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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 - 01/20/2020 : 8:06:18 PM
Photos for flag stop station bash:

Photo 1



Photo 2



Photo 3



Photo 4



Photo Photo 5



Photo 6

Dan Posted - 01/20/2020 : 7:43:20 PM
Bashing A Flag Stop Passenger Station

While many flag stop passenger stations were just simple shelters, others were beguiling Victorian confections. To forestall cabin fever in this new year, serendipity provided an easy to build, cost free bash, made from parts already on hand, that is in between the two.

For my original attempt to build an On30 layout, I bought an Atlas O-scale, #6903 Trackside Shanty & Elevated Gate Tower Kit, specifically to acquire the trackside shanty (the Elevated Gate Tower was deemed to be unusable). As the current layout has limited trackside space, there is no longer room for the shanty, so it was deposited in a box that is reserved for stuff that I intend to do something with...eventually.

A long time resident of the box was something that recently piqued my interest as potential bash bait. It was a bag of parts for the normally lofty cabin from the still unacceptable Elevated Gate Tower. However, when brought down to earth and then modified for ground level use, the structure makes a rather convincing flag stop station (Photo 1 - waving guy and his older brother are included as a size reference). In round numbers, the waiting room is nine feet wide and seven feet deep by ten feet tall.

Additional shelter is provided by the overhang of a hip roof that measures fourteen feet wide by twelve feet deep. To ensure clearance for the overhang, that station is mounted on a thin, flat plastic base that is four by three and a quarter inches. It is actually an unused roof from an old HO AHM structure kit, another former denizen of the box. The base is also the mounting for a prototypical, short wooden platform.

The major problem is, as an elevated gate tower cabin, a trap door in the floor was used for entry and exit, so there are just windows on all four sides. In addition, the horizontal, sliding window assemblies that were provided with the kit are neither as sturdy nor as detailed as I would like. As the cabin parts are injection molded plastic, some filing and sanding was required to remove the remnants of the casting sprues and to square up the corners of the structure.

Also in the aforesaid box, there was a bag of molded plastic detail parts for an old, O-scale Walthers Cornerstone kit. Among them was an outside door, complete with frame, and three appropriately sized, double hung windows (Photo 2). A portion of the front cabin wall needed to be removed to accommodate the mounting of the door and this was the most difficult part of the bash (Photo 3).

The empty spaces on either side of the replacement window casings on the front and side walls were filled with scraps of strip wood (Photo 4). To make the rear wall flat, the large window opening thereon was filled flush to the outside surface (Photo 5). When things thaw out a bit, the station will be finished with the left over contents of several old spray paint cans. To avoid hand painting the added door and windows, they are arranged to pop out of their mounting positions for spray painting separately (Photos 3 and 6). The base and the platform also come apart.

Ironically, like the trackside shanty, there is no room for the flag stop station on the current layout, so it may be returned, in its present altered form, to the box of stuff...unless serendipity should decide otherwise.

Photos are in the next posting.
Dan Posted - 01/15/2020 : 09:34:02 AM
Layout Scenery, Continued...

The scenery at the front of the factory is a flat, brick paved lot, abutting the factory loading dock. The details thereon can be changed to modify the look of the layout. Plastruct 91606 O-scale, Rough Brick patterned plastic sheets (catalog number PS-92) were selected to imitate old brick paving and it works rather well.

The brick sheets were also going to be used at the back of the factory between the foundation and the odd shaped alignment of the spur track. However, as that part of the layout cannot be seen from the normal operating position, some blacktop paving from the abandoned layout project was effectively, as well as prototypically, substituted.

The blacktop paving comes in a long roll that is three and a half inches wide. It appears to be made from common rolled roofing paper that has been split into narrow strips. The same stuff is being used at the front edge of current layout for the road crossing. As it is sold as model railroad paving, it comes with a dashed yellow stripe down the middle and a semi-shiny coloration. It will be sprayed flat black before it is permanently installed.

As a design feature of the current layout, the sharp front corners were trimmed off. While the family jewels breathe a sigh of relief whenever I get near the front of the layout, the resulting set of angles made fitting the grass mat a definite challenge. As a result, I got very close on the left side and missed by a bit on the right. As a layout auxiliary building on the front right side is to be a repair shop, it was decided to mount it on a custom fitted piece of brick paving sheet, thereby covering the minor, but obvious misalignment of the grass mat.

To fit the brick paving as well as the blacktop used at the factory rear, I picked up a pack of four by six inch index cards at the dollar store. These are very handy as they as stiff enough to remain flat, small enough to fit into tight spaces and thin enough to fit under the ends of the sectional track ties without disturbing the track alignment. Individual cards were trimmed and taped together to rough out the required shape.

