Model Railroading Journal 2015

Jul 25, 2017

Later (after that journal entry) yesterday, I went to Discount Model Trains mostly to get a fresh bottle of Badger Acrylic CNW Dark Green. $3.80. I also asked about MT trucks, and it's gonna be far cheaper to just get 5 pair-packs for about $6 ea. I figure I really don't want too many more freight cars since my case is already full and I do have a good assortment of freight now. I learned that the only difference between the Barber Roller Bearing and the (plain) Roller Bearing is the former has 3 springs, the latter 2. No biggie at all. I also got a pair of $9 MT passenger trucks to replace the Rapido bi-level trucks (although at least those come with the right electronics to maybe get the lighting inside the cab car to work. What else? I got 2 more Digitrax Kato Alco PA decoders, for about $31ea. I was thinking of the Wabash Bluebird, but I also could use them in the P42's for my honeymoon train, if I'm so inclined. I'd like to run it at least once, and I guess I'm thinking I could also just plop the Phase 3 P42 shells onto my exising P42's (currently with Phase 5 shells) that already have decoders. In fact, I could do the same with the F40PH. OK, so total cost: $111. Not too bad, but definitely a chunk of change.

I pulled tape off the CNW equipment and they turned out OK--there's a lot of green overspray, unfortunately, and I may try to dry-brush some yellow over it and see how it goes.

Jul 24, 2017

I applied the Florida Fun-Train decals and they look pretty good. I wish I'd done better cutting the decal edges but it works. Two coats of Micro-sol ironed out the bubbles and such, and after a glosscote, I'll call this one a done sucker. After how many years? I think I conceived this project 2.5 years ago.

As for the REA reefers, I put decals on them all Friday night and Saturday morning, and got them Micro-sol'd down. They look phenomenal, and I think I'll try foregoing the glosscote. I'm out of MT trucks, so I'll have to order them from eBay (waiting a couple of days to see if I can get a deal).

The CNW equipment (F3-modern--thought i was an F7 but it isn't, and the bi-levels) were going to get a coat or two of Badger Acrylic Dark Green, but the paint is no good. It spits out because it's a little chunky. Copious amounts of alcohol don't help. I was really impressed when the paint was fresh, so maybe I'll just go get another bottle of it. Shoot--I was hoping to finish those this weekend.

Jul 18, 2017

Last night I fixed up the Florida Fun-Train decals in Inkscape and printed them off on white decal paper. I think they'll do pretty nicely. I hope. I also created painter-tape templates for the large dark blue swoops by printing the decal pattern on plain paper, roughly cutting out the blue swoop, putting some tape on a cutting board, putting the paper template on top, cutting around the pattern and through the tape. This morning I peeled up the inverse tape template and applied it to the F40PH shell, to mask off where I wanted the dark blue. Out in the garage, I got it painted. After about an hour, I carefully peeled off the painter tape mask (unfortunately taking some light blue with it--gosh, isn't a 24 hour cure enough?) and I gotta say I'm pleased with the effect. It could have gone a lot worse! Hopefully the decal will take care of the rest of the swoops--the large yellow one, and the magenta and green behind it, and also hopefully the "Florida Fun-Train" logo on the sides will blend, too (I will have to cut around it and hope that the light blue printed in between letters matches the paint closely enough.

I also gave those CNW's a second coat. I turned the pressure down to about 20PSI and the paint seemed to work better, although it sure comes out lightly.

Tonight, I can't wait to start decalling the F40PH and see how it turns out! I had been resenting that my honeymoon train included this oddball locomotive in the consist, but frankly now I'm enjoying the challenge, and I think it will make my display as distinctive as the actual train I rode on with my new bride so many years ago.

Jul 17, 2017

I primed the Swift shells last weekend, and yesterday I tried out my new airbrush and pump/tank, painting them Floquil Dark Green. They look pretty darn good! This morning I grabbed the Floquil CNW yellow and painted the two bi-levels. They'll need a second coat. That paint just doesn't look as "rich" as plain Testors Flat Yellow enamel. And it certainly doesn't look as good as the factory paint jobs on the Atlas, Kato, or even the Walthers/Life-Like locomotives and cars. Oh well. I'll run with it. I also painted the stripped Kato F40PH shell with Testors Light Blue Enamel, which I got from Hobby Lobby the day before. It looks great so far! I must say, though, that the paint is going on a little rough and "speckly" so I don't know what I'm doing wrong there. Maybe the air pressure is too high, and perhaps the paint partially dries while it's flying through the air before it hits the model? I have it set to 30 PSI, where the recommended range I think is 20-30 PSI. The tanked air pump is great, by the way.

So backing up a little, I tried to print out the decals for the Florida Fun Train I've been doing in Inkscape. While I'm quite proud of my job in Inkscape, the Brother laser (LED) printer did NOT do a very good job actually printing them to plain paper (and I suspect won't do a good job printing to decal paper either). So I'm not sure how this will work, but I can't just make a big ol' decal for the entire side. I can maybe limit it to the magenta and yellow/green swooshes on the bottom, and see if I can't get the "Florida Fun-Train" logo to look halfway decent. But I think the light blue will have to be wholly achieved with paint, as will the dark blue "swoosh" on top, which I'll have to create with carefully cut painter's tape and my Inkscape drawing as a template.

I can see it's been a while since I wrote, and heck, didn't I update this? I might be missing an entry. Because I don't see where I talk about my display case. Well, I got one, 17 shelves, and almost my whole collection fits. Not bad for $75.

Jul 6, 2017

Last night I pulled the Bachmann Swift reefers out of the alcohol soak, and used a toothbrush to brush all the paint away--it was about falling off the shell as it was. It wasn't difficult to get it out of almost all the little nooks and crannies either. I tried to brush the Kato. It actually gave up the numbers and the Amtrak Phase III stripe with a medium amount of scrubbing for a few seconds, and the black paint on top is also now all gone. The silver paint is more difficult to remove, but some is coming off; I'll let it soak a few more days, but so far things are looking promising.

I finally got my LED light kit, Kato 11-212, in the mail from Japan. Now I can finish the Amtrak Smoothsides. Recall I had put one complete light set into the Observation car, using one LED light board from an 11-212 I had before, and one light diffuser from an 11-206, which I also had before, from doing the Bluebird cars. Because both are silverish, I like the bluish LED light better inside them--not to mention they don't run hot and suck current and melt plastic parts! But both the Amtrak and the Bluebird take the older style diffusers also. I had done the opposite with my CNW Smoothsides, which are newer and take the new 11-212 diffuser, but since they're yellow outside and tan inside, the bluish LED light doesn't look nearly as nice as the incandescent boards from the 11-206 kits, and fortunately those light boards are interchangeable. Unfortunately now my prized CNW Smoothside set suffers heat and parts inside the shells are starting to warp. I'd like to get ahold of some warmer LEDs and possibly try replacing them. They might be brighter too. Anyway, as for the Amtrak Smoothsides, I put light kits in the 4 other cars, LED boards from the 11-212 that just arrived and diffusers from the 11-206 that arrived a few months ago. 1 car is a baggage car and while it does take a light kit, it's of questionable value--if I had enough spares I might do it, but, let's assume the baggage cars just have the lights off (even though they were probably left on for the real trains--why bother turning them on/off at every stop to handle baggage? Aw shoot--I think I'm talking myself into lighting all my baggage cars!). As for the 4 car set, the former owner had light-kitted all 4 cars including the baggage car, with 11-206's. I replaced 4 boards with the LED boards and kept the existing diffusers. Recall the bag car from this 4-car set doesn't need one, but the Dome car needs two. Oh, he had also just laid the silver reflector strip in there instead of peeling it and sticking it--and that's good enough (why didn't I think to do that on the Bluebird?) Anyway, then it came time to tackle the "extra parts" from the 6-car set. What a pain!! The mail and baggage cars get handwheels (no problem), and the diner and observation cars get antennas, including 16 and 24 (respectively) little tiny black posts to stick in the roof to hold the antenna wire in place. Good thing they provided extras because I lost and/or mangled more than a fair share of the things trying to get them inserted. Often they'd just snap out of the tweezers I was using and fly off somewhere unknown in my kitchen. I didn't mention they're black. Anyway, I struggled through it and got it all put together. As a future project I'd like to paint the interiors (the seats anyway) and add people. I have to do that for several lit cars, including the CNW Smoothsides, the Amtrak Superliners, the Bluebird, and the Metra. I also have (so far) unlit CNW heavyweights, Pullman heavyweights, and maybe something else I'm forgetting. Anyway... I put the Amtrak on my layout and the lights are very sporadic. Probably the wheels need a good clean and lube (probably the track, too). But it looks very nice! The train is 10x better than those frustrating Con-cor cars I got (the set of 8) back in the fall of 2012. Of course I'm going to pull the train with my Amtrak PA/PB/PA custom-paint fantasy locos, but they'd look fantastic with a couple of factory-paint Amtrak Kato E8's, too, so maybe I'll keep my eyes open on eBay for a pair (or at least one). It's fun to fantasize, but how about something more prototypical from time to time? I could even get the shells as my CNW E8's get likewise rare use because I'm having too much fun admiring my custom CNW PA/PB/PA paint job pulling the CNW train! But what the heck, right?

Jul 5, 2017

Yesterday I took the plunge--I put two "Swift" refrigerator cars, likely Bachmann but possibly Atlas--I forget, into a 91% solution of isopropyl alcohol. I also put (with some fear and trepidation) the Kato F40PH Amtrak shell in. From what I read and recall, it takes about 3 days for the Kato to loosen up enough paint that it can be scrubbed off. Maybe, but do you know how long it took the Swift cars? Almost immediately the black lettering started lifing away from the cars followed by the big red Swift patch. I took one out to see if the letters could be wiped off with a q-tip, and the silver paint also came almost immediately off, too. Unfortunately I don't have any old toothbrushes like I thought, so I let them sit in the solution and tonight I'll have to try to scrape them off. Hopefully the plastic doesn't get affected--I hear it can soften or get brittle. We'll see.

Jun 26, 2017

So as for the LIfe-Like CNW Alco DL109, I can't find a direct replacement motor, and I figured I could just reassemble the thing without the motor and driveshafts, and put it in a consist with a good Kato E8 behind it, actually pushing it as a dummy. It's heavy but once it gets rolling it might not be too bad of a load on the E8. Pull maybe 6 cars and it'll be fine. Another alternative or two are: try to get those flywheels off (they look like they're just pressed onto the shaft) and get some lube in there, maybe pry the motor apart (can't hurt, can it?) and/or replace it with that Kato F3B motor from the older mechanism I had for my CNW F3B project, before just using the shell on a newer mechanism, swapping the flywheels because that appears to be the only major dimensional difference. We'll see.

Jun 23, 2017

Got two Bachmann/Atlas Swift reefer cars, and I intend to use up all those nice REA decals I got by painting them and applying said decals. $9.25 shipped from eBay. I have more decals, so maybe I'll get more cheapo reefer cars--I can make up to 6 cars with the decals I have.

Jun 20, 2017

Finished the CNW Railway Express Agency baggage/mail car, and put it and the 5-car Pullman heavyweight set on the track with that CNW DL-109. To finish the baggage/mail car, I just did a careful dab of Micro Sol on the decals and called it good. The thing is..well, it's cool, but it's so dark! The sides are dark olive coach green, the roofs are black, the interiors are a sort of dark cyan. Frankly, it's hard to see! And unfortunately in the past few years my eyes have really gotten bad to the point that I can wear contacts to see distance, and then toss on some reading glasses to see close, but the scale of things in N, especially with not-great home office lighting, makes it hard to really see my layout. Oh well. So this morning I took apart the DL-109. It didn't run on my track using the DC channel (with zeros-stretching) and I found the cause--the motor is really stiff. And it's pretty closed off such that I'm not sure I can effectively get any lube to it. Not sure what to do, but I twisted it a little by hand and tried to get *some* oil in there. That's disappointing. A DCC conversion will be a pain, too, and while I mostly bought the thing for looks it would be nice to run it!

Jun 19, 2017

I did far less than I was planning to this weekend, and I really struggled with those stupid decals for my CNW baggage REA car. So I tried the other brand of "laser clear decals" that I recently ordered, and they printed well and the writing stuck to the decal and they were easy to put on the model. One problem. I need yellow lettering to show up on a dark coach green, and frankly, it just didn't take. I'm sure if I could somehow get the laser printer to dump a TON of yellow toner onto the decal I could get a good bright yellow to show up, but otherwise I think these decals will be limited to very dark prints to be applied to lightly colored surfaces. So black lettering on a yellow model would work fine. Anyway, I had also ordered a Micro Scale set of decals for Railway Express Agency, and its focus appears to be refrigerator cars, but it'll work. Except in all my decal applying and Micro-Sol'ing, I destroyed two of the decals. I did find that while alcohol/water does not remove Micro Sol set decals, more Micro Sol does let you scrape them away. Anyway, that's about where I am. Oh, if I forgot to mention it, I did also put light kits in the Amtrak Superliner Transition Sleeper, so now my Amtrak trains will be even more authentic, and I also lit up the 4th Metra commuter car, so my Metra train will also look a little more awesome. AND, I had a B-unit Alco PB with an SP shell on it to use as a mech for the Wabash PA whose mech I stole for an Amtrak PA (had silver trucks), and while the PB has two trucks with couplers and the PA shell has a front coupler already, it proved to be a simple matter to twist out one coupler from the mech and snap the PA shell on it. Voila! And I can maybe sell the SP PB shell on eBay for a few dollars.

Jun 14, 2017

This morning I completed my display case for my Tyco 1970's train set I got on eBay a few years ago. I didn't mention this but yeah, that's what I really worked on most of the weekend, and got it done this morning. Sat/Sun I cut wood and assembled it, and stained it Sunday night. Monday morning and evening I did a polyurethane coat, and this morning I cut a plexiglass window and put the whole thing together. It turned out better than I thought.

I also ordered those Kato light kits using eBay. They might take a few weeks to get here.

Jun 13, 2017

OK, this weekend I tried to get some things done. To that end I put a lot of my projects out on the dining room table.

I really only got to putting some "CHICAGO AND NORTH WESTERN" decals awkwardly on my unpainted MT heavyweight baggage mail express. Monday morning I tried my printer decals for the first time--I opened the Testors pack and only on the inside does it say "inkjet", and yeah, they didn't work. The printing came right off when I wet them and started manipulating them on the model. Sheesh--all that work to get the right font and stuff, too. I ordered laserjet labels from a different company--hopefully those work better.

