“Go on, what’s the THIRD verse?”

Well, look who’s moved into the neighbourhood…

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This is a story four years in the making.

Back in November 2013, I built a tree fort in one of the trees behind the station in St. Williams. You can read about that project by clicking on the photo, below…

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… but at the end of that post, I noted that I was inspired by Calvin & Hobbes, and wondered where I could find a suitable tiger.

Fast forward almost two years, and in October 2015 my friend Stephen Gardiner surprised me with a model of Hobbes, which he had designed, 3D Printed, and painted. Again, clicking on the image, below, will link you to that part of the tale (or, tail?)…

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Since then, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a suitable figure that I could modify into a Calvin – but without any luck. There aren’t any nice models of S scale kids around – and certainly nothing with Calvin’s Peanutsy proportions.

Still, when Stephen got in touch and suggested we get together for lunch, adding, “I have something for you”, it never occurred to me what that might be. So I was completely gobsmacked – and delighted – when we met up yesterday and he presented me with a 3D Printed Calvin:

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I carefully added a pin to the bottom of his foot, and placed him in a patch of light in the backyard.

Everybody sing along with Calvin!

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If Hobbes ever lets Calvin into the tree fort, he’ll have a good view of the passing trains:

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Thanks Stephen – what an awesome surprise!

The visit was grand: We went for lunch at Harbord House and had a great conversation about a number of subjects.

We discussed the announcement on Monday from Rapido Trains that it would be producing HO scale models of the iconic Canadian diesel switcher: The SW1200RS. Stephen was at the launch party, and had a lot of details to share. This is huge news for the Canadian hobby, and Rapido notes it is their most-requested model. The good news is, the Rapido Trains SW1200RS is more than vapourware – the company had test shots from the tooling on display, and a running sample. The models are due early next year, and already I know a number of people who are considering switching scales back to HO just to take advantage of these. The SW1200RS certainly figures prominently in a number of the Canadian prototypes I’ve covered on my Achievable Layouts blog.

After lunch, Stephen and I ran a freight extra to Port Rowan and back. Stephen took the engineer’s seat in CNR 10-wheeler 1532, while I headed for the conductor’s desk in the van. The layout ran well, with only a couple of misaligned couplers to contend with. It was Stephen’s first experience with ESU’s Mobile Control II wireless throttles – a combination of Ambroid tablet computer and throttle with physical knob and buttons. I switched to this system late last year and it’s been a terrific experience. (Stephen was suitably impressed, I think – but I’ll let him provide his thoughts if/when he reads this.)

All in all, a terrific day – and let’s do it again!

Chevron jumpers

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Layouts always act up when company comes.

On the weekend, I had a couple of friends over – two of whom are not in the model railway hobby, and were visiting my house for the first time. They wanted to see the layout, though – so at some point we went to the train room, and naturally I ran a train…

… which, just as naturally, hit a dead spot on the Stone Church Road overpass. I determined that one of the rails over the bridge was not receiving power. This is not the first time I’ve had problems on this bridge. It went dead on me once before.

Now, I know that I installed drop feeders – I did that for every length of rail on the layout, and when power disappeared on the bridge last time, I dug into the ballast, found the feeders, and resoldered them. It was a painful process – in part because of all the trees around this scene, and in part because the fact there’s a bridge here means there’s half a sawmill worth of lumber belowdecks:

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(The Stone Church Road underpass under construction)

Perhaps, because of these issues, my solder joints to the rails were cold last time I repaired this. I decided that this time, I would do something topside.

In the photo at the top of this post, sharp eyes will pick out a chevron-shaped piece of wire spanning the gap between adjacent lengths of rail. There’s one on each rail in this photo. I took short lengths of 0.015″ phosphor bronze wire – the same stuff I routinely use to add pick-up wipers to locomotives that need them – and bent them into chevron shapes with feet at each end. I then used a wire wheel in a Dremel Tool to remove the paint on the rail ends, tinned the feet on the chevrons and the rail ends, and soldered a foot to each rail segment so that the chevron spans the gap.

