Friday, December 18, 2015

Preparing Freight Cars

In recent years, model railroading products have been migrating from kit form to layout ready.  This has had several side effects.  First, and probably the biggest, is that it has brought a lot of new people to the hobby.  If a hobby looks too involved, it draws less interest from outsiders.  With so many products available ready to go out of the box, it is very easy to get into the hobby, and learn the trickier stuff later.  A lot of the "old timers" don't like the new ready-to-run equipment, saying that it takes the modeling out of model railroading.  This is true up to a point.  You no longer have to assemble your model trains from scratch or difficult kits, which gives you more time to build a layout to run your trains on.  If you try to do everything from scratch or to museum quality, you will never get an operating layout built.  But I digress.

While I am certainly not an "old timer," I have been in this hobby for most of my life.  I love the ready-to-run stuff.  However, I have developed certain standards that even the best ready-to-run models don't quite meet, and every model still has to spend some time on the workbench to become layout ready.  In this article I wanted to share with you how I do that.

First, it is important to have a set of standards for your models.  Without this, it will be difficult to put together a fleet that looks great and operates flawlessly.  Each person will develop a different set of standards based on their interests.  Each car in my fleet must have the following to be considered "layout ready":
  • Unique reporting marks and number
  • Weathering
  • Conspicuity markings (if applicable, more on that later)
  • Sergent Engineering couplers
  • Placards (if applicable)
  • If it is an open car, it either needs to have a load or to be a convincing empty car
For this article, I will be following the progress of four Walthers tank cars I recently finished.  They came as two identical sets of two, and so I had two of each road number.  I made the following diagram to explain what needed to be done with the cars to make them layout ready:

Photo is from Walthers, edited by Steven Ogden
When my cars get to the workbench, I like to print out a photo of the car's 1:1 scale version as a reference.  For these tank cars, I used the following photo:

Photo by Paul Rice, from
The first thing that needed to be done was decals.  Since I had two of each road number, I had to renumber two of the cars.  To do this, I blacked out the last digit of the road number on the two extra cars with Microscale's black trimfilm decal sheet.  Once that had dried, I used alphanumeric decals from Highball Graphics that matched the color and font of the cars to put in a new number, so that I would have four unique road numbers.

Next, the Optimiser logo needed to be blacked out.  You can see in the prototype photo where it had been blacked out.  Again, I used Microscale black trimfilm to cover up the logo.

After that, the car needed conspicuity markings.  In 2005, the FRA required railroads to start putting these on locomotives and rolling stock, to be completed in 2015.  If you model a period in between those years, not all rolling stock would have them yet.  I base it off of the prototype photos I find, if the car has the stripes in the photo, the model gets the stripes; if not, I leave them off.  This way most of my models have the stripes but a few do not.  If you model before 2005, a lot of railroads had begun putting reflective stripes on their equipment before the FRA made it a requirement.  For the conspicuity stripes, I used a decal set from Highball Graphics.

The Department of Transportation requires all vehicles carrying hazardous materials to carry placards.  This way, in case of a derailment, the emergency responders know exactly what is in the car and what dangers that presents to the site.  Even when the car is empty, it is considered a residue car, because some of the product is still in the car, and it is still required to carry placards.  I used a tank car data set from Highball Graphics to give these four cars placards for fuel oil.  As a side note, modeling hazmats can be confusing, and James and I are planning on writing a short series on hazmats and how to model them.

Another sign that tank cars are required to carry is the Chemtrec sign.  This is a yellow rectangle that has a phone number in it for people to call in case of a spill.  These cars came with the Chemtrec sign on them, but Walthers had put their own phone number on the sign.  I'm not a rivet counter, and normally this would not bother me, but the decal set I bought for the placards came with a bunch of Chemtrec signs too, so I went ahead and replaced those while I was at it.