I managed to put light kits in my 4th Metra commuter and also one of the Amtrak Smoothsides. The latter takes the older light kit with the incandescents, and I have just a few pieces from each of the incandescent set (11-206) and the LED set (11-212), and I figure if I order one more of each, I can do all cars with the old light kit but fitted with LEDs instead of those hot and not-as-bright incandescents.

So a while back I traded the LEDs for incandescents in my CNW smoothside set because the LEDs were just too blue, but the incandescents aren't very bright and while the color is nice, they also get hot and draw a lot of current. So I figured I might be able to fashion my own LEDs out of a warmer bulb. We'll see.

What else? I have several locos I need to do as DCC. That's probably the biggest. Although I also want to populate some passenger cars with N scale people, too. And, I have to get started on my room-wide layout sometime!

Jun 6, 2017

Ordered a (hopefully much better) air brush and compressor, and a 3D printer today. Now I just need TIME to actually work on these projects!

June 2, 2017

Pullman cars arrived last night. Very pretty.

May 30, 2017

Also ordered a $15 Arnold/Rivarossi SP Bi-level commuter from eBay. It has Rapido couplers but I can get MT conversions I think. My intent is to paint this in CNW colors also. Plus I'm getting a 3D printer soon, so I can make interiors if I'm so motivated. Oh, and the Kato Amtrak Smoothside 4-pack auction ended again with no bids and reposted with a buy-it-now for $69 plus shipping, so I snagged it and now I have the whole 10 car consist.

May 24, 2017

Just an update--haven't had time to do much.. but I ordered from eBay a set (5 cars) of Pullman Heavyweight passenger cars in dark green, from Micro Trains (good price), and I also finally got a good deal on the remaining Amtrak Smoothside 4-pack.

May 10, 2017

I ordered and received (opened box yesterday) an Alco DL-109 in CNW colors, from eBay via China. CNW had excatly one DL-109, built in 1941 and retired in 1956. I was fascinated by the DL-109 ever since I saw a picture of it in GMO colors in a vintage rail book maybe 8 years ago. As for the model, now, I'd seen the DL-109's at train shows and they're Con-cor units and not incredibly impressive (compare Con-cor's PA with Kato's PA, and ironically I think the Con-cor PA was made by Kato back when Kato produced stuff that is certainly not as nice as what they produce today). But for $53, a CNW DL-109 would make for a nice addition to my CNW base. Well, I pull this thing out and, first thing I notice is the box says "DL-109 Undecorated". Great--so it's a custom paint job. OK, well how well did they do? I pull out the loco and it's just beautiful. Detailed, sharp paint, good moldings and good decals. This is a Walther's Life-Like loco. Pretty good stuff. Sure enough, a cross check on "spook's" site gives this loco a grade A. The box brags about a 5-pole skew wound motor and flywheels, and it has Accumate couplers installed (will need Kato couplers, maybe). It's striking in N-scale with its chiseled nose and sharp lines. The roof moldings indicate robust machinery inside (the prototype had two Alco 539T engines of 1000HP each). I already love it. Decoder installation will be a pain, as it doesn't take a drop-in, but I'll get past that. Anyway, good purchase!

Oh, I should mention the Wills Point train show was a couple of weekends ago, and it was a good fun show but I didn't actually work on any modelling tasks--just ran trains. Oh OH!!! But, some guy had donated a bunch of "I'm leaving the hobby" trains to the club, and I snagged a few items--a GP35 with DB (forget the scheme but no matter as I'm going to make an EMD demonstrator out of it just like in my GP35 Operator's Manual I bought in 2004), an SD60 in BN green colors, and another loco I frankly forget! I'll get back to this entry with the correct info. Oh, I also snagged a nice Athearn HO scale BN F7 for some reason, and then a few scenery details--better people for one thing.

Feb 1, 2017

Let's see--I finished the GP9 in Iowa Interstate paint/decals, and it turned out strikingly. I think I got it done right about the beginning of the new year. Had a train show in Plano again--ran the two GP9's (IAIS and CNW) on DC track since I never got time free enough to install decoders (but I bought decoders--about $40 ea, TCS CN-GP decoders). At the show, I bought 6 tanker cars--very nice ones, too). And since I'm having trouble with basically any non-MT couplers (like the ones on the tanker), I bought a set of Barber Roller Bearing trucks (10 pair, short shank) to do some more conversions.

Dec 19, 2016

Been painting and decalling the Atlas GP9 Undecorated in Iowa Interstate paint scheme.

Dec 5, 2016

Train show in Oklahoma City this weekend. Two N Scale clubs joined their layouts and a few of us from Tex-N ran trains on them, too, including me. I ran my CNW passenger set pulled by the F3 A/B/B/A combo (with my custom-painted F3B's with steam generators, so though I doubt CNW pulled much passenger with F3's with the black skirt paint scheme, they looked pretty dang decent to me! Anyway, I also ran the Metra in push operation. (I need keep-alive caps in the metra cars because they sure do flicker a lot). And finally I tried out my 6 car Amtrak Smoothside set with the PA/PB/PA combo. I need lights in there. Purchases? Just two red CNW boxcars, MT, for $11 each.

Nov 28, 2016

Last night I pulled out Christmas Village for a dust-off and trial run. That Bachmann 0-6-0 switcher doesn't run. It only buzzes. Great. This is the mechanism I bought just one year ago to replace the orignal "Spirit Of Christmas" 0-6-0 mechanism I tried to lube last year and ended up busting. Anyway, I tried my new CNW GP9 and it works just fine on the layout. I had written a modification to the software (calling it phase 3), but I don't think I'm going to bother with it. The modification was to the power sequence. Originally the power button activated a 555 timer which would signal the software to shut down, and it would hold the power relay on while the Pi did a proper shutdown (lest the SD card get corrupted). The Pi takes a considerable time to shut down, and to boot back up for that matter, like 30 seconds. The problem is that many people (as it was displayed in the lobby at work) would accidentally press the Power button, and then the train would stop, the gates would go up, the music would quit, and the thing would "freeze" with lights on for 30 seconds before tripping completely off, and they would get confused, maybe even thinking they broke the thing, but concluding that they didn't know how to work it, so they'd give up. This despite a pretty good little instruction placard that I put with the layout A. to explain how to work it, B. to not press the Power button and to just leave the thing on for everyone's enjoyment, and C. If they *did* press Power, no problem, just wait 30 seconds while the computer shuts down and then turn it on. But people I guess just don't read instructions; which I knew was generally the case before this, thank you very much--no patronization is necessary; but it was a bit surprising that so many from my own workspace couldn't bother to read five simple bullet points how to work the thing. Anyway, this new software would treat the Power button as a "soft power down" request, not a "hard" one. To do a "hard" power down, the Tree button must also be pressed. Two problems remain--One: the power button isn't wired to the Pi, only the 555 output is. Why did I do this? So I could watch the 555 output go low before allowing a power down, because if the 555 is already active when the software starts monitoring it (like when the layout is turned on), then the time to keep power on is possibly too short for a clean shutdown. The consequence is that you can't use the power button to "soft off" and then use it to immediately "soft on" again. The way around that is to allow other buttons--up/down/tree to do a "soft on". But still, the power button doesn't behave how you'd expect. Two: the "soft" off can stop the train and turn off the tree and gates, and can stop the music playback (muting it is easiest), but it can't turn off the building lights and street lights as those are hard-wired to the same 12V relay output that's powering the Pi. Both problems could be solved with hardware modifications. In fact, if the Pi would just boot on when you plugged the thing in, and stay on, and perhaps you could use a new internal button to signal the Pi to shut down cleanly--or provide super-cap power to hold the Pi up for clean shutdown when you unplug it (a better solution), then the power button could always be "soft" and the Pi could switch on building and street lighting. Anyway, if I have energy and time next year, I'll possibly do it that way. This time I might get a prototype etched board like my Meadow SBC, for a more "professional" finish.

Oct 20, 2016

Great news--finally got the Amtrak 6 car set, and it has the same older couplers that the Santa Fe set did. I think I'll work with it, maybe see if I can't fenagle Kato's newer knuckle couplers in, or maybe go MT on it. And if I do that, maybe I keep the SF set and convert it also, and go ahead with the painting program. I think I'll put it on eBay for a reasonably high starting price, and if it goes, great--if not, I'll get it to work (then I'll have 6+12=18 Amtrak heritage cars--quite a train, but more fitting a PA/PB/PA lashup). Oh, and I finally tried the GN GP7 with the TCS decoder in it, and it has issues--power connections are not good, and the motor is rough. I might be able to salvage it, but I didn't pay much for it, so if it's a loss, it's not earth shattering.

Oct 13, 2016

Yesterday I found on eBay a $99 Kato Amtrak 6 car heritage set, and figuring that was probably the best price I was going to get for it, pushed the button. I still need the 4 car set, and I need to sell some things on eBay myself to cover the cost. Working on it...

Oct 11, 2016

Just some random thoughts:

  • I have an F7 shell that I was going to paint an Iowa State theme on, as I have a fine set of Micro Scale Iowa Interstate decals, and the red banner reminded me of "Iowa State" and if I cut the banner it might look pretty cool on the side of the F7. The nose could of course show off Cy as an emblem, and I could paint a couple of passenger cars (I have 2 Con-cors) to match. But, I'm not completely sure this will work. And I have a blank GP9, which I was going to do a C&NW scheme on. So I bought the blank GP9 for about $60, and the decals were $5, and then I'd have to paint them, and I could just get a painted Atlas GP9 for CNW for about $10 more and save the trouble. Or forego the CNW GP9--do I really need it? So if I did that, I could actually paint the actual Iowa Interstate scheme onto the blank GP9, and apply the IAIS decals as they're intended to be. Easy--the whole engine is black except for the decals! No taping, no multiple rounds to the paint booth--just prime, one or two coats of flat black, and decal time! OK, what about that blank F7 shell? Well, nobody seems to make a CNW F7, and while I love the F3's (in the old paint scheme), an F7 in commuter scheme would look very nice, too, and be a good match for the E8's I already have. I already have the decals, and painting it would be about as complicated as painting my fantasy CNW PA's. So maybe I'll do that and ditch the "Iowa State" themed train. I'd like to pay homage to my alma mater, but I don't want folks to be like--"hey, Cyclones! How about that football season, eh?" And I have no idea because I don't keep up with such things. Alright. So, F7 in CNW, GP9 in IAIS, and if I want a CNW GP9, just order one on eBay when the deal's right. Probably what killed this most of all is knowing that the CNW GP9 isn't DCC friendly, and thinking the blank one was, when it still isn't. Incidentally, if I can find a blank GP9 shell, I have a GN GP9 that I like but am not particularly attached to..
  • I'm trying to get stuff prepped for an eBay sell, because I've decided not to use the Kato Santa Fe cars for an Amtrak repaint--too much work, too little benefit, when Kato already makes a good Amtrak set from heritage cars like these. So that leaves the question, what to do with the set of Con-cor Amtrak Superliners I got--do I build my separate honeymoon train, or do I just go with the Kato Superliner IVb (without the big SuperlineR on the sides)? I'm inclined to produce the separate SuperlineR train after all, since I already bought the Con-cors, and like the other things I've sold on eBay, am likely to not get nearly enough back to make it worth selling them.
  • OK, so what else? I still have a Mikado that doesn't run, much less as DCC, an A/B set of F7 Spectrum SP Black Widows, an A/B set of UP Alco FA/FB, both sets could stand DCC conversions. Maybe I sell the Spectrums and keep the Life-likes; I like them all, but...
  • I still have a dozen little projects--speaking of the honeymoon train, I need a long diorama for it, and I need to custom-paint a Kato F40PH for which I can never find a blank shell (so I'm going to have to destroy an Amtrak shell), I have a SF FP45 static model that I'd like to hack into a GN F45 (already have the decals), and I don't know, just a dozen projects to work on--not to mention starting some benchwork for a new oval layout to actually run all this stuff, since almost nothing with the "Kato" name on it runs worth a darn on Scenic Ridge with it's 11" radius turns on 5% grades, through turnouts.


Oct 4, 2016

Last night I got my Atlas GP9 undecorated, and guess what? Not DCC friendly. Sheesh. I don't think I'm going to find a DCC-ready Atlas GP7/9/35, so I guess I'll just sell that Digitrax decoder back on eBay or something. Anyway, I also got all my decals, and ordered paint today, so I'll try to make a good CNW GP9.

Oct 3, 2016

Train show this last weekend!

I set out some small DC trains to run it all weekend, including my 2 original freight cars from the Bachmann Highballer from 1989, with the SF caboose from the Empire Builder, and the MRL GP35. I also ran the Bluebird (still DC), and I ran the Burlington GP40 with a few freights, and the little SW9 too with a few freights. As for DCC, I set out my new little RSD-5 with a couple of new boxcars I'd bought at the show for $20. Saturday I began by trying out the 12 SF passenger cars I got in January and hadn't even opened all up. I tried pulling them with the Amtrak PA/PB/PA set, but it just didn't work so well--the SF cars are older Kato cars with their previous generation of couplers that frankly don't work. Now I could redo the couplers but then there's still the arudous task of doing Amtrak decals myself, and I think I'm just going to eBay the set and get real Kato Amtrak passenger cars. Cut my losses and move on. I had a hard time getting things set up but I set an 11 car CNW coal train to run the mountain loop (but had to cut to 7 cars due to uncouplings and derailments), pulled by a single CNW GP40, and I think that's it. Oh, I tried to run the Metra train but I forgot I hadn't set the decoder addresses on the loco or the cab car (which I couldn't do until I got home because that decoder didn't really support the 4-digit address programming and had to be done with Digitrax's calculator and CV17/18).  Sunday I ran the F3 ABBA CNW set, having done a quick decoder install the night before ($30 from the show), and I pulled about 40 freight cars with it. Rather impressive, with only one trouble car always derailing the train on the industry loop--with it removed, the thing was rather nice to run. I'm very proud of my CNW F3 consist, and my custom paint job on the F3B's is good in my humble opinion. I ran the Amtrak PA/PB/PA set with the Superliners for a bit, and then finally I ran the SD40-2 consist (2 CNW, 1 UP) with all 24 BNSF coal cars--flawless (except the loco with the sound decoder gave me problems on the industrial loop--hmmm). At that point I also let the little RSD-5 out of the local industrial loop and around the layout. I really liked the idea that a couple of guys are on that loco and they just have to move a couple of box cars--that's their job for the day. Anyway, good show.

