Equipment Portraits :: 7

Here’s the seventh in a series of posts featuring portraits of the equipment that runs on my S scale model railway, with notes about each model. The equipment is presented in no particular order. Click on each image for a larger view…

CNR 4204

CNR 4204 - portrait

CNR 4204 - Portrait

This stunning example of the scratch-builder’s art was built for me by my friend Simon Parent, who also did my 2-6-0s and 4-6-0s. If I recall, it is the 3rd of 10 of these locomotives he plans to build – although the number may be less. The model combines brass castings and photo-etched nickel silver. Simon designs his own patterns and makes masters for his own castings: It’s an almost-lost art. Like all of Simon’s work, the 4204 is finished with details specific to the road number and the era. I obviously didn’t need this one – it’s way too big to ever have appeared at Port Rowan – but I love Simon’s work and wanted to support it. This locomotive gets regular workouts as part of the S Scale Workshop Free-mo style exhibition layout.

CNR 7184

CNR 7184 - Portrait

CNR 7184 - Portrait

This is an essential car on my layout – a combine in the solid green CNR scheme, to fill out the mixed train to Port Rowan. The model is a mixed media (brass and wood) kit designed by Andy Malette and sold through his MLW Services company. My friend Pierre Oliver at Elgin Car Shops built the kit for me. I then added finishing details – including the window glass and shades and the diaphragms (which need to be cleaned up and coated with a clear coat so they don’t rust). I also added the conductor in the vestibule and a spare DCC sound decoder with speaker in the baggage section so I can emulate train line signals from the conductor to the engineer. The trucks are American Models six-wheel trucks, which look nice but do not track well, so I enhanced these with special rigid beam compensation subframes designed and laser cut for me by Tim Warris at Fast Tracks, based on a solution sometimes employed by UK modellers. This working suspension made the world of difference.

BAOX 378

BAOX 378 - Portrait

This is a brass model (as evidenced by the bare brass peeking out around two of the domes), which I painted for a Canadian petroleum company. The lettering – the most important part of this project – came from Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing: He offers this set in HO scale, and kindly did a custom run for me in S. This is a great resource for Canadian modellers. Reasonably, he charges twice the price of the HO decals, since it’s a custom run. Also reasonably, this is a lot less than the set-up fee one would expect. Thanks, Al!

CNR 470015

CNR 470015 - Portrait

I did five of these cars about a year ago. They started as ready to run models by S Helper Service. I replaced the plastic roof walks with real wood, and updated the provided K brakes to AB brake sets using brass kits sold by BTS. I then painted this car (and its four mates) with CNR mineral red #11 from the CNR Historical Association, and lettered them with decals sets from Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing.

CNR 52247 and CNR 52274

CNR 52247 and CNR 52274 - Portrait

CNR 52247 and CNR 52274 - Portrait

These two scale test cars are certainly conversation pieces. They are brass imports from Southwind Models, which I painted, lettered and finished as CNR prototypes. The decals are a mix: The road name came from HO scale van (caboose) sets from Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing, while the balance of the lettering is from HO scale CNR scale test car sets from Andy W Scale Models. Scale test cars are kept relatively clean since dirt can change their weight, so I was very careful with the weathering. They also typically are used in pairs, so I was fortunate to find two models. Despite being so small and having a two-axle stance, these cars are heavy, being almost solid brass, and the springing is well done in the journals so they track very well. They’ve become my go-to cars for testing track work, appropriately enough…

Eventually, I hope to document all of my S scale equipment in this fashion. We’ll see how that goes. Meantime, see the Portraits category to find all posts in this series. If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with it. I hope you enjoyed these equipment portraits and notes.

