More of the Same, Part II

Spent a few minutes roughing out the track. Kato is insanely easy to work with. Runaround is long enough for two-car passenger operations, which is exactly what I was hoping for, as I will be mostly running mixed trains. Train will be split upon arrival, with the 0-6-0 Bellwether handling the goods.

Then I started on the recess for the turntable, using a hole-cutting attachment on a Dremel. I will have to “scrape” the recess out using another Dremel attachment. I started before realizing how much dust it makes. This will be an outside job.

More of the Same, and Some New Toys

Continuing the LSR rebuild, I was wondering how to “end” the rails leading to the second module in such a way that they could simply butt up against the corresponding rails without worrying about fishplate connectors, extension track, etc.

While I was sanding splinters from the new module this evening, it dawned on me that I could cut the roadbed out from under the ends of the rails, and then have the rail-ends jut out over the fascia (which I already plan on doing for track leading onto the turntable).

Here is the underside of a short piece of test track, after I cut the roadbed back with a razor saw:

And here’s how the rails might look jutting out over the fascia, after a few hills have been carved at the corners:

I think this is a good solution. It might look a bit odd, as there will be about an inch of rail without ties, but once it is all painted it shouldn’t be too obvious.

In addition to adding that one short fascia, I put some adjustable feet on the bottom of the module, 1′ from each corner:

Most importantly, I received this today: a DCC-equipped Dapol 38XX Class 2-8-0 steam engine, and a couple of 3rd class Collett coaches. Good incentive to keep moving along with this project!

A funny side note:

These would have arrived yesterday, but the postman who was delivering the parcel read the contents list and saw that it contained chocolate and cream. He didn’t want to leave it on the warm porch, so he left a note and asked if I would rather pick it up at the post office. I called and let him know that “chocolate and cream” is the livery scheme on the passenger cars. I don’t think he understood, but he said he’d deliver the parcel anyway, as long I wouldn’t hold him accountable for any spoilage.

And Now For Something Completely Different… But Almost the Same

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything, and here’s why: I made several “mechanical” decisions long ago that are now compromising the operational integrity of LSR.

I had been spending too much time fiddling with the Tortoise (SMAIL) under-table turnout switches because they weren’t working consistently. The remote Tortoise mounting system was complicated and required constant adjustments, and the SPDT switches weren’t powering the frogs reliably. As a result, my engine often got hung up on turnouts and I could only get it going again by turning the power off and then on again. Over time, these turnout issues would only get worse. In retrospect, I should have simply used solenoid switch machines from the start.

Also, the stepper motor that drives LSR’s turntable continually fell out of alignment and caused the deck to lean. This was probably due to the slight warping of my poorly planned mounting block. Unfortunately, I couldn’t simply re-mount the motor due to the spatial needs of track wiring. Had I planned to mount the motor separately from the turntable I would have wired the entire layout differently (you may recall that my initial plan was to use Peco’s long-promised but never-delivered DCC turntable motor, which would have mounted directly to the underside of the turntable).

So, for the past couple of months, rather than flipping the module over every time I wanted to run my engine, I decided to spend my time assessing these issues. If you know me at all, you’ll know what that means. I don’t accept change right away and I sit with new ideas for a good long time before acting on them. After much deliberation I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I need to replace all of my turnouts, which means that I also need to replace the rest of my track. In turn, this means that I also need to replace the baseboard. Essentially, I am starting over, but I intend for this rebuild to move along very quickly.

I’ve purchased nearly all of the necessary materials already. I will be using Kato Unitrack, which snaps together easily and makes the grueling act of soldering feeders obsolete. I’ve used Unitrack in the past, and  having now experienced Peco  I prefer the reliability of Kato’s turnouts despite the snappy action of solenoid switches. The most difficult part will be making Kato turnouts DCC-friendly. For that, I will rely on six NMC Switch-Kat decoders. I sold my Tortoise (SMAIL) machines on eBay and purchased the Switch-Kats with the proceeds.

The only drawback of using Unitrack is that it isn’t just rails mounted across ties   the ties are built into a rigid roadbed which is molded to look like ballast. This is what makes Kato so reliable and easy to install, and for a mainline it looks pretty good out of the box. For stations and yards, though, there’s the cosmetic problem of roadbed height. In a real railway station you won’t usually find the tracks sitting high up on a layer of ballast; rather, the ties will be level (or nearly level) with the ground. To counteract Unitrack’s roadbed height, I will use 3/16″ foam core board, stripped of the paper facing, to raise the surrounding terrain. I will then fill the gaps between the foam and track with Woodland Scenics’ Foam Putty.