Sep 30, 2016

Catching up...

Wednesday evening (the 28th), I got my Badger air cans, but since I had already finished painting using the stuff I got at Hobby Lobby on Monday, I'm well ahead of where I would be, and can easily finish this 2nd F3B project. So I did the decals after a sloppy touch-up job that I'm not completely happy with. Decals are an issue too. I used the rest of my Micro Scale 60-550 CNW F loco decal sheet. It comes with four large logos and a plethora of medium size ones. For some reason that escapes me (and shame on me for this!) I had scissored diagonally through the decal sheet and through all those lovely yellow "CHICAGO AND NORTH WESTERN" banners which would have gone on the sides of the F3A's which I probably reasoned I didn't need because I have factory-painted Kato F3A's, but the net effect is that I only have one large logo left for the side of the 2nd F3B. I have no idea where the section I sliced off is, so if that logo even survived the slicing, I don't have it anyway. So I either do medium logos, which according to the instruction sheet is more correct anyway for the F3B, but will mean my two F3Bs have mismatched logo sizes, or I go "fantasy" and "paint" one of those beautiful yellow "CHICAGO AND..." on the sides--only those are all sliced through. Ugh! I went with the medium sized logos, and I guess I'll just live with that for now. I could even try to remove the old large logos from the 1st F3B, but can I do that through 2 coats of dullcote? Without ruining the surrounding finish? I don't know. Maybe someday I'll get another sheet of F decals and overcoat the medium logos on the 2nd F3B with the large ones. Man! Anyway, decals went on front and back just fine. I'm skipping the little yellow numbers that are probably more correct on this one, and going solely with the large numbers on the yellow band. This 2nd F3B will now be 4054. 4053 and 4054 are F3B's on my railroad, although I take it in real life they were F7A's. Number 4052 from Kato is suspect, too, and I can't find 4051 anywhere. So whatever. On my fantasy railroad, 4051/4053/4054/4052 form an F3 A/B/B/A set. I'm also foregoing the 'F'.

Thursday morning I got the ol' Micro Sol applied, after putting the 'F' on after all. It wasn't so bad to do, using needle tweezers and a little magnifying glass (actually an old P&S camera lens) to rotate it into place.

Thursday evening I made a mix of "Satin Cote" by mixing 4 parts Gloss Cote with 1 part Dull Cote, and 1 part thinner. I sprayed it on this 2nd F3B and I liked the effect so much that I decided to see if I couldn't satin-up the 1st F3B too. I had sprayed all my custom locos with Dull Cote last fall and this winter, and on this first F3B it's really dull, especially compared to the Kato paint jobs on the F3As, and it doesn't look too great on the Amtrak PA/PB/PA set either, now that I have it all done. So yes, my new "Satin Cote" actually does make the 1st F3A look a *lot* better! A 2nd coat and I'm done!

This morning the Satin Cotes looked a little orange-peely, but oh well. I'm done. I put the 2nd F3B on the CBQ mechanism I'd gotten, and it looks pretty darn good! Not too happy with my yellow band, but the green turned out better--the screens are far less filled-in with paint than on the 1st F3B. Oh, the 1st F3B shell was a blank from an original F3B mechanism, and while the windows from the newer CBQ make the older shell fit the newer CBQ mech, it is a little loose--I noticed some molding differences between the older blank F3B shell (1st) and the newer one (2nd), so perhaps the actual inner dimensions are a few microns wider. Anyway, I put two layers of masking tape on the inside of the older shell, and it fits on the mech much better now.

The Chicago And North Western F3 A/B/B/A set is now complete! (well, I need a digital board for it, which I'll just get at the train show tomorrow).

Sep 28, 2016

Alright! Last night I figured out what was wrong with the RSD (which is ... officially #1689 was an RSD-5). Despite appearing fine, the Kapton tape around the motor did not prevent one small point from poking through. On the top motor tab, I had soldered to the tab and then trimmed with nippers. The trim left a very sharp point that cut through the tape and contacted the right (engineer's) side split frame. That's why the thing ran fine when power was delivered through alligator clips but not when on the track. I verified that the motor still operates with the decoder, and the front headlight still operates fine. But the rear headlight driver is definitely blown. Since I want this thing to have working lights and decoders are in the less-than-$20 range, I'll just chalk that up to experience and install a working decoder. This time I didn't peel the red sheath off it, and I guess it's just as well. I also trimmed more sharp stuff out of the frame, and gave the wires much more room to run across the top of the frame. I just soldered the whole thing together in about 1 hour, checking for proper motor operation and proper headlight operation as I went. I installed both light boards, and they both work! The "rear" headlight just gets a yellow wire and the board is still connected to the frame so that lamp gets a "track power" connection, while the front board, since I trimmed off its tabs to make room for the decoder (one tab was already broken off anyway), gets the headlight driver wire as well as the blue common. Works fine. According to the manual, I won't be able to transpond with this loco anymore (or maybe just not in reverse), but I don't care about that right now anyway. Getting the shell back on was a challenge, but after tucking and pinching the wires down, and a good firm push, I got the shell to firmly snap on.

Wow! It runs pretty well (no counterweights, and it's a little loud, but oh well...). Directional lights work, and the thing goes forward and backward as expected. It looks great, too! Not Atlas's best paint job, but it's such a nice looking little road switcher. I just saw that the real #1689 is preserved and running at the Illinois Rail Museum, so next time I'm up there...

As for the 2nd F3B, I did one fair coat of CNW Dark Green (Badger acrylic) last night, and this morning it looked good enough (tm) so I did two coats of Flat Black (also Badger acrylic, just like on the 1st F3B from last year). I tried out the new Badger spray gun that just arrived, and I like it better than the cheap-o Paasche, but they're both fine really. The Badger is just easier to clean. Anyway, two coats look pretty good on the F3B, so it's ready for touch-up paint tonight, and perhaps decals if I have time.


Sep 27, 2016

This hobby is not for the faint of heart. I'm down one $20 decoder but a little closer to a DCC RSD-4/5

Anyway, last night I stopped at Hobby Lobby for an air can to get a jump on my 2nd CNW F3B shell painting when the Badger spray gun arrives Tuesday, when lo-and-behold, there's a Paasche starter airbrush for $25; with a 40% coupon, that's $15. Can of air was also about $15. So I painted the yellow stripe on the F3. The Paasche is cheap but seems to work OK, at least as good as the Badger, and frankly about as good as the Model Master air brush/compressor combo that crapped out on me. I guess I'll keep the Badger when it arrives--it was only $17 anyway and it'll be a good backup.

This morning, after putting a much needed 3rd coat of Testors yellow on the F3B, I tackled the RSD-4/5 again, and with all the running gear installed, it runs back and forth on the track just fine. I lost track of which way the motor goes, so in Forward, it runs long hood forward. Pictures on the internet suggest this is correct. I figured out how to very easily wire the lights, so I put in the rear light board and wired up the power to it. The motor once again doesn't run. The white wire for the headlight does actually function correctly; I hadn't soldered it yet (and won't until I figure out what's wrong), but touching it to the bulb contact proves it works correctly according to the reverser. Incidentally, the big Digitrax decoder manual says you don't have to use the blue wire at all but can wire up the lamp to either of the track power sides. Anyway while trying to poke and prod the locomotive to get the stupid motor to run--what wire could possibly be disconnecting?--I accidentally touched the white wire to the wrong side of the frame--a little spark and now the headlight doesn't work either. Sheesh. There goes a $20 decoder. Oh well--I am determined to get this thing running, so tonight I'll use another DZ123, and this time I think I'll orient the decoder differently. Perhaps I'll dig more stuff out of the frame too with the dremel, and be a little more careful with the motor, tape, and contacts (although I can't figure for the life of me where I would have gone wrong there...).


Sep 26, 2016

Productive weekend! And not without its challenges.

Friday evening: Metra complete. I fixed up the Metra locomotive by reversing the white LED, and now the Metra commuter train is properly lit for both push and pull modes. It's rather cool!

Saturday: Replaced the MRC board in my first custom painted CNW F3B with a Digitrax drop-in. Speed between that and the F3A's is now much better matched. I'll toss the MRC board in the F3A mechanism that has the WP shell and will also take my custom ISU painted shell. Then I tried to start painting the other F3B; this is a blank F3B shell to go with the other CBQ F3B mechanism I'd gotten earlier this year. I tried to prime the shell with the little 2oz jar of model primer, which as best as I can tell is "Tru-Color Paint" brand, is enamel, and brags that you can spray directly from the bottle--no priming needed. Well, it came out of the air brush rather "spitty" when it came out at all. So I didn't even attempt to put it on the model. Glad I tested it first! It was a bear to get out of the paint cup on top of the brush, too. It started "ribboning" like latex paint. So I just grabbed the ol' can of automotive primer, and it works. Later when that had dried, I tried to paint with the "Rock Island" yellow "Tru-Color". No good. Also very "ribbon-y". So I went to Hobby Lobby and just picked up a tried-and-true Testors Flat Yellow 1/4 oz Enamel, and I'll have to try again tomorrow. One problem I'm having is my airbrush compressor seems to be crapping out--I can get 40PSI in the little reserve jar, but when I open up the airbrush, it drops to about 10PSI and that's all it can sustain.

Sunday morning I tried the Testors paint in the airbrush. Same thing--it's coming out of the airbrush spotty! Now, I've used this exact paint before, so either the airbrush is now ruined, or the compressor's reduced 10PSI output is just not enough. Maybe the 10PSI business caused a paint jam in the airbrush that I can't clean out, and then the latex-y TCP paint clogged it up. I'm very disappointed. This airbrush kit w/ compressor was one of the cheaper ones around, but at that, it was expensive! $80 or so! I got it last year to upgrade from the Badger Spray Gun, thinking not only would I get higher quality sprays, but I wouldn't have to buy those expensive propellant cans. Now... In frustration, I tried to paint the F3B shell, taped off, with the yellow. Because it came out so poorly, I almost ruined the F3B shell. I grabbed some thinner and wiped all the yellow off before it set, so I saved the shell. I ordered a Badger spray gun (I had thrown the old one away since I had proven success with the airbrush) and a few cans of air; the spray gun gets here Tuesday, and the air Wednesday (so I think I'll pick up a can at Hobby Lobby because if I don't start painting this thing Tuesday night, it won't be done for the fall train show this Saturday--decals in particular need time to set. So, with that failure under my belt, I tackled the CNW F3A with the speaker in it. I had done this about 1.5 years ago, with a Digitrax Sound board--my first. I jammed everything in there under the shell as best I could, capacitor and speaker and all, and the speaker seemed to fit right on top of the board. But the shell almost barely doesn't clip on, so I think I'm missing mere hundredths of a millimeter of clearance. Also, the speaker isn't very loud, and with the shell on, it's even quieter. I was impressed with the speaker installation I did in the SD40-2, by dremelling out a hole for it in the tank, so I figured it'd be better to relocate this speaker to the tank, too. Looking closer at it, it looked like it'd work much better to put the speaker in the back, for wiring reasons alone. I could dremel out the same type of hole (the hole forms a baffle which dramatically increases the volume of the little speaker), and the little window in the rear loco door can serve as a port for the sound to get out. If it's still too quiet, I can cut the whole door out (hey, they just left the door open back there!). Anyway, a half-hour of dremelling and I pretty much had it. I put the whole thing together and it works great! Shell is on securely, and the sound is much improved. Oh, I got a hunch that perhaps one reason the speed on the sound-equipped F3 is so different from the other two is because of the acceleration/deceleration. I probably got the hunch by observing that not only did it seem to run slower, but when I cut the throttle, this F3 would "coast". Sure enough, accel/decel were set to like 3 and 4 respectively. When I cut them to 0, the sound F3 matches with the other two F3's much better now. So then I started looking seriously at the Alco RSD 4/5. Well, not sure how to proceed, I spent most of the afternoon consternating. I did use the dremel to cut some tabs to make room for a DZ123. To make a long story short, by the end of the evening I had the mechanism put together with the orange/grey hooked up to the motor, and the black/white just attached to the track with alligator clips (kapton tape on the non-contact side). It shorts the track somehow. Drat!

This morning I opened up the mech and just tried the motor and the board (with clips). It works like a champ, and when I put the frame together it still works. So the short was a fluke. I'll just have to be careful I guess. Later today I'll do the rest. If I do it right, I can get the incanescent light boards in there functioning, too. That's my goal. The RSD 4/5 is just too cool for this little project to fail!



Sep 23, 2016

Last night I did MT conversions on all 3 of my Kato SD40-2 locos, (2x CNW, 1x UP), so they can place nicely with my freight cars which have all had MT coupler conversions (except the Kato BNSF coal hoppers). I also installed the FL12 decoder in the Metra Cab Car. The instruction booklet was strictly in Japanese (I think the decoder came from Japan via eBay), so I just took the car apart to see if I could figure it out. I couldn't, so I consulted WWW. Guess what? You don't have to take the car apart at all (probably better if you don't), so I put it back together. The FL12 goes into a small trap-door in the bottom of the car. Anyway, that works now. It was really cool to see the cab car headlights shine for reverse, and the red lights shine for forward. Was it worth $20? Probably not, but it was pretty cool, probably worth $15 anyway... So then I looked at the Metra, which I did this morning.

The Metra went pretty well once I figured out the board and how it was put together, and where to make cuts. To make a long story short, I took the drop-in Digitrax F40PH board (with a front and rear light) out, and put the original light board back in (both LED lights up front so the commuter loco and display red markers on the nose in reverse), and wired up a Digitrax DN136 "bug" decoder to it. Unfortunately both lights come on in reverse, and none in forward, but at least the motor runs correctly. I looked over things for a bit and then figured out where I went wrong--I just need to reverse the white LED on the top of the board; otherwise when its power side goes +V to turn it off for reverse, current actually sneaks through to the common connection (at +V) and then through the reverse LED to -V. Now that I look at it, I'm lucky I didn't blow up the LED, because the sneak-path doesn't include the 560-ohm resistor. Anyway, I can fix that tonight.