Equipment Portraits :: 6

Here’s the sixth in a series of posts featuring portraits of the equipment that runs on my S scale model railway, with notes about each model. The equipment is presented in no particular order. Click on each image for a larger view…


CNR 1 - Portrait

CNR 1 - Portrait

I’m tickled that even a continent-spanning operation like the Canadian National Railway system had a “Number 1” locomotive – and this is it. Dan Navarre at River Raising Models imported 180 of these GE 44 Ton diesels in December 1993. They’re a well-designed model with a nice drive. To create CNR 1, I added marker lamps on the four hood corners, removed the stock single-chime horn and added an (oversized) HO scale Miniatures by Eric horn on a custom bracket on the front exhaust stack, and built the cab roof-mounted number board from a pair of steam engine style number board kits from my friend Andy Malette at MLW Services. I added a crew to the cab, real glass in the windows, LEDs in the headlights at each end, and a Loksound sound decoder hooked to a TCS Keep Alive module under the hoods. A speaker shoots sound up through one of the open hood hatches. I painted the engine with Warm Black from the CNR Historical Association and I worked with Bill Brillinger at Precision Design Company to develop custom decals. At some point, I may re-visit this locomotive to add the protoype’s boiler-tube pilot. But for now, I’m really pleased with this project.

CNR 3640

CNR 3640 - Portrait

CNR 3640 - Portrait

This was a real beast of a project. The model started as an Overland brass import from 1989. (Yes: Overland used to offer S scale brass!) I found a few errors on the model that needed to be corrected to more accurately represent a CNR locomotive. I did not fix most of them because they were, to me, minor. But the one I did address was turning the cab interior 180 degrees so that the crew would face the long hood, which was “forward” on these models. The mechanism also needed attention to remove binds, isolate the (two!) motors, and adjust the ride height of the trucks side frames so they wouldn’t foul on road crossings and turnouts. In S scale, there’s a lot of space inside an RS18 and I packed it with electronics, including a Tsunami decoder and current keeper module, a large speaker, a second decoder to give me additional lighting effects, and a fistful of small LEDs for headlights, class lamps, number boards, truck lights and a cab interior light, all run off separate functions. (At some point, I will revisit this model to upgrade the decoder to a LokSound with “Full Throttle” features. I have the decoder, and an expansion board that will give me enough function outputs to control all of the lighting. I just need to sit down and do it.*) The next challenge with this model was painting: There are no decals for this unit in S scale, and while CDS offered dry transfers at one time, they are wrong. So, I painted the whole unit yellow and then, based on photos, carefully masked it and sprayed the green. The yellow bands were then trimmed in black by hand, using a fine tip marker. The lettering – cab numbers, road name, heralds and so on – came from a set produced for S scale F-units and available from Al Ferguson at Black Cat Publishing.

(EDIT: October 2019 – Over the summer, I pulled the Tsunami and replaced it with an ESU LokSound decoder plus PowerPack Mini module. I did not use the expansion board – instead, I added a second speaker. The model ended up with directional headlamps, the truck lamps, and cab interior light. I removed the number board and class lamp lighting because I didn’t like the effect: The model looked like Deadmau5 in concert when all lit up. Finally, I wrote a feature about this project, which appears in the October 2019 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman magazine.)

CPR 191200 and CPR 403726

CPR 191220 - Portrait

CPR 403726 - Portrait

My friend Pierre Oliver at Elgin Car Shops built, painted and lettered these these two Fowler patent boxcars for me from Ridgehill Scale Models resin kits. I did final finishing – such as adding real wood roof walks – and the weathering. I like that the two models show different styles of Fowler car: One has a wood roof and door, while the other is rebuilt with a steel roof and door. The roof walks are different, too. It’s the little details like this that attract people to prototype modelling.

PRR 503798

PRR 503798 - Portrait

This is a rarity in S scale – a modern, injection molded plastic kit. This PRR X29 was introduced by Des Plaines Hobbies at the 2013 NASG Convention, and since the prototype was ubiquitous it was easy to justify one for my layout. My friend Pierre Oliver actually asked if he could build this one for me, and I was happy to let him play with it. I did the weathering. Many manufacturers have abandoned kits in favour of ready-to-run models – while others have abandoned S scale altogether. So it’s great whenever a company like Des Plaines Hobbies bucks that trend. Thanks for that!

Eventually, I hope to document all of my S scale equipment in this fashion. We’ll see how that goes. Meantime, see the Portraits category to find all posts in this series. If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking with it. I hope you enjoyed these equipment portraits and notes.

