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An Old Man Contemplates an Old Man's Layout

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  • Walker Electric Truck

    While waiting for the Forum to get back on its feet, I watched a bunch of old horror films. One was “The Frozen Ghost” from 1945, in which there were no ghosts and nothing seemed to be frozen, except for the passage of time while I was watching it. In films such as these, the background footage is sometimes more entertaining than the actual plot and script.

    One such shot, artfully shown through the windows of a street-side café, was an urban period piece. There was a gaggle of automobiles intermingling with a flock of taxis, along with a plodding trolley car and an even slower horse drawn wagon. Briefly scooting through the scene was a Walker electric truck in its natural habitat!

    As a similar Walker truck is slated for display on the layout, I found this rare sighting to be exhilarating – the high point of the movie! However, in my dotage, I must admit that I am rather easily amused by things that are related to the layout.

    All the best to everyone and welcome back.


    • Welcome back Dan.
      I look forward to seeing you make more progress with your models.
      Follow along as my dog and I travel the country in our van.
      FaceBook link:


      • Another Flatcar Load

        One of the things I like to do for the layout is to contrive historically correct scenarios, unusual yet plausible, that I don’t have to model in detail. They just need to be “indicated.”

        One such indicator that is offered by Athearn is a 1:50 diecast model of John Deere’s 1928 Model GP row crop type of farm tractor. It is my kind of tractor with a decidedly old look and doodads, gewgaws and thingamajigs poking out all over it. For something earlier as well as larger and more than a bit different, Athearn also offers the Waterloo Boy tractor from 1918. The heavily cleated, steel rear tires of these tractors are the crux of the scenario for another flatcar load.

        Around the time of their introductions, country roads were being rebuilt with tarmacadam paving and the studded rear tires, which proved quite useful in working the fields as well as running on dirt roads, would chew the new paving to bits in short order. Therefore, running these tractors over paved roads was often prohibited, which led to the widespread use of large rubber rear tires in the nineteen thirties.

        So how does Farmer Brown get his brand new tractor from the standard gauge team track located in town out to his acreage without paying drayage fees to the local hauler? He runs it down an unpaved alley, which were common in most towns, to the narrow gauge right-of-way, where it is loaded onto the flatcar. On the next quarry run, with the flatcar in tow, the tractor would then be unloaded at a convenient spot.

        Unlike the previous, quarry bound dozer load, which was, in theory, one-way and one time only, the tractor on the flatcar can prototypically show up whenever desired, as narrow gauge railroads tended to be community minded. For example, during a local outbreak of the equine flu, the farmer can use the same method to loan his newfangled tractor to other farmers along or near the right-of-way, who still relied on horses and mules, without the need to trespass on any paved roads.
        Last edited by Dan; 08-28-2021, 06:06 AM.


        • Darn learning curve. Let me see if I can make that photo bigger.


          • Replacing the Bachmann Dynamis with the NCE Power Cab.

            Of the old age maladies the layout is designed to work around, one that was not anticipated is problems with my hands. The Dynamis has done a yeoman’s job in making me familiar with DCC, but the continued use of its wireless handheld controller has become problematic, physically.

            In addressing the above, hours of online research was done, the only means available during the pandemic. In the end, the basic NCE Power Cab setup (5240025 Ver. 1.65B) proved to be user-friendly, reasonably priced as well as available online. It is made in the U.S.A. and NCE is known for its customer support.

            Operationally, the one-piece handheld Power Cab, a combination of controller and DCC power circuits, weighs a svelte eight ounces, plus its design qualifies as seniors ergonomic. The somewhat unusual shape comfortably fits in either hand and an array of large buttons makes for easy operation of the trains and their associated sound effects. One of those buttons, labeled OPTION, can be assigned to a number of tasks.

            The Dynamis and the Power Cab, while they do the same thing, are very different animals, so there is a learning curve while changing over. For example, the sometimes troublesome infrared link from the controller to the layout, as used by the Dynamis, was deemed to be expendable, while a reliable RF link was deemed too expensive. Therefore, the Power Cab is linked to the layout by a reliable as well as affordable, modular type of cable, but its physical presence will take some getting used to.

            A red button labeled EMERGENCY STOP is on the front panel of the Power Cab, but it does not remove the DCC power from the entire layout, as does the corresponding STOP button on the Dynamis. Instead it stops just the layout locomotives through the NMRA specified E-Stop function on their decoders. As the Power Cab does not have a built-in on/off switch, in order to do a full layout, DCC power interruption, the AC voltage that is feeding its separate, wall wart type of DC supply must be turned off.

