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 An Old Man Contemplates an Old Man's Layout

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T O P I C    R E V I E W
Dan Posted - 08/09/2017 : 3:40:42 PM
Over the years, I had become complacent about the scenery streaming past the Pullman windows on the train ride of life. I hardly noticed being switched down the Old Fart Branch until the train slowed for a flag-stop station that had an unusual name. Its sign board read "Superannuate." What really got my attention was when I checked the schedule and the next station stop would be "Elderly" followed by the one at "Geriatric." For all intents and purposes, the latter will be the end of the line.

This prompted me to take a look at where I am now and where I will most likely be in the near future. I am currently living in a house with space for building a layout. However, all too soon, i will be downsized into a modest senior's apartment or, in a worst case scenario, into a care facility.

Therefore, if I am going to build a layout, I had better start now, but I do not want it to be a major project. I think "unpretentious, but fulfilling" would be an apt description. I envision a small, semi-permanent layout, one with graceful curves and prototype operations, that can easily be relocated whenever the need arises.

While dreamers of big layouts yearn for homes with suitable basements, I am hoping for a senior's apartment with a walk-in closet that can accommodate the proposed layout. If that does not work out, the layout is going to occupy prime living space.

To be ready for either situation, it should emulate a piece of furniture. Actually, a real piece of furniture, a suitable "bar height" or "pub height" table, is a layout option. However ADA compliant doorways, which are thirty-two inches wide, can limit the size of a table-top layout.

Layout height and ADA doorways are both mentioned because, as one gets older, debilitating medical conditions can occur at any time. Therefore, to compliment the interior of the new apartment, the layout should also be handicapped accessible, for the lack of a better term.

Ideally, the layout should follow most of the ADA recommendations for wheelchair use. This means that it can be operated, without assistance, from a sitting position using a seat height of nineteen inches. In addition, it should have a clear access path, thirty-six inches wide, to the operating position.

The average wheelchair eye level is forty-seven inches. According to the recommendations of the NMRA, our layouts tend to look better when viewed from near eye level, so an appropriate layout height would be about forty inches. This height also allows a comfortable forward reach from a wheelchair, thereby providing easy access to the front of the layout.

Having been around full sized trains for most of my life, the urge to build a large layout never materialized. My previous attempt to build an On30 layout was four feet wide by two feet deep, with nine inch radius curves. While the layout itself could not be considered a success, it was a learning experience and a test bed for different types of layout construction.

The layout sat on a pedestal made from the bottom three shelves of a plastic storage unit that was approximately thirty-six inches wide by eighteen inches deep. It was fitted with furniture casters for ease of moving it around. The lightweight, but sturdy pedestal proved so successful that current plans are to adapt it to the new layout.

Diminutive Davenport gas-mechanicals, manufactured by Bachmann, were the motive power on the old layout. However, work on the layout ground to a halt, literally, due to the "Great Gear Debacle." Quite frankly, Bachmann's attitude toward the problem and their products put me off the hobby for a while.

Over the years, Bachmann attempted to make amends with a new Whitcomb double truck, diesel-electric locomotive plus re-engineered versions of two of its smaller steamers; the 0-4-2 and the 2-6-0. They are all good runners and, so far, there are no reported signs of mechanical vicissitudes. While under-the-layout sound and pulse-power DC was used before, the decision was made to switch over to DCC and on-board sound for the new layout.

To accommodate the 2-6-0, which requires curves of fifteen inch radius, the size of the layout will be increased to four feet wide by three feet deep. This will require a somewhat larger pedestal, three feet wide by two feet deep. The lower shelves of a steel wire shelf unit, factory equipped with wheels, will provide an acceptable, living space substitute for the previous plastic shelf pedestal.

The heart of the new layout will be a single, two inch thick slab of FOAMULAR XPS rigid foam insulation - aka the pink stuff. An extra thickness will be glued around the edges, forming a socket that will hold the top of the pedestal. As the layout and the pedestal will need to be moved separately, the two will be held together by just the force of gravity.

Although XPS is not rated as structural, the six inches of foamboard overhanging the pedestal on each side should not pose a problem. What may be a problem is, while most foamboard glues will attach fascia boards and backdrop supports to the laminated edges of the layout, these decorative attachments will be subjected to mechanical stress when moving the layout. Therefore, a more secure mounting method needs to be devised.