Now for the long writeup of doing this conversion:

This procedure is for installing a Digitrax DN136 decoder in a Kato N Scale Metra F40PH. I might get wordy, so if you want to skip all that, the important stuff is in bold. The standard drop-in replacement board from Digitrax has LED lights on either side of the board which works great for Amtrak F40PH locos, but the Metra F40PH has red marker lamps on the front along with the headlight, and while the DC light board that comes in the loco supports this with two front-facing LEDs and using the board to shield one light from the other, the Digitrax board of course doesn't. The problem is then that both the white headlight and the red marker lamps glow at the same time due to the single front LED and no separation between the light guides.

One solution is to use the TCS K??? decoder, which can be had for about $40 if you shop right. Another is to use a $20 (if you shop right) DN136.

I chose the latter as I already have a DN136 in my stock and no good place to put it. I also have 4x DZ126 decoders that are smaller, and I'm saving those for non-DCC friendly applications like my Life-Like Alco FA/FB set and my Bachmann Spectrum F7 A/B set. Those locos are going to require cutting the weighted frame, so a Z-scale decoder will be best. Kato's newest mechanism's frame only takes slightly more than half the space under the shell, so there's plenty of room under there for the larger DN136, about 3 or 4 mm. I suppose Kato's mechanism is so good, that it doesn't need the extra weight to perform well. Another factor is that I suspect that it'll take some time to get a TCS decoder for this application--it's probably not a popular enough item for the local hobby shop to stock. And, I have to do something with that DN136, so...

Like I said, the original light board already has the LEDs in the proper place, and there's a lot of exposed metal for wiring and soldering, so it seems like an easy way to go. I had to examine the board quite a bit, and here's what I came up with: The original board essentially has two rails, and two LEDs connected to each rail in opposite directions, and a 561 ohm current limiting resistor in series with one of the rails. When the DC voltage is forward (right rail, engineer's side, is positive, and left/fireman's side is negative), the white LED on top of the board is forward biased and glows. When the DC voltage is reversed to run the locomotive backwards, the red LED is forward biased and glows. Don't worry--important stuff coming.

The Digitrax "bug" establishes a common connection, and provides two power wires, one for the forward LED, and one for the reverse LED. The common is +V, and when the decoder wants to light the forward light, it drives the forward wire to -V, and when the decoder wants to light the reverse light, it drives the reverse wire to -V. When an LED isn't being lit, the wire is connected to +V, so no current will flow through the LED to the common, since it's also at +V. Therefore, instead of two rails with opposing LEDs, we need to establish a common rail and two power rails with the LEDs oriented away from the common to each power. (Note that in this sense common is not ground; actually, the power lines are grounded to the board's ground when the decoder activates a light, but ignore all that--it's not relevant).

Bottom line: you'll need to make three cuts, and reverse the white LED, then solder the decoder's wires to the board. See the diagram; the board is oriented so that the cab end of the board is at the top. Note the through-holes in the middle of the board that pick up track power from the bottom and transfer it to the top of the board. Also note the 561 ohm resistor on the left rail. Cut through the left rail between the power through-hole and the resistor. I used a Dremel-like tool with a cutting disc, and I wielded it very carefully; the board is thin and it's easy to cut straight through it! Just tickle the metal trace on the board with the disc until the trace is separated. You can test this with an ohm-meter. I made my cut right about where the motor contacts would stick up through the board, where the "saddle" clip is. Now, cut through the right rail at approximately the same place. It won't matter where, as long as it's "north" of the through-hole, and "south" of the black area where the trace splits off toward the board center just below the white LED. Finally, cut through the trace where it splits off from the right rail, below the white LED. This cut should be vertical, where the other cuts were horizontal.

Position the decoder at the back of the board, and tape it down such that it still fits in the frame. See the picture. Life will be easier if you do this. Cut the decoder wires so the ends line up with the other end of the board. You won't need all that wire and it'll just get in the way. Wrap the green wire around the decoder and tape it down. This is the F1 wire, and it does no harm to save it just in case you want to do something with it down the road. Splay the rest of the wires out so you can work with each one without them getting tangled or in your way. Put Kapton insulating tape over the board where the motor wires stick up and where the saddle tab fits, so the motor wires don't short against the power rails.

OK, heat up the ol' soldering iron. First, optionally remove the capacitor between the two rails just below the white LED. It's probably there for DC operation to smooth out the lighting on bad track. Since it's forward of the current limiting resistor, it'll deliver a voltage directly to the LED without resistance when the power interrupts, but it's so small that the charge likely won't damage the LED. But the cap is pointless now because the DCC board should provide smooth enough power and the cap is just in the way. Now, reverse the white LED on the top of the board. Desoldier the LED on both sides and carefully pick it up with tweezers and flip it over so the light end is still facing forward but it's "upside down" now. Soldier it back in the same place so it won't interfere with the light guides in the shell. Now solder the white wire from the decoder to the board trace after the vertical cut just below the white LED. Strip maybe 1/8" off the wire and pre-tin both the wire and the trace. Be careful not to solder-bridge the cut! Be careful not to accidentally touch the LED itself with the iron! Solder the yellow wire to the trace on the right of the board, above the horizontal cut. I looped my wire back on itself (bare wire pointing back to the decoder) so I can tuck the wire into the shell without stressing it with a big S curve. Solder the blue wire to the right trace above the horizontal cut and below the resistor. Now this left trace serves as the common V+ for both LEDs. Solder the red wire to the right trace below the horizontal cut, and the black wire to the left trace below the cut.

As with a drop-in decoder installation, you'll need to cover the two power rails in the frame with Kapton tape where the motor wires protrude upward, to isolate the motor wires from the power rails. These rails are the ones that the board itself sits on top of, and makes contact with to get power, mainly by sitting on the two dimples in each rail. To put the tape on, take the rails out of the frame by removing the grey caps above each wheelset tower. Wrap tape around each rail such that the motor lines will be isolated (I do a simple "C" type coverage of the rails, with the loose ends of the tape pointing into the frame). Re-install the power rails, which if you've never done, requires a lot of patience the first few times you do it.

Install the board into the frame by sliding it back under the small middle protrusion and then clipping it down with the saddle clip. Solder the orange wire to the right motor contact sticking up through the frame, and the grey wire to the left motor contact. Make sure the motor contacts don't touch the board at all, at least, not on the traces.

Now test the installation. Select address 3 on your station, turn on the track power, press F0 to turn on the lights, and test with the reverser in forward and reverse, and run the train forward and backward, to test directionality and proper light operation. If all is good, you can put Kapton tape on the motor contacts or just make sure they don't contact any other wiring and they'll probably be good under the shell. Put the shell back on and test again to make sure the headlights and red markers operate as expected (the board needs to line up with the light guides in the shell). All good? You're done!

If you made a mistake, you're in luck because you get 2 more chances--the first chance is that the original light board is nearly symmetrical from front to back. Just turn the board around and try again. You'll need to relocate both LEDs (paying careful attention to orientation and remembering that the white LED will need to be reversed) from the front of the board to the back, and relocate the 561 ohm resistor, and also complete the solder bridge like the one on the forward end of the board. If your mistake involves electrical shorts on the board, you'll have to make more cuts to isolate your mistake electrically from the good side of the board. Try again! If you mess up after this, then the second chance is to probably just call it and go with the TCS drop in decoder after all. You had fun, didn't you? You can try it again some other time and you'll be better from your learning experience. Or heck, order a DC board from Kato (if you can), and try a 3rd time...

Sep 22, 2016

Happy Fall Day! Here is a (probably incomplete) list of things I want to accomplish over the next couple of days:

  • MT couplers in 3x Kato SD40-2's (2x C&NW, 1x UP)
  • MT coupler on one end of C&NW F3
  • Paint C&NW F3B
  • DCC "bug" install in Life-Like UP FA/FB set
  • DCC "bug" install in Kato Metra F40PH with original light board
  • FL12 install in Metra Cab-Car for light control
  • Examine feasability of making Amtrak decals for Kato Santa Fe 12 Superchief car set
  • Get light kits for Santa Fe
  • Dare I tackle painting the interior and adding people to a Kato Superliner??
  • MT coupler conversion for at least one Kato BNSF Bethgon Coalporter hopper?
  • DCC "bug" install in Kato Mikado C&NW (when I get it Friday before the show...)

That's a big list. Other things to start on:

  • Fix Wabash Bluebird observation car coupler
  • Paint F7 shell for ISU colors, and perhaps 2 Con-cor SF corrugated sides (fill in corrugation with body putty)
  • Fix DCC/sound on some locos (C&NW F3A--relocate speaker to fuel tank like on SD40-2, also on E8)
  • Start constructing 3'x11' platform for Glenview layout
  • Start putting together some model buildings!


Sep 20, 2016

I've measured our "Orange Room" for a possible layout, and there's one wall with a door that offers 13 feet of room and a depth of 32" before hitting a window on the perpendicular wall. The problem is that door, which goes out to the garage; I figure if I angle out at 45 degrees, that'll allow some movement past without feeling too crammed. So I put this in my track layout software, and my Glenville design would not have enough room with 32" for the nice 16" loops I put in, but it also actuall has less room for track with that 45 degree cut in the layout. So maybe I'll set up a work desk in that room anyway, and keep the layout in my office.

So that settles it--that and we're planning on staying in this house for a little bit, whereas this past summer, we toyed with the idea of moving out. But now that we know that, the plan for me is to create a nice big double-track oval in my office that's 11 feet long and 36" deep, which I've already kind-of designed over a year ago summer (2015), which itself was a concession to the fact that my original dream layout of Chicago-to-L.A. which I designed in summer 2014 was never going to work, at least not with my nice long 6-axle locomotives and passenger cars. Heck; maybe I should do both layouts, one on top of the other, and just run little 4-axle freights around the Chicago-LA one. Hmmm.... Nah. Glenville it is.

I figured I'd start by framing in the layout, and putting in the double loop with styrofoam and plaster and track, just to get started and to run trains while I'm completing the scenery. So, that's my first step. It's probably time to start; either now or never!


Sep 19, 2016

Let's see... went to a train show this Saturday and got an Atlas covered hopper for $5, and the more I look at it, the less I like it. I also got a Kato CNW Mikado steamer (my first *real* steamer!), but I had to get a club member to pick it up for me on the next day, so I won't see it until the train show on Saturday. It takes a DZ123 decoder and others, but that'll definitely require soldering wires. Anyway, I ran my Kato CNW Alco PA/PB/PA set with the 10 passenger cars, and a freight consist with the Atlas SD60/GP40 lashup. I got my F3B shell and my 2004 MT couplers for the Kato freights, but I haven't gotten time to work with them yet.

I also have my eye out for a modern Atlas GP9 as I have a decoder for one, and frankly though I've never been a fan of high-nose locos (how do you see around such a nose!) I think I'd like one in CNW livery, especially with the big green/yellow stripe on the nose. And, there's what to do with the Amtrak Con-cor heritage set (sell it), and the Kato SF Super Chief set (I'd convert it to Amtrak if I could get ahold of the right decals...).

Sep 13, 2016

Ordered 5x Micro Trains 2004-1 coupler conversion kits for my Kato freight diesels. I have one C&NW F3 I'll put a coupler on the front, and leave the other F3 alone--that way I won't have to mess with that 1159 kit I had little luck with on the older Kato F3 (the one the original blank shell came on), and I doubt the newer F3 will take the conversion much easier for the truck mount. So I'll have a C&NW F3 A/A consist where the only MT coupler is on one front--that way I can pull freight from the MT end and just leave all the other couplers alone, and I can add Kato F3 B units in between with original Kato couplers, and it should work fine; if I want to pull passenger with the F3's, I can just pull my Kato C&NW smoothside passenger set from the Kato coupler end of the F3 A/A consist. Otherwise I have 3 Kato SD40-2 locos (2 C&NW and 1 UP), and they're all body mount Kato couplers and since they're intended for freight, I'll do both ends of each loco with MT couplers. That'll leave one and a half conversion kits for the future.

Sep 9, 2016

Haven't done much model railroading in a while. I get an occasional something new, like a set of 5-segment container carriers, or finally a good C&NW caboose.

But, now that Fall is arriving and I might have a couple of train shows coming up, I'd like to finish some projects.

Mar 2, 2016

I had ordered, a couple of days ago, a Kato F3A undecorated shell directly from Kato, $25+$7 shipped. I was looking forward to ordering a full undecorated F7, but I figured I'd just save $50 and order a shell instead; it can share the same mechanism as my WP F3 (which, if anything, I'd like maybe an F7 to do in the WP scheme for 917D, the loco I actually ran out in Portola.

Anyway, when the shell gets here, I'm planning on doing an Iowa State paint job on it. I think the Iowa Interstate decal set I have is for a black/yellow GP9, and I've seen red/yellow units, thinking the black/yellow was Hawkeye colors and red/yellow was Cyclone colors, but I think the red/yellow is really for the Rock Island predecessor to Iowa Interstate. No matter, I can lob off the "INTER" part of the decal and just make it 'IOWA STATE", and maybe I'll get a few passenger cars, too, undecorated, and make an ISU train. Won't that be spiffy? :)

Feb 25, 2016

Not much to say except I brought my Scenic Ridge layout to work yesterday so that today, the STEM kids from Grapevine HS could see a demonstration of slack action, which, since my MT couplers have little springs in them, they actually demonstrate some slack action. It's a big hit with almost everyone who sees it, including my co-workers.

Feb 15, 2016

Last Saturday I took my MRC decoder I got on the cheap and installed it in the custom painted CNW F3B. It is too slow compared to the Digitrax decoders. I might be able to fix the speed tables, but the documentation on the MRC is far more scant than the Digitrax (I suppose I could adjust the two Digitrax decoders down to match the MRC, but..), so I ordered one more Digitrax decoder for this B unit so my CNW F3 ABA consist will be all the same decoder brand (even if one is a sound one).  All is not lost as I found out Kato is releasing undecorated F7A units in April, so I'll put the MRC in that. And, what paint scheme shall I put on the F7? How about an "Iowa State" theme? I think I'll just modify the "IOWA INTERSTATE" decals to read "IOWA STATE" and paint the loco red ("cardinal") with a yellow ("gold") nose. This can pull my MT state cars, as I now have an extra Texas car, so I can fully represent journey of living through the states.

Feb 10, 2016

I got my MT state cars, and I've lined them up according to places I've lived, and it looks funny going from California to Illinois when I lived in Texas in between (but Texas is after Iowa). So I found another Texas car for $15 shipped Buy-It-Now. And, there are California and Illinois cars on Buy-it-now for $50 each. Grrr.