            Like the Dynamis, the Power Cab features an internal electronic circuit breaker that will interrupt the DCC power to the layout whenever a short is detected. However, there is considerable online confusion about its functionality. Unlike the Dynamis, where the power will stay off until manually reset when the short is cleared, the Power Cab tries to restore the DCC power every six seconds and if the short is still there the breaker will keep tripping. With this arrangement, the DCC power to the layout will automatically restore itself within seconds of the short being cleared.

            However, due to the accumulating effects of the constant repowering attempts, a prolonged short circuit, over a relatively long period of time, could damage the Power Cab. Therefore, NCE recommends that its AC power is turned off when no one is physically present to operate the layout. To that end, as well as to temporarily remove the DCC power from the layout, the conveniently located, AC switchable, surge protected outlet strip that was installed at the front of the layout for the old Dynamis is now being used for the Power Cab.

            The layout’s SoundTraxx decoders have a braking feature that emulates the stopping of real trains. On both the Dynamis and Power Cab, briefly actuating function switch F7 enables the braking feature, bringing the train to a stop, and a subsequent brief actuation turns it off, allowing the train to proceed. As these actuations are rather frequent during layout operations, the ergonomic OPTION button on the Power Cab is assigned to act as its F7 function switch.

            The Dynamis directly shows, with a visual indication on its LCD screen, that the braking feature is either on or off, but the Power Cab does not. A simple, direct visual way around this situation is to try to start a stopped train and if it does not move then push the OPTION button once. A far more desirable, sound based technique occurs when a stopped train is ready to start. Actuating the OPTION button once or twice, as needed, will trigger the decoder on the locomotive to generate a prototypical brake release sound, coinciding with the disabling of its braking feature.

            This indirect, aural method will continue to work as long as I am not deaf – which is another old age malady that was not anticipated when the layout was designed.


            • Kids – Don’t try this at home! Adult Supervision is Advised!

              Like so many DCC systems, the state-of-the-art NCE Power Cab is intended for use with rather large layouts, so there were some peccadillos that needed to be addressed for using it with mine. For example, the very readable LCD screen normally displays a Fast Clock for the benefit of those who like to run their layouts on a schedule. For me, it is both useless as well as annoying as it cannot be adapted to show real time.

              However, with a bit of button pushing, the clock was replaced with something that I find far more practical; a digital display that indicates the amount of DCC current going to the layout. As DCC decoders and modern motors, along with DCC accessories, draw small amounts of current, it will read as little as one hundredth of an ampere (0.01 amps) up to the maximum short circuit current. This built-in ammeter proved very helpful in verifying the practicality of a more significant change.

              My small, tabletop layout is normally operated while one is seated, but also, occasionally, while one is standing and moving about. Therefore, the unwieldy seven foot long, six wire flat cable that connects the Power Cab to the layout presented several problems. During seated operations, a major glitch is its length creating a tripping hazard, which is not a good thing for an old man to have around his layout and physically shortening its overall length for safe seated operation would impede standing up and moving about.

              A suitable coiled replacement cable would keep the excess off the floor and, when needed, it will stretch to allow roaming with the Power Cab, which is a win-win situation. However, no direct replacement coiled cables are available. Furthermore, as there are safety standards for commercial products, NCE makes it very clear that the supplied cable is specially made for use with the Power Cab and it should not be replaced by any other cable. Two ways that will allow a common, four wire coiled cable to be used with the basic Power Cab is to employ an accessory Pro Cab controller or to use a layout mounted SB5 Smart Booster, but these were deemed as too complex as well as too expensive.

              As is often the case when one chooses to disregard manufacturer’s mandates, NCE will not honor its Power Cab warranty if the cable is replaced, which would tend to be a deterrent for most end users. However, since this may be my last hurrah in modifying DCC to meet my needs and with the remnants of a Covid Stimulus check as a hedge against repairs breaking the bank, I decided to go for it – before I break my neck!

              The original flat cable is made with six, 24-gauge wires, each of which can safely conduct the 2 amp maximum, continuous current output of the handheld Power Cab. However, the ammeter shows the actual layout current is typically quite low, at about one quarter amp. Commercially available, six wire coiled cables are made with smaller wires that are rated for only one amp, but they are afforded sufficient protection against protracted operation at excessive current by monitoring the layout current with the built-in ammeter. Therefore, in theory, a simple cable swap should have been the end of it, but the enigmatic, self-resetting circuit breaker of the Power Cab dictated otherwise.

