Sunday, April 10, 2011

Trains Roll!

Well, I've finally reached the benchmark that just about every model rail looks forward to--running trains for the first time.  There is still some tweaking to be done here and there, but things are running smoothly for the most part.  I credit this to not only making sure that all the rails are tangent, parallel, and smooth--but also the running of power feeders to every segment of track (except sidings where I want to park an engine). 

As mentioned in the last post, the idea was to run all the feeders to a common bus line, and then out to the throttle via some quick disconnects.  After soldering up my wires, I buried them in a trench and ran them out to the edge of the layout.  Looks like this:

Here are some pics of the first operating session:

You will also see that I have done some preliminary scenery work in the form of the creek bed.  I figured that it was a good time to add the creek and trestle before track laying.  The trestle is nothing more than some distressed styrene bar and small trestle bents lifted from the Walthers timber trestle kit.

It feels good to finally be running some trains.  Until next time, high ball!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Simple Wiring

The last time I built a layout with power routing turnouts I made a big mistake.  In short, I relied on the contact between the point and stock rails to conduct current (OK if the track is really clean!).  Another bungle was not running power feeds to tangent track between opposing turnouts.  Power routing does funny things in this situation and trains come to a disappointing halt.  Long story short, it ended up taking me forever to run all those feeds and rout the wires accordingly.  Definitely not the way to go.  So--this time I'm running feeds everywhere.  I did leave several single spurs alone so I could park engines.  This is the nice thing about power routing.  It simplifies wiring.  Or does it? 

Another little trick I'm trying out is not new, but really practical in my opinion.  Soldering leads to rail joiners rather than the rail itself.  Like so:

One thing I never liked is the look of a wire soldered to the side of the rail.  Granted, there are other methods, such as soldering to the bottom of the rail.  But, I'm going with this.  Here's another view of some of them installed:

The plan is to rout the wires to the middle of the layout and then connect them to a common bus wire.  I'll then run these out to a jack located at the layout's edge.  This will make for pretty simple wiring.  Good for a small layout like this.  But how to rout the wires cleanly.  With conventional benchwork, one can simply put the wires under the subroadbed and rout them accordingly.  Can't do that here as we're building on a flat sheet of foam.  Cutting troughs in the foam crossed my mind, but then I had another idea.  Its such small gauge wire that I could run it at grade level and it would cover up just fine with scenery.  That said, I simply twisted the wire up and used tape to secure it.  When I had to cross the right of way, I simply cut a slit perpendicular to the track center line in the foam roadbed and tucked the wires into the slit.  Like so:

I don't think there are many model railroaders out there who enjoy wiring.  At least, I've never met one.  I'm surely not one of them.  I'm glad the wiring is minimal.  Definitely another advantage to building a small layout.  Next time, we should see some track laid and maybe a some trains running.  Till then...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Right of Way Surveyed

After a lot of tinkering around, I finally have a track plan that I'm happy with.  It's not a total inch for inch recreation of the GHC in N scale, but it's the basic gist.  Again, the same functionality is there, with a few extra twists thrown in--namely, an extra spur in the lower left hand corner.  As mentioned in my last post, I was omitting the curved turnouts from the plan which changed things around a bit.  For one, my structure locations will have to be slightly different, which is fine by me because I will most likely use some different structures altogether.  Here is the current level of progress as of today:

The roadbed is in place and turnouts are staged for review.  I decided to go with Woodland Scenics foam roadbed as its got some nice sound deadening properties.  It's also a little easier to deal with than cork as you don't have to soak it first!  The stuff goes down nicely with Alene's tacky glue, which can be sourced from any local craft shop.

The next step will be to put some basic landforms in place and carve out the riverbed.  You can see where the trestle will go at the top as there is a gap in the roadbed.  The original GHC used a steel girder bridge here, but I'm back dating a little.

Speaking of the original GHC design...  I found that the original MR articles describing Art Curren's excellent GHC structures appears in Kitbashing HO Model Railroad Structures.  Cool!  This is a great resource and the articles have wonderful tips on structure kitbashing.  I may even try my hand at a few.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A few thoughts about track

From time to time, the question of which track is the "best" plagues the various N scale web forums.  What exactly makes one range of track better than the rest?  In my opinion, performance and durability trump appearance.  For years the selection of N scale track was pretty limited, and most of the stuff available was patterned after European track with its wide tie spacing.  To boot, it was thought for years that in order for such small wheels to track well, we needed deep flanges and tall rail. 

More recent developments disprove this theory.  If the manufacturers are designing to the NMRA standards, then chances are their products will perform well.  No doubt there is some great looking track readily available, and I have seen some amazing hand laid track that you would struggle to distinguish from the real thing.

