August 14, 2017

Why did the train cross the road?

Prototype scene of traffic sharing road with train on Fries Ave in April 2000. Photo by Dave at EJ&E Archive.
After our unsuccessful attempt to get the "simple" grade  crossing warning lights wired up using the materials I had on hand I decided to tackle the project anew. First step was to read the directions, again.

I am using a Logic Rail Grade Crossing Pro. It is a full function grade crossing circuit that can handle flashing crossing lights, motor control for gates, and a bell circuit. The user has to provide the lights, gates, motors and bells. In addition, if using LEDs, the user has to provide the appropriate resistors.

The wood screw in the center secures the
circuit to the benchwork
The instructions include a chart to tell you what resistance to use for the LEDs for several power supply voltages. I used a 12V power supply, so I needed 470 ohm resistors. Of course I didn't have any on hand.  Luckily, we have a store in the area that sells some electronic components and is open on weekends. My go-to stores for that kind of stuff used to be Radio Shack as it was close to my house, but they went bankrupt. There is a good electronic supply shop in Alexandria, but they have regular business hours during the week and are closed on weekends, which makes it hard for me to get there during a normal work week.

Even though I was only using the crossing lights, there were still 14 different wires that had to be attached to the circuit and run to different spots on the layout. I made a wooden chassis with a terminal strip to try to help keep all the wires organized. I engraved letters on the wooden chassis for each connection. The large letters are easier to read when the circuit is mounted on the layout upside down.  I also built harnesses for the wires that I ran to each signal and photocell. I used heat shrink tubing to make the harnesses. Unfortunately the magnet wires that came with the signals were fragile -  two broke in the harnesses and two others shorted inside the tube. So I replaced all the magnet wires in the model signals with 32 gauge stranded wire.

The Grade Crossing Pro uses a series of 4 photocells to determine train occupancy and direction.  You put the two photo cells on each side of the crossing and if you wire them correctly they will control the crossing in a realistic manner. The circuit includes potentiometers to adjust the photocell sensivity.  I found that the adjustment would only work well when all four photocells were hooked up. Then it was simple to adjust for room light.

If I turn off the room lights the grade crossings will trigger if their power is on. So I have to make sure that switch is also off when quitting for the night.

Here is a video showing its operation.

August 12, 2017

Summer Reinforcements

It was a steamy rainy day as reinforcements arrived on the Aquia Line to help with various tasks.

Leonard White arrived first and he went to work in trying to wire up an automated grade flashing warning light system on the PoLA layout.

Joel Salmons and his son John were next up. They went to work laying rail and spiking track at Aquia Landing. This was John's first visit and he had a great time. He even asked to come to more sessions, including learning about operations.

Doug Gurin arrived next and also went on spiking brigade.

Leonard, with some help from me, did not have much luck getting the grade crossing signal system to work. I think we have a problem with the polarity of the LEDS on the grade crossing signals. I will have to take them off and double check that they are correct.

While we were working, Normal and Daylene Wolf stopped by to visit. They are on a weekend trip to visit DC to see friends and take in a Nat's baseball game. They hadn't seen the layout in several years and seemed to like it. I handed them a throttle and they had a chance to run a train around for a few minutes before they had to leave.

Right before dinner I glued down the ties for the new sidings at Burnside's wharf. After a great BBQ dinner where Joel and John joined Alicia and I,  I went back to work on track laying and nearly finished one turnout before calling it a day.

August 8, 2017

An achievement of sorts

Tonight I finished glueing down the last pieces of road bed for the Aquia Line. The roadbed is 1/8th inch poplar plywood glued to 1 inch of foam. I like this method of construction as it is fast, strong, light weight, and accepts spikes with no problem.

While I was laying the track I was thinking about how to switch this siding. I concluded that the original idea of having a turnout here is very handy, as it would prevent trains from having to back all the way across the wye to make pulls and spots.  So I put the turnout back in the design and added a piece of roadbed for it.  There is room in the siding for a 6-car train, which is also my design train length, plus 3 cars at the warehouse. The warehouse is recycled from McCook's Landing..

Here is the track plan with the siding shown at Burnside Wharf. I call it the set-out track, but it is like a visible staging track.  Cars destined for Burnside Wharf will be spotted here.

The prototype photo below shows the area that this scene emulates, though it is on the wrong side of the landing in my layout due to the constraints of the room.