              A built-in, red LED display is used to indicate when the DCC power is going to the layout and it confirms the following. According to NCE, the over current response time, using the original cable, is 500 milliseconds, which is relatively slow. Unexpectedly and for whatever reasons, with the coiled cable in place, the response time approaches the much faster ones, around 20 milliseconds, found on other DCC systems, such as my old Dynamis, which I am comfortable with. The rest of its operation seems to be the same.

              In selecting a coiled replacement cable, what matters is the layout trains keep operating, safely and properly – including when a short circuit does occur. To that end, with each smaller cable wire having a maximum pulse current rating of 15 amps, handling brief short circuit surges (under 500 milliseconds) are not a problem, as they are limited to 3 amps or less by the P114 regulated DC, wall wart supply that comes with the Power Cab. With my setup, the actual short circuit current measured was 2.9 amps.

              During layout short circuit testing with the coiled replacement cable, I believe the “quarter test” is the de facto hobby standard, along with repeated attempts at running locomotives through the layout turnout when it was set against them, the Power Cab functioned as designed. Its circuit breaker tripped every time and it would not reset itself until the problem was cleared.

              Therefore, a commercially available, tripping hazard eliminating, moving about accommodating, response time quickening, circuit breaker tripping, six wire coiled replacement cable was deemed to be safe for use on my layout, although its use does nullify what is left of the one-year warranty on the Power Cab.


              • Vehicles for the layout.

                Here are the modified and painted vehicles for the layout’s factory loading dock scene. They still need weathering, but that is a project for the future. Originally there were four of them, but one became a guinea pig for the rest. If I ever do a scene needing a derelict vehicle, then it will find a use.

                The prototypes for the rather petite Walker electric and the hulking Mack AC were manufactured and in use during the same broad period of time – from somewhat before WWI to sometime after WWII. On the layout they go well with the various locomotives, which chronologically span this same time period.

                The prototype for the middle vehicle in the photos, the one equipped with headlights, is the rather short-lived Ford Model AA (1928 – 1932). As a single, smallish truck posed at the loading dock, it shares the layout with an appropriate locomotive as well as the rail bus, in what can be considered to be a whole layout vignette of the Great Depression.

                At the start of a typical day, the factory spur is filled with a mix of loaded and empty cars and the locomotive, with the rail bus sitting on the main, ready to transport the remaining members of the reduced quarry crew to their remote place of work. In this penny-pinching scene, the lone vehicle at the loading dock observes its converted cousin starting its run, hoping that the labors of the quarrymen will provide something for it to do today.

                By running prototypically shorter trains, that are sorted out by the loco, there will be room to park the rail bus at the far end of the factory spur, behind a cut of loaded cars, on its return to the factory with the night watchman from the quarry. The idle rail bus then serves as a lunchroom for the few remaining workers at the factory.

                Later in the morning, the loco takes the string of empties, which were left sitting on the main, for a run to the quarry, where it will trade them for loads and then return to the factory to set them on the spur. This is repeated in the afternoon. At the end of the day, as the cars and the loco fill up the factory spur, the rail bus regains the main and then ventures forth to exchange the night watchman for the returning quarry crew.

                My layout may be small, but it is never boring.

                Click image for larger version

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                • Here is another view of the trucks.

                  Click image for larger version

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                  • Howdy Dan! Good to see you posting!


                    • Thanks Philip,

                      I posted the backlog of stuff from when the forum was off line.

                      Now I have to find more to do.


                      • Nice trucks and will be nice seeing them on the layout.
                        Follow along as my dog and I travel the country in our van.
                        FaceBook link:


                        • Thanks Rick,

                          Is the photo size limit from the old forum format still in force or has it been improved to a higher resolution?


                          • Originally posted by Dan View Post
                            Thanks Rick,

                            Is the photo size limit from the old forum format still in force or has it been improved to a higher resolution?
                            Dan, new file size limit is 2MB.
                            But be mindful of the image size to not make it too large.
                            I wouldn't go more than 1200 pixels on the longest side.
                            Follow along as my dog and I travel the country in our van.
                            FaceBook link:


                            • Howdy Dan, I like the vehicle mix. ~mike
                              O scale builds: Choctaw Lumber Kitchen, Dining Room, and Buffalo Canyon RR Caboose


                              • Thanks Mike,

                                What is needed is an O-scale decal or sticker for the stylized Mack "M" for the hood of the AC.