But... and there had to be a "but."  I have some unique design constraints with my little layout.  As previously mentioned, in order to make my little layout work, I need short radius turnouts.  Now the choice of which track to use becomes easy.  In N scale, I still prefer to use conventional track that does not have an integrated roadbed (such as Kato Unitrack).  I prefer to ballast myself as I feel it will look more natural.  That said, the choice is Peco Setrack turnouts.  Performance is on the money and this stuff is bulletproof--which is a good choice for a portable layout.  And I happen to have a bunch of them here at the house salvaged from past projects!

I will admit that these are a little toy like in this application.  Euro tie spacing, sharp radii, and code 80 rail won't help these little beasties--but I think that with a little paint and ballast, they will blend right in.  One unfortunate twist is that there are no short radius curved turnouts.  The GHC track plan in my previous post calls for 2 curved turnouts.  I may be able to get around this by the fact that the straight run of the setrack turnouts is short.  We'll have to see about that.

There are plenty of great N scale layouts out there with Code 80 rail.  No shame here.  I will go with Atlas standard code 80 flex for the rest of the track.

One final note on the code 80 track.  While this layout has a specific period and theme, having code 80 track will allow me to run a few vintage N scale trains that I have in my collection now and then just for the fun of it!

The track plan

In my last post, I talked about how I was drawn to the classic western layouts of the 50s, 60s, 70's and 80s.  I also mentioned that some of these were layouts that have been featured in MR over the years.  One of my particular favorites was a small 4' x 6' MR project layout built in 1984 as part of MR's 50th year celebration, The Gold Hill Central.  I had not seen this layout for some time and I couldn't find anything on the web despite numerous searches--until I found a web preview of 101 more track plans for Model Railroaders (Kalmbach) which showed the plan in color.  Here it is:

After looking at this plan for some time, the penny dropped.  The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea of creating this neat little layout in N. With a little adaptation, this plan would fit nicely in my 20" x 30" space.  I really like the idea of the scenic divider down the middle on such a small layout is it breaks things up.  Plus it has some nice features that I look for in a good layout plan:

  • Clear divisions of towns
  • Interesting switching possibilities with multiple industries
  • Good scenic features
  • passenger operations
  • engine service/storage area

The GHC has all of these, which is surprising for such a small layout.  Plus, things are not too crowded allowing for a fairly decent main line run.  Now, I know that 20" x 30" does not equate to 48" x 72" when scaling N to HO.  This is a limitation for sure, but I as I said before, I think the GHC is easily adaptable to my space requirements.  I will have to use several tricks to make this work:

  • use short radius turnouts
  • selective compression of scenic elements
  • use only short rolling stock and engines

That said, its time to get busy surveying the right of way and determining locations of structures and scenic elements.  Until next time...

Go west young man...

For some time I've been playing around with concepts for a small N scale layout with a "wild west" theme.  Since I find myself with an ever growing collection of old time N scale motive power, rolling stock, and structure kits, I think its time I did something about it.  This blog will follow my progress as I construct a small 20" x 30" layout.  But first, a little background...

I've been drawn to the "old timey" thing ever since I was a young (ish) model railroader.  I guess I owe much of that to growing up with an exposure to the great old school layouts of the 50s and 60s.  Naturally, the first that springs to mind is the Gorre and Daphetid. but of course I can't ignore other classics such as Bill McClanahan's wonderful Texas, Rio Grande, and Western.  There were also a handful of great MR project layouts (Jerome and Southwestern, San Juan Central, etc.) in the 80s that provided plenty of inspiration.  To this day, I love revisiting old issues of MR and out of print Kalmbach how to books.  Much of the modeling is timeless, and I never seem to mind the fact that many of the modeling techniques are now obsolete.

Backing up a bit, let me explain the odd size for the layout.  A few years ago I acquired a nice ATA rated flight case that will house an object of 20" x 30" x 7".  These are kind of cases that you see sound equipment or instruments shipped in.  Basically a heavy duty plywood case with a laminated plastic surface.  Locking latches and aluminum extrusion trim finish the case off.

A little small for an N scale layout, but certainly not too small to create something to run old time trains on.  Since the case is so stout, I am going to use it in lieu of traditional bench work.  A layout this small doesn't really need it.  On other small layouts, I have had a least a base of birch plywood under layers of typical foam sheet insulation.  Here I'm going with just foam for the layout base as it will be amply protected on all sides.  Here is what it looks like as a raw platform:

As you can see, the 2" thick foam sheet is recessed about 1.5" in the tray of the case, and the case top (not shown) lifts off.   All wiring will be "above board" and will terminate in a single jack that will make connecting to the power pack easy.  The location is still to be determined.

Next step is to devise the track plan.  Not bad for a start!