Next, I weathered the cars.  You'll notice in the prototype photo that the black is a lighter color than in the model photo.  This is caused by the car being out in the sun for years and having the paint faded by the sun.  To simulate this, I airbrushed the cars with a very light coat of Reefer White.  This lightens up the black just enough to make the cars look like they have been outdoors for a while.  After the white dried, I airbrushed a light coat of Dirt on the bottom half of the cars, to simulate the dirt and mud kicked up by the wheels.  There are several colors that work well for this, Mud and Railroad Tie Brown are colors that I've used and gotten good results as well.

In the prototype photo, there is an area on the car that has been repainted recently.  You can tell because the black is cleaner and has not been faded by the sun.  I decided to simulate this on two of the cars.  After the airbrushing had time to dry, I used more of the Microscale black trimfilm decal sheet to "repaint" some random areas on the two cars.  Since the decals were put on after the weathering, those areas came out looking like they had just been repainted and had not been faded by the sun or splattered with mud yet.

After doing that, I used small dabs of oil paints to put some minor spots of rust on the cars.  After letting it dry for a couple of hours, I used a paintbrush soaked in turpenoid, an oil paint thinner, to streak the paint downward, as if it had rained and washed the rust down the side of the car.  Once that had dried, I sprayed the cars with dullcoat to seal in all the decals and paint that I had done.

Once the dullcoat dried, I replaced the couplers.  I use Sergent Engineering couplers, which are not Kadee compatible, so I need to replace the couplers on all the cars that come across my workbench.  Tank cars carrying hazardous materials are required to have double shelf couplers.  Since the manufacturer doesn't know which cars are going to carry hazardous materials and which ones will not, most tank cars are given double shelf couplers when they are built.  Sergent Engineering has double shelf type E couplers that I used.  I got the kits, since they are cheaper than the pre-assembled couplers.  I learned the hard way, however, that the double shelf couplers do not fit in the assembly jigs, and are a pain to assemble.  In the future, I would buy the pre-assembled ones.  Lower shelf and standard E couplers fit in the jig just fine.  If you do not use Sergent Engineering couplers, Kadee makes some double shelf couplers as well.

Once the couplers were installed, the cars were layout ready.  I don't normally use scale size wheels, but since they are so visible on these cars, I do want to replace the wheels with scale size ones, but I haven't gotten to that just yet.

Most cars are not this involved.  Usually I just have to add conspicuity stripes and do some basic weathering and install new couplers.  I like to do this in batches of three to five cars, to get a bunch done at a time.  Each step can take a bit of time, so doing several cars together saves a lot of time.

I brought the finished cars to the club a few nights ago and took some photos.  Here are a couple of them:

Photo by Steven Ogden.  Compare this to the prototype photo above.
Photo by Steven Ogden.  Here are all four finished cars in a train.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Product Review: Walther Metroliners

Several months ago, Walthers released their Metroliner models. Even though I have little desire to eventually model the Northeast Corridor, this was an intriguing model to me. I was curious to see how it had turned out. I was curious to see how well they had hidden the motor, and how well the models ran. I was also curious to hear the sound. Electric model sound is somewhat of a rarity in the hobby, as most modelers choose subjects that use either steam or diesel locomotives. While I have heard plenty of electric locomotives in the "real world," I was curious about how one might sound in the layout room. Despite all of this curiosity, I initially chose not to buy any Metroliners, on account of the price and my disinterest in actually modeling a railroad where they operated.

All photos by James Ogden.
Several weeks ago, I got an email from Walthers, indicating that the Metroliners were on sale. The catch was that you had to buy four of them, but in packages of four, they were going for about half price. Despite not wanting to model a railroad on which they operated, I could not resist. I took the plunge and bought a four-pack of Amtrak Phase 2 Metroliners. Four-packs of different paint schemes came with different combinations of cars. I chose Amtrak Phase 2 primarily because I liked the consist it offered. In that particular package there were two coaches, a parlor, and a snack bar coach. I ordered the set, and approximately one week later they arrived at the door.