The chevron is important – it gives the wire some flexibility in case the problem here is that the layout is expanding and contracting with the seasons.

I brushed on some brown paint over everything and my bridge is once again in service. This has taken care of the problem – hopefully, permanently! I’ll find out this coming weekend, when I’m hosting members of the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Association of Railway Modellers for an open house…

Full Throttle Steam on TrainMasters TV

The current segment on TrainMasters TV features my CNR 10-wheeler #1532, fitted with a LokSound decoder and loaded with Full Throttle Steam:

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Click on the image above – or follow this link – to start watching. You need to be a subscriber to TrainMasters TV to see it, but membership is quite reasonable.

(UPDATE: ESU has now released the first Full Throttle Steam file – based on SOO Line #1003, a 2-8-2. It’s at the top of the on ESU’s steam download page. For future reference, note that Full Throttle steam – and diesel – sound files are noted by the “(FT)” at the end of the name. Thanks to Matt Forsyth for alerting me that the first file is now publicly available.)

LokSound Love for 1532

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(Replacing the decoder in the 10-wheelers looks challenging, but it’s really just a case of mapping the wires and doing things one wire at a time)

Over the past week, I’ve done a fair bit to advance my hobby goals.

I’ve resumed working on trees for Port Rowan, and I’m pleased with the progress: I applied my bark mixture to nine more armatures this morning.

I had another work session at Andy Malette‘s place, as he and I convert USRA Light Mikados into CNR S-3-a 2-8-2s. (More on that in this post.)

And I finished converting the core fleet of steam locomotives to LokSound Full Throttle Steam, with the installation of a LokSound Select into the boiler of CNR 1532 this morning. With that, I’ve finished the two moguls and two 10-wheelers that I use in regular operating sessions. I’m loving the new sounds and the motor control. This is what I was looking for.

I have a couple other steam locomotives to convert, but I can do them as time allows.

All in all, a fine week!

Through the Lynn Valley


(You may also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

Another day, another video of one of my CNR moguls equipped with Full Throttle Steam – the new sound packages soon to be released by ESU for their Loksound Select and Loksound V4.0 decoders.

I’ve spent a little more time running the locomotive and I’m getting much more comfortable using the Heavy Load and Coast features to bring the sound to life.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, these are beta sound files. The production versions should be released soon. Watch the ESU/Loksound USA website for details.

Meantime, I’m getting ready to replace decoders in more locomotives. It’s a great time to be modelling steam!

CNR 86 – Full Throttle – 2nd Run

I’ve made some more adjustments to the Loksound decoder in CNR mogul 86 and CNR 10-wheeler 1560, which are loaded with Full Throttle Steam packages from ESU. And therefore, I’ve made a follow-up to yesterday’s video… this time focussing on 86 in action on my layout…

In this video, I’ve highlighted a number of sounds generated by the decoder. Some are automatic, some are user-controlled, some are both. The video features braking noises, the air compressor, bell, whistle, injectors and dynamo.

In the first scene, the locomotive drifts into St. Williams. In the next, it works hard to start the train out of St. Williams (with Full Throttle’s “Heavy Load” function engaged). Finally, the engineer drifts over a bridge in the Lynn Valley (with Full Throttle’s “Coast” function engaged), before opening the throttle to build speed for the run into Port Rowan.


(You may also watch this directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

I still have some minor tweaking to do – notably, to adjust volume levels – but I’d say I’m 98% of the way there. Colour me impressed!

Working hard, and drifting

I now have LokSound decoders installed in two of my steam locomotives – CNR mogul 86 and 10-wheeler 1560 – and I’ve loaded them with pre-release versions of the soon to be released Full Throttle Steam sounds and features, thanks to Matt Herman at ESU North America.

I’m still tweaking the sound and motor controls, but I’m 90% of the way there and wanted to share a quick video to illustrate one of the features I really like about this new line.

