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An Old Man Contemplates an Old Man's Layout

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  • By George, I Think He's Got It!

    For a while, I have been ruminating on adding a turnout and some track to the existing layout, which is, operationally, already first-rate. As things recently turned out, this continuous cranial itch was finally scratched when space and purpose were created as a part of adding scenery to the layout.

    When I started building the layout, I was planning to use an Atlas code 83 snap track turnout for the factory spur, but after I realized how bad they were when used with DCC, I changed it out for a trouble-free Peco turnout.

    While developing sight lines for adding scenery, the non-operating, disconnected display track at the front of the layout did not seem to be all that railroad like. To address this situation and to stop the ruminating, the old snap track turnout was installed in the middle of the display track at the road crossing, thereby adding a short spur to the layout. It runs to the left at an angle behind the vignettes, toward the low rocky ridge. When the useful and unique, track cleaning snowplow bash is parked at the far end of this spur, the display track begins to have a prototypical railroad look, cluttered but functional.

    The repair shed and the passenger station remain in their original roles as changeable vignettes on the far left end of the display track. However, the former MOW vignette became a permanent part of the layout at the center of the display track, after juggling around some of its details, thus providing a home base for the maintenance railcar bash and its trailer.

    Another rolling stock bash that is worthy of full time display is the railbus and trailer. When not a part of the station vignette, it shares this duty with Bachmann twenty-six foot freight cars, it is parked beyond the right side of the road crossing, close to the factory, making the display track railroad like from one end to the other.


    • The Butterfly Effect

      My layout, frustratingly, continues to be a working model of the, so called, Butterfly Effect. In the effect, a very small change in initial conditions creates a significantly different outcome and on the layout this small, some of the outcomes are not so good.

      In getting the track just right, I have been dealing with this effect since the beginning of the project, but it has now reared its head, or should I say it flapped its wings, when it comes to scenery. Nature can be a heartless mother when one is trying to be a recovering perfectionist.

      Perhaps I should be more like the railfan photographers of old, the ones with the Hasselflexes and the Rollieblads. In their commodious camera bags they not only carried film, they also carried lopping and pruning shears (at least one even carried a saw) to remove any unwanted vegetation that intruded into their viewfinder images. While I cannot fault their results, I always felt that this was cheating.

      In adding scenery to the layout, emulating their deceitful ways may turn out to be a workable method. Now where did I put those tiny scissors and those old fashioned eyebrow tweezers?


      • Santa didn't stop at my house last night.

        I ordered some scenery material off of eBay. It left California via USPS on December the sixteenth and promptly disappeared, with talk of Valentine's Day or even St. Patrick's Day as possible delivery times.

        As I am anxious to get started and I have been good all year long, I was hoping that Santa Claus would make things right, but he passed up my house. As a railfan, even a token bag of coal would have been appreciated.

        Well...he didn't just pass by. When I saw him fly over I let loose a string of epithets that would have made a sailor blush. In return, he responded with an obscene gesture.

        After I calmed down, I chalked it all up to a learning experience and a sign of the times. Before last night, I never realizer that one could pilot a reindeer powered flying sleigh while giving the finger to someone on the ground.

        May your holidays be merry and bright!


        • Merry Christmas Dan and hopefully your scenery package will show up soon.
          Follow along as my dog and I travel the country in our van.
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          • While the layout scenery supplies slowly work their way through Xmas package purgatory, courtesy of the United States Postal Service, I took another look at the snap switch turnout installation on the layout display track and there were two problems.

            First, while it looked good, it took up a lot of room and, second, the points occupied the road crossing and that would require some pretty fancy cutting and fitting of the road surface, which my currently compromised hands are not in favor of.

            I first though of just putting up a couple of barriers to make it seem as if the crossing was ripped out and under repair, but for some reason, O scale barriers are a bit on the pricey side and my clumsy meat hooks would soon reduce them to plastic shards.

            I settled on making another fake kick switch that is similar to the one at the mainline end of the display track. On that one, there was a straight track blending into the mainline curve, which was a bit tricky. On the new one, it is a straight track blending into another straight track, which is much easier.

            Armed with my trusty razor saw and aided with a dash of serendipity, the diverting angle of the new kick switch is close to the angle of the snap track frog and it is almost in the same position on the layout as that frog, so the diverting tracks stayed about in the same position. As it is a lot shorter than the snap track turnout, it clears the road crossing, while looking prototypical.


            • A potential sow's ear turns out to be a silk purse.

