General update (2019)

Now, where did I leave off? Redesign of the back end, some op sessions? Right.

2019 has been pretty busy for me. I bought my first house! (the basement is a couple hundred feet too small to hold the KD, so it’s not coming with.) That alone took much of my time and, of course, money. My parents remodeled their kitchen, and I helped – a lot. I also got the most devilishly lovely cat who, as it transpires, enjoys climbing mountains with me. Check her out on instagram at MissAdventureCatBram. The summer was busy, and now it’s October, and I’ve finished my last wedding, and work will slow to a trickle.

2 notable things have happened since my last post. Scenery and motive power work.

Rock, rock on!

After a ton of practice, I figured out how to do convincing rocks. I’m working my way around the west side of the summit, but by far I’m most proud of the very prominent cliff at Paulson Gap. I’ll do another post on how to do rocks like these.

No. 81 at Paulson Gap
No. 81 at Paulson Gap
Extra 8421 West nears Fife
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Extra 4216 East at Tunnel

At Tunnel, I’m modeling the siding as though it was in the process of being torn out. Using a tie template for handlaid track and a bit of the photoshop warp tool, I made a full size template to cut the ties and put them in place for the whole siding.

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That, too, will get its own post, especially once I get some weeds in there and make it pop.

I have started some scenery, but I haven’t gotten it down yet and am definitely stalling until it starts to look right. I’m getting close, but haven’t gotten the thick, underbrush look just yet.

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Extra 8610 East passes over Sutherland Creek

I made some more lumber loads using my old designs for Boundary Sawmills (Midway), Pope and Talbot (Nelson, Castlegar) and a new design for Crestbrook (Creston). I don’t have any photos handy, maybe I’ll add one in later.

What’s been one of the bigger things for time and money is working on my fleet. I have three main projects.

Project MEGACHUGG is the ALCo/MLW portion, and is 100% completed.

Project ULTRATHRUMM includes CLC units. 4 more fleet additions remain, but they are mostly done, just waiting on parts.

Project HYPERWUMM is what most railfans would call the most boring part, and includes GMD units. It is mainly still in the planning stages, as there are plenty of close enough units running around right now!

I’ll do a thorough post on this later, but here’s a sneak peek!

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Over the winter I intend to spend more time working on the layout. No promises.

Northern Rails op session and leadup

I didn’t forget about my blog! It’s just hard to make interesting posts sometimes.

After the redesign, I had an op session. It went well. I went back to doing some scenery – I might do a post on that later. That’s not what this one is about.

With Cranbrook in, I took another look at Nelson sub. operations. I decided to keep the 2 Cranbrook-Nelson freights each way, but get Creston in the mix. I didn’t have time to lay all of Creston so I laid the necessaries – main, siding, backtrack, and a temporarily extended sawmill track.

Ops sequences for the first session were essentially the same as before, and I tested them out to make sure everything ran smoothly. An 0600 call for a west crew out of Cranbrook started the session, but they had work in Creston – a theoretically quick lift from and drop to the back track. However, I hadn’t thought things through and had too many cars on the back track that were supposedly at industries. Additionally, they had to stay out of the way of 11. That train ended up coming into Nelson around 0830 or so – but it had a ton of cars for train 87, due out at 0830, and needing to be blocked. Clearly that wasn’t working. Major changes were needed.

The goal was now twofold. Firstly, unclog Nelson. It was a switching hell. Cars scattered across so many tracks and in no order. Second, get rid of sequential events that could cause chain reactions that caused sessions to grind to a halt waiting for a single train.

New order:

0630: All crews on duty / Nelson yard starts blocking No. 87

0700: East wayfreight departs Midway, No. 11 departs Cranbrook.

0830: 87 departs Nelson.

1000: Nelson wayfreight departs Cranbrook (cars for 81 and 87 the next session), 11 arrives Midway, crew to 81

1100: Creston switcher on duty to move cars from the back track to industries and vice-versa. (Need more track for this to be more than an 0-5-0 assignment!)