In the idle hours a couple of weeks ago, I also decided to redesign the layout a bit to cut some wasted space and add operational interest. Here is the track plan that I’ve come up with, along with a proposed extension:

LSR and extension

This module will be 12″ x 66,” so is 4″ thinner than its predecessor. You will also notice that I removed the siding in front of the station and added a siding behind it for the cattle dock and (more importantly) goods shunting.

As for the turntable: I am reusing the Arduino, motor shield, and DCC shield, but I am changing the mounting system for the motor. This time, instead of using a 14″ length of dimensional lumber with a hole drilled into it, I have 3-D printed a mount to keep the motor flush with the well of the turntable:

Nema Mount

This is designed to fit my Nema 17 motor, and it will be attached directly to the underside of the baseboard. The hole that I cut for the turntable will only be recessed halfway through the baseboard above it, except for a “through” hole for the shaft and another for the feeder wires.

Additionally, I used TinkerCAD to design a 3-D printed turntable “mounting ring” that specifically fits the Peco turntable and lifts it 1.59mm   just enough to reach the bottom of Kato’s rails. I considered using cardboard or balsa wood for this, but I was afraid that it would warp and cause alignment issues later on.

Peco Turntable Riser for Kato Unitrack

Now it’s time to get building!

I picked up a slab of 3/4″ birch plywood and asked the clerk at the shop to make a few rough cuts. Rather than purchasing dimensional lumber for the frame, I simply asked if he could rip some 3″ strips from the excess ply. The cuts aren’t perfect, but with some sanding they will suit their purpose.


I cut a rectangular notch from of one of the 3″ boards to fit the plug for the DCC throttle. Then, I used wood glue to tack the longer sides to the baseboard. After that, I cut a couple of shorter sides of 3″ board and glued them to each end. Finally, I countersunk some 1½” construction screws every ~6″ around the perimeter. Pretty simple, and the whole operation took an hour.



Here you can see it in place, with the motor mount and the turntable ring ready for service:

Tomorrow, I will sand down some edges and then add fascia, feet, etc. In 3-4 days I should already be wiring and laying track. Stay tuned!

Goods Shed III

Spent a few hours making some ad hoc drain pipes, because the out-of-the-box pipes fit poorly and looked even worse.

These were made with Ratio’s “Gutters and Drainpipes” kit, which really only contain straight drain pipes. I used a hobby knife to cut beveled lengths, then used Testors plastic cement to tack them together before reinforcing each joint with superglue. Then, I superglued them into place.

I must have been distracted toward the session’s end, because I accidentally glued the drainpipe meant for the rear awning onto the front of the structure. It took me a few seconds before realizing my mistake, and in the process I damaged the structure a little by ripping up the pipe and leaving some superglue behind. It isn’t very noticeable due to the heavy weathering, but I might wind up putting an advert sign over the affected area (luckily, I considered doing that anyhow… and almost exactly where the damage is).

Here’s the damaged section:

You probably can’t even tell anything is amiss, which is great, but I’m just a tad bit disappointed in the fact that I messed up on the very last piece to be added! Oh, well…

After the glue had set, I used acrylic black to touch up some of the pipes and weathered them with acrylic “Steel Gray.”

Goods Shed II

Some progress on the goods shed interior and roof. The roof has a couple of skylights, hence my detailing of the interior.

Normal scrutiny:

Extreme scrutiny or harsh lighting (photos taken with flash):

The doors in the back of the interior are actually a photo of the doors on the back of the model, which I printed on cardstock. Here’s the backside of the model:

I still need to add drainpipes, then spray some Dullcote over the whole thing, but I’m happy with how it’s turning out so far.

I didn’t do a great job lining up the roof sections; superglue only offers about 0.5 seconds before it sets. To cover a gap, I cut a thin strip of card and glued it across the apex of the each roof section, then painted it to match. This is standard procedure for laser-cut kits anyhow, so it looks pretty good (except I glued the card crookedly across the smaller roof!)

