No announcement yet.

An Old Man Contemplates an Old Man's Layout

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • #31
    "solid, Link"


    • #32
      Installing a backdrop:

      Mounting a scenic backdrop to a layout is usually a relatively simple matter. However, mounting a breakaway scenic backdrop to the old man's layout, a backdrop that, by necessity, must also be light in weight, is the project at hand.

      Nearly a decade ago, for the previous attempt at an On30 layout, I purchased the Mountain Scenes A and B (704-06 and 704-07) from Realistic Backgrounds. I have long been fascinated by the sharply rising, heavily forested ridges of the Appalachian Mountains which their products replicated. The scenes are printed on medium weight cardboard and each measures thirteen inches high by thirty-eight inches long. Utilizing much improved printing technology, the scenes are still available today and cost about ten dollars each.

      As the exposed top edges of the layout fascia boards provide a ready made mounting, the backdrop would consist of the cardboard mountain scenes glued to either the white foam core board from the crafts store or the plasticized, corrugated cardboard material currently being used to make signs.

      Although fragile and prone to warping, Elmer's Foam Board (905011) was selected. It is readily available in twenty inch by thirty inch panels, three sixteenths inch thick that cost about three dollars each. Much like the pink foamboard that was used for the layout (or perhaps I should say "misused" for the layout), the foam core panels are easy to work with once one comes to terms with their idiosyncrasies. For example, the electric table saw proved to be an excellent tool for cutting the panels down to size.

      Furthermore, if two panels are securely glued back to back while lying flat, their warping tendencies cancel out. Therefore, the foam core backing will be two layers thick, which facilitates the making of a breakaway backdrop. As the cardboard backdrop scene is thirteen inches high, the middle foam core layer was made twelve a three quarters inches high while the outside layer was made thirteen and a half inches high. When glued together, all three pieces are aligned at the top and sides, which leaves a shallow hollow in the middle of the backdrop bottom which fits over the top edge of the fascia board.

      The bare pink foamboard top of the layout provided the work surface for cutting and splicing the mountain scenes and for gluing up the backdrop panels. A continuous, four foot long panel is needed for the back of the layout and two panels, twenty-seven inches each, are needed for partial backdrops along the layout sides (the projecting front corners of the yard deep layout were previously trimmed off).

      While Elmer's white glue is usually good for such things, I used Woodland Scenics S190 Scenic Glue. As it comes in an eight ounce bottle, which is more than I will ever need for securing layout scenery, it was also used for the backdrop. Several cardboard cases of soda, purchased at the grocery store, provided well distributed weight while the glue dried.

      To secure the backdrop to the layout on a breakaway basis, simple wooden clips are mounted under the top row of the fascia mounting screws on the back and sides of the layout. The clips are made from free paint stirring sticks, courtesy of Home Depot. When the screws are tightened down, the clips gently squeeze the rather delicate bottom edge of the backdrop's outer layer against the face of the fascia board, thereby holding it in place. In this way, the backdrop can remain in place as the layout is picked up and moved about or it can be easily detached whenever necessary.

      A way was needed to align and temporally attach the tops of the backdrop sides to the top of the rear backdrop panel. 3M makes temporary surface mounting hooks for use around the house. The small hooks are rated at only one-half pound each, which is suitable for the backdrop application.

      The hooks attach to the mating upper corners of the back and sides of the backdrop. When everything is mounted and aligned on the layout, a loop of string or thread tied around the hooks will hold the backdrop pieces together. In this unique layout application, should push come to shove and nothing else fails, the hooks should let go in short order, allowing the back and sides of the backdrop to separate.

      The visible top and front edges of the built-up backdrop are both rough and fragile. To protect against incidental damage, these edges are reinforced by gluing on the wooden yardsticks that Home Depot sells in their paint department for about a buck each. Instead of being used to directly over the rough edges, they are glued flat to the back of the backdrop sandwich along the top and front edges. An assortment of canned goods, borrowed from the pantry, provided the weight.