The scenery will also need to be secured so the separated layout can be turned vertically to avoid running afoul of ADA doorways. With track, scenery and attachments, the layout itself will weigh about twenty-five pounds; light enough to be easily handled by an old codger and a codgette.

To facilitate moving, the layout wiring should be easily disconnected from the DCC supply mounted on the pedestal. The wiring should also be suitably modified to facilitate operating from a wheelchair. For example, a rare but annoying problem is when a locomotive enters the frog end of a turnout with the points set against it, thereby causing a short circuit that brings operations to a halt.

If the turnout motor is DCC controlled and powered from the DCC track supply, the loco must be physically moved beyond the turnout to clear the short, something that cannot always be done from a wheelchair. However, by putting the track power and the turnout controller power on separate feeds and providing a convenient means for disconnecting the track, the power can be restored to the turnout controller and the points reset. As the tracks will be electrically isolated from the DCC supply, a DC power supply can be connected and used to run the trains.

An unintended bonus for senior citizens is a part of the layout construction. If an episode of unsteadiness (you know the type - "I've fallen and I can't get up!") occurs in the presence of the layout, it may result in some serious scenery damage. However, the forgiving nature of the foam insulation and its loose mounting to a movable pedestal should minimize the damage to the senior citizen.

Speaking of unsteadiness, an unintentional quirk is also a part of the layout construction. When using the pedestal, the Rock of Gibraltar stability of a traditional layout will be replaced with the equivalent of San Andreas quaking. While initially disconcerting, the lack of rigidity will not affect layout operations.

If running trains is desired in a care facility, one must keep one's options open. Speaking from experience, a layout without a working locomotive is a diorama and a boring one at that. However, a locomotive without a layout can provide both sound and motion stimulation to an active imagination.

Perhaps a test stand thing-a-ma-jig, with roller assemblies for under the drivers, complete with scenery and a bit of backdrop, would make a minimalist layout for the above situation. One that is about fourteen inches wide and four inches deep will accommodate the 2-6-0 and its tender. In anticipating future needs, the scenic thing-a-ma-jig can be built concurrent with the layout. In the interim, it can serve as a picturesque programming track.

15   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
Dan Posted - 10/14/2019 : 11:18:57 AM
Something new for an old friend.

I noticed in the Rail Events section of the Forum that something new is being added to the model train show that is going to be held at the Timonium Fair Grounds just north of Baltimore MD. These are the Great Scale Model Train Shows and they are BIG, with three acres of model trains and layouts under one roof with both dealer and private sales. Despite the show's stodgy name, it is family oriented with tinplate as well as toy trains; something for everyone. They are held three times a year and, weather and health permitting, I go to every one.

On my current layout project about one third has come from these shows, one third is from eBay and the rest has come from my LHS, Home Depot, arts and crafts suppliers, rare flea market finds and, of course, the dollar store.

What is new at the upcoming show (Oct 26 & 27) is something called the Craftsman Courtyard. According to e-mail blurb sent out be the show promoters, some two dozen of the nation's top structure and scenery modelers will have their own section comprising of fifty tables and a clinics area.

As an old fuddy-duddy, who utilizes pre-cut wood and molded plastic models that are finished in spray paint from the big-box stores and whose modest mini layout is the scale train equivalent of a tinplate Christmas garden, I view this addition to the show with a bit of skepticism. Nevertheless, I will be looking in on them with an open mind. I wish them well and I hope that their efforts will be welcomed by the hobby.

One thing about being old (in the rear view mirror of life "getting old" has disappeared into the distance), is you get to the point where you have everything you need, even with model trains. Occasionally, I'll find something interesting and/or useful at the show, but mostly I go home happy and fulfilled as well as empty handed. Curiously, there are very few used or slightly broken items at the show that lend themselves to On30 bashing and the same is true for eBay.

Most everything being offered in On30 is not only NIB, but also a bit on the pricey side for hacking into pieces. So far, the only things I have found at the show were a Bachmann large flatcar, which I passed on as I use the smaller cars, and a Bachmann passenger car with a gaudy paint job, which I bought to use as a track clearance car.

This time, I will go to the show with a one item shopping list. I will find the spray paint guy, if he shows up, and see if he has a suitable school bus yellow color for my model railbus. While it is adequate, the present pale yellow color just doesn't get my motor running.

