Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Creating a place for the DCC system

Up to this point in the layouts life the DCC system has been sitting on the floor under the staging yard.  The command station and power supply are attached to a piece of plywood with a small section of track with the output being being at a jack that the layout can be connected to.  I have often taken this setup with me to Ntrak layout setups to use as a programming station.

What I decided on was a similar setup that is mounted in a drawer that is directly under the bridge on the Harney section.  This is right next to the work bench so a test / programming track can be on the bench where I wanted it.  I actually reused the same drawer hardware salvaged from the last layouts control panel.

There is room underneath to set up a spare computer to use as a JMRI programmer.

So now with the old setup gone and not available to take to shows I think I better get going on building the long promised programming station for the Ntrak club.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Home made throttle holders

Several years ago I bought a couple of these throttle holders from a local shop and have really liked them.  These are designed to fit the throttles from several different DCC manufacturers.

The layout as grown to the point that I wanted some more but they don't seem to be in shops any more and on line they are now about $15.00 each which is quite a bit more than what I had paid before so I started looking at making my own using scraps.  It needed to be simple and only had to work with Digitrax throttles.

The design I came up with uses 6 scraps of 1/4 inch plywood and tempered hard board shown here.  These are the pieces and sizes.

1 Hard board back 4.25" x 3.00"
2 Hard board fronts 4.25" x .562"
1 Plywood bottom 3.00" x 1.00"
2 Plywood sides 4.00" x 1.00"

Here is the throttle holder after being assembled with yellow carpenters glue and sanded.   I rounded the top corners on the front strips before assembly.   There are a couple of mounting holes in the back which can't be seen in this photo because of the throttle.

I test fitted several types of Digitrax throttles and they all fit nicely.  I don't know if this would work with throttles of other DCC brands.

I like these home made holders well enough that I may make these standard for the home layout as they will all look the same.  Then adapt the other holders for use on the Ntrak modules.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The latest layout expansion

The Harney section has been installed into the layout and the end of it was close enough to the old test layout to connect to it rather than use the turn around loop again.   Bridges were made from scraps and tracks laid across connecting the layouts.

The test layout is Kato Unitrack on a shelf that has been changed many times in the last 5 years. This latest configuration is a combination of return loop for the main layout while still being an operating layout by itself.  More about that in a future post.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Trying my hand at sky board painting

In preparation for installing the Harney section into the layout the plastic sky board needed to be extended and as only the first few inches above the mountains would show I thought I would paint a sky backdrop to match the sky that is on the photo backdrops.

The test layout that has been along the end wall was taken down for access and another 16 inch wide sheet of fiberglass reinforced plastic panel was installed.  Seams and nail holes were patched with Spackle and then the panel was painted the wall color.
I have been using Artist Acrylic paints for my river bottoms and happy with those results picked up what I thought was a light blue and some white to add to my collection for working on sky boards.
I read somewhere that the higher sky is slightly darker than close to the horizon and that can be seen in the photo backdrops.
Even with lightening the blue, it dries a bit darker so I kept lightening.  Getting closer with each application.  I think when all is right I may need to spray some flat to get rid of the reflections from the lights.
The Winnemucca area also has a small sky board that I am painting.  This one also needs some lightening.

It's fun working with these Acrylic paints to get the results I want.  I may also try adding some clouds as I go along.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Installing the BLMA bridge

One of the first things I purchased when planning this layout was one of the BLMA brass thru truss bridges.  The time has finally come to install in on the layout.

This bridge comes with nicely detailed bridge shoes so I did not need to add any like I did with the Central Valley bridge I have in another area of the layout.

The vertical girders on the bridge are spaced at 25 foot intervals, the same as the Central Valley bridges so length wise the Central Valley bridge ties fit perfectly.  I did find that with the walkways on the BLMA bridge the ends of the ties would not fit so I trimmed them off as shown in this photo.
After removing the ties on a section of Micro Engineering flex track I applied a coat of Plyobond adhesive to the bottom of the rails and set the rails into the the slots on the Central Valley bridge ties.

 After the adhesive has set overnight, I painted the entire assembly rail tie brown.  Before the paint fully set I removed the paint from the tops of the rails with a razor blade.
The bridge comes with nicely detailed stainless steel walkways.  The decks are left unpainted and the handrails and support structure are painted a semi-gloss oxide red.  I felt these things were too shiny so I removed them and air brushed them a flat oxide red.

Here is one of the walkway assemblies after painting.   These were attached to the bridge with CA so I will re-attach them the same was.

The bridge itself got an overall weathering using acrylic black weathering wash to bring out all the great details in this model.  Then some rust highlights were added with weathering powders. In this photo it is temporarily set in place.
The walkways were glued back into place.  A bit of adhesive was spread along the runners that support the track and the painted section of bridge track was set in place and weighted until the adhesive set.
The bridge shoes were then attached to the bridge abutments with adhesive and the track on the line connected to the smaller section of bridge track.

