Sunday, December 27, 2020

Getting Back At It

At the start of the Ohio "Stay at Home" orders back in March things looked promising for work on the layout. My workplace had furloughed nearly everybody for a few months and I had a lot of time on my hands. Things were looking good for layout progress!

Then one of the quirks of the pandemic stopped my primary plan to build a staging loop, all the hobby shops I frequent online were all out of turnouts! I had planned on buying Atlas turnouts because my Fast Track tools only take Micro Engineering rail and I already had a large stash of Atlas c83 flextrack for my staging yards. Apparently I wasn't the only one with the same idea of getting extra train work in during this time!  I pushed ahead and built the loop benchwork but by the end of April the weather had warmed enough to begin some outdoor projects. 

Then in early May, Abby, our rescue Greyhound finally reached a point where she had to be put to sleep due to cancer impacting her ability to walk and function. After 11 years on earth she can run all the races she wants on the other side of the rainbow bridge.

Abby "Coupon Lady" the Greyhound

Not much later in May my Dad passed away. He lived a good "second" life for 16 years after a major stroke nearly killed him in 2004 but time catches up with all of us in the end. Below is a classic family portrait of three generations of the Ellis men taken back in 2008 which I'm sure he'd get a laugh out of seeing that photo again.

Three generations of Ellis men, the future is in good hands with the youngest?

It's safe to say I lost any desire to work on the layout for a long while, which I hope explains my absence from the blog. I know I'm not alone in saying 2020 has been a difficult journey for many of us.

This is not to say there weren't any bright spots this year. In the summer we added two new members to the family. We adopted a bonded brother/sister pair of kittens from a local rescue group. They were in bad shape when they were discovered on the side of a road in the spring, but the rescue group did wonders saving them. The orange kitten ended up losing an eye but as you can see they both recovered and are loved in our home. Now named Magnolia (grey) and Mo (orange),  it is my hope they are also kind and loving to my train layout! So far only Mo has taken to exploring the layout and unfortunately since he's missing an eye he does occasionally blunder into things.

New kittens Magnolia and Mo

Recently Brendan has been slowly prodding me to get back to work for which I thank him greatly. The hobby shops must've restocked over the summer as I was able to place an order for what I needed. I recently received all of what I needed to lay track in the staging loop which will represent Mingo and Terminal Junctions. I also decided to order Micro Engineering c70 turnouts for all of the Pine Valley engine terminal. 

Pile of turnouts for Pine Valley and the staging yard loop.

Why purchase c70 #6 turnouts when I can build my own with Fast Tracks tools? Don't get me wrong I enjoy building turnouts and for the most part they are good performers. But right now it just comes down to getting stuff done and enjoying some progress after a long hiatus.

One project we've resumed is painting all that pink foam. It's amazing how a simple coat of black or brown makes an area seem a bit more real and less like a pink Candyland.

Brendan painting the Pine Valley engine terminal a greyish black.

Stay tuned for more!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Quarantine Layout Work and Op Session

As a result of Ohio's Stay At Home Orders and the completion of my bathroom remodel, I've been able to put more time than usual into getting construction of the layout back on track.

Several weeks ago I was lucky enough to score a nicely priced used NCE Pro Radio setup. My current NCE PowerCab was adequate for the moment but I knew it was not going to be able to handle future layout additions without an upgrade.

I installed the NCE Command Station under Pine Valley yard connected to its own power strip so turning off the layout would be a simple flip of a switch near the stairs going up. I do need to find a good home for the radio antenna but for now it's working just fine sitting nearby the Command Station.

NCE Power Pro
When I replaced the removable layout sections between Adena and Pine Valley Yard I not only added a backdrop seen in my previous post but I also added a turnout for a short spur leading to a coal mine truck dump. This small tipple was located just east of Adena Yard at this location. In the NKP Physical Data Book from 1954 this loading location was called the Toni #1 mine and was operated by the Bedway Coal Co. and the Amber Coal Co. The Toni #1 mine loaded 2,106 cars in 1953 which works out to 5 or 6 cars a day.
With the layout back in working order after adding the new DCC system upgrade and my first coal tipple spur, my son Brendan pointed out that we should have a operating session. Given the current situation it was a great idea for something new and different we could do and also act as a small proof of concept test for the layout.

East of the Adena Wye I have about 15 feet of track loosely installed mostly for some extra running room. For an operating session this track would act as "Brewster staging" and could hold two trains of empty hoppers eastbound for Adena. These timetable extra trains would drop off their empty hoppers at Adena, Herrick or Pine Valley for the mine run jobs to then take to the area mines. After dropping off their empty hoppers these extra trains would then pick up about 50-60 loaded coal hoppers at the Adena marshalling yard and head back to Brewster. On a copy of a train dispatchers sheet from May 25th 1950 I counted seven of these trains bringing in around 300 empties to Adena/Herrick Yards and hauling out 402 loaded coal hoppers back to Brewster.