This is how the ridge behind the landing looks now. I
could expand the ridge to the left, but I like how the river
recedes into the distance in this view.
I could repaint the horizon on the backdrop to show the ridge line on the west since that would match the geography better. In that situation, the tracks would run along the right and then turn right into the river. But the prototype Aquia Landing is on a pointy peninsula surrounded by water on three sides.  That is how I have the scene depicted my backdrop now. I like the way it came out, so for now I plan to leave it like it is. I just need to adjust some of the boats on the back drop as they are artifacts from before the expansion of Aquia landing.

August 6, 2017

War on Two Fronts

I started the layout revisions for the former Burnside's Wharf area of the Aquia Line layout. I use some pink foam I had on hand and the warehouse from McCook's Landing to quickly mock-up how it might look.  I immediately liked it.  This test convinced me that the revised plan is superior to the former plan. The revised design gives me nearly the same level of operation potential and looks a lot better.

The other cool thing abut this plan is that it gives me an additional option if I decide to expand the Aquia Line. I can go with either an extension on the Falmouth side, or run a more complete rendition of Burnside's wharf as roughly shown as the track plan at the right. But that is in the future. For now it was time to initiate hostilities at Aquia Landing.

It was a simple task to cut the foam pieces to fit and glue them down with Alex Plus caulk.  I also puttied in the gaps with fast and final spackle.

While the glue was drying on Aquia Landing, I shifted fire to the PoLA layout to continue to work on the Borax silos. I had to do some fit adjustments to the top plate of the silos. Then I proceeded to scratch build the unloading shed. I used a laser cut acrylic core, with some plastruct I-beams inside and Evergreen styrene corrugated siding on the exterior.

I had previously measured the height of the structure to insure that the stairs would fit in an even number of flights. My model is selectively compressed so it will only have four flights of stairs, while the prototype has six. There is a lot of cool detail on top of the loading shed. It will be fun to build that.

August 4, 2017

Yet another Aquia Track Plan Revision

I've been thinking about the track plan for the Burnside's Wharf area and I decided to make some changes. The most immediate change is to eliminate the second wharf planned to represent Burnside's Wharf.  I concluded that it was going to be too crammed in the spot I planned for it. I also want to get this part of the layout done before the ACWRRHS group arrives in September. I don't think I can get the second wharf done in time. In fact, I cut the number of tracks from two to one as I don't think I need the second track. (I can add it later once I start laying track.)
In terms of operation, I can still use the track in that area to represent trains that are destined to Burnside's Wharf. It would function like a visible staging track.

This design also makes the option of a continuous run more feasible by adding a removable track across the door to the dispatcher's office.

The second big change is at Falmouth. This would happen once I decide to remove PoLA and expand the Aquia Line. The more I live with the borax factory peninsula on PoLA, the more I realize I don't like it there. It's a little too tight for daily use. It also creates a choke point especially when I have visitors. So I took out the wye at Falmouth and reduced the bump out to only accommodate a tunable.

Last Friday we had a torrential rain that lasted most of the night. That caused some minor flooding in the basement. There was no damage to the layouts, furniture, or computers. But some boxes that I carelessly had placed on the floor got wet. I also had to pull stuff away from the walls to spray disinfectant. In the process I purged a lot of old stuff.  The recovery is almost done, so I'll be back to building layouts soon.

July 28, 2017

Steam into History

I found this photo on the Steam into History Facebook page.  I thought it was a great depiction of a civil war era railroad scene as there are no anachronisms visible. Well, maybe just three. Can you find them?

Updated: Of all the comments below, no one picked up on the steel joint bar. In the ACW joint bars were made of wood.

Other items people spotted:
1. Headlight should be off in daylight. ACW oil lamps only run at night
2. Knuckle coupler should be a link and pin
3, Air hose and air compressor. ACW era trains did not have air brakes.
4. Paint horse not correct for ACW era cavalry in Pennsylvania
5. Road may be paved - if so, not ACW correct
6. Camps chairs may be too modern.

Steam into History is a nonprofit, educational, charitable organization. They operate a steam train that chronicles the role York County, PA. played in Civil War history.  They are holding an event this weekend to recreate a confederate raid on the railroad. There is more info at this link.

July 25, 2017

Updated PoLA Plan

In between golf, chores, and binge watching Game of Thrones, I did an update to the Revised PoLA plan based on some feedback from the client. He plans to reuse an existing staging level with a helix. Since he already had those built, it wasn't a big deal to modify the plan to include them. He also asked to include the option to include some ship models on the layout. Finally, he asked for suggestions on what to include in the second room, which the first design listed as future expansion. This version reflects those changes as well.

