Year in review – 2014

It’s that time of year…

WordPress – the blogging engine I use – does a nice annual report each year to recap one’s presence on the web.

This year, it notes the following:

– The blog received roughly 170,000 views from 119 countries in 2014.
– I wrote 250 posts.

My all-time views have topped 312,000 – but that does not include the first year I was blogging about this layout, so the figure is actually higher.

In all, I’ve penned 960 posts – including this one – which have generated more than 4,000 comments.

Thanks to everyone who is reading – and especially to those of you who have contributed so much, via comments on and off the blog, to the discussion.

I’m looking forward to more in the year ahead.

Wabash 1.0 Tear Down


Back in early November, I visited Pierre Oliver and together we installed Frog Juicers for every switch on his double-decked HO scale Wabash Railroad.

So what are they now doing in a box, along with all the Bullfrog switch machines? And why does Pierre have so many shelf brackets?

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Regular readers know the answer. But in case you missed it, Pierre called me shortly after that session and said, “You and I have to stop working on the layout, because every time we make progress the prospect of a move rears up!”

And sure enough, Pierre and his wife are planning to move. This time, they actually found a new house – so Wabash 1.0’s days were numbered.

Over the past couple of weeks, Pierre has been packing up rolling stock, structures and other details. The layout looked pretty barren yesterday, when Chris Abbott and I made one final visit to Wabash country:

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(Delhi, Ontario on the lower level, while the flex track in the upper level staging yard – representing points east of Jarvis – has been salvaged)

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(Courtland, Ontario lies under a big bag o’ packing peanuts)

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(Simcoe, Ontario at upper left – Renton at upper right. Aylmer is below Renton, while the lower – west-end – staging is under Simcoe)

We didn’t arrive empty-handed, however: Chris and I were on deck to help Pierre tear out the layout and stack it in the driveway, ready to be binned.

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(Chris preps to destroy)

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(Nice helix – although a choke point for operations: We’ll try to design around it for Wabash 2.0)

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(Pierre watches from safety as Chris bites into the helix)

The tear-out went surprisingly quickly. Perhaps it was the excellent lunch provided by Pierre’s wife – including awesome home-pickled onions – but the afternoon went even quicker than the morning. Chris tackled the task with grim determination, as demonstrated here:

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

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(I don’t think the Freds care anymore whether they’re unplugged)

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(The mainline east of Jarvis, tilted up and ready for sectioning. Pierre moves to cut wires to mark where he’d like the saw cuts. Courtland cowers below: its time will come)

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(And there goes Cortland! Delhi to the right)

In the end, it took just five hours – including a stop for lunch – to remove the layout:

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(The Courtland / Delhi side of the basement)

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(The Simcoe / Renton / Aylmer side of the basement)

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(Ready for the bin, which arrives Monday)

Fortunately, it takes roughly the same amount of time to build the basic benchwork for a new layout – as demonstrated when Pierre visited my house a couple of years ago to perform his Benchwork in a Day trick.

While it’s always sad to see a layout go, we’re looking forward to designing and building a bigger, and better, Wabash 2.0.

As Pierre would say, “It’s all good!”

Christmas greetings 2014

It’s a little late, but I’ve had a lovely holiday so far that has not involved sitting in front of my computer, so I’m only just getting around to updating the blog. Regardless, I wanted to wish everyone a happy and safe holiday season – plus good fortune in the New Year.

Thank you, as always, for reading!

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About the photo:

Back in 2005, I was asked by then-editor Bill Schaumburg to produce a winter scene for the December issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine. I was modelling the Maine two-footers in On2 at the time, so I did a quarry scene reminiscent of the source of slate traffic on the Monson Railroad.

I set up a sheet of plywood and pinned two rails to it to represent track – no need for ties, since they would be buried under snow. I then poured bashed up black slate floor tiles to either side of the rails… added some evergreens, a locomotive and a flat car… positioned a boom from a derrick model I was building… and dumped a couple of boxes of rice flour on the scene.

This is not the photo that was used, but one of the many photos I look outdoors in natural light as I was trying out different compositions.

Eggs and ops with David and David

It was a beautiful day yesterday – cold but dry and sunny – so what better way to spend it than on a mini layout tour?

My friends David Woodhead and David Reilly dropped in to see my layout. It’s been a few months while since David Woodhead last visited, and more than a year since David Reilly was here, so there was a lot of new stuff for both of them to see.

We ran a few trains and discussed various aspects of the layout – including my newly-installed TCS WOWSound decoders and how I build my trees. Somehow, two hours flew past.

