Monday, February 29, 2016

New Motive Power on the Branch

So if you move the clock up to 1977 and you imagine that the Elmira Branch survived Huricane Agnus, it would have been just another redundant north-south Conrail route through the center of New York and Pennsylvania. Enter the Delaware And Hudson to save the branch from further demise. Sound like a crazy dream?  Ya never know.

I recently acquired a Lionel American Flyer U33C painted in D&H colors. If your not familiar with the new S scale offerings from Lionel, I must admit that they are not your father's American Flyer. With the exception of the high rail wheels and truck mounted pilots, the U33C is an accurate representation of this high horsepower U boat. Fortunately Lionel offers scale drive wheels free of charge when you purchase the locomotive and the changeout is rather simple. Frame mounting the pilots is not an easy task but certainly doable. 

The biggest challenge is that the unit comes with the Lionel Legacy control system which is not DCC compatible. To make it compatible requires gutting the Legacy system and replacing it with an appropriate decoder. I chose to replace the electronics with a Tsunami sound decoder and kept the original speaker, which is rather large and sounds great (though it is located under the cab). I also changed out the headlight LEDs. The the original LEDs were too blue in color and didn't look too realistic.  The above video shows No. 761 on a shakedown run heading south out of Southport Yard.
In the above video, I haven't installed the front coupler or filled the massive opening in front pilot, but the unit runs as well as it sounds, and the like the real thing has plenty of pulling power.
 Here's a photo of the rear end of the U33C after I installed the coupler and filled the opening with styrene. I also built a new buffer plate around the coupler pocket. I think that it turned out well though the paint mismatch clearly shows where the pilot was added to the frame. That will be corrected with the appropriate shade of D&H gray and some needed weathering. The only other modification that needs fixing is the handrails. They need to be extended downward a bit to the correct location. The new yellow glow headlights can be seen here as well.
I don't know how far I will take the D&H fantasy, but I'm impressed with the new motive power. This era on D&H is tough to model in S Scale. There is definitely a lack of second generation power is S, but recently some new offerings have made that more achievable. In addition to the U33C, American Models offers an RS-11 in S scale decorated for the D&H, and a brass U23B is also planned to be released soon by Gilmaur Models.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Car Shop

While I've been focused on building the railroad South from Kendall, I've been ignoring the North end of the yard.  The North end is where the engine terminal is located and other than roughing in the turntable, I haven't done much. The terminal also includes a roundhouse, coaling tower, water tower and a separate car shop building.  The Southport car shop building is a three-bay, wood sided structure with full clerestory roofs and large windows running the length of the building. Through selective compression, I reduced the building from a three-bay structure to two-bays, and chopped about one-third off its length. Even at that, it's a big building.

The photo shows the footprint of the structure with two RF-16s on the near track. The track is embedded through the building and I used gray mat board to represent a concrete floor.

I have only seen one photo of the car shop building, and a its a poorly lit B&W photo. I had no dimensions to work with and basically scaled what I could from the photos.  The original structure had vertical wood sheathing sort like a double sheathed box car.  I couldn't discern any colors from the old photo, but I actually know someone who worked as a hostler at Southport in the late '50s and was told that the buildings were either painted gray or had weathered to that color.

The photo shows the visible side wall and one of the end walls temporarily supported in place. I used Northeastern scribed siding for the walls and stained them with an India ink alcohol solution. I cut repetitive end marks on the siding boards to suggest a pattern of how the boards were nailed to the side of the building. This turned out rather well. The building wall is 24-ft tall and the no single siding board would be  that long.  While the stained wood siding looked good, it needed to be enhanced to look like faded paint on wood siding.  I recently read an article in the Short Line and Narrow Gauge Gazette that used pastels to represent the faded paint, so I thought I would give it a try.

The photo shown different shades of gray pastels coloring individual boards to represent faded wood siding where most of the paint was gone. I was pleased with the end result.

I applied different shades of pastel by starting at where the siding board ends and dragging the pastel along the board the logic being that individual boards will weather differently.

The structure is far from complete but it's off to a good start.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Visitor Comes to the Elmira Branch

I recently installed a WOW sound decoder with Keep Alive in a friend’s South Wind Harriman 2-8-0. He purchased the engine second hand and the previous owner had modified it into a Rio Grande looking 2-8-0. The Rio grande never had anything that even remotely looked an SP 2-8-0 especially one with a Vanderbilt tender. Oh well! My friend wants it back in SP livery.

