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A Couple Of Work-Arounds For AC/DC

I like running my trains on DC track voltage.  It gets rid of the pesky mechanical reverse unit and I can dynamically control the direction the train travels.  However, I like running the action cars off of AC voltage.  I have found out two things that I will share.
1)  When a track trip is on a mainline:  I use a dedicated transfomer that I have put in phase with the track transformers.  I connect their base posts.  Now I can run an AC lead from the dedicated transformer to the car trip.  The action car energizes when I push the car trip button and the current returns back via the common base post rail to the dedicated transformer.  AC and DC voltage can co-exist on the same carrier.

2)  When a track trip is on a through siding:  When the action car is set out on a through siding and the switches are thrown to the mainline, the common base post connection is broken.  I have found that I can use yet another dedicated transformer that I put in phase with all other transformers as a common practice.  I do NOT, however connect the base post lead to the other transformers.  Instead, I solder a wire to the base post rail on the through siding and take it straight back to the base post of that dedicated transformer.  When I activate the track trip with the button, the car energizes and the current flows through the base post rail to the base post on the dedicated transformer via that wire.  Also, if one of my locos is on that through siding when I activate the car trip, it stays motionless when power is applied to the mainline.  This is because the base posts of the mainline transformer and the dedicated transformer are not connected.  When I move the switch frogs to their divergent route, the base post rail connection is re-established and I can run the loco out onto the mainline.  Obviously here again, AC and DC voltage can make nice with each other on a common carrier.

To confirm that I haven't set myself up for an electrical disaster, I recall that that is how vintage American Flyer on-board whistles operate, by sending a DC pulse over a common carrier with the AC track voltage.

Information for Newbies


1)  Mechanical Reverse Unit:  It is not called an "e-unit". That is a Lionel name for a Lionel product. If it is American Flyer, then the correct name is reverse unit. 

2)  Transformer lead posts:  The AC Gilbert factory did not use the terms "positive" or "neutral".  They used the words "variable post", "base post" and "fixed post".  The variable post is the AC voltage supplied to the track and is regulated by a throttle.  The base post is the common wire and it completes a circuit from the variable post.  The fixed post is the terminal with a fixed voltage and is usually used for accessories.  They complete a circuit from the fixed post to the base post. 

Repair Tips:

1) To service the reverse unit, you will either have to open up the tender or the loco, depending on the year the loco was manufactured.  Here is a link to loco wiring diagrams. You can download this and print it off. I keep a copy on a clipboard, along with other info that is useful to me.

2)  American Flyer Repair Manual: Here is a link to an online copy of a common Flyer repair manual:

3)  Reverse Unit:  You can determine if the problem lies with-in the reverse unit or the motor by removing the male end of the jack panel from the female end at the rear of the loco and jumping the leads. Here is a link to a diagram for that:

I'll add other info periodically

One Way to Internally Wire A 751 Log Loader

When I bought my 751 Log Loader, I noticed that the internal wiring had been changed to permit it to run on a single-button controller.  The only problem is it's requirement for a transformer with a lot of wattage, since two coils are being energized at the same time at some point.  I bought a 2-button controller and changed the internal wiring on the Log Loader so I believe it pretty much runs as the factory intended - back in the day.  Since my 2-button controller may be wired differently from yours, I am going to narrate this post for you to see the technique I used.  My narrative is written using American Flyer terminology.

By observation or by the use of a continuity tester, either determine a common wire that will power both buttons in the controller or make a lead that splits and attaches to one of each of the pair of clips and to the fixed post of your transformer.  When either the red or the green button is pressed, power is routed.  With this particular accessory, a fixed post lead is routed - rather than a base post lead being routed.  The Log Loader is wired with a base post wire connected to the base post on the transformer all of the time.

Take a motor lead that does not connect to the traveler clip near the flywheel of the Log Loader.  Attach it to the wire coming out of the controller from the red button.  When the red button is pressed on the controller, power will be routed to the motor via the fixed post of the transformer.  The traveler clip is on the side nearest the flywheel and has a delicately-bent brass or copper strip that acts as a spring.  When the raised tang on the flywheel presses the spring clip together, a mechanical/electrical connection is made.  The lead from the wire on the rear side of the spring clip is the motor lead wire that goes straight to the base post of the transformer.  The other side of the spring clip now also becomes a base post wire, but only when the spring clip is closed.  That transient and intermittent base post wire goes to one of the wires coming out of the coil on the underside of the Log Loader.  It is the coil that powers the lift, raising a log up to the cradle.  The other wire coming out of the coil goes to the green button of the controller and when the flywheel is in it's proper position and the spring clip is closed and the cradle is ready to accept a log, stop pressing the red button and press the green button instead.  The green button powers up the coil to lift a log to the cradle.  Once the cradle is loaded, stop pressing the green button and press the red button again to move the log to the car on the track that is ready to accept a log.  Continue pressing the red button until the log is dropped and the cradle is back down and ready to accept another log.  Continue the process until you are happy. lol

OBTW: I made sure that the spring clip I mentioned was bent for a "hair trigger" contact.  I felt it made everything work the best it could - given the rather clever, yet primitive design of the accessory.

