Turning the Tonner

Just because you don’t have to, doesn’t mean you can’t…

CNR 1 - Port Rowan turntable

CNR Number 1 – a GE 44-Tonner – takes a spin on the Port Rowan turntable. While the 44-Tonner is a centre-cab unit, the diesel does have a front and a rear. On long runs, the engineer prefers to have the control stand in front of him: It’s more comfortable. So the trip back to Hamilton warrants a trip to the turntable.

Trains and dinner with Matt

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(Extra 80 East passes tobacco kilns and fields in St. Williams, Ontario)

Last night, Matt Goodman joined me for dinner and an operating session on the Port Rowan branch. Matt is from Ohio but was in my area on business. My friend Chris Abbott mentioned he would be here so I got in touch with Matt and invited him over – and I’m really glad I did.

We had a great evening, talking about trains and layouts and other things as we ran a freight extra.

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Matt was particularly interested in the turntable I built for Port Rowan – using an HO scale turntable kit from Custom Model Railroads as my starting point.

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In general, I like prototype turntables but hate the models of them, which in my experience tend to look fine but perform poorly. This turntable is an exception: It has been flawless since I installed it back in June, 2012:

Turntable pit photo PtR-Turntable-01.jpg
(The bridge mounts onto a rectangular key on the shaft and is removable, as this under construction photo shows)

Turntable-Motor photo PtR-Turntable-04.jpg
(CMR’s display motor with 7000-to-1 gearing mounts onto its own box, suspended under the turntable base. There’s plenty of access to allow the drive shaft to be disconnected for serving. That said, I’ve never had to service this turntable – it’s been consistently delightful)

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the turntable, but all of the posts related to it (including this one) can be found in the Turntable Category.

We had no derailments (phew!) but I did continue to experience some trouble with the Sergent Couplers.

I haven’t given up on the Sergents – although I’m also glad I didn’t throw out my Kadees. I will order more Sergent EC64K couplers when they return to market – hopefully, soon – and do more testing before I make a final decision.

A major factor affecting coupler performance is that this summer I have not been running the layout as much as I should – and it shows: Last night’s coupler problems were almost entirely due to operator error on my part.

As an aside, I’ve started to give away copies of my Employee Time Table when people make their first visit to my railway:

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These six-page documents don’t take long for me to assemble, and I think they make a nice reminder of the visit.

They also probably answer a number of questions that visitors might have about the layout’s operation – the kind of thing we think of an hour or two afterwards and wish we could ask.

Between talking, operating and dinner at Harbord House, Matt and I covered a lot of ground in a visit that lasted more than four hours. It was after midnight when he left and I know we could’ve continued to discuss many things. We’ll have to pick up that discussion next time he’s in town.

Great to meet you in person, Matt – come again!

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More Lace for Mr. Otto

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As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, back in November of 2011 my friend Dick Otto shared a lovely memory about the Port Rowan turntable being “awash in Queen Anne’s Lace and other meadow flora”.

The description really stuck with me, and today I was in the mood to do some planting, so I enhanced the area around the turntable with more weeds. This took about a half-hour to do, and used up four more packages of “Baby’s Breath” from miniNatur:
Turntable plantings photo TT-Lace-02_zpsfb711b06.jpg

Thanks again, Dick, for sharing the wonderful memories!

Wanted: Air-powered engine sound module

As this photo of the Port Rowan turntable shows, the bridge is equipped with an air-powered engine to turn it:
CNR 86 on the Port Rowan Turntable photo CNR86-TT_zps01eb4c0d.jpg

I’m a big fan of sound on a layout – both for the trains and for the scenes through which they pass. I intend to add scenic sounds as appropriate – from birds to streams. One of the sounds I’d like to include is that of this air-powered engine at work. Therefore, I’m looking for an appropriate sound module.

I would like to set up this module so it runs only when I throw the switch to operate the turntable. (This switch is a SPDT style – as one option, I could replace it with a DPDT and use the second set of contacts to control the sound module.)

I have yet to find an appropriate module. Miller Models is no longer in business, and a search through the catalogues at Ram Track and Innovative Train Technology turned up some lovely sounds… but, alas, nothing suitable for this application.

So, I’m throwing the question out to you, the readers: If you know of one, use the Comments function to let me know. Thanks in advance!