Feb 5, 2016

Last night my modern Kato F3 B units arrived. I ordered two of them from an eBay seller (price was reasonable at about $63 ea). The idea is, I had such a hard time doing the MT coupler conversion on the older-style F3 that I thought, why not get the modern guts like my C&NW are, complete with the Kato knuckler couplers, and it'll be easier to do a drop-in DCC board, which the old F3 frame won't fit, and the mechanism is better, too. The shell may not be an exact fit, but I can either make the shell fit somehow with minor mods, or paint a new shell. Well, it fits. The new windows fit in the old shell, and the new windows are what actually attach the shell to the frame. Great! So I have a real Kato modern F3 B with the C&NW shell I painted last Fall, and I can get one more shell to paint and make a C&NW F3 ABBA set, all with the same mechanisms underneath. That'll look awesome!

Oh, I've also ordered a Texas box car (and one from another state) on eBay for about $20 each, and then somebody's selling 3 rare cars, California, Illinois, and New York, for about $160. I need CA and IL. Given the prices these two are going for, that's probably the best deal I'm ever going to get if I want to complete my set. My set isn't the whole 50 states, just the states I've lived in. The NY car I can sell back on eBay, and if it's truly a rare one, maybe I'll recoup half my cost for the others, making them maybe $40 each.

Jan 18, 2016

The train show in Plano was this weekend, and I had a great time! I got to be there both days (a rarity), and several people from work I invited showed up. Friday evening I airbrushed Dullcote on the 3rd PAs, and they turned out fantastic! Still a few blemishes here and there, but pretty darn good. I blogged more about the show in my personal journal, but basically I ran my C&NW passenger train all day Saturday, with the Alco PA/PB/PA consist, followed by 10 passenger cars (RPO, 2x baggage, 2 coach, sight-seer, diner, 2x sleeper, observation), all Kato and all performing very well. Sunday I ran the Amtrak PA/PB/PA set, first with my 8 Concor "heritage" Amtrak set, then, when I tired of that (I'm going to sell the Concor set), the Superliner set. It's an odd sight to see Phase IVb superliners being pulled by Alco PAs, but there you go. The train got lots of comments--everyone loves looking in the little windows (and that means I'd really get some bang-for-the-buck putting little people in the seats, and maybe I even tackle painting the interiors a little, if I'm really brave!). I also tried a long freight train, and it did get comments for how long it was. I put every piece of freight on there I have, except the 12 and 24 sets of coal hoppers, old Bachmann cars from both my original Highballer, college Kay-Bee cars, and the Empire Builder sets, Various freight I've collected from shows in the meantime, like the 3 Santa Fe box cars, some tankers, and such, and all the MT box cars I got last fall, too. Followed by the MRL caboose. All converted to MT trucks, if they didn't already have them. I pulled them with a 4 loco consist, starting with a CNW SD40-2, then a UP SD40-2, then a CNW GP40, and finally a CNW SD60. Kato and Atlas. While I had to babysit the train for decouplings and truck derailments, it was fun to run the freight around, and it behaved pretty well overall.

I bought one DCC decoder for the Alco PAs, to replace one I suspect didn't work (turns out I just had the wrong value for the config register), and I bought a Kato set of 12 Santa Fe corrugated cars from a club member for $150, where he threw in 2 Concors also that I'll probably sell on eBay or something.

Otherwise, I think I'm about done collecting train stuff for about a year--I have most of what I want, more than I need.

Jan 15, 2016

Moving along on my 3rd PA's for the Amtrak and CNW consists, I had done the yellow enamel painting Wednesday evening when it was warm out (was pre-occupied Tuesday, the first warm evening), and the aluminum enamel Thursday morning. Both shells are now painted, although they require touch up. Thursday night I sat in the living room and watched the Republican Debate while applying decals--I cut all the decals I needed first for both models, then applied them all, both sides. This morning I applied a hefty coat of Micro Sol, this time piercing the large Amtrak arrow that had trouble laying down on the first PA I did.

Tonight the plan is to coat them with Dullcote, and then I also have to put the DCC decoders in the frames, of course. I'm not sure I can get my CNW F3B I painted converted for the show--it turns out to be a pre-1995 Kato model, and while it looks to be high quality, it's definitely *not* very DCC friendly, and those blasted Rapido truck-mount couplers are not easy to convert. We'll see...

The train show is this weekend.

Jan 11, 2016

It's been a while since I've done much, aside from maintaining Christmas Village all month. Everyone loved it again. Although I set it up to run 5 different selectable trains, I had a hard time coming up with good trains to run. Passenger cars are just too long, and they come uncoupled on the 11"radius track. The one exception is the Chicago Metra commuter in push-mode--of course that won't come uncoupled! I tried to run a few freight trains, (notably the MT box cars pulled by my Atlas C&NW GP-40 (I think). I had ruined my original Spirit of Christmas 0-6-0 trying to clean and lube it, so I had replaced it with a regular, undecorated 0-6-0 but I put the shell from the old engine on, so it still looks mostly Christmas-y. As for calibrating, I got the gates to raise/lower much better, and stopping at the station in "auto" mode is a novelty, but it's still not perfect; the little engines are just so unpredictable in terms of voltage-per-speed, even varying over time of course as things get loosened up or warm or just wear down, I guess. Anyway, good times.

For last weekend, I finally got my PA shell with the angled boards, and I guess I get to keep the small-numberboard shell, which actually matches my Amtrak PA. I'm not sure if I mentioned this, but I thought it would be even cooler if the C&NW was pulled by a PA/PB/PA set, so I ordered another shell to paint, and got the wrong one. Well, the right one came Saturday. Now, we're having a train show this next weekend in Plano, and I think unless we do Wills Point (which is iffy), we may not really have much of another show until October. So this week is it! I tried to order what I need to complete my PA/PB/PA for *both* C&NW and Amtrak, and I'm not sure it'll get here in time, so I decided to pay a visit to Discount Model Trains. Aside from DCC decoders required for the 3-engine sets, I was going to get decals, but they're out (so I ordered decals on eBay and am just crossing my fingers they'll get here in time). I also got a bunch of MT coupler stuff, to fix up some problems I'm having.

So Sunday morning, I went to work on fixing coupler issues. First, I had a 3-car set of Santa Fe box cars I got (Con-cor, I believe) from 3 years ago, and I had converted 2 of them to MT trucks, but lost the little clip-style pin for one side of the 3rd--the model store fellow told me that's what the bushing is for in the MT pack (oh! OK), but it doesn't fit. No matter; while digging around for other stuff, I found the lost clip pin and just did the MT truck conversion using that. OK, good job. I had dropped a tank car with MT couplers and one broke off the other end, so I dug around for a pair of MT friction bearing trucks from another car, and swapped those out (I'm pretty much out of friction-bearing; have plenty of roller bearing). What else? The CNW Atlas caboose--while I got an MT kit for Atlas cabooses, it didn't really fit the CNW bay-window caboose, so maybe I'll try a body-mount coupler conversion there. The kit fits the other Atlas caboose, my Montana Rail Link, so at long last I can have that properly converted (and that means I have to get my Atlas MRL GP35 converted to DCC using a "bug"). One of the big tasks is to take my Kato F3 custom painted for C&NW (which is apparently pre-1995), and replace the Rapido couplers there. I had tried yesterday to do this with some spare MT parts, but the train store guy got me a full package of apparently the correct type. Well, I'm still looking at this wondering how well this is supposed to work; maybe I'll do body-mount on it also (and maybe while I'm at it then I'll convert the F3A's I got last year (the CNW two-pack) to body-mount MT couplers, so it'll be more friendly to freight. In fact, maybe only convert the nose of one F3, and keep the other nose a Kato coupler, so it's still passenger friendly, too!

Sunday afternoon I spent painting shells. Despite distractions, I actually got both shells painted with the "acrylic" (water-based) colors, in the Dining room. That means my CNW PA has green and black, and is just awaiting the yellow and steel (which are "enamel" paints and I have to do those outside, but today it's too cold, 40's, for painting; weather should be in 60's on Tuesday). So... The Amtrak PA is complete, since it takes Amtrak Red, Black, and Gloss Silver, all of which were water-based. After painting the red nose, I pulled tape off the black parts and some paint came off--I guess even after an hour or two the paint isn't set enough to use tape, so I'll have to re-paint those parts (shouldn't take much--buff them down and mask off, and lightly spray paint over the bad parts). Otherwise, this Amtrak's paint job is a lot better than the first one I did last fall, so it can probably be my lead PA (also, it has two headlights, not one, for a bonus).

OK, that's it! I hope my decals arrive before Friday, because if they arrive *on* Friday, I'll have a very difficult time getting them put together before the train show on Saturday. And maybe I'll get to take some time and get that F3B put together so I have a great Kato F3 ABA set to pull freight around (the F3 also needs a "bug" decoder, so I'll have to work a bit with the soldering iron and Kapton tape).

Dec 7, 2015

I'd say yesterday morning I completed the "final" update to phase 2 of my Christmas Village software, and at lunch got it installed. So far so good. Now trains can run counter-clockwise (which I have yet to try...)

Dec 1, 2015

Again, details will be in the Christmas Village (todo link) entry, but last night I finished Phase 2 of Scenic Ridge.

This morning I put it out on display, and it's already attracting a little attention.

I say "last night I finished" but to be technical, it was 12:10 AM this morning. I had an Egg Nog to celebrate, just like last year. Ceremony... Oh, and I'm not quite done--I'll probably be picking at it slowly over the next few weeks, just on my lunch breaks since it's at the office now.

Nov 30, 2015

I've been writing new software at a feverish rate over my Thanksgiving holiday--being at my mother's house has given me some good "getaway" time to concentrate. Phase 2 is *almost* complete. My goal is to set it out tomorrow as the first day in December. Otherwise, the gory details of my recent exploits will be journalled in my Christmas Village journal (todo: link)

Nov 24, 2015

Last night and this morning I got a few things done on Christmas Village, namely inserting fibers into the market buildings (for light string effect). I'm a bit farther behind than I want to be, but if I make a heroic concentrated effort tonight, I might get most of it done.

Nov 23, 2015

Let's see.

Auctions? Everything got paid for and shipped except the Amtrak P42. I think I have a non-paying bidder situation. Sheesh.

Oh, the lady that sent the Life-like PB instead of Kato wrote and said she found the Kato PB. These are Southern Pacific units. She's offering them both for $75 shipped. Thing is, that's a good deal, but I already have all the Kato PA/PB's I need. On the other hand, I may have a non-functioning unit on my hands--one of the Wabash PA's doesn't run very well, I found last night. I kept track of all this here, but off the top of my head, I forget what mechanisms I swapped out for what; I think one of the Wabash PA's has a used mechanism that might be faulty (although I thought I tested all these). So I'll buy them I guess, and I'll put the SP shells on eBay again. Heck, I might get another couple of blank shells and make a PA/PB/PB/PA set for my C&NW, or something--wouldn't that be cool? That--would be a force to be reckoned with!

Speaking of which, despite having grandkids all weekend, I managed to get some DCC installed Saturday morning, into my Amtrak PA/PB set I just painted. Interesting... The MRC sound decoder is, without baffles and such, rather loud, and I'm not sure I'm totally impressed with it--I'll have to play with the sounds a bit. At least you can hear it. The problem is the headlight LED is a dull yellow one that's just not very bright. I tried to "parallel" a white LED that I clipped from a Digitrax board for E8/PA/P42 (since I probalbly installed it in an E8 and didn't need the rear LED), and it's very dim. So the current isn't very much. I'd have a heck of a time figuring out what resistor is limiting the current, but so much for my plan to just solder the brighter LED in place. So my backup plan is to use the MRC sound decoder in the PB unit, and put a nice bright Digitrax non-sound board in the A unit. Oh, I have a non-sound MRC drop-in board, but it also has a dim light. I found that within the Digitrax board, the sound version responds very differently than the non-sound board, so I guess despite mixing an MRC board in the PB with a Digitrax in the PA, I'll have to work with the speed tables no matter what.

OK, Now for Christmas Village. I pulled it out late Sunday to literally dust it off. It still runs, but while attempting to lube the Spirit Of Christmas 0-6-0 steamer, I broke a couple of parts. One is the running gear, and the other is where the motor connects. I must say I'm a bit disappointed (and surprised) that the engine is 1. So gunky from grease applied at the factory, and 2. So difficult to get apart and properly together. Anyway, I can (and tried to) run the Western Pacific F3 (a Kato still in DC config), and pull some Wabash cars around (boy that's a mix-match of loco to cars), and I can probably use the C&NW SW1200 I have (Walthers, also still DCC) to pull around a few MT box cars I have. Heck, I can do all sorts of things! But, on eBay, I found an unpainted Bachmann USRA 0-6-0 for $38 shipped, so I can use that to replace the broken Spirit Of Christmas loco and pull its train--a swap of the shell and maybe some paint and it'll still look like the original train, and I can use the old tender, too, of course.

I'm planning on putting the village up at work on next Monday, but due to other commitments, that leaves only two evenings to fix up Christmas Village. High on the list are 1. Software Improvements--mostly I want a configuration mode (see below), and self-adjusting running curves. 2. Hook up the street lights, and also do the "light string" on the main shops using fibers, probably just to bright white LEDs instead of doing 4 colors. 3. Interiors: Main street and Restaurant at least.

As for software configuration, I'd like to set it up so a key sequence on startup puts the layout into "configure" mode, and Tree cycles through the config params, and up/down adjust them.  Colored tree lights can help navigate where we are (although I would have liked to do voice through the speakers--perhaps a female British accent would have been nice, but if it's just my voice, then forget that!) I have to hash all this out still, but the ability to configure and select multiple locos, to do min and max voltage, full curve configuration runs, gate up/down positioning, train stop location, etc. As for running, I'd love to do that auto/manual mode; Auto mode would run the train around like twice, then stop at the station; any press of up/down would give manual control; inactivity for 3 minutes would revert to auto control again. The tree would flash specially during the transition...