      Finally, after painting the non-scenic surfaces of the backdrop with latex or acrylic paint, the face and sides of the reinforcing yardsticks and the exposed backdrop edges are then covered up with the L-shaped strips found in the Frost King AC12H, Air Conditioner Weatherseal Kit. These kits are about six dollars at Home Depot and sixty-six inches of the L-strip are included with each kit. Visually, these untra-lightweight, molded urethane foam strips, with their neutral grey color, provide a soft and cushiony, ersatz picture frame along the top and front edges of the backdrop, giving a finished look to this freestanding layout.


      • #33
        A discussion on the use of Atlas track.

        As the infrastructure phase of the old man's layout is rapidly nearing completion, it is a good time to discuss the laying of track. The layout is to represent an isolated and independent, industrial railway with its roots in the Edwardian Era (1890 to WWI) and continuing in operation to circa 1950.

        There seems to be quite a bit of on-line discussion as to the pros and cons of using regular or modified Atlas code 100 HO track. One of the suggested modifications is to remove every other tie, thereby leaving a wide space.

        On the other hand, Atlas code 83 HO track is considered by some as being too illy-proportioned for accurately modeling narrow gauge track. The ties are four inches wide on twelve inch centers and four and a half feet long, while the rail is equal to fifty-five pounds per yard prototype track.

        Serendipitously, the Atlas code 83 HO track is actually spot-on, physically and historically, for the layout.

        As noted by civil engineer A. M. Wellington, in his master reference, The Economic Theory of the Location of Railways, published in 1887, the period goal was to achieve track stability, with good economy, through the proper combination of rails, ties and ballast. The idea behind track stability was not to keep the train on the track, prudent running would do the, but to keep the track structure underneath the train.

        Early on, track stability was achieved by completely supporting the primitive rail on longitudinal stringers, but this proved far from practical. When the use of T-rail became widespread, it was inherently strong enough so that continuous support was no longer needed.

        As Wellington documents, the standard for his time was to spike the rail directly to the crossties, leaving a space of two tie widths between each spiked tie. Therefore, for a mile of track (5280 feet), regardless of the gauge or rail size, only one third or 1760 feet of each rail would be directly supported on the face of the ties. On the downside, as Wellington notes, the stiffness of a rail decreases as the cube of the span between the ties. As a result, for rails that are light in weight, he specifies that narrow ties, with their corresponding narrow spacing, should be given preference.

        Although more narrow ties would be needed per mile, there was a significant cost difference in favor of narrow ties over wider ties, so the price per mile remained about the same. In this way, the narrow ties achieved sought after economy, while maximizing the load carrying ability of relatively weak rail. The narrow ties and tie spacing afforded additional economy, as ballast unsuitable for mainline track, anything from mere dirt to pebbles dredged from streambeds, could be used with success.

        Although Wellington's engineering preference directly applied to sixty pound rail and four inch ties, they had essentially dropped off the railroad radar by the time of his book. Nevertheless, in studying other references, they were both alive and well for industry and mine use.

        Used rail was available, often at scrap prices, as common carrier narrow gauge railroads, built during the "narrow gauge fever" that swept the country, either went out of business, improved their existing roadbeds or standard gauged their lines. Sixty pound rail had been a popular standard size. As long as the worn rail weighed at least fifty-four pounds per yard, it was safe to reuse.

        The narrow ties were readily available from suppliers of wood mine props and timbers. According to industry references, these mine-ties, as they were called, should have two parallel faces at least three and a half inches wide [narrower ties were prone to splitting when the spikes were driven in]. For a gauge of thirty inches, the length of the ties should be 1.8 times the gauge; therefore, they would be four and a half feet long. Furthermore, to facilitate turnouts and other special work, the ties were available in longer lengths.

        With the Atlas code 83 HO track closely mimicking period prototype narrow gauge practice, the proposed On30 industrial line can be easily and accurately modeled, without alterations to the track.

        Comments and questions are always welcome.


        • #34
          Hello! Hello! I know you are out there! I can hear you breathing!

          This topic seems to have a loyal, but non-verbal following as the "Read" numbers keep increasing, for which I am grateful and encouraged.

          Well...the infrastructure part of the project has been completed. I will be the first to admit that, as a model railroad layout, this project isn't much, but it was never intended to be otherwise. It was meant to create a small, as well as easy to construct, senior citizen compatible layout that is eminently movable. "Unpretentious, but fulfilling" was the initial goal.