My Use of Oil on Vintage Track

Keep in mind that I run vintage Flyer on vintage re-bent steel sectional track.  All my observations on based on that system.  My layout is five scale miles, with no switches (turnouts) and my locos run in forward only.  After I first built the hirail layout, I cleaned off the track rails using a rag dampened with 90% alcohol.  The rails were as clean as I could get them; IOW's, free of dust and grease.  I found that my vintage Flyer locos would make only about a lap or two around before I had to clean off their wheels.  Also, there was a lot of sparking between the pick-up wheels and rails.  To my dismay, the locos ran a little erratically, as though I needed more feeder wires to even out the current on the track.  I was unhappy with the way my trains were running and I started to consider upgrading to a newer track system.
I remembered reading in some old Gilbert factory literature about cleaning the track rails with kerosene.  I reasoned that what made kerosene different from other solvents was that it had oil in it.  Out of desperation, I applied a light coat of 3 in 1 oil to the track rails.  The difference was like magic.  The sparking stopped.  I was able to run the locos for a week or more without cleaning the pick-up wheels.  The speed of the trains evened out and I was able to reduce the throttles on my transformers from around 80 to 60 or less.  Naturally, there was a loss of traction on the 2% grade.  However, after about 2-3 days, that improved a lot.  I'm thinking that the oil dried some and soaked into the rails.  Now the traction is okay.  It's not terrific, but I can haul one action car and three others including a caboose, using vintage non-pulmor steamers with diecast boiler shells (I don't run diesels nor steamers with plastic boiler shells).  So my conclusions are that on my RR, the oil improves electrical continuity, reduces sparking and acts to keep the pick-up wheels from collecting dirt.  
I have a small jar of Bullfrog Snot on order.  It is used on the rear drive wheels to make traction tires.  Since it isn't a modern electronic devise, I will allow myself to use it on my all-vintage pike.  When I have observations on it's use, I will post them here.

My Use Of Bullfrog Snot On Vintage Steamers

I run classic linker American Flyer steamers on vintage steel track.  I keep a light coat of oil on the track rails to aid electrical conductivity, electrical pick-up and to retard corrosion.  However, classic linker steamers do not have Pul-mor traction wheels and that presents a problem for me with a 2% grade on my 5-scale mile hirail branchline layout.  I decided that I have the following options:

  1. Use Bullfrog Snot
  2. Swap out the rear drive wheels for Pul-mor drive wheels
  3. Remodel my layout to eliminate the 2% grade
  4. Sell off my classic linker steamers and go with all knuckle coupler steamers with Pul-mor drive wheels
  5. Put rubber bands on the drive wheels
I discarded ideas 2-4.  Option 5 is a good one, if the rear drive wheels have the extra-large flanges.  One of my locos do, so the bands are on order.  More on that when they are tested.
Since this is a retro-style vintage layout, I reject the notion of using modern electronics on it.  However, Bullfrog Snot is not a modern electronic component.  So, I bought some Bullfrog Snot and applied it according to the directions.  It went on green - presumably so one can see what one is doing during the application process.  It dried clear, which is nice because I didn't want green drive wheels.  I put two coats on, with about 10 hours dry time between coats.  I gave the final coat a 24 hour dry time.
Without Bullfrog Snot, I could haul one action car, two freight cars and a caboose, with a lot of wheel slipping.  With Bullfrog Snot, I can easily haul two action cars, two freight cars and a caboose, or two New Haven action pax cars and two New Haven coaches with no wheel slipping.  I'm guessing that I could haul more, but it is not really necessary, so I am satisfied.  The only question that remains is how long this treatment is good for.  Today is May 7, 2011.  I'll revisit this post when the Bullfrog Snot needs replaced.  STAY TUNED! lol

May 09, 2011 update:  I found that I can tow five linker action cars + a caboose up my 2% grade with my non-pulmor Hudson.  The rear drivers have Bullfrog Snot as a traction aid.  Now I can do a little ops session by loading those cars at various places and unloading them at other destinations around the RR.

June 02, 2011 update:  Still going strong!

How I Run Bus Wires

I run a continuous set of bus wires and cap them at their ends. Then I splice all feeders into them.  Of course the variable post bus wires are broken and capped at the ends of their blocks.  But the base post bus wire never gets broken, except at it's very end.  Equally acceptable, IMHO is to cut each bus wire and use wire nuts to join the feeder wires to the ends.  For all practical purposes, that still represents and unbroken wire because it's an unbroken contact.  I don't see any problem with joining the ends of the base post bus wire to create a loop.  Electricity always takes the shortest and easiest route, so it just may be that the short and easy route is from the end that would have been capped.  I have heard the argument that the base post bus wire ought to be at least 12 gauge because of the combined current it carries.  In my case, I don't buy that.  Again, electricity takes the shortest and easiest path.  So a section of track returning 0 volts back to the base post won't send the current all the way around the layout, it will send them straight to the base post that is closest to where the current came from in the first place.  In my arrangement of 8 transformers, each transformer is getting current back from the block it sits on.  There isn't a combined load.  The only way that it would be a combined load is if I had a separate transformer with a base post lead dropped straight down to the base post bus wire and I used that transformer to run an accessory way down at the other end of the layout.  Then that current would travel back along the base post bus wire with the track current until it got to it's rightful transformer post.  If there were a lot of transformers for a lot of accessories, lights, etc and they were all active at the same time, then I would agree that a heavier bus wire would be appropriate.  At any rate, it won't hurt, if the wallet can stand the extra cost of a larger gauge wire.  That's how I understand it all.  OBTW, physicists are still debating if an electrical charge runs over the surface of a wire, through it or both.

Tips on Resurrecting An Armature

Assuming that the problem is not with the reverse unit or field, then the best way to tell if an armature is fried is to swap it out for a known good one.  If the problem is solved, then by the process of elimination, the problem has been isolated.  Measuring the resistence of the poles with a meter is a little tough.  I would use small alligator clips to get a stable measurement to help confirm that it is a weak pole.  There is one other thing to do with that old armature before having it rewound or discarded.  You could try flattening out the face of it.  The problem could be from a cupped face on the armature.  At any rate, what do you have to lose by attempting to flatten its face?  There are several ways to do it.  I chuck up the long shaft of the armature in my drill press, then hold a piece of very, very fine Emory cloth wrapped tightly around a small, narrow block of wood up to the face.  Or, you could just drill a hole in a wider block of wood to accept the short end of the armature shaft, wrap the Emory cloth around that block of wood, poke a hole in the cloth and present it to the armature face as squarely as possible several times.  Don’t worry too much about wearing the face away to nothing.  It can take a good pollishing or three.  This is the home repair guy’s way of leveling a cupped armature face.  The professional train repair guy would mostly likely put the armature on a lathe and present a micro-cutting bit to it to level it, then pollish it.  Make sure you clean out the slots afterwards with a toothpick or something like that. 

