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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 - 07/01/2020 : 12:00:15 PM
Have I Become The Jake Flack Of My Generation?

The title is a rhetorical question, the result of a lugubrious nocturnal rumination, which sometimes accompanies pizza night. Jake Flack was one of several curmudgeons at a model railroad club nearly sixty years ago. At the time, there were a few of us young whippersnappers who were junior members. Despite our assignments to menial tasks, we genuinely considered ourselves to be among the hobby's movers and shakers.

The model railroad skills of Jake Flack stagnated before I joined the club and the equipment that he brought to the operating sessions was, to put it kindly, old fashioned to the point of being sad and his being a curmudgeon prevented any chance of change. This was especially true of his long passenger train that we upstarts referred to as the Flackawanna Flimited. As a country, we were attempting to go to the moon using space age technology, so Jake's attitude was deemed to be worthy of ridicule.

I am now the same age as Jake Flack, when I knew him long ago, and with age comes wisdom, or so it is said. When I look at what I recently produced, using a mix of old ideas and even some parts going back to the seventies, along with memories from my earlier tinplate days, my efforts that are posted here are indeed old fashioned and even somewhat poignant and this, subliminally, begs the title question.

My switch from DC to DCC on the present layout and the change from constructing shake-the-box plastic kits to laser cut wood kits shows that I am willing and able to learn, so I guess that I am not the Jake Flack of my generation. Nevertheless, at times, I do show a fondness for being an old man who is said to be "set in his ways."

Dan Posted - 06/27/2020 : 8:08:35 PM
Warning - Junk Box Bashes Can Be Habit Forming

This project is a bashed, junk box repair shed for the Bachmann On30 side dump cars. It started out life as an enclosed HO scale hopper car unloader structure from a Walthers kit. Although it was old and in rough shape and the clearances through the door openings were rather tight, it was being considered as an enclosed unloader for the layout's side dump cars. For ease of operations as well as visual appeal, an open-air unloader was decided on, so into the junk box it went.

The layout now has something that it didn't have before, a spur track dedicated for the repairing of four-wheel rolling stock. The previous success with the junk box bashing of a small passenger station, got me to ruminate about bashing the rejected HO unloader into a smallish car repair shed.

The original model was a run through type of unloader and that feature carries on in the repair shed bash. Being on the short side, the run through feature allows for either end of a car to be worked on in the center of the shed. As the cars under repair will be stationary, a part of the scenery, the tight door clearances were no longer a concern and they actually add a bit of charm to the structure.

Armed with my trusty razor saw and a fresh blade in my Exacto knife, I cut away the damaged areas as well as any unusable parts and the following photographs show the result. Some junk box HO double hung windows were installed atop the rear wall at roof level to act as a source of light and for ventilation. As the model was originally HO-scale, the simulated corrugated metal siding may look a bit strange in O-scale; nevertheless, it will work for this repair shed bash.

Dan Posted - 06/25/2020 : 06:23:46 AM
No Runs, No Drips And No Insects

My recent and protracted bout with arthritis has eased up considerably, so it was time for some long delayed scenery projects. The major layout structures, the factory and the rock bin, were still in their modification and test fitting stage with Scotch tape holding things together. With their configuration finalized, they were pulled apart, thoroughly cleaned and sprayed with rattle can paint. When reassembled, as the title indicates, they turned out pretty good.

While the biggest structures were off the little layout, it was time to "ballast" the track using acrylic paint. A few sections of track were pulled up at a time, the painted on ballast was applied and the track re-laid with new rail joiners installed, making a semirigid structure. I found I had a bag of nails for laying HO sectional track, that was purchased long ago, back when four by eight foot tabletop layouts made from sheets of plywood were in vogue. As the nails also work well with the current foamboard base, they replaced the sewing pins I had been using for that purpose. As usual, the bag contains hundreds of the little nails, when all that I needed was about two dozen.

When the ballast project was finished, it was time for the acid test. Previous operations were almost flawless and I rarely had to employ the layout thumping skills that I learned back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, but would this still hold true? There was a bit of collateral damage when a wire connection broke on the turnout motor, but after completing the needed repair and a regular track cleaning session, the answer is yes.

Dan Posted - 06/19/2020 : 12:39:53 PM
From Roof Rack To Grillage - Another Quick And Easy Bash

One of the details that the layout needed was a simulated underground hopper into which the Bachmann side dump cars could shed their loads of ganister rock. A layout vehicle that I was bashing a while ago had an easily removable molded plastic luggage rack on its roof that reminded me of the following description that was printed in Coal Age magazine, August 1916: "A steel grillage is usually placed over the hopper to prevent excessively large lumps from entering the equipment. This grillage also acts as a safety measure to keep workmen from falling in."