          The layout design and construction subsequently proved itself when it was lugged, singlehandedly by yours truly, from the basement, where it was constructed, up two flights of stairs, all the while negotiating tight, right angle turns, to its current location on the second floor. As initially planned, the backdrop was separated from the layout and the layout was separated from the pedestal. Furthermore, in this case, the pedestal itself was also disassembled for ease of moving. All were relocated and reassembled with no problems.

          Before reassembly, I weighed just the layout, with the backdrop attached, and the total was thirteen pounds. This leaves twelve pounds for track, buildings and scenery to meet the desired (but not set in stone), easy to lift and carry weight of twenty-five pounds.

          As the pedestal mounted casters allow the layout to rotate in a little more than its own length and the three sided backdrop can easily be removed, all four sides and all four corners are accessible. With no bending and no stretching and only a very slim chance of putting my elbow or my forearm through the foamboard; finishing up the layout should not present a problem.

          In theory, from here on out, everything will be Model Railroading 101. I say "in theory" as decades of experience has proven otherwise.


          • #35

            Sounds like a great "little" pike. Judging from your posts, you seem to be taking a "minimalist" approach. It true, nothing wrong with that as I seen some outstanding minimalist approaches that focus mainly on operational aspects of the layout. Looking forward to reading more...perhaps photos in the near future?

            Kind regards,



            • #36
              Thanks Tim,

              Its good to hear a friendly voice from time to time.

              As an old analog operations guy, I find myself a Luddite traveling through Tsunamiland and the realm of Dynamis.

              Nevertheless, one must learn to adapt. How does the saying go? Ah yes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

              All the best,



              • #37
                My LHS, the one that sold the $369 list price Bachmann Dynamis outfit for the sale price of $99.99, had another sale where the grossly overpriced Dynamis Pro Box ($509) was sold for the same low price. So for less than $200 I unexpectedly got the whole set, which required some rethinking about the way the Dynamis control system was going to be used.

                The Pro Box outputs track power and this is only used for the layout's single DCC accessory, the NCE Snap-It turnout controller. The Pro Box also allows CVs to be read and programmed in Service Track mode. To facilitate this operation, it temporarily switches the track output connection of the basic Dynamis unit from regular track power to a CV reading and programming current limiting feed for an electrically isolated service track section that is supposed to be built into the layout.

                In this case, instead of an isolated service track, the entire layout is connected to the output of the basic Dynamis unit. As only a single locomotive will be on the track at any one time, the entire layout momentarily becomes a service track when reading and changing its CVs. The results of the changes can then be tested immediately through normal operations.

                Also a part of the Pro Box outfit is a remote IR receiver for the Dynamis unit. As the layout was to be operated from a seated position, the original IR receiver was mounted under the layout. As a result, control while standing was not always reliable. By installing the new remote IR receiver on the top of the rear section of the layout backdrop, the layout can now be reliably operated from either a seated or standing position.


                • #38
                  The built in mobility of the layout proved itself yesterday when the NCE Snap-It turnout controller, located at the rear of the layout, which was hard up against a wall, failed on powering up for a shakedown operating session. GRRRRR!

                  Nevertheless, it took very little time and a small amount effort to roll the layout away from the wall, allowing easy access for both troubleshooting and repair. As the turnout, its motor and the NCE controller are all surface mounted, this could be accomplished from a comfortable standing position, with adequate lighting and elbow room.

                  When one gets old, vicissitudes of various kinds are a fact of life. It is nice when preparations implemented for combating them turn out the way they were planned. It gives one a feeling of being in control.


                  • #39

                    It sounds like your pre-planning paid off!


                    • #40
                      Be forewarned, not everything can be pre-planned. There are times when problems are more of the spur-of-the-moment kind. For these, I go looking for answers in the housewares section of my local dollar store (around here it is the Dollar Tree - a true dollar store). Note that I said the housewares section and not the hardware section.

                      I did a lot of research before stating the layout and one problem that others had was how to drill a deep hole through a thick foamboard layout without buying an expensive extra long drill bit. The flat bits normally used for wood, although long enough, tend to make a mess as they aggressively chew their way through the fragile foamboard.

                      Another problem was how to thread a number of thin, flexible wires through the rough interior of the hole once it was successfully drilled.