Reverse Unit Repair Tips

Although lots of people refer to the American Flyer mechanical reverse unit as an eunit - that is a misnomer and a Lionel term. American Flyer trains use a mechanical reverse unit.  If your loco is not running, here are some things to check. 

  • Make sure it actually IS the reverse unit at fault.  Do that by disconnecting the tender and jumping the ports on the jack panel.  Jump port #2 with port #3 (two inside ports).  Feed your transformer leads to port #1 and port #4 (two outside ports).  The loco should run in either forward or reverse.  You can wire the male part of a jack panel as a tester for future use.  If you do, use a red wire on port #1 and a black wire on port #4.  That way, you can first check for forward by putting the red lead on the variable post and the black lead on the base post.  Swap them to test for reverse.  Let's assume the loco works just fine.
  • Are the fingers actually making solid contact with the drum.  Sometimes it looks like they are, but they actually are not or not enough to make good electrical contact.  The trick is to have the fingers make solid contact, but not SO solid that they impede the drum from revolving. 
  • See that the fingers are in alignment so as to make contact with the metal parts of the drum. 
  • Check to see that the wires are soldered on their contact points securely. 
  • Look at the little contact knobs on the reverse unit fingers.  Are they worn through?  If they are, a dab of solder will fill and fix them. 
  • Does the drum rotate freely?  If not, there may be dirt, lint or animal hair tangling the pivot points.
  • Does the flapper fall back down or hang?  Sometimes a small nut or washer taped or glued to the underside provides enough weight.
  • Are all the metal parts clean and shiny?  Contact cleaner is usually all that is needed to clean the parts.

Tips On Tuning Up An Animated Guilford Platform

I suppose they still exist, but I have never seen one operate correctly after being in storage.  Here are some bullet points on what I have done to get them going.

  • Make sure the mat is not stuck down to the metal base anywhere.  The mat must be completely floating on the metal base
  • A mat can be made to look “like new” again with a coating of liquid black shoe polish.  When it dries, make sure it isn’t stuck down anywhere
  • The metal guides are there for a reason.  Oftentimes they need re-bent a little to keep the little people on track.  Especially critical is the turn they make to go down the ramp.  There needs to be a little curl at the end of that one guide
  • The mohair or fiber “feet” of the little people sometimes gets so worn it needs replaced.  Our parts dealers have that material.  On the one I just installed, I needed to stroke them down the face of a steam iron at a slight angle to “set” the fibers in the correct direction for them to travel forward and hug the guide rails
  • The intensity of the vibration needs to be regulated.  Some guys use a small, dedicated vintage AC transformer, which is a great idea.  There should also be an adjusting rod coming through the one side.  Turn that rod with a pair of pliers to adjust the coil so the mat is vibrating with the correct amount of robustness.  Too gentle and the little people won’t move well.  Too much and they go spastic.  If there is no adjusting rod, then you can make one with wire from an old coat hanger
  • The Platform must be level.  Use small shims on one or more sides if it is not
  • Sometimes, but not often, the coil needs rewound.  Those coils are pretty robust and engineered to work for long periods of time.  But they are also 60+ years old by now.  Rewinding is easy.  Just discard the old enameled wire and match it to gauge at Radio Shack.  You can go a wee bit heavier and it will take a few less turns, but I wouldn’t go lighter.
The action car that comes with a Guilford Platform usually always works “as is”.  Test yours with leads from a transformer to make sure it does.  The linker couplers can be adjusted and made to work reliably.  I have a post on that elsewhere on my blog.  I use a drop of oil on a Q-tip on the axels, then a wire wheel on my Dremel to remove any corrosion on the axels.  A hair dryer turns the white residue into a transparent substance.  90% rubbing alcohol on an old rag removes crud from the plastic wheels.  A wire wheel on my bench grinder shines up the metal wheels and the underside of the activation lever.  Some oil on an old rag goes a long way to remove corrosion and helps to protect against further corosion on the metal chassis.  Pledge spray furniture polish restores a nice shine to the painted shell.  Floquil maroon paint is an exact match for any paint loss.

Tips On Repairing Vintage Diesels

Here are my thoughts and tips on repairing vintage diesel motors.  Take the easiest approach first and carefully work to the most difficult.  It could be as simple as spraying a volume of Radio Shack tuner cleaner on it to clean it, then lube it and test it. Usually, that is all that is necessary. I can't tell you how many times I have smoked a motor and feared the worst. A burnout does happen, but usually it can be saved to run another day - for a while.  So first, lube & clean all motor parts.  You should also check the gearbox. They sometimes have age-old encrusted grease that needs cleaned out and re-lubed with something such as a white lithium grease - or nothing at all but some machine oil. I would not use Vaseline - except as a temporary measure to rule out a gunked-up gearbox. Also oil the pads that lube the shaft. If there is sparking or arcing of the wheels to the frame, it could be from a chassis that needs re-bushed, but hopefully you won't need to go there - although that is a common enough problem in old diesels that have been run to death. Next, you could examine the brushes to see if they need replaced.  Check for any broken wires.  Use a good light to look at the motor and shafts. I have pulled cat hair off of axles by using a pair of forceps with the non-running problem solved as simply as that.  Lastly, try re-centering the commutator in the field by way of the small setscrews on the top of the yoke.  If these things don’t get the disel motor running, then tear it down & rebuild it. If the commutator is shorted out, then it probaly won’t turn at all.  More on that later… 