              With the layout scenery material delayed in the mail, I resurrected an old project out of boredom. Recently I stated that I now had all of the locomotives that I needed; however, I don't have all of the locomotives that I want. What I want is a pygmy version of Bachmann's hulking On30 Whitcomb (side rods are optional). It very much needs to be the operational opposite of the disappointing as well as chronically problematic Bachmann On30 Davenport.

              As selections in the On30 critter market are currently sparse, a search of the internet and eBay provide a suitable HO donor for making a bash. What is wanted is a two or three axle, ridged frame loco, with the couplers mounted close to the outer axles to facilitate coupling. The frame of the venerable Athearn Hustler is physically correct, but who needs a supersonic narrow gauge switcher?

              In the foggy recesses of my aging brain are memories of similar models that have gear drives. Ernst made a mechanical drive that replaced the Athearn rubber bands, but it is now long out of production and in hindsight, it appears that it had some problems. There were also Hustler clones as well as look-alikes that featured worm gear drives, which were made and marketed for the HO toy train market, but none of them were quite right, operationally.

              In HO, Bachmann made a three axle variation of the Plymouth MDT industrial locomotive for the model railroad market, that physically and mechanically meets my needs. Unlike the AHM and Model Power versions, which have only the rear axle powered, the Bachmann MDT has two powered outer axles along with an unpowered center axle, thus there are six wheels for power pickup. Also, as on the Hustler, the couplers are attached to the side frame assembly, instead of being mounted to a separate body.

              Technically, the three axle underframe makes it a model of a Plymouth WDT, but in bashing On30, such discrepancies are not a concern. The Chinese made versions (prior to about 1990 they were from Yugoslavia) did not share the widespread problems created by Bachmann's Great Gear Debacle, so I bought a "pre-owned" one off of eBay. Although it is now out of production, Bachmann stocks a good supply of replacement parts.


              • Silk purse (part 2)

                Without inspecting and test running, such buys are often a pig in a poke. It is at times like this that I really miss attending the local train shows, where I could wander around seeking what I needed and then, if my quests were successful, I could take stuff home with me. I have reconciled with myself that the price of shipping on any given item is usually the same or even less than the price of admission to a show. It is the time lag, due to shipping, that still gets to me.

                When I opened up the Bachmann loco, I found that the original owner (it was a third party eBay sale) had installed a Digitrax DZ143 DCC decoder, so it was, unexpectedly, ready to run on the layout and it runs very well. As it crawls around the track at a prototypical walking speed, it moves very quietly, and it negotiates the Peco turnout as well as the factory spur without any problems.

                While I am enamored with the performance of the mechanism, I have never been a fan of the MDT body style, but in bashing you go with what you got - unless something better comes along. On the AHM and Model Power versions of the MDT, the cab and body are oversized to the extent that they can be used, as is, for On30. Although the Bachmann model is slightly smaller, it is also usable. I was hoping to substitute the cab off of the On30 Davenport for the stock cab, but this did not work out and scratch building a new cab is currently not an option.

                There are, basically, three cab heights for On30 diesels. As they are independent of the hood heights, some of the critters look a might strange. Some cabs are tall enough to allow an average size driver to stand up inside. Others appear to be freakishly short, so the driver has to squat (when seated, his butt is below the level of his knees) and this is the current size of the Bachmann cab.

                I much prefer the look of a cab where the driver can comfortably sit, but not stand up, so the bottom of the Bachmann cab needs to be raised above the frame by about nine scale inches. Serendipitously, the Bachmann cab is easily removable and new ones are available as spare parts, in case I should screw things up.


                • Dan, I hope this old post of mine gives you some ideas.


                  • I tend to do considerable research before I start hacking things to pieces with my trusty razor saw and I found your comprehensive posting in the forum archives.

                    I find it interesting that not much has been done in the years since. Have we reached the end of the critter bashing era?

                    All the best to everyone.


                    • Dan,

                      There is still lots of slashing and bashing done in ON30. Unfortunately not a lot here. There are a few groups on Facebook devoted to it with frequent posts.


                      • Here are two photos of the display track turnout situation. The first one shows the snap track turnout and the road crossing, while the second shows the kick switch replacement, which misses the road crossing.