Pick-up line

I’ve written quite a bit about the turntable I built for Port Rowan, and I’m still really happy with the kit I used as a starting point – an HO turntable from Custom Model Railroads.

But I did notice that electrical pick-up from the pit rail has not been 100% reliable. It’s been about 85% – which is great, except that with sound-equipped locomotives the 15% of the time that power is not going to the decoder is really noticeable.

The problem – a problem, by the way, that CMR acknowledges – is that the bearings used as wheels on the turntable bridge do not reliably conduct electricity. If I recall, CMR suggested adding wipers to the wheels. I did this when I built the bridge but the wipers have proven to be reliable only most of the time – not all of the time.

So, today I soldered together a pair of sliding pick-up shoes using phosphor bronze wire and some flat brass stock. The work took less than an hour, including adjusting the pressure of the shoes so they would not drag excessively on the pit rail and brush-painting the new shoe assemblies black so they’d disappear in the shadows under the bridge. Sharp eyes will spot a slider on the pit rail between the two wheels/bearings in this photo:
CNR 86 on the Port Rowan Turntable photo CNR86-TT_zps01eb4c0d.jpg

There’s another slider at the other end of the bridge, too. Now, power for each bridge rail is collected from two wheels plus a slider.

I’ve tested the turntable a half-dozen times now – rotating in both directions – and power is now being delivered to the bridge rails (and therefore the locomotive) 100% of the time.

While it’s never fun having a problem with a layout, it’s always satisfying to solve it.

A fencelet

“Fencelet”: A partial fence.

Photos of the turntable at Port Rowan show a curious feature – a short section of wooden fence to one side of the turntable approach track. It appears to be there to protect crew members from falling into the pit – but what makes this curious is that there’s no corresponding section on the other side of the approach track. (Presumably, crew members could fall in there just as easily, right?)

My second guess is that it’s a section of snow fence, which would make sense if drifting snow routinely filled in part – but only part – of the turntable area. But that’s just a guess – I don’t know.

Regardless of the purpose of this fencelet, three pieces of dowel and three lengths of scale 1″x10″ produced a suitable replica… and a conversation piece:
Fencelet photo PtR-TT-Fence.jpg

If anybody knows what this is, feel free to share your theories in the comments section for this post.

Turntable polarity switcheroo

When I installed the turntable at Port Rowan, I used a Lenz LK100 to handle polarity reversing for the bridge rails. This came from a previous layout and worked fine – for the time.

But having experienced first-hand the super-fast, super-quiet, microprocessor-driven Hex Frog Juicer from Duncan Mcree at Tam Valley Depot, I was mildly annoyed by the slightly-slower, somewhat-noisy, relay-based Lenz product. (To be fair to Lenz, the LK100 has been on the market for a while and served me very well. But as we all know, All Things Electronic get smaller, cheaper, and faster – in pretty much no time at all these days.)

Dual Frog Juicer vs Lenz

So, I ordered a Dual Frog Juicer – which can also be used to manage reversing sections on DCC-equipped layouts – from Tim Warris at Fast Tracks. It arrived today and before you could say, well, “Dual Frog Juicer”, I had it installed on the layout:

Dual Frog Juicer - Installed

(For those wondering, the masonite shelf above the circuit is there to offer some protection from any drips from above during eventual scenery work. No point in gumming up the works with gluey ballast or Sculptamold.)

Works great – thanks Duncan!

Port Rowan turntable – installed

Chris Abbott visited last night and we tackled the final installation of the turntable in Port Rowan:

Port Rowan turntable installed

As previously described, I kit bashed my turntable, starting with a kit from Custom Model Railroads. I also bought CMR’s turntable motor and motor mount:

CMR turntable motor and motor mount

This is a small but torque-y motor, with gearing of more than 7000:1, so it turns the bridge nice and slow. The motor mount, like the turntable itself, is laser cut from acrylic. I have to admit I was a bit dubious when I first saw the motor mount kit because of the number of butt-joints involved, but I built it and it exceeded my expectations: The Plastic Weld From Plastruct worked as advertised, melting the acrylic and creating a bond as strong as the material itself. The mount includes windows on all sides to allow me to reach the grub screws and collars that connect the motor to the turntable shaft, and everything is removable if necessary for servicing. A very well-designed kit.

