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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 - 08/16/2019 : 06:09:18 AM
Lions And Tigers And Bears! Oh My!

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

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

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

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

Questions and comments are always welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan Posted - 08/04/2019 : 4:58:01 PM
For whatever reasons, the photos could not be loaded at the same time of the text. I will try later.
Dan Posted - 08/04/2019 : 4:56:09 PM
Mounting the NWSL Stanton Drive Inside The Bashed Railbus Trailer

This project has been kicking my butt for a while, but by thinking outside of the normal model railroad box, so to speak, a simple solution was devised. The accompanying construction photos show the method that was adopted. To start with, there was an optional coupler pocket molded onto one end of the Drive chassis. As it would be in the way for this application, it was removed, as per the printed instruction sheet that came with the Drive.

The Drive is designed to be mounted by a threaded stud protruding upward from the top between the axles. Unfortunately, the former truck body that is used for the trailer bash has a solid bracing wall molded crossways at the center of the opening where the Drive is supposed to go, preventing the mounting by the use of the threaded stud. Fortunately, the flat tops of the chassis ends of the Drive, located between the axle mounted wheels, are on the same level, just above the wheel flanges, providing an alternative means for mounting the Drive, but one that requires some innovative work.

Adding to the project's degree of difficulty, three ounces of lead weights also need to be installed somehow, somewhere, inside the trailer body, plus there has to be room for a small DCC decoder and the connecting wires. The finished trailer will weigh just under 4.5 ounces, which is enough for good tracking while pushing and pulling the railbus as well as ensuring continuous power pickup.

The solution involves carefully nibbling away much of the irksome center wall with side cutting pliers and using the lead weights as impromptu mounting brackets for the Drive. The weights are the typical flat, half ounce size with double-sided foam sticky tape on the back. To save space the tape is removed by soaking the weights in isopropyl alcohol and attaching them with glue.

Serendipitously, the manufactured length of the weights just happens to be the size needed to secure the Drive at the right height, inside the trailer body. Two sub-assemblies of three weights each are glued into pyramid shapes. When they are centered and glued to the inside end walls of the trailer, they allow the chassis ends of the Drive to support the weighted body.

With careful, but not tedious work, the body is mounted square and level with the running rails with bits of double-sided foam sticky tape on the chassis ends. The tape allows the drive to be removable for either servicing or reassignment to other duties as required; after all, they don't make them anymore.

When the new railbus wheels arrive from Bachmann, decisions will then be made on how to finish the project. To wobble or not to wobble, that is the question.

Dan Posted - 08/01/2019 : 09:44:05 AM
I dug around in the Forum archives and found a set of drawings from 2008 for the BC&G railbus, a possible prototype for the Bachmann model.

On the railbus drawing the wheels appear to be three feet in diameter, which matches the diameter of the original rubber tires on the bash-bait model of the highway postal bus (a bit more serendipity).

Therefore the Bachmann On30 railbus replacement wheel set should work with the bashed railbus, so I ordered a set for just under $14.00, including postage and handling.

All the best to everyone.
Dan Posted - 07/29/2019 : 5:40:13 PM
Railbus Blues

Does anyone know the over the tread diameter of the Bachmann On30 Railbus driving wheels? I noticed that the wheelsets are available on the Bachmann repair parts site for a reasonable price.

The reason for the request is another blast from the past and not a particularly good one. The very first bash that I did in HO (before my interest in On30) was recently unearthed. The body was a variation of a Mack AC railbus that I made out of cardboard salvaged from cereal boxes. The body was reinforced with some thin wood slats cut from tongue depressors, which were cadged from the doctor's office. The body was built to fit around the power unit for an early HO single-truck streetcar.

These units, which just begged to be converted into some kind of rail vehicle, had only one driven axle that was geared to a typical five pole, open frame motor, mounted at an angle. However, the units had small wheels equipped with small diameter axles and this was a problem. As the only readily available larger diameter drive wheels were from Athearn Hi-F rubber band drive locos, homemade bushings were required to fit their larger diameter axle holes to the small axles on the unit.

Having coaxed the open frame motor back to life, I put the now ancient bash on the track and prodded it into operation. Much to my chagrin and my embarrassment, the old bash wobbles just as much as the new one does.

Dang it; before I shuck this mortal coil and go gentle into that good night, I want to bash a model railbus that does not wobble, even if it requires using factory made On30 railbus wheels, hence my interest in the Bachmann ones.

Dan Posted - 07/20/2019 : 06:46:32 AM
A while ago, I unearthed a couple of relics from what could be called my "Critt-aceous Period" when critters were to roam a smallish layout supplied with DC power. At the time, seemingly out of nowhere, a malignant meteor manifested itself as the great gear debacle. Evolving out of the rubble was the present interest in the R-T-R, DCC equipped segment of the hobby. With my recent experimental DCC to DC power and sound conversion project now on hold, I decided to configure an existing simple Bachmann DC power supply to work with the present layout, so the revived critters (and other DC locos) can be easily run, albeit without sound, which brought back memories.

During the aforesaid period, I bought a SoundTraxx Sierra sound unit, just as they were going out of production (their design and components had become obsolete). The units were intended to be used with garden sized trains and were, therefore, rather large. They were to be controlled by varying the DC track voltage, but for me, this was never satisfactory. I adapted one that was programmed for Galloping Goose sounds to be an under the layout, independent acting, stand-alone sound system for my critters. By adding some ancillary electronic circuits, the unit was controlled by two manual pushbuttons. They were horn and coast. The rest of the sound control was semi-automatic, with the critter speed being manually set.