All the best to everyone.
railman28 Posted - 08/28/2019 : 12:47:42 PM
You need a bigger shed for that good looking bus. Very nice Job indeed.

Dan Posted - 08/28/2019 : 10:43:16 AM
Thanks Steve,

Here are a couple of attempts at photographing the railbus. The semigloss, pale yellow color seems to have the auto features my camera flummoxed for now.

For a size reference, the building is the layout handcar shed that I built and painted a while ago, which shows how petite the railbus is. It certainly earns the old and affectionate railroad name of "dinky."

The figure at the front of the railbus is waving guy's older brother, all six feet of him, getting the dinky ready for its next run.

txlarr Posted - 08/27/2019 : 10:20:23 PM
Dan, following your ageless rail bus story has been great. For a guy that doesn't love painting, your description of painting your rail bus sounds great. I dislike painting too but I look forward to photos of your finished rail bus. Steve
Dan Posted - 08/27/2019 : 05:46:24 AM
It Is Done! (Well...for now)

Although it has taken fifty-plus years, I managed to bash a wobble free railbus with prototype looks, prototype sounds and prototypical operation. While it may yet acquire some minor detail parts, I consider it complete.

As the last major step in its construction, the bash was dismantled to facilitate painting. While not my favorite activity, nonetheless, the painting needed to be done and it kinda-sorta turned out good. The bus roof and the lower section of the bus body, which are both diecast metal, were stripped of their original paint using acetone. Isopropyl alcohol was used to strip the plastic parts of the trailer body and the small, but essential plastic radiator for the bus.

The radiator was molded in black plastic and coated with a garish, glossy gold color, which was loosened by the alcohol soak. A small brush with soft brass bristles was used to remove the gold, leaving the radiator an unobtrusive matte black color, which was the desired goal.

As things turned out, the bus body window section was cast in a yellow plastic, so there was nothing to remove. After everything to be painted was given a bath in detergent water, they were ready to be sprayed with the primer and topcoat.

While a regular grey primer was used on the railbus and trailer bodies, the topcoat was another adventure in the world of spray can paint. As both would be subjected to regular handling, as is all of the layout rolling stock, to keep fingerprints to a minimum a semigloss topcoat was preferred. As a result, the color palette for the railbus seems to have defaulted to the pale yellow and dark brown of the layout structures.

While I liked the original yellow, no suitable replacement was found. A much paler semigloss yellow, nearly the same as the matte paint used on the layout buildings, became a workable compromise. To tone down all that pale yellow, the railbus roof was over sprayed with a coat of flat red primer, which is almost a boxcar brown.

The railbus yellow was a special Krylon paint that was found in a local arts and crafts store. Unlike my past, unhappy experiences with semigloss spray paints, it actually came out of the can with no drips or splatters and it quickly dried to a smooth, hard finish, so it was worth the exorbitant price of nearly ten bucks a can. My only regret with the railbus bash is that the topcoat color was not a deeper, darker yellow, but I can live with that.

All the best to everyone.
railman28 Posted - 08/20/2019 : 5:36:01 PM
nice write up. Thanks for sharing the information.

Dan Posted - 08/20/2019 : 2:16:07 PM
SoundTraxx SoundCar Application

As my LHS does not stock the SoundTraxx 851002 mobile decoder that is needed for the railbus trailer, one was ordered off of eBay. It soon arrived and was installed. As usual, there are those pesky CVs to be programmed. As my Dynamis DCC control system requires, on average, twenty-three sequential keystrokes to program a CV, it is an annoying, necessary evil, but the end results are well worth the effort.

As the SoundCar unit and the mobile decoder do not monitor each other or otherwise communicate, a minor compromise will synchronize the automatically generated sounds with the movement of the train. Program CV3 (acceleration rate), CV4 (deceleration rater) and CV61 (braking rate) to corresponding values and they will, seemingly, linkup.

The Soundcar automatic sound functions that were chosen are the clickety-clack rail joint sound (CV131), the flange squeal sound (CV133) and the brake squeal sound (CV139). The usual DCC controller activated sound functions are horn (CVs129 and 115), bell (CVs130, 114 and 227) and the engine exhaust.