Nov 16, 2015

This morning I shipped off most of my eBay sale items. I had put on a number of items that I care not to have anymore, and would keep for sentimental reasons, but I just probably need to simplify. Most items went for much less than I bought them for, even though most of them were used to begin with. Probably the most "sentimental" is a set of 5 Con-cor Amtrak Superliner cars with blank interiors and flapper (Rapdio) couplers, that went for $46. I think I paid perhaps that much originally. I can remember getting them from a store in Boone and then sticking them in my motorcycle jacket to race home on the back roads; this was about Spring of 2001. Back then I had a C shaped layout I tried to construct from a 4x8 sheet of plywood cut into two 4x3 sections with a 2x4 section in the middle in the basement of my 1930's house. I had that crummy Mehano F40PH to pull them around, which sorta-worked, and that was it. So while I love my Kato Superliners, those did have sentimental value, but frankly I have no place for them. I decided to keep the Mehano just because it probably won't sell for enough on eBay anyway. I also sold a recently-bought set of the same Con-cor Superliners in a box, and decided I don't want them (long story--trying to re-create my Honeymoon train, but I decided not to use these interior-less cars); I paid about $95 for them, and they sold for only $36. Quite a loss. What else? The Bachmann Plus A/B/B F7's went back on eBay, sold for $36 (I forgot what I paid, but it wasn't much more than that). A TCS DCC decoder that's supposedly "drop-in" but requires about as much soldering as a $20 Digitrax DZ129 "bug": $29 where I paid $35 new; UP F7 LIfe-Like for $13.50 (bought on eBay used 3 years ago for probably a little more than that); Con-cor Amtrak Alco PA, I bought this at a train show 3 years ago for I think $20 and sold it for $17.75. Not bad--this was the first loco I really took all apart and cleaned with Labelle, and it runs OK, but it is noisy, and not nearly as nice as my Kato PA/PB set, which I custom painted, so I'll go with the Kato's. My Amtrak Kato P42 phase IV sold for $47; my wife got this for me (at my request) for Christmas 2010, and I've run it several times, but I'll be darned if I asked for it when I hadn't learned what I needed to know about the phases, and I really should have asked for either a III or a V; I never rode behind a IV. Anyway, it was probably $95 new, but after 5 years of use, $47 isn't half bad (although it's in mint condish). Kato E8 CNW, which I had bought two of -- but of the same road number, 5021-A; I should have asked for a 5021-A and 5021-B (note, those are road numbers, both are E8 A-units!). It bothered me so much I actually then bought a 5021-B, so I'm selling the A. Sold for $61, where I bought it for probably $90, so that's quite a loss (and an expensive "B"). My custom PA/PB paint job netted me two unused shells, Santa Fe and NYC, so I sold those to recoup some of the expense for the mechanisms to power my custom shells--$41 and $26 respectively, so not too bad. So far that's it. I haven't had a nibble on my Atlas Code 80 turnouts, which is very disappointing--I probably have $200 worth of turnouts! Maybe I'll re-list them at a lower price for another 30 days, and then give up. Maybe I'll want them for a holding yard anyway.

Nov 11. 2015

Last night I finished painting Dullcote onto my Alco PA/PB in C&NW paint, and wow! They look so great! I accidentally (and clumsily) touched the side of the B unit while it was still wet with Dullcote, so it has a mar on it. Shoot. Oh well. Otherwise, (and with a couple other minor errors and such), they look professional. They really do. I can't believe how well these turned out, given my amateur skill level. This morning, I assembled the parts into the PA (headlight lens, horns, cab windows and body coupler), and assembled the shells onto mechanisms, using a combination of Wabash, Santa Fe, and NYC PA/PB mechanisms (mostly to get the best match of truck colors--grey or black). They really look good. Don't forget about the F3B, which needs knuckle couplers--and I think I can just steal some long shank couplers from an SD unit, which came with them as extras. Or, I can put those long shanks onto the Amtrak Material Handling cars since the long shank will matter least there, and take their short shanks and use them here. I need 3, because one of the Kato mechanisms I got on eBay (the NYC PA) had an MT coupler installed--probably a better coupler, but doesn't match. I could order 10 Kato short-shank knuckle couplers, but everyone appears to be out. Anyway, about those mechanism swaps... So, the Amtrak PA/PB shells got the Santa Fe PA/PB mechanisms with their grey trucks. The CNW PA/PB is a more complicated story--I was going to use the NYC trucks but they're grey, and CNW practically demands black. I was going to paint them, but then again, I have black trucks on the Wabash PA/PA set. Note the double PA, which means both units have mechanisms with couplers on only one truck, as the other end is a body-mount. So... For the CNW PB, I took the actual black truck covers off the Wabash PA 5021, and swapped them with the NYC PB grey truck covers. For the CNW PA, I just swapped the whole Wabash PA mechanism. Now the Wabash has grey trucks in place of the original black, but with its paint scheme, it looks fine. Probably not strictly prototypical, but by now the Wabash is the least important piece in my collection (though I love it so). That also means the Wabash 5020 PA is actually a used mechanism, as is the CNW PB. Anyway, there it is. Good work! A little coupler work on the F3B like I said, and we're good to go. Incidentally, the Kato-painted F3A double set is a lot darker and glossier than my custom painted F3B, but I guess that's just life. If you look at color pictures of old CNW equipment, the colors never matched exactly, even on identical units like two SD40-2's. They're usually covered in grime anyway, so it's a moot point.

Today I brought the 5 to work to show off to some people--got generally good responses.

Nov 10, 2015

I guess it's been a while since I journalled. So let me start with... I got a PA/PB set from eBay to use for my C&NW custom shell painting project; they're SP in Daylight colors. When they arrived, the B unit turned out to be an unpowered Life-Like, useless to me for this project in several ways. Although the seller didn't know much about model trains (it was an inheritance sale), after a couple of emails she refunded my price and shipping. I found a better deal anyway, an $80 PA/PB set for New York Central, used but in good shape.

I also ordered and got a decent air brush and actual compressor for $79 on Amazon.

But this past weekend, I started to dig into my Chicago And Northwestern PA/PB custom paint project. I'm almost done, and the results are very impressive! Not sure how much detail is necessary, but I had primed them with Auto primer earlier in the week, and then I started with yellow paint, just standard Testors Flat Yellow Enamel, a little 1/4 oz bottle. I was going to try to match the darker Kato CNW yellow, but all attempts failed. One drop of either red or black in a teaspoon's worth of paint resulted in too much change. The original yellow is dark and rich enough to pass for CNW yellow, in fact, it's probably more like actual CNW yellow than Kato's, although it won't match the Katos now. Oh well. Next color was Testors Aluminum Enamel for the PA/PB grilles. Oh, I forgot to mention I'm also tackling an F3 B unit to add to the 2x F3 C&NW Katos I already own--won't that be cool!? The F3 doesn't get silver, though. Next color was green, and for this I was fine using the Badger CNW Dark Green Acrylic. Finally, black; the PA/PB get black tanks, lower ladders, and plow on the PA unit, but the F3 gets tons of black--all along the lower skirt and the roof too, as well as both ends. Oh, I did emulate as well as I could the "wrap around" of the colors on the ends. Decal time! This took a while, and stretched more into later Sunday evening and Monday, but I got 'er done. It was rather fun! The challenge was in getting the pin stripes right, especially since they sit on top of a riveted support bar, but I took my time and carefully pushed the delicate lines in place. Plenty of Micro Set helps. And Monday evening I applied Micro Sol, which did such a fantastic job on the Amtrak decals I did and seems to be working here, too. This morning I was cleaning the decal adhesive carefully off the locos when, while can-of-air blasting the F3 dry, one yellow pinstripe decal blew clean off! It may be that I just didn't get the Micro Sol on that part for some reason. I fixed it up, and now it needs to dry completely before I apply the Dullcote to all 3 models to protect the paint job and decals. They look very nice! (And on a side note, when compared to the shells where I used Gloss Yellow, there's just no way I would have been happy without re-doing them. And yes, the double-headlight PA matches the C&NW front logo shield much better!

Tonight, by the way, is the 3 year anniversary of me completing Scenic Ridge.

Oct 26, 2015

Friday evening I did one more round of Micro Sol decal solvent on the Amtrak PA and PB. They're looking pretty good.

Saturday morning I mixed some Testors Dullcote with thinner and used the spray gun to apply it. When the coat dried, the models look fantastic! One more coat and by evening I was ready to call that little project done. I attached the shells to Kato mechanisms that formerly had Santa Fe shells, and I must say, I'm very impressed with my results, and very proud of myself. The Amtrak PA/PB look so fantastic! I can see some of my amateurish imperfections, but really, it turned out much better than I was worried it might. The dullcote even caused the "glitter" effect of the silver paint to go away, and form a nice "Amtrak" grey.

Then I had gotten the Bettendorf trucks (finally--I think they took a misstep out to Amarillo and back to Dallas), so I worked on installing them on all the Atlas and assorted freight cars I had recently gotten at train shows. I had already done my "Bachmann Empire Builder" set (which incidentally would suggest Great Northern, but was Santa Fe themed), and now I have a great set of freight cars--probably about all I'd ever need for a good long 20 to 30 car mixed freight.

On Sunday, I tackled putting that TCS DCC board in the Atlas CNW GP40. It also caused the train to run full-bore in reverse, and I figured out it was that the motor wires were pinched against the frame such that the frame bit into the wires and thus ran power to the motor. So some better wire placement and such, and that worked. The loco is loud, but it runs mostly like a good Atlas should. The LED front light shines in the cab, and the shroud that shields the cab won't fit with the decoder. Given that I had to solder five wires to make this thing work, one wonders why it's called "drop it" and why one might pay $35 when a little red Digitrax DZ126 "bug" would work just as well, and fit just as well.

Finally in the evening I photoed a bunch of cars and locos in preparation for putting them on eBay, including verifying that they run. I'm selling the Kato C&NW E8 that is a duplicate number to one I already own, the Amtrak Phase IV P42 that Lorraine got me for Christmas 2010 (which I love, and I asked for, but I didn't do the research on the phases, and I have no place in my collection for a Phase IV P42--I've only ridden behind Phase III (my honeymoon train) and V). I'm selling my Mehano Amtrak F40PH that I got when I started digging into model railroading again in Winter 2000, and it actually still runs pretty well on straight track without pulling anything! My Con-cor Amtrak PA from the train show the day I finished Scenic Ridge (runs fine--loud but fine, but now that I have the Kato custom-painted PAs, there's little point); the Life-Like Amtrak F40PH's and the UP F9--both not as high quality as Kato or Atlas, and I'm not going to DCC them; the Bachmann Plus SP F7 A-B-B set which runs loud but OK and one B unit shorts the track, and other assorted items--those Kato PA/PB SF shells, my original Con-cor Amtrak Superliner IVa set I got in 2001 (remember racing home from Boone with those tucked into my motorcycle jacket? Good times)--these are hollow inside, have Rapido couplers I've never gotten to all work correctly, and have been superceded in my collection by Kato Superliners, and that's about it other than other things not worth mentioning.

Oct 23, 2015

Yesterday at lunch I went to Discount Model trains in Addison to pick up a $3.20 bottle of Micro Sol. I went on my lunch break (takes over an hour just to make the round trip with a minimum of shopping, but sometimes it's worth it--Amazon won't even have it in stock until the 25th and guess what? Hobby Lobby, which I visited the night before, doesn't carry it).

So in the evening I tried the decal solvent. After a half hour or so, it showed its magic! The large arrow decal really clung to the model, and even the rivets pop through--it looks like it was just painted onto the model. The other decals look good, too! The numbers on the side of the locomotive no longer have the "decal border" look; they just look like blue numbers painted on a silver background. Anyway, that solves my decals for the right side of the Amtrak PA and PB.

Oh, I also got, in the mail, my 4 Micro Trains caboose truck pairs with generators, and my 3 Micro Trains (I think) tank cars. And, I had bought a covered hopper in blue Rock Route livery at lunch at the model shop: $6 on consignment.

This morning I did the decals for the left side of the PA and PB Amtraks. I let the decals dry for about an hour and then tried the solvent (on the PA). Don't do that; the little decals start to float away; I guess they should be completely dry. Tonight everything should be dry and I can put solvent on the rest of the decals. One final coat of dullcote should finish them off. Very nice! While not commercial quality, I can't say I'm embarrased by my craftwork, I'm rather proud in fact.

Oct 21, 2015

This morning I put decals on one side of my PA/PB Amtrak shells. The large Amtrak arrow is not attached very well, but perhaps I need to get some decal solvent and try to get it to lay down. Otherwise, the decals look great!

Oct 20, 2015

Last night I did absolutely nothing except watch a movie. Felt good for a change; though I had planned in the morning to progress the custom loco project.

Instead, this morning I taped off the grilles on the CNW PA and PB, and painted them with the Badger Gloss Silver acrylic. Like the Amtrak, it's very... glittery. I pulled all the tape off, and at first glance, the CNW looks fantastic! I think this might work. I was thinking I'd tape off the little black pinstripes, but then a couple of things happened. First, I noticed that the decal set I got is for F units. I didn't think much of this at the time, because of course there won't be a CNW PA decal set, so the F should be as good as any (and was the only one at the hobby store). But the "CHICAGO AND NORTHWESTERN" writing for the sides is in yellow--presumably to go on an F3's black-painted "skirt", while the F7 foregoes the writing altogether. Well, the E (and my PA) have full yellow sides, with no black "skirt", and yellow writing on yellow sides isn't going to work at all! So I need an E decal set. Second, the decal set includes the thin black stripes, and while it may be a challenge to get those right on, it has a chance of looking pretty good. So I'll use those. Anyway, since I have to have that black lettering, I ordered 2 decal sets for CNW E's (number 80-51 if I recall), and they'll get here when they get here I guess. Otherwise, the other major thing is that the front emblem of all CNW E/F freights has a nice oval framing the lower of two headlights, and then the "highball" below that. The PA shells I got don't have that 2nd headlight, just the one headlight. I was going to just stick a highball logo on the front without the oval emblem, but now I just wonder what would happen if I got a new PA shell with 2 headlights this time (unbeknownst to me at the time, Kato made two PA shells, and I got 2 of the single headlight version), and repainted it. With the experience under my belt, I'd probably go for the C&NW green from Badger on the roof, which turned out just fine, but I'd use Testors *flat* yellow enamel and gloss silver. Both should flow better than what I used. Again, the gloss yellow flowed funny and doesn't look as even as it could, and isn't anything as nice as the Kato or even the Life-Like. So I think the "redo" will be worth it. And on the new shell with the two headlights, I can use the proper decals. Anyway, we'll see how that goes.

I've ordered a set of 3 Micro Trains tank cars (about $26 shipped--not a bad deal), and caboose trucks with generators, so I still have several projects in the works.