When in place, an ordinary pencil can be used to trace the required shapes directly from the layout surface, thereby ensuring accuracy. A full sized template can then be cut out with an Xacto knife or a pair of scissors. If things do not turn out well, it costs next to nothing to try again, while a single sheet of the plastic brick paving will run a couple of bucks. When all is good, the template is transferred over to the brick or blacktop paving and the shape is cut out.

Questions and comments are always welcome.
Dan Posted - 01/14/2020 : 6:40:53 PM
Layout Scenery

With Christmas decorations put away for another year and the weather outside being raw and rainy (that is good as I don't have to shovel the rain), it should be a good day to work on the layout, but it turned out to be one of those Godzilla days. Nevertheless, there are a number of things that need to be addressed, as installing and wiring up the turnout indicator crossing signal forced me to deal with layout scenery.

My previous attempt at building an On30 layout fell victim to Bachmann's great gear debacle, so it never reached the point of needing scenery. However, some supplies were purchased at the time in anticipation of reaching that point and they are now being used on the current layout.

As my current layout equates to a mini-sized tinplate empire, completely flat with an oval of sectional track and a single turnout, modern variations of toy train scenery are the order of the day. To cover the bright pink foam, I used a layer of what used to be called "grass paper" and it has come a long way since the days of yore. Woodland Scenics "Ready Grass" has a vinyl backing and the firmly attached grass is available in a number of natural hues, from desert terrain tan to rain forest green. The toned down green of "summer grass" was the selected shade.

To wire the crossing signal, small sized three conductor flat wire was used. The grass mat was slit with an Xacto blade and a shallow trench that ran under the road crossing, the paved factory lot and the foundation of the factory building was excavated in the exposed pink foam, so the wiring was entirely hidden. The flasher circuit and its power supply were attached to a block of thin wood that was on hand and the assembly is held in place with a U-pin. For whatever reasons, T-pins tend to be expensive while the U ones are cheap, but they do an excellent job of securing things in place on a substructure of the pink foam.

The electronics mounting wooden block was drilled to accommodate the U-pin legs and it was positioned so that it locates the rear inside corner of the factory building, closest to the front of the layout and, therefore, it is hidden from view. Additional U-pins were also used to locate the other three inside factory corners. In this way, the factory can be lifted off of the layout in one piece, leaving the crossing wiring behind, which will eventually come in handy when the layout gets moved.

To be continued...
Dan Posted - 01/07/2020 : 09:47:09 AM
As requested, here are some photos of this years downsized Christmas garden. Over the holiday, my Windows 10 computer ingested and digested a huge upgrade, which seems to have addressed, if not fixed, a lot of photo problems, so here goes.

The major problem with the Bachmann On30 trolley is it does not come with a motorman and none seem to be available. One of the layout figures "volunteered" for the job and a small layout vehicle was transferred over to add a little drama to the road crossing scene.









All the best to everyone.
Dan Posted - 01/02/2020 : 7:08:28 PM
Hoo-Ray! The photo-posting worked!

Here is a photo of the flashing crossbuck installation on the layout.

Waving guy, all six feet, six inches of him is included as a size reference and in the background is a Bachmann On30 passenger car, badly in need of a new paint job.

Waving guy holds an old style crossbuck in his right hand. This crossbuck is actually S-scale while the lighted crossbuck is considered a tallish OO/HO one, which demonstrates a maddening cross-scale variation in layout crossing signals.

In the horse and buggy era, drivers rode tall in the saddle, so to speak, so the flashing light signal was about seven feet above the road surface.



Dan Posted - 12/29/2019 : 07:25:29 AM
Flashing Crossbuck Dissertation, Continued...

For the turnout indicator project, one of the "OO/HO scale grade crossing signals" from eBay dealer WeHonest is used. They stand eleven feet tall, which is a good size for On30. A pair of signals (one is a layout spare - a hedge against having those Godzilla days) and a flasher circuit board, all quality products, came as a set for eighteen dollars with free shipping. While many of the WeHonest products are shipped directly from China, the signal set was sold and shipped from California.

The flasher circuit board has a broad range of input power, three volts to twenty-four volts, but it must be filtered DC. As DCC layout power (14 volts, nominal, measured at the rails) is used to activate the flasher circuit, the DCC will need to be converted to DC. A standard bridge rectifier with a filter capacitor, available on eBay as a simple kit for a couple of bucks, will normally get the job done.