Upon arrival, I opened the box and did a quick inspection of the cars through their individual boxes. I was headed to the Northern Lights Model Train Club that evening anyway, so I decided to do the bulk of the inspection and operating there. The club has much more space to run on!

I ordered a set of cars that were all equipped with DCC and sound from the factory. These are equipped with Tsunami decoders, from SoundTraxx, which are specifically designed for this model. Like most decoder equipped models, the cars were all programmed to respond to address 3 initially. The cab ends of all cars, regardless of specific type, are programmed as the front. As such, if you intend to run several cars together, they will need at least some minor programming to respond in unison when facing in opposite directions. Since I had four cars, I chose to run them with two facing forward and two facing back. To facilitate this, I set up a consist, and programmed two of them to run in reverse within the consist. This was the extent of the programming I did. After that, I placed them on the layout, in the staging yard, and ran them out to the main layout.

Right off the bat, I was impressed with how smoothly the cars operated together. I had done nothing to attempt to speed match them, but they were pretty well matched right out of the box. One would think this is normal--they each have the same decoders and electronics--but it is not always the case. I noticed some minor surging between cars at very low speeds. Once the speed was above a crawl however, the cars ran very smoothly together.

The prototype Metroliners had a headlight on each end, and markers on the A end. Because the headlight function on most DCC decoders allows for two outputs, instead of three, Walthers chose not to light the "B" end headlight. Instead, they chose to light the "A" end, or cab end, marker lights. When the car is operated forward, that is with the cab leading, the cab end headlights come on. When the car is operated in reverse, the marker lights on the cab end light up.

In addition to headlights and markers, the cars also have lighted number boards, lighted interiors, and a Mars light, activated by functions  one, five, and six. There are also typical sound functions, such as the horn, coupler noise, brake squeal, cooling fans, and air compressor. Note that the prototype had no bell, and so the model has no bell sound. As one would expect from a SoundTraxx product, the sound quality was excellent. The cars were a little loud for my taste, but the sounds were clear and responsive to throttle inputs. The sound volume can easily be adjusted to the desired levels.

The cars were nicely detailed from the factory. The underbody matched photographs I looked at, and the model came equipped with finer details, such as grab irons and rooftop electrical details. The only disappointment I had in the details were the pantographs. There are a couple of different types of pantographs featured on the cars, but I was disappointed that they were plastic. They were clearly not designed to collect current from an overhead catenary, and that is just fine. In HO scale, that is not usually reliable or practical anyway. But, during the models' life on a layout, chances are the pantographs would be handled a bit. They are fairly fine details, and I think they would hold up better if they were metal, instead of plastic. Other than that though, I felt as if the model was nicely detailed. While it looked out of place on the club layout, which is set in fiction but represents Alaska, they are nice looking models.

Overall, I think this is a fine model. For those who model the Northeast Corridor, particularly in the 1970's and 1980's, these would be a great addition to the fleet. They fill a noticeable void, and are a major improvement to the Metroliners offered by Bachmann many years ago. However, being as these only operated under catenary in the northeast, these models fill a very specific place. I think most modelers, like myself, will find that these probably do not fit well on their layouts. They are lovely models, but if you do not model the area they ran, they will always look a bit out of place. To be honest, I was surprised that Walthers would pursue such a model. Surely other Amtrak models would have been applicable to more modelers.

Manufacturer: Walthers Proto
Paint Schemes: Penn Central, Amtrak Phase 1, Phase 2 (Phase 1 cars come numbered, others come with number decals.)
Cars: Snack Bar Coach, Parlor Car, Coach
MSRP: $169.98 with DC, $259.98 with sound and DCC

To view more photos, please visit out Facebook page.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Another Summer in Alaska

My life is heavily divided between summer and winter. This probably has a lot to do with the nature of employment in train service on Alaska Railroad. For the first few years, it is highly seasonal. As such, I work the most in the summer, and then I am laid off for the winter. I say "laid off," but I think the railroad uses that term differently than most employers. When most employers conduct layoffs, it terminates employment. With the railroad, it is a temporary condition in which I retain employment and seniority, but I am not working. They will call me back to work in the spring.

