Engine Terminal

Engine Terminal
A couple of Geeps head out from the roundhouse at North Pirece.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Well that's a relief!

During the operating session yesterday, we ran X-1824 which is the MOW ballast train that runs from New Market, VA (east staging) through to Morgantown, WV (west staging). This train has run numerous times in the past, albeit with different power, and we've never had any issues. At least until yesterday.

As the train entered the siding westbound at Summit Springs for a meet with EC-2, the loco stopped on the grade crossing. The crew called the super to inform him that we had a problem. Sure enough, the loco was hung up on something. This was the first time this unit had been in service, but it had been across the entire main line and though most of the yard without any problems. So we pushed the unit past the grade crossing and the train left Summit Springs.

Shortly thereafter, the crew told me that the train had stopped in the tunnel between Summit Springs and Cedar Falls Junction. Now this was becoming infuriating! I crawled under the railroad and one of the ballast hoppers had derailed. I pulled the car off and we got the rest of the train back together. Fortunately, the train then made it to Morgantown without any additional issues.

These kinds of problems drive me nuts because they don't have to happen. With some time and effort, and a little bit of care, you can achieve almost flawless operation provided you have reasonably good equipment and track. So after the session I backed train up to Summit Springs to sort out the problems.

As the train entered the tunnel between Cedar Falls Junction and Summit Springs, the ballast car derailed again. So I pulled it off and set it aside. The train was then run back and forth several times through the same section of track without any additional issues. So it was off to the grade crossing at Summit Springs.

Sure enough, the loco got hung up again. The photo below shows the offending loco and grade crossing.

Keep in mind that we have run many different locos through this crossing over the years and none have ever had any problems. So I figured it was an issue with this loco. I removed some of the grout from between the rails and it made a small improvement, but the loco still stopped. So I took the loco back to the shop to see if it was a wheel gauge problem.

The photo below shows what I found after I turned the loco over. Note the bumps on the bottom cover under each axle.

This is an Athearn Genesis chassis with a Proto 2000 shell on it. I assume these bumps are to accommodate the gears on the axles. I'm fairly certain that none of the other manufacturers' units that I have on the railroad have trucks that are designed this way. In any event, these bumps decreased the ground clearance just enough to cause the unit to hang up on the grade crossing. After removing some more material from between the rails, the unit passed over it without any issues.

As for the ballast hopper, this car had traversed the railroad numerous times in the past without issue. A quick check of the trucks, however, revealed the problem- the car had code 88 wheelsets. I bought the car used and didn't notice this when I painted and lettered it. The photo below shows the difference between the code 88 wheels and the code 110's that have replaced them.

All of the track on the railroad is hand-laid and there's just enough variation in gauge that code 88 wheels will give me problems periodically. That's why I have standardized on code 110's for all rolling stock. I had this same problem with a covered hopper car that I bought used and it gave me fits until I figured out that it had code 88 wheels on it. Lesson learned. The hard way- again.

Fortunately, the problems were found quickly and the fixes are easy. I'm just disappointed that they cropped up during the session.

Here's one last shot of X-1824 holding the siding at Summit Springs. And when it proceeds west this time, it will run the way it was meant to!


Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Engine Terminal at North Pierce- Part 2

As I mentioned toward the end of Part 1 of this post (https://cwerailroad.blogspot.com/2018/02/the-engine-terminal-at-north-pierce.html), I had found photos of the C&O roundhouse at Hinton, WV on Bill Simonson's website. The brick colors were exactly what I wanted and I studied that photo for a long time in an effort to come up with some techniques that might work.

The Walthers three-stall roundhouse comes molded in a muted red color that appeared to be a good starting point for the brick color I wanted. Also, the brick relief is fairly shallow on this building and I didn't want to lose it with a number of coats of paint. So it seemed that dry-brushing of some sort might work. I started with Accu-Flex R&RGW orange and lightly dry-brushed a small section of the brick. I wiped the brush on a paper towel in order to avoid getting too much paint on the surface of the brick. It took several passes of dry-brushing to get the color I wanted. I should mentioned that all of the trials of various colors and techniques took place on the back side of the roundhouse. And no, I won't be taking any pictures from the lift-out behind the building. I should also mentioned that all of the brick pieces were painted and weathered before they were assembled. More on this later.