                      The answer to the latter problem is to line the drilled hole with a plastic drinking straw. The ones I use are a quarter of an inch in diameter and they have a corrugated "bendy" section near one end.

                      When the straw is inserted in the layout hole and the wires are threaded through, the "bendy" section comes into play. It effectively protects the relatively fragile wires from being pinched or cut while negotiating a curve at the bottom or top of the hole. The "bendy" part will support everything from a slight deviation to a full U-turn.

                      To drill bit I use is homemade. It is a length of quarter inch OD brass tubing with some coarse "teeth" formed in the bottom edge by a small triangle file. When chucked into a hand drill and turned slowly, it will neatly munch its way through a number of inches of foamboard. After every hole, it is a good idea to unchuck the hollow bit and clean out the pink plug that forms on the inside.

                      Another revelation from the housewares section of the dollar store is bamboo kebab skewers. They make practical aligning pins when gluing slabs of foamboard together. Being made from wood, they do not need to be removed as they are no problem should they become exposed when carving scenery.

                      As my layout should undergo a couple of long distance moves, the backdrop and major structures will be removed and shipped separately. While the backdrop is designed for precise reassembly, the structures are not. Therefore, short pieces of the skewers will be used as structure locating pins for ease and rapidity of reassembly.


                      • #41
                        And now a few words about On30 turnouts.

                        To match the HO sectional track used on the layout, an Atlas Custom Line turnout was to be used in conjunction with the spur, but there were insurmountable problems.

                        Both the large and heavy Bachmann Whitcomb diesel and the their lightweight Porter 0-4-2 demonstrated pickup problems negotiating the diverging route when operating on DCC. Curiously, the middleweight Bachmann 2-6-0 had no problems.

                        While a "stay alive" capacitor would work with the Whitcomb, there is no room in the Porter and adding a homemade, tow behind "tender" is not acceptable. Therefore, some way or ways would be needed to modify the Atlas turnout so all three locomotives would work reliably. After performing the various "fixes" suggested by online sources, it became evident that universal reliability for this motley motive power was not going to happen.

                        Based on experience with the previous attempt at a layout, the only sectional track turnouts I know of that are On30 and DCC friendly right from the box are the Peco Code 100 Electrofrogs. Although their design and their construction may seem to be Jurassic, they provide tweak free, 99.995% reliable operation. Fortuitously, Atlas offers suitable "compromise" rail joiners that work equally well for the Code 100 to Code 83 transitions.

                        The size of the layout allows for fourteen inches of straight track at the front and rear and this includes the turnout. As the seven and a quarter inch long Peco SLE91 was selected as a replacement for the nine inch long Atlas No. 4, extra fitter pieces of sectional track were needed to make the length right.

                        The primitive, yet effective Peco twin coil switch motor (PL-10W) normally mounts directly to the turnout, underneath the points, but this requires a rather large hole to be excavated in the roadbed. Early in the layout design, it was determined that a surface mount switch motor would be used for convenience of installation and ease of maintenance.

                        Peco does offer a side mounted switch motor (PL-11), but as with the similar Atlas setup, the low hanging pilot steps of the Whitcomb would catch on it. A solution seemed to be the Peco surface mounting Motor Adapting Base (PL-12X) for their regular switch motor. The problem is, the adapter is sized for HO, so the switch motor is too close to the turnout for On30 use. Nevertheless, it was a fairly simple matter to extend the adapter throw arm to allow clearance for On30 equipment, thus the Peco Electrofrog turnout was successfully installed on the layout.

                        The Jurassic design and construction of the Peco turnout also solved a pesky, intermittent problem with the DCC turnout control interface. As the turnout is hidden from view and its DCC commands are one way only (there is no built-in feedback loop to tell the operator which way it is presently set), the turnout icon on the Dynamis hand held controller would sometimes get out of sync with the actual turnout. Depending on which direction the train is running, the result is either a simple misrouting or a difficult to reset DCC short circuit.

                        Peco offers an add-on, auxiliary contact assembly (PL-13) for its regular switch motor. This was wired in using LEDs to provide a continuous red/green visual indication of the points setting. Unfortunately as well as irritatingly, many hobby grade electrical products that are offered today are being cheaply made. As a result, this seemingly state-of-the-art solution soon became intermittent, so it was back to the drawing board.

