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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 - 11/13/2019 : 12:52:37 PM
Storage problems - conclusion

As this project is based upon an old amusement park ride and some equally old office supply technology, nothing about it can be construed as being rocket science. A small box from the dollar store provides the means to keep in one place the Kato ramp, the shim for the cardboard tubes and the church key endcap remover.

Also included are a couple of extra coupler knuckle springs - just in case - along with the required tools and a hands free, jeweler's loupe magnifier. Another item in the box is the bashed, snowplow shaped, layout track cleaner and a small bottle of gunk removing alcohol; ever ready for a brief assignment during a loco or rolling stock change.

To retrieve the equipment from the tubes, the open end abuts the thick end of the Kato ramp that was prepositioned on the layout straight track. Using the fingertips, the equipment is gently coaxed out of the tube, down the rerailing ramp and out onto the layout. As steam locomotives have a long rigid wheelbase, there is a teeter-totter moment during the transition.

For storing the equipment, the process is reversed. As the clearances are close, the pilots and the tender footboards on the steam locomotives may require a bit of adjustment when entering the tube as will the wide footboards at either end of Whitcomb and Davenport. Carefully align and replace the removable endcap and the deed is done. When the tubes are in place on the under the layout shelf, all is ready for running trains or adding scenery.

Questions and comments are always welcome.
Dan Posted - 11/12/2019 : 11:37:04 AM
Storage problems - continued

Expanding on the idea for loco storage; as the layout is small, the trains are, by necessity, just three or four short cars in two strings, one for loads and one for empties, plus some miscellaneous cars. However, the layout is convertible from a mineral railroad to a logging one by changing out the rolling stock, so there are actually four strings to be stored, plus additional miscellaneous cars.

These strings and cars are also stored inside lengths of three inch diameter cardboard tubes, which are used in lieu of a space devouring fiddle yard. In using a separate tube for each string and each group of miscellaneous cars, the layout can be cleared of all rolling stock, if the need arises. As with the locos, the cars going in and out of the tubes, by way of the Kato ramp, require a minimal amount of handling.

The only problem, so far, is with the smokestack on the roof of the Bachmann passenger car. It is a bit too tall for the three inch tube, but as it is held in place by a tiny screw, which goes through the roof and into its base, it is removable during storage. By exploiting the immutable Newtonian laws of gravity when the car is on the layout, a short piece of metal rod inserted in the base of the stack, replacing the screw, facilitates this minor storage chore.

To be continued...
Dan Posted - 11/12/2019 : 10:39:02 AM
Storage problems -continued

By making just a single cut with an ordinary hacksaw, the two foot length of plastic pipe provided a fourteen inch long piece for the 2-6-0 plus its tender and a ten inch long piece for the Whitcomb. On each piece, one endcap will be semi-permanent and one will be removable. For about fifty cents, Home Depot sells a traditional, dedicated instrument. It is a metal, church key shaped, paint can lid lifting device, which also facilitates the removing of the flanged endcaps.

As there is a good chance that the couplers will be damaged if the heavy locos slide back and forth inside their tubes, appropriately sized and shaped blocks of medium density foam (also from Home Depot) are glued to the inside of the endcaps to keep the couplers and the fragile end details out of danger. As the effectiveness of these blocks is position sensitive, alignment notches are cut into both the flange of the removable endcap and the corresponding tube end.

For the lighter locos, the three inch diameter cardboard tubes are cut to the needed lengths with a razor saw. Home Depot also carries Frost King AC43, square foam strip. Serendipitously, its diagonal measurement is three and one eighth inches. This means that a slab of the foam, cut to an appropriate thickness with a razor saw, will center and hold itself inside of the tube. With one side of the square shaped foam designated as the top, the corresponding bottom side is notched to clear the protruding couplers.

To be continued...
Dan Posted - 11/11/2019 : 12:54:13 PM
Storage problems - continued

What is needed to store the 2-6-0 and Whitcomb locos is a short length of four inch diameter tube as well as endcaps, but these tend to be available only in large quantities at a hefty price. Serendipitously, a suitable solution for this conundrum was found in the plumbing department of Home Depot. An improvised "kit" for storing the large locos was purchased at my local store for less than twenty dollars.

Home Depot carries two foot lengths of four inch diameter plastic drainpipe, along with flanged plastic endcaps, which are a friction fit, the same as on the cardboard tubes. Normally, these inexpensive endcaps are temporarily used during low pressure testing of new drain assemblies, but they work just fine for this storage scheme.

Light duty screen door handles (only one mounting hole on each end), also from Home Depot, attached to the plastic pipe makes handling easier, especially when loaded with the heavy locos. The three inch tubes are small enough and light enough to be grasped with the hands, even arthritic ones, and do not require the handles. Small self-sticking, dome shaped feet applied near the bottoms of both sizes of tubes keeps the cylindrical containers from rolling over in storage.

A cut down Kato 2-502 wedge shaped, portable rerailer ramp provides the transition from the ends of the tubes to the track. For the Atlas code 83 HO track used on the layout, the ramp was trimmed to six inches long so its end height matches the thickness of the walls on the four inch plastic tubes. The unused portion of the Kato ramp became a shim for under the thinner walled cardboard tubes.

Witness marks on the top rear of the rerailer ramp and the inside bottom at the front of the tubes visually ensures proper alignment.

To be continued...
Dan Posted - 11/10/2019 : 12:36:20 PM
Solving locomotive and car storage problems.

The mini-layout now has five functional Bachmann locomotives (0-4-2, 4-4-0, 2-6-0, a Whitcomb and a Davenport), plus a bashed railbus, but only one can be used at a time and this has created a problem. The open areas of the layout, soon to be covered by my attempts at scenery, have become parking lots for the extra locos. Nevertheless, by design, there is suitable storage space on a shelf built under the layout, but there has developed an age related problem.