I am quite happy with the way this came out and seeing the 200 ft camel back version of this bridge still available on ebay I am tempted to get one for another crossing down the line.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Passenger operations begin

The Amtrak California Zephyr runs through the area I am modeling and up until around 1983 did make a stop at Carlin.

I have always planned to include the California Zephyr in my roster of trains to run on the layout and had been waiting for the right time acquire it.  That time ended up being now.

Amtrak runs the bi-level Superliner equipment on most of their longer routes including the Chicago to Bay Area California Zephyr.  For my era I choose the Superliner 1 in phase III paint scheme along with a pair of F40PH locomotives.  Kato offers a great selection of Amtrak Superliner car models in sets which can be combined to make up a consists closely matching any particular train.   They have done several releases of these with the most recent being about a year ago.   This is what I ended up buying from several different sellers on ebay.

These are all decorated in Phase III

176-6105 - F40PH locomotive # 330
176-6106 - F40PH locomotive # 374
106-7122 - 1 baggage, 1 coach-dorm
106-3517 - 2 coach, 1 sleeper, 1 lounge
106-3518 - 1 coach, 1 coach-baggage, 1 sleeper

I already have a good collection of Kato Japanese passenger trains and have been very happy with their quality and accuracy so I had high expectations for my Amtrak train.  I was not disappointed,  the cars all were very free rolling and the pair of F40PH locomotives can easily pull them up the helix.  I was already familiar with these type of locomotive mechanism and was able to quickly install the DCC decoders.  Several trips through the layout have been completed with no problems at all and the train even fits in the shortest siding of the staging yard.

As the earliest era would include the pre 1983 time frame I'll have to decide if I want to include some sort of station stop when I get to building the Carlin section of the layout.

For now I can enjoy running this train in the mix with the freight trains running on the layout.  I'll also look forward to running it on the Ntrak layout next time I can make it to a show.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Progress on the Harney section

I started the month of October by beginning to create the land forms on the Harney section of the layout.   I thought it would be good to make an update post to see what has been accomplished in the month.  All of the land forms were completed using the cardboard webbing and insulation board covered with plaster cloth.  The Rock outcropping for the tops of the canyon walls were done using aluminum foil molds for Hydrocal castings.

The white of the plaster cloth was painted with the same paint that I have been using under the scenery on the rest of the layout.

In this view the rock casting have been stained with Woodland Scenics raw umber with touches of gray stone and burnt umber here and there.
In this photo I have set some track and some rolling stock on the right of way to get an impression of how it will look.  What I am happiest about is that to my eye it has a sense of greater depth than what is really is.  There is only about 3 inches between the track and the face of the rocks.
Over the past couple of weeks more scenery has been added, the river is starting to take shape, and the rear track has been installed and painted.  To work with the track I moved the section onto the saw horses for a lower working height.

Still plenty more to do but I have been quite happy with the progress and have been having a good time with it.

Monday, October 22, 2018

4 years of layout building

At about this time each year I have been making an anniversary post on the layout reviewing what has been accomplished in the past year and with some loose goals for the next year.  This will be the 4th one, hard to believe it's already been 4 years since I started work on this layout.  Here are the goals for the last year, along with the results and excuses.

  • 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 Golconda.
  • 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.

The Battle Mountain section was installed into the layout early in the year and is completed to a high level.  I still want to add a few more details.

The 5 ft long Harney section got started this past summer and is further along than I had hoped including some of the scenery.  More on the progress of the Harney section in future posts.

The original backdrop for the Winnemucca area was made of laminated styrene sheet and ended up warping rather badly so work in this area got set back.  A new one has been made from fiberglass reinforced plastic sheet so work on finishing this scene should resume soon.  There was not much left to do in the Wesso and Golconda sections but a few details were added.

I have not gotten around at all to installing more cabinets.  Sometime this winter I need to get over to Ikea and pick up what I need so I can get them installed.   The clutter in the room has been getting less and less as materials are used in the layout and I have also been selling some un-needed items.

I dropped the plan for a second work bench and instead used the maple top to replace the worn Formica top on the existing work bench.

Here is the current drawing of the layout showing the Harney section in the layout.  Actually right now the turn around loop is in that spot.  When the Harney section is permanently installed in the layout the turn around loop is not going to fit and some modification will be needed then.

So what's next ?   Some of these goals are repeats from the last year but there are also some new ones.

  • Install the last of the cabinets above future sections of the layout.
  • Install plastic panel backdrop on wall behind the Harney section and the next section.  This will be curved around the corner and painted a sky blue to match photo backdrops.
  • Fully complete and install into the layout the 5 ft long Harney section
  • Finish the scene  at Winnemucca with painted backdrop, building flats, and a few trees.
  • Make a start on the flyover section which will be the next section after Harney.

Monday, October 15, 2018

A Hi-Rail truck from an Atlas Ford F150

The starting point for this project was a white Atlas Ford F150 pickup.  Several years ago I had purchased several of these to decal as U-Haul rental trucks after making the decals for them.  I had also made cast resin truck mounted tool boxes to fit these models.
The truck's major components come apart easily enough as shown in this photo.  The front bumper removed leaves a gap that can be used for a replacement extended bumper.