Southbound at MP 58 on a work train.
All photos by James Ogden.
Alaska Railroad is a full service railroad, with trains operating year round, but because a lot of our passenger service caters to tourists visiting Alaska, we have more traffic in the summer. That is our busy season. In the winter, the freight continues on about the same pace as the summer, but the passenger service is reduced. In the summer, passenger traffic is the bulk of our business, in the winter it is more of a footnote. Typically I work from early May to October. Last winter, I even worked in December and January.

So, what do I do with myself all winter? Well, last winter I got the idea that I was just going to enjoy being unemployed. I figured I could get things done around the house, and spend some more time on hobbies. Turns out, when you rent your home, there is not a whole lot to do around the house besides the regular chores. My hobbies, while interesting, were not the only thing I could do. So, I went out and got myself a part time job, shuttling airline crews between their hotels and the airport. It probably does not sound all that exciting, but it was not bad. It was easy, and it certainly pays better than sitting around the house! I will probably do that again. This winter we own our home though, so I am certain the "honey-do" list will grow. No doubt, I'll stay busy, even without the railroad calling in the middle of the night!

This past summer flew by. I still feel as if I just moved up here to take the job with Alaska Railroad, but in reality, I have now completed three summers here. This summer, like the others, was interesting and enjoyable for the most part. I spent all of it on the Conductors' Extra Board. Last summer, the goal was to work the summer on the board, but I got bumped a lot. I was the lowest Conductor on the railroad last year. This year however, I had a few Conductors below me. I went to the board on May 12, and managed to stay there until September 20. At that point, they force assigned me to the Conductors' board in Fairbanks. I took a couple of vacation days instead of rushing up there, because they were talking about laying me off within a couple of days anyway. It is an awfully long drive to get laid off just a few days later. While I was on vacation days, I got bumped for the first time all summer, and then they laid me off on the 24th. That was the only time I got bumped all summer. Just having a few people below me in seniority makes a big difference. In 2014 I got bumped every two weeks, or less.

The northbound Coastal Classic runs along Turnagain Arm, at about
9:45pm, one summer evening.
Right now in my career, I prefer the extra board. To some people, that probably seems a little crazy, the schedule is unpredictable, and you cannot plan anything more than a few hours in advance. When the car needs maintenance, I always plan it for my wife's days off, because there is a very good chance I will not be around. Living life on a two hour call is not always the best way to go. But, despite the drawbacks, I enjoy the variety of the extra board. I rarely work with the same person twice in a row, and I rarely work the same job twice in a row. I get to go just about everywhere on the railroad, and sometimes I get to be on more unique jobs, that they only use the extra board to cover.

This year, I did the usual trips, such as the passenger train to Fairbanks, the yard jobs, and the Whittier freight jobs. Strangely, I did manage to entirely avoid tying up in Whittier, and I managed to avoid hostling most of the summer.

Hostling is a thankless job, especially the night hostling. Hostlers work out of the diesel shop, also known as the roundhouse, though it is actually not round at all. During the day, hostling is pretty slow. Most of the work is just moving locomotives around for the mechanical staff. At night, it can be pretty busy. The passenger trains all arrive in Anchorage between 5:30pm and 10:15pm. If fuel levels are below a certain level, the yard crew that switches passenger trains will drop the locomotives off at the fuel rack, outside the roundhouse, when they are done switching that train. They only drop it off. Once it gets there, it is in the hands of the hostlers. The hostlers fuel the locomotives, add sand if needed, and then do some general cleaning. They go through the cab and take the trash out and restock any supplies, such as toilet paper, hand sanitizer, napkins, and track warrants. They also make sure all the tools and equipment are in their appropriate places. They also usually wash the windows. If time permits, the entire locomotive gets washed. We are probably a minority, as far as railroads go, for having Conductors and Engineers wash their own locomotives by hand! We get a bucket with detergent and a brush on a long handle and scrub the whole thing by hand, top to bottom. After the locomotives have been hostled, they get an air brake test, and then they go back on their trains.