On power up, the motor sound was at idle. Before starting a run, the horn was blown twice or three times for forward or reverse. The horn button also controlled the ringing of the bell, which rang for several seconds after the horn control was released. The motor sound then revved itself up and down as the unit worked through the gears of a simulated manual transmission. During that time, the actual critter speed was adjusted independently with the DC throttle control.

When at running speed, a grade crossing could be sounded or a long blast blown for approaching a station using the horn button, with the bell sounding simultaneously. The coast control dropped the motor revs back down to idle when slowing or making a station stop. When running a critter on a small layout, the above was quite effective.

Putting it nicely, when compared to present day sound, the Sierra sound files were a bit on the unsophisticated side (to me they were always rather raucous), but with unsophisticated and often noisy, DC powered critters the above setup got the job done. Then the meteor impacted the earth, so to speak, and everything came to an end.
Dan Posted - 07/17/2019 : 8:33:17 PM
Kudos for NCE

A while ago I had bought an NCE Snap-It unit to control my twin coil Peco switch machine. Soon after it went out of warranty, it annoyingly stopped working. Modern electronics using so-called surface mount technology have a nasty habit of working without apparent problems for quite a long time, only to mysteriously fail on the next power up cycle. This is what happened to the Snap-It unit.

As they cost less than twenty bucks each at my LHS, I used the unexpected failure as an excuse to visit them and to purchase another unit, with the idea of sending the old one back for repairs. Non-warranty factory repairs for the unit are provided by NCE for a reasonable amount - $10 plus $2 for their shipping, plus another $3 for me to send the unit back to the factory in New York state.

Fiscally, getting the old unit repaired or buying a new one for a layout spare was a tossup, but I was curious about what would happen. LHS round trips take about three hours and this includes gawking time at whatever is new. However, sooner rather than later, my trips to the LHS will no longer be possible and everything will have to be done by mail, so I chalked the repair up to experience.

I am happy to report that the experience was good. Turn around time was two weeks, including shipping both ways. Instead of a repaired unit, I was sent a new one in factory packaging, so now I have a working spare. Therefore, kudos to NCE.

Regrettably, the same could not be said for the good people at Bachmann. I was experimenting with using the old DCC decoder from the On30 Whitcomb as a stand-alone DCC power unit for feeding motor current to the layout running rails to run non-equipped DC locomotives. I knew I was pushing the driver circuits to their limit, if not a bit beyond, so I was not surprised that the unit failed upon the next power up cycle.

Recalling my vast knowledge of industrial electronics (some people say "half-vast" or at least that is what I think that they are saying), I was pretty sure that it was just the driver circuits that were fried. I was informed by a quick reply to my email to Bachmann that a $70 standard fee was required in advance for non-warranty repairs to On30 equipment. Curiously, a factory new decoder can be bought from the Bachmann parts listing for $71.70 plus shipping, so the situation is, once again, fiscally a tossup. Either way, the project has become a bit on the pricey side, so for the present time, it will be put on hold.

Dan Posted - 07/14/2019 : 07:54:59 AM
I sifted through the bag-o-parts and culled out the ones for the water tank. There are twenty-six of them, with some being rather delicate. Much of the assembly is done by the usual pins and holes, but not all of them fit very well, which conjures up old memories of globs of glue.

The instructions have the usual line drawings with parts identified by their function and a number. However, in the the actual kit nothing is numbered or otherwise identified, neither on the part nor on the connected casting sprue, which made sorting them somewhat akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

Now where did I put that tube of plastic glue? Hey! Here is a old tube of Ambroid Cement. Did you know that it was developed to build and repair canvas canoes? As I remember, this amber colored celluloid cement will glob pretty good.

Dan Posted - 07/12/2019 : 3:23:44 PM
Serendipity strikes again.

Schlepping through the endless aisles of an outdoor flea market, I made a layout related find. It was a sealed plastic bag of what appeared to be assorted parts for several horse drawn wagon models. Since I already had some horses, I have been in the market for a suitable wagon or wagon kit. Semi-delirious from the effects of the summertime heat, I made an impulsive two-dollar, pig in a poke purchase and kinda-sorta got what I was looking for.

On returning home, I realized the bag was from a 20 Mule Team Borax wagon train kit. There were no mules, just the rolling stock parts. I had the complete kit as a kid, so this was another blast from the past. At that time, building it was far beyond my meager modeling skills, everything I tried to make became encrusted in globs of glue, so my parents assembled it. Now deep in my own dotage, I will see what I can do with putting the parts together...probably more globs of glue.

Historically, the borax hauling wagons were really BIG, said to be the largest ever built, but a model of the accompanying twelve-hundred-gallon water hauling wagon is about the right size for use on the layout. The bag-o-parts also contained brake rigging, doubletrees and other bits and pieces that should make an easy to build, reasonably detailed model.

For reasons of sanitation, towns would pave their main streets. However, well into the motor age, to keep the accumulating filth to a reasonable amount, the streets were periodically flushed using water wagons that were similar to the one described above. Some extra plumbing is all that is needed to make the conversion.

Curiously, according to the original assembly instructions (a free download courtesy of a Google search), the model is supposed to be 1:67 (almost S scale), but based on prototype research, the parts in the bag measure out to be 1:48, just right for On30. On the original kits from the 1950s, warpage of the parts seems to have been a problem over the ensuing years. It appears that the kit was reissued circa 2010 and my serendipitous, straight and true flea market find is from one of them.

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