The grout in the photos taken at Hinton is a number of different colors. Some of it is black from years of soot and grime. Other portions are fairly light, perhaps the results of some tuckpointing repairs that took place over the years. And in some places, it seems to fade to the color of the brick. For the black areas, I tried several different techniques. I finally settled on a thin wash of Poly Scale grimy black. I applied it in some random areas and let it dry.

The lighter grout was a real challenge. I've kept notes over the years of different techniques that I've used for grout and ones that I've found in magazines. None of them seemed to work. I finally stumbled across an article on using Durham's Water Putty for the grout. I tried a bit of it and it worked beautifully! There was nothing in the article about fixing it in place, so I thought I was finished. Then I dropped one of the test section of brick from about two inches above the workbench and most of the mortar came lose. Yikes! So I thought about ways to fix it in place. I tried applying water with a fine brush, allowing it to run into the mortar rather than soaking the surface, and it worked. The mortar stayed in place and the color remained. The photo below shows the final results.

After the mortar had dried, I masked the brick and painted the foundation, the window sills and the tile wall caps with Vallejo Model Air Aged White. I went back and weathered these areas with a wash of artists acrylics using the Hinton photos as a guide.

In order to the structure a slightly different look than the standard kit, I covered clerestory windows with Campbell Scale Models corrugated sheet metal siding. It was painted aluminum and then weathered using artists acrylics. The photo below shows the results.

For whatever reason, I thought the inside wall on the back of the structure would be much more difficult to see. And in fact, you have to lean in a bit to get this view. But it would have helped the overall appearance to have added some color to the walls, perhaps some whitewash that was common back in the day. I would have also handled the windows differently. But it's time to move on, and I'll settle for using a Geep to hide it. 

There are still a lot of details to add to finish the scene, but it's very satisfying to finally have the main structure finished.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Helpin' Out the Yard Crews- Part 2

One of the challenges of operating with car cards and waybills is finding somewhere convenient to work with them without damaging anything in the process. Many layout owners provide aprons to carry the cards but these are of limited use when it comes to actually working with them. Recently, a number of folks have started mounting vinyl carpet edging strips to the fascia in order to hold cards. The ones I have used have worked great, so I started looking for them online. It was more of a struggle than I thought it would be.

As I searched for the strips, I came across a post on one of the forums where the layout owner had built a thin shelf pocket out of wood to hold the cards. He had painted the wood the same color as the fascia and it looked great. The one thing I seem to have plenty of is Masonite hardboard and small wood strips, so I thought I would follow his example. 

The photo below shows the first pocket along the fascia at North Pierce. This pocket is above the car cards boxes and allows the crew to work and sort the cards before placing them in the appropriate track boxes.

The yardmaster for Hollister Yard generally works the freight side from east end of the yard while the assistant yardmaster works the coal side from the location above. It occurred to me that another pocket would be helpful on the east end. The photo below shows this pocket.

As can be seen in the photo, the yardmaster can tuck the classification index cards in behind the car cards to keep everything organized. Matt Snell, who usually works as yardmaster, mentioned that this new addition saved him a ton of time during the last session. In fact, it was Matt who came up with the idea of placing the classification index cards behind the car cards.

While I was finishing up the last operating session, I was working NM-68 in North Pierce. While standing at the location above, I glanced over at the panel at SJ Cabin to see if I was lined correctly to pull from the yard. I had to walk over and check the alignment in order to do so. That is one of the drawbacks of pushbutton route control- you can't glance at the switch to determine how you are lined. It occurred to me that a simple solution would be to add LED indicators to the panel in order to show the route alignment. The photo below shows the new LED's.

Now, a quick glance at the panels shows if you are lined for the coal side, the freight side or the lead to the engine terminal. Hopefully, this will make things a little easier for the crews.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Curtain Call

No- not that kind of curtain call. Perhaps I should have titled this post "A Call for Curtains." In any event, a full set of curtains arrived and were installed on the layout this past week. Carolyn Montgomery is the seamstress who made them and her husband Steve, a very talented modeler in his own right, installed them. What a difference they make!

The photos below show how the areas around Nelsonville and North Pierce looked prior to the new curtains.

The clutter under the railroad really does catch your eye. As much as I've tried to get rid of some of the junk and clear things out, it was never going to get much better than it appears in these photos. And I have always thought that curtains, along with valances, add an additional level of finish to a railroad. 