I installed the decoder, keep alive unit, and speaker in the smoke box and directed the sound up the stack. There was adequate room for the electronics without having to remove any of the boiler weight. It seemed to work out really well and except for the backup light no wires extend between the cab and tender.  I was thoroughly impressed with the WOW decoder and really liked the Keep Alive feature because it requires that you actually apply the brakes when you need to stop the engine.  The sound is really incredible as well.  A bass reflex speaker would make it even better, but I was limited to what would fit in the smokebox.

While I had the smoke box front removed, I put the headlight back to where it was on the SP version (centered on the smoke box front), and removed as much of the Rio Grande Lettering as I could.

I doubt that SP 2-8-0s ever ran on the Pennsy, but this little engine sure looked good hauling a cut of reefers across Seeley Creek. As for me, any future steamers running in the Elmira Branch will get the WOW sound decoders. I’m not sure that I’ll go that direction with diesels yet.  I’m rather firmly entrenched in the Tsunami camp right now.

Monday, October 12, 2015

More Layout Progress

With the drop leaf section complete and access to the layout room facilitated, I'm now focused on extending the benchwork and trackway around the room. In this view, the section of benchwork to the right of the access way will be the Town of Columbia Crossroads. A short passing siding will be located here along with sidings serving with an elevator and a feed mil. A frame combination station is also located here and that should provide some action for the local setting out and picking up cars.  In the era that I model, no passenger service will occur here.

After coming down the 1% grade from Kendall, the grade flattens out here and drops again between Columbia Crossroads and Troy where it will descend further much of the way beyond.

This view offers a panorama of this half of the layout room. To the left side of the room is the Seeley Creek Bridge and Kendall Tower with the entirety of Southport Yard extending to the far corner of the room. On the right is the benchwork for what will be “X-Roads” incorporating my new standard for construction using a 3/4” thick plywood base.  No more Homasote! I use cork for the trackway on top of the plywood and that seems to work well.

There are no electrical connections across the drop leaf bridge. Layout power is fed overhead above the suspended ceiling and dropped down to the layout’s benchwork using the chase behind the coves formed in each corner to eliminate the 90-degree corner bend. That way I didn’t have to cut any walls or fish wires between them.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Passenger Geep No. 8551

One of my favorite locomotives is PRR GP-7 no. 8551. The 8551 along with its sister locomotive 8552 were two of only three hood units that the Pennsy ever ordered with roof top air tanks. These two units were assigned to Williamsport to protect passenger train service on the Washington-Buffalo trains, but most of the time they could be found hauling local freight trains.  As a result, they spent a lot of time on the Elmira Branch. 

In the mid-1950's they provided power for the skeletal remains of the Williamsport-Canandaigua passenger service hauling the last remnant of that service in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  By 1956 all passenger service was eliminated on the Branch.  In the era that I model (Fall of 1956) all passenger service was gone and 8551 hauled only freight.  [Though I plan to use some modeler's license and run some form of passenger service.]

The above photo shows the 8551 on the fill slope approaching the Seeley Creek Bridge and Kendall Tower can be seen just to the right of the scene. No commercially produced GP-7 currently exists in S scale. So if you're trying to model a GP-7 you can try to find one of the brass versions imported by Sunset Ltd. many years ago (with really bad running mechanisms), or convert one from an American Models (AM) GP-9.  I chose to do the later.

The AM GP-9s are fairly good running locomotives with a proven drive system. Several years ago Des Plaines Hobbies (DPH) started producing an exquisitely detailed GP-7 long hood, which really facilitated the conversion. But rather than describe the conversion process here, it's better to refer you to the article on the conversion that I wrote for the S Scale Special Interest Group.  You can find the article here:

I did the locomotive conversion about three years ago, and like many things I do (admittedly), its was about 95% complete. I installed DCC and it was running around the layout, but it still needed lights, window glazing, numbers in the number boards, marker lights and a crew. The glazing and the crew were not an issue, but the number boards were.  It seems that the decal set didn't include enough of the numeral "5" to letter all of the number boards. With four number boards, I needed eight 5's and the decal set only included two!  There was no way hat I wanted to purchase 4 decal sets to letter one locomotive.  So I had to consider another alternative.