Southbound at MP 180 on the QAP gravel train.
Even if the locomotives do not need fuel, the hostlers go over to the car shop, where the passenger trains are serviced, and at least go through the cab and take out the trash and refill the supplies. Once the locomotives are on their assigned trains, it is time to do brake tests. Freight cars get a Class 1 air brake test when they are first put in a train, and after that, only when the train is changed by more than one pick up and one set out. Passenger trains get a Class 1 air brake test every calendar day, even if the train has not changed at all. Usually the hostlers perform those in the middle of the night. The goal is to have the air tests done by the time the morning yard crew comes on duty, so they can focus on getting the trains to the depot early enough to leave on time. After the air tests, the night hostlers are usually just about done for the day. There is some paperwork to take care of, as always, and then it is time to go home.

The Whittier freights are usually interesting, even if the weather is lousy. Whittier is famous for the amount of rain and generally lousy weather it receives. Whittier and Anchorage are only about 60 miles apart, but the weather can be completely different. Sun and a cloudless sky in Anchorage does not necessarily mean it is nice in Whittier. Whittier itself is a small town, only 182 people live there, but it is an important place for the railroad and for Alaska. Whittier features a deep, ice free port, and so a lot of the things consumed by Alaskans arrive through Whittier. Some of that comes by rail, in an uncommon way. Alaska Railroad has no direct rail connection to the rest of the US or Canada. Instead, cars are interchanged to the BNSF, Union Pacific, and Canadian National by a fleet of barges. Car floats were popular in New York at one time, and the principle is similar, but the barges that come to Alaska are much bigger. The float operations in New York run on relatively calm water and over short distances. The longest voyages there were a few hours. The barge between Seattle and Whittier takes a week, on a normal voyage, and operates in much rougher seas. There are times when the swells exceed 15 feet, even in relatively protected waterways, and the barges must be able to handle that. When the barges get to Whittier, the rail cars roll off, much like the car float operations in New York. A train is assembled in Whittier, and then runs to Anchorage. Meanwhile, other cars are brought to Whittier, switched to comply with weight and balance requirements on the barge, and loaded for transit to the "Lower 48." Alaska Marine Lines operates three barges, each with eight tracks on the deck, and stantions to support shipping containers above the rail cars. Canadian National owns another barge, which operates between Prince Rupert, BC, and Whittier. It is similar, but lacks the equipment to handle shipping containers. All of these barges are capable of moving 45 or more cars. Every piece of equipment on Alaska Railroad arrives and departs the property on those barges.

Explorer Glacier, seen from a freight train headed to Whittier.
Loading and unloading the barges is a delicate operation, which requires a bit of planning. There is often switching to do before cars are loaded on the barge, because everything must be balanced properly. In addition, the Coast Guard has different requirements for shipping hazardous materials than the railroad, so a train that leaves Anchorage in compliance with all the railroad tonnage and hazmat requirements, usually does not meet all the Coast Guard requirements. Once all the cars are in the right places, loading the barge takes place at walking speed, and only when the tidal conditions are right. Too low or too high a tide means the slip, the movable bridge that connects dry land to the barge, will be at too steep an angle to safely move rail cars across it. The barges are capable of pumping seawater aboard for ballast, which can accommodate for some of the variation in the tide, but ultimately, Mother Nature gets the final say. If there are delays, it can mean "losing the tide," and having to wait for the next tide cycle. As a train crew member, there is a lot of motivation to avoid losing the tide, because it means getting stuck in Whittier longer, and no one likes staying there any longer than necessary!