The photos below show the new curtains in place.

I had previously installed curtains in the alcove above using a material that was much heavier than the material that Carolyn used. As a result, the curtains tended to pull out fairly easily from the clothes pins that are used to mount them. The lighter material stays in place much better.

The photo below shows how the curtains are hung. The wooden clothespins are attached to the back of the fascia using a hot glue gun. I picked this tip up a number of years ago on one of the forums. If I was still in the design phase, or if it was a viable option at this point, I would have mounted carpet on the fascia as described by Allen McClelland in one of the Model Railroad Planning issues. By attaching a strip of Velcro to the top of the curtains, they can be mounted directly to the carpet at the bottom of the fascia. This makes installing them and removing them extremely quick and easy.

It's common knowledge that curtains help draw your eye toward the action on the railroad as opposed to being drawn to the clutter underneath the railroad. Still, I was amazed at what a difference it made in my situation. 

Carolyn and Steve did a beautiful job and I'm grateful for how quickly they got them done. The Mid-Central Region of the NMRA is hosting its annual convention in Cincinnati this spring and the railroad will be open for a tour. It's great to have this last piece of "finish" in place and I think it will help show the railroad at its best.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Engine Terminal at North Pierce- Part 1

Last fall, work began in earnest on the ballast and track in the roundhouse area at North Pierce. There was one primary catalyst for this and it was a picture taken by Neil Schofield of the engine terminal on his CP Rail Vermont Lines. I believe the photo appeared on the MRH Forum at some point and it's shown below.

Neil does incredibly beautiful work and you can find a number of wonderful videos of his railroad on YouTube. But what caught my eye in this photo was the ballast. Note the fine texture and the colors- absolutely typical of what you would have found at just about any engine terminal in the 1970's. And it occurred to me that you could achieve this look using tile grout and some paint. So I thought I'd give it a try. I have an old piece of Homasote with ties and rail on it that I used to develop the sand colors that are used on the grade heading up the hill from Big Chimney. It could serve as the perfect test bed for the new ballast. The photo below shows the results.

The ballast is grey grout and I used black poster paint to represent spilled oil and grease. I was pleased enough with the results that I decided to forge ahead. But first, the radial tracks needed some attention. Feeders had to be run to the rails and then routed through the new panel so that power could be turned on and off. And I had never re-programmed the NYRS PT Model III controller after the radial tracks were installed. So some work was required to make everything operational before the ballast was put down. The photo below shows the panel for the engine terminal with the on/off track power toggles along with the new instructions for operating the turntable.

Once the mechanicals were all in order, ballasting began. I used grey tile grout along with a 50/50 mix of grey and white grout. I applied the grout with a plastic spoon and then went back over it to smooth it out. I applied the sand in various areas and concentrated a bit of it around where the sanding tower will eventually be. An application of 70% isopropyl alcohol followed by a 2:1 mix of wet water and white glue followed and fixed everything in place. The photos below show the area once these steps were complete.

The grease and oil was added using black poster paint. This paint is water soluble and can be used straight out of the container or thinned to get various washes. 

As I was working on the ballast, I started thinking about the roundhouse again. I purchased the Walthers three stall engine house many years with the thought of incorporating it in the engine terminal at North Pierce. As can be seen in the photo above, the base was installed when the radial tracks were laid. So I had to either use the kit, scratch-build something to fit the base, or leave just the foundation. I was tempted to just leave the foundation as there were many instances in the 1970's of roundhouses being torn down while the tracks remained in service. But there was another photo that had been working on me, and it was driving me toward using the roundhouse.

There are a number of photos of the various structures in the engine terminal at Hinton, WV on the C&O that were taken by Bill Simonson. His website contains a wealth of information about this location along with many scale drawings of the various structures. The photo that captured my attention, however, can be found here: http://hinton.cohs.org/photos/image0078.JPG. I printed this picture out on a piece of 8 1/2 x 11 paper and kept it on my desk for several months. I began to think that I might be able to capture the essence of the colors and came up with some ideas about how to achieve them. In Part 2, I'll describe the trial and error process in detail.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The panel has arrived!

