Sunday, July 15, 2018

Phase II T-Trak Project

I've started Phase II of my T-Trak project. The Phase I configuration was on a piece of plywood mounted on top of an old desk. It consisted of two end cap T-Trak modules and two double-length modules. This is how it looked when I'd had things up and running for a few months.

I've expanded this layout by getting a 30" by 6' folding table. These can be found in the $30-$40 range. While standard T-Trak modules will result in a configuration either too short or too long for a 6' table, Masterpiece Modules, which I use, offers a 1-1/2 length module that will result in a configuration that, in combination with two end caps and a pair of double-length, will fit on a 6' table.

Here are the two 1-1/2 length modules inserted into the previous Phase I layout:

Here is some scenery under way on the left hand end cap:
The move of the Phase I layout onto the folding table frees up the space on the desktop for eventual expansion into a Phase III.
I discovered that typical desks, folding tables, and the like all have a standard height of 29 inches, which makes for potential creative uses with T-Trak modules. The disadvantage is the low height. On the other hand, I think the modularity, expandability, and configurability of T-Trak, as well as its extreme portability, make it a better choice for smaller layouts in apartment-type environments than hollow core doors.

Here is Amtrak 448, the eastbound Boston section of the Lake Shore:

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

More T-Trak Outside The Box

Harold Minkwitz, a blogger who's been talking about outside-the-box concepts like 5.5 mm scale for 3-foot narrow gauge on HO track, has posted on a new site about T-Trak. He says,
T-Trak is a great concept. It makes it possible to make a small scene that can be finished. I was building an On30 layout a while back and realized I wasn't a layout person. I needed a concept where the layout was more volatile. If I didn't like the section of the layout, that scene could be replaced. T-Track is great.
The basic idea behind T-Trak is small, manageable, standardized components. A limitation of the concept is how it's currently used, primarily for weekend "meets" in gyms, community centers, or convention facilities where numbers of participants bring modules to assemble large temporary layouts on tables.

Harold is raising the idea I like, how the small, manageable, standardized components can be used for home layout design, especially, as he puts it, for "rough draft" or "cut and paste" approaches. Here's another issue of how I think you can get more from T-Trak than the weekend meet idea allows.

I found this drawing of a simple T-Trak layout on the T-Trak site:

The basic layout is just three ovals, each of which could run a separate train. This is probably enough for a weekend meet. But what if you simply add Kato crossovers, or double crossovers, at the spots I marked? You've suddenly got a lot of options for different routes -- and this is prototypical in some transit operations, like the choice between the Main Line and the Suburban Line on the Metra Rock Island district. And of course, Kato makes Metra models.

The problem for the "weekend meet" based T-Trak standards is that the wiring standard of BWWB doesn't even allow you to use crossovers between the tracks! And DCC would clearly be the way to run multiple trains on multiple routes on such a layout, but "weekend meet" groups need to accommodate members who don't use DCC.

But at that point, you start to need a dispatcher to control the different trains on different routes. This is also getting too complicated for a temporary weekend setup. Eventually, I hope the idea of T-Trak for home use catches on.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Disaster Recovery!

The hard drive in my computer died yesterday, which means it's dead and needs replacement. One thing I used to do for a living was IT disaster recovery planning, so I knew the value of good backups, and I'll be able to restore my files except for the most recent dozen or so photos from my camera, which didn't get picked up before things went dark. Unfortunately, those were the ones I hoped to post on today!

I did get a couple photos on my cell phone that I can use as a stopgap, as well as one that did get picked up on backup. I used my wife's laptop to get back on Blogger and make a post.

So I got a new concrete tunnel portal for Malabar and was able to add a hillside behind it with white foam covered with plaster cloth:

Will be ordering a new computer -- this one was due for replacement. Hope to be back to normal soon, but my disaster recovery experience is at work!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Zinc Pest In An Atlas RS-3

While almost all model locos have zinc/zamac frames, the problem of zinc pest has declined in recent decades, though it still occurs. In particular, a run of Atlas RS-3s from the mid-2000s seems to have had a bad batch of frames. As it happens, many of the road names in that run appealed to me, and I got several. All have gone bad. The annoying thing about zinc pest is that it takes years to develop, so once you find it, the loco is past the warranty period. My occasional interactions with Atlas have never been satisfactory, so the heck with it.