Matanuska River, seen from the right of way of the old Sutton branch.
The passenger trains are always interesting. If nothing else, passengers have a way of providing some amusement, even if they do not intend to. The majority of the summer passengers are tourists, visiting Alaska from another place. Most are here for the first time. As such, a certain amount of tourist type questions are expected. Quite a few are on their first train ride, and so there are some common questions about the railroad that come up too. The most common question I get is who is driving the train. For some reason, many people assume the Conductor runs the train, and some people become a little alarmed when they see me walking through the passenger cars. It is funny because almost every kid on the train knows that the Engineer does the driving. No matter how hot it is outside, someone usually asks how much snow Alaska gets. I usually have to explain that it varies a lot, because Alaska is huge. Anchorage gets a few feet every year, but Fairbanks gets less. Whittier and Seward get a ton. People often ask how cold it gets in the winter too. Every once in a while, you get someone who really brightens your whole day, and it is usually a kid. To most of the kids on the train, the Conductor is what they want to be when they grow up. Some of them get all excited to see the Conductor, and it is hard to not enjoy that. I usually try to keep some souvenirs handy to give to the kids on the train. They are just little things, key chains or pins that say "Alaska Railroad" on them, but the kids love it. And, of course, there is always some wise guy on board who asks, "can I drive the train?" That question gets old, but it is usually an adult who asks and clearly thinks they are being pretty funny.

Charter trains are a completely different kind of passenger train. They are generally chartered by locals as a way to entertain guests. Sometimes they charter a car or two, and have them pulled by one of our regular trains, sometimes they charter their own train. I had the chance to work a charter this year that was organized by the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau. They charter a train to run to Portage and back in the evening, and then invite some of the local businesses in tourism aboard. They also invite travel professionals from outside Alaska to come up here and experience the railroad. It gives travel professionals a taste of what Alaska has to offer and a chance to network with some of the local vendors. They have lots of local food, dinner, beer, wine, and some local musicians or a DJ. They charter a dome car, a coach, a couple of our bistro cars, and a business car. The DJ or musicians usually set up in the business car, which can be arranged to accommodate dancing, while food is served buffet style in the bistros. The coach and dome are for people to sit down and enjoy the view.

Locomotives for the overnight freight to Anchorage are headed over to
the yard in Fairbanks. This is January, and it is -26 degrees.
We had a spectacular trip the day I worked that train. The trip to Portage is usually pretty scenic anyway, but it was a picturesque fall day in Alaska, complete with moose, Dall sheep, and beluga whales. Even the locals were pretty excited about it. The mountains were bright yellow, with a light dusting of snow on the tops, and the sky was cloudless. The evening sun lit everything up brilliantly. We had lots of time scheduled to get to Portage, so when the whales appeared in the inlet, we stopped the train to let everyone enjoy it and take pictures. As the sun set, and it began to get dark, people headed for the business car, where there was singing and dancing. They even had karaoke going for a little while. We turned the lights down in the business car and the coaches, and people enjoyed the entertainment well into the evening. With charters, you can never be sure if it is going to turn into one big drunkfest, which usually results in problems, or if it will go well, but this one turned out quite well.

Overall, I had a great summer. There were good days and lousy days, as one would expect, but it was a good summer, even if it flew by. A common question I get this time of year is when I expect to be recalled. I figure it will be early May. They may surprise me and call me sooner, but I would not bet on it. In the mean time, I'll enjoy not having to answer the phone, and get some things done on the honey-do list. They say the winters here are long, but it will go by fast too, and I'll be back to the railroad before I know it.