That sound is actually a diesel powered generator that is typically found on modern freight and passenger equipment and it can be independently turned on and off with DCC controller function F9. While it features startup and shut down sequences, once it gets going, the sound is a mechanized drone. When its volume is set to a background level (SoundCar CV132), the drone imitates a powered rail vehicle.

The SoundCar and decoder support the SoundTraxx manually set brake simulation (DCC controller function F11). To keep my loco manual controls configured the same, I moved the F11 brake function to the more convenient F7 position (normally the Hyperlight headlight dimmer control that I do not use) by reprogramming CV41 on the SoundCar and the decoder to a value of 128. The actual braking rate (CV61) is set between 127 and 255 on the both of them.

While waiting for the decoder to arrive, the railbus was pushed around the layout by a reanimated relic from my earlier Critt-acious period. It is a long dead Bachmann On30 Davenport that I equipped, during the rebuilding process, with one of the aforesaid mobile decoders. Its operation is now nearly perfect, as is that of the decoder equipped railbus and trailer.

The reason for the trial running was to experiment with various combinations of critter sounds generated by the SoundCar unit. All of the regular layout locos feature onboard sounds that vary as they wander around the layout. As the railbus and critter sounds are coming from a fixed source, directly in front of the layout operator, they are programmed to represent riding on the railroad equipment.

The exhilarating up-close sounds provided by the SoundCar unit pleasantly refresh age-old memories of being in the "railfan seat" next to the equipment operator (or even in the operator's seat) that occurred during the carefree days of my youth, with the critter and the railbus models providing a series of visual references as they silently perambulate around the layout.
Dan Posted - 08/16/2019 : 06:09:18 AM
Lions And Tigers And Bears! Oh My!

Actually, it is just the sounds of cows and sheep. I am referring to what is produced by the Tsunami SoundCar module marketed by SoundTraxx. While working on the railbus, I ruminated on the problem of supplying generic sounds for my model critters (the railroad related ones, not bovine and ovine miniatures).

The module also generates the required railroad sounds (bell, horn, engine exhaust) and for less money than reviving the defunct Whitcomb project, but there are some repercussions for the critters and the railbus. They will be equipped with SoundTraxx 851002 mobile decoders for running on layout DCC. On the plus side, these decoders are rather small and relatively inexpensive and they can be programmed with their own performance parameters. Only the SoundCar generated engine exhaust sounds will be generic.

I bought a SoundCar module from my LHS for about the same price as on eBay, plus I got to take it home and played with it right away. I wired it into the same speaker equipped plastic box that I used for the Whitcomb project. Since the critters and the railbus will only run occasionally, to interrupt the DCC that supplies the SoundCar module, a convenient On/Off switch was included on the front panel of the under-the-layout mounted project box. Sometimes, old technology rules.

Although the Tsunami SoundCar module does not have the panache of a full blown Tsunami2, it gets the job done nonetheless, plus there are considerably fewer of those pesky CVs that need to be programmed. Yes...the aforesaid animal sounds can be turned on and off, along with a number of other sounds.

Questions and comments are always welcome.

All the best to everyone.
Dan Posted - 08/13/2019 : 5:48:30 PM
An Unexpected Change For the Railbus

Changing the drive wheels has little physical effect on the railbus, but it did change the look of it. To my mind's eye, the large drive wheels required the installation of a different pilot truck. The tender trucks from the scrapped AHM engine seemed to fill the bill. However, the plastic frames had disintegrated to the point where the trucks fell apart as I was handling them. Fortuitously, as the photo shows, I had an extra truck and that one seems to be OK.

The new pilot truck uses the same mounting point and the same wheel and axle assemblies as the larger old one, but the wheelbase is about a scale foot shorter. When combined with the look of the wheel hiding outside frames, to me the proportions of the railbus are more agreeable.

Dan Posted - 08/12/2019 : 11:10:18 AM
Here are some photos of the railbus/trailer hooked together for running on the layout. The discoloration on the side of the trailer is clear adhesive tape to temporarily keep the Stanton Drive from coming loose when the assembly is picked up. Until it is semi-permanently mounted (after painting) - better safe than sorry.

As I mentioned previously, I consider the railbus/trailer combination to be layout worthy. Now, if only I had a worthy layout on which to run them on.

