam engines and using an NCE DCC system for control.

Several of the modules were Paul's and are ones we have used in the AsiaNrail layout.  One of these is this Wye module shown below.  While the track is attached, all the scenery elements are removable so this module can be used in different type layouts.

This is the same module in the AsiaNrail layout.

Here are a couple of the many well done scenes on this layout.

The museum itself is in a restored SP standard number 18 station similar to several that are modeled on this layout.

Station signs and track diagrams were used around the layout to give a better sense of where you were on the line.  

We had a great time visiting this layout and afterwards enjoyed lunch at one of the nearby eating establishments.  I've driven through this area on the Interstate countless times but never realized before that there had at one time been a rail line following the same route.

The San Ramon Valley Branch group has a website:

Also, TSG Mulitmedia did a fine video on this layout: 

 Southern Pacific San Ramon Valley Branch N Scale Layout Tour (

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Winter 2023 layout update

Today is the winter solstice, so a good date for the winter update on the layout.   In the fall update I had made up the tunnel portals for the Carlin tunnels on the east end of the layout and had installed the sky board and fascia around the upper helix.  Since then, I have built up the hillside in front of the sky board.  This was done with chunks of insulation board covered with plaster cloth.

The street that is in Carlin continues in this scene and disappears into the hills.  Currently I am working on painting the sky board and the road and installing some rock castings.

Again, this winter I am taking part in the winter layout party.  I always seem to get more done on the layout during these events and this year with all the track work finished I will be focusing on scenery.  Besides this hillside I will be working on some structures and industries in the Carlin area.

The large Ntrak club staging yard that I was working on in the fall got used in a layout at a show on the first weekend of December and performed perfectly.  After the show I brought home the end sections of our smaller yard as we were having the same type of problems with it as we were with the big yard.  That is, not routing power correctly.  I will be rebuilding all the Peco contact switches the way I did with the big yard.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Tortoise motor noise problem

In a post earlier this year, I reported about a Digitrax DS64 that had inputs that were no longer working.  I had replaced the DS64 with a control circuit I built myself.  This was on my WP staging yard. Recently I have been having some issues with the circuit that controls the SP yard as well. 

Specifically, the turnout at the wye that creates the return loop would sometimes cause the turnouts that control the siding on the return track to switch.  As this wye turnout can be triggered by a train passing a sensor while the train is still passing through the siding turnouts, this would cause a derailment.

The turnouts on this staging yard are controlled by three different circuits as shown in this photo.  One controls the yard ladder, another the wye turnout and the third controls the siding turnouts.

I suspected that some sort of noise was getting onto the input connections of the board that controls the siding turnouts.  This was confirmed by monitoring the inputs with an oscilloscope. The inputs to the circuit are normally high at +12 volts and when the buttons are pressed or the IR sensor activated, they go low to 0 volts.   On the oscilloscope it could be seen that spikes were randomly occurring when the wye turnout motor was running and occasionally when the spike was large enough the inputs to the siding control board were being activated.

What was happening here was that arcing between the motor's commutator and brushes on the wye turnout were creating these spikes and the magnetic field from those spikes on the motor wires was being picked up by the input wires on the siding control circuit.    Notice in the photo of the circuits how many of the wires are bundled together.  This can contribute to this happening as can the age of the motors.  The Tortoise motors on this layout range in age from 9 to 30 years old.  When I built this staging yard 9 years ago I twisted the motor wires which is supposed to help eliminate this problem and it did for a long time.

After reviewing several YouTube videos and some experimenting at the work bench I found the most effective solution was to suppress the noise as close to the source as possible.  I added a .01uf ceramic disc capacitor from each motor lead to the case of the motor.  After removing the motor from the Tortoise case, a pair of .039 holes were drilled in the circuit board at the locations pointed out with green arrows in the photo below.

One lead of the capacitors were soldered to the case as shown in this photo.  To get a solder connection to the case I first scraped that spot on the case with a file and used flux and a hot soldering iron.  The other lead of the capacitors went through the holes in the board.

Then the leads that went through the holes in the circuit board were trimmed and soldered to the circuit traces as shown in this photo.

The placing of the capacitors this way prevents them from interfering with any of the moving parts inside the Tortoise housing and avoids the center screw mounts.

A recheck of the siding control inputs with the oscilloscope after the capacitors are installed shows a cleaner voltage with any spikes being very small.  After repeated testing, everything is working fine now.  I am now wondering if it was these voltage spikes that caused the inputs on the DS64 to fail.

Monday, November 27, 2023

On the road again - Suisun City, CA

We recently visited The Western Railway Museum which is about 95 miles north of home.

This museum owns 22 miles of the old Sacramento Northern line that ran between Sacramento and the Bay Area.  They have several pieces of equipment and are restored and operational that are used for excursions up and down the 5.5 miles of the line that they have operational.  The day we were there #4001 was in service. 

The route passes through countryside with low hills dotted with wind turbines.  The hills are brown and yellow this time of year but for part of the spring I bet they are green.  Winter is a good time to do this ride as it gets hot in the summer in this area and I don't think these older trolleys have any air conditioning.  The day we went was a beautiful clear day with almost no wind.

We made a couple of stops along the way and I found them all to be interesting.

After going around a return loop, the first stop we made was for the crew to pick up a token that was in a mailbox alongside the track to give them clearance to operate on the main line.  I've always heard of this type of operation, but this is the first time I've seen it firsthand.

Then, after maybe about 3 miles down the track, we stopped at a substation so someone from the crew could get off and turn the substation on.  The trolleys on this line use 600 volts DC power which requires a separate power district and substation every few miles.  They don't leave their remote substation on overnight so as we were the first excursion of the day it needed to be turned on before we could proceed into the next district.

The last stop was at a place called Pantano.  Here the passengers got off for a few minutes while the crew switched the trolley poles and reversed the seats for the return trip. 

The inside of the 4001 was fully restored and included some vintage advertisements like what used to be on the streetcars and buses I rode as a small kid.  Here are just a couple of examples.

The museum has several car houses.  I was able to go through car house # 1 which had 4 tracks full of vintage equipment in various stages of restoration.  Some were going to need a lot of work but at least they are indoors and hopefully will be restored some day.  One of the most nicely restored ones was the Petaluma and Santa Rosa # 63 which I recognized from a Northwestern Pacific RR book I have.  

I was surprised to also see some more modern equipment at the museum.  Parked in front of car house # 3 which was not opened for some reason was this set from the San Diego Trolley System and there was also a set from the Los Angeles Meto.  To me it seems strange to see these at a museum as they were something new that came long after my time living in both of these cities.

This museum has been here for a long time and I'm surprised that we had not gotten to it before glad we finally did as it was a fun way to spend a winter day.