An extended replacement front bumper was made from scrap styrene.  Crude rail wheels with axles were made from scraps of styrene rod and tube.  The front guide posts are .020 brass rod stock.
 A rotary beacon was modeled using styrene rod and tube scraps.   I was able to get some MoW truck sized decals from Peter at www.nscalekits.comThey don't have them in their catalog but if you contact them they will make them for you.

The tool box was painted aluminum color and attached to the bed with E6000 adhesive and the truck re-assembled.   Here it is on one of the service roads on the layout.  I plan to do another one with "wheels down" to display as a high rail on the rails.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The signal maintainer's van

Lately I have been getting interested in MOW (Maintenance Of Way) vehicles for the layout and was looking at some photos on the Internet for some ideas.

It had not occurred to me that maintenance of way workers would use vans as well as trucks but after seeing this photo of what was described as a signals maintainers vehicle I got an idea.

Several years ago I had decorated some Lineside models cast resin kits of a Ford van to model one I was using as a work vehicle at the time.  They were just plain white so they would only need decals.

I acquired several sets of MoW vehicle decals from

As this is a late 90's era Ford van, I used the UP decals for this one.  With these decals I plan to add more MoW vehicles of various types for the SP, UP, and WP railroads and matching the different eras of the layout.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Creating the canyon walls

The Palisade Canyon part of the layout will be represented by building up a canyon wall as a backdrop beginning where the photo backdrop ends.   This transition will occur in the Harney section of the layout which the the section I am working on now.

This photo of part of the Palisade Canyon that I found on the Internet shows how the top of the canyon walls are near vertical while the lower part near the track in angled.   The bottom part is most likely rock debris that has fallen from above over the ages.  I am using this photo as an reference of what I am trying to create on this part of the layout.

To create the canyon walls I built up a structure along the back with scraps from the bench work and some pegboard.  Then I am gluing cardboard strips and covering them with plaster cloth.  This will be the lower sloping part of the canyon wall.   The upper part will have insulation board attached to it that can then be shaped to represent the more vertical top parts of the canyon walls.

I am continuing this method in the area between the track and the river.  The river itself will be the flat bottom of the bench work.

As creating this type of scenery is a bit new to me I consider this to be a bit of an experiment and if it does not come out the way I want I could still rip it out and start over but so far I am encouraged.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Bench work for the Harney section

Bench work for the Harney section is now underway.   It seems this is the time of year that I try to get some of the woodworking part of the hobby done so I have the winter to do track, electrical, and scenery.

The Harney section will have the Humboldt River re-enter the layout and continue down the length of this section between the two railroad lines.  The SP / eastbound line will be carried over the river with my BLMA brass bridge.

On the Battle Mountain section both lines were almost level but on the Harney section the upgrade will continue with the rear track being the SP / Westbound line being slightly steeper.

The temporary turn around section has been temporarily removed to allow the new bench work to installed and removed (quite a few times ! ) to get the fit just right.  It will go back in and the layout be fully operational again while I continue on the other phases of this new section away from the layout.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A section house for Battle Mountain

Before Fox Valley Models became a well known brand of N scale locomotives and rolling stock they had a few laser cut wood kits.  I picked up this section house kit at a train show quite a few years ago now and had never put it together and recently re-discovered it in my stash of stuff.

I have always enjoyed laser cut wood kits.  One thing that was different about this one was they had designed it to use Tichy windows and doors which I was already familiar with from scratch building projects and really like.
Here is the finished structure after assembly and painting.  I did not really like the roof paper that came with the kit and used some that I had printed myself.   Any manner of junk could be placed around this section house but for now I just scattered some pallets there.

For now it is in an area between the Barite facility and the bulk oil dealer but it may move later as it does sometimes happen that railroads move these small maintenance buildings.  The small structure to the left is not an outhouse.  It is a concrete telephone booth used by the Southern Pacific before the days of the 2-way radio.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Building a 1970's era SP MOW boom truck

Working on those drop bottom dump trucks got me to thinking about adding some Maintenance Of Way trucks to the layout.  Then seeing this photo of an old SP boom truck on a truck collectors website inspired me to try to create something like this in N scale.
As a starting point I used one of the Athearn C cab tractors that I had.  The cab was removed and the frame was cut into 3 pieces.  All three pieces were then glued to a .125 square tube with CA.
The back side of the cab was carved out as shown in this photo so it would fit on over the square tube.
This is what the model looked like with all of the pieces finished but before painting.  Scraps of styrene, steel wire, and aluminum tubing were all used to construct the boom, bed, and shelter.
The cab, shelter, bed, and boom were each individually air brushed before  assembly on the chassis.  The smallest SP decals I had were from the Microscale bridge set but I hope to soon have some smaller ones.
Some weathering and a few items thrown into the bed.  The boom cable is some black thread, some small copper wire rolled up and painted rust simulates a coil of cable, and some small chain piled up and held with CA holds down the end of the boom cable.

This was my first MOW vehicle project but I do plan more.