Serendipity very quickly took over thr project. The roof rack "grillage" fit perfectly between the edge of the factory spur track and the foot of the trestle bent adjacent to the front rock bin legs, a very suitable place for the hopper. The grillage was also the right length to handle one side dump car. The dollar store also played its part with a bag of "pebbles" that was really finely crushed white rock that simulates quarried ganister. While the project needed about a tablespoon of the stuff, a nearly one pound bag only cost a dollar, so I have more ballast for home decor vases.

On the prototype, the dumped stone that was immediately usable would pass through the slits in the grillage, while any big lumps remained on top. A couple of hearty whacks with a sledgehammer would soon make them usable. The stone would then be elevated into the storage bunker and when the underground hopper had become empty, another car could be dumped. On the layout, all of this, of course, would have to be imagined, but the grillage and the stone between its bars indicates both its possibility and its plausibility.

Dan Posted - 06/17/2020 : 07:24:55 AM
Thank you for the offer. Although the subject is intriguing, the model will be a static display on the layout.

All the best,

BigLars Posted - 06/16/2020 : 9:59:30 PM
Dan, If you are looking for the Grandt line battery engine to operate I have done a few of them. Message me if you need me to post details.
Dan Posted - 06/16/2020 : 12:26:08 PM
A Lesson In Heavy Lifting - Model Railroad Style

The most important real world lesson is always to lift with your legs and never with your back; unless there is something really heavy and then you need a crane.

The subject of cranes provides an opportunity for a brief lesson in model railroad history, when dinosaur sized heavy lifters graced the Christmas gardens of yore and the idea of "scale" as we know it today, did not exist. To provide a familiar size reference, the tiny figure in the next two photos is non-other than Waving Guy, all six feet six inches of him in today's O-scale.

The oldest model railroad cranes (at least on the New World side of the big pond) are from the Triassic Period of tinplate trains (aka the Early Era). The first photo shows a Lionel 2 7/8" gauge No. 600 Derrick Trailer, circa 1905.

This hand operated crane is made from cast iron and folded sheet steel, with a boom that rotates through a full circle, with a usable "reach" on either side of the car, and a hook that is attached to a hoisting drum by a chain that is long enough for the hook to reach the ground. Of a somewhat ambiguous design, whether it is to be used as a movable cargo crane or as a "big hook" to pick up wrecks is the decision of the possessor. This early and impressive four wheel crane is 14" long, 4 1/2" wide and 11" tall and it weighs about four pounds.

The second photo documents the very popular Jurassic Period of tinplate trains (aka the Classic Era), a time when model cranes became more prototypical. It shows the T-Rex of its time, a Buddy "L" No. 240 Small Derrick, circa 1923. Don't be fooled by the name, it is BIG and it could be used with any of the period trains. These where often Standard Gauge trains (2 1/8" gauge) that generally came in two sizes, large and even larger.

With the boom and the hook independently adjustable, just as on the prototype, and the boom swinging left and right through an arc of about 270 degrees, it is a delight to behold and to operate. Also made of cast iron and folded sheet steel, this majestic hand powered model is 21" tall, with a horizontal swing of over two feet and it weighs about seven pounds.

A vast multitude of operating cranes came from the Cretaceous Period of tinplate trains (aka the Post War Era). In lieu of using track gauge to determine relative size, they were made in the newly adopted O and S scales and they presented the opportunity for every industry and/or railroad to have a heavy lifter of some type.

In more modern times, cranes for scale model railroad use, in their quest for realism, diminished greatly in size. They are often small enough to fit in the palm of one's hand, so one now has to pretend that they are functional. The final photo shows our friend waving guy in his normal environment, posing with a current bash in progress. It is an 8007 Jib Crane from Tichy Train Group.

While the dinosaurs are long gone, their ability to be used with different sizes of trains lingers on in the DNA of some of the present day model cranes. The Tichy 8007 is marketed as being suitable for all of the scales that are currently offered in their product line: N, HO, S and O. In the history of model trains, there are some concepts that just don't change, except, perhaps, in physical size.

Dan Posted - 06/10/2020 : 1:31:39 PM
The outdoor food covers (aka the anti-bug paint drying domes) have arrived in the mail. I plan to use two when painting the factory, a fairly large building with numerous parts, but there is a problem. The covers are so lightweight, they will blow around the yard in a light breeze and the answer, once again, was found at the dollar store.

In the decorative accents aisle, they sell ten ounce plastic mesh bags of glass beads (the bags are actually more like pouches). By letting one of these bags drape naturally over the plastic tube on the top of the cover, both the bag and the cover will stay put.

The dollar store also had a shipment of white foam boards and two will be cut down to make twenty by twenty inch spray painting bases that will accommodate the use of the seventeen by seventeen inch covers. The covers have frills around the lower outside edges to discourage crawling bugs from entering the domes. A couple of extra glass bead bags from the dollar store, protected from the spray paint by encapsulating them in plastic food storage bags, will keep these super lightweight, but cheap and disposable bases from also flying around the yard.

