Sunday, July 29, 2018

Cell Phone Photos

My new computer has been up and running for a little over a week, but it's still restoring my files from the Carbonite backup. (Carbonite or equivalent cloud backup is a real bargain -- I had a hard disk failure two weeks ago, but I'll have all but a few photos back by tomorrow.)

It looks like I'll need to reload the USB port drivers before I can upload new photos from my camera. However, since reloading the drivers will make me reboot, I don't want to do this until all my files have been restored. But I have some cell phone shots that I was able to e-mail myself and use in the meantime.

The first one may or may not be one of my last of a Surfliner F59PHI.

Fifteen of these locos, 450-464, were delivered for a new Amtrak California service between San Diego and San Luis Obispo in 1994. These are all now nearly 25 years old, and Siemens has begun delivering 14 Charger locomotives to replace them on Surfliner service. The F59PHIs are supposedly to be replaced by the end of August and are going to be rebuilt and go to Chicago Metra. However, I posted a question about all this on the Altamont discussion board, and the consensus is that nobody actually knows what's going on, so there you are, the locos may hang on longer.

Below are two photos of the Amtrak California station facilities at Goleta, CA, which is about 10 miles north of Santa Barbara and the turnaround point for runs that don't go as far north as San Luis Obispo.

In light of how many models of modern passenger equipment are available in both N and HO, it's too bad that no one has thought about offering kits for these sorts of facilities. The closest you could come would be to use the Atlas station platform, which is available in both HO and N, but it really doesn't look all that much like the platform here. 3D printing would be another option, especially in N.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

My First In-Service Photo Of A Metrolink F125

Progress Rail, which is what EMD now calls itself, has a new model passenger diesel called the F125. So far, the Los Angeles area commuter operator, Metrolink, is the only customer. These locos have been very, very slow to go into service -- the first one was delivered more than two years ago. Subsequent members of the 40-unit order have trickled in ever since. For a while, they were being broken in running in multiple with older Metrolink units, and only recently have they gone into general service by themselves.

The other day I had some business in downtown LA and rode Metrolink to get there. As my train arrived on the platform at LA Union Station, a shiny new F125 was on the other track. I got a shot with my cell phone camera.

So far, the only other F125 I've shot is 913, which I caught a year ago in the grab shot above that I took from a train window. It had just been delivered by BNSF and was sitting in the yard where it had been interchanged. From the dates, you can see it's taken these locos a long, long time to go into service.

These are very attractive units, and the Metrolink scheme on them is also attractive. They're better looking in my opinion than the more common Siemens Charger locos. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that if Metrolink remains the only customer, we'll never see a model, but Metrolink has become very hard to model in the past several years in any case, with unique equipment now in service.

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.