A panorama of Whittier in the winter, taken from my hotel room on the 14th floor of the Begich Tower.
Click on the photo to enlarge.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Boston, Concord, & Montreal Railroad

I've made some progress on the model railroad, but before I get into that, I promised in my last post that I would explain my fictional railroad, so I thought I'd take the time to do that today.  I consider it a semi-fictional railroad.  Let me explain what I mean by that.  In the mid-19th century, when small railroads were starting to consolidate into larger ones, the Boston, Concord, & Montreal railroad was formed out of several of the small railroads in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.  When it was formed, tracks existed between Boston and Concord (New Hampshire), and the plan was to continue building north.  The railroad built north through New Hampshire's lakes region and into the foothills of the White Mountains to a small town called Woodsville, on the Connecticut River and the border with Vermont.  They also built a branch out of Woodsville into the White Mountains which connected with the Portland and Ogdensburg, another big railroad of the day.  P&O was eventually consolidated into Maine Central, and BC&M was consolidated into Boston & Maine, and plans to continue the line to Montreal were abandoned.  Canadian Pacific built tracks south to Woodsville, so the line eventually reached Montreal, and they were used as B&M's main route to Montreal.

Boston & Maine later came under the control of the New Haven Railroad, which wanted to control the larger railroads in New England, consolidate them into one company, and electrify the important routes.  They experimented with third rail electrification near Hartford; however, it led to many accidents and the state of Connecticut banned the use of third rail electrification within its borders.  This forced the New Haven to look into overhead catenary, which at the time was only used on streetcar and interurban lines, and only with low voltage DC power.  New Haven did extensive research and developed a high voltage AC system and strung wires along part of their main line out of New York.  The tests were successful, and wires were extended to New Haven and along several branch lines.  New Haven was also responsible for stringing catenary through Boston & Maine's Hoosac Tunnel.  However, New Haven came under new management, and the plans to electrify all the busy routes in New England were dropped.

All of that being said, I am still modeling the present day.  I wanted to give some background information, which will tie in here.  My version of the BC&M is a "what-if" situation: What if the BC&M was never bought out, and survives today as a Class 2?  This led me to a few conclusions.  First is that the railroad completed their line to Montreal.  I don't know what route they were planning on building, and I don't know that the railroad itself had any plans either, so I will use the existing former CP route between Woodsville and Montreal as BC&M's main line.  The second conclusion is that for a while in the early 20th century the BC&M was under the control of New Haven.  Since I like the idea of electrification, I used this as an excuse to have catenary on my railroad.  Since the Boston to Concord corridor is fairly heavily populated, and at the time had a lot of rail traffic,then in my world the route between the two cities was electrified by New Haven, and that the wires survive today and the BC&M still uses them.  However, I don't plan on modeling today's amount of rail traffic on the line.  Today, the line barely exists between Concord and Plymouth, NH, and between Plymouth and Woodsville the tracks are gone.  There is no direct rail connection between Boston and Montreal anymore.  However, since in my world it is all run by one railroad, none of the abandonments happened, and the route is still the main line between the two cities, and therefore has much more traffic on it today.  Finally, since the area today is ripe for a commuter rail service, I will model a fictional commuter service to Montreal, which of course will also use the catenary.

However, most of that does not have to do with this model railroad, except that I am modeling a branch of the BC&M.  The branch will not be electrified, I will use diesels to run the trains.  When (if) I ever get the chance to build a basement empire, I will model a much larger BC&M and have electrification on the layout.

When we put together the maps section in our resources page, I will include a map of the BC&M for reference.  In the meantime, this scan of on old Boston and Maine timetable will give you an idea of the route I am talking about.  It is the one on the top of the page, the Canadian Pacific route to Montreal. Canadian Pacific tracks began at Woodsville.

Finally, here are a couple of paint schemes I designed for the railroad.  I used a GP38-2 and a SD40-2 to design the paint scheme, but I am not sure yet what I will use for motive power.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Getting Going Again

If you are even a slightly regular follower of this blog, you have probably noticed that it stalled out a bit over the last few months. Steven and I do sincerely apologize for that. We do intend to keep it going, but as you are probably aware, life can get in the way sometimes. Since this is something we do as a hobby, it sometimes gets temporarily shelved when work and other more essential tasks start to get in the way.