July 20, 2017

A Revised PoLA for a Reader

One of the readers of my book, "Waterfront Terminals and Operations" asked me if I could develop a modified plan of my PoLA layout to fit his space. He was currently modeling a plains railroad in HO scale but was unhappy with its design. In particular he felt he had tried to cram too much stuff in his layout. He liked the PoLA design for its operation potential and manageable scope. He also requested wide aisles to ease access. He has two rooms available for his layout with an assortment of doors and windows. The overall space is 31 by 15 feet with a few obstacles here and there.

Here is the plan that I developed for his space. It's an enlarged version of my own plan with longer sidings and a few extra industries. Initially his back room is reserved for staging, but the layout could easily be expanded in that space later with some of LA's shoreside industries.

This layout supports a lot of varied operation. There are industries for tank cars, auto racks, covered hoppers, box cars and a break bulk terminal that can accept just about any type of car including double stacks, gondolas, depressed center flats, steel cars, etc.

The long sidings add interest to the operation especially when combined with industry spot numbers. For example, switching the single siding at Vopak can be quite involved when cars have to be placed at specific spots.

Some of the sidings are quite long, in contradiction to normal model RR design practice where designers try to cram more, but smaller sidings into a design. I don't like that approach. First, most of the industries on a modern layout have long sidings to provide the rail transportation service they require. Otherwise, they probably use trucks. So designing a layout with longer sidings is prototypical.

Secondly, switching long cuts of cars on a layout feels more  prototypical than the usual one car out-one car in used on some layouts. It  requires good engineer - brakeman coordination. It also presents an imposing spectacle. Watching a string of 15 auto racks going in and out of WVL is really cool. See the video below for an example.

The same concept would apply when switching Pasha, where there are 4 parallel long sidings. This could almost quality as a model railroad yard. Switching this industry can be akin to working a yard with sorting and blocking. The operation can be made even more involved if some cars on the long sidings must remain, while other cars deeper in the siding must be pulled. I do that on my layout when I have more advanced operators to make the tasks more interesting.

July 19, 2017

The Generals

I was looking through my old photos and thought this one would benefit from some clean up in Photoshop. So here it is.


July 8, 2017

Lyceum Exhibit on Alexandria in WWI

Overview of part of the exhibit where the sub chaser is displayed
The Lyceum has opened it's exhibit on Alexandria in WWI. My mom and I stopped by today to get a look at it. The exhibit has an interesting array of artifacts. While I am proud that the sub chaser model I built is prominently displayed, the exhibit that I find the most amazing is R. Fawcet's chest. He was the first citizen from Alexandria to die on the war in an flight training accident in Illinois. The military shipped his belongings home in a footlocker just as he had left them. The Fawcett family kept the chest for 100 years and left it unopened for 80. It was quite moving to see the man's uniforms, texts and personal effects largely untouched 100 years later. Alas, I didn't take a picture of the footlocker.

Mom poses by the sub chaser model

Mom really enjoyed seeing the civil war replica costumes
used in filming PBS's TV show "Mercy Street"
The WWI weapons are on loan from the NRA Museum.

July 2, 2017

Reconfiguring the Borax Pier

I finally had a chance to work on the layout this weekend.  First, I looked at some ways I could get rid of the Borax peninsula by making the silos and wharf parallel to the back wall, similar to the way I first had the layout, but with deeper bench work. Using the ship and silos as mock-ups I realized none  of the ideas were satisfactory, so I decided to leave the track and benchwork as is.

 However, I decided to modify the borax wharf to allow a bit more sea room for the ship.  The tracks stayed where they were. I removed a wedged-shaped sliver from the wharf. This allowed me to move the ship a few inches away from the edge of the benchwork.

The task was easy because I used foam and task board for the terrain in this area. Both are easy to cut with a knife. The ship's hull will hide most of the cut area, so patching the gap will be easy.

The ship looks better with a little bit more water around it. The extra water surface will help protect the fine details on the ship from errant sleeves and elbows as people move in the narrow aisle between the borax peninsula and  Aquia Landing.

I also purchased 12 more feet of 3-inch PVC pipe to make bigger silos. The pipe is much less expensive if you buy it in longer pieces.

