Monday, June 27, 2011

A quick follow up...

For those of you who missed the earlier iteration of the N scale WMRY Western Lines, here's a view of the same spot now occupied by Ridgeley Yard, circa 2004/5.

Yup, there's Andy's bed and his toybox about where the dispatcher's desk is now.  

Man, was it that long ago?

Golden Spike Special!

To celebrate the recent completion of my main line trackage, we held a special ops session today for the "Golden Spike Special" made up of cars provided by a number of friends and fans.  During the past week cars have been arriving in the mail, including one shipped from a friend serving in the military that's based in Germany.

Today we welcomed a few more traveling cars from modelers who have been following the progress on my layout through my blog, including a couple collected at the Hershey N Scale convention this weekend.  The highlight was Bryan Bussey's (of Eastern Seaboard Models) magnificent Conrail OCS full dome, shown above just ahead of the PRR full dome Eric220 provided.  (Eric's layout is based on a "What IF?" contemporary PRR that spans coast to coast...)  Sadly the roster shot I took of this car didn't turn out very well, but we did get a peek inside at the neatly set tables and other details:

Remember, this is N Scale!

Also had cars from Dave Foxx, Mike Delamaiz, Bob Bufkin, and David K. Smith. Sizemore (Tim Alder) was well represented, having painted the F-unit on the point.  Phil Hoffman brought along some Spanish prototype cars, but they were unable to be included due to some compatibility issues.  According to Phil, this was in keeping with Spanish rail operations...

While the layout wasn't built with passenger traffic in mind, we managed to get the Golden Spike Special around the layout in reasonably good order.  We didn't ever really reach "track speed" owing to the numerous photo and video run bys requested by the crew.  Here's a couple of highlights:

Crossing the Potomac from Ridgeley into Cumberland.

Passing a freight holed up on the long siding on the Connellsville Sub.
Crossing the river into Greenwood, en route to Connellsville.

Returning to North Junction at the east end of the layout.  Note that the KCS has spotted the Spanish cars near the scrap yard.  I'm not sure what this means.

The train then headed west again, this time working its way up to Thomas via the Thomas Sub.  Here it is leaving the main at Maryland Junction:

Restricted clearances made Thomas the end of the run, so the engines turned around, and pulled the train back down to Ridgeley.

Here it is drifting downgrade at Shaw as the sun starts to fade.

While we didn't get to run many trains, we had a great time.  It was good to see the layout back in action, although we naturally found a few things to add to the "to do" list.  Thanks as always to the crew, who have been such a great support through this whole project.

At this point I think it's appropriate to offer a word of thanks to all the people who have had a hand in making today possible.  As most of you know, the economy has really taken a toll on my family, and being able to keep working on the layout has been a blessing beyond measure.  I guess to some extent it's been a good hiding place, but it's also been very therapeutic, and a good way to mark progress on a lot of things, not just the trains themselves.

Anyway, for all of you who helped out, my gratitude knows no bounds. 
John, whose layout and approach to the hobby has been an inspiration since the first day I washed up on your doorstep... what is it, 8 years ago?
Dave Foxx, Phil Hoffman, Ed Kapuscinski, Brian Carhart, Bob Bufkin, Carl Tweedale and Tim Alder, my regular crew, who were instrumental in making the jump from the old layout to the new, and who have contributed countless hours and 6 packs to the cause.
David K. Smith, who puts it all into an image that's worth a thousand hours of labor saved... and whose creativity and innovations continue to push me forward.
Jerry Britton, for getting out of N Scale, and showering me with surplus track.  There needs to be bronze plaque on the layout somewhere for you, Jerry.  Literally, the layout expansion would not have happened if not for your kindness.
Bryan at ESM and Craig at Bluford, who helped me pull off the hopper car project last year that financed much of the project.
Eric Payne, Dave Vollmer and so many others who have asked the right questions at the right moments to make me think my way out of various corners, whether they involved scenery, operations or what have you.
Thanks also to Victor Miranda, who helped dig me out of a couple of steam loco situations along the way.
Jason, Mike, Gary Hinshaw, Phil, Tim, Ed, John, Bob, and so many others who were happy to dip into their junk boxes to pull out whatever salvage I needed to finish this project or that.  I've got plenty of leftovers that I hope one day to "pay forward".