DCC: Upgrading to keep current

Mystery Box
(What’s in the box? I’m not telling – yet: Stay tuned.)

I have a perfectly good DCC system. And I’m about to replace it. I’ve ordered a new system – from a different manufacturer – and it should arrive this week.

I’ll write more about the new system once I have it in hand and have had a chance to connect it to the layout, but some may question why I would upgrade. For me, it’s really about keeping current with technology changes in the hobby.

I first got into DCC back in the mid-1990s. I had a friend in our round-robin who had become a Canadian manufacturer’s rep for Lenz, so I got an early start.

DCC was brand new. Lenz was brand new. My friend was running software build 0.86 on a Lenz system. Of the many quirks, it didn’t yet have English instructions on the hardware, so all the commands and feedback were in German. “Aus” for “Off” (a short), etc.

Another friend in our group had built a medium-sized, freelanced, operations-oriented layout with DC cab control. He had five memory cabs, selected through rotary switches. The memory meant one’s train would keep moving while the operator unplugged to move around the layout. It worked very, very well. NO problems at all. So, understandably, my friend’s initial reaction to DCC was lukewarm. “Why would I switch?” he’d ask. And frankly, none of us could answer him. I sure couldn’t.

But then he had a group of old-timers over for an ops session. They were 10-20 years older than him. He’d first learned about ops on a layout that they had built. And he realized really quickly that they were confused by the concept of five-cab control and memory walk-arounds. And that experience played a big part in his decision to switch to DCC.

My friend didn’t decide to switch to DCC to make it simpler for the old-timers, but because he realized that if he didn’t stay current with the hobby, he would become like them. The hobby would pass him by, and when he went to other people’s layouts, he’d be the guy wandering around like a lost person.

So he switched. He moved all his rotaries to Cab 1, and wired a Lenz system to it. There was a steep learning curve for decoder installs, especially with the decoders being a large as they were at the time. And it wasn’t a cheap transition. Nor did it happen overnight. But he took the plunge.

And almost immediately, things changed on my friend’s layout – for the better. We stopped looking at rotary switches and started running trains. We re-worked how trains interacted with each other, especially in yards where road power was being cut off and switchers were adding or removing cars. We started adding helpers to one of the grades, because it was easy to do and the helper could be independently controlled.

None of this was expected, and it was all great. And this was before the advent of sound. We had NO idea sound was coming when my friend converted his layout. And you can imagine how sound changed the operating sessions! Everything slowed down. We instituted two-person crews on most jobs, because the engineer now had more to do. As a consequence, we also cut the number of trains running on the layouts and cut the speed of the fast clock in half. We started incorporating real railway procedures, like pumping air in the train line and performing brake tests. And so on.

So, fast forward to today. I’m still using a 20-year-old system (I bought my first Lenz base station in 1996). Things like JMRI have completely passed me by: I’ve downloaded it, but never used it for several reasons. For starters, when I first encountered it, decoders – even sound decoders – were relatively simple to program using CVs right off the throttle. Today, there are so many more options that even changing the ring rate of a bell can involve three or four CVs. Second, I don’t have a computer hooked to the layout or in my workshop – something I will have to address at some point.

My current Lenz throttles have a 10-button keypad for functions yet current decoders can have up to 28, so accessing anything above F9 involves switching to another stack – a complicated, disruptive process. (And even though my layout is simple, there are a lot of functions to access on my locomotives – cylinder drains, injectors, blower, bell, whistle, etc. etc. etc.) So once again, I find myself playing the layout instead of running the trains.

From a long-term perspective, the throttles – which I really do like – are entirely hardware defined, which means accommodating new features is difficult. And yes, the system can be upgraded – and has, in the past – but those upgrades require sending the throttles back to the sales rep so he can pull and replace IC chips, because the system itself is not software defined, and not Internet enabled.

So, it’s time to try something more advanced – to stay current, and prepare for the future. Because I want to take advantage of the many new, incredible features that are on the horizon – as well as those that have not yet even been conceived. And I don’t want to be that guy wandering about, looking lost, in the ops sessions.