T-Trak Update 2-21-19

No much of an update, really, except that to show that the little T-Trak layout is coming along, albeit slowly. I’ve had to shift gears for a few days to take care of some commitments with my band, but I should be able to get back to work in earnest on Sunday.

What I have been doing is laying in a supply of structure kits, mostly for the “non-industrial” sections of the layout so far. The idea is to create a “residential” area on the far side of the layout, with transitional areas on each end. The space between the front and rear modules allows for a parial view block to be installed to visually separate the scenes.

There are also now plans for a larger N-scale presence in the train room. The peninsula of the On30 layout has never been satisfactory to me, much as Kevin and I have tried to make it work. So, it’s going away. The idea now is that the On30 will run around the walls of the room, and a provision will be made for continuous running (maybe), while the N-scale will occupy a good-sized island — about 4′ x 13′ — in the middle of the room.

T-Trak Layout Update

I finished up building the T-Trak module frames yesterday, and started finalizing the track layout. I decided that I wanted to not have any of the switching tracks spill over into the end-cap, which would necessitate having an extra module when the layout is included in group setups. The result is a shorter run-around, and a little trickier switchback operation. I’m thinking, at the moment, that I may permanently join the single and double modules on each side of the layout into triples, if for no other reason than to make a couple of cross-module joints a little more stable.

Revised T-Trak switching module(s)

The tail of the switch back is long enough for a locomotive and a couple of cars, depending on the lengths. Right now, my one locomotive is a VO-1000, and all the cars are 40-foot cars. None of the track is currently “spiked” in place. One of the beauties of using the Kato track is that it holds together well enough to test fit and test run your track plan before committing too much.

I had a fun time switching the module, but I gotta tell you: those Micro-Trains couplers are tricky to “pick” with a skewer!

True Scene Trials … and Tribulations

A few years ago, I wrote about a scenery product called True Scene. To re-cap, it’s a fibrous material that you mix with water and slather on your layout to give some scenic form and as a base coat for your scenery. This past weekend, I decided to give it a try, as I have a module that needed to be sceniced quickly, for a train show this coming weekend.

module temp

After mixing and coloring the True Scene material per the instructions, I applied the material to the module, and followed it up with my base coat of scenic materials. In the photo above, it’s the right-most section — where the track isn’t ballasted, and all along the back edge.

The True Scene folks say that it takes 24 hours for the material to dry. I finished up on scenery yesterday about 3PM, and so I would expect that by 6:30 this morning, there should be some change in the consistency of the “batter.” However, that is not the case. It still feels just as gooey as it did when I spread it out yesterday. As we know from the past, I’m not the most patient fellow when trying out new things (remember my experiences with Woodland Scenics’ water products?). Although heavier, hydrocal or spackle or Cell-u-clay or any number of other materials would have been fully set up by now, and I’m kinda wishing I’d gone with a known quantity on this.

At this point, I’m hoping against hope that I won’t have to scrape all this stuff off the module and start over when I get home, as I frankly don’t have the time. I still have two other big projects for the show that I need to complete before departing for the show on Thursday morning — converting a Bachmann On30 Davenport to battery operation, and a new 1-hour presentation on Dead Rail.

Recent Developments

There’ve been lots of developments recently, though not many on the railroad itself. Here’s a brief over view:

New Modules

I know I said a few weeks back that if I never saw another module again, it would be too soon. With that said, a few of us are hot and heavy into developing a new, simplified module spec and setup. At the past few Great Scale Model Train Shows, I’ve seen something called T-Trak. It’s an N gauge modular system that sets up in minutes and runs great all weekend. Most of the layouts to date have been pretty simple, but I could see a lot of potential, both for practical modeling, and as a way to attract both kids and adults to the hobby. And, as the median age of the model railroader steadily increases, it becomes more and more important to attract young people younger modelers.

One of the big problems is that a lot of kids and young families don’t have much time, space or money for a permanent layout, nor do they have good storage space for traditional modules. Further, they don’t have facilities and experience to build a satisfying layout. Here’s where the new concept comes into play. Modules will be small (a basic straight module is a mere 23″ x 16″), light, easy to build, and snap together on any flat surface — even the floor if need be. Electrical components will be largely plug-and-play as well. We’re talking about making flat-packed module kits available at very reasonable prices, too. More information on this will appear both here and at MADModules.com.

It all sounds like a winner in my head (and the heads of my cohorts), and with the help of Berrett Hill Trains, we’ll be showing the concept by the time the Kimberton narrow gauge module meet rolls around in May — maybe even sooner! Down the road, I’ll change the designs for other scale/gauge combinations. I’m already thinking about the HOn30 stuff and an O9 English-style estate railway. Of course, HO standard gauge is a cinch.

