Friday, January 19, 2018

Roundhouse CSX C4400AH

I decided to take a chance on a Roundhouse CSX C4400AH in the YN2 scheme. "Roundhouse" seems to be a recent rebranding of the former Athearn RTR line without too much other change.
This in turn is based on Athean bluebox tooling from the 1990s, although there have been gradual upgrades over the years. I've been a little less than lukewarm about Athearn in recent years, with key disadvantages from my point of view being the incandescent headlight bulbs that quickly burn out, and the wires to which make shell removal and replacement difficult; flimsy and brittle handrails; and the unreliable 9-pin DCC plug connectors -- the failure rate for these in my experience is probably over 30%.

A plus in this loco from the box is that, although it's priced comparably to equivalent Bachmann and Walthers Mainline locos, which don't have separate grab irons inserted at the factory, this one does. The paint is quite good. It and the detail with the loco makes it pretty accurate for later C4400AHs delivered in later 1990s orders, but the cab roof detail does not include more contemporary GPS dome or PTC antenna array.

The dynamic brake vents on the shell match the CSX variation, and the high-adhesion steerable GE truck sideframes match those on the later CSX prototypes.

I replaced the brittle McHenry factory-supplied couplers with a Kadee 146 long-shank centerset coupler on the front and a Kadee 158 coupler on the rear. On most locos, I also replace the factory coupler pocket with the new style Kadee supplied with their whisker type couplers. This is much easier to handle and place preassembled in the pilot than factory supplied versions.

As pointed out in product descriptions, the ditch lights on this model are dummy. The nose headlight is the standard Athearn two incandescent bulbs. Prototype locos operate with only the nose headlight lit in the yard or in situations where ground personnel could be blinded by ditchlights. The rear hood headlight is also lit on the model. I plan to bypass the headlight-ditch light issue mainly by running this loco as a trailing unit.

CSX ACs turn up fairly frequently in California.

So far, I like this Roundhouse loco. Shell removal and decoder installation were quite easy. It's a smooth runner, although the drive train is dated by this point, and it's noisier than my recent Walthers SD70ACe.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Walthers Mainline SD70ACe

I just got this out of my shop today, only to find that CSX has retired its small number of SD70ACes and is sending them back to Progress Rail.

The CSX units were early examples of the model, apparently built before the Progress Rail regime took over, and had mechanical problems. In addition, the Walthers tooling isn't strictly right for CSX, as it has the gasket recess at the front of the nose. This is similar to what was on the SD60I locos built for Conrail. The lack of noise insulation in the CSX SD70Aces led to crew complaints. Progress Rail is apparently going to rebuild the CSX locos and find a new buyer. CSX meanwhile is concentrating on GE power.

I got the DCC-ready, non-sound version with the idea of installing a Digitrax PX108-2 Power Xtender. I'm discovering two things: the Digitrax PX108-2 is pretty bulky, bigger than a normal HO decoder of any sort these days, and the Walthers Mainline diesels aren't consistently laid out. For instance, the SD60M in fact has enough room in the speaker enclosure that you can put the PX108-2 in there on a non-sound loco. But the SD60 standard cab isn't laid out quite the same, and you need to Dremel out more space.

The SD70ACe is laid out completely differently from the SD60s of either type. I had to cut off the rear of the upper interior frame entirely to fit the PX108-2. and this was a long job and a close run thing.

Once I got the Digitrax DH126 decoder installed, though, all went well, although the DCC-ready loco is wired backward at the factory, and I had to set the configuration variable to reverse when I programmed the loco. The removal of the rear of the upper frame meant I had to forego a rear headlight, but this isn't a big loss.

On this loco, the PX108-2 lets it run for about 24 inches if I cut off the power. This isn't a smooth transition -- I set the momentum CVs 3 and 4 to 1, and this may be affected by the change to capacitor power, But what I'm hoping is that this will greatly reduce outright stalling on hard-to-reach track that's dirty and hard to clean.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Recent Projects

Here are some recent projects. First, an Atlas yellowbox L&N RS-3 from the early 1980s that I found on eBay and installed a decoder:
I got this to run with a Bachmann Sound Value L&N RS-3. It turns out that both locos run well together on DCC without speed matching:

118, the Atlas loco, is in the late 1950s all-black. 108 is in the as-delivered scheme. It's interesting to compare the models. The Bachmann has finer handrails and aluminum window frames and, of course, sound. The paint on the Bachmann is more opaque, so even with locos at comparable price points, there's been a lot of progress over 35 years. I would still say, though, that Atlas yellowbox locos are among the better bargains you can find on eBay. Penn Central fans can note that there were extensive transfer operations with L&N power in the Cincinnati area, and L&N is a generally neglected prototype.

Here is a Boston & Maine "local caboose" that I'm nearly finished with:

I kitbashed it by cutting the center out of an old Roco-AHM wide vision caboose and splicing the ends together. I painted the sides with Tru Color B&M blue and added the black stripe from Micro Scale black trim decal film. The lettering is an old Herald King set, not really accurate, but I was at least able to use it up. I still need to shim the trucks to get the car level and the couplers at the right height.

