A great time :: Too bad the layout sucked

My friend Hunter Hughson visited yesterday for brunch followed by an afternoon of talking trains – and running the layout.

I had a great time. It was fun to spend an afternoon discussing Hunter’s layout plans and he brought along a pair of in-progress modifications to Athearn 86′ boxcars that are going to be fantastic models when he’s done with them. Hunter is documenting the upgrades on his Ontario in HO Scale blog – click on the NYC boxcar below to visit:
 photo HH-HiCube_zps2d4dacba.jpg

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the layout had other ideas yesterday. This year’s deep freeze continues – and continues to play havoc with model railways. I must also confess that I haven’t run the layout in a few weeks – I’ve just been too preoccupied with other things, mostly beyond the scope of the hobby. Nothing bad – just busy.

The result, however, is that we had about a dozen derailments. The pony truck on one of the 2-6-0s hit the ties. So did the combine. And a freight car or two joined in on the fun.

These appeared to be intermittent faults: Trying to repeat them sometimes worked, and sometimes didn’t. And I’ll point out again that I haven’t really run the layout in a few weeks, with the exception of a quick dash to Port Rowan with The Daily Effort about a week ago. This is important because frequent operation is not only the best way to identify problems and stay on top of fixing them, it’s also the best way to prevent problems in the first place. As proof of this…

The problem with a boxcar went away after I picked it up, turned it over, and jiggled the wheel sets and trucks a bit. I suspect the sprung side frames on the trucks got used to sitting in one position and needed to be poked a bit to free them up so they’d track on the rails properly.

I also know from experience that the track switches throw much easier when they’re thrown regularly.

As for the other problems, I suspect a shifting layout is the culprit. This is the first really harsh winter the layout has endured. I’ve already found and re-opened a couple of gaps that have closed up. I’ll need to look for more. And I’ll have to put the standards gauge to work, testing rail spacing and the like around yesterday’s trouble spots.

Hunter – great to see you: Sorry the layout sucked. I’ll do some trouble-shooting and hopefully next time it’ll be better!

On days when my layout lets me down like this, I’m tempted to order a dump box and have the entire thing carted away. But this is more than a hobby, right? It’s a way of life. Fortunately, there are many ways beyond running the layout to participate in the hobby so when one approach isn’t going well, I can always try something else…
 photo Trains-Neighborhood_zpsfd04c8b5.jpeg

13 thoughts on “A great time :: Too bad the layout sucked

  1. Love the cartoon!
    Watching the snow fall here at the beach makes me glad I have indoor hobbies for my retirement years. As I contemplate the control system for the planned layout “Dead Rail” R/C battery power is becoming very appealing — I chased too many electrical gremlins as an aircraft electrician to want to build them into my future. Expansion and contraction can’t be helped but it is generally easier to fix a physical gap issue than to find the cause of a short or open.

  2. cold weather typically means low humidity. Low humidity means that wood, including plywood, is going to shrink. Plywood is often thought of as wonderfully stable, never moving once put in place. The truth is that plywood may shrink 0.1 to 0.3% due to humidity change. Those are test condition extremes, but consider what might happen if the lower number were to be accepted for winter/summer change in a home layout environment. A change of 0.1% would amount to 0.012 inch per foot. In metric, this conveniently works out to 1mm per meter.

    The layout moving under the rail on account of humidity changes is far more significant than the rail moving on the layout on account of temperature changes.

    • Hi Rex:
      Yes – it’s a humidity problem. I should’ve been more exact in my description. “Cold” and “Dry” go together.
      In any case, it doesn’t change the situation – the layout still sucked this weekend. The derailments took away the fun. And it doesn’t change the course of action required – I need to run the layout more, find the faults, and fix them.
      Fortunately, my track is all hand-laid and I’ve not soldered between rails – each rail has its own feeder – so expansion and contraction due to temperature, humidity or phases of the moon should be relatively simple to fix: I figure out whether there are tight spots and if so I can open them up again by running a Zona saw between the ends of the rails.
      Given the nature of the problems, though, I am going to start my investigation with the rolling stock that was involved…

  3. Ah but some of the problems are also prototypical. As I recall frost heave used to play havoc with a great many railroads in snow country. Now the only question is did you right up a wreck train to help get things back together. [Grin]

    Yes thing when you are used to good running, anything less ca easily be disturbing. Never the less your layout is the only one I receive regular reports from. So for the rest of us without own problems it is nice to know it is not always the faut of the owner builder, that other things can change and perhaps we should watch for them.

    Meanwhile considering your time period perhaps it is some left over World War II Gremlins causing the problem. Perhaps your railway police need to go on a Gremlin hunt. Perhaps they could deputize some of the local people and the railroad could run a special train for it.

  4. Some thoughts about causal factors in track/baseboard issues on a layout.

    Handlaid track seems more tolerant of expansion/contraction of the underlying roadbed than prefab. What I’ve seen of this problem appears attributable more to baseboard expansion and contraction than the same occurring to the rails. Even how well the rails are spiked down or otherwise secured (eg. by PC board ties) seems to help deter rail creep in spite of baseboard issues.

    Does a layout have much curved track? Handlaid spiked rails can shift laterally on curves to take up rail and baseboard expansion or contraction. .

    How about Homabed or softwood plywood roadbed? I personally use 1/4″ poplar floor underlay glued on top of 3/4″ rough fir plywood for roadbed into which I spike Code 70 and 55 rail into. I never have had any issues in some twenty years that this section of layout has existed, but my longest track run is 13 feet. Are softer roadbed materials more susceptible to expansion/contraction problems due to humidity and temperature changes?

  5. I do know that you’re joking, but if you did decide you want to chuck the Port Rowan, send it my way! I won’t even change it to Normal Scale. Actually I wouldn’t change anything.

    • Hi Brian:

      Of course I’m joking. I’ll be doing Port Rowan for a few more years anyway!

      This was just a public “Arrgh!” – the kind we all experience in the hobby from time to time. I’ll fix the running issues (which I suspect are mostly due to not enough operating sessions) and all will be well.

      Thanks for the vote of confidence, though. Cheers!

      • Everyone has those glitches once in awhile, and it’s great to see it not only acknowledged, but also talking about what is being or will be done to correct and/or minimize those occurrences in the future.

        I enjoy reading your posts and try to absorb the lessons therein! I have to add that I was just reading GMR 2014 and Lance Mindheims’ article ‘Simple Plan, plenty of action!’. While I think some of the things mentioned are somewhat era and location driven, there’s still plenty there to learn.

        Well good luck and happy gremlin hunting! With your ‘track record’, I know you’ll be successful!

  6. Trevor, I enjoyed the visit. Thanks for having me. I think I’m immune to noticing hiccups like the derailments we were having. It’s just part of the fun of owning a layout 😉 I still had fun running trains.

    It’s interesting that the topic of poplar plywood came up in the comments here because we talked about this at lunch. I’ve been planning to use poplar plywood on the first part of my new layout. I hadn’t considered layering thin poplar plywood onto something thicker. I’ll have to check into that.


  7. It always happens when you have visitors.
    It’s the same as exhibitions, everything works when at the club prior to the show. Come the opening and everything comes to a stop.

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