                        I find that devising simple, old school solutions for those situations where high-technology has failed, to be challenging and fulfilling. Plus I get to use some neat "obsolete" stuff from my younger days. In this case, revenge is a dish best served beside the warm glow of a small light bulb.

                        Harking back to their ancient roots in analog DC operation, the Electrofrogs possess the innate ability to turn on and off the tracks connected to their diverging routes. It does this automatically, without jumpers, auxiliary contacts or extra power feeds, by resorting to old school trickery.

                        When set for the straight route, they simply connect both rails of the diverging route to only one rail of the straight route. To use a DC analogy that is applicable to the layout DCC, as long as the voltage on both spur tracks rails is simultaneously plus and plus or minus and minus, electric current cannot flow between them. Therefore, although both rails are electrically live, the power to the spur will seem to be off.

                        This allows a decidedly simple, low-tech solution to be used for the synchronization problem; wire a suitable incandescent lamp directly across the spur track rails. An interior lighting assembly from a Bachmann On30 caboose was repurposed for this task. A technical anachronism in it own right, it uses miniature, screw in light bulbs, which I have on hand. Unlike an LED, the bulb illumination is both bright and omnidirectional, which makes for interesting installations.

                        Operationally, when the light is off, the turnout is set for the main; when the light is on, the turnout is set for the spur. Furthermore, by utilizing additional old school technology, the light bulb cannot burn out without it being detected.

                        It seems an incandescent bulb, operating at a reduced voltage, normally two thirds to three quarters of it service rating, will not burn out while it is already lit. However, bulbs at the end of their service life will burn out when that voltage is first applied.

                        Therefore, each time the turnout is initially set for the spur, a self test is performed, automatically, and if the light does not come on, the bulb then needs to be replaced. In the past, many incandescent on/off indicators relied on this phenomenon. The failsafe method was to provide overriding lamp test buttons to verify the immediate operational status of the bulbs, but that would be overkill in this application.

                        Yes...I have heard the arguments that LEDs could last about a hundred thousand hours. However, medically, it seems that I do not have a hundred thousand hours left, so the subject of light bulb longevity is a moot point. Whenever the bulb burns out, I just screw in a new one.

                        Questions and comments are always welcome and best wishes to everyone for a happy and safe holiday.


                        • #42
                          If I piqued anyone's interest on using miniature incandescent bulbs with DCC, here is some basic info. The size of the sockets for the miniature bulbs is officially known as Midget Screw Base E5 or E5.5, with the bulb bases the same size.

                          The bulbs come in a number of different voltages. For general hobby use, the low voltage bulbs, 2.5 and 6 volts, are used for battery toys and doll houses. The higher voltage bulbs, 16 and 19 volts, are used for model railroading. Both are presently available as either new or new-old-stock on eBay.

                          The 19 volt bulbs are intended for use with G-scale trains. As three quarters of their service voltage approximates the nominal 15 volt output of most DCC units intended for HO and smaller scales, they can be used directly; however, they will probably be pretty bright.

                          The bulbs I use were once marketed by Life-Like for lighting model buildings. They are nominally rated for 16 volts, the auxiliary AC voltage of most HO "power packs" and their current draw is about 0.04 amperes. Therefore, in this application, the 15 volt DCC output taken from the the spur track rails needs to be reduced.

                          When connected is series with a Life-Like bulb, a common 1/2 watt resistor with a value of around 130 ohms (any similar value will do) drops the DCC voltage down to about 10 volts. Since LEDs also require similar series resistors, this use should be familiar. Operationally, neither the bulb nor the resistor will get warm enough to pose a threat to anything. In fact, they barely get warm at all.

                          While the light of a bulb running near its service voltage is quite garish, this setup provides a subtle, warm glow that deserves to be more than just an on/off indicator for the turnout setting. However, in order to be exploited as a part of the scenery, it must be used in some period application that is adjacent to the spur (no through the foamboard wiring needed) that would alternate, prototypically, between on and off during daylight hours.

