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An Old Man Contemplates an Old Man's Layout

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  • You might want to try flex track. There are more problems with sectional track then I care to go into.


    • 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.


      • 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.


        • 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.


          • 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.


            • Nice job on the bash. :up:
              Follow along as my dog and I travel the country in our van.
              FaceBook link:


              • That is a nice job.

                "And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln


                • 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.


                  • Nice bash Dan! ~mike


                    • Dan nice job on the bash! It turned out quite nice and I'm sure will add hours of operational fun on your layout.
                      Owner, General Manager, and all around "chief cook and bottle washer" of the Caz Coal-and-Wood Railroad


                      • 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.


                        • Epilogue

                          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.


                          • 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.


                            • Fine looking critter.

                              Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. James Baldwin


                              • Thanks Michael.

                                All the best to everyone.