Brendan wanted one timetable fast freight so he made up a westbound train of boxcars and gondolas which I mistakenly named it #81 out of Mingo Jct (it should've been #87). Since there is no staging yard yet that represents the Ohio River destinations (Mingo Jct and Terminal Junction/Martins Ferry) our #81 had to sit in Pine Valley Yard and wait for the two Adena bound empty hopper trains to first leave the mainline staging east of Adena.

Also called out of Pine Valley today was a helper to assist trains up the westbound grades, a mine run to work the new Toni #1 mine and a Pine Valley roustabout to switch the freight house, pull cabooses and other duties.

Brendan and I spent a evening staging the trains and car spots on the layout and called it a night.

The next day after dinner I talked my wife Jessica in joining us which was probably her first time running anything serious on the layout. About 30 minutes before we were going to start I realized I needed some kind of job aid for people to follow! So I quickly threw together cards for each job describing what duties the train was expected to perform. Future paperwork for the trains will be vastly better but this op session was hastily organized and only a family affair.

I brought in the first train of empties into Adena Yard as extra #763 while my wife took the helper Extra #688 to Adena to wait for westbound trains to assist. Brendan worked the Pine Valley roustabout readying a cut of cars for my 763 to grab after a set out and take back to Adena. This is where the first real trouble started. With the Timetable Freight #81 taking up one of three yard tracks and the others full of cars, as soon as Extra 763 entered the yard it was instantly clogged. There was no where for the 763 to run around and leave with a cut of cars. This won't be a problem when the east end Ohio River staging yard is added in the future.

Jessica in control of Extra 688 passing the new Toni #1 mine spur.
Brendan and I worked our way out of the clogged yard situation and soon Extra 763 returned to Adena Yard. Brendan took Extra 772 with more empties into Adena yard to clear the mainline west of Adena. I coupled the 763 up to a string of loaded coal hoppers and followed my orders to wait for extra 772 and #81 to pass by.

An overview of the action at Adena Yard, with no way to turn engines at the moment they would have to run backwards.
While the 772 was getting settled with its train of loaded hoppers and orders to wait for #81, Jessica crewed the brand new SD-9 #358 to power #81 to Brewster.

NKP SD-9 #358 coupling onto #81 out of Pine Valley Yard.
Once #81 reached the end of the line east of Adena we were surprised to find an hour and a half had quickly passed by and called it a night. I'm always amazed at how fast time can pass when immersed in any kind of operating session.

The next day Brendan and I finished up by running extra 763 and 772 west out of Adena and quickly clogged up the mainline all the way to he Adena wye. If we do this again I'll have to add another track or two as temporary westbound staging.

A hastily made job card for Extra 772
I had Brendan run mine run extra #942 so he could work the new mine spur. Extra #942's job card called for grabbing 4 empties at Adena, setting those out at the Toni #1 mine and pull any loaded hoppers, set those loads out at Adena and return to Pine Valley taking anything headed that way with it.

NKP 2-6-6-2 #942 sitting next to the posterboard Pine Valley Yard Office stand in.

Mine Run Extra 942 crossing the Short Creek bridge just east of Adena Yard.
Overall I'd call the hastily organized op session a success since most importantly we had fun! Although if I'd kept a list of problems encountered (tip for next time) I bet it would've been at least a page or two long. Aside from needing to get some kind of turnout control in place, there were some derailment problems with two yard turnouts, probable wheel gauge issues in several cars that apparently escaped a basic checkup, an engine that suddenly didn't want to run and another engine that needs a not Bachmann better decoder installed.

As I was writing this blog post Ohio Governor DeWine has called for a extension to the stay at home order until at least May 1st. Looks like the layout will get some extra attention for even longer.

W&LE Caboose 0204 leaving Adena on Extra 772 back to Brewster.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Backdrop Addition

While I was reenforcing the ends of the removable layout sections which allow for maintenance of the furnace and water heater, I decided it was also a good time to add the backdrop.

Originally I planned to use 16" Aluminum Flashing for the entire length of the scenic portions of the removable sections, however I found the flashing difficult if not dangerous to work with. For example when cutting open the roll I underestimated how compressed it was and had it spring through my hands unwinding itself like a coiled spring. Thankfully nothing got sliced as now is certainly not the time to be going to the hospital.

After that incident I donned some work gloves and set to work. One backdrop piece would be attached to the large section with the bridge. The other piece would be attached to the layout supports and remain in place if maintenance needed to be done.

Unfortunately after attaching the flashing to the large bridge module with screws my son Brendan and I both agreed it looked terrible, too wavy and rippled. The back side of the removable section is very curvy which also made things difficult aside from handling the aluminum sheeting.

So on to plan B. I switched to styrene instead of the aluminum flashing, it's much easier to handle and certainly less sharp.  Instead of screwing the styrene in place I used Loctite Power Grab and glued it the styrene in place. This time things went much more smoothly.

After the glue set the section was removed from the layout again and a piece of aluminum screwed to the back to act as a sort of heat shield from the water heater's exhaust pipe.

The next part of the backdrop would have to be aluminum as it would come in close proximity to the furnace exhaust. Luckily other than a cut out around the exhaust, the rest was simple.

Two coats of Behr's Serene Sky blue paint and the new backdrop was complete.