I cut the pipe on my chop saw, a messy job that took more time to clean up than to cut.  The new silos are 10.75 inches tall and 3.5 inches OD. The new silos better match the cargo ship in volume capacity. They also act as a nice view block.

June 26, 2017

Operation OPP - St. Louis (Collinsville, IL) RPM Meet

Last weekend I did a road trip to St Louis via Lexington, KY to attend the St Louis RPM in Collinsville, IL.  The trip started out on a gorgeous Wednesday.

I stopped at the C&O Heritage Center in Clifton Forge to see the displays there. While I was there an eastbound  coal train departed, so I chased it to Iron Gate and got a few shots and video of it.
I took several pictures of the bridge over the James River at JD Cabin, Rainbow Rocks, and Smith Creek Yard for reference for Brian Brendel's layout.

Next stop was in Lexington. KY, where I met my son Chase and his girl friend Mizuki. They had dinner waiting for me. The  next morning, Chase and I played golf, where I had an amazing round, my best of the year!

In the afternoon, Chase and I drove to Collinsville through a nasty rain storm. We knew we arrived at the right hotel when we parked next to a Sprinter van painted in Denver Rio Grande colors.

First thing  Friday morning I presented a clinic on Waterfront Terminals and Operations. Chase and I spent the rest of the day at the meet.

The meet was a great event. The highlight for me was getting to try out the new ISE diesel simulator hand held throttles. I was impressed with it. As it stands right now, I would have to get a laptop with JMRI to use it with my Easy DCC system.  I'll wait for them to do the necessary integration, which they promised was in progress.

We had lunch with the guys from the Modutrak layout. They have a nice N Scale modular layout.

After dinner we visited Eric Brooman's Utah Belt and Tom Visintine's Terminal Railroads.

Back at the hotel we meet Michael Gross and talked trains with him, as well as Scott Thornton, Tony Thompson, Bill Darnaby, and several others.

On Saturday Chase and I visited the Museum of Transportation in St Louis, then departed to arrive back in Lexington to have dinner with Mizuki. The Museum had a great selection of trains, but the automobile display was disappointing. Nonetheless, I took a lot of photos, especially of the early cars and trucks for future reference.

On Sunday, I drove home via I-79 and Corridor H in central West Virginia, going through some beautiful scenery.  For more photos of the overall trip please go to  this link.

June 20, 2017

Ship Models versus Model Railroads as Art

Finished Model posed on the Aquia Line layout

I finished the model of the sub chaser.  Alicia and I delivered it to the Lyceum Museum this evening.  We did a test to ensure it would fit in the vitrine. While we were there Jim Mackay, the Director, showed us a sneak peek of some of the other items planned for the special exhibit. They have collected some really interesting artifacts. It is going to be a great exhibit of Alexandria's part in WWI.

As I was building this model I thought about model building as an art form.  I had recently finished reading a book called "Ship Diorama: Bringing Your Models to Life," by David Grifffin   In that book Griffin focuses on small scale water line models.  As I read the book and looked at the photos of the models in it, I realized that the dioramas that were most successful were those that had a strong story to tell. Usually, that meant having people in the diorama. But he had a few examples where the ship itself was the story.  The story contributes to the art.

While building the sub chaser was a treat, it was mostly an exercise in model building skills. And even though it is destined for public display,  it really didn't feel like art to me.

In contrast, designing a model railroad layout feels a lot more like art. There is more space for interpretation and story telling.  Selective compression, scene composition, backdrop integration, and historical narrative are all aspects of a model railroad design and build that contribute to the art. Furthermore, operations on a model railroad add a whole new level of appreciation and interpretation.

This static model has a much harder time telling the story, but it will be augmented with textual materials and photos to help in that aspect.

I enjoy ship modeling. However,  I like setting them in place in a diorama or layout to really bring them to life. So I am psyched to move forward build the ships for the Aquia Line and the PoLA expansion.

But, first I am headed to St Louis for the Railroad Prototype Meet in Collinsville, IL. I will be presenting a talk on Friday morning. Perhaps I will see you there.

Jim Mackay and I checking the vitrine for the sub chaser model

June 8, 2017

Model WWI Era Sub Chaser

Over the past few weeks I have been building a 1/35th scale model of a 110-ft wooden WWI era Sub Chaser. This is a static model destined for the the Lyceum Museum. It will be part of their display on Alexandria's role in WWI.   The exhibit is scheduled to open at the end of June 2017.