Oct 19, 2015

Productive weekend. On Saturday I started (finally) to paint locomotive shells. I had bought 2 sets of Kato Alco PA/PB shells, with plans to paint one set for C&NW and another for Amtrak. Neither railroad ran Alco PA's (although Amtrak used D&H painted PA's on a train for a short time), so these are "fantasy" schemes. Con-cor put out an Amtrak PA/PB, and I have a PA that I bought about 3 years ago. The Con-cor runs OK, but its noisy, has a hard time starting up after sitting on the shelf, has no flywheels, and the front plow is part of the front truck assembly--and, Rapido couplers. The Kato PAs run like... well, like Kato. Kato PAs are also painted far better, although my beginner custom paint job may be worse than the Con-cor!

Anyway, let's see. First step, remove all the accessories--horns, windshield, etc. Then, I masked off a PA and PB in preparation for painting the Amtrak black roof. I set up a makeshift paintbooth outside. I'm using acrylics for the first time, too. The Badger flat black is as gooey as molasses, so I've thinned it out considerably, probably more than a 1-to-1 ratio. Anyway, the black sprayed onto the roofs very nicely, and in two coats, I was done. Next (after a short wait), I masked off the "bloody nose" section of the PA and painted that with Badger Amtrak Red, which needed no thinning. It didn't go as well, but it went. Some of the paint crept up little crevices and bled (no pun intended) into the black part I just painted. I'll have to touch that up later.

While that's all drying, I masked off a PA and PB for Badger C&NW Old Yellow on the sides and nose. Painting one side of a PB proved extremely problematic. The paint acted like oil on water (or water--acrylic paint, on oil--plastic). Yes, I scrubbed all the shells with mild detergent and a toothbrush. I was so disappointed--I figured I need to prime the plastic (which, I didn't need to do at all with the black), so I washed all that paint off-water and isopropyl alcohol.

I went on a late afternoon mission to Home Depot. They only had automotive primer in stock (the normal stuff was out). I've had fair luck with the automotive primer in the past. Anyway, back home, I primed the whole C&NW PA/PB shell, and what was left to do on the Amtrak shell, too (the silver part).

In the meantime, I converted all eight freight cars from my Bachmann Empire Builder to use the Micro Trains roller bearing couplers. They roll nicely, and they couple surely now, and the couplers are a lot more attractive than those big ugly rapidos.

Sunday I sprayed the silver (Badger Gloss Silver) onto the Amtrak PA/PB, and yellow onto the C&NW. The silver turned out alright--although the "fleck" is a little large. The yellow--that's a different story. What an ugly yellow! It looks grey, dull, sickly, and lifeless, especially compared to the yellow on the Kato, Atlas, and Life-Like models I have. Later in the evening, I sprayed them with some regular good ol' Testors Gloss Yellow that I have on hand.

Monday morning I touched up the Amtrak PA and PB, and I think they're ready for decals. I masked the roofs of the CNW PA/PB, and sprayed them (inside this time, my box booth is good enough for acrylics) with Badger C&NW Dark Green, which needed no thinning and, like the black and unlike the yellow, went on gracefully and looks very very good!

Tonight I'm planning to get some more canned air, some decal set, and a good replacement touch-up brush, and finish the CNW with silver on the side grilles, and then start doing some decal work! Oh, the CNW still needs a black pinstripe which I'm a little nervous about doing.

Oct 14, 2015

Last night I ordered a 10-pair Micro Trains Bettendorf Truck replacement set on eBay. It should arrive Monday.

Otherwise this morning I figured that with ~16 cars to convert, I think I'll do the Roller Bearing trucks on my Bachmann cars from the Empire Builder and perhaps my 2 Highballer cars, and save the Bettendorf trucks for other freight cars I've acquired over the years at train shows (such as the Atlas box cars I just got a few weeks ago).

All my Rapido-style coupler trucks are friction bearing, so it might make sense to do all Bettendorfs, but I already spent money on the Roller Bearing trucks, and hey--they're cool too. My research shows that either style of truck will do on all but the most modern of freight cars (like the rotary hoppers), since roller bearings only became common on freight in the mid 60's, and until 1994, it's not unheard of to pull a friction bearing train in "interchange" service. Old cars with roller bearings can be considered shopped conversions. In any event, at N-scale, and being black, it's hard to tell anyway without reading glasses and a flash light.

Oct 13, 2015

Haven't done much since the train show... But this morning I tried out a couple of coupler conversions from the Micro Trains "Bettendorf" truck sample pack. I tried short and medium on a couple of Atlas box cars I bought at the train show, and the short makes the box cars *very* close together (although they work) and the mediums are just a little too far apart. I think I'll try the medium ones. I think I have about 16 cars total to convert, including the Bachmanns from the Empire Builder and I'll probably even convert my first Highballer set of two freight cars--hey, may as well just use them!

Sept 26, 27, 2015

Today's the first Fall Plano Train Show, since we moved from Fort Worth last year (the venue was hitting us hard with parking for one thing). I ran my 2x C&NW plus UP SD40-2 consist with the BNSF 24-car coal hopper train, my Wabash Bluebird (still DC), my C&NW smoothside passenger train with E8's, my Amfleet train, a C&NW SD60 pulled 11 car coal bottom dump train, and of course my P42 Amtrak Superliner train. I bought some more inexpensive box cars, mostly rapido that I'll have to change out.

Sept 20, 2015

There's a train show in Temple, and aside from running my Metra commuter, I bought 9 MicroTrains box cars and 3 open hoppers.

Sept 19. 2015

This morning I went through my C&NW Smoothside Passenger set and fixed up the lighting. When I first got it, I ordered the Kato 212 LED kits, but they make the interior shine an electric blue. I later got a Wabash Blue Bird passenger set that required the older 206 LED kit with incandescent bulbs; the form factor for the light board is the same, but the diffuser is different. The "electric blue" looks decent in my silvery cars like the Blue Bird, the Superliners, and the Metra bi-levels, so I swapped the incandescents for the LEDs in the Blue Bird, and used the incandescents in the C&NW. Unfortunately the bulbs get hot enough to warp some of the plastic in the C&NW, but fortunately it's just a structural piece that isn't visible outside. Regardless, I went through my C&NW cars and added a piece of the reflective strip that comes with the 206 kit, and hopefully that'll shield some of the heat. My ambition is to also perhaps add a dimmer and even an anti-flicker cap (although with DCC, I'll need to cram in diode and charging resistor, too). Anyway, while I was at it, I also added light kits to the Amfleet cars, so now I have a pretty good Kato F40PH-Amfleet train, too.

Sept 16, 2015

Yesterday, my first day back from vacation, I fiddled with my SD40-2's some more. All I did was fiddle with the sound scheme. I can't hear the air compressor very well (unlike the E8 sound), but I think it's running. I did find my power problem from from Sept 1st--just a bad rail joiner. In the afternoon, I took the Atlas GP40 with the TCS decoder in it to the shop, and they exchanged it. Now that I have a fresh TCS decoder, I *could* sell it on eBay, and then install a Digitrax "bug" (DZ126) in it instead--especially since I have to start over with soldering again. But, that would mean I'd have to make more than $20 on the TCS decoder ($31 new from the shop) on eBay to make that worth while, which is pretty iffy, so I guess I'll give TCS one more shot. I should have just done a Digitrax bug in the first place, since the TCS "drop-in" decoder requires about as much soldering and wire work.

Today I fiddled with the Kato SD40-2's more, trying to match the sound board performance with the plain board performance. I kicked up the sound board a bit, and added the UP SD40-2 to the consist. So here are my new values:

C&NW SD40-2 w/ sound:

CV02 (Vstart): 2

CV06 (Vmid): 100

CV05 (Vmax): 150

UP and C&NW SD40-2 w/ plain:

CV02 (Vstart): 2

CV06 (Vmid): 35

CV05 (Vmax): 70

They're not perfectly matched for all speeds, but they're pretty close. The 3 SD40-2's pulling the CNW coal cars is very nice looking.

Now for those C&NW E8's. They're road numbers 5021A and 5021B. To avoid conflicts with other locos from members of my model train club, I've chosen to change the 4-th place digit to '7' always, and use the rest of the numbers. So 8034 (C&NW SD60) is 7034, 628 (Alco C-628) is 7628, and 5021 (this E8) is 7021. Since this is an A/B set of road numbers, I'll just use 7021 as an address for both. Then MU'ing will be automatic, although for the B unit I'll have to set its normal operation to backwards. No problem.

So now my C&NW E8 passenger train is pretty well set and so is my SD40-2 coal train.

Unfortunately, the Kato E8's and SD40-2's still derail on my Scenic Ridge layout, but at least I'm set for some train shows with the club, and I'll have to get started on that new layout when some other dust in my life settles.

Sept 1, 2015

Remember that "faint of heart" thing? Well, this morning I tried to MU my two Kato CNW SD40-2's. Just like my F3's, when I have a Digitrax drop in board in one, and a Digitrax drop in board in the other that just happens to have sound, the plain board runs the loco quite spritely, while the sound board runs it rather slowly (and, when just turning on, does not respond to throttle until it's gone through it's "engine starting" sound--bonus when you lose power over a little track glitch and the rear loco starts pushing while the front one just sits there "starting up"). I can't for the life of me imagine why two types of boards from the *same* manufacturer for the *same* locomotive model run so wildly different, especially when I'm not the only cheapo out there that wants to run a 2-loco consist where only one locomotive has sound. Anyway, no problem, I guess I have to start learning how to do the speed tables.

Now neither the 3-step nor the 28-step speed tables are that difficult to understand, in fact they look like what I've been doing with software at work for pretty much all my career. So, OK, I'll just trim down the plain board response.

Well, I tell ya, I had a very hard time, because for some reason, as I'd experiment with values on my programming track and then transfer to my layout, nothing would run, until I reset the whole decoder. What could I possibly be doing wrong? I write and read back the values and everything's cool, on the programming track. It came down to nothing runs on the layout, and the "quarter trick" where you short rails just to see if the controller goes into protection mode indicated that I did have track power--only after attempting to measure track power with a meter did things magically start working again. I just don't know...

Anyway, I came up with the following: For the sound board, Vmax is 150, and for the plain board, Vmax is about 70. Vstart is 2, and Vmid is 0, which means the middle voltage point will just follow 50% of Vmax, to give a straight line. Both locomotives now follow each other on the track pretty well, with the sound one being a little "faster" but not enough to worry about. So now I have a two-SD40-2 consist for my coal trains. Awesome.

Aug 31, 2015

Yesterday I picked up the SD40-2 again, and grabbed the soldering iron. Before re-attaching the speaker wires, I know I have to do something about the capacitor--once again, no, despite Digitrax's instructions, it doesn't even remotely fit under the cab, with or without the plastic light guard clip. It's too stout. So I grabbed a 5mm x 11mm 100uF 16V cap from the order I placed on Amazon a while back, and that's too long to fit under the cab, but does fit between the frame and the board in the rear of the locomotive. Good news except the cap wires are too short to get down there, so I desoldered them and then carefully soldered two new 30 gauge wire-wrap wires to the pads. That's harrowing, as my hand just isn't steady enough. But I got it acceptably done. Now for the speaker--that was actually also pretty difficult to solder down, but I got it. Assembly went with some hitches. I had to remove the brass "saddle" pieces from the old board, and they look like they clip onto the new board, no solder required. So I put it all together and tried it, shell off, on my track. It sounds great! But it seems to drag laboredly when I try to move it. Turns out the whole rear truck is locked up. Turns out the little plastic shaft from the motor to the U-joint can be detached from the U-joint, so I snapped that back in. Runs great, but with the shell on, it doesn't! What now? Turns out those saddle clips, when the shell pushes down and in on them, actually rotate and lift away from the board. So those required some solder. All together, the thing actually runs now, and sounds pretty good. It derails, but again that's just my bad track work.

In the evening, since I have my soldering iron out, I tackled the "drop-in" (which is anything but--I could have just as easily "dropped-in" a $20 DZ126 bug and soldered it in place to the existing light boards and motor) TCS decoder on my Atlas GP40. It didn't take too much--a couple of hours, most of that being unfocused "stare-at-it" time. On the track, as soon as I hit track power, it takes off full blast in reverse! Holding it in place, I can change the headlight by changing the reverser, but wow, no matter what, full throttle reverse. I pulled the orange (+ motor) wire off the board, and the grey wire (- motor) is at full ~+15V, which would explain the full-speed reverse. I tried a reset  on the programming track (CV8 set to '2'), to no luck. I carefully examined for solder bridges, and I get nothing. I assume if the motor itself was shorted to the frame (it isn't--I insulated with Kaptop tape) that it wouldn't run due to the AC nature of DCC, so I may just have a bad board. I'll have to see what the model shop has to say. Again--not for the faint of heart!

Aug 26, 2015

Well, like I said, this hobby is *not* for the faint of heart. Last night I had an hour or two free, so I started on the other SD40-2, which will take a sound board. Once I got everything apart, I put the frame back together to carve out the hole in the tank for the speaker. While it took a while to get the hole completed, it wasn't difficult to do. I had to test fit the speaker in the hole several times between carvings, until I was happy. Then I cut channels into the tank area with a cutting disc, and also in the actual plastic tank piece, and up one side of the frame. These are for the wires of course. So while test fitting it all back together (and by now there's not much left to do but put it together), I ran into 3 problems: 1. Had to take the frame apart again to put the motor, drive shafts, and trucks back in of course, and in the process, I lost one of the little plastic nuts. 2. Not just one, but both wires from the speaker broke off the DCC board. I'll have to haul out the ol' soldering iron. And, 3. I really doubt the 100uF cap fits in the cab, even with the clip removed. So I'll have to work with that I guess. I can't see where to carve out any metal without compromising the frame, so I'm not sure what to do.

Aug 25, 2015

Last night I tried to put my E8 all together, only to find that the big cap in the nose doesn't allow the front of the shell to fully click into place. Sheesh--this hobby is *not* for the faint of heart! So I took it all apart and Dremeled out the nose some more, and then assembled it all together, to find it still doesn't *quite* fit, only to take it all apart again, and Dremel it again (each time washing the little metal filings out of my arms and hair), and put it all together again. Actually by now it's so late in the evening, and my wife got home from work, so I just left it for the next morning. I've almost dug out the nose so it starts to breach the front truck well, so if the cap doesn't fit after this, there's not much more I can do.