Nickel Plate Road SD-9 #358 tries out the newly improved sections.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Bathroom Project Is Complete!

My long running bathroom remodel project mentioned in a previous post has been completed! At least 98% complete enough to finally get back to work on the layout.

Here's some pictures of all the hard work.

Once I turned my attention to the layout, a leak in the water feed tube for my furnace's humidifier diverted it briefly again. This had me taking out the removable layout sections around the furnace once more for humidifier repairs. Removing those sections multiple times in one year gave me my first layout project, reinforce the section ends and try to improve the sections so I one have to remove one not both. I'm wrapping up that work and should move on to adding my first mine spur this week. Stay tuned...

PC board to reinforce the ends of the removable sections.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Akron Mini Maker Faire 2019

On Saturday October 12th 2019, the Akron-Summit County Public Library hosted the Akron Mini Maker Faire at their downtown Akron location. For the second year in a row the Western Reserve Free-Mo had a display set up for the event.

Tim Moran was the sole supplier of modules for the show, highlighted by his Canton Ohio W&LE Freight House modules. These modules were are actually built to be both a part of his layout and modular to be brought to shows.

Brendan and I helped Tim set up, run trains and promote the hobby of model railroading to the crowds.

Hopefully I can finally supply a module of my own later this year.

Please enjoy a few photos of the event, click on the photos for a larger view.

Tim's Canton layout modules
Brendan doing some switching while my NKP Heavy Mikado head down the line with a short coal train.

A full over view of the set up, all the modules were supplied by Tim.

Action at the W&LE Freight House

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Catching up on 2019

It's certainly been a while since my last update in April 2019! Aside from summer activities taking my time, there was a renewed push to complete a long overdue bathroom remodel. To make sure my attention was on the bathroom I haven't allowed myself to work on the layout until that project was complete.

As it turns out late in the summer I did end up working on the layout but only to disassemble three sections due to a couple basement emergencies. Our main drain pipe needed snaked out which called for the removal of the Pine Valley Yard peninsula. Then only a week later the air conditioning failed which called for the removal of two sections between Adena Yard and Pine Valley to allow access to the back of the furnace just in case. Luckily only a few pounds of freon needed added and we avoided a costly replacement for now. Thankfully I had the foresight to design these sections to be removed if necessary. However I did not precut the rails between sections so there was a frantic night with a Dremel cutoff tool before the drain people and later HVAC people came.

Mainline sections between Adena and Pine Valley removed and shown above, the Pine Valley Yard peninsula has been removed at right.
During the summer Brendan and I traveled to the Chicagoland area to see the Union Pacific's newly restored Big Boy steam engine in action on its tour of western states. We caught the beast heading through Wheaton, IL and then at West Chicago, IL where it stayed for several days on public display.

Union Pacific "Big Boy" 4014 though Wheaton, IL Chris Ellis photo.
While in northern Illinois we made the train watching hotspot of Rochelle our homebase spending hours at the busy railpark in town. This was Brendan's first real taste of seeing western railroading in action with the busy BNSF and UP lines moving traffic to and from Chicago. The first night there we were treated to a non stop parade of trains that made it hard to leave and head back to the hotel for the night!

BNSF intermodal at Rochelle, IL Chris Ellis photo
We made a point to visit the must see Illinois Railway Museum and got lucky visiting when the Frisco 2-10-0 steam engine was in action for short rides. I didn't realize then but later I found out the Museum and steam engine starred in movie "A League of their Own" with Tom Hanks and Gina Davis. The Museum had literal tons to see but even out in Illinois we found a small piece of the Wheeling & Lake Erie. On a wall of builders plates on display inside a passenger car was a plate from one of the Brewster built 0-6-0 steam engines.

Illinois Railway Museum, Frisco 1630 Chris Ellis photo
W&LE 0-6-0 Builders Plate at the Illinois Railway Museum, Chris Ellis photo

2019 would also have us visiting another train watching hotspot of Folkston, GA on our way to Florida for vacation. We only had time for a brief stop but luckily caught one train making the diversion worthwhile.

CSX intermodal at Folkston, GA Chris Ellis photo
In the fall Brendan and I took a whirlwind day trip to Cassandra, PA and Altoona, PA hoping to catch some peak fall foliage photography. We were rewarded with a beautiful day and almost peak colors, not to mention several of Norfolk Southern's colorful heritage engines making an appearance.

NS SD70ACe 1022 at Cassandra, PA, Chris Ellis photo

NS AC44C6M 4002 at Cassandra, PA, Chris Ellis photo

NS Illinois Terminal "The Glow Worm" heritage engine at Cassandra, PA, Chris Ellis photo

NS Monongahela heritage engine pushing at Horse Shoe Curve, Altoona, PA, Chris Ellis photo
As for layout updates, aside from the emergency section removal there's not much to report. The entire layout was covered up to protect it from dust when a tile cutting "room" was created using sheet plastic. If you've ever seen the TV show Dexter you'll understand what it looks like...

As of today only the shower grout work and some minor details remain to complete the bathroom remodel. So my hope is by the end of February I'll have the basement back in order and ready for layout work to resume!

Almost done!