I scanned the numerals from the set and created the 8551 number board in Photoshop.  When I was satisfied with the scale of the number board, I printed a bunch of them on glossy photo paper as shown below:

Next I trimmed the number boards and outlined the edge of the photo paper with a black Sharpie so that no white was showing. The DPH shell is recessed in the area of the number boards so the thickness of the photo paper fills the recess nicely.

The lights were a bit of a challenge as well.  Neither AM or DPH makes an clear plastic insert for the twin sealed beam headlights.  I really wanted to have individual bulbs anyway and they had to be LEDs if I were to insert them into the headlight openings.  Bulbs would generate too much heat and potentially melt the superbly detailed casting.  Recently, I found some small diameter clear incandescent looking LEDs that could slip into the twin headlight openings and they are called "tower LEDs" by Minitronics.   The LEDs have a small (2mm) cylindrical projection, or tower, that can fit inside the headlight housing.  It's possible to glue the two LEDs together, wire them in parallel, and mount them to the inside of the long and short hoods.  With the decoder that I used, each LED needed a voltage limiting resistor, but even with that the twin LEDs are really bright!  It will be neat to watch this unit cast its headlight beams around the layout with the room lights off.

I now consider this project complete, though if I wanted to be completely accurate, I would install windshield wipers and sunshades above the cab windows.  I may do that some day but right now 8551 has some cars to pull.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Layout Room Access

I've reached the part of layout construction where the bench work meets the access to the room.  I've been going back and forth in my mind for some time now over the various options of how folks will get into the layout room at the point where the alignment crosses the door opening.  I had one hard and fast rule - NO DUCK UNDERS!  I'm not getting any younger and neither are my guests so that option was ruled out quickly.  Beyond that there are a multitude of options and I needed to choose one that best suited me.

My first obstacle was the fact that the track alignment is on a curve at this location, and there was no way around that.  Plus I wanted to have some scenery on each side of the track so that it blends in well with the adjacent segments of the layout.  The first option that I considered was a roll in/out section.  It would resemble a rolling cart and would slide in and out and roll out of the way when access to the room is needed.  This option would enable me to fully scenic the top of the cart and when in place it would look like it was part of the layout.  This idea really appealed to me but the drawback is that it would be supported on casters rolling on an uneven concrete floor and alignment at track level could be challenging.  Besides, someday I may want to install carpeting and further adjustments would be necessary.

I then considered a swinging gate.  These have become quite popular and I really gave it a lot of consideration, but the curved track alignment was what convinced me to look at other alternatives.  Next, I considered a lift out section, but with a 26-in. span the section would be quite heavy and I wasn't sure where the section would go when it wasn't in place.  Most likely it would just stay there and it would by default become a duck under.

So that left the classic hinged drawbridge.  I first considered a bridge that would lift up, but that would require something to hold it in place when it's in the upright position.  In addition it would need some counterweights or locking mechanism so that it didn't swing down with all its weight and possibly hit someone.  I ended up with a hinged drop leaf section:

The bridge section is hinged and drops down to clear the opening.  It's constructed from 3/4" cabinet grade plywood and secured to two sections of 2x2's underneath to give it plenty of rigidity.  When hanging down all of the weight is supported by the hinges and when its raised two sliding dead bolts lock it in place and provide sufficient indexing to keep the rails in alignment.  A curved facia helps the section look less like a bridge and more like a piece of the layout.

Here's a photo of it in the raised position:

The photo shows the sliding dead bolt that holds the bridge section in place.  This is the second set of dead bolts that I installed.  The first set was a cheaper version called a barrel bolt.  It seemed that the barrel bolt housing had a lot of slop to it and didn't provide enough indexing to keep the rails in alignment.  I quickly removed them and installed two of the dead bolts shown in the photo on each side of the bridge and when locked in place, the bridge is very secure.

This photo shows the gap at track level:

I secured the track to the roadbed and then cut the gaps in the rails.  Next I'll remove the ties on each side of the gap and install PC ties with the rails soldered to them for a little better protection at the ends.

There's no power on the bridge section yet but I did back a train over the gap and alignment was very smooth.  I'm really please with how well this turned out.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Video a Train Crossing the New Seeley Creek Bridge

The attached video shows a short train crossing the the new bridge. From this perspective you can see Kendall Tower and Southport Yard beyond.