When the painting is done, the bags of glass beads will be recycled to ballast the vases that will hold summer and fall cut flowers. I am not the only member of the household that has developed the unwanted knack for unexpectedly knocking things over.

Dan Posted - 06/07/2020 : 06:28:22 AM
Bashing An Auxiliary Water Tender For The Bachmann 0-4-2

While the Bachmann 0-4-2 is a good performing locomotive, the overhang at each end requires the use of long shank couplers. While they do accommodate running on small radius curves, their wide horizontal swing tends to be a problem on a switching layout. This is especially true at the fuel bunker end, so one answer would be to use an auxiliary tender or a tool car behind the loco to provide a centered, short shank coupler for connecting with the train. What is now the kiln car was originally going to be used for the tender, but it is just a tad too big to look good.

A suitable substitute is the somewhat smaller On30 Logging Water Car Kit from Wiseman Model Services, which is a good match to the Bachmann side dump cars. It is a simple kit, just three cast metal pieces with a cast resin water tank, plus a an assortment of detail parts that, in my current dexterity dilemma, I will ignore for now. I wouldn't mind using the kit as just a tool car, but the center of the deck top is roughed up, probably from removing the casting sprues, so hiding this rather extensive area with something like a water tank is a necessity.

I've never been a big fan of square water tanks, such as the one that comes with the kit, so that tank was replaced by a horizontal cylindrical one. To my mind's eye, this just looks better. The new one is the cast resin O-111 Utility Tank from Crow River Products. Mimicking prototype old-time construction, some scrap strip wood was used to build up a rectangular framework to hold the tank in place on the tender deck.

The underside of the deck is cast to accept the old style Kadee No. 5 coupler pockets, the ones with ears on the long sides. Nibbling off the cast on nubs and some swipes with a file, allows the snap together pockets, which come with the newer types of couplers, to be glued to the car. As the photos show, the car deck is a bit too low to use centerset Kadee couplers. A pair of underset Kadee couplers should raise the knuckles to their correct heights.

There are three things to keep in mind during assembly and painting. Once the kit is assembled, the wheelsets are not removable, so change them out beforehand, if desired. Be sure to place the insulated wheel on each of the metal wheelsets against the same metal side frame during the assembly process to prevent shorting out the track power. The proliferation of plastic side frames tends to make one complacent about such things. Also, during painting, cover the inside face of the journal boxes to keep the paint out of the needle point bearings. The mostly cast metal car is rather heavy for a short four wheeler (nearly two ounces), so its wheelsets will need to be free rolling.

Dan Posted - 06/04/2020 : 4:12:31 PM
Bashing And Installing A Faux Turnout And A Kick Switch At That

Faux turnouts are a bit of tinplate magic that were used to visually connect a scenery only spur to a live mainline track, avoiding the expense of buying a model turnout. The current layout has a similar need at a spot that is only a couple of inches square and at a sharp angle. As this is an impossible place to fit a conventional turnout, a type of faux turnout will fill the need.

Kick switches are single point turnouts with neither frogs nor guardrails nor even a switch stand. The name comes from having the switchman shove his foot against the side of the pivoting point to reverse the turnout. Fascinating contraptions, they were often used on industrial trackage and for mining operations, such as shown in the Pingxi Valley coal mine video that was previously referenced.

With a near complete lack of track building skills, I use only sectional track for the layout, the bashed faux turnout needs to be simple, so modeling a kick switch was decided on. Modifying a piece of straight track with my trusty razor saw, using hands that behave more like catchers mitts, the bash turned out to be good enough on the first try.

While it may not look like much, the result is plausible as well as prototypical. The track geometry proves out and the faux kick switch could be made operational with some extra fiddling, but that would be well beyond my meager skill set.

The spur meets the mainline at the apex of Outhouse Curve on the right front of the layout and their convergence creates a visual focal point from the normal operating position. The spur is for scenery only and will act as a simulated repair track for the layout's four wheel equipment. The other equipment is too big to use the kick switch, thereby staying off the spur.

Dan Posted - 05/30/2020 : 08:01:58 AM
Spring Is Sprung; The Grass Is Riz; I Wonder Where The Spray Paint Is?

Now that the sun is getting higher in the sky and the normal temperatures are in the mid-seventies and getting ever higher, it is time to move my spray painting projects outside. During the winter, I don't mind painting small objects in the basement and then bringing them upstairs to finish drying with the aid of hot water radiator heat, but the larger and more complex, as well as odoriferous projects, need to be done out of doors, where they can be left to dry and air out in the sun.