Buttons, Servo Controls and Cisterns…

Speaking of Berrett Hill, things have heated up over there as well. The touch-controls have become a mature product, with offerings for control of both 12V stall-motor machines and small servo motors, and other more unique options in the pipeline. I’ll be using them for all switch control on the layout (even in place of the Tam Valley Depot products already installed), as well as for control of semaphore block signals.

Additionally, Berrett Hill have acquired a Makerbot 2 3D printer, which has allowed us to co-develop some interesting mounting options for the little servo motors. The first is a neat covered “cistern” that allows a servo motor to be easily flush-mounted from the top of the layout, yet completely hidden once the scenery is done. Another mount allows servo motors to be hung under the layout in the same way as a Tortoise control. I’ll be using the cisterns everywhere (possibly including Corinna, where some existing under-table mounts are already in place).

Custom Cutting…

I continue to have a great deal of interest in developing some paper kits, and Sunday a friend told me about what may be a great tool to make that a reality. Without going into too much detail, there’s a device out there that is similar to the popular Cricut paper cutters, but with a lot more functionality. Apparently the software and hardware are able to make highly accurate registered cuts on specifically prepared printed sheets. That means I could print the designs on my color production printer along with the proper registration marks, then load the printed pieces in the cutter, and “print” the cuts on the cutter”.

Another possibility is making stencils for lettering my rolling stock — just as was done on prototype railroads. All kinds of other things come to mind as well — “gingerbread” trim, real cloth awnings, small signs … The cutting tool works on a variety of materials, from paper and cardstock to vinyl and plastics to thin very thin wood.

And on the Railroad …

While not much as happened on the railroad itself, I have made a little progress on things. After yet another flood in the basement, I do believe I’ve finally fixed that problem. It appears that even though water was draining through the pipe from the basement entrance to the sump, there was still significant blockage. That’s all been cleaned out, and I can’t wait for the next “gully washer” to prove my theory.

At the most recent Great Scale Model Train Show, I had a quick conversation with Rick from Hunterline. We discussed how to build a curved version of one of their trestle kits, which I purchased. That will be one of the next projects to start on the layout, along with smoothing out the approach to what will be a stone arch bridge at the South Corinna Mill site.

I finally came to a decision about how the layout will be lit. I decided that I’m going to install a couple of light strings designed to hold regular light bulbs, and load them with 11W, 3500deg CFL bulbs. Lighting valences will be made simply of fabric panels (made like lined draperies, with black on the aisle side, white on the layout side) hung from the drop ceiling. And, the benchwork for the next two sections of railroad are designed and awaiting construction at Berrett Hill. I’m hoping that now that a few inventions there are completed, that can be made ready for delivery soon.

So, lots going on behind the scenes, but not much exciting enough to warrant pictures. But, more soon, I hope!

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Various Updates

Again, it’s been some time since I last posted. It’s been busy, and there’s not been a huge amount of time for actually working on the layout or playing with model trains. Which is a bummer.

With that said, I’ve been busy with a couple of projects.

Cool Controls for Turnouts

First, I’ve been working with Kevin at Berrett Hill on a new system for turnout control. The goal was to replace the toggle switch with something easy to install, wire and configure. It’s very cool, and the first phase of products is available now, for folks using Tortoise and other 12V stall-motor switch motors. Next up will be a control board for people like me who use servo motors. Also on the way are versions for twin-coil switch motors. Keep an eye on the Berrett Hill web site for information.

The Bridge at Mount Harris — Common Hill

I finally got around to ordering a bridge for the end of the peninsula. Hunter Line sell an 81′ trestle, and while the kit is for a straight trestle, I have been assured that it can also be built on a curve. The S-scale version is appropriately sized for On30 (or On2 or On3, for that matter). I should get it some time next week, and will start on construction pretty quickly.

Modules and DCC

After the last couple of train shows, I came to the conclusion that if I never setup another modular layout, it would be too soon. I think it’s mostly because of late, there have only been two of us around for setup and tear down. Really, it’s just too much. Subsequently, I no longer have a “portable” DCC/programming system. My NCE Powerhouse Pro system is now permanently installed over my loco and rolling stock bench, along with a nicer Dell computer system for decoder setups and programming. I’ll have a programming/test track there as well.

For the layout itself, I have a pair of Digitrax DB150 boosters that, in “dumb booster” mode work fine with the NCE command station. And, while I’ll certainly be running a throttle buss out for NCE cabs, I’ll also be taking full advantage of the capabilities of J/MRI to allow people with smartphones to operate the layout. There are two ways to accomplish this — there are Android and iOS apps available for free or cheap. For those who don’t wish to install the apps, I can define custom web-based throttles for each locomotive. Slick.

