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An Old Man Contemplates an Old Man's Layout

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  • 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.


    • Bashing A Scenic Pasture Fence

      A pasture for horses has been in the works on the layout for quite a some time. As fences are temporary structures, I consider them to be a part of my old nemesis, layout scenery. However, a properly fenced pasture will allow a rather large chunk of the layout to not need detailed scenery, just some weeds around the edges and a couple of horses, which for me is a good tradeoff.

      In my tinplate days effective use was made of large, cast iron sectional fence, so I had a good idea of what was needed, just somewhat smaller in size and made in molded plastic. The completed fence will need to be relatively low in height and have an open look to it, so the trains running behind it can still be seen. A pig-in-a-poke pandemic purchase that met this criteria was the Woodland Scenics A3001 Log Fence.

      The kit has eight interconnecting pieces that have a gnarled appearance and they are already weathered to a nice grey color with a good bit of molded on details. The kit makes four feet of fence that is one inch tall, which is chest high for an O-scale horse. As real horses like to rub against such fences, the molded pieces are oriented so that all of the supporting fence posts are located on the outside of the pasture, leaving a flat surface on the inside.

      One piece of the fence has a narrow gate at its end, while a separate piece has a wide gate in its middle. For the highly visible front section of the fence, these two pieces had to be bashed together to fit the space available. As the plastic is somewhat soft as well as flexible, I used my flush cutting pliers and a small file, instead of my trusty razer saw. The rest of the pieces were bashed as needed to make a squarish pasture, the rear of which abuts the railroad track at the back of the layout.

      Posing the horses in the pasture should be a simple thing, but I wanted to include something a bit unusual. On a pre-pandemic drive through Amish country, I saw standing in a field, a Pushmi-Pullyo from "The Story of Doctor Dolittle." Upon closer examination, it was two mules standing side by side, but they were facing in opposite directions. When one mule flicked its tail, not only did it chase the flies from its own posterior, it also kept the flies off of its companion's face. The same thing was happening at the other end. Posing two model horses in the same way adds some prototypical interest to the otherwise plain, fenced pasture scene.


      • I like the scene. It's a winner.

        It's only make-believe


        • Thanks Bob,

          I am starting to get a grip on this layout scenery thing. There are so many new products that make it easy.

          All the best.


          • An Organic Bumping Post

            An HO scale bumping post, installed at the far end of the factory spur to engage the car mounted Kadee couplers, takes up too much spur space and it creates a hard stop for approaching cuts of cars, which are hidden from view behind the factory building until the last second. Although the maximum coupling speed is a prototypical 4 mph, hard hits on the bumping post would create derailments back up the curving factory spur.

            Furthermore, the somewhat shorter Atlas code 83 clip-on bumping posts are not prototypical. They are a smaller version of the Atlas code 100 bumper tracks, which, to me, look pretty awful. A trimmed down code 83 bumping post was positioned to be hidden behind the outhouse structure at the right front of the layout. While this, visually, worked well, that occasional hard hit was still a problem.

            At a long ago train show, I bought several packs of premade O-scale cattails to plant around the proposed rock rimmed spring. There were a few left over, so their "tails" were trimmed off, making them generic. These were then planted at the very end of the factory spur, after removing the clip-on bumping post. A gap was left between the plants so the car mounted Kadee couplers would slide between them, allowing the end sills of the cars to engage the plants, thus every possible fraction of an inch of the factory spur can be used.

            On a hard hit, the flexing of the semi-rigid plants, with their stalks buried deep into the pink layout foam, will bring a slow moving cut of cars to a controlled stop, with the loco drivers slipping. When the shoving loco backs off, the cars are still on the track and the plants return to their previous shape.

            Parts of the generic green plants, poking out from behind the side of the outhouse, helps to visually soften this part of the industrial scene.


            • Clever!

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


              • That's an interesting idea.
                Follow along as my dog and I travel the country in our van.
                FaceBook link:


                • Thanks Michael and Rick,

                  While the body is falling apart, the brain is still functioning.

                  All the best


                  • After an amazing 42 days in the limbo sustained by the USPS, the SoundTraxx Econami that I ordered on back February 18 finally showed up. The proposed delayed delivery of St. Pactrick's Day was just a pipedream.

                    Although I will miss the hands on work on the layout, I am glad that it is almost over as I cannot take much more of these delays. GRRRRR!

                    When I retired I promised myself that I would not become a grumpy old man, but this is really pushing my limits. I thought model railroading was supposed to be fun.


                    • Dan great looking pasture scene and I like the two horses together. The use of the plants to slow down the cars was brilliant! I've had times where it takes forever to get something via USPS and then other times the order is here in three to five days from order to door. I think it all depends on where you order from. When I stop having fun then I walk away for a few days.
                      Owner, General Manager, and all around "chief cook and bottle washer" of the Caz Coal-and-Wood Railroad


                      • Sorry guys,

                        I was just grousing...blowing off steam and venting my spleen. I guess I could have ended it with an appropriate emoji.

                        I did get both of my Covis vaccinations, so I don't have that specter looking over my shoulder. It is the only time in my life where being elderly with underlying medical conditions was actually an advantage.