I’m always interested in what others see in my layout, and Woodhead and Reilly both brought their cameras. Here are some of the shots they took:

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(A busy afternoon at Port Rowan. The doodlebug was a fantrip special. David digitally added some trees from elsewhere on the layout into the background here – what a pretty neat effect! It gives me some idea of what I hope this area will look like. I’ll need to twist up a lot more tree armatures…)

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(Speaking of trees, this is an interesting shot that has nothing to do with trains. It’s one I’ve never thought of taking but I really like how it turned out.)

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(M238 leaves Port Rowan. I like taking photos on this curve, too…)

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(A freight extra crosses the Stone Church Road bridge.)

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(The doodlebug at the steel deck girder bridge in the Lynn Valley. I’m pleased that others are taking advantage of these little vantage points, which I worked into the scenery as a reward for careful viewing.)

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(A busy day in St. Williams)

After running trains on Port Rowan, the three of us retired to Harbord House for a late brunch (the pub does some great variants on Eggs Benedict) and pints. And then – since David Woodhead lives just a few blocks from me – we finished the day at his place to run some trains on his On3 Madoc and North Hastings Railroad.

All in all, a great day: Thanks guys! We need to do this more often…

TMTV :: Roadbed and Fascia

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The latest instalment of The Roadshow – my S Scale Workshop module-building adventure – is now available on TrainMasters TV.

This time out, Chris Abbott joins me as we install roadbed and fascia. A lot of “No More Nails” gets spread about and I learn some neat tricks for using styrene.

Click on the image above to go directly to the episode listing, and enjoy if you watch. A subscription is required – but those can be had for as little as $2.50 per month, so why not give it a try?

Thanks as always to Barry Silverthorn at TrainMaster TV for welcoming me on the show!

East is West :: Artistic Licence

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(Extra 1532 West at St. Williams :: On the prototype, this train would be headed East)

I used the above photo to illustrate a previous post, which prompted regular reader (and St. Williams resident) Monte Reeves to ask…

Isn’t your train eastbound as the station was on north side of track? Shouldn’t it be Extra 1531 East?

That’s an astute observation, Monte – and very few people would pick up on that. Well spotted.

But no – this train is headed west because of some artistic licence on my part.

When designing the layout, I realized that if I built St. Williams correctly, the station would be located between the track and the layout fascia. Viewers would look at the station from the rear.

Normally, I would’ve been fine with that. But here’s the problem: I have only ever seen one photo of the St. Williams station as it appeared in the era I model, and that photo was taken from trackside:

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(I like this scene as rendered on my layout and I’m not willing to lose it…)

And isn’t this photo is a great one? I think so. It shows the Mixed Train to Port Rowan (M233) arriving at the station, with the station agent on the platform and a baggage cart ready to receive LCL and express. It includes the station signboard… the Canadian National Express and CN Telegraph signs… and the roof-mounted train order signal.

There’s so much information conveyed to the viewer in this photo that I wanted to replicate it on the layout – and the only way to do the modelled station justice was to rotate the town 180 degrees so that the station front faces the aisle.

(There’s a practical consideration, too: I had no photo of the back of the station – but if I built it this way, it wouldn’t matter. In fact, the model has a blank wall at the rear.)

These are the sorts of decisions one must make when designing a prototype-based layout. And I’m happy with the decision. While I’ve written previously about rethinking St. Williams to make it more prototypical, I’m not willing to lose this strong connection between modelled scene and the prototype photo that inspired it.

Compasses must be adjusted accordingly…

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New views

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(Extra 1532 West :: St. Williams, Ontario, 1957)

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been photographing the layout for an upcoming feature in The S Scale Resource magazine. This feature is a follow up to a visit by Daniel and Amy Dawdy late last month.

Since I’ve taken a lot of photographs of the layout already, I challenged myself to find some new views for the article.

In all, I shot 75-80 photographs, which I then pared down to roughly three dozen to submit with the feature. I don’t expect all of my photos to be used – a few are slightly different compositions of the same scene, to offer Daniel and his co-editor Glenn Guerra some choices – but given that The S Scale Resource is a digital magazine the editors won’t be constrained by a page count.

For now, I won’t share many of the new views here: You’ll just have to wait for the article to come out*. But I liked how the photo at the top of this post turned out and I’m surprised it has taken me this long to shoot the St. Williams depot from this perspective.

I thought I had worked out the best locations for photography, but I found several new views. The lesson is that digital film is cheap and it pays to experiment.

(*The good news is the magazine is free to readers, so there’ll be nothing stopping you from getting a copy – and of course I’ll post to the blog when the issue is published.)