More DCC — Sound Decision

I also decided that, going forward, all new locomotive sound installations are going to use ESU/LokSound decoders. There are several reasons behind this move, which include great sound quality, excellent pricing and a great feature set.

Some of the key benefits to the LokSound decoders are that the sound set can be changed. For instance, today I ordered two of their Select Micro decoders. One is a generic small steam loco set, and the other is for a diesel using an Alco 6-cylinder prime mover. The steam sounds will be fine as-is, but I know that I’ll probably want to use a “Galloping Goose” sound set in the other one when it becomes available for the new series of decoders. When the time comes, I’ll buy their programmer (or borrow a friend’s) and download the sound file.

In addition to changing out sounds, I can “roll my own,” if I want to. That includes things like changing out the whistles for recordings of the exact whistle from a prototype engine, if I want. I know full well that’s not exactly trivial, but having done that kind of work for several years, I got pretty good at it, if I do say so myself.

Another advantage is that there is no modification required if I want to add “keep alive” electronics. A keep alive will keep the engine moving and making sound over dirty track and dead switch frogs. Unlike Soundtraxx, ESU provide handy solder pads on the decoder circuit board to ease the task.

New Passenger Equipment

At the recent Mid-Hudson On30 Meet, I picked up a new passenger car shell kit for the railroad. The Mount Blue Model Company has issued a few new kits recently, including this really nice RPO designed to fit on a Bachmann coach chassis. They also have a “private” parlor car kit that I wish I had picked up, but I thought I was running a little short of cash. I’ll probably order the parlor car in the next couple of months.

“New” Addition to the C&S Locomotive Fleet

I’ve been waffling about adding one more locomotive to the C&S roster, and after a little more soul-searching (and a little drooling) at the Bunker Hill Model Train Club show last weekend, I finally decided to go ahead and pull the trigger on that project.

I have had sitting around a Bachmann outside-frame 4-4-0 for some time. It’s a Mexican prototype, and as such, has an overly-tall cab profile. It’s a neat loco, but I have no idea why I bought the thing (except that it’s a neat loco). Anyway, some time ago, I saw pictures on the web of a model modified by Don Mason (I think it was) that had much more of a “Maine look.” The gist of the conversion was moving the cab back about 1/2″ and lowering it by a bit over 1/4″. Since then, Alan Carroll has been making similar models for sale through John Weigel’s Peterboro Railroad. John had one at the recent shows, and I had a good chance to look at it (and also, to talk to Alan at the Mid-Hudson meet). I decided that this would be a pretty easy conversion. I already have many of the parts on hand, so it’s mostly a matter making the time to do it.

So, that’s about it for now. As we settle into late fall and winter, I’m hoping that there will be more time for modeling — and more regular updates here.

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Not Gonna Make It!

You may have noticed that I have “cancelled” the Great Scale Model Train Show. Of course, the show in Timonium is still happening, and I’m still going to be there. However, my Corinna section will be staying home. There just wasn’t enough time to get things done enough. Never fear! Corinna will be back on the road in May for the big Kimberton meet.

GSMTS 2/11 Update

Corinna off the wall at the GSMTS
Corinna off the wall at the GSMTS

I spent the past weekend at the Great Scale Model Train Show in Timonium. As planned, I took Corinna for the On30 modular setup, and everything worked a treat! My modules ran well, and were a subject of much curiosity and discussion. There are more pictures at the MADmodules site.

Motrak Models HO scale "Little Depot"
Motrak Models HO scale "Little Depot"

I also went a little wild on the shopping front. In addition to some basic scenic supplies for the layout, I went ahead and bought a few things for the HOn30 project — a MinitrainS Plymouth diesel set and a very nice little station kit from Motrak Models. Stylistically, it’s a perfect match for the other two HO station kits I have already on hand, and so will work very nicely on the mini-layout.

I was not able to see all of the available Peco track for HOn30. Apparently, it’s not all available in the states — we’re limited here to a “medium” radius turnout and meter-long flex track sections. The Peco medium turnouts are pretty similar in size to a regular Atlas snap-switch, but with chunkier ties. I’m going to spend a little bit of time to see if I can find someone in the UK who ships to the US to try to get a couple of the “set” series HOn30 switches. If I can’t do that, then I’ll just go with Atlas and bury it in the dirt.

As an aside, I previously mentioned that Tom Bell was designing a few conversion shells and whatnot for HOn30. Since my last posting, he seems to have increased his offerings on the Shapeways site, and he now has models in HOn30, TTn3 and On30 listed at very reasonable prices. I’ll probably be ordering an item or two from him in the next week or so…

In the mean time, I’ve decided it would be prudent to build a “proof-of-concept” mini-layout prior to going all-out on the three-piece display. I’m thinking that 20″x30″ or so will still be the size to get going with — just a loop with a switch or two for fun.