The Full Throttle Steam series will include a function similar to “Drive Hold”, which is a key feature in ESU’s Full Throttle Diesel sounds. Drive Hold is mapped to a function button and is turned on and off just like activating a bell sound. When it’s engaged, the feature locks the locomotive’s motor at its current speed. Turning the throttle knob will not adjust the speed of the train. But it still adjusts the sound of the locomotive.

Here are two ways it can be used:

If one is pulling away from a station, one can open the throttle to start the locomotive, then lock the motor once a desired (still slow) speed is reached… then continue to increase the throttle to make the locomotive sound as if it’s working harder to get the train underway. The exhaust will be sharp and strong, as if the hogger has put the Johnson Bar right into the corner.

Once one is at track speed, the motor can be locked and then the throttle can be turned down to represent pulling the Johnson Bar back closer to neutral. The exhaust note will be softer and quieter. At its extreme – turning the throttle knob all the way to speed step zero – the exhaust sound will disappear entirely, as if the hogger had shut the throttle. The locomotive will now drift indefinitely, simulating a prototype that’s being carried along by the train’s mass and momentum.

I’ve shot a very brief video that illustrates both of these features. First, I show CNR 86 starting from a station stop. At St. Williams. Next, I show CNR 1560 switching from throttle to drift as it passes the station.


(You may also watch this video directly on YouTube, where you may be able to enjoy it in larger formats)

It does take a little bit of practice to do this smoothly – but 20 minutes of playing with this feature should fix that. It should be noted that one does not have to use this feature: One can control the locomotive in the conventional way and still get a sense of working hard and drifting by writing high momentum values into CV3 and CV4. But using the motor speed-lock feature is a much more powerful way to accurately replicate the sound of steam.

In fact, the best solution is a combination of these two approaches. I notice the first locomotive (CNR 86) speeds up abruptly as it’s leaving the scene. Increasing the value in CV3 (acceleration momentum) should take care of that, because it will smooth the transition between the locked motor speed and the throttle setting once I release the motor. I may also increase the value in CV4 (deceleration) to help smooth the transition when slowing down. For me, that’s part of the fun of experimenting with DCC.

A special thank-you to Matt at ESU, who prepared these pre-release files for me as part of our Full Throttle Steam recording session at TrainMasters TV last Friday. Matt tells me he will release of the first Full Throttle Steam decoder files very soon, and I’ll be sure to update the blog when he does.

It’s a great time to be modelling the steam era!

Preliminary peek at ESU’s “Full Throttle Steam” decoders

On Friday, I hosted ESU North America’s Matt Herman at the TrainMasters TV studios. TMTV brass hat Barry Silverthorn and second camera operator Christian Cantarutti shot a series of segments for DCC Decoded during which Matt and I explored the soon-to-be-released “Full Throttle Steam” sound and motor control files for LokSound decoders. Noted CP Rail modeller Bob Fallowfield – a fan of ESU’s “Full Throttle Diesel” line and a familiar face behind the ESU booth at train shows across southern Ontario – joined us for the day, and a grand time was had by all.

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(Matt – standing – demonstrates the “Full Throttle Steam”-equipped decoder in CNR 1532 as Bob either shoots video on his phone, or genuflects to the awesomeness of Canadian National. Or, perhaps, both…)

As part of this shoot, we equipped one of my CNR 10-Wheelers with a LokSound decoder loaded with “Full Throttle Steam”, including an air-powered bell ringer and CNR-style Nathan five-chime whistle. This is a beta-build of the sound file and there are still a few lines of code to tweak, but Matt is going to send me the updated files once he’s finished working on them.

Once I have those (and have had a chance to customize the various CVs to, for example, synchronize the chuff rate to the driver revolutions), I will shoot video of CNR 1532 on the layout and share it here. But for now, I can say that the early results are certainly impressive. I’m looking forward to converting the rest of the fleet.