                        All the best to everyone.


                        • Dan, venting is OK sometimes.
                          Follow along as my dog and I travel the country in our van.
                          FaceBook link:


                          • Yesterday I attended a real face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder model train show -- the first in over a year. The group that puts on the big shows at the state fairgrounds, two acres of trains under one roof, also put this one together. As the fairgrounds is now a state run Covid vaccination site, the show had to be smaller. Nevertheless it was four big conference/reception rooms and two hallways at a nearby hotel.

                            As usual these days, one had to preregister for a time slot and wear a mask. Although there was plenty of room, with wide one-way aisles, social distancing was sometimes fudged a bit. It is the nature of the beast and no one seemed to mind. Good people having a good time and it was all about model trains.

                            With cars from surrounding states in the parking lot and the usual quick moving line at the entrance when the show opened, it was a touch of normalcy.


                            • Having a good hands day.

                              I've been waiting for a "good hands day" before attempting to wire the SoundTraxx Econami Diesel Sound Decoder for the critter into the under-the-layout project box that holds the SoundTtraxx SoundCar unit for the rail bus. Based on past experience (the Bachmann On30 Davenport comes to mind), I was not holding out much hope for a good running critter, so the SoundCar unit was to be used for both by tweaking a couple of CV values.

                              However, the unexpected prototypical operation of the present critter was quite a bit different from running a rail bus that makes occasional station stops. To program the differences and to supply suitable prime mover sounds for the critter, its slow speed and smooth operation puts this sound to good use, the Econami unit was added as an afterthought.

                              If I was going to do it again, I would use two separate speakers, but my current project box is not big enough to do that, so the existing speaker is wired to a miniature toggle switch that selects the audio output of one unit or the other.

                              The DCC output of the controller is permanently connected to the project box, in parallel with the track connection. As its internal units are in use only when the critter or rail bus is running, a separate miniature toggle switch is installed on the project box to turn the supplied DCC on and off.

                              The Mobile Decoder mounted in the critter and the trackside Econami will operate independently, with no connection between the two, except for the DCC power. Since they share the same manufacturer, they work well together and there are a number of common CV settings that can be programmed at the same time, which saves a lot of button pushing.

                              However, in this case there is one exception. The critter decoder uses CV61 to set the braking rate, a necessity for switching duties, while the Econami uses CV117. Therefore, while the same numerical value will work for both, the two CVs must be programmed separately.

                              The critter decoder is factory set to use the F11 Function Switch on the handheld controller to activate the brake effect. The Econami unit does the same, while also supplying a brake squeal sound. For ease of operation, the F11 function on both was moved to the F7 function switch position, which is factory set to be the lighting dimmer, something that I do not need. The change to F7 was easily done by simultaneously reprogramming CV41 of both the critter decoder and the Econami to a value of 128.

                              To be continued.


                              • Good hands - continued.

                                Operating the critter requires only a small percentage of the myriad features included on its decoder and the Econami. One of the features that is handy is for setting their Function Switch actuations (in this case, pushbuttons F1 to F9) to be either momentary or latching. As before, this programming can be done on both units at the same time.

                                The latching switches that I use are F1, for turning the bell on and off and F7, for turning the brake effect on and off, with F8 muting all of the various Econami sounds. Switch F3 must also be set to latching to get a preprogrammed, single short horn blast each time the button is pushed. Otherwise, when it is set to momentary, one will get a rather annoying two short blasts in quick succession whenever F3 is pushed and released.

                                Of the five prime mover types available on the Econami, the one selected for the critter is the Alco 244, perhaps the oddest sounding prime mover ever mass produced. Instead of chortling quietly when at idle and smoothly revving to full power and then back to idling, the Alco 244 coughs and sputters in a unique cacophony of sound. The horn desired was the classic Leslie A200, but the Econami sound file did not sound so good, so the Wabco E2, another favorite, took its place.

                                As my narrow gauge industrial layout is just big enough to support an oval of trach, a turnout and a spur, the following additions are simulated through the use of sound. As they are aural effects and not the usual visual ones, a good sized dollop of imagination is required. For example, as the source of the critter sound is stationary, at the front of the layout, the Econami CV values are programmed to simulate the layout operator being inside of the critter cab, instead of located trackside.

                                Before prototype trains, running without train brakes, such as those being modeled on the layout, would attempt a downhill run, enough handbrakes would be set so the speed of the train can be safely controlled by using a low throttle setting. Should the prime mover drop to idle the train will come to a stop, in spite of sitting on a grade. Therefore, going down an imaginary hill on the layout is just a matter of running slow, about 5 mph, in a normal fashion.

                                However, going up an imaginary hill on the layout is quite a different matter, as the speed of the prime mover needs to be controlled independent of the train running speed. Function Switch F5, factory set on the Econami, makes this possible.

                                When the critter powered train hits the bottom of the hill at a typical running speed, about 10 mph, switch F5 is then repeatedly actuated until the prime mover notches up to where it is running at maximum RPMs, without changing the train running speed. At the top of the imaginary hill, when the critter throttle setting is adjusted up or down, the high revving prime mover automatically slows down to match the new setting, while the running speed of the train reacts accordingly.