Here is an Accurail special-run boxcar painted for similar (but not exact) cars on the Sacramento Northern. My wife got it for me on our October trip to the Western Railway Museum, which operates on a 5.5 mile segment of the original Sacramento Northern main line:

One thing I've noticed from watching DVDs with archival railfan footage from the 1950s and 60s is how many boxcars of the period either had the paint weathered off their roofs and showed bare metal, had their roofs painted silver, or had the roofs left bare metal from the start. I've tried various ways of representing this, but my favorite recently is Testors Metalizer Steel, which thins with acetone and is easy to airbrush. Here's a WP boxcar I recently did this way:

This has an A Line track cleaning pad installed.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Penn Central Car Movement 42 B

Two fellow modelers and bloggers, John R and Ralph V, came up with an interesting twist on "interchange" between model railroads. What they figured out was that many layouts share cars with the same number -- bluebox cars, for instance -- and it's easy to conceptualize that bluebox car A "moves" from one layout to another. Two other modelers have been adding to this idea, Neal M and Engineer Ed.

John R used a set of my custom decals to letter a duplicate of a car on my layout, Los Feliz and North Western 160. We ran an "exchange" of this car late last year. Now I'm joining the full Penn Central Car Movement fun with movement 42.

LFNW 160 will return to the Empire Belt with canned goods from the Oswego Manufacturing Company in West Egg, consigned to Ralph's Grocery in Empire City. In addition, a PFE mechanical reefer will be consigned from the Citrus Association packing house in Sunkist to the Cold Storage Warehouse at Terminal Yard on the Empire Belt. p>Below we see 1/87 John R signaling Engineer Ed on the SP switcher that they've made a good joint:

SP 1481 pulls the spur and returns via Jaques:

Meanwhile, Sir Neal pulls LFNW 160 from Oswego Manufacturing while Ralph V flags traffic:

Both cars are switched in Manhattan Transfer and will go out to the SP tonight, to get to the Penn Central via SP, UP, and CNW:

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Scenery Work At Tunnel 6

After a year of inactivity in this area, I began to add rockwork around the bare plaster cloth at the Tunnel 6 portal. Here's the way it was in late 2016:
I started the project by adding some pre-painted Woodland Scenics rock castings, sticking them on with Liquid Nails for Projects:

Then I began to add loose rocks and dirt from my collection of coffee cans around the castings. Once this was in position, I sprayed the area with water from a garden spray bottle and drizzled Elmer's glue on top. I repeated this several times and let things dry overnight.

Vegetation will follow.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Project For The New Year

My visit to the Western Railway Museum last October rekindled my interest in trolleys and interurbans. Here's East Bay Street Railways car 352, which I rode on that visit:
Below is a really sad case: the Los Angeles Harbor Department, overflowing with cash, built reproductions of two Pacific Electric 500-class cars, which it ran for about ten years on a stretch of ex SP track in San Pedro. A year or so ago, property developers got the land, and the trolley was discontinued.

Anyhow, when I first set up the city of Zenith on my layout, I originally intended to run trolley track down the middle of the main street. I found some precast street sections that were designed to be set up so you could lay HO track and butt the street surface up against it. Here's how the project originally looked about 1995:

However, after some experiment, I found that the street sections weren't set up for realistic curves at the corners -- HO trolleys and interurbans need somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 inch minimum radius, and this is too much for a normal street corner or intersection. So I wound up filling in the space in the street I'd originally meant for trolley track:
But after coming home from the museum, I began to realize I might not need to take the sharp curve at the corner that I'd originally intended. Instead, I could just barely get the track off the middle of the street and make it curve into private right of way behind some urban buildings. I set up a test with some scrap track:
It helps that the scenery here is a combination of old and dusty and never quite finished. What I will need to do will be to carve out a rebate to insert track in the middle -- I hope this will be a little easier for much of the distance, since I filled the space with Sculptamold 20 years ago, which I'm hoping will be easier to work than plaster.

But at least I can add some trolley operation, however minimal, when I got stumped on this 20 years ago.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

LFNW 160 Is Lost Then Found!

The Los Feliz and North Western received a message from Empire Belt Terminal Yard freight agent yesterday:
The Terminal Yard freight agent is endeavoring to locate freight car L.F.&N.W. #160 that left Terminal Yard on Sunday November 19th with cases of beer from local shipper Heileman Brewery. The shipment is consigned to Ace Wholesale Distributors in Zenith.

Car routing was Terminal Yard to Elkhart in train LS-1 and Elkhart to Chicago in train BN-1.

Kar Tracker last shows car arriving in Chicago.

But the freight agent copied the Union Pacific on the inquiry, which left the LF&NW confused:
Will get right on it, though I thought the routing was via ATSF Bay City – that could be the problem!
Terminal Yard replied,
You're right!
From my blog;
L.F.&N.W. 160 will be transferred to the A.T.S.F via the Belt Railway of Chicago's Clearing Yard to continue it's trip to Bay City, California on John B's layout.

Looks like the PC sent the car to the UP.
Very prototypical!

Well, this is the age of punch card computing and incompatible NYC and PRR data entry, so who knows what went wrong. I know first hand, that was when computer operators dropped decks of cards and put them back together any which way.

A call to the Santa Fe got things straightened out, and LFNW 160 was on Santa Fe's local from Riverbank for interchange with the LF&NW at Bay City.

Today's Riverbank-Bay City turn had the Santa Fe's Santa Safety Caboose:

The photographer caught the short train again as it ran past 14th St in Bay City:

Later in the day, the car was delivered to Ace Wholesale Distributing in Zenith by a leased Western Pacific S-4:

Ace Wholesale Distributing is a Thomas A Yorke kit from the 1970s:
Well, the beer from Heileman might be a little late for Christmas, but at least they'll have it for New Year!