Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kirkland Train Show Loot

This past weekend was the NMRA Division 5 Model Train Show in Kirkland, OH. Brendan and I braved the fog and snow (snog?) and went in search of very specific items. I was looking strictly for DCC decoders and Brendan has picked up a big interest in Amtrak and was looking for cars to replicate today's version of the Capitol Limited. While at the show we ran in to Jeff Lesile, who runs the Crooked River Rails blog. We walked around together as Brendan hunted for Amtrak Superliner cars. Even though Jeff had already picked up a few items, I tried to get him to spend his money on anything Pennsy I found for him. I almost succeeded at one table but the seller didn't take AMEX.

Brendan found a WalthersProto Budd Hi-level car in an older Amtrak paint scheme. With his money burning a hole in his pocket it was close enough. Forty bucks for a lighted Walthers passenger car seemed like a good deal to both of us. Only problem is that now Brendan has a need for a few more Amtrak cars and an engine to match. He'll have to save his pennies...

Amtrak in Adena? Only when Brendan's trains rule the rails.
My plan was to buy a few basic decoders to quickly get a few engines DCC equipped and a speaker for Brendan's soon to be sound equipped W&LE 2-6-6-2. I found my items at a vendor that always attends the Kirkland and Berea shows. If you've ever been to these shows, he usually has a HO scale NKP Berkshire busily chuffing away, but sadly it wasn't there this year. I ended up buying 3 Soundtraxx mobile decoders and a 23mm high bass speaker I intended, no more no less. I've had good experiences with the Soundtraxx mobile decoder, it's pretty much a Tsunami with all the features but no sound and at $19 each was a good deal.

We also visited the Nickel Plate Road Historical & Technical Society's table to chat with Howie Spiedel, Bruce Blonder and Dan Merkel (who also runs a blog called Along the Right of Way). I was tempted to buy one of the new Accurail 36' Boxcars lettered for NKP, but I decided to wait until the Society's special run MoW version is released and order both from the web store.

I was so close to sticking to my train show purchase plans but was derailed by a pair of Bowser PRR H-21 hoppers for $15 as we were heading out the door. Almost all the photos of Wheeling District coal trains I have seem to include a Pennsylvania H-21 hopper, so it can't hurt to have a few more.

My train show haul.
In all it was a good time meeting friends and helping my son find the first piece in what I'm sure will eventually be the first passenger train through Adena in 80+ years.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wordless Wednesday #120

B&O Depot at Neff, OH c1908. Looking west, the B&O Mainline to Zanesville is on the left, the St. Clairsville Branch is on the right of the depot.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Indirect Purchases

To me there are two main ways to spend money on this hobby, directly on trains of course and indirectly on support items. The difference in my mind between the two results in some strange behavior sometimes. For example I have no problem purchasing an engine that I like but to spend the equivalent on a couple of sounds decoders or DCC equipment gives me pause for some reason. I have more than enough engines and cars to my make the Wheeling District come to life so it's time to change that mindset.

My current DCC equipment is just a NCE Powercab, which will become underpowered as the layout expands. I haven't decided if I'll expand my Powercab with a SB5 Smart Booster and add an antenna for wireless or save up and just buy a complete PH-Pro Wireless system. In the meantime I added a throttle so Brendan & I can run trains together once Adena and Pine Valley are operational.

I scored a good deal for a wireless Cab04p Throttle on eBay last week and added a NCE UTP Cat5 Panel from an online retailer having a sale. The wireless throttle will be tethered for now until I can expand to a wireless system.

99% of the time I've had good luck with my eBay purchases but this throttle gave me a brief scare. Tethered it should work without batteries, so I plugged it into my Powercab's power panel but the Cab04 did not light up. A switch on top of the throttle lets you pick between two throttle addresses and changing the switch position did nothing as well. I'll admit I started to get very concerned that I was sold a nonworking throttle. I remained calm however and dug up my NCE manuals and quickly discovered the Powercab can only handle one additional throttle (which I knew) and it MUST be set to an address of 3. Because this throttle was used, who knows what it address it was set to.

After following the directions and reprogramming the Cab04 to an address of 3, I'm happy to say it works great!

One other really useful purchase I made recently for the layout was more in the tool category. I only had two good screw-type clutch clamps and the assorted size plastic spring clamps you can buy in a bag at Home Depot or Lowes.

As a side note, I do not recommend using the large cheap plastic clamps in the assorted size bag at all. The plastic is not strong enough for the spring and started cracking near the hinge. I've thrown all but two away after one cracked in half, throwing half the clamp at my face giving me a pretty good black eye this past fall. The small clamps in the bag are fine but the big ones are just plain dangerous.

One piece hit me right on the eye socket and the other luckily missed Brendan who was helping hold some wood.
I've always wanted some good clamps so I finally picked up a pack of Irwin Trigger clamps a few days ago. I don't know how I lived without these as they were indispensable in helping to build the final section of Pine Valley benchwork.

