RS18s and violins :: A visit with David

One of the great things about having friends over to see the layout is I never know where the conversation is going to head. I always learn things – and not always about trains.

For instance, on Wednesday my friend David Woodhead visited and I learned about this odd instrument:

 photo Stroh-Violin_zps4h1pkjo4.jpg
(Click on the Stroh Violin to learn more about it on Wikipedia)

Curiously, the instrument in question actually came up in relation to my recently-completed RS18 model:

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(Click on the image to read all posts about the RS18)

The connection, of course, was the DCC sound unit I put in the model. David was impressed by the sound, and wanted to know about the speaker I’d used and how I mounted it. Here’s a look at the gubbins:

 photo RS18-DCC_zps3ry0egjv.jpg

The speaker is mounted facing up, and the sound escapes the body shell though several avenues – including the various grilles along the sides of the long hood, the exhaust stacks on the top (which are open) and the large rooftop radiator fan.

I mentioned to David that the speaker was ported, but that I was unable to determine whether the port made any difference to the sound. I’d tried a simple test – blocking the port with a finger – and I failed to discern a difference.

That got us talking about ports in speakers for audio systems, secondary sound holes on acoustic guitars and – eventually – the Stroh Violin, which certainly looks like something conjured up by a model railway enthusiast with a well-equipped shop and some spare instruments lying about.

I’ve always thought that the best in our hobby are extremely curious. We love chasing down obscure facts and revel in the unusual – and Wednesday’s visit was yet another example of that.

David and I even ran trains – sort of. Mostly, we talked about various projects over coffee. And that’s always fine.

Great to see you as always, David: Come again soon!

Extra 3640 West :: St. Williams


(This video may also be watched directly on YouTube, where you may be able to view it in larger formats)

I’ve written a lot about my RS18 project to describe the modifications, the painting, and the installation of DCC, sound and lighting. This short video pulls it all together, to provide an idea of how this beast performs and sounds on the layout.

Enjoy if you watch it…

A riot of colour

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(CNR RS18 3640 at the St. Williams station)

There’s no real reason to share this photo, other than I like the colours: The white house and RoW fence… green and yellow locomotive… red station… and blue truck. They combine to really catch the eye. Those LED headlights sure help, too.

(Hmm: I just noticed I need to paint the stove pipe casting on the station. It’s been raw white metal since the station was built. I’ll add that to the to-do list…)

Truck Lights

Quite a few readers commented on the truck lights I added to my recently-wired RS18. I thought I’d share a couple more photos of these.

Here’s a truck light (and the cab interior light) with the layout lights on…

 photo RS18-TruckLights-02_zpsmdmcnj00.jpg

… and with the layout lights off:

 photo RS18-TruckLights-01_zpsmiwps0rq.jpg

It’s a small detail, but easy to install in S scale and well worth the effort. At least, I think so…

(The photos remind me that I need to reconnect the hand brake chain between truck and frame: always something to do!)

CNR 3640 :: Factory Fresh

Over the weekend, I finished the DCC installation on my RS18.

I also added lights and cab window glass, and built and installed number boards. Then, I assembled the locomotive – hopefully for the last time.

There are a few details to brush paint, a few final details to add, and some weathering to apply – but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel…

 photo X3640W-StW-Day_zpszj2c6hvp.jpg
(CNR X3640 West pauses in St. Williams)

In the photo above, the unit shows off its headlights, class lights, and number boards. Each operates on a separate circuit. This allows me to light the number boards at night, and light the class lights when running as an extra. The headlights are directional, but unfortunately I ran out of functions and wires to make the class and number boards directional so they’re on/off at all four corners, regardless of which way the locomotive is travelling. I can live with that.

In addition to the Tsunami for sound, motor and four light functions, I added an FL2 from TCS inside the short hood. This is a two-function accessory decoder, which allowed me to add a couple of neat features (which I’ll describe below).

The lighting represented my first experience with surface-mount LEDs. But a lot easier than it could’ve been, thanks to some nifty pre-wired LEDs from Evan Designs, which I picked up at The Credit Valley Railway Co (a local hobby shop).

The LEDs come five to a package, wired into an assembly that includes the appropriate resistors and a bridge rectifier so there’s no need to worry about input voltage or polarity. (The ones I acquired work on an input of 7-19 volts). I was able to simply wire them to the decoder and go.

Well, not “simply”…

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The DCC installation was one of the most complex I’ve undertaken. There’s a seven-wire cable between frame and body shell. And the body shell has 15 LEDs in it, as follows:

– Two nano LEDs for each twin-beam headlight (4)
– One chip LED for each number board (4)
– One nano LED for each class light (4)
– One nano LED for each truck light (2) – running off the FL2
– One chip LED for the cab light (1) – running off the FL2

Fortunately, there’s plenty of space in each end of the shell to hide the electronics that regulate the LEDs. This is one of the (admittedly few) advantages of S scale over HO (Hey – we have to have some wins, right?)