I’ve also finished installing, distressing and staining the ties on the approach track, and added some short lengths of rail to help align the turntable during installation. With more rail expected soon – possibly as early as today – I’ll have the approach track finished in no time, and be able to test the turntable function.

Then, I’ll actually be able to run my first operating session – staging trains on the main and siding in St. Williams until we get the sector plate finished. Exciting times…

Chris and I started our work session by ripping a pile of finger joint pine on the table saw – for use as risers, scenery supports, valance and fascia framing and so on. More layout-building fun ahead!

Lumber cut for risers

The Port Rowan turntable

Port Rowan turntable installation

This past week, I decided it was time to tackle the Port Rowan turntable. It’s now built, and ready to be installed on the layout.

I kit bashed my turntable, starting with an HO scale kit for a 90-foot turntable from Custom Model Railroads* that I picked up back in October. A 90-foot turntable in HO works out to about a 65-foot turntable in S – close enough to the prototype’s 60-foot model. That extra five feet will make it that much easier for operators to spot a 10-wheeler on the bridge – there’s not a lot of room for error:

Port Rowan turntable - tight squeeze for a 10-wheeler

The CMR kit is laser cut from acrylic and creates a deck girder bridge. My prototype had a through-girder arrangement, so to replicate this, I added sides created from HO scale bridge components from Central Valley Model Works. I used two packages of HO scale, 72-foot plate girders (part 1903-1). I cut away the rounded ends and spliced the girders to get the length I needed for my turntable bridge. I carved away all the detail below the angled braces on the inside of the girders, then attached them to the CMR turntable deck by adding a length of .060″ x .250″ styrene strip to each side. (Sorry – no in-progress photos. I was too busy making progress!)

The prototype turntable had an air-operated engine at one end, which crews could hook up to their locomotive’s air brake system. In Steam Echoes of Hamilton, author Ian Wilson notes this was used if the pit rail was slippery – perhaps from too much crushed Queen Anne’s Lace. I modelled this engine using a white metal kit from Keystone Models for a stationary steam engine. I rearranged some of the details and mounted it on a pair of Evergreen styrene I-beams, then glued it to the side of the girder. It worked out perfectly and adds a great detail to the turntable. I also added a pair of armstrong handles using brass rod plus some strip wood and wire for the blocking and U-bolts that secure these to the bridge girders.

The CMR kit features a removable bridge, which – among other things – allows one to get it out of harm’s way when working on the pit. I’ve sprayed the pit base with random swirls of black and rail brown and whatever else was coming out of the airbrush while painting and weathering the bridge. It’ll eventually get covered with dirt and weeds:

Port Rowan turntable pit base and ring rail

I built the cribbing from Mt. Albert Scale Lumber bridge ties (also used on the turntable bridge and the three bridges on the layout). I only did a partial wall, to hold back the earth at the approach track, because the “pit” at Port Rowan wasn’t really that well defined. The railway elevated the approach track – easier than digging a proper pit – and I’m duplicating that by raising the roadbed by 3/4″ on my turntable lead. I’ve glued down and sanded some ties at the end of the lead to help with final installation of the turntable. That’s going to require a second set of eyes and hands to get everything level. I’ll add more risers under the approach track at the same time.

The CMR kit is powered by a slow-motion motor – I’m not sure of its original purpose but probably as a display motor. It’s not the kind sold as a stall motor switch machine. The label says it includes gear reduction of more than 7000:1 (yes, seven thousand to one) and it does move darned slowly. CMR did a nice job of making everything serviceable – there are several places where one can loosen a grub screw to pull the bridge, the shaft and the motor.

I’m really pleased with how this project turned out.

(*Check the “Links” section on this blog’s home page for the most up-to-date links)

Another turntable thought – courtesy of PECO

My friend and fellow S Scale Workshop member David Clubine has been working on an On30 layout with his son – and he’s come up with a neat use of an HO turntable by PECO.

David notes that it’s big enough to accommodate small S scale steam power (such as the 2-6-0s and 4-6-0s I will use on my layout).

I already have a kit for my Port Rowan turntable. But this may be something for me to explore if I want to add a turntable to the sector plate in the staging yard. With its concrete pit, it’s too well built for a sleepy CN branchline, but might be perfect for behind the scenes work.

Thanks, David, for sharing your find.