I can't remember if the commutator is one continuous winding or three separate windings. The field is one winding and when it goes, it goes. At any rate, there should be continuity between all three poles on the commutator. Bob Hannon's repair manual can tell you what the actual resistance value should be. Determining if an armature is shorted is tricky. An armature winding can be worn on one pole so as to have a different resistance than the other two and the motor will still turn, albeit not all that well. As mentioned in the above paragraph, some might say that either the commutator works or it doesn't. That actually is over-simplified reasoning. If one pole is slightly or totally burned out, the motor may still turn - depending on the size of the motor and how well it overcomes friction, but it won't be good. Probably the best way for us home repair guys to determine if an armature is toasted is by the process of elimination. Check everything else and thoroughly service the motor, including checking for worn or broken brush springs, the possibility of a cupped armature face or worn shaft bushings, which would knock the armature out of line a little. If you have done everything and the motor still does not turn - guess what; it’s probably a bad armature. Diesel motors are tougher to get running well than steamer motors, IMHO. When I ran diesels on my layout, I always kept a good spare motor or two to swap out when all else failed. A field can be rewound at home with good results. I never tried to rewind an armature. It’s just too difficult to do at home.

When buying a diesel loco at a train show, turn it over and see how much – if any – lateral wiggle there is on the wheels.  There should be very little or none.  The more wiggle, the more the axel has rounded out the axel hole in the chassis.  That’s not good.  It will result in increased friction on the motor, as the worm gear gets thrust into the motor and/or it will result in sparking between the wheels and frame.  In this case, the best thing for that diesel is: either a drill-out, re-bush of the axel holes or replacement of the whole motor & chassis.  For most home repair guys, a drill-out is not too practical.  It requires a tool-up and skill set jack.  Consider that you will have to pull the insulated wheels off and tap out the axel from the gear and chassis.  Then, after a successful drill-out and pressing in of new bushings – you will have to press the axels back into the gears and insulated wheels.  That can often – very often – be much easier said than done.  More often that not, the wheels will not be true to the axels and they will have a wobble when they turn.  The amount of wobble may be slight or severe.  Either way, it’s not good.  And even if all the above can be accomplished by the average home repair guy, how often would one do it?  Real repairs guys do it often enough to know all the sublties of how to do it right.  Home repair guys don’t.  Bottom line for me is that unless I am willing to stock another inventory of repair parts, tools and jigs and I’m willing to go through all the difficult repair steps necessary on the worst cases – then I’ll just stay away from vintage diesels and only run steam.  The exception would be to buy a diesel in E or E + condition.  They are a little expensive.  However, in the average life span remaining of an old baby-boomer, I probably will not have to do an extensive repair on it.

Timboy's Tips on Cleaning

This is a post about cleaning American Flyer trains.  American Flyer trains are finicky.  They are just like me; old and they work when they want to.  I never want to. lol  So IMHO, keeping all critical components scrupulously clean is of paramount importance.  Big words.  Following are tips on keeping American Flyer trains clean and therefore working optimally.

  • There are a variety of products to clean the 60+ year old crud off plastic wheels.  I have tried most of them and I have found two solvents to be the best:  "Contractor's Solvent" is available at True Value, Ace and probably most other places.  It is citrus-based.  I spray some on a paper towel and use my fingers to rub the crud off plastic wheels.  It still takes some effort, but it does work.  The other is 90% alcohol.  Same technique.  Why bother to keep plastic wheels clean?  I believe the crud we see on the plastic wheels is dirt, dust, oil and smoke fluid that finds it's way onto the tops of the rails and gets carbonized when the metal pick-up wheels spark.  That carbonized crud then gets picked up by the wheels and evenly distributed over the rails where it causes loss of electrical pickup by the metal wheels.
  • I clean the metal pickup wheels with a brass wire wheel in my Dremel.  It spins fast enough that I don't believe it scratches the wheels.  Rather, it cleans and polishes them.  
  • I have switched from sandpaper to a 1000 grit Emory cloth to polish the rails of the track.
  • I use 90% alcohol to clean the rails of the track as needed.
  • After the track is clean, I use a rag to oil the rails.  I've seen guys swear by one oil or another.  Whatever.  I use machine oil.  Trick is to get a light coat on but not make the grades too slick.  I find the oil makes a world of difference on vintage track.  It greatly helps with electrical conductivity.  I wouldn't run vintage American Flyer trains on vintage track without a light coat of oil on the rails.
  • Before I put a train with it's consist on the track to run, I do all of the above wheel-cleaning techniques.  I also service the loco, to include lubrication, cleaning adding smoke fluid to the smoke box. I also adjust all whees on all pieces to make sure they are in gauge.  I make sure all couplers are free-working and adjusted if necessary.

Building a Deck Bridge

Someone asked me how I build my deck bridges and if I would post a how-to.  I am delighted to do that.

I use balsa wood slats that I buy at Michael's.  I either use a section of Luan for the face of the deck bridge, or in the case of the following pics, the subroadbed spline itself.

I found an old pic of the subroadbed spline that acted as the basis and provided the faces of the deck bridge.

This pic shows a piece of balsa that I cut to length for the uprights.  I use a pair of locking forceps to hold it.  I apply a thin bead of Super Glue on it's edge.  It attaches to the face instantly.

I use a piece of a paint stirring stick as my spacer gauge as I glue successive uprights.

I leave a small space from the top of the slat to the top of the deck facing for a long piece of balsa that I glue with the flat side against the tops of the uprights.  The bottom slat is done the same way.  A little patience is needed here to let the Super Glue bond while I bend the slat around as needed.

That done, I then glue another slat on top of the first slat.  This second slat is glued on with the narrow edge on top of the wide edge of the first slat.  It creates a rail to contain the gravel.  I don't glue down ballast as a rule because it's heavy and it won't really go anywhere.  Also, if I want to make a change to the track by - say, putting a track trip in later, that is easy to do if the ballast isn't glued down.  Gluing down ballast when using vintage steel track is problematic.  The water used in the gluing process rusts the track.

