Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of the approach Lance Mindheim is taking for his modern-era CSX Miami layout. Lance and I seem to think along the same lines – especially on the subject of finding ways to help model the job of railroading.
Modelling the job changes the focus of a layout – from the trains, to the people who operate them.
I could have used more conventional methods of turnout control – anything from ground throws to stall motors with fascia-mounted push-buttons – and from the perspective of the trains, the job would’ve been accomplished: The turnout would line for either route, as required.
But with the switch stands, the brakeman on my layout enjoys the experience of unlocking the switch stand, lifting the lever, rotating it to the other position, and dropping the lever… then locking up the stand after the work is done.
Another example of modelling the job is the recent addition of waybill boxes – also with padlocks. These perform the same function as the pigeon holes traditionally employed in car-card operating schemes. But the waybills and empty car bills I’m employing look and feel more like the real thing, and the waybill boxes duplicate the actions a real conductor would undertake to deposit or collect waybills at an un-staffed station, yard office or junction point.
Which brings me to my next enhancement for operating sessions – something I picked up from the September 11, 2012 entry on Lance’s blog. (Thanks Lance – I hope you get ideas from reading my blog, too!)
Lance wrote about the importance of setting (and releasing) hand brakes, noting it’s a part of almost every switching move and therefore should be duplicated during operating sessions. As Lance notes, the easiest way to do this is to pause while switching to represent the time taken to set or release the hand brake on one or more cars. But let’s be honest, how many of us will remember to do that? Similarly, how many of us will remember to connect air hoses between cars when switching is finished and our train is ready to head to the next location?
Lance solves the handbrake problem by mounting valve stems at strategic locations around his layout to allow the brakeman to actually model the job. I liked this idea and decided I could do something similar for my layout. At the same time, I also came up with a way for brakemen to connect air hoses.
My solution involves detail parts manufactured for large scale (ride-on size) railroad equipment. A few minutes with Google directed me to Paul Vernon at Precision Steel Car. (Service was excellent, and the parts are beautiful. Thanks Paul!)
I’ve now mounted hand brakes and air hoses on the facia at four locations on the layout where they’re easy for crews to reach when performing switching moves. These serve as visual reminders for brakemen to pause to set brakes or connect air hoses – but I also assembled them in such a way that they can be a tactile reminder too: The brake wheel is 2.5 inches in diameter and turns, the release lever on the housing can be pulled, and the glad hands on the air hoses can be connected:
To make the brake wheels turn, I needed to drill out the hole in the centre of the brake housing. I screwed a housing to a scrap of plywood and clamped this to the table on my drill press. I started with a smaller drill bit and worked my way up to a Number 20 for final drilling. This was almost – but not quite – a slip fit for an 8-32 bolt. In fact, it allowed me to use the steel bolt to cut threads in the brass casting.
(The mallet in the first image helped make minor adjustments as I was centering the housing under the drill bit.)
I also cleared the hole for the release lever mounting. To mount the lever, I found a brass tube that fit inside the hole in the lever, then cut a short length of of this and secured it into the brake housing with CA. This protrudes from the front face of the housing enough to slip the lever over:
Here are some notes:
– The wheel and release lever are laser cut steel and were shipped with a protective coating of oil. A quick trip through my ultrasonic cleaner removed this.
– To install the lever, I slipped it over the tube. I then slipped a brass hex-head bolt and washer in place, and ran a nut onto the bolt on the back side of the housing. I adjusted the tension so the lever can move, but doesn’t flop about, then added a drop of CA to the nut to secure it in place.
– For the brake wheel, I glued a steel washer over the hole in the housing with CA to give the wheel a larger surface to bear against, and added a plastic washer between the brake wheel and bolt head. On the underside, I added a lock washer and a nut. I adjusted the bolt until I could turn the wheel, but it won’t spin freely. Again, I added a drop of CA to the nut to lock things in place.
For the air hoses, I found some appropriate tubing (in this case, copper – because that’s what I had on hand). I cut eight pieces and then inserted a piece of coat hanger wire inside each. This kept the tubes from collapsing when I introduced a 90 degree bend into each pipe. I then secured a bent pipe into the back of each valve housing with CA – being careful to create pairs so that when mounted on the fascia, they would face each other.
The brake wheel is secured to the facia with four Number 4 screws. To mount the air hoses, I glued wood blocks behind the fascia, marked and drilled mounting holes that are press fit, then added a bit of CA when I was happy with their location to secure them.
I gauged the spacing of the two air hoses by what worked when trying to connect the glad hands and found 7.5 inches was ideal. (At some point, I would like to add a button between the two air hoses that, when pressed, would run a sound sample of an air brake test to represent that function.)
Two inches down from the top of the fascia keeps the gear below the scenery.
I mounted a hand brake and paired air hoses at each end of the siding in St. Williams. I also added a set of these operation aids at the yard throat in Port Rowan. The fourth set is located near the Port Rowan depot, making it handy for setting brakes on the passenger equipment or on cars left at the feed mill at end of track.
I’ve already started an operating session using these aids and I’m very pleased with how they help represent the work. When I need to set brakes, I reach over to the nearest brake wheel and give it five or six turns for each car I’m setting. To release brakes, I pull the lever up and return it to its resting position. I normally leave the air hoses connected so when I need to represent that activity, I disconnect then reconnect the glad hands, repeating for each car that needs to be connected.
Most importantly, with these aids in place I’m now thinking more about when I need to set or release hand brakes, or connect air hoses. That’s adding more play value, and more time, to my operating sessions.