(In fact, in preparation for this, yesterday I picked up a refurbished Lenovo laptop loaded with Windows 10 at one of my local computer stores. I use Macintosh computers for everything in real life, but ESU’s LokProgrammer programming and sound-loading tool only works with Windows. Since I wanted a dedicated computer for the workshop, it made sense to find something inexpensive rather than add a PC emulator to a Mac laptop. But I digress…)

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(I’m with Matt and Bob as we prepare to shoot a non-steam, HO scale segment at TrainMasters TV. It’s pretty obvious that we’re having a great time…)

I won’t have to wait long for the finished files- and neither will you: Matt anticipates releasing the first series of “Full Throttle Steam” sound files by the end of the month. It’s a great time to be modelling steam.

Stay tuned for updates!

“The Daily Effort” with Andrew and Chris

Yesterday, I hosted Andrew Batchelor and Chris Abbott for an operating session. Andrew took on the conductor’s role while Chris held down the engineer’s seat – and the session was different than most I host in several respects.

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(The star of the show: M238 after collecting its lifts in St. Williams. It ended up being too long for my sector plate…)

This was the first session I’ve hosted in a long time in which we’ve run Mixed Train M233 / M238. Usually when guests arrive – especially first-time guests like Andrew – we run a freight extra because they’re more familiar to most hobbyists. But Andrew was really interested in the paperwork that I use on the layout, and since there’s a fair bit of paper involved with running The Daily Effort it was the better choice for an ops session.

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(That’s a whole lotta paperwork…)

While I’m quite comfortable with using the waybills and switch lists, I’m a bit rusty with the paperwork for the mail, express, LCL and passenger portion of the Mixed Train, and it showed. My method for calculating the time taken to transfer packages etc between train and baggage wagon is clunky and distracts from the feeling of operating the train. This was not apparent when I was doing it myself, but is definitely an issue when I try to explain the process to guests. So I need to rethink this.

One possibility I’m now seriously considering is to use a set of triggered sounds to represent the time required. My layout’s ambient audio system easily supports this type of application. I may build several sound files that include the following:

– The railway car door unlocking and opening
– The rumble of a baggage wagon being positioned.
– The sounds of hand trucks and workers moving cargo.
– The railway door closing and locking.

If I were to build a half-dozen of these sound files, each of different lengths, and then have the audio system select and play one at random when triggered via a button on the fascia, that might add enough randomness to the time required for a station stop. The fact that each stop could require three such sequences (for combine, baggage/mail, and LCL boxcar) would further randomize the length of a station stop.

I would still retain the paperwork – the conductor would exchange these with the station agent, as he does now by using the pigeon holes at each station desk – but there would be less math during a session. And that would be a good thing.

I note that Kalmbach recently published a book by Jeff Wilson called Express, Mail & Merchandise Service. As the name suggests, it covers this head-end traffic and how to model it. I have not yet perused a copy, so I don’t know if it addresses how to represent the traffic at the kind of micro level that interests me, or whether it’s confined to (for example) moving carloads of LCL between freight houses. But I have other books by this author and he does a good job of covering a topic, so I’ll investigate next time I’m at my local hobby shop.

This session marked the first time we’ve run trains (beyond some five-minute tests) using my new DCC system – the ECoS 50220 command station and Mobile Control II wireless throttles from ESU.

Overall, things went well – although there were some minor issues. I put these down to the novelty of the new controllers. Chris, who was engineer for our session, is fairly used to my Lenz keypad throttles so it took a bit of time to adjust to the ESU approach.

For example, the ESU throttle knob also acts as the reverser: turn it all the way to the left until it stops then let go and it’ll click and switch direction. But we discovered that the movement has to be deliberate – if it’s done too fast the controller doesn’t necessarily register it. That’s not a problem with the controller – just something that operators have to learn. Now that I know this, I can explain it better to others.