The LEDs were positioned and secured with two adhesives. First, I used a dot of CA on the connecting wires to hold each LED in place. Then, I applied a coating of Microscale’s Micro Kristal Klear over the wires and around the LED. I also used Kristal Klear to form the lenses for the class lights and headlights, and to secure the microscope slide cover glass in the cab windows.

When I started this project, I knew I wanted to do something special – and adding working truck lights seemed like a good way to do that. These are the lights that the engineer can turn on at night to see the roadbed – often, the only way to judge movement and speed when one is in an area with no artificial light sources. Since the cab has a control stand and a couple of crew members in it, I decided a cab light would also be a nice touch:

 photo X3640W-3640-StW-Night_zps3udvulqk.jpg
(I’m no O Winston Link, but…)

The above photo reminds me that while a factory-fresh paint job is nice, some weathering below the frame will really bring out the details – especially under layout lighting conditions. So that’s the next step. Stay tuned…

RS18 :: Lettered

This went much better than I thought it would – and for that, I have a couple of suppliers to thank.

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(Bottles of gloss and matte finishing coats – it’s pretty obvious which is which, isn’t it!)

First, there’s Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing. As the photo shows, I’ve added the CNR Roundels from Al’s S scale set for CNR cab units. But, given that S scale is not as well served as HO (and therefore, I can’t be as picky), I also decided that I could use other pieces from this decal set – including the cab numbers and the road name. That saved me a lot of aggravation. (Thanks, Al!)

Second, there’s Alclad II. As those in the hobby who do their own painting will know, it’s getting harder to find certain paint brands. This is forcing us to sometimes look further afield – and sometimes, with wonderful results.

One place I’m exploring more for paint and finishes is Wheels and Wings Hobbies, an area shop that caters to those modelling aircraft, armour, automobiles and so on. On a recent excursion I came across the Alclad II line of finishes.

Alclad II offers some wicked products for creating a convincing metallic finish, which I’m looking forward to trying on future projects. But for the RS18, I picked up bottles of Alclad II’s gloss and matte finishes, plus a bottle of thinner/airbrush cleaner.

Well, I’m really impressed by what came out of the airbrush. The gloss coat created a terrific surface for applying decals, while the matte finish did a superb job of blending the decals and paint to create a uniform finish. I’ll definitely be recommending these to others.

With the lettering applied, I can move on to finishing the DCC installation, which at this point consists of installing and hooking up lots of little LEDs. I have headlights, class lights, and number boards to do. This will require a trip to the hobby shop for MV Lenses plus a couple of packages of the super-tiny LEDs that are now on the market.

Beyond that, there are photo-etched grilles to weather and install, window glass to add and number boards to create. (Fortunately, I can use numbers from the CNR decal set for these.) But with the lettering applied, I feel like I’m over the hump on this project.

The finishing coat on the RS18 will get plenty of time to cure – Barry Silverthorn and I are loading up the TrainMasters TV cameras and microphones, and heading to The Fine Scale Model Railroader Expo this weekend in Scranton, PA. Maybe we’ll see some of you there!

Green, gold and ribbons

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(The RS18 :: painted and lined and ready for lettering)

Over the weekend I managed to mask, spray and line my CNR RS18.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, there’s no suitable lettering available for this model in S scale. The closest is a set of CDS dry transfers that appear to have been designed for a different prototype entirely.

In looking through several sources of photographs, I found different treatments for the ribbons on the ends of the hoods. Some – like the photo of CNR 3684 shared in a previous post – describe two arcs that meet fairly high on the hood. Others create a deeper V-shape that touches the bottom of the hood. I thought it might be a “long hood / short hood” thing – but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Different paint shops putting their own mark on things? Your guess is as good as mine.

I’m a new and enthusiastic convert to Tamiya masking tape, which I first used on my gas electric. I’ll no longer use anything else. I had zero paint lifts and achieved nice, sharp colour separations.

I’ll admit that the ribbons are a bit too wide where they curve around the corners of the hoods. But they’re still narrower than the ribbons in the CDS set, so it’s an improvement. I just couldn’t wrangle tape any thinner and get it under the L-shaped grab irons on the hood ends. In fact, in the process of adding the black pin stripe, I narrowed the ribbons from their as-painted configuration.

I added the pin-stripe with a fine-tipped (1mm) black permanent marker, which I acquired at a local art supply store. I need to go over the line a second time to even up some of the strokes, but I’m pleased with how it’s worked so far.

The next step is lettering. I have ordered S scale CNR Roundels from Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing, which will go on the ends of the hoods. For the cab numbers and CANADIAN NATIONAL spelled out along the flanks of the unit, I will have to use the CDS lettering. At least I’ll be applying those to relatively flat surfaces. I suspect I’ll be employing weathering to hide various sins…

Once the lettering is done, I can install lighting in the shell – including headlights, number boards, and class lights. But with the two-tone paint applied, I think I’m over the hump with this project…

RS18 :: The prototype

I just stumbled across some nice photos of CNR RS18s online, that will help me with painting my S scale model. Click on this terrific Pierre Lacombe photo of restored CNR 3684 to see more on the Old Time Trains website:

 photo RS18-3684_zpsilblgyjv.jpg

This photo illustrates some of the painting challenges I face with this project.