When it's all glued up, I go check my emails or something for a few minutes to let the glue finish curing.  Then I come back and spray wet-on-wet spray paints.  I use cheap flat black and Rustoleum primer.  I like the color combination.

And here is the finished facsimile of a deck bridge, all dry, ballasted and the track rails cleaned off.

Total build time - given that the face was already in place - about one hour.  You may notice a few imperfections on the deck facing.  That is no accident.  I distress the facing a little bit before I begin the process, if it isn't already so.  Since I don't bother with super-detailing rivets and such, I like the defects and feel that they add a "weathered" or "old" look to the bridge.  There may be some who will mention that a curved deck bridge is utterly preposterous in prototype.  The weight and vibration of the train would tear it apart.  And they would be right.  Deck bridges that span a curve are really made up of several or more sections of straight decks upon which curved track is laid, with pillar supports underneath.  This is a toy hirail layout.  I doubt my family will ever notice.  Shhhhhhhhhh!  Don't let on. lololololololololol

Test Video

I have uploaded a test video to YouTube.  It shows two trains running around most of my new layout.  It is short and to the point.  I didn't use a fancy camera and there is no long intro with intensive graphics.  Here is a link to it:

OBTW:  I added some livestock to Jonesy's Farm

I also squeezed in some storage for my meager roster.

I'll add one more slender set of shelves below the light switch.

I spent the past hour building a deck bridge.  One more to go.

Here is the last one to do, when I get all the dang Super Glue off my fingers!

Someone was sharp enough to point out to me that I don't have one scale mile of track on this RR, as I had previously thought.  I really have FIVE SCALE MILES OF TRACK!!!!!!!  So this RR really IS a branchline!  That's great news!

Some Maintenance Issues

I had to replace a 6' section of curved track today.  When I hand-laid it, I knew I would have to replace it someday and it turned out to be sooner, rather than later.  In general, I'm not real happy with my hand-spiked track using short, vintage rails.  It's proving to be unstable as to gauge and I think it will only get worse as the weather changes.  True, I could spike down the rails at every tie, but that is quite tedious.  All-in-all, I gotta say that the appearance of the hand-spiked track is not appreciably better than sectional track, once the sectional track is fortified with added wooden ties, spray-painted flat black to cammo the tie insulators and ballasted.  I don't think the appearance of the hand-laid track is better enough to justify all the effort it takes to lay it down.  So, I'll pick up a box of junk track at York and use that to slowly replace the hand-spiked track with re-bent sectional track.  An upgrade to Gargraves would be nice, but expensive; especially when you consider all the cork roadbed I would need!

I also went around and did a lot of paint touch-ups to my "oatmeal".  Now that it is fully cured, there have been cracks opened up that need colored in.  No big deal.  Actually, it was a good opportunity to add some color to areas that I thought were a little drab anyway.

Well, real RR's have on-going maintenance and so does my hirail RR!  I wonder what future maintenance projects will entail.  We'll find out soon enough!

My "Oatmeal" Recipes

I’ve mentioned many times how I build scenery by using ”oatmeal” that I make.  Several people have asked me what that is.  I thought I might as well publish it.  There are several variations.

  1. Paper-based blow-in insulation, water, Plaster of Paris, white glue.  The mix should be wet, but not dripping wet.
  2. Sawdust, water, Plaster of Paris, white glue.  This recipe will yield a sharper or more rugged terrain.
  3. A combination of 1 and 2 above.
  4. Same as 1, 2 or 3 above, but with ready-mix joint compound added to make it creamier.
I think you will be surprised at how much water it needs to make a good mix!  This recipe needs about a month to cure fully.  But I paint it and apply ground covers after a day.

I apply one of the above mixes over a hard-shell base.  It can be used to create texture by leaving it very rough, or it can be used to make very rough places smoother.  I think of it as a “poor-man’s Scultamold”.

When I want rock faces, I either stick plaster casts on the terrain with big globs of “oatmeal” or just make rough rock-like shapes out of the “oatmeal” itself as I am working to cover an area.

02/15/2011:  Sorry folks; not too much going on right now that shows.  I just got done either throwing away or selling some residual items left over from building this RR.  I don't believe in keeping anything around that I'm not actually using or have no plans to use.  Look at everyone else's train layout.  Tons of boxes and crap under the table and stuffed everywhere.  Not this guy.  The only thing on my York list this April is a linker Hudson in excellent or better shape.  I should visit some toy stores and doll-house miniature places to get some whimsical stuff for the RR.

Upgrading Electrical Pickup on My Steamers

I've mentioned a few times about upgrading the electrical pickup on my steamers.  Here is how I do it.

The first pic shows a truck with slider pick-up shoes.  This truck was harvested from a junker #293 steamer.  Otherwise, the sliders are available as repro items and if you have a truck with a post, or mount a post on a truck (I have done it, so it's possible), then you are in business.  Notice that I have also soldered a wire from the pick-up and taken it inside the tender to the other pick-up wires.  It probably is not needed, but I figure that everything I can do is a help.

This second pic shows diesel shoe boxes cemented in the truck.  To make an even more solid connection, I thinned the metal tabs down a little on the shoe boxes and drilled very small holes through the sheet-metal truck side frames.  Then I inserted the tabs through the holes and bent them over.  A dab of flat black paint makes them virtually invisible.  Next up will be to solder a wire from the shoe box to the inside of the tender.  Note that these diesel shoe boxes will not fit into the knuckle truck sintered side frames.