A week ago, I picked up a section of steel that will eventually become the CTC panel for the railroad. Mt good friend Bill Ford, who is modeling the Cabin Creek branch of the C&O in O-scale, picked up two of these a number of years ago. He will only need one for the junction at Cabin Creek, so he offered to sell me the other one. And here it is:

Bill purchased these originally from Mike Burgett whose company, Control Train Components, manufactures and distributes a wide array of CTC panel parts. Here's a link to his website: http://www.ctcparts.com/. Mike is also the owner of the museum quality C&O's 1965 Alleghany and James River Subdivisions layout. 

The panel has a small amount of surface rust which will need to be cleaned up prior to painting. And it will need a primer coat before the US&S green is applied. Fortunately for me, another good friend specializes in metal work. Randy Seiler has agreed to clean, trim and paint the panel for me in exchange for a hand-laid curved turnout (or two, as I found out last night) on his B&O/PC West layout. You can see his track plan and follow his progress on his blog on the MRH Forum. Here's a link: http://model-railroad-hobbyist.com/node/17997. The close-up photo below shows the surface rust.

The daunting task of acquiring all of the necessary hardware now looms before me. Fortunately, several local modelers have built similar US&S panels and have offered up a number of different suppliers for the various switches and LED's. An initial order has been placed with Rail Logic Technologies in order to test fit a number of their parts. And Bill Ford has also done some research on possible sources. So onward!

The next step will be to design and build the track diagram along with the cabinet. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Invasion of the Rascals!

Just prior to the last operating session, a number of us were in the kitchen enjoying a hot cup of coffee. I happened to notice a small box in the pocket of John Miller's sweatshirt when he arrived. I mentioned to him that I saw the box and he replied that he had brought something for someone else or some such excuse. A likely story, as anyone who knows John will attest.

After the session, I found the box stashed under the layout- see the photo below.

Of course, the box was empty. Which meant that whatever had arrived in it had either been given to someone else (highly unlikely!) or had been deposited somewhere on the railroad. I took a quick look around and didn't spot anything amiss. As with previous rascal adventures, I knew the unwanted contribution would show itself at some point in time.

On the Sunday following the session, I decided to continue work on the roundhouse. The photo below shows how it looked during the session.

The roundhouse wall was propped up against a block of wood in order to show the crews how the structure would eventually look. As I climbed up on a small step ladder to remove the wall, I found what appears in the photo below.

Found! I now was confident that I had found the wayward deposit that had arrived in the box that Miller brought. And I was feeling pretty good about finding it so quickly. I also knew that Matt Snell, who had been yardmaster at North Pierce for the session, had been in on the shenanigans as no one could have placed the snow plow in the roundhouse without his noticing it. So mystery solved and culprits identified. Or so I thought.

A quick explanation of the snow plow- I had to reschedule the session due to a snow storm that blew into town. So the rascals thought that a snow plow would prevent that from happening in the future.

The Monday after the op session, I attended a work session on John Miller's Kanawha & Lake Erie Railroad. The usual participants are John, Bill Doll and me. The usual workers are Bill and me. I told John that I had found the plow and he and Bill both claimed they had nothing to do with it. They said it had been solely the work of Matt Snell. Needless to say, I was disappointed. Up until this point, Matt had been one of the most reliable members of the crew and someone whom I would have least expected to join the rascals. Oh well. John also claimed that he had planned to do something but couldn't find a level spot on the railroad. He mumbled something about the "damned hills in Appalachia." The implication of his comment was that he had been unsuccessful in whatever mischief he had wanted to create. What stuck in my mind, though, was the fact that the box he brought was left in the train room and was empty.

Later in the week, I found the box that appears in the photo below stashed under the layout. This is clearly how the snowplow arrived on the scene.

And of course this meant that whatever arrived in John's box was still somewhere on the railroad.

Last night, I was re-staging the loader on the Weber Furniture spur in North Pierce. As I looked down the track toward Weber Furniture, I spotted was appears in the photo below.

I'm not sure what the story is behind the still but I'm certain I'll find out at some point. At least I think it's a still. I'm almost afraid to move it. And while I'd like to think I have found the last of the most recent round of rascal deposits, well...

These rascals are good. Really good. They have become masters at the art of deflection and deception. And they are multiplying. It's easy now to see the day when the whole crew is made up of rascals. Entire trains will end up missing. Sections of the railroad will be gone. A circus will sprout up where the yard at North Pierce used to be...