So, onward and upward.  Now that most of the railroad is in place, I suppose it's time to start editing those old car cards and way bills!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Nearing the Finish Line

It's the Saturday before the Sunday when the operating crew will show up for an initial shake down run.  The train room is still somewhat in disarray, there's still a few nagging problems to work out, and only a few hours remaining to get it all done.
Since last we chatted, I've gotten 99% of the yard at Ridgeley installed, with switches wired and mechanically connected.
East end yard throat

West end yard throat
I'd like to get the yard tracks and surface painted before show time, but that will be a time consuming and messy process.  I'll probably do it anyway, dragging the compressor and air brush in from the garage to shoot it with some burnt umber acrylic.  That will go faster than brushing it all on.  Then while the paint's drying, I can do the stuff I have to do, like clean the debris off the floor, put away the various tools, and otherwise make the train room and the crew lounge a little more hospitable.

I'm really looking forward to this session, it will be the first opportunity to try out the systems that I've put in place, and the first peek at the finished track plan for my regular crew.  I'm hoping the feedback I get doesn't involve any major upheavals.

Part of the fun will be running a "Private Varnish" special around the layout, wherein members of my crew, plus a few other fans are sending or bringing representative passenger cars from their layouts.  The first two arrived earlier this week:

The car on the left is an SNCF (French National Railways) coach that was shipped in from a fan in Germany, and the other is a Pennsylvania Railroad full dome (yes, it's a foobie!) from a fan who's layout is based on a contemporary "What If" version of the PRR that spans the continent.  I'm expecting a few more to arrive Sunday afternoon.

Look for a full report of the festivities sometime next week.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A little honey, then a little vinegar...

Tonight the layout ran remarkably well.  At one point, I had three trains of 20+ cars orbiting, plus a little passenger special I threw together to start warming up for the onslaught of visiting varnish in the next couple of weeks, which I ran down the Thomas Sub from Elkins, then around the full layout through both staging yards and back up the hill.  This included 85' passenger cars with body mounted couplers going up the 24" diameter twist on the Thomas Sub.

The only upset I had was at the end of the evening, when I went to retrieve the coal train from West Staging, which I had hoped to run back up the Thomas Sub to park in Elkins...  Earlier, when I put it into the staging yard, I overshot the exit turnout by less than an inch.  No problem, I figured, I'll just nudge her backward enough to push the slack in, and that will clear the frogs for Track 2.  Well, as the Orioles were going down in flames in Toronto, so too were my dreams of a flawless night of operating trains.  Somewhere in the darkness, one of the hoppers popped over the railhead, leaving the train coupled, but inoperable due to a trip pin snagging on something.

I left it, and came down to share this with you.

Before I can do anything tomorrow night, I'll have to pull the other two trains that are down there out by their tails and run them up the hill to get them out of the way. Then I can inspect the train to see where the problem was.  I suspect it was a car with body mounts pushing a truck mounted car out of alignment.

As I contemplate going through this process yet again, I can't help but accept that I'm starting to get good at clearing things out down below when problems arise.  I did install work lights, so I can see pretty well down there.  To pinpoint a flange or a knuckle, I've got a couple of nifty pens with LED's on the end, which are better than flash lights due to their small size and concentrated beam of light.

The process does remain time consuming, so I can only imagine how disruptive a wreck in staging would be during an ops session.

I suspect that the best solution will always be to have me serve as the west end dispatcher, so I can carefully monitor all traffic going in and out of there.  At least until someone else steps up and takes an interest in doing that job.

For comparison, the East End ran flawlessly, but I wasn't really taxing it very much.  Recall that each track can hold two trains, so I had to do some "valet parking" maneuvers, pulling the second train forward after the first had left, and remember which tracks were occupied to prevent unfortunate rear end events from taking place.

There were two instances where cars derailed in East Staging, one was a passenger car that suffers from a high-low coupler issue and likely dragged a coupler pin, and the other an empty coal hopper that was probably underweight coming down the helix that got bunched up.