02/08/2011:  Just finishing up on the accessories, etc.  I installed a semaphore in case I want to run two trains.    I'm currently using two pressure track trips and it seems to be working reliably.  I figure that any vintage animation or illumination that I can add is a good thing to add interest - as long as it isn't too expensive.  I believe that I have that Semaphore located in a good position.  I think I will be able to stop a given train anywhere on the layout to do something and not have to worry about a collision.  I'll have to experiment with parking a train at various places to see what happens.  Hopefully, the other train will always get stuck at the Semaphore until I release the held train and it finds it's way to the Semaphore release trip.  I wired the Semaphore base post wire through an on/off switch so I can turn it off if I only want to run one train.  Anytime I wire up something to get activated with a track trip, I also wire it through an on/off switch so I can stop the madness whenever I want. lol 

Starting To Upgrade...

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am upgrading my steamer locos by removing the reverse units and hard-wiring them to run in forward only.  Works on this RR.
The slider shoes I've added are enhancing electrical pick-up nicely.  I'm further enhancing that by adding a wire to run from the slider shoe box to the pick-up wires inside the tender.  I'm not leaving anything to chance - electrically.
It is now becoming fun to stand in one spot and watch the trains recede away from me - towards a far corner of the large layout - sometimes disappearing briefly.  Nice.  Then they emerge and slowly start coming towards me, chuffing huge volumes of smoke all along the way.  Nice.  Now I'm thinking that it would be a good idea to sound a whistle in a far corner of the layout.  I have an activating button for that whistle in the far corner, but how hard would it be to wire a whistle button in at the other end of the layout.  Not too much.  I have the wire.  I have the technology.  We can make him stronger - faster.  Wait a minute.  Wasn't that the tagline from the Six Million Dollar Man?

A Good Place to Recap With Pics

I thought this would be a good place to recap my progress with a series of pics that show where the layout stands right now.  I'm doing this because the under-the-table wiring is very boring and I can't think of anything to show on that phase.

So on we go, around the room. From one dogbone on one end to the other dogbone at the other end and all the vistii in between.  Or course, this RR build is nowhere near done, but some basic scenery & stuff is laid in and I can run 'em!  I would like to take a series of short videos in the next month to post on YouTube and point to from this blog.

02/01/2011:  I finished with all the drop-down feeder wires this afternoon.  Now I'm wiring up the accessories I have.  I would also like some illumination for the buildings as well.

02/04/2011:  I have a lot of the accessories wired up and working.  I still have illumination and a semaphore to connect.  
On this essentially forward-only running layout, I decided to remove the reverse units.  As we all know, they are tempermental.  They are also electrical junction boxes.  Their job is to flip polarity on the armature while holding the field polarity constant.  But sometimes full voltage does not get passed through and that can cause some problems.  That can be fixed, but in may case, why bother?  After I did all the drop-down feeder wires I thought I needed, I still had a problem with inconsistent speed on my die-cast Atlantic.  When I took the reverse unit out and hot-wired the loco for forward-only, it greatly improved the consistency of the speed.  I also took the smoke leads straight from the tender and now get full smoke.  Hot-wiring the loco only needs two wires from the tender.  I used the two outer wires on the jack panel for that.  I used the middle two wires on the jack panel for the smoke box.   

My First Clean Run!!!!!!!!!!!!

I had my first clean run this afternoon with a linker K5 towing 4 linker cars!!!!!  WOO-HOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I added 6 grams of weight to the front pilot and fixed some out-of-gauge track sections.  No break-aways and no derailments of any kind.  Next up will be to add more drop-down feeder wires and get that part of it completed. I am on my way to a "working" RR!!!!!!!

1/31/2011:  I'm in the middle of some boring work on the RR.  I have 1/2 of the drop-down feeder wires installed.  Ho-hum, but very necessary.  At least when this is done, I'll be able to wire up some action accessories.  Just for something to show, I took two more pics of the RR.

OBTW; the easy modification to linker couplers that I showed a "how-to" on a previous post works marvelously.  Ever since I did that, I have not had a single break-away.  Linkers rule!

Linker Coupler Tips and Tricks

I like the look of vintage Flyer linker couplers.  I think it is the only vintage way to couple passenger cars because the spacing of the cars is much closer than the knuckle couplers can do.  But a lot of guys don't like linkers because of the problems they present. Sigh.  Linker couplers are so misunderstood.  Sigh.  Here is how I adjust and modify the ones on my fleet to operate more reliably.

1)  The linker must rotate up and down freely and I mean freely.  If it doesn't, then touch a hot soldering iron to the bar head and wiggle the linker until it is free.  Don't melt it!  Clean off any oxidation or mold-release agent that has rendered with 91% alcohol and/or a hair dryer set on high.  Careful of the paint!

2)  Adjust the linker so that it rides just a tad above the track rail.

3)  Adjust the linker bar to be level

4)  Now comes a little Timboy Magic!  A typical linker has a straight edge at it's notch.  I use a small, round jeweler's file to back-cut a groove at the base of the notch on the linker.  That notch creates a hook which couples to the adjacent linker bar more firmly.

The Final Push

I have this control panel to finish installing.  There is some more work to do on the 15 amp dedicated household circuit.  This circuit is running under the train tables and will plug in to a GFIC outlet with the power leads going directly back to the main electrical panel.  That should provide adequate protection if the worse happens.  After this control panel is energized, I have the rest of the blocks to install.  Then I'll have to debug the track system.

Dead short!  Dead short!  Dead short!  As I tested the new circuit I ran, I came up with a DEAD SHORT!!!!!!!!!!  I'm used to wiring up household circuits "hot", so I didn't get shocked.  But I am an IDIOT!  That dead short was a no-brainer and I have no brain.  Duh!  Anywho, I found it and corrected it.  Maybe I should stop wiring up circuits hot.  I'm an idiot.

