Thursday, August 17, 2006

Getting Non-working Track Working Again

Thanks to an insane time at work during July, I'm taking two weeks off for R&R. Some of the projects include:

* Installing my first working semaphore signal

* Building the hillside behind Glenwood

* Rebuilding the track at Alma.

The track at Alma's been the most effort. Right behind the Los Gatos scene, the track climbing through the Santa Cruz mountains sits about five or six inchest higher than Los Gatos . Before, the helix would climb away from Los Gatos, and then would suddenly double-back across the rear of the Los Gatos scene on a narrow strip of plywood. I knew I wanted to treat these as separate scenes, but I wasn't sure how I was going to separate them. Worse, when I'd first laid the track, I'd done the bare minimum needed to get trains running on the second level. This meant the Alma scene floated on a narrow strip of plywood above... well, nothing. It didn't help that the scene was at the rear of some deep (30-35 inch) benchwork.

It was finally time to deal with this scene. I needed better support for the track, and I needed some structure for attaching the Los Gatos backdrop. My solution was to take out the existing roadbed, build something like a small shelf layout that would take it's place on the bench, then drop the new shelf into place. Here's the before and after photos:

Doing the work at the bench was a great choice; this track never was well-laid or sloped correctly, and I was able to finally get things right. I also added Tortoise switch machines to the two turnouts on the track, and it was much easier to adjust them on the workbench instead of during gymnastics-like bends on the layout. I also took the chance to start putting in scenery.

One of the reasons for doing all this work was to add a new switch at Alma; there's now a switch on the siding that will lead to a steep siding climbing up above the helix. My plan is to add a mercury mine and town on top of the helix. (There weren't any mines around Alma, but a couple valleys south of Los Gatos creek canyon held the richest mines in California -- the New Almaden mercury mines.) We'll see how it goes...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

First Ground Cover Goes In!

It's a day to remember -- the day the weeds finally came to the layout. I've added basic ground cover to the area around West San Jose.

Here's a couple photos showing the work. First, here's a photo of the West San Jose passenger platform. The passenger car was used as a temporary station in the early 1930's after the track was raised on an embankment and before the new San Jose (aka Diradon) station was built.

Looking the other way from the San Carlos St. overpass, you can see how the tracks near the station are raised above the level of the Del Monte Plant 51 spurs.

Here's also a photo of a train going over the Alameda overpass.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

It's Almost Too Quiet...

It's been a quiet few months; after the burst of effort needed for the LDSIG meet, I spent the winter and spring building freight cars. I needed a bunch more reefers, but I've wanted more detail than the typical Athearn / Accurail car. I really love the Red Caboose Pacific Fruit Express R-30-12 refrigerator cars, but the plastic grab irons and steps quickly get broken in operation.

The solution? Buy a half-dozen Red Caboose cars, and bend wire grab irons to take the place of the plastic ones. Red Caboose still sells these reefers, but they're undecorated and need painting. I also used the opportunity to paint the roofs black as they would have appeared in the 1930's.

The other fun project was an automobile car. Most of the freight cars in the 1930's were small, but the boxcars used for shipping the (relatively light) automobiles and buggies could be huge -- 50 feet long and 2 feet higher than surrounding cars. Tony Thompson's SP Freight Cars volume 3 has photos of a bunch of these, and the A-50-2 -- a 40 foot automobile box -- caught my attention. (One of the neat photos of this car shows it after the ends were repaired; the SP didn't bother to repaint the cars, but just the modified ends, leaving strong boxcar-red ends surrounding weathered wood sides.) This seemed like a fun car to scratchbuild; it used the Bettendorf underframe fabricated from I-beams and used also on the PFE reefers, and the smooth-sheathed walls simplified construction.

I drew up some plans of the car, but decided to test my accuracy by building an O scale version of the car. It was a fun jaunt into another scale, and the completed car now sits on my windowsill at work.

Here's the completed 40 foot O scale car next to a Westerfield 50 foot Union Pacific boxcar.

There's been some other work on the layout (such as building some fast clock kits), but nothing serious. I need to put some effort into the layout again...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

LDSIG 2006 Santa Clara Meet: First Open House

This weekend was the annual Santa Clara mini-convention on layout design and operation -- a weekend of presentations on layout design, operating sessions at nearby layouts, design critiques, and layout tours. I opened my layout for viewing on Saturday night, and probably got a good thirty or so people visiting during the evening. This was the first time I'd ever showed my layout to more than just friends, and the comments and suggestions made it all worthwhile.

It's also been a great kick-in-the-pants for the last few weeks as I put in minimal scenery, got the layout operating much better, and in general dealt with all the little niggling details that made the layout that much more viewable.

Some of the particularly helpful projects:

* A couple of stretches of empty space were replaced with flat fields of plaster. Though the area wasn't scenicked, some hastily planted buildings and fences hinted at where a farm would soon be placed.

* My lovely wife spent a good part of a weekend sewing minimal drapes to hide the underside of the layout; while the 15 yards of good fabric was a bit pricey (even on sale), the cost of the velcro to attach it to the layout was equally bad. Luckily, I now have some nice heavy denim drapes in pullman green -- a good color for the SP, and a great color to complement the scenery.

* I spent several days just cleaning track. A battery-powered Dremel tool with a wire brush did fast work of lingering dirt on wheels and track. I also found the foolproof way to test the track was set a balky 0-6-0 switcher at one end of the layout and see how far I could get before it stalled.

* A non-railroad friend kindly kept the trains running all evening as I talked with visitors. With a single-tracked mainline terminated with a pair of reverse loops, operation really requires someone observing what's going on.