Whenever arthritis pays me a visit, some way to access and use the locos, without a lot of painful and clumsy handling, becomes a necessity. For example, my current flareup is centered in my right wrist. As a result, my forearm has the shape and the flexibility of a hockey stick, but this will eventually pass. In the meantime, I have trains that I want to run.

While the following simple solution replaces the need for modeling a sprawling engine terminal or installing some sort of cassette mechanism, it does require compromise, which the front edge of my layout easily accommodates. The solution needs a twenty-one inch length of accessible right-of-way that includes about a foot of straight track at one end and extended clearance (2.5 inches) on either side of center.

The smaller locos and the railbus fit inside readily available and reasonably priced three inch diameter cardboard mailing tubes equipped with plastic endcaps. No track is used, so there can be no derailments to complicate storage. The arc of the interior of the tube acts as a guideway for the wheels. A unique, trackless, wooden roller coaster ride called the Flying Turns at Knoebels Park in Pennsylvania provided the idea.

However, the tall stacked 2-6-0 and the hulking Whitcomb require something bigger than a three inch tube and therein lies a problem.

To be continued...
Dan Posted - 11/08/2019 : 08:53:46 AM
Sic transit gloria mundi.

After more than a century of catering to the needs of various walk-in modelers, my local hobby shop has closed its brick and mortar store.

As the owner still maintains a booming online business, a will call window will be accessible at the warehouse, when previously ordered stuff can be picked up in person, without incurring shipping fees or having to wait for delivery.

While this seems fair enough, without the thrill of shopping in person and sharing the camaraderie of the people working there, it is a poor substitute.

But the modern day philistine does not care.
Dan Posted - 10/26/2019 : 7:23:52 PM
Mission accomplished!

I returned home with a spray can of Union Pacific Yellow, which is also known as Armour Yellow, for repainting the railbus. It was made and sold by trainenamel.com of Warren OH, who has been in business for some fifty years.

On the topic of newer businesses, although it wasn't exactly my cup of tea, so to speak, the Craftsman Courtyard was quite nice. Lots of new, friendly faces, giving out helpful information and offering new craftsman kits.

All the best to everyone.

Dan Posted - 10/25/2019 : 7:10:54 PM
It is now the day before the Saturday opening of the aforementioned train show and the excitement is starting to build. At the opening bell, while waiting for the anxious horde to distribute themselves amongst the various dealers, I will pay a visit to the layout area. Paraphrasing a well-known movie line, I love the smell of infrastructure in the morning.

Mostly there are modular layouts, which are being unpacked from trailers and assembled together in preparation for the show as this is being written, and some of them are enormous. Nevertheless, soon after the show opens, amongst the sea of scenery as well as a goodly number of unsceniced modules, a peddler freight or a short Amtrak train is all that will be moving.

Mostly I go to see what isn't moving and the reasons why. Running a prototypical hundred car freight requires putting dozens of cars together on multiple yard tracks while several donor locos are bring synced up with each other. It makes me glad that my modest home layout is what it is and I can have it up and running in about thirty seconds.

Speaking of modest, one of my layout endeavors is to cross reference my DCC throttle steps to scale speeds. Top speed on my industrial, narrow gauge layout is to be a prototypical fifteen miles per hour. For my Bachmann On30 locos, this equates to a throttle setting of 10 or less out of a potential 28 steps on my Bachmann Dynamis DCC system.

There are a number of commercial speedometers in the forty to eighty dollar range and some may be on display at the show. Many of them will require some form of permanent and sometimes intrusive layout installation and a connection to a computer running Windows. They give speeds in tenths and even hundredths of a scale mile per hour, which is complete overkill for my layout. As accuracy on the order of furlongs per fortnight will be sufficient, I usually do not have a use for such gimcrackery.

Once again, serendipity played a major part, along with the dollar store and a free online calculator provided by stonysmith.com. On the calculator, I selected O (1/48) for the scale and 24" for the distance to travel. As it turns out, the outside rail on the layout's Atlas 15" radius, code 83 track is very close to 8" long, so three sections, or one quarter of a circle, makes an easily measured distance.

To measure the time to travel this distance, I use an electronic kitchen timer from the dollar store. Despite its rock bottom price, it is crystal controlled for repeatability with an LCD display for easy readability, plus it is handheld, no connection to the layout, as well as small and easy to use. As it is a countdown timer, I preset it to one minute and when the loco pilot goes over the rail joiners at the beginning of the selected distance, I hit the begin timing button. When the loco pilot passes over the third set of rail joiners the timer is stopped. Ignoring the inaccuracy that is inherent with starting and stopping the timer by hand, in subtracting the displayed number from the preset 60 seconds, the result is the time the loco needed to cover the 24" distance.

Plug that number into the online calculator and the result is a very close approximation of the train speed in scale MPH. For example, a 24" travel time of eight seconds equals a speed of 8 MPH. Sixteen seconds equals a slow speed of 4 MPH and four seconds gives the calculated speed of 16 MPH, the theoretical maximum operating speed.

For the Whitcomb diesel equipped with a Tsunami2, maximum layout speed is reached at step 10, medium speed occurs at step 5 and slow speed is at step 2. The 2-6-0 is also Tsunami2 equipped and the speed steps are 8, 4 and 2. For the railbus, with its NWSL Stanton drive, where there is no need for slow speed running, the steps are 6 for max and 3 for medium. In keeping with the simplicity of the rest of the project, a simple reference chart, handwritten on an old file card, keeps the resulting data within easy reach.
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.

Bob
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.

Bob
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.

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