However, the layout DCC, with a frequency of twenty thousand cycles per second (kHz) is beyond the working limits of the 1N4000 series silicon rectifier diodes that come with the kit. As the current draw of the flasher circuit is quite low, cheap and easy to find 1N4148 switching diodes were substituted. They have the needed frequency response and a current limit of about a quarter of an ampere. Cheap and available, Schottky Barrier Diodes will also work and they will provide higher current.

For mounting the crossing signal, there is a threaded stud and nut at the bottom of its pole, through which very thin wires are run, one for each of two LEDs and a common connection. To keep the signal in its place as well as vertical, it was mounted in the center of a somewhat oversize O-scale shipping pallet and a small, shallow hole was excavated in the layout foam to accommodate the protruding stud. The three LED wires were gently doubled back outside of the stud and returned to the surface.

The DC supply and the signal flasher board are located inside of the factory building adjacent to the spur. The DC supply gets its DCC input through wires soldered onto rail joiners that attach to the spur track. The wires then run under the brick paving at the back of the factory and under the rear wall. The wires to the signal run under the brick parking lot at the front of the factory and under the blacktop paving at the road crossing.

The signal flasher board has provisions for two adjustments. One controls the flashing rate, which should be between 45 and 60 flashes per minute. The other is a pushbutton switch that lowers the intensity of the very bright signal LEDs in several stages. While the flashing rate stays constant, the brightness adjustment resets to maximum each time the board powers up, making it ineffective for this application.

To permanently dim the LEDs to a prototypical level, about 6,000 ohms of resistance needs to be added to the common terminal of the flasher-to-signal output connector. This setup was tested for a number of hours prior to layout installation and no problems were evident.

Questions and comments are always welcome and all the best to everyone.
Dan Posted - 12/26/2019 : 5:59:34 PM
A Less Than Brief Dissertation On Railroad Crossing Signals.

Crossbuck crossing signals with flashing lights are correct for a layout of WWI or later. While X type warning crossbucks have been around since the late eighteen hundreds, the flashing lights were initially part of a complex multi-lamp signal that was invented in 1913. Patent 1174383, electro-mechanically replicates the actions of a period human crossing tender, swinging his red lantern from side to side, to alert oncoming vehicular traffic.

When it was subsequently learned that only two red lights, visually separated and alternately flashing, would do the job, the patented crossing signal was greatly simplified. Generally, railroads that were not deemed common carriers were free to design and use their own crossing signals, which added variety.

Eventually, the crossbucks themselves were also changed. The oblong type (30 degree angle) is considered to be from the age of steam, while the square type (90 degree angle) is generally associated with the diesel era, but there are no hard and fast rules about the timing of the change. As the old ones needed replacing, the new ones just took their place.

The turnout at the back of the layout is not visible from the normal operating position. Furthermore, the hi-tech turnout display on the layout's handheld DCC controller is not easily viewed and when it is, there is an annoying propensity for it to be wrong. Therefore, some form of independent indicator needs to be installed to reduce operator angst about the setting of the turnout.

This project has been on hold for a while, during which time various schemes were investigated and discarded, but with scenery installation looming on the horizon, technology based accessories need to be installed and made functional. As there is no "control panel" for the layout, just the problem prone handheld controller, the indicator installation should be such that it is clearly visible in the normal field of vision when operating the layout. If it can be prototypical, then so much the better.

As a lifelong railfan, a model of a lighted crossbuck signal, adjacent to the existing road crossing at the front of the layout was the eventual choice. Although they appear a bit scrawny in O-scale, tallish HO/OO signals (they come in various heights) scale out to be about three quarters of the size of an typical standard gauge prototype, so they will fit in well with narrow gauge equipment.

A primitive, but nonetheless infallible feature of the spur turnout (a Peco electrofrog), was utilized to control the indicator. When the turnout is set for the spur, the DCC power to the spur track is turned on, which will activate the crossing signal, and vice versa. However, while not insurmountable, the use of track DCC made the installation of the signal's DC powered electronics somewhat problematic.

Also problematic, the crossing conceals a Kadee uncoupler for separating the freight cars, a chore that often requires some manual assistance. On bad days, the liver spotted grasping organs on the ends of my arms do their best to emulate the scenes of Godzilla destroying trains in Japanese sci-fi movies. Therefore, to keep the turnout indicator out of harm's way, it needs to be mounted on the far side of the track, several inches back from the front of the layout, with the flashing lights facing toward the normal operating position.