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On the positive side, I figured out ahead of the session how to program the physical buttons on the throttle. I mapped frequently used commands to them so that the operator does not have to look at the touch screen to use the horn, bell or progressive engine brake (which is a feature on the TCS WOWSound decoders I’m currently using).

On the slightly annoying and somewhat humorous side, we found that the throttle will save power by going to sleep – but the factory setting (one minute of inactivity) is too quick for a typical operating session. This is slightly annoying because Chris was spending a lot of time tapping the power button on the top of the unit to bring it back to life, and there’s a very slight delay while powering up. I’ve adjusted the sleep setting to a five-minute delay. We’ll see if that works. I can set it as long as 15 minutes, but of course the longer the screen stays active the more power it consumes. I’ve also tried to balance the extra power I’ll be using with the longer delay by dimming the screen.

The sleep issue was humorous because every time Chris woke up the throttle, the WOWSound decoder – which has something like 40 whistles built into it – would randomly change its whistle setting. The next time he blew the whistle, it would be different.

I have to admit that I’m underwhelmed by the WOWSound decoders. They have some neat features that my previous Tsunami decoders did not, including the progressive brake (which I really like) and an audio function to represent clearing the cylinders of condensed steam (which I know is vital when operating a steam engine). But the audio circuit occasionally blasts a “Matrix”-like digital distortion. And I’ve had other issues.

So I’m not too concerned about interoperability issues with the ESU throttles because I plan to replace the TCS decoders at some point. I’m waiting to see what Matt Herman from ESU in North America does with steam sound. He’s already done a great job introducing new diesel audio files under the “Full Throttle” banner and I know he’s been travelling over the past few months to record steam sounds across North America. So it’s only a matter of time. That Engine Brake button can always be remapped to the LokSound “Drive Hold” feature…

Naturally, food and drink was involved. Before our operating session, the three of us enjoyed brunch at Harbord House. While there are other places worth eating at, this has become the tradition of sorts for new guests. I’m currently quite keen on a Toronto brew, Henderson’s Best ESB from the Henderson Brewing Company.

Andrew: Thanks for getting in touch. It was great to see you and I hope the day answered some questions about paperwork. It did for me.

Chris: Thanks as always. Cheers!

Wabash work session : November 2016

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Yesterday, I joined friends Doug Currie, Mark Hill and Ryan Mendell at Pierre Oliver‘s house for a work session on Pierre’s Wabash Railroad.

Pierre organized the work session with one major task in hand: to pull the troublesome QSI decoders from his fleet of 20 Wabash F-units, and replace them with LokSound decoders from ESU. (UPDATE: After reading this post, Pierre has posted this morning on his own blog to explain why he decided to swap decoders across his fleet.)

Mark, Ryan and Pierre worked on this for most of the day at a table set up in the layout room:

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(Diesels disassembled and prepped for work)

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(The pulled and piled QSI decoders)

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(Plenty of room for a LokSound unit)

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(For this type of work, a professional soldering station is your friend: The Weller WES51)

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(With new decoders, Wabash cab units in the west staging yard are once again ready to race across southern Ontario)

Mark, Ryan and Pierre managed to re-decoder about half of the fleet before we had to leave, but Pierre promised to keep the momentum going and tackle the rest in the coming days.

While those three were busy at Soldering Central, Doug and I were given other tasks.

Doug made significant progress installing foam board insulation along the mainline east of St. Thomas:

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Meantime, I devised, built and mounted a push-rod for a switch in a tricky situation: right on the end of the steel trestle at the east end of St. Thomas yard. This required adding a styrene box around the mechanism to prevent scenery material from gumming up the works. It also required splicing in a new piece of fascia, which Pierre makes from 0.060″ thick styrene sheet. Pierre will shape the fascia after doing the scenery behind it. We mocked up the scenery with some green poly fiber to prove that the mechanism can be hidden under the hillside:

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All in all, an excellent day, including lunch at the Sunset Cafe and dinner at Boston Pizza. As always, work was accomplished and much hilarity ensued. Definitely a grand day out!