Still, despite it all it was a good run, with a variety of locomotive consists, train lengths, and car types.  I was overall pleased with the performance of the railroad, including the West Staging yard.  One highlight was a trip by the grain train, headed up with an A-B Intermountain F unit consist, which went through in the opposite direction of typical traffic flow.  When I noticed this was going on, I panicked that the old Atlas c80 flappy paddle remote turnouts would wreak havoc, and that climbing the inside loop of the helix would create undue stresses with horrifying results... neither came to pass.  The train rolled through the yard smoothly, just in the wrong direction.

It has been suggested that I reverse the flow of traffic through the yard to put the outbound trains closer to the aisle, and this may be a simple solution.  But I think longer trains will have problems climbing the helix with 2 fewer inches of radius...  I'll try some experiments when I have plenty of patience on hand, and plenty of beer for when the patience runs out!

That's tonight's report.  More to come as the end of June approaches.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

During our last segment, I was lamenting about the operational snags that I had encountered in the new west staging yard.  It turns out there were two primary problems.
  1. One of the locomotives involved had a wheel gauge problem, as well as a dragging coupler trip pin, which was creating derailments going IN to the yard.
  2. Another train that was stored in the yard had been jostled off the rails while parked, causing some cars to separate, and others to snag on the outbound frogs.

The track problems occurred when I went in with the "big hook" to collect the derailed rolling stock.  I have a length of trim with a nail in the end that I use as a grappling hook to reach the farthest corners of the netherworld.  (My primary argument against expensive, fragile add-on detail parts on rolling stock.)  This had snagged on a piece of track and pulled it right out of its glue.  I was able to repair it, but once the yard is installed overhead, this area won't be accessible at all.  I suppose with a little more caution, and perhaps a different tool, I can avoid this problem in the future.

So, all of the problems go back to "Human Error," something I'm profoundly good at.  So for now, I'll be adding some bracing to keep the table more stable to minimize the jostling effect, and checking and double checking the maintenance of the fleet to prevent tracking problems.

This doesn't address the primary design flaw, which David K. Smith has brilliantly solved with this drawing:

It's no easy task to implement this design, being as it exists below the engine terminal and yard complex, so I'm perpetuating the debate, to paraphrase The Clash, "should it stay or should it go?"  It's got me stymied, and is holding up progress on building out the yard, and basically discouraging me from going into the train room at all.

Le sigh.  I guess I should give myself a little more time to think about it, but the time draws nigh to, as Grandma so colorfully put it, "shit or get off the pot" ...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Houston, we have a problem.

After months of successfully running trains through the west staging yard, the last couple of days have presented amazing challenges that are causing me to re-think this whole side of the layout.

Well, at least the bits that are under ground and virtually impossible to reach.

I'm not sure if a heat kink has developed (the layout is in the attic, and it got hot as hell last week), or there's debris that's fallen on the track, or if my haste in laying the recycled c80 flex I used down there is rearing its ugly head...  But it's turning out to definitely NOT be ready for prime time.

It's been exacerbated by the installation of the yard office desk, which makes the distance between the aisle and the exit throat unmanageable without extraordinary effort.
The problem is on the right side.

This is the "as built" drawing, and you can see how far back the turnouts are from human contact, and this is made doubly challenging because the vertical clearance is only about 6".

That view pretty much illustrates the problem.

In retrospect, I should have brought the helix around another 1/4 turn, and placed the turnouts closer to the front edge, as I did on the east end in the original construction.

Why I didn't take this into account is beyond me.  And I'm afraid that in the present condition, an easy solution is too.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Don't Panic!

One of the things on my bucket list has been to re-organize my Picasa albums, and I finally did it last weekend.  The result is that many of the images built in to this blog, and my other musings on the various fora I post to have disappeared momentarily.

Don't fret.  They're still there, and should now be easier for me to get to, and therefore easier to share with you, dear readers.

I've completed the process of updating all of the blog photos, and going forward, you'll be able to click on the images for a more detailed view.  Thanks for your patience!