Edit: I started on the gutters and drainpipes, which seemed pretty straightforward. I painted them with black acrylic, then glued the gutters to the eaves. This is finicky work, requiring tweezers, a small file, and a sharp hobby knife. One of the gutters was very stubborn; due to the poorly aligned roof there was virtually no overhang, so I had to cut down the width of the gutter and glue it to the wall instead.

This same roofing issue meant that the drainpipe wouldn’t fit, either, as it stretched from the eaves on the larger roof to the down-spout beneath the botched gutter.

I spent two hours building two failed drainpipes before finally succeeding:

Good thing I have a box of spare Ratio gutters and drainpipes!

Carriage Shed I

I started kit-bashing the Ratio carriage shed, transforming it from a double- to a single-track width, and doubling the length. The kit was made to lengthen easily, by simply putting two short kits back-to-back, but I wanted to remove the odd legs and the gap that would have been between them. Nothing a razor-saw and some superglue can’t fix. I sanded the tops of the arches into shape; just eyeballed it, really.

And together, painted, but roofless:

I need to add some interior bracing near the middle, just to strengthen it a bit, before adding the roof. The roof will require some additional kit-bashing to fit the thinner (and thus steeper) roof… maybe sometime this week.

Goods Shed I

Got rid of the unsightly hole in the goods shed floor (why did Peco put it there?) and painted it:

Added walls, windows, etc. and painted all with spray paint, then thinner, then more spray paint, and more thinner. Then I hit it all with washes of black acrylic, and followed up with dry-brushed black and white acrylics:

As an afterthought, I painted the interior walls with black acrylic. When the roof is on, it gives a nice effect of a dark space. I received some miniature crate-stacks and barrel-stacks, and intend to paint a couple and put them inside so that they are barely visible when peeking through the doors.

New Platform V

Just made a quick project of repainting the white line along the platform’s edge:

And you can’t really tell in this photoor any photo, reallybut I also sprayed Testors Dullcoat over all the trackwork, including the turntable. This removes the satin sheen of the spray-paint. Took about five minutes this morning, then I spent about an hour tonight with a Bright Boy rail cleaner to remove the Dullcoat from the railheads.

Next up: finishing the goods shed. You can see the current state of the goods shed in the background of the photo above. Much of the painting is done, but I need to come up with a suitable interior before I assemble it any further.

Weathering and Some Planning

Using a black acrylic wash, I weathered the well of the turntable and the edging stones on the station platform:

I might repaint the white edge along the platform, but I’m undecided at this point. The stones themselves are lighter now, so the edge might be overkill. Either way, I will still be hitting everything with some weathering chalks eventually; these are just “sub-weathering” washes to provide a bit of grime and depth.

I also did some thinking about how to simulate traffic coming into LSR’s station. Ideally, engines will be able to come into the station facing forward, then leave again after turning around on the turntable. They would then be able to return again facing forward. To accomplish this without removing engines and rolling stock from the track (which requires the sometimes frustrating task of re-railing), I considered using removable cassettes which I would manually have to flip around. However, I feel that a second module with a reversing loop would be simpler and more immersive. it would consist of a bit of scenic track which enters a tunnel. Once through the tunnel, a semi-hidden loop turns the train around and sends it back toward the station.

Such a module would look something like this:

LSR Extension

This version would allow me to swap between two trains. A simpler version would omit the two turnouts on the loop. I’m really leaning toward the latter, because it would be cheaper and easier to run. In fact, if I did it right, the entire loop would be automated, consisting of a single wye turnout.

I should briefly note that a reverse loop isn’t simple, electronically speaking. The loop itself would need to be completely isolated from the turnout, and there would need to be an automatic reverse module to switch the polarity of the tracks before the train hit the end of the loop. For this, I’m leaning toward the PSX-AR, which can automatically switch the turnout when the train approaches it from the frog-end. This mean’s I wouldn’t have to manually control the hidden turnout, and I could focus on preparing the switches at the station for the incoming train.

If I wanted to get really fancy, I could add a second reversing module with a sensor near the station, and program a delay. That way, a train could pass back and forth on the layout (without turning the engine around at the station), and I wouldn’t even have to touch the throttle. This would be a neat feature for when it comes time to bring Little Snoring to the annual Northwestern Vermont Model Railroad Association expo. This past year, my favorite layout was a small point-to-point logging railroad which ran back and forth automatically.

More on this later. I want to establish my current module a bit more before thinking too much about expanding. It is exciting to consider these long-term goals, though, especially when I’m working on some of the more tedious aspects of modeling.