This morning I put the C&NW E8 all together again, and the shell clips on fine (well, it takes a little motivation), and the unit runs fine! It sounds exactly like the F3 now (same decoder), but with the baffle drilled out in back for the speaker, it's much louder. The light is unrealistically (and irritatingly) bright! I got an idea to take some Kapton tape (which is amber), and use it as a light filter--that tones it down and does give the light a much more orange-ish glow. It's still plenty bright, but it's possible to look at the front of the locomotive now without squinting. Literally that wasn't possible before, even at an angle.

So while I'm on a roll, I put the non-sound Digitrax DCC decoder into the *other* C&NW E8. With experience and no tricks required, it all went together in about 8 minutes! Shell off, clip out, board out, slide the little grey power rail hooks out, power rails out, Kapton tape on, rails back in, grey hooks back in, new DCC board slid in place, motor tabs bent down, clip on, shell on, done! Both E8's respond to the throttle very differently (my F3's do the same thing, both with Digitrax decoders, just one with sound and the other without), so I'll have to learn how to play with the speed tables to match them up better.

And while I'm on that roll, I did one of the Kato C&NW SD40-2's. Shell off, board slid out, tape on frame for motor tab isolation, DCC board slid in, shell on, done! Unfortunately (and my Atlas locos are the same way), I don't get the nice bright headlight from these, just barely an indication that the lights are lit. I may see if there's something I can do about that, but not for now.

I have two Kato C&NW SD40-2's, and I have a sound board for the second one. I have to drill out a speaker hole in the tank, which shouldn't take much to do, and also carve out a channel in the frame for speaker wires, so I won't tackle that this morning--probably this evening. The cap supposedly just fits in the cab area with no modification (except to a plastic clip that looks like it just blocks light into the "cab"), so it should go more smoothly than the E8. We'll see.

My E8 actually runs around the outer Scenic Ridge loop OK by itself, and the SD40-2 pulls the coal train almost all the way around the inner loop before derailing at the crossover, which just goes to show I need a new layout with better track work. Otherwise I plan to be ready for the next Tex-N show.

Aug 24, 2015

Later in the evening on the 21st, I had tried taping down the board after clipping off that plastic hook on top of the motor cradle, and carefully positioning the board so it would line up with the clear lens guides in front and back. That worked well. One Kato Amtrak F40PH, now with sound DCC.

I tried to put a sound decoder in one of my Kato C&NW E8's this weekend. There's no getting around it, time to try out that rotary tool (I'd call it a Dremel, but it's an off brand). As suggested in the instructions, I drilled (with a regular drill) a hollow hole about 3/8" in diameter all the way through the cubical block of metal in the rear of the chassis. When it came time to "Dremel" out the hole at the top to accommodate the speaker, I found nothing in my little kit that worked. Off to Lowe's! The selection at Lowe's was disappointing, but I settled on a real Dremel cylindrical cutter that's about 3/8" diameter with teeth radiating out from the center face and continuing down the sides of it. I just carefully worked it around the top of the hole and widened it out--worked very well actually. I also dug out a notch for the 100uF cap in front. I had other things going on that evening so I didn't get it all put together, but as far as I can tell, it should now all just snap back together with the new board in place (with some insulating tape of course). Can't wait! The F3 I did I just stuck the speaker on top of the board, so without a real enclosure it's not very loud, and then when I cover it with the plastic shell... This E8 one should be a lot louder.

Aug 21, 2015

Last night my $42 MRC Sound decoder for a Kato F40PH arrived, and I tried to install it this morning. Why do these things always turn out to be a problem? It's like, I'd have a lot better luck just putting one of those $20 red Digitrax bugs in there, and soldering the wires. The Kato's have a little tab that the board is supposed to slide back and under. The MRC board's hole for this tab is too small. Then there's the clip which might be more Kato's problem; it never seems to seat right against the drop in board and is very difficult to get to clip down (I have this problem with Digitrax drop-ins, too). Anyway, with it sorta working and put together, it works, and the sounds aren't half bad, although I don't like the idle sound much--I see there are 3 other "prime movers" to select sounds for, and I haven't tried them (there's no indication what they are either). But, when I put the shell back on, come to find out the LED on the MRC board is about 1mm too long, and interferes with the clear light-routing plastic in the shell. I think tonight i'm just going to try clipping the little tab completely off so I can slide the whole board back that 1mm, and then instead of using the clip, just taping the board down as best as I can.

Aug 2, 2015

Here's my official Honeymoon Train consist:

  1. P42 Phase III front-facing #96
  2. F40PH Florida Fun Train front-facing
  3. P42 Phase III rear-facing
  4. Baggage Car Ph III
  5. Transition Sleeper (door rear)
  6. Sleeper (door fwd) (mine, edward ullman)
  7. Sleeper (door rear)
  8. Sleeper (door fwd)
  9. Diner (door rear)
  10. Sightseer Lounge (door fwd)
  11. Coach (door fwd)
  12. Coach (door fwd)
  13. Coach (door fwd)
  14. Coach (door fwd) (possibly coach/baggage)
  15. Material Handling Ph III

The Sleepers, Diner, Lounge, and Coaches are all Con-cor later model Superliners with the Ph IV(a) scheme. The Transition Sleeper is the only oddball, being Kato Ph IV(b), missing the big "SuperlineR" lettering. Baggage, Material handling, and the 3 locomotives are all Kato in correct phase, but the F40PH is supposed to be in Florida Fun Train paint and is still in Amtrak paint. And to top it all off, all sleepers are Deluxe. I have no record of which of the 3 Sleepers on my train were Deluxe and which were regular. The Deluxe sleepers simply have all full-bedrooms upstairs, instead of a combo of full and roomette. Ours had a roomette on the lower level, so I can't even recall if ours was Deluxe or not, but it was the unique "Edward Ullman" car and I don't think that was Deluxe.

Laid on the dining room table, it measures 7 feet 6 inches!

Now I just have to make a narrow shelf for it, but I'd like to landscape it partly in desert and partly in mountain scenery, to represent our trip through Utah and Colorado. That'll take time. And I have to paint and decal that F40PH, which will be a challenge.

Jul 31, 2015

I got my Kato Superliner II Transition car last night. Maybe this weekend I can get a start on some actual projects.

Jul 24, 2015

I got my Testors Decals in the mail the night before (along with a copy of Silver Streak--wasn't a half bad little train movie), and my Acrylic Gloss spray last night, so I'm set to try some custom decals. Need time...

Jul 21, 2015

Last night I started gathering up the components of my Honeymoon train, and trying to lay it out on the dining room table, referencing my photographs for details such as which direction each car was oriented in the consist. I continued this morning, and let me tell you, it's not an easy task. I have only a couple of grainy photographs, taken along the train either in the train as the front or rear went around a curve, or alongside it at a station stop.

To determine what the orientation is, I decided to call it either "door front" or "door rear" since the door is off-center and the orientation could most easily be determined by that.

First of all, I determined last night that my train had a "Transition Sleeping Car." Con-cor doesn't make one. Kato does, but only Phase IVb (my train was IVa, and Kato's IVb lacks the large "SuperlineR" writing along the phase IV stripe. I suppose I could be really daring and get a IVa decal (Microscale makes them), and try to remove the one on the Kato and replace it. Heck, I suppose I could first try just covering it up--the IVb stripe with the IVa stripe--actually, that might work. Anyway, a Kato Transition runs about $30 shipped, so that's not very exciting.

Second, I got really confused as to the orientation of my 3 sleeping cars, as most photos suggest it was door-rear for the transition car and door-front for the other two cars, but one photo from a station stop suggested that the second sleeper was door-rear. I took the photo from that 2nd sleeper looking down to what I was pretty sure is the rear of the train. This morning I tried to find the station by pulling up Google Images of each stop west of Denver according to Amtrak's route guide, and it's Fraser Winter Park Station, with the station to the east of the north-to-south track. That explains the late afternoon shadow cast on the station platform from the towering Superliners, and indeed I'm looking toward the back of the train. Looking more closely at my other pictures taken from within the train, I thought it might be possible that there's a 4th Sleeping Car. That appears to be the case. So while I thought the 2nd Sleeper (which we were in) was the one I was standing alongside when I shot the train at Fraser Winter Park, and is confusingly oriented one way at that stop and seemingly another way at Denver (and how I remember it since we slept on it), it's actually the third of 4 sleepers. The downshot is my consist needs an additional sleeper--there were 10 cars, not 9. Four sleeping cars (1st is transition, we stayed in the 2nd, and then there were *two* additional sleepers before the dining car). Diner/Lounge, then 4 Coach cars. The 4 coaches were all door-front, and there's a vague possibility that the last car was a Coach/Baggage but I can't tell as there's a tree right in front of the windows that would have distinguished it. I think I have a Con-cor coach/baggage shell from the first round of all this, and I may include it for representation. I saw a video of a Zephyr with a coach/baggage more or less in the middle of everything else, so who knows what kind of train they assembled for my particular trip? So it could be possible.

Third (and I think I uncovered this last night), all I got from Con-cor were Deluxe Sleeping Cars, which have all full rooms upstairs instead of some fulls and the rest roomettes. The only car I know for sure that was *not* a Deluxe was #3, as I have a (grainy) pic of the writing on its side. Even our #2 could have been a Deluxe because we slept in a Roomette on the lower level, so I don't know for sure about #2 and #4 sleepers (#1 was the transition of course). It doesn't matter too much, and without really good or even interior lighting, all you can tell really is that there's blue "stuff" inside the Con-cors which generally look like seats and partitions.

Frankly, I'm starting to wish I'd just built a Superliner out of Kato Ph IVa's, but I've already bought more Kato and Con-cor Superliners that are just not-quite-right than I know what to do with. I bought a Kato 8-car Superliner that's IVb, but that's fine--I've ridden IVb trains since the Honeymoon train and would like a nice general train to represent that. I have my original Con-cor 5-car IVa set that's hollow inside (and you can really tell with the Sightseer Lounge) with Rapido flapper coupers that are bad even by flapper-coupler standards, and another of the same set I got recently on eBay because I thought it *did* have interiors but didn't (and paid waay too much--this was before realizing that Con-cor is selling them outright from its warehouse), and finally this 9-car set directly from Con-cor (but with no transition car, all Deluxe sleepers, all common road numbers, and crappy interiors with no native light kit, and frankly crappy roof mouldings). Oh well. Maybe someday...

Jul 20, 2015

Things are still stalled due to my business with other activities, but at lunch I went to the hobby shop and picked up yet more items. Two C&NW hoppers in a pack (MicroTrains) for $30.64, and two C&NW steel-side iced reefers $10 each. Also Walthers 6 Storage Tanks, $10.38, and 5 sections of Code 55 track. The guy at the shop recommended no thinning of the Badger acrylic paints, alcohol cleanup, and just a good soapy cleaning instead of priming. So I'll try that. I still need to get, after work, a good cardboard box (my cheapo paint booth), some dowels (to construct a cheapo paint stand), masking tape, and perhaps another can of air. I should just bite the bullet and buy a real air brush and compressor, which I can get a starter one of OK quality for about $150 from Amazon, but I'm a little low on "allowance" cash right now.

Jul 15, 2015

Last night I tried a little painting exercise with my acrylic paints and Badger 250 spray gun. It took a bit to gather up enough stuff to do it, and I don't have some things I'd like: good box for a paint booth, stand for holding parts, masking tape. Still I grabbed a plastic piece and (Scotch) taped it to the back of a small box, and tried to spray a roughly 1:1 mix of acrylic to water paint on the part. It almost all ran off. For one thing, I may not need to mix at all, or maybe make a light mix. Second, I think I need to prime the part, so I dug up a can of automotive primer and put that on the part. I'm not sure it'll be appropriate for plastics or acrylic, but I'm trying it anyway. After that first experiment, I'm definitely glad I'm trying things out first before attacking and ruining an actual Kato shell.

Jul 14, 2015

Last night I got my Con-cor Superliners. They're not too bad. I got all the same road number for the coaches, and the sleepers, but I think I'd rather have them all the same than to have 1 of one number and 3 of the other road number, or 2 and 2. Anyway, with this order of 9 cars (3 sleepers, 1 diner, 1 lounge, 4 coach) all Phase IV (a) with the big "SuperlineR" lettering, plus the 2 Kato P42s in Phase 3, and a phase 3 baggage car up front and phase 3 material handling car in the rear, and all I need now is a good F40PH, and I'll have my complete Honeymoon train. The challenge will be that F40PH. It needs to be a Florida Fun Train, and I think I can paint it such, but the hard part is which actual F40PH to use? I have two Katos with Ph3 Amtrak numbers, (I have a Kato Metra which obviously I won't use), plus 2 Life-Likes, and that one Mehano. The Mehano is honestly too primitive for a good display. The Life-Like's would be fine, but if I ever ran the train on my layout as opposed to just a static display (and why not? Those Kato P42's are meant to run, not sit), then 1. I'd have to put a DCC bug in a Life-Like, and 2. hope its running characteristics aren't too out of line with the Katos. Or I could sacrifice a Kato Amtrak F40PH and strip it, but then I'd be down to only one good Amtrak F40PH (plus I hear stripping Katos is hard), or I could order another Kato F40PH. Or I could go ahead and strip the one, and if I really want another Kato F40PH Amtrak, order it at that time. I think I'll do that. I got a 2-pack of the Kato F40PH's, so I'll just have to pick which road number I want to sacrifice. I wish Kato distributed just the shell, but so far I can't find one.

Jul 13, 2015

Today I started this journal, and as noted below, I have a lot of back-logging to do. Very well. But today it officially starts.

Not much to say; I got my Kato PB shells this weekend, and I'm looking forward to starting my custom loco paint jobs.


Also, I noticed Con-Cor Intl had refunded a charge they made (I was watching for but hadn't noticed the original charge), probably because they didn't account for the summer sale in the price. So I guess my order has been officially placed and supposedly it's on its way. They're a weird company to deal with, I tell ya, but hopefully their product will do the trick. These were for the 9 Superliners, and the net charge is $109.61.


OK, so it's July 13, 2015, but better late than never! My intent is to keep track of anything related to model railroading that I do that is probably not of interest to anyone but me, but perhaps if you, dear reader, wish to, you can scroll through and if you see a picture of something that piques your interest, stop there and read what I've written about it.

Since I'm starting this very late in the year, and I want to record some things earlier in the year, I'm going to back-date a lot of entries. I have evidence of event dates (receipts for purchases are easy, file dates for layout designs also provide clues). Mostly all I've done is buy stuff. That and I suppose I've gone over my next layout design quite a bit. I haven't had time to work on my layouts but hopefully that'll change in the latter half of the year.