                          For example, on the layout, the tiny yardmaster's office, about halfway down the spur and partially hidden from view, would be perpetually in the shade of the large surrounding structures, so the turnout indicator, imitating the light from a kerosene or an early electric lamp, would also appear to indicate his comings and goings. The bulb is mounted at desktop height in an appropriate window, so the resulting wide spreading glow would then be visible from the normal operating position.

                          In days of yore, electricity often arrived in the hinterlands long before indoor plumbing. Therefore, the on/off turnout indicator, when mounted behind the ubiquitous crescent moon cutout of an outhouse, could also be an "occupied" light for the factory's outdoor facility, which is in plain sight at the end of the spur in the front of the layout.


                          • #43
                            A Turnout Indicator Doohickey.

                            The aforementioned layout structures are far from being at the point where they can be modified. Most are just taped together, temporarily, to hold their shape when placed on the layout. As the turnout indicator is needed now, during track development, something else is required until the structures are ready. At the rate this project is moving, that could be quite a while. Some sort of low cost and easy to make doohickey, covertly filling the role of turnout indicator, would meet the layout standards of unpretentious, but fulfilling, so long as it appeared to be prototypical.

                            A box of plastic bits and pieces came to the rescue. One piece resembled a slightly raised wooden platform that would be suitable for placing on the ground at the end of the spur. Another piece was an opaque, black steel drum that was the correct height, but a bit wide in the width. Combining these two misfit pieces makes the classic "barrel for the burning of trash." Adding the socket removed from the Bachmann caboose lighting assembly makes it into a turnout indicator. The assembly is placed at the very end of the spur, which is at the front of the layout, with the bulb receiving its power through modified rail joiners.

                            Following prototype practice, several small "air holes" were drilled around the mid section of the barrel. Instead of letting in air, they allow the subtle light of the bulb to be easily seen from a variety of angles. As the top of the bulb is lower than the top of the barrel, its warm glow is filtered through a plug of white tissue paper inserted in the barrel. The barrel then slips loosely over the socket to facilitate changing the bulb. It does this by way of a suitably sized hole drilled through the bottom of the barrel.

                            Another, smaller hole was also drilled in the plastic platform so that the socket could be fastened to it. To prevent the melting of the platform, the wires were soldered to the dropping resistor and the socket before they were glued to the platform.

                            Thin, flexible wires were soldered to each end of a regular rail joiner and then the joiner was cut in half. One rail joiner wire went directly to the center contact of the socket. The other wire went to one end of the dropping resistor, which was two 1/4 watt, 270 ohm resistors connected in parallel to make a 1/2 watt, 135 ohm resistor that would fit inside the molded in recess under the platform. The other end of the resistor was wired to the shell of the socket. A small notch was whittled into the edge of the platform hole to clear this solder connection. The socket was carefully positioned and then super glued to the platform. After the super glue cures, screw in a bulb, slip on the prepared barrel and the project is finished.

                            The wired joiner halves are then slipped over the ends of the spur rails to provide power. These wires are then carefully tucked into the recess under the platform. A piece of tape, which also holds the wired in place, is temporarily used to attach the platform to the end of the last piece of spur track.

                            The attached photos show this very simple project. For a size comparison, one is with "waving guy" who is six feet, six inches tall. The camera batteries were dying as the photos were bring taken, so the colors are a bit strange, but the photos get the point across.


                            • #44
                              A Genuine Imitation Locomotive Seat Box

                              When attempting to build a layout, occasionally one will need some form of inspiration. Attached are photos of a partial impetus for the current effort. It started out many years ago, as an adult size, student chair desk from a secondhand furniture store. This austere melding of industrial arts, common at the turn of the last century, is mostly made from angle iron, with the wood parts made from oak.

                              As it was a comfortable fit for my posterior and my back and it also looked the part, the chair desk was reconfigured to be a genuine imitation locomotive seat box. The only major modification was trimming down the tablet arm and remounting it to make an arm rest that is equally comfortable.

                              If permitted by good health as well as adequate space in the new domicile, I would like to continue its use. However, during layout operations, it juts out into the room an additional three feet. Furthermore, because of its shape and sturdy construction, it is unwieldy to move around; making it unsuitable for sliding under a dining room table or into the kneehole of a desk.