Recently I saw a Lehigh Valley RS-3 on eBay. I paid maybe a $10-20 premium for it in the first place, since it was a road name I liked, especially since I'm now a big Mike Bednar fan. Once I got it and opened the box, it had -- you guessed it -- zinc pest. The frame behind the couplers had expanded and pushed the steps out and up:

Below is a closer view.
I'm not sure how the seller concealed this from the condition photo in the listing, but he did. On the other hand, his response if I'd complained would simply have been to tell me to return the loco, and I wanted the roadname. Who knows if an LV loco would ever come back on eBay, and if it did, how much would it be?

Lately I'd been looking at how to fix the zinc pest with my other RS-3s in that batch, and I'd already ordered a replacement frame from Atlas, so this would be a good test case. The new frame would cost money in addition to the premium I'd already paid, but it is what it is, I wanted this loco.

As soon as I took the shell off, the frame began to disintegrate. Here the coupler mount simply fell off one end:

The frame was just bowed up on the other end, but I've already found that if you just try to straighten it, it will disintegrate.

By the time I removed the motor, trucks, PC board, and weights, the frame had mostly disintegrated. This was all that was left:
Here I've begun reassembly onto the new frame:
And here things are back together, including a Digitrax DH165A0 decoder to replace the factory board. The only good thing here is that it's a fair amount of work to replace the PC board even on an RS-3 with a good frame, so at least the work here isn't completely wasted.
And here's LV 215, ready to show up in a Pechulis Media DVD!
I have about four more RS-3s to do this on, but at least I've now worked out how to fix them.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Steam Test On Malabar District

When I started the basic 85" by 12" shelf at Malabar, I had it in mind to bring back a shelf layout I built on a 1 x 10 plank 7 feet long in a walk-in closet in my first apartment after I moved out on my own. My object there was to find a small steam loco that would perform adequately on such a small layout, and given what was available at the time, I never quite succeeded. (I believe some of the small PFM brass locos of the early 1970s would have been good choices, but they were beyond my budget.)

I revisited this effort the other day by testing a Bachmann 2-6-0 on the Malabar layout. With a Digitrax DZ126 decoder, it did pretty well, especially on the 14-7/16" curves. It does need cleaner track than an equivalent diesel, probably because it's lighter. Here are some photos of the test:

This is making me think I will add structures and other details on Malabar consistent with the steam era.

Thursday, June 21, 2018


The cars headed for the East Coast via Elkhart are headed to East St Louis on a BSMFF with a Penn Central GP40 in the consist from a Cotton Belt pool. Here the train is leaving LA Taylor Yard.
So I'm now passing PCCM 48 over to Brian!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


I decided to originate as much of this movement as I could on the new Malabar District. This would amount to a good operational test of how things would work out -- I'm still figuring out how to operate the district, as well as how to fit it into the larger layout's operating scheme. But this test turned out very well.

One thing I discovered is that westbound moves out of Malabar toward Jaques must be shoves, as changes in the grade will cause couplers to come uncoupled on pull moves up this hill. So this is a dominant factor and will determine how the outbound cut is made up.

The first job is to take GN 3630, bound for the Empire Belt, out of Malabar and use it to get the WP bulk sugar car in Paper Box.

The Santa Fe GP7 will need to run around it in Malabar to get it in position to pick up the WP car in Paper Box.
Now it starts its shove to Paper Box:
Meanwhile, the two reefers, a BAR bound for the Empire Belt and an NP bound for the Atlantic Pacific, are waiting in Paper Box. The WP bulk sugar car is also on the right.
Here comes the shove:
It passes the reefers and couples to the bulk sugar car:
The GP7 and the two boxcars move into the "sugar refinery", go onto a sector plate, and are rerouted onto the track with the reefers so it can shove them back to Malabar:
The whole assembly rounds the curve back into Malabar:
Now the GP7 has to get the boxcars back in order so it can shove the whole cut up the hill:
And off it goes!
So far, I'm finding that Atlas/Kato locos work best on the Malabar District. They have the flexibility to handle the vertical curves leading back through the wall and the power to shove cars up the grade to Jaques. I'm still working out what the industries will be longer-term, but I'm happy with using mechanical reefers on the district, as this exercise shows.

I'll finish up my part of the move tomorrow with PCCM 43B and hand off to Brian!