I love these clamps and would buy another 4 pack in a heartbeat. Plus they won't shoot your eye out!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wordless Wednesday #119

Construction on the Pine Valley Engine Terminal module is complete and track planning for the entire yard can now be done at once.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Wordless Wednesday #118

NKP H-6f Mikado 667 at the Pine Valley Roundhouse, Dillonvale, OH 1954.  Note the Wheeling footboard treatment and the white polling pockets. This NKP visitor to the Wheeling District was one of a few Mikados that never had their air pumps moved to the pilot and equipped with sheet metal shields.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Construction Report: March 6, 2017 - Making the Grade

A major request from my son was to have a continuous run option, a feature I also wanted even though I was designing a point to point layout. As it turns out the best spot for a continuous run connection was also behind the furnace which is located near the end of each staging yard. This allows for a mostly hidden but a very steep grade that approaches a 4% rise.

The connection on the lower level is made just on the other side of Long Run Tunnel and will use the #8 turnout I recently built. From there it rises to reconnect to the other end of the mainline as it heads on its way to the West End Jewett/Brewster staging yard.

After writing that last paragraph I realize it's time I offer some kind of track plan. I've been reluctant to draw up my plan because many areas have changed even after starting construction on Adena yard. However for clarity to the reader I'll need to get to work on a presentable version of "The Plan" as it stands now.

For the construction of the continuous run section I changed to 3/4" plywood. I made a template for this section by laying tracing paper taped together on my foam base and marked out the track arrangement. I then transferred this to my plywood and used a cheap (free) under powered jigsaw to slowly cut out my roadbed. I'll need a tool upgrade if I plan on cutting more plywood for sure.

Left side rises to reconnect with the mainline, right side will descend to Pine Valley

Tracing the roadbed sections on plywood.
In order to make a smooth transition from the foam benchwork to the plywood I used a Rotozip tool to rout out a slot for the plywood roadbed.

The Rotozip did a great job on the foam but the shop vac was definitely needed to contain the dust. I also started using the cheap jigsaw that can barely cut plywood on trimming foam. I feel almost silly for using a utility knife all this time when I had these tools to quickly and accurately carve up foam sheets.

The plywood was a perfect fit in the foam and gave me the smooth transition needed to begin the steep grade. I'll attach the plywood roadbed here with two long screws to grab the plywood base under the foam layer. First though I'll have to make the cut for the removable section for accessing the furnace humidifier. In the meantime I attached a majority of the roadbed supports.

With both routes now in place it was time to test my grade down to Pine Valley. The plywood continuous run track will mainly be for downhill west bound running only, so I don't plan on testing the feasibility of an uphill climb there. Of course Brendan is free to lash together all his modern diesels to assault the hill with his double stack trains if he wants.

To double check that my steam engines could handle the climb out of Pine Valley with a 10-15 car train, I quickly threw down some flex track and began testing.

Most westbound traffic from Pine Valley during my operating hours will only be an engine and caboose but at least one job will pick up a train of empty hoppers to haul upgrade. To be sure that could be accomplished easily I tested 10 and 15 car trains of hoppers with my coal coated Accurail hopper loads. A Proto 2000 Berkshire and a Broadway Limited Heavy Mikado were put to work and quickly discovered somehow my grade was steeper than I planned. Neither could pull even 10 cars before stalling out near the top.

One of the test engines and hoppers.
Defeat :(
I thought I had designed a 1-1.5% grade over 14 feet down to clear the framework supporting the stairs. In previous testing long before I started building the layout this should have been an easy haul, but both the Berk and Mikado failed where they hadn't before. Double-headed they could handle the grade and while this was prototypical for loaded coal out of Pine Valley, it still wasn't an ideal situation for me.

What had gone wrong? Somehow I installed my Pine Valley benchwork too low. I planned for 3.5 inches of clearance under the stair framework but ended up up 4 inches after checking. A bit of background on that 3.5 inch number, the mainline route was actually designed not around my 1950's equipment but my son's modern day 89' Auto Carriers and Double Stack well cars.  A loaded double stack stands 3.25 inches high and bare minimum for me is 3.5 inches of room.

To rise the height of Pine Valley Yard back to where it was intended, I added a layer of half inch pink foam I had on hand under the 1.5 inch base layer.

Back on track as designed, 3.5 inches instead of 4 inches of clearance for the occasional alternate future reality train running.
After an unplanned evening spent cutting more foam I was eager to see what the added half inch would do to improve performance.

The 776 is ready for another try. You can see the lighter colored half inch pink foam I added to boost the height of Pine Valley. Rising above is the continuous run track which still needs some supports added.

I think I can! 
It's amazing what a difference a half inch can make. This time around the Berk had no trouble with 15 loads and a caboose. On a separate run the Heavy Mikado made easy work of the grade as well.

I'm glad this problem was resolved so easily and that I had a sheet of half inch foam on hand! For a moment I was really concerned about the future of my plans as I'll have two other similar grades.

As for the future...

Stop! Bridge out.
I'm going to have to start some bridge building soon.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wordless Wednesday #117

NKP Berkshire 776, a leftover from my Bellevue/Cleveland modeling plans, tests clearances and the grade between Pine Valley Yard and Long Run Tunnel.