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Section Hand

Posted - 09/29/2018 :  08:03:03 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote

I posted information on loco weighting that some of you may find interesting on the topic "Car weight".

All the best to everyone,


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Section Hand

Posted - 10/06/2018 :  06:11:52 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
A counter or a timer?

While running the train around the small oval of track that comprises my layout, I sometimes zone out, to use a quaint colloquial phrase, while listening to the Siren's call of SoundTraxx Tsunami sound. Therefore, to bring me gently back to earth when it is time to switch out cars at the end of a run, a subtle poke in the psyche is required.

The question is, should the psyche poking device be in the form of a layout lap counter or a run timer? Both will require a power supply and some way to reset the device at the beginning of the usual runs of Alpha to Omega and back again.

The lap counter will also require some form of layout based, automatic train detecting device, of which there are, currently, a number of designs and products. On the other hand, the run timer has no physical or electrical connection to the layout and its function is independent of the position of the train. Therefore, the timer method ensures complete cycles of layout operations, mainline running and switching, in a specified period of time, independent of the train speed and the number of laps completed. Furthermore, my psyche seems to enjoy this "free form" type of operation more than the regimentation provided by a lap counter.

A layout run timer could be something as simple as an "hour glass" type of egg timer from the dollar store or as complex as a computer program that requires a laptop, or even an obscure app for a cell phone. It is somewhat dismaying that, for all of its utility, there is not an easy to use timing function built into DCC. At least not one that I could find.

Looking up "kitchen timer" on eBay shows an impressive array of types and prices. However, underneath all of their glitz and glam, they have a fatal flaw. They employ some form of attention grabbing audible alarm, which is NOT what my psyche wants to experience at the end of a period of model railroad euphoria. Furthermore, my old fashioned model railroad expectations require a unique device that is cobbled together from quite ordinary parts.

It so happens that beginner level, DIY electronics kits are available on eBay at quite reasonable prices. With minor modifications, some of these simple kits will do very nicely as a layout timer. The completed kits will operate on five to fifteen volts DC from a small wall wart or a plug-in USB supply, while a built in reset function allows the timer to be manually set to zero at the start of each mainline run. Searching on eBay for "NE555 CD4017" should bring up hundreds of these kits, there are several variations, from a number of suppliers.

These kits use a 555 integrated circuit as a clock pulse generator that triggers a 4017 integrated circuit decimal counter. The output of the 4017 is supposed to be ten LEDs (0 thru 9) that will light sequentially, only one at a time, as each clock pule is generated by the 555.

To facilitate zoning out, only one LED will be wired in to the 4017 circuitry, in output position 9. On reset, this LED will be out and it will remain unlit as the 4017 slowly counts upward on each succeeding clock pulse until LED 9 lights, at which point the count is frozen and the LED stays lit until the reset button is pushed at the start of the next mainline run. The persistent visibility of this single LED provides the subtle poke in the psyche that is needed to bring me back to reality.

The time between the clock pulses from the 555 is programmable from less than a microsecond up to several hours. At two pulses per minute, the mainline run times will be five minutes for each leg, out and back. With the switching at each end, which can be time consuming, one complete cycle of operation will take about a half an hour, which is sufficient time to get the work done while enjoying a cup of coffee or something a bit stronger.

Edited by - Dan on 10/06/2018 12:43:46 PM

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Section Hand

Posted - 10/31/2018 :  09:35:04 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Anticipating SNAFUs That Would Affect Operations Using A Layout Timer

I recently passed over the great divide between Old Fart and Elderly and if the past few weeks are any indication, all I can say is Elderly sucks. The layout timer project spanned this transition, which brought to the fore a number of potential SNAFU situations.

As the term "plug and play" applies to so many things these days, the art of interfacing a standalone project, such as the layout timer, with the real world has become all but lost. There were no difficulties in building the counter kit, even with the timer modifications, but it was the reset switch that turned out to be a problem. I used to rely on Radio Shack for most of my control switch needs, as they had quality parts at a discount price. However, not long before they went out of business they starting importing their parts from China and the quality went right to heck. As my local electronics parts store also went belly-up, there was no place to locally buy quality switches OTC.

However, my LHS stocks Kadee parts, which includes their venerable #165 red pushbutton control panel switches. Although the package of four switches clearly stated "Made in USA" it turned out that they were of the same dubious quality as once offered by Radio Shack. One switch was dead on arrival and another was intermittent for the get-go and two were OK, but one of them went intermittent after a dozen or so actuations, which left me with one good switch that I have no faith in, whatsoever. On the plus side, the pack of switches only cost $4.70, but I would much rather pay upwards of five bucks for just a single switch that I knew that I could depend on.

At first, for simplicity, the extinguishing of the red LED was going to be relied upon to show that the reset switch was still working, but several SNAFU situations that can arise during a layout operating session made themselves evident, all of them susceptible to Murphy's Law. They are 1. Answering the telephone - unsolicited robocalls are definitely a pain in the posterior; 2. Answering the doorbell; 3. Answering the Call of Nature; and, most importantly, 4. Answering a plea for assistance, ASAP, by the aging other half of the domestic situation.

On returning to the layout, another reset will be needed to restart the operating cycle, but if the counter has not timed out, there would not be an LED indication to show that the reset switch was still working. As a recovering perfectionist, this is not acceptable. Neither is waiting up to several minutes until the counter eventually lights the red LED and then starting over, which further shortens an already disrupted operating session. How does that old saying go, "For want of a nail...?"

As a way around the situation and a way to use up a few more parts that I have on hand (unfortunately, a reliable reset switch was not among them), I decided to preemptively provide the proverbial needed nail; an extra LED to the timer display. A green LED was connected to the count 0 (zero) output, which will show that the timer was reset in either full or mid cycle by the switch actuation. After some seconds the green LED will self extinguish as the counter starts stepping up on each clock pulse. As a result, both the red and the green LEDs will be out until count 9 is reached when the red LED becomes lit and stays lit until the timer is reset again, which momentarily lights the green LED; that is, IF the reset switch is still functioning.

For powering the timer, I looked into using a small USB plug-in supply instead of a larger wall wart. My local dollar store had USBs in stock that are rated at one ampere, along with the necessary connecting cable for a buck a piece. Curiously, I seem to be finding more stuff for the current layout at my local dollar store than anywhere else, including some rare "Quarter Horses" (they averaged twenty-five cents each). Unlike most wall warts, the USB plug-in supplies are internally regulated, which means their output of 5 volts stays constant from no load up to the full rated current, which is great for powering mini-bulbs and LEDs and, in this case, the layout timer.

Years ago, someone came up with the idea of SMILES, or a compressed scale mile, which was often combined with a fast clock, so a twenty-four hour layout day can be accomplished in just a few real hours, but nothing that abstract or conceptually sophisticated is called for here.

The current layout lap is 124" or 10.3' and one scale mile (1/48) equals 110'.

Therefore, one mile on the layout would be about 11 laps. However, mileage is not being considered, but elapsed running time is.

The cycle for the Layout Timer is 200 seconds or 3 minutes and 20 seconds, which is more than enough for this old goat to peacefully graze in La-La Land before being gently coaxed back to reality.

A "normal" thirty minute round trip layout operating session would be about 14 laps, seven each way at an average scale speed of 12 MPH. This would take about eight minutes total, with seven minute periods at each end and in the middle for switching. A full layout "day" would take about two hours, but chunks of time that large have become few and far between at my present stage of life.

Questions and comments are always welcome.

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Section Hand

Posted - 11/15/2018 :  1:38:43 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Repurposing A Kit For A Hand Car Shed Into A Small Horse Stable

In documenting the history of Owen Thurdy Enterprises, there are a number of vignettes that will be part of the layout scenery. For example, before a steam powered former log skidder was installed for moving cars by cable power around the factory yard, horses were used to to do the work directly. Horses also did the wagon hauling from the factory to the local train station and vice versa. This requires a small stable and paddock at the factory site for the company owned horses. A wagon and tack gear will also be necessary and for this a work-in-progress series on YouTube titled "Generic Horse-Drawn Wagon in O-scale" supplies much needed information.

As there is nothing in small plastic buildings that are adaptable to a stable, especially in O-scale, I needed to broaden my horizons to other forms of model buildings. In laser cut wood kits I found the O-scale 495 Gandy Dancer's Shanty kit by American Model Builders (www.laserkit.com/bldgo2.htm). A picture of a built up kit appears on the O-scale page of their website.

Some of their other kits were previously built by Forum members. As an aside, instead of trying to use the Forum search function, I set up a Google search for the wanted subject matter that is followed by the words Railroad Line Forums. For me, this is faster and it works better.

The Gandy Dancer's Shanty consists of a square wooden shed (about 3" by 3") with a gently sloping roof and a similar sized roofed over area for parking a handcar on setoff rails. In leaving the roof off of the handcar area along with the setoff rails, the now open paved space becomes a small paddock for the horses. A hay rack and a water trough complete the scene. When the layout horses are finally put out to pasture, so to speak, the paddock area then serves as the mounting for the former log skidder. The hay rack and water trough are replaced by a coal bunker and a small cistern for holding boiler feed water.

Except for a small window at the back of the shed and a closed sliding door on the side, there are no other openings, so detailing the interior, as interesting as that might be, would be moot. Along with the stalls for the horses and a small tack room, the stable building would also provide basic shelter (some chairs, a small table and a stove) for the kiln stoking crews that worked in the factory yard 24/7 whenever the brick kilns were in operation. Each stoking crew had a hostler, who handled the horses while moving the cars around the factory yard. When the horses were replaced by the former log skidder, he was replaced by a different type of hostler, one who was qualified in steam power.

On the subject of horses, the dollar store's stock of bags of horses is no more (some bags of dinosaurs still remain, but none of them are suitable for O-scale use). However, "Michaels" is a national chain of arts and crafts stores that also does online ordering and they carry Toobs of animals made by Safari Ltd. (www.safariltd.com). The Toob marked "Horses" (695604) are of a much higher quality than the dollar store ones plus there are twelve different horses, modeled in a variety of standing, trotting and running poses.

Most scale out to be 15 to 17 hands high at the shoulders (60 to 68 inches) making them appropriate for On30 use. As a city kid, I learned to tell sheep from goats and cows from horses, but even today, except for Clydesdales, I cannot tell horses apart. Nevertheless, if I should find myself hosting a group of equestrians, I can impress them with my apparent "subject matter expertise" as each of the twelve different horses is discreetly labeled on the tummy.

Using a store issued Half-Off coupon the price dropped down to fifty cents a horse. As a result, there are now more layout horses than one can shake a stick at; if that is one's idea of a good time. Even if just four of the horses are used on the layout, the price would still be a very economical $1.50 per horse. As the store is, predominantly, arts and crafts oriented (there are a few hobby items), one of the product reviews suggested using the horses for cupcake toppers, but the above just might be a better use for them.

Edited by - Dan on 11/15/2018 5:27:07 PM

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Section Hand

Posted - 11/20/2018 :  5:47:25 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Repurposing (continued)

As a newbie to the rank and file of the Elderly and an occasional victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) I am trying very hard NOT to be a grumpy old man, but it sure ain't easy. In an attempt to avoid becoming the Jake Flack of my generation (see the old posting from 1/31/2018, toward the bottom of page 4), I bought the Gander Dancer's Shanty from my LHS and I immediately pounced on it.

I haven't built a wooden kit in a coon's age...it may have been forty years ago and it has long since disappeared. I seem to remember helping my grandson with a Pinewood Derby entry as a Cub Scout project, but I don't think that counts. Nevertheless the newly purchased AMB kit lent itself to the wanted modifications and it went together unexpectedly easily. I have become very spoiled by plastic shake-the-box and snap together kits, so the hardest part of putting together this wood kit was the need to sit on my hands for seemingly interminable periods of time while either the paint was drying (Rust-Oleum rusty metal primer) or the Tacky Glue adhesive used was setting up.

Just as I was thinking to myself, "Hey, I did pretty good..." I saw the photos of the Deep River Vinegar diorama posted on the Site News. There is more detail in that square foot scene than there will be in my entire layout (if I ever get it done - it has now been fifteen months since the project started). My heart sank to the center of the earth, but it did not stay there long. By repurposing the wooden kit into a diminutive horse stable (by that I mean a horse stable that is, itself, small in size and not a building for stabling small sized horses, although it could work as one), the end result is as good as it gets and it is as good as it needs to be, for I have found a niche in which I can excel - I am a train operator.

Regrettably, to the average model railroader this is a part of the hobby that is both invisible as well as esoteric, so there will not be contest worthy projects to post on the Forum. Nevertheless, even on a bad day, every time I touch the throttle my modeling needs are being met. Not everyone in the hobby can say that.

For those who celebrate Thanksgiving, please enjoy a turkey day that is both safe and sane, and all the best to all the rest.

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Section Hand

Posted - 11/23/2018 :  07:50:16 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
OOPS! Hey Tom (tharbin), where did you go?

I went to re-read your reply and it seems to have disappeared. Has my mind finally snapped or was there too much tryptophan in yesterday's turkey and I imagined the whole thing?

You presented an informative blog and are building a nice layout.


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New Hire

Premium Member

Posted - 11/23/2018 :  3:06:50 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Dan

OOPS! Hey Tom (tharbin), where did you go?

I went to re-read your reply and it seems to have disappeared. Has my mind finally snapped or was there too much tryptophan in yesterday's turkey and I imagined the whole thing?

You presented an informative blog and are building a nice layout.


Hi Dan,

You didn't imagine it. I re-read it yesterday and decided it was just a little too gloomy sounding. I like what I'm building but nothing I'm doing comes close to what I see in these forums. Also, as much as I try to want a point to point, I just plain like watching a train go around and around, and around... Makes me feel a little like I'm not really "getting it".

I like reading your thread although I really don't have much to say here; or any where else for that matter.

Thanks for your posts.

Tom - blog: https://trainblog.tharbin.com

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New Hire

Premium Member

Posted - 11/23/2018 :  3:38:07 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Dan, here is the original post. It really isn't right to delete something once you've put it up.


I completely understand that sinking feeling and then getting back on track. I get a lot of inspiration from these forums but then I look at my work and the inevitable comparison.

I've always been an armchair modeler with just some sectional on boards to run the engines and cars back and forth. About seven years ago I built a Christmas layout for our living room. I built it quickly, it is fun to run, and both my wife and I still like the basic design but it does have some rather severe limitations for anything other than tail-chasing. It wasn't a model railroad, so I didn't have to do any research or match equipment. Since it was a Christmas Village the buildings and landforms came first, and the track plan evolved to suit the town and terrain. The sidings were just a place to display some extra equipment and to shuffle between a freight and a passenger train.

Recently we pulled off the "Christmas Village" buildings and started to build laser-kit replacements. When we pulled off the ceramic buildings the Christmas Village became a model railroad.

I've "pretty much" built (most of them still need some final details) a half dozen laser kits from Stoney Creek, Banta, BTSRR and Wild West but none of them are good enough to post here. I modify most of them a little bit, but they are nothing like the builds in the Mike Chambers or Scratchbuilding forums. I'm still pretty proud of them and my wife likes them. That's enough. I did put them all on my blog just for a place to keep the pictures and in case someone wants to see what one of the models looks like, since many of the non-craftsman kits out there have very few pictures available to give you a good idea of what they look like built.

I do like researching the railroads, but I don't want a big layout. Even a modest interpretation of a real railroad, or even one area of a real railroad would be bigger than what I want. I guess technically my layout is a "mini" because it is 6.5 feet by 3.5 feet with a big chunk out of one end.

Also, I'm big on watching trains run around a layout. Nothing remotely prototypical but I like it. What can I say? I used to drag the Lionel 4x8 out of my parent's closet in the middle of June just to watch the trains go around.

I think I am finally coming to grips with the idea that I am not a model railroader, instead I am a guy that likes to play with toy trains. I'm okay with that.

Congratulations on the Gandy Dancer repurpose. I've always liked the look of that building. There are a lot of really nice and inexpensive kits out there. I've just ordered my first hydrocal kit to try my hand at it. I did build hydrocal "cliffs" on the layout so I'm familiar with working with hydrocal anyway.

Only fifteen months? I built the Yellow Creek Western (its current name) seven years ago and right now a third of the track is torn off to build a new siding and all of the buildings are on our dining room table.

Keep at it and keep posting.


Also, I didn't think anyone had seen my blog. I need to update it as I've started building the Stoney Creek Meat Market/Real Estate Office and built a Fast Tracks turnout (not installed yet).

Tom - blog: https://trainblog.tharbin.com

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Section Hand

Posted - 11/25/2018 :  08:26:55 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Layout Philosophy 101

Hi Tom...and any others with an interest,

As far as layout philosophy goes, perhaps the main question is, "Are you, predominantly, a runner or a builder?" While most of us are both, to one degree or another, as my attempts at scenery show, I am a runner, thru and thru, often to my chagrin when observing builder's layouts. To distract the ravenous, two headed monster of frustration and jealousy from feasting on my self-esteem, which always leads to a case of the model railroad blues, I view my layout as being "worthy."

While the usual interpretation of the word is "meritorious or important" a lesser known definition is the following, "having good qualities, good intentions, the best of motives, but being boring and pedestrian" and that is certainly a description of my layout of easy-to-assemble structures situated alongside a snap-track right of way, combined with minimalist dollar store accents. Nevertheless, when the trains are running, as you say, "around and around, and around..." it turns into something wonderful.

Perhaps there exists in runners something existential, some form of calming metaphoric meaning; after all, the circle is a symbol of continuance and a classic shape for a runner's layout, the sideways figure eight, symbolizes the concept of infinity. (Is it just me, or is it getting deep in here?)

What I do know is, in the world of model trains, do-overs are permitted as well as encouraged, and so in the meantime, easy-peasy scenery is a way to ensure a modicum of layout completion, enough to give meaning to the running of the trains.

It seems like there is always some sort of downside. In committing to being a runner, one takes on the mantle of a triangular peg in a hobby that mainly consists of round and square holes. As a result, while we occasionally find a place where we can fit, so to speak, the fit is not always as good as it can be, leading to that nagging feeling of not "getting it." If you feel as disconnected as the ends of your layout track, then do what comes naturally; exploit the scenery that you have, get the track re-laid and start running the trains again.

All the best to everyone.

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Section Hand

Posted - 12/05/2018 :  10:18:31 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote

I went to a local train show last weekend, a scale and tinplate combination, and the "RR In A Box" people were there. They have been around for years selling full sized paper templates that were to be glued to standard foam core boards and cut out by the user. Now they offer QuickieLine kits, made from the same material, that build into a basic layout structure. Scenery, track, trains, buildings and details are supplied by you.

Their appeal is they are well engineered and light in weight, making them suitable for tabletop use. Their construction is so simple, they can be assembled by children, with some adult supervision or vice versa, as needed, making the layout a family project. As the kits are completely pre-cut and are assembled with white glue, they are, literally (well almost), no muss, no fuss.

While most of their offerings are for O and S gauge tinplate track, they also have the "Horned Owl" kit that is sized for commercial HO track components, making it potentially suitable for operating smaller On30 equipment. (Be forewarned, their on-line videos are "unique" to say the least and all of their kits are named after birds.)

For those who want a compact, 3' 4" wide by 5' 4" long, multi-level layout, but are in a situation where building the layout structure out of wood and/or pink foam insulation is not practical or even possible, give these kits a look. There is also an expansion kit that will extend the layout length to eight feet.

While they may seem expensive to some; for what they offer to others, which is layout opportunity, the price seems reasonable to me and the price is in line with the similar offerings by Woodland Scenics.

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