                              Having ridden and operated a number of real locomotives, I have long been a fan of simulated prototype controls interfaced with locomotive sounds. As a result, my former layouts were operated from this ersatz engineer's seat. While DCC does provide excellent sound and operations, the myriad pushbutton actuations that are programmed in are not adaptable to physically mimicking prototype controls. Nevertheless, by continuing to use the old seat box for the new layout, I can, at least for now, assume the quite familiar, historically correct position for operating a locomotive.

                              Being a southpaw, the use of a lapboard, in conjunction with non-skid feet on the bottom of the normally two-handed Dynamis controller, makes it possible to operate the layout using just the left hand, while prototypically leaning on the right arm.

                              So far, Dynamis DCC, the new layout and the old seat box are proving to be a good combination.


                              • #45
                                The Ghosts of Christmas Past.

                                Unlike the soul saving intervention by a gaggle of ghosts in Dickens' timeless "A Christmas Carol" my incorporeal visitations are of a different ilk.

                                The fast approaching holiday always brings back memories, some good and some not so good, but mostly about trains. To start with, my parents were childhood victims of the Great Depression, so they exhibited a rather conflicted attitude towards extraneous activities, such as hobbies, which led to holiday family squabbles that tended to rage from Thanksgiving through the following Easter.

                                This started soon after WWII, when I was very young and my family lived, temporarily, at my mother's parent's house. While it was located on a city residential street, the street deadended at what is now Amtrak's North East Corridor. Back then, it was the mighty mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad, with all kinds of trains running 24/7, hence my lifelong interest in the real thing.

                                My grandparents noticed that, each time a train came into view, I would stop what I was doing and watch it pass. Indulging that emerging leisure pursuit, they bought me a model train set for my second Christmas. Although it was an inexpensive O-27 Lionel Scout, my parents evidently saw this act as familial one-upmanship. Knowing my grandparents, this is most likely true.

                                My parents soon moved into their own house and, in what appears to be retaliatory up-yours-manship, they acquired a much better American Flyer set. When it was running, the loco of the Lionel Scout made a humming-buzzing sound, while the Flyer loco produced speed synchronized choo-choo sounds as well as puffing smoke, accompanied by the sounds of a steam locomotive whistle emanating from an accessory billboard. This set may be the origins of my longtime interest in model trains equipped with prototype sounds.

                                In those days, my parents held the opinion that having a temporary "Christmas Garden" (a seasonally decorated indoor tree with trains running under it) was the norm and anyone with a permanent layout was a bit insane. With the American Flyer set assigned the haughty position of being the official train for the family Christmas Garden, my set was subsequently reduced to being a mere toy, but the demotion backfired. My unbridled enthusiasm for running the Lionel Scout on a year round basis soon qualified me as a member of the perceived loony group.

                                Down in the basement, my father built an unpretentious, but fulfilling layout on a low, plywood platform, which I operated while sitting on the floor, something that I probably couldn't do today. It was about three feet on a side, with a squircle of sectional track (a squared off circle or a rounded off square, depending on how you see it). The flat platform surface was painted a dark green color and the ballast for under the track was simply a stripe of brown paint.

                                As I had developed an early interest in the "days of yore" when knighthood was in flower, a cardboard medieval castle was the only scenery. When four or five years of age, such improbable juxtapositions actually make sense; however, at this point in time, I cannot tell you how or why.

                                Ghostly images of that first layout are having an influence on the current one, which in all likelihood, will be my last. It also features sectional track (this time it is a semi-squircle - aka an oval) laid on a flat, green colored surface with brown paint again used to indicate ballast. However, a more logical Edwardian factory has taken the place of ye-olde medieval castle.

                                During this year's holiday season, the seemingly spectral presence of the old layout is evoking feelings of "comfort and joy" instead of the traditional curmudgeonism so often a part of Christmas Past.

                                A Madison Avenue advertising type once penned the following holiday hype:

                                There are plastic toys;

                                and metal toys; and cardboard toys;

                                and war toys; and noisy toys;

                                and toys that self-destruct; and toys

                                that need some help before

                                they'll destruct; and dull toys;

                                and interesting toys for a weekend;

                                and toys that don't even last the weekend;

                                and then there are electric trains.

                                Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!