1130: 81 departs Nelson, leaving space for the Nelson wayfreight to enter yard

1150: 984, now timetabled from Castlegar to Nelson (previously only on the Nelson sub) departs Castlegar

1215: 984 departs Nelson

1300: 90 departs Nelson with previous day’s cars, lifts and drops at Creston

1500: West freight Cranbrook to Nelson (cars for 81 and 87 for the next session)

1600: No 91 departs Cranbrook for Nelson – now timetabled as fourth class on the Nelson sub

1700: No 91 departs Nelson for Trail

1640: 12 departs Midway

1600-1800: East boundary wayfreight arrives Nelson

1830: 92, mostly boundary loads, runs Nelson to Cranbrook

In this list, only 1 thing needs to happen for another in the session – 92 carries cars that are dropped by the eastbound Boundary sub wayfreight. That’s it. All the other moves between the Nelson and Boundary subs are inter-sessional.

A little change was adding photo printed speed signs to the fascia. Previously the speed limits were buried in the time table, and without little mileposts flying by, it was very hard to know how fast you should go. I went with this style of my own design.

So I called back my faithful crew to whom I am very grateful for another session the following week, and was incredibly pleased with how it ran. I’ve never seen my layout operate so well! I ended up dispatching myself, and it was quiet. Pretty much everything ran per timetable and very few orders were issued. The craziest thing that happened was that the Kraft switcher’s power (GP7 8423, H16-44 8552) couldn’t manage the train back to Nelson from Castlegar. Here’s some photos that I managed to grab in the first and second sessions when I had a free moment!

OS Creston: No. 92 through at 1844. 4240 is a Life Like C424 that I installed LokSound in – it sounds fantastic. It’s going to emerge from the paint shop with correct details in Action Red later this year as 4216 as part of Operation MEGACHUGG.

OS Creston: No. 12 out at 1905.

Remember the 4° curve I mentioned in my last post? It looks FAB. I can’t overstate how pleased I am with it! In that previous photo, I tried to recreate the view from Sunset Seed that I’ve seen multiple photos taken from. Here’s the information sign on the former sawmill site in real life.

East of Creston, I have the temporary Canyon bridge in. I suspect this will be here for many years as it’s such a good stand-in!

Next session I had much more time for photos.

Before the session started, I had to run another train into Nelson to beef up the car count for the outbound freights – this would be the 0500 Extra 8596 West.

With much less time pressure, the Nelson sub wayfreight would be powered by a 4-unit CLC consist and run as Extra 4104 West. The work at Creston was much easier this time.

A bit later, fourth class No. 81 is scheduled to arrive into Castlegar at 1150, with a bolded meet with superior second class No. 984. 81 (Engine 8549) slid into Castlegar at 11:40, just in time to be clear, while the conductor stepped off 5742 to get a coffee and clearance from the station.

I don’t remember exactly what happened to get 4240 over the summit to Midway, but get there she did. Here she is climbing out of Fife.

12 is by the grain elevators at Creston – the fire truck belongs to ACU, who spent some of the summer here and got a lot of Kootenay time in!

Where is ACU, you might ask? His favorite place, plugging away at the Kraft.

I added a bit more fun to the Kraft, 8423 is the newest unit on the rails with Loksound.

Amazingly, all trains for the day were run (save for the GN turn due to lack of manpower)
Here’s No. 92, running on schedule!

Here’s the train sheet so you can see how everything ran. Almost everything is within an hour of timetable, which is pretty good for me.

Okay, great test, everyone! Let’s do Northern Rails, my layout is in prime condition!

The unfortunate few file in to find all their paperwork ready to go…

I blocked all the trains out of staging because that’s cruel to do operators during a session. Out of Cranbrook, the two extra wests are ready for Nelson, and 91 has 8909 on the lead. Presumably it’s heading back to Trail to get grimy in Tadanac.

The GN turn into Grand Forks was still left over from the previous session, and I decided to occupy Cal S. with this until 0830 when the Kraft was on.