Now, all that said, we have actually been getting things done in the background. On the left, you may have noticed the "Other Resources" link. That has been there for a while, and we have a few things in there, which mostly have grown out of our own hobby research projects. Most of the stuff in there is stuff we felt might be either useful or of interest to those that frequent this site. We have not recently added anything new, but we have several things in development. The most notable is a series of maps, the development of which Steven is spearheading. Currently, they are Google Earth maps, which would require us to host a file for you to download, if you wanted to look at them. We are exploring other web-based approaches, so that no one has to download anything. Keep your eyes open for that. It is something that will by no means be complete when it goes online, but we would like to start it off with more than one map.

We are developing a new schedule for posting content regularly to the blog. One thing we definitely want to revive is our weekly photo posts. Those were quite popular and really did not take an enormous amount of effort to put up. But we want your help on that. If you have a photo, or many photos, you would like to share, send them to us. You can reach us at, which we check several times per week. If possible, photos should be at least 600 by 800 in size, and should feature a railroad themed subject, though there does not necessarily need to be a train in them. You retain all copyrights, if you send us a photo, you are only giving us permission to share it with the world on the blog. We would love to see and share your photos!

Other than that, we would like to bring back weekly modeling posts and weekly railroad stories and practices. If there is anything else you would like us to do, please do not hesitate to contact us. Email is the best way to reach us, again it is, but you can also reach us via our Facebook page. If you are a Facebook user, you might consider following us on there, for little extras, which do not quite merit their own blog post, but which are nonetheless interesting or entertaining.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Steven's First Annual Christmas Layout

Okay, so calling it a layout may be a bit of a stretch.  It's a Christmas layout, so it's temporary, I'll be taking it down after Christmas.  But I'm hoping this will become an annual thing, where I'll set up a train each year around Christmas.

I used a 2 1/2 by 5 foot folding table as my "benchwork," which doesn't give enough space for a full loop in HO scale, so I had to do it in N scale.  I had never worked in any other scale than HO before, and I learned a few things from this.

First, a lot of the knowledge I have about model railroading is only applicable to HO scale.  I know who a lot of good manufacturers are, as well as manufacturers that produce cheap models, but there are different manufacturers for N scale.  Some HO manufacturers don't produce anything in N scale, and there are other manufacturers that make N scale models but do nothing in HO.  Honestly, I felt a little lost when I was looking for a train for the setup!  Something else I hadn't thought of was that I know what a tight radius curve is in HO scale, and I know what a wide curve is.  I had no idea what was considered tight in N scale, which made it hard to select track.

I ended up buying a loop of Bachmann E-Z track that fit on the table that I had.  I learned that HO and N scale use the same type of power, and I used a spare DC power pack that I had for power.  I had no idea what type of train I wanted to model, but I found a Boston and Maine Alco RS-2 for a good price, so I decided I would model a transition era freight train.  I found a matching caboose and four 40-foot box cars with New England road names, and I had my train.

Since this was to be a temporary Christmas layout, I had no plans to use N scale structures or to do any scenery.  I used ceramic Christmas village buildings as my structures, and a table top Christmas tree, to fill in the space inside the loop of track.  I ran an extension cord over the track by wrapping it around one of the branches of the Christmas tree and down the trunk, and I used that to provide lights for both the Christmas tree and the buildings.

My plan here is to change something on this setup each year.  In the future, I plan on adding a second track so I can have a second train, and depending on space, a small staging yard so I can have options on what I want to run.  The Christmas village buildings that I used this year are large for N scale, but there are smaller ones available, so in the future I want to use the smaller ones.

Anyways, it has been fun setting up this temporary Christmas layout, and I look forward to doing it each year and sharing it each year on this blog!

Here are some photos of the layout: