Sunday, June 30, 2019

Back To Malabar

With the current drain resolved on my main layout and 80% o the rewiring complete, I've been able to get back to the extension into the storage room next to the layout. The first photos of the Box Street micro that's on the far wall date from May 2006, so this one's done good duty for more than 13 years. The 1 x 7 foot shelf addition that I put in last year has worked out very well, too, with the Unitrack controlled by DCC being very reliable. I use the NCE radio remote located in the main layout room to control via a radio cab from this room with no trouble.

But reviving my interest in the Copper River and Northwestern has given me a few more ideas. The industrial scenery on the Box Street micro, a sort of shorthand paper mill, now seems kinda boring:

So I think I'm gradually going to add and replace some of the building items to make the scene a little more like the Kennicott, AK terminal of the Copper River. This will probably change the traffic to older-era ore hauling as well.

A number of guys over the years have built the Box Street plan by the late Jack Trollope:
However, I believe all of them but me have replaced the sector plate on the right with an ordinary switch. I'm going to give in and do this as well, and when I do it, I'll get rid of the brick building wall whose purpose is to mask the sector plate:
I will also get rid of that bridge, which always struck me as sort of hokey; it was just there to cover the sector plate. Instead, I will move the Bachmann power pack, which powers the switch machines, and mount a building on a small shelf below the gound surface at the front of the layout. It will be a compressed version of the Kennicott power plant:
The track on the prototype ran in the bare area in front of the building. Kennecott Copper left the whole plant in place when they ceased operations in 1938, and the buildings have partly been preserved and restored by the National Park Service.

I've been testing a Bachmann 0-6-0T on the Malabar shelf:

My current thinking is to run the line to the Box Street micro section as a separate industrial operation that connects to the main layout in Malabar.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Activity Resumes On My Copper River And Northwestern Blog

For a few months in 2016, I maintained a blog on one of my favorite railroads, the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad, which ran in Alaska between 1911 and 1938. I left it up, but I stopped adding entries, because I thought I'd pretty much exhausted the material I could find on the web.

Since then, a couple of visitors have pointed me to additional material, and I've begun adding entries again. This is a railroad that might have sprung from the imagination of John Allen, although it's probably correct to say it did spring from the mind of J Pierpont Morgan in his final years, when in fact he was suffering from dementia and making poor business judgments. Following Morgan's death in 1913, his son tried unsuccessfully to unload it on the government.

But it's the sort of thing that modelers could even do in On30. The blog is here.

Sunday, June 23, 2019


I'm finding that work on T-TRAK modules carries over into work on my main layout. I've made progress on my Little Hell Gate T-TRAK module, to the extent that I've pretty much finished the basic physical work:
This is a Masterpiece Modules recessed-deck outside corner module, with two sides cut away. The track is a pair of Kato Unitrack single-track viaduct curves nested and glued together, with the fence or wall casting between them Dremeled off. Rather than use the Kato viaduct piers, I used a Chooch double track pier cut to height.

Now I've got to work on the scenery part. The prototype Hell Gate Bridge approach in this area goes over a city park, so much of the land surface will be a grass mat, with trees surrounding the viauct. However, at the back will be a certain amount of Bronx-style urban scenery. I was thinking about the N scale Walthers Parkview Terrace Apartments. But then I started to think there's a fair amount of unfinished scenery in the urban area of my main HO layout, and in fact some years ago I found a pair of HO Walthers Parkview kits at a good price. I built one with the idea of using it behind the Manhattan Transfer station area, but it wound up using more space than I liked, so I set it aside, and I never built the other kit.

So while I was thinking about an N scale Parkview kit, I realized I had an HO version assembled and ready to find a place for on the layout. I found a scrap piece of plywood to mount it on using a roadbed riser that was already in place. You can see it here behind the AEM-7:

Looking past the loco and the apartment on the right, you can see there's quite a bit of space left to fill on this part of the layout. I've been stumped on this for a while, as wiring for some of the trackwork supported on risers in the background was going to be a problem, but I'm slowly realizing that converting to DCC will make this much more doable, so I think I can finally make progress. So this weekend I did preliminary painting to assemble the other HO Parkview kit, and I'll install it sort of cattywampus to the first one in the photo, helping to cover up the space to the right.