Many people today do not realize that Alexandria once had a thriving manufacturing sector. During WWI, factories and ship yards in Alexandria produced twenty wooden sub chasers (numbers 189-208), ten larger steel freighters, and several float planes for the war effort.  Now, those industries are gone replaced by law firms, lobbying groups, web advertising agencies, and tourist services.

The model is not yet complete. I have been posting build photos on my Facebook Page. Here are some in-progress shots. The model is mostly scratch built, but I am using some detail parts from the Dumas R/C kit. That kit is destined for use on ponds and doesn't really meet museum quality standards.

If you want to learn more about the WWI sub chasers, there is an excellent web archive at sub

May 17, 2017

Wharf Tracks and Wye

Double Slip Switch on the wharf
Two legs of the wye complete.

I have installed the tracks on the wharf and have two legs of the wye installed. The two turnouts on the wharf are controlled by a single double slip switch.  The double slip allowed me to maximize the length of the sidings on the wharf. Each track can hold about 10 cars, or 8 cars and an engine. Since I only have 14 cars in total now,  I can fit the whole roster on these tracks.

All seems to be working well using a battery powered locomotive to test, as I have not added wires yet.

The transfer bridge to the car float will be added at the far end of the wharf, but I don't plan to move the car float during operations.

The last leg of the wye also includes three turnouts, so that track will take a while to install.

May 12, 2017

Maine Harbor Dioramas

I am making progress on the track playing at Aquia Landing.  All the rails are on the wharf and I am proceeding to install the wye.  I was able to test run trains on the wharf using my battery powered locos. Things are working well, but I still am in work-in-progress mode as evidenced buy the tools scattered all over the layout.

Just three turnouts to go, however, the last section of track is on Burnside's Wharf, so the progress will be slow.

In the meantime, I would like to point out two wonderful dioramas that are for sale American Marine Model Gallery.  These charming waterfront dioramas built by William Hitchcock depict waterfront scenes in Maine where rail cars interchange with steam and sailing ships.  The first is based on Rockland and the second at Frenchmans Bay.

I've always liked the Rockland Branch of the Maine Central RR. It had a lot of interesting activity  including waterfront scenes, numerous industries, and interchanges with narrow gauge railroads. I understand Bob Hayden's new layout is depicting that branch.  I listed his old layout in my top ten that I have visited, so I eagerly await development of his new project.

Where rails meet the Sea - Hitchcock's Rockland, ME Diorama 

Frenchman Bay, ME  Diorama by Hitchcock

May 8, 2017

Tracks on the Wharf, Finally!

Last Saturday a group of O scale modelers visited the house to see the Aquia Line. Yes, the Aquia Line finally got some love.

The O scale group is an informal association of people that model in O scale or are interested in O Scale. They are largely from the Middle Atlantic area. The guests included Gary Eames, Eugene J. and Carolyn Nash and their son Gene, Jr. (who was dressed in a Union Overcoat), Ted Rabusseau, John Sethian, Terry Terrance, Karen and Jim Kinder and their daughter (she didn't record her mane), Doug Gurin, Nick Kalis, and Rick Wright. John Barry helped out by running trains for the visitors.  Alicia and my mom helped out with snacks. Not everyone signed in so I may have missed a few guests. If you want to be listed be let me know.

Later Brad Trencamp stopped by to pick up some etchings and we fired up PoLA for a few minutes.

On Sunday I proceeded to lay the track on the wharf. Yes, eight years into the project tracks are finally on the wharf.

Instead of two turnouts on the wharf, I decided to build a double slip switch. I used Alkem Scale Models photoecthed switch stands for this. I designed the etchings to allow the stands to be used in double slip and three-way switches, but this is the first time I used them in such as application. This will be a good test.

Track spacing for the float is very tight as seen
by the three side-by-side cars in the photo

I decided to space the tracks on the wharf at double the normal spacing.
This was due to the close spacing of cars on the car float. If the tracks were close enough to serve adjacent spots on the float, the gap between the cars would be very small,  too small for operator fingers. By gapping the tracks this way, operators can get their fingers around the cars without trouble.  I can change it back if I decide it doesn't look right after cogitating on it a while.

As of Monday morning, I decided after checking prototype photos to move the tracks closer together. I don't have any photos of the transfer bridge at Aquia, so I will probably replicate the design that the USMRR used in Alexandria, but for two tracks instead of three. There are photos two other examples of USMRR transfer bridges I have seen. Both of those are one track transfers, but the wharf at Aquia Landing definitely had two tracks.