                        • Reinterpreting A Frustum Of A Rectangular Pyramid

                          The scenery on the left side of the layout is to be a pastoral tableau consisting mostly of trees and shrubs. As the sightlines dictate that something of a railroad nature needs to be placed at the point where the curving track approaches close to the scenic backdrop, what could be better for the eye to focus on than a diminutive, locomotive water tank that appears to be located in the middle of nowhere. Operationally, it is located near the quarry end of the railroad, so locos can top off their water supply before making the trek back to the factory with a train of loaded cars.

                          Suitable, shake-the-box plastic kits for HO water tanks have been around for a long time. The actual tank assembly, which will hold 2,300 O-scale gallons, never seems to change, but the supporting bases vary from time to time, as in the case here. As they are about eight feet tall, the bases place the bottoms of the water tanks at the right height for servicing the smaller On30 steamers.

                          A Model Power No. 428 HO Water Tank was selected as the illustration on the box appeared interesting as well as potentially suitable for an On30 scene. However, as things turned out, the illustration shown on the box was not exactly what was inside. When the kit parts were separated from the casting sprues, it became apparent that the base was to be a rather odd shape.

                          Geometrically, it was a frustum of a rectangular pyramid, which required three hands to successfully put together; two to hold the parts in alignment and the third to apply the glue. As I am now down to one and a half functional hands, I decided to bash the thing together using my trusty razor saw and a bit of sandpaper.

                          As the parts were originally molded to fit together at odd angles, the tops and bottoms of the main tank supports were sanded down so they would now fit at right angles, but the tapered ends of the base, that were supplied with the kit, were no longer usable. The needed transverse tank support, combined with sway bracing, came from my box of old HO parts.

                          A pair of plastic trestle bents from an over and under, figure eight set were just about right, The molded on footers and caps were sawed off and discarded, with the remains fitted in between the modified uprights of the main tank supports. The protruding tops of these bents fit between the joists that support the tank assembly, so everything needed, structurally, for a base that is now a rectangular prism is visually there.


                          • Pyramid - Part 2

                            The box illustration indicates that the main tank supports are to be placed parallel to the tracks. However, as Bachmann's wide 2-6-0 and Whitcomb diesel, along with their portly passenger cars, are occasionally run on the layout, and the water tank is positioned on the inside of a tight curve, adequate trackside clearances need to be addressed. Therefore, the main tank supports are now positioned at right angles to the track, presenting the narrower side of the base to the passing trains, with the tank assembly being rotated ninety degrees in the process.

                            Some extra kit parts were used to make a small ground level platform for supporting an added on, laser cut wood ladder, that reaches to the top of the tank. Filling out the water tank scene is a small yellow shed. In the real world, the outhouse sized shed is too small to be a functional pump house, so it is used for storing supplies at the quarry end of the line.

                            So how does the water in this middle of nowhere tank get replenished? A hydraulic ram pump would have been used. When this unattended and maintenance free pump is placed in a nearby free flowing stream, a factor in selecting the lineside locations of prototype water tanks, the pump will slowly and relentlessly replace the 1,500 gallons a day used by the layout locomotives.

                            The prototype pumps kept working even on days when no trains were running, with any overflow being drained back into the stream - simple and environmentally friendly. It is gratifying when old-time, real world railroad engineering affirms what is being depicted on the layout.


                            • Dan, thanks for the update and nice water tank and explanation on how it works.
                              Follow along as my dog and I travel the country in our van.
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                              • Trouble in River City.

                                As the above song lyric goes: That starts with T and rhymes with P and stands for Plotz. Yes, in this case, Plotz!

                                Just when things are going good, here is yet another potentially calamitous situation to be concerned about. Don't get me started on what will happen when my Bachmann Dynamis DCC control system, now out of production, goes on the fritz.

                                For this present situation, as I was testing my attempts at bashing a critter or two, I noticed that they picked up a wobble at a certain spot on the mainline track. Everywhere else they sat square and wobble free on the rails.

                                It seems that a six inch long straight fitter piece of the Atlas code 83 track decided to warp, not only up and down, but also sideways. I had heard that, in the past, Atlas had been having considerable quality control issues with their Chinese manufacturer and this seems to prove it.

                                The layout track is a mix of old and recent purchases, but none of the other pieces has given problems - so far! I replaced the bad piece with the only spares on hand, two three inch long fitters from the display track. Prototypically, I put the bad piece in the yard, in this case back in the display track.

                                Has anyone noticed a similar problem? As I am way too old to start hand laying track, I could go back to using Atlas code 100 sectional track, which has been essentially bullet proof for many years.

                                Speaking of replacements, I am looking at the NCE Power Cab system for the present Dynamis, whenever it decides to die.