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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 - 02/26/2021 : 7:14:58 PM
The chunky motor unit of the recent critter takes up nearly all of the space under the body shell, so there is not sufficient room for an onboard sound decoder and its unexpected great performance certainly deserves one. Therefore, a SoundTraxx Econami Diesel sound decoder will be wired into the box currently mounted under the front of the layout that now holds the SoundTraxx Sound Car unit that supplies sound for rail bus operations.

A double pole, double throw, center off toggle will be used to select between them by switching the DCC power and the speaker connections. By programming the onboard decoder and the trackside Econami to the same or similar CV values, as is done with the rail bus and Sound Car units, the resulting sound will reflect the on track operation of the critter.

Since space is not a problem, the 882004 Econami Diesel sound decoder will be used, as it provides my two favorite diesel sounds, a normally aspirated EMD 567 and an Alco 244. They are easily selected by changing the value of CV123 between 0 and 4. The Econami also has all of the required CVs for proper layout operation that are found on the more expensive Tsunami2 that was previously installed in the Bachmann Whitcomb.

The only problem is, the recent devastating snow storms in the Midwest and the Northeast have the USPS screwed up again. The eBay purchased Econami unit left Missouri on February 18 and then promptly disappeared. It should surface again sometime around St, Paddy's Day.
Dan Posted - 02/14/2021 : 6:47:57 PM
Thanks Michael.

All the best to everyone.

Michael Hohn Posted - 02/13/2021 : 9:36:20 PM
Fine looking critter.
Dan Posted - 02/13/2021 : 5:31:26 PM
One final look at the new critter.

The overall dimensions of the new critter with the DDT shell and the stock Bachmann Whitcomb were compared. The 16' length of the critter is 60% of the fifty ton Whitcomb, the 6' width is 74% and the 8' height is 67%. Doing the math, the weight of the critter comes out to be fifteen tons. It is always gratifying whenever an essentially unplanned bash in On30 is confirmed on many levels as being prototypical.

Now on to my nemesis - adding layout scenery, something I ain't so good at doing.
Dan Posted - 02/07/2021 : 07:28:29 AM

After adjusting the CVs and making a couple of shake down runs, the highly successful, pig-in-a-poke critter bash has been turned over to the rattle-can paint shop crew. I just hope that they can do as well. Rumor has it that a new shade of yellow called "Matte Sunbeam" is to be applied. Time will tell.

Their work on the project finished, here are the Guy brothers, Waving and Older, on their way to the General Store for a couple of well-deserved, ice cold sody-pops. Tonight, the whole Guy clan will be at the Bijou Movie House for a special double feature on layout scenery.

All the best to everyone.
Dan Posted - 02/05/2021 : 7:38:41 PM
Thanks Guys, but wait..there is more to the critter bash saga!

Having A Eureka Moment

No sooner than I had completed the MDT critter bash, the oft maligned US Postal Service delivered the answer to my dreams. When I first held it in my hands, my heart was racing with excitement and when it dropped right over the chunky Bachmann chassis, I found myself in seventh heaven.

It is the shell from a Model Power HO Plymouth DDT locomotive, yet another pig-in-a-poke eBay purchase prompted by the pandemic. The USPS actually delivered the whole locomotive, but as the mechanism was not worth keeping, I now have another On30 shell to go with the Bachmann chassis. As with the MDT bash, the only modifications that it required was filing a notch in each of the end sills to clear the Kadee couplers and the application of a new coat of paint.

The DDT shell is also oversized for HO use and it has a much different look. The hood is longer as well as narrower, so there is no front porch and there are no cheek pouches on the sides. The protective grillwork included as part of the radiator, along with the name PLYMOUTH and a simulated radiator cap as well as the doodads on top of the hood are all prototypical.

Strangely, it did not come with an exhaust stack, but one was fashioned from a hollow plastic, coffee stirring stick and stuck in the hole for the now unneeded shell mounting screw. The same will be added to the MDT. While it is still there and still not prototypical, the bustle on the rear of the cab has become vestigial. To me it resembles a tool box, some place to stow a towing chain and a track jack along with some wood blocking for rerailing cars.