I finished wiring the circuit under the train table.  I have active outlets at all three control panels now.  Each control panel can be turned on or off independently with the use of an on/off switch.  I also finished wiring the GFIC outlet that the circuit plugs into.  It is under the train tables on a wall and is not noticeable.  I'm glad I am done putting that GFCI circuit into my panel.  I hate taking the cover off the panel to insert another circuit breaker.  I just don't enjoy sticking my hands in there.  But it is done and it tests safely.  So now I am wiring the track, one block at a time and working my way around the layout in the process.  No pics to show on this part.

I'm still working my way around the RR wiring in the blocks.  I have two left to wire in and section of track to repair already!  It must have expanded some after I laid it and a section buckled!  So that is what I'll be doing tomorrow.  Snore...  

Here's a pic of the track that buckled.  I'm in the process of repairing it.  I think I'll shave the back cut back a little as well.

Okay; so much for the speed bump.  I hope there is enough lateral clearance.

I'm still working on getting my first clean run with one train.  I have all the blocks wired up and they all work.  I'll need additional feeder wires for places where the track voltage is a little low.  That's to be expected, but first I have some track issues where there are break-a-ways of my linker couplers.  I'm solving them one-at-a-time.  I also discovered that one transformer was bad.  Bummer.  I usually don't try to repair a transformer, unless it's a faulty circuit-break, or on/off switch, or light bulb, or handle, or primary coil, or secondary coil.  AHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  GOTCHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Otherwise, it becomes a brand-new boat anchor.

I'm still working on getting a clean run as far as the front pilot wheels on my K5 is concerned.  There are still a couple places where they like to jump the rails.  But I have a clean run on a consist with linker couplers!  Linkers are nice couplers, but they are also finicky.  I have developed a technique to help them stay coupled together.  Of course, cleanliness is paramount and they have to rotate up and down absolutely perfectly.  They also have to be adjusted to the correct height and the link bar has to be level as well.  If anyone is interested what other step I take to help them stay coupled please let me know and I'll post a "how-to".
I made a small set of shelves to store my little roster.  It is on one side of the entrance door.  I want to make a similar set of shelves for on the other side.

Laural Mountain

A TREMENDOUS Happy New Year to all Flyers!!!!!!!!  It's gonna be a GREAT year!  2011 will see this project completed, wired up, debugged and run.  I'll be buying a video camera in the coming months to post some videos of it in operation.  HERE WE GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is the start of Laural Mountain.  I'm back to the cardboard strip basket weaving technique that I excelled at in college. lol  There will be a plaster hard shell over this framework and my "oatmeal" over that.  I'll be putting some rock faces on it and there will be PLENTY of vegetation and maybe even a snow cap.  Time will tell!

The ladies at Micheal's want to know what I'm doing with all the glue sticks I'm buying. I tell them I've kidnapped a spy and am torturing him for his sekrits for Wikileaks. lololololololololololol 

01/04/2011:  To the untrained eye (lol) it might appear that I have been slacking.  Well, I have!  lol  But what I did get done today was to establish the basic shape of the mountain.  It is stable, so I took out the tent pole in the middle.  I also have all the fascia board installed.  There is a lot more work to do on the webbing.

I am done lugging plywood up and down the stairs to measure, cut and then measure & cut again!  There is a little carpentry work to be done yet on the two tunnels.  I like them totally enclosed, even though they are inside the stand-up mountain.  I have the tunnel portals roughed in, but they will need defined.

01/05/2011:  I have the one side pretty well woven in now.  The other side needs finished off.  Then I'll need to enclose the insides of the tunnels and I can start covering it with hard shell.  I'll do the mountain, then the next level down and so on until it's all done.

I know it's a little tough to imagine how this is going to work out, but it will.

01/06/2011:  I have all the basic construction completed and all the areas filled in.  Next up will be to do the plaster hard shell.

The newspaper is the same newspaper I've used as bulk filler in other sections.  When the plaster is dry, I just pull it out from underneath, leaving a hollow hard-shell.  I'll do the same on this section, then discard the newspaper wads.  I'll leave the cardboard backing, however.  It will bond somewhat to the plaster, so trying to pull that down would be disastrous and not necessary at all.
There will be some clouds to paint out when all is done and there will be sky touchups to do as well.  Routine.

01/07/2011:  I got plastered this morning!  The section is now covered over, with the usual amount of slop from slinging plaster.  I'll let it dry a while and start in with my "oatmeal" covering.  I don't know how much I'll get done this week-end, due to all the televised sporting events.

In the process of getting at the top of this mountain, I had a slight mishap.  For the first time, I used a stepladder.  It slipped on the newspapers I had on the floor to catch drippings.  I crashed down on an small adjacent "finished" section.  It got bunged and splashed with wet plaster.  No big deal.  I'll fix it when I paint and cover the present section.  If that is the worse that happens to me building this layout, I'm good.

01/08/2011:  Thanks for all the well-wishes.  The crash reminded me of when I sometimes took a foul tip under my chest protector.  No harm, just a nice mouse.  Even at close to 300 pounds, I still have cat-like reflexes!  So it's back up on the horse.  That was my mantra in my youth as a wanna-be rodeo star.  Anyway, I got a little "oatmeal" applied this morning.  I had to stop and go out to a big-box store for more material.  Bowl and playoff games this afternoon, so this is where I stop for today!

I'm a little concerned that the top ridge looks a little too straight, so I'll "correct" it with some gobs of "oatmeal".

01/10/2011:  Happy Monday, Flyers!  It's back to the grind!  I finished up with the basic shape of this mountain by covering it with my "oatmeal".  Overall, I am satisfied with it's shape.  However, there is one view of it that I need to enhance.  I'll point it out to you in the upcoming pics.

I'm okay with this side, although some rock faces will help.

Starting to have a problem with accepting the shape on this right-hand side.

I'm also good with this side.  Texture will augment it.
My "problem" side on the left.