Here's a view from a different angle, looking past the Antique storefront. This is 14th St in Bay City in the foreground.

Adding the two Parkview buildings in the background here will make photography in this area much more practical, which in turn will be an incentive to make more progress on the layout. The main line running between the buildings in the first photo will eventually be electrified with catenary, and the brackets are already installed, partly visible.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Rewiring Never Stops!

I posted in April about having to troubleshoot a current drain in an older part of my layout. I thought I was done, but not much later, a week or so after I had all the trackage back to 14.2 volts DCC, I got another current drain out of the blue, this one not so bad, but it really hurt operation.

I did some searching on the web for advice on DCC troubleshooting, but the consensus seems to be that no two layouts are alike, so there are few good general guidelines. In addition, I recognize yet again that the oldest parts of this layout are 30 years old, pre-DCC, wired for DC dual cab operation with 22 gauge wire and DPDT toggle block control. There was a time a couple months ago when I seriously thought about scrapping everything, although I'm probably too old to start over, realistically speaking.

When I shifted to DCC in 2012, I simply disconnected both the DC walk-around throttles and connected an NCE PowerCab to one of the 22 gauge block buses. This worked until early this year, when the combination of sound decoders, the resistance from 22 gauge wire, power extender capacitors in locos, and stationary decoders for switches and lighting overloaded the PowerCab, and I moved to an NCE SB5. At the same time, I left the 22 gauge block wiring in place, but I bypassed it with a new 14 gauge DCC bus. But I didn't disconnect the 22 gauge block wiring. I thought that theoretically, this wouldn't be a problem.

Clearly there were gotchas. One was that the 22 gauge wiring was up to 30 years old, and insulation wore off, and solder joints came undone. I began to realize that I was going to have to bite the bullet and remove all the 22 gauge wiring with all the block toggles, running new drops off the track to new terminal strips connected to the 14 gauge DCC bus.

Somewhat daunted, I took a couple months off and worked on my T-TRAK modules until my interest in the HO layout renewed enough to tackle the rewiring. That took place over the past few weeks, and I've made a lot of progress.

The big problem I discovered that caused the latest current drain was something called an X-section. This was an innovation invented by Linn Westcott for DC block control that basically eliminated the need for an extra DPDT toggle where a CTC type siding blends into a single track main. You used the relay contacts on the (AARRRGHH!) twin coil switch machine to route the block current from either the main or the siding at the control point onto the single track part of the main, so the block control automatically routes to the single track main from either the main or the siding.

Somehow I'd managed to replace the twin coil switch machine that controlled the X-section with a Tortoise, but I didn't update the X-section wiring. In fact, when I installed the Tortoise, I'd completely forgotten about the X-section. Somehow this continued to work, until I replaced the PowerCab with an SB5. Once I revisited this part of the layout and completely removed the 22 gauge block wiring in the area, it solved the problem. But as they say with DCC advice, no two layouts are alike. I doubt if anyone could have identified the problem for me.

Here are some photos of this monster project in progress. Fascia has been removed in several photos, but I've never been able to wire neatly.

Above, you can see a block panel pulled out, with 22 gauge block wiring in the process of being removed. Luckily, I can recycle many of the DPDT toggles for other projects. You can also see the now-unused phone jacks for the former DC walkaround throttles. Just to avoid confusion, I will need to get around to removing these.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Chicago Progress

People who know Chicago recognize it's a multi-level city. The downtown area was raised in the 19th century to get it above floods, but there are still areas that are at the original level. Then the city undertook a masive program to eliminate many railroad grade crossings in the 1900s through the 1930s, so that many rail lines are elevated through the city, with bridges crossing the city streets. On a visit several years ago, I took a camera along and grabbed shots of overpasses and fills as I drove on various errands.
I have one T-TRAK module where I'm working on a version of the Chicago grade separation. I've at least got the retaining wall and a bridge over a street completed:
In particular, I need to add a center support under the bridge similar to what's in two of the photos, as well as various billboards, street signs, and sidewalk furniture. And I need to keep working on city buildings.