In this On30 bash, the most discussed item has been the cab height. At five and one half feet on the DDT, it is right where it should be. It is high enough for comfortable seating, but but not high enough for standing up. In addition, the cab sides are molded with wide sliding doors, which are prototypical for a Plymouth "D" series product.

Although the MDT and DDT bashes are the same length and width, the larger hood and higher cab of the DDT shell, when placed on the three axle chassis, technically creating a WDT, produces a more potent looking critter.

After Waving Guy and his older brother finish trying out the comfortable cab, the next stop for the bash will be the paint shop.

Larryc Posted - 02/05/2021 : 3:53:07 PM
Dan nice job on the bash! It turned out quite nice and I'm sure will add hours of operational fun on your layout.
friscomike Posted - 02/05/2021 : 05:36:37 AM
Nice bash Dan! ~mike
Dan Posted - 02/04/2021 : 1:58:55 PM
Thanks Guys,

A little voice inside of me is saying that there should have been more hacking and chopping to the bash, but thanks to a big chunk of serendipity (I take no credit for it) it was not needed, so the end product speaks for itself.

Here are a couple of photos showing the critter coupled to a Bachmann side dump car that it will pull and push around the layout. Also in the photos are Waving Guy, all six and a half feet of him, and his older brother. I guess they will flip a coin to see who will get to jackknife himself into the prototypically cramped cab.

The stack on the hood is a temporary one, a part of the point for a Bic pen, the only bonafide bashed part on the critter. It keeps going lopsided, unless one keeps an eye on it.

TRAINS1941 Posted - 02/04/2021 : 09:47:37 AM
That is a nice job.
Rick Posted - 02/04/2021 : 07:16:55 AM
Nice job on the bash.
Dan Posted - 02/03/2021 : 9:03:19 PM
A Minimal Critter Bash - Part 2

When it was acquired, the Bachmann chassis was equipped with an obsolete, but still functioning, Digitrax decoder, which was surrounded by a rats nest of wires. With the layout already equipped with SoundTraxx decoders, it was replaced by their 852001.

Serendipitously, there is a notch built into the top of the Bachmann chassis, which is just the right size to hold the replacement decoder, so the installation was a fairly easy one. As the insulation on the old decoder wires was stiff with age, but not brittle, the existing wiring was tidied up and reused, thereby saving a good bit of work

Horn, bell and other engine sounds are provided for this and any future critters by a Tsunami Sound Car module (829100), which is already installed under the front edge of the layout for use by the rail bus.

The Bachmann chassis is centered under the new shell, with the heads of Kadee No. 146 long shank couplers extending a prototypical distance beyond the front and rear. They are fitted to the standard Kadee No. 242 gear boxes that are mounted on the chassis. Some minor filing of the end sills, to provide clearance for the couplers, is the only required modification of the shell.

Based on prototype photos, the look of the bash is acceptable...unless something better should come along. In the meantime, operationally, this pygmy version of the hulking Bachmann Whitcomb is a welcome addition to the existing fleet.

Dan Posted - 02/01/2021 : 2:28:23 PM
A Minimal Critter Bash

An HO Plymouth MDT body shell, as used by AHM, IHC, AT&T, Model Power and perhaps a few others over the decades, was acquired to replace the stock body shell on the Bachmann variation of the MDT. The Bachmann shell is pretty much scale for a model of a standard gauge MDT, which can weigh up to thirty-five tons. The new shell is oversized for HO, making it suitable for an On30 critter of about about fifteen tons.

As was stated in a previous posting, I am not a fan of the MDT design, especially the "bustle" behind the cab and the "front porch" ahead of the hood. The "cheek pouch" jowls on the sides of the hood and the "doodads" on top of it are also unattractive, but when bashing in On30, you work with what you got.

While waiting for the new shell to arrive, I nibbled away the ventilator and the streamlined exhaust stack, toward the rear of the hood on the Bachmann shell, and this dramatically improved its looks. The same will be done on the new shell, with the former screw hole in the middle of its hood being used to mount a new exhaust stack.