Here we go.  This side is way too symmetrical.  It looks like an igloo or egg.  I gotta do something about it. 
If anyone has any productive suggestions, I would be glad to entertain them.  My current plan it to give that side a new face with a lot of rock outcroppings.  Keep in mind that this mountain will have a very thick cover of vegetation over it.  I can also use those vegetation mats to add thickness in some places so that the symmetry is not so pronounced.  I'm not opposed to building this side out and creating a tunnel for the trains on both levels.  But that tunnel will have to allow me access to the track.  So if I go that route, then I have to put a large fascia on this side with an access flap.  Not exactly the look I want.  So, let's see what happens tomorrow when I add rock ledges!

01/10/2011:  I think I have made a step in the right direction.  I broke up the surface smoothness and some of the symmetry with a very rough coat of "oatmeal" and debris for rocks.  I'm out of scraps to use, so I'll make up some plaster rock faces this evening for tomorrow's session.  When I'm reasonably satisfied that is has a chance, I'll go ahead and paint it all and cover it with ground foams.  That will be a little bit of overkill, since I'll be going back over it to weave in massive amounts of vegetation mats.  But I think the underpainting will help to give it depth.

I need to texture the area between the upper and lower track.  A small hill where the track goes through might be in order here.

01/10/2011:  There was a special request for me to back up and show how this mountain interacts with the other sections and the RR on a whole.  A little impossible to do, really - but here is my effort.  Please excuse the construction clutter 'n@.

01/11/2011:  I may not be finished for today, but I thought this was a good place to stop and take a couple pics because my next effort should change the look of this mountain a lot.  I added a bunch of texture and rock faces.  I built out the middle tier as much as I could so that the mountain has a little more natural shape and look less like a wedding cake (not that there is anything wrong with cake!).  I also re-established the graded right-of-way for clearance and cleaned up the fascia board.  I spackled it as well.
I'm still not completely satisfied with this view, so hopefully the paint & such will improve it.

I'm pretty happy with this view now.

With all the added rough texture, I'm afraid I won't get a good paint job by using even my largest wall brush.  I hate to break out the Hudson sprayer to paint it, but I think I'll have to.  Using the Hudson sprayer is tricky. First off, the paint has to be diluted, then strained through a stocking.  Care must be taken to only give the sprayer a couple of pumps of compressed air.  Too much and the paint can get propelled with too much force and splatter all over everything.  I'll have to cover what I don't want splashed and use a lot of caution.  But it is a way to paint a large area quickly and get good penetration into all the cracks and crevices that I have created.  All this said, I'll still be covering a lot of it with vegetation matting.  But I think by making as good an underpainting as I can, will allow the veg mats to blend into the terrain more convincingly.  Let's see...

01/11/2011:  I may have to stop here for a couple days.  I ran out of ground foams.  They are on order for delivery ASAP, so I should be back in business in a couple days.  While I am far from finished, there is an improvement in the right direction.  I can't apply the vegetation mats until I get the ground foams because that is what I top them with.

01/11/2011:  Lionroar88 suggested that I add a rock slide with a tunnel bored through it to the side of this mountain and I thought that was a great idea.  So I tried my hand at it.  It's not exactly like the pic he sent me, but I think it fits in with my style the way I did it.  Of course, I'm not done painting and decorating and I'll want to add vegetation, so I'm not done yet.  But here is where it rests for tonight.

I think it brings relief to an otherwise roundish mountain.  It isn't too long, so I should be able to service track in it from both ends.  Maybe I'll do another one in a different place.

01/15/2011:  I completed the painting and sprinkling phase.  Next up will be to glue down some vegetation mats.  I added another tunnel.
I could use another light on this side.

Funny thing about the technique I use; as the "oatmeal" dries, I find I need to touch up areas that have opened up.  That's okay, though.  I use a grayed-down orange paint for that and it adds more color.

This time after I was done painting and sprinkling ground foams all over, I hit it with some spray paint; black and primer.  I like the added effect.   Maybe tomorrow, I'll get the fascia sanded and painted while I'm waiting for the mountain to dry a little more before I start putting vegetation mats on it.  Interestingly, experience has shown me that simply painting the fascia makes a world of difference as well.

01/16/2011:  I think today's effort frames it in quite nicely and makes it pop.  I still have plenty of touch-ups to do and I still want to glue down some vegetation mats; although perhaps not as many as I originally intended!  I'm also glad I added that last tunnel.  I think it helps to make this mountain look less like an inverted coffee cup! lol  It was a tough mountain to build.  I had to make it big and tall enough to stand up inside of, yet attempt to texture it so that it didn't look like an igloo.  I'm all-in-all pleased with the result.  OBTW, the benchwork is level.  The camera angle makes it look a little slanted.

I have cleaned up the train room quite a bit in the past week.  If felt good to put the gallons of paint away and to use up the last bit of plaster.  Truthfully, I'm a little tired of doing scenery work and laying track.  I want to run some trains!

01/18/2011:  Uh-oh!  There's trouble on the RR!!!!!!!!  It looks like the RR crew built a tunnel portal out of spec.  The conductor is out looking and is that someone from ABC news taking a picture?  Or is that an insurance adjuster?  Uh-oh!!!!!!

01/19/2011:  There's a party going on right here; a celebration to last through-out the year!  The fun folks in Timboy Town don't need any excuse for a party.  Timboy Town is actually a drinking town with a railroading problem! 

There is plenty of lateral clearance now!  Richard was the winner of the raffle and he got to ride the cowcatcher as the K5 made a clean trip through Laural Mountain Tunnel #1!!!!!!!!!!!!

01/21/2011:  ALL THE TRACK IS LAID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I now have to wire up the remaining blocks and de-bug.  Hopefully, the trains will be running again within 2 weeks.

Next up will be to build the third and final control panel.  After the trains are running well, I'll want to come back to this section for more building.  I have two deck bridges to build and some vegetation to install on this mountain.  But those items are purely cosmetic.