Dan Posted - 08/12/2019 : 06:05:49 AM
Connecting The Railbus To The Trailer

Of my previous attempts at building a railbus in On30, this is the first that I consider to be layout worthy. Throughout the project, serendipity always seems to be lurking about and fabricating this connection was no exception. In the finest tradition of rollingstock bashing, it just came together using parts already on hand. Having a collection of parts on hand that goes back some fifty years may have also been a help.

The rear of the railbus and the front of the trailer turned out to be at a suitable height for easy coupling to each other. Although that height is lower than the Kadee standard, a pair of regular couplers could be cobbled up to do the job, but they will be glaringly oversized for this light duty application. In their place, the former loco/tender flat metal drawbar from the previously scrapped AHM engine has been reunited with the recycled, wheel supporting underframe mounted beneath the railbus body.

As they originally worked well together, the drawbar pin was removed from the front of the derelict AHM tender. A simple styrene buffer bar was added to the front of the trailer, ostensibly supported by the slightly too long ends of its recycled dump car underframe and the pin was remounted under its center. This forms a separable and unobtrusive as well as flexible close coupling that is a match for the layout's eighteen-inch radius curves.

Dan Posted - 08/08/2019 : 06:23:28 AM
Eureka! I have done it!

With pretty much nothing to lose, except my fourteen dollar investment, I bit the bullet and pulled the wheels from the original axle. Those sneaky On30 designers at Bachmann hid some secrets that were not clearly visible until the wheels were off. For example, both of the wheels were insulated from the axle. The parts diagram does show this, once you figure out what you are looking at. Initially, a display of miniature Rorschach inkblots on a drawing that is filled with unspecified part numbers was, as the old saying goes, all Greek to me.

The 0.03" axle ends were there to hold on decorative plastic hub caps and both wheels were attached to the 0.05" axle segments using plastic hubs. This made it a lot easier to modify the complex wheelset assembly into the way things should be, in my humble opinion. It appears that the plastic hubs are the same composition as the notoriously faulty gears. However, as the hubs are under compression between the axle and the axle holes on the metal wheels, there should not be any future problems, but as so many of us have found out, there are no guarantees when it comes to little bits an pieces of Bachmann equipment.

Many years ago, I bought a pack of 1/16" round steel rods from NWSL, so I cut a piece off of one to replace the original Bachmann axle. Since both of the plastic wheel hubs were pressed over knurling on the original 0.05" axle, there was no problem using the slightly larger (0.0625") smooth steel rod for a replacement axle. I slipped some suitably sized brass tubing over the new axle as the wheels were being mounted for a one-piece bearing and the bashed wheel assembly spins nicely.

After a temporary reassembly of the railbus, a trial run was carried out. The re-wheeled bash now glides smoothly around the layout with no wobbles and no wiggles. Now I really can sleep at night, but as it is now (yawn) six in the morning, I'll think I'll wait until tonight to get started.
Dan Posted - 08/07/2019 : 09:06:34 AM
More Railbus Blues

The Bachmann wheelset arrived. The wheels are beautifully done in metal, which means that one of the wheels must be hub insulated from the axle and it is the resulting axle that presents a major problem. What could - and should - be a simple piece of rod is a complex metal turning consisting of five different diameters, none of which lend themselves to railbus bashing.

The axle end for the hub insulated wheel is just 0.03" in diameter with a knurled section that engages the plastic hub. The opposite end is 0.05" to which the other wheel hub is firmly driven on. In between, there are three additional diameters (0.06, 0.07 and 0.10) of varying widths including another section of knurling that engages the hub of the bevel drive gear - one of the plastic gears known for breaking.

If I pull the wheels off to fit a new axle, provided I can find something suitable, I would probably wind up with another wobbly wheelset. Perhaps a bit better looking than my previous attempts at bashing, but wobbly none the less.

Maybe I should just jack the railbus up and put timber cribbing where the rear wheels should be and say that it is under repair. The railbus ain't gonna move that way, but it ain't gonna wobble either and I can finally sleep at night.

Dan Posted - 08/05/2019 : 07:06:21 AM
Perhaps now it will work. I logged out and then logged back in again.

The first photo is the oddly shaped NWSL Stanton Drive. The second shows the inside of the bashed trailer with the lead weight Drive mounts in place. The third photo is the mounted Drive. Additional detail parts will be added later.

Dan Posted - 08/04/2019 : 4:58:01 PM
For whatever reasons, the photos could not be loaded at the same time of the text. I will try later.

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