Although, technically, the crossing signal installation at the front of the layout is ill-proportioned, poorly positioned as well as incorrectly used, it is, nonetheless, clearly visible and it proves its worth as a turnout indicator whenever cars are being switched in and out of the spur. In addition, to a longtime railfan, it triggers pleasant memories and, when all things are considered, while it may not be exactly prototypical, it still looks darn good.

thayer Posted - 12/17/2019 : 12:50:05 PM
Sounds like a Win-Win Dan, well done. Looking forward to a photo.

Dan Posted - 12/16/2019 : 7:13:11 PM
A Decision Has Been Made...

The Christmas Spirits (not the liquor store ones, but the otherworldly ones) have given me a sign, so trains (of a sort) will be a part of the new Christmas garden. A streetcar scene has been in the old garden for a number of years and this tradition will continue with the new one.

At local, preholiday toy and train shows, where one never sees anything in On30, I found an orphaned Bachmann trolley, used but in good shape, at what could be considered as a dollar store price. In my younger days, I worked on preserving and restoring the prototype car that the model is based on, so I kinda-sorta feel like this orphaned Bachmann trolley is predestined for me to preserve and restore as old man, or have I been watching too many sappy holiday movies?

This serendipitous purchase set the proverbial wheels in motion, although the model wheels will not be moving as this will be a static display. By combining the trolley with a four inch by fifteen inch piece of scrap Masonite, some old Atlas code 100 snap track and, of course, more cotton snow, a separate extension was made to fit at the front of the new garden. As the town square scene is is modeled on a low rise, there is some grade separation between the two, setting up a bit of perspective with this suburban trolley line scene.

At one end of the piece of Masonite, a code 100 rerailing track is used to model a road crossing, while the static trolley car seemingly approaches the road crossing from the other end by way of a short piece of curved track. To add a bit of life to this transportation scene, a pair of always operating, battery powered, flashing crossbucks, which were a part of the old trolley scene, protects the model road crossing.

When viewed together, the combination of Christmas tree, town square and the trolley line looks good from many different angles, as any Christmas display should. It turned out to be a doable project with only minimal muss and fuss and no emotional baggage. The result is one that I can live with and enjoy for years to come.

Dan Posted - 12/15/2019 : 5:44:07 PM
Philip,

Thank you for correcting the backwards photo. I was about ready to kick the computer out of a window!

Thanks again and Merry Christmas to you and yours and to everyone else!

Dan
Philip Posted - 12/14/2019 : 10:53:36 PM

Merry Christmas Dan! That 1st photo did the same with me...flipped on side...



Philip

Dan Posted - 12/13/2019 : 07:46:26 AM
Another try at a photo.

GRRRRRR Now its backward! I need to find the Christmas spirits so I can get into the Christmas Spirit!

Dan Posted - 12/11/2019 : 7:41:35 PM
Here is an attempt at a photo.

Why is it sideways? I don't have a clue! I really do hate Windows 10.

Dan Posted - 12/11/2019 : 6:02:11 PM
Honey, I Shrank The Christmas Garden...And The Christmas Tree Too!

Last winter was not a very good one, on the health front. There was nothing catastrophic, just a bunch of little things that go along with being old, which collectively sap one's strength, both mental and physical. As a result, for the first time in many years, neither the Christmas tree nor the Christmas garden were put up. It was a bitter pill to swallow, along with all the other pills that the doctors had prescribed.

In the ensuing months, the situation was given a good deal of thought and it was decided to start a new, easily doable variation of the old tradition. A permanent garden and tree that can be manageably stored in a box or two is the new agenda. To accomplish this, the garden shrank from thirty inches by forty-eight down to ten by sixteen inches. The tree was downsized from four feet high by two feet wide to eighteen inches high by twelve wide.

From the glistening silver star at the top of the new Christmas tree, down to the shimmering sequined skirt around its base, everything, including the tree itself, was supplied by local dollar stores, which went a long way to make the project affordable. Everything, that is, except for the tree holder, which came from the plumbing department at Home Depot. To ensure stability, it was cobbled together with heavy cast iron pipe parts that added up to twelve bucks.

Serendipitously, the new Christmas garden came from just one store, the Dollar Tree. It was like being a kid in a candy store. Using three plastic, hand painted structures and an assortment of matching nearly O-scale figures and accessories, all by the same importer/manufacturer, it was built on a ten by sixteen inch plastic serving tray from the party supply aisle. The tray was inverted and covered with traditional cotton snow batting, so it appears that the created town square scene is sitting on a low rise.

Whether or not there will be trains has not yet been decided, as they take up a lot of space and the whole idea of the project is to downsize as well as simplify most dramatically. Technically, two weeks still remain in which to make a decision.


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