Just for snicks, I’ve decided to update the WordPress theme I use for this blog to “Twenty-Twelve”. So, things will look a little different: Cleaner, for starters.

If I don’t like it, I can always revert to the tried and true “Twenty-Eleven”.

“Best Toys Ever!”

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(All trains on deck: The sector plate, ready for an operating session)

Chris Abbott had business in my part of town yesterday, so he dropped in for a visit. It was his first chance to see the layout since I’d upgraded all of my locomotives to TCS WOWSound decoders, so while we did not hold a formal operating session we did run a few trains…

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The decoders give me more options for replicating the operation of a real locomotive, so they’ll take a bit of getting used to. As an example, here’s what’s involved in going from a full stop to moving forward, with throttle function buttons noted:

Blow two short whistles to indicate forward direction (F3)
Turn off blower (F4)
Turn off injectors if running (F8)
Open cylinder drain valves (F5)
Start bell (F1)
Release brakes (F6)
Open throttle
Turn off bell once moving (F1)
Close cylinder drain valves (F5)

It sounds like a lot to remember, but Chris and I have both spent some time in the cab of a steam locomotive, working as a fireman’s apprentice at a tourist line, so we appreciate the ability to duplicate this sequence in miniature. We know the process – we just need to remember which button does what. It occurred to me last night that the TouchCab throttle app for the iPhone may solve this problem, since it includes icons that one can map onto the various function buttons.

While we had a lot of fun playing with the new sound decoders, we found a curious feature – one we need to avoid for now, and fix down the road:

I use Lenz throttles with keypads. There are four buttons for the throttle: coarse deceleration (-16 speed steps); fine deceleration (-1 speed step); fine acceleration (+1 speed step); coarse acceleration (+16 speed steps).

Normally, I operate using the coarse buttons: I have momentum set fairly high (CV3 = 50), which helps sound decoders produce a dynamic chuff sound. But Chris was being more cautious so he started a train by tapping the fine acceleration button once (to the first speed step – V1 – of 126).

We were both surprised when the train took off at full speed!

Fortunately, nothing was damaged and Chris stopped the train quickly. But further experimentation showed us that…

1 – V1 put full speed to the locomotive.
2 – V2 brought it to a complete stop.
3 – V3 and beyond behaved normally.
4 – The reversing switch worked properly, so the same thing would happen in reverse.
5 – It happens with all locomotives, not just one.
6 – Analogue (DC) operation is turned off on all decoders, so the decoder should not be reacting to the pure power on the rails with no signal.

The short-term solution is to avoid using the fine acceleration/deceleration buttons. The long-term solution is to contact TCS to inform them of the issue and see what they come back with. Meantime, if anybody else using these decoders has had this same problem and found a solution, I’d love to hear about it!

That said, we still had a great time and I look forward to Chris’ feedback on the new decoders.

Afterwards, we retired to Harbord House for pints and fish: Salmon Wellington for me; classic fish’n’chips for Chris. Very, very tasty and we’re definitely favourites with the staff there.

As for the title of this post…

While we might think our trains are the best toys ever, my dogs know better. They are great fans of Chris on any day – but especially yesterday, as he brought them each a new frisbee:

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(Jack and Mocean say, “Stop taking pictures: Let’s play!”)

Thanks Chris! We’ll put them to good use in the dog park this weekend!

WOWSound test video

As requested, I’ve created a short a video of one of my CNR 10-wheelers, newly fitted with the WOW101 Steam-KA decoder from TCS.

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

Keep in mind that this was a quick video, and please excuse the shoddy production values.

Also, I am still learning the various functions of this decoder, so there will be tweaking. I already see that I need to tweak CV3 (acceleration: currently 50) and probably my custom-loaded speed table.

I should also adjust the volume of some sounds. But that’ll come. When I get things set up just right, I’ll have to unpack my DecoderPro gear and capture the configuration file to make sure similar locomotives (e.g.: 10-wheelers 1532 and 1560) are similarly configured.

Curiously, the generator sound shut off at one point – I’m not sure what I did. Turning the headlight (F0) off and on again restored the generator but obviously that’s not supposed to happen.

The keep-alive module is fabulous. It keeps the sound going for at least 15 seconds after I turn off the layout – more than sufficient to counteract the occasional interruption on the electrical path between DCC system and decoder. With this type of backstop for sound and motor control and the constant recharging of this module by the DCC system, I feel no need to explore “dead rail” technology.

As should be apparent by now, I’m pleased with the results so far. This is a step in the right direction for train control.