While the cab of the new shell is larger than the Bachmann cab, it is still not tall enough for my liking. However, as the new shell is molded in one piece, raising the cab will require extensive body work of an exacting nature. This is not something that I would attempt at this point in my life. The same is true for removing the bustle, doing a facelift on those jowls and trimming off the front porch, so the rest of the new shell will be kept the way it is.

As it is so compromised, this critter bash will be a bit of a disappointment, but when all things are considered, it will be a welcome one. I guess my glory days of On30 bashing have gone by.

Dan Posted - 01/28/2021 : 08:33:49 AM
These are the times that try men's souls.

This long rigid wheelbase critter project seems to have a knack for finding weird track problems that the other layout locos simply ignore.

A strange thing cropped up when testing the Bachmann MDT. The layout is set up for push pull operation, so only the rear of the loco couples to the strings of cars. The MDT would run flawlessly, forward and reverse, when pointed the wrong way around. However, when the loco was running the right way around, it would stall every time at a specific spot on a piece of curved track.

In theory, this situation should not be happening, but it was. Replacing the piece of track would be a sure cure, but as I am out of curved track sections and the US Postal Service may not get a replacement to me until sometime next fall, some old fashioned head scratching was resorted to. It was noted that, when the stalled loco was manually nudged against the rail on the inside of the curve, it would attempt to start, but quickly stalled again.

Based on that bit of evidence, it was determined that, somehow, the surface of the the railhead on the inside of the curve had become contaminated for a couple of inches, just a bit longer than the loco wheelbase, by an almost microscopic layer of a hard clear substance. Lacquer or ACC or some factory related goo, who knows?

Mechanically, on the Bachmann MDT, all six wheels are used for power pick up, but the unpowered middle axle is allowed to float, so it sits on the rails by gravity only and it tends to track toward the right hand side of the loco. Therefore, when set up the wrong way around, the loco's wheel flanges made contact with the sides of both curved rails, bypassing the railhead contamination. However, when set up the preferred way around, the flanges were in contact with only the outside rail, leaving just the wheel treads in contact with the contaminated railhead on the inside of the curve, thus the loco constantly stalled.

This called for rolling out the proverbial Big Gun. It is a genuine Lionel Rail Cleaner bar from the early days of HO, when constantly corroding brass rail was the norm. Some of you may know it as a Bright Boy, its more modern name. After a good bit of careful rubbing, I managed to cut through the tough coating without doing damage to the railhead and things are back to their normal state of near perfect operation for all of the layout locomotives, including the Bachmann MDT. For those nonperfect moments, I am an alumnus of the former John Allen School Of Layout Thumping.

Now...if only I had a good looking On30 body to go on that smooth running critter chassis.
Dan Posted - 01/24/2021 : 08:39:31 AM
Thanks Tyson,

I guess because of my decades of experience with putting up temporary holiday train layouts using tinplate sectional track and having tried flex track on my previous HO and On30 layouts, I actually prefer sectional HO track for a small layout.

I agree with what you say, there are a lot of "potential" problems, but if one pays attention to a few details, it actually works very well and I have had no problems with it, operationally. Now visually, that's another story, but as I am an operations modeler, I do not consider that a problem that needs addressing.

Even the short warped piece, apparently a manufacturing anomaly, was operationally sound, except for the electrical contact problems that it created when using the long wheelbase critters that I am now bashing.

Except for changing out DCC decoders, my On30 steam and diesel power is unmodified and they run very reliably at the desired slow speeds. They do not need (and do not have) "keep alive" capacitors or extra power pickups.

Therefore, as the track is sectional, it was a simple matter to change out the offending piece, so the new critters can run the same as the others, with no modifications.

My experience with flex track is, it is always trying to straighten itself out at the joints, especially on tight curves where even small defects can derail a train, while the sectional track is pre-bent to a specific radius. If flex track came in five or six foot lengths then an entire curve on a small layout can be laid in one piece, with no joints.

All the best.

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