While they tend to add some "texture" to the overall paint job, I don't know which is worse, putting up with the dust sifting down from the floor joists in the basement ceiling or the plague of miniscule no-see-ums buzzing around outside. What ever happened to those umbrella like, gauze covered wire frames that were used to keep the flying bugs off of the food on the picnic table? Aha! They are available on e-Bay with free shipping. At 17" by 17" and 11" tall, these dome shaped covers should be big enough for most of the things that I have to paint.

Dan Posted - 05/21/2020 : 07:48:04 AM
Step Up! Step Up! See The Amazing Barney Eating Locomotive!

Here is the barney in its natural habitat...

With a flick of the wrist while uttering the magic words, "Geez it hurts when I do that!" the barney is ingested by the much larger loco...

But Wait! It is all a parlor trick, as the barney is just hiding inside the loco...

Tada! (Insert applause sound here.)
Dan Posted - 05/20/2020 : 7:56:59 PM
Learning To Work Around The Adverse Effects Of Being Elderly

Currently, I no longer have the fine tactile feedback in my fingers that facilitates manipulating lightweight objects. Not willing to give up on the idea of having replaceable parts on the layout, such as the aforementioned Power-Tread and the bashed steam winch, I found that by adding some weight to them, about a half ounce each, there is less likelihood for them to slip out of my grasp.

The diminutive as well as fragile, flyweight barney is the most difficult to handle, so it requires a different approach. It will be permanently mounted in a suitable position on the layout. Exploiting the size difference between the barney and its replacement loco and using a bit of tinplate magic, instead of being physically replaced by the mine loco, the barney will be engulfed by it.

The hollow space between the mine loco frames is wide enough to accept the width of the barney; however, the barney length will not fit within its rigid wheelbase. Nevertheless, the angle of viewing is such that the loco wheels are completely hidden by the outside frames and this allows the front wheelset to be removed. Serendipitously, a shallow bracket on each frame, just ahead of the former front axle position, provides the means to install a cross frame bracket. This bracket allows the front half of the mine loco to rest upon the top of the stationary barney.

Dan Posted - 05/19/2020 : 3:24:52 PM
Bashing A Barney

As the photos show, the barney model started out as an old HOn30 small dump car from several decades ago. For a size reference, the coin in the photos is a U.S. Quarter. Nowadays, this size is about as small as I can manage. The four wheel dump car chassis will work for the barney as it is suitably short as well as narrow enough to fit between the running rails as per the prototype and its height is such that its storage pit only has to be about a scale foot and a half deep.

The thirty year old plastic is unstable, so extra care was needed to forestall disintegration. The wheelsets were carefully removed and the wheels flipped around on the axles so the wheelsets are now outside flanged to run on the existing tramrail. The chassis was then stripped down and a stout pushing timber was attached on the centerline of the chassis. Variations in the unstable plastic makes the timber look twisted when viewed from one end, but this is not noticeable when on the layout.

The final photos show a piece of four rail track (a piece of HO code 83 sectional track combines with a piece of N, which has most of its ties removed). The barney is shown pushing against a wood buffer block attached to the rear end of the kiln cart and the usual coupler knuckle on a loco hauled car.

The kiln cart started out life as a Bachmann side dump car, as in the last two photos, which took a catastrophic fall onto a concrete floor. The U shaped body was salvaged and it is set directly on a T25 Central Valley HO passenger truck for a classic On30 bash.

Through such bashes as the above, I am using up my decades old accretion of odd parts.

Dan Posted - 05/17/2020 : 2:43:49 PM
Some Ideas Ruminate For Less Time Than Others

I am referring to finding a newer replacement for the layout's ancient barney operation, using a storage battery powered mine locomotive. While something more suitable may appear at sometime in the future, squirted out by a computer like toothpaste from a tube, at the present time the only suitable loco kit that is available is the classic 3053 made by Grandt Line. The loco is a big one, about a five tonner, so it must operate on the regular thirty-inch running rails.

I made only one minor modification to the Grandt Line kit. I centered the battery box over the axles. This requires the "operator" (in this case Waving Guy) to be standing up, instead of hunkered down behind the battery box, which had been required for close clearance mine work.

The problem with Grandt Line products is their exquisite level of detail, making the rest of my layout appear somewhat shabby. However, much of this detail will disappear due to the effects of my usual, ham-handed paint job, which will soon be applied; so two minuses can make a plus. It's all in how you look at it.

The small, people powered, ash collecting cars will continue to operate on the tramway rails. "Vanishing Coal Mines Of Pingxi Valley" is a most remarkable YouTube video. The scene that immediately follows the big truck hauling a load of coal, documents how similar cars were being used until quite recently (1993). With our mostly automated, mechanized industry, who would think that such a simple operation could get the job done so effectively. The rest of the video is full of things that really ring my chimes, but alas, there are no battery powered mine locomotives.


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