I have a set of CDS Lettering in S scale for this model – the only available option. But in addition to being “one shot” dry transfers and being pretty old at that, the graphics supplied are also incorrect. The V-shaped ribbon on the end is wrong, as is the shape of the yellow splash in the upper corners of the hoods (which look more like the style the CNR used on Canadian Locomotive Company products).

(Interestingly, it seems the railway paint shop was also confused sometimes. On the Old Time Trains site, I note that in the sixth photo – Jim Parker’s image of CNR 3689 – the yellow corners are painted in the style used on CNR GP9s. But that’s the only photo I’ve seen of a CNR RS18 with the yellow done to that pattern.)

So, even if I could use the CDS Lettering… I can’t. Instead, I will have to create masks for the various graphic elements. Since this set is wrong, I can’t even scan the lettering and then print it out on plain paper to use as a cutting diagram for the tape.

I took a stab at this earlier in the week – and after six attempts, I decided that watching TV was a better use of my time.

I have some fresh ideas for tackling the job of creating the masks and I’ll try again when I’ve recovered from the last round of attempts.

DCC for the RS18

Not exactly as I planned it…

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As mentioned in previous posts, I really did want to use a separate decoder for each motor. But – despite this being S scale, and therefore 36% larger in HO in all three dimensions – there just wasn’t room. It’s frustrating, because there’s a fair bit of under-utilized space under the body, but not in a configuration that’s actually useful for adding electronics. It will, however, offer some places to stuff plugs for the leads running to various light functions so I can’t really complain.

But back to this installation:

The two purple packages are the Soundtraxx TSU-1000 – and, in front of it, a Soundtraxx Current Keeper module. The Current Keeper saves me a bit of work: This model has four-wheel-pick-up, via wipers on two wheels on one side at the front, and two wheels on the opposite side at the rear. I could’ve added extra wipers to create eight-wheel pick-up, but even so I know that extra wipers can’t compare to the 10-15 seconds of onboard battery backup the keep-alive module supplies. To deal with the two motors, I took the suggestion of a few readers and wired the motors in series to keep the current draw manageable. So far, so good.

(I appreciate all of the suggestions – and commented to a couple of friends that there’s nothing like a post on DCC to generate advice! It seems everybody has a preferred way to install decoders. Of course, one person’s treasure is another’s trash. I’m happy with the route I’ve taken here – and if it doesn’t work in the long run, I’ll simply try something else.)

The good news is, the two drive trains seem to operate perfectly in sync with each other. I haven’t witnessed any bucking or other symptoms of a mismatch in performance.

The speaker is an MRC model which I thought would fit nicely inside the shell (it does). I’m not that impressed by the ported enclosure – I’ll plug the port and see if the sound improves. It’ll likely also sound better once the body is in place. (UPDATE: I did not plug the port – and it does sound much better with the body in place. I’ve posted a video to demonstrate.)

The space between the speaker and the right-hand gear tower is where the cab is located – hence, the great expanse of nothingness.

To mount everything, I folded up a frame from some square brass bar. This is soldered to the mounting plate between the motors, and kept from rattling about by a brace stuck to a piece of double-sided tape – the white square on the frame under the decoders. An extension of the frame at left keeps the wires out of the gear tower.

I broke out the resistance soldering rig for this. I bought mine from a friend’s estate many years ago, but haven’t used it that much. It was perfect for this work, however.

While I’ve wired the track power, motor control, sound and current keeper, I’m only half-done with DCC. That’s because there are four lighting circuits to install – all in the body shell. But that’ll have to wait until I’m finished with painting.

Stay tuned…

Wedges

No, not this kind…

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… although if that’s your thing, that’s cool.

And they do illustrate the answer to the problem I’m about to describe.

I continue to make progress on my RS18 – and I continue to find hurdles that need to be overcome. Yesterday’s discovery (one I was warned about) was that the truck side frames can ride so low that the bottom of the side frames can short on the top of the rails. This tends to not happen on plain track, but – as I discovered yesterday – it happens almost 100 per cent of the time at turnouts, where diverging routes come together. The bottom stretchers on the side frames needed to ride higher in relation to the journals. What to do?

I examined the trucks and decided the best way to address this was to add wedges (hence, the shoe) above the journal boxes. I cut some pieces of styrene (actually, HO Scale 2×12 strip in my collection), compressed the springs on the trucks to create a gap, and slipped them into place:

 photo RS18-Trucks_zpscdi1ddnx.jpg

Problem solved.

I need to decide whether to glue these in or just leave them loose. I’d love to leave them loose, but the vibration of the locomotive as it runs can make them move about. Regardless, I’ll paint them black and under normal layout conditions, nobody will be the wiser. Obviously, the trucks need a bit of touch-up painting too, so I’ll do that at the same time.

I discovered this problem while test-running the unit. Yes, the DCC installation is underway. More on that in a future post…