Back in the dispatcher’s office, Mike S. confers with Brian D, our dispatcher for the day.

Nelson yard was hard at work right away – 50ish cars total needed to be blocked and ready for trains 87 and 81 before 0830 and 1130, respectively. Glen P. was the yardmaster, and I was lucky to have Brian K (of the Wolverine Lynx) to help get that started.

The eastbound Boundary sub. wayfreight was a bit earlier into Grand Forks than expected and held short of the west siding switch until the GN turn had finished their work. West of the siding switch is the swing gate. Please, nobody open it.

Extra 8696 West today was the Nelson sub wayfreight. Here it is lifting 1 and dropping 12 at Creston.

8602 has been conspicuously absent for the past 2 sessions. It was sidelined with decoder issues and slated as the first member of Operation ULTRATHRUMM – Sound in Kaslo H16-44s. Not an easy task, and this will drag on considering the current Atlas factory situation!

Here it’s arrived at Castlegar. Today, 81 didn’t manage to slip in before 984’s departure.

This is when things started to get WILD. I was running 984 and didn’t get to watch all the proceedings, but things went south in a hurry.

81 was over tonnage for the hill, and we had to decide whether to run pushers down from Farron or have him double. John G, engineer, decided to double. It’s a long way up the hill – 4 scale miles! Luckily (?) extra 4105 East, the eastbound Boundary wayfreight, was struggling with the sheer amount of switching required in Grand Forks.

The first clue everything was going sideways was that both the order boards in Farron were dropped.

81 squared half their train out of the way in Castlegar. I knew I built that yard for something.

Next I saw, they had their train up at Farron and were ready to come back down. The dispatcher was furiously typing up orders to both 81 and X4105E – 81 was to work between Farron and Castlegar, grab the rest of his train, and run up to the shorter siding at Shields and take the siding for X4105E to meet him.

In the midst of all this, a complication. No. 12, the Kettle Valley Express, was due soon and running 15 minutes late. Everyone needed to move for the varnish! Knowing the siding at Farron was occupied, X4105E was held at Grand Forks until 12 was past. 35mph can turn into a blur quickly.

12’s tail was barely past the bridge when 4105’s head end brakeman threw the switch and they started pulling onto the main – but there were complications, they couldn’t get a good joint between an open hopper and the next car.

12 was fine, though.

Things got a bit busy and so a few photos are missing. Eventually X4105E departed Grand Forks, but like so many before, missed their work at Fife and had to back down! They also had work at Farron. 12 met the second part of 81 at Castlegar, and they boogied back up to Shields to patiently wait for X4105E as the meet had been prescribed and they had no choice. 81 was into Shields at 1600, 12 was through around 1800, and 4105 finally boogied through around 2000.

The Kraft Switcher was in Nelson by 1748. That was ridiculously fast, and I’m well impressed.

4105 OS’d into Nelson at 2059. Luckily, the only train contingent on its arrival was No. 92, scheduled out at 1830, but which was annulled. There will be an extra east to move power and cars , either prior to the start of the next session, or at the start.

Flights needed to depart, and we had to call an end to the session. 81 tied up in Grand Forks, making sure to split the crossings. The clock was stopped, but a fresh crew will be taxied in from Nelson to finish the run and make sure everything doesn’t get too bogged down before the next session!

Nelson yard is running incredibly smoothly. Too smoothly? There’s an amazing ebb and flow, it empties nearly completely during the day and fills back up at night for the morning departures.

I was especially impressed by Brian’s dispatching. Many of the operators here are part of the Vancouver group, and while my layout is the only one in Calgary that runs on time table and train order, there are a good number in the Lower Mainland that use it. They all keep in practice while we develop rust and barnacles.

Some things that went wrong – There were some issues with the phone system that I’ve never seen before and wasn’t able to replicate after. I want to add another power district so Nelson yard is on its own. There’s a few more signs I’d like to put in. I still want to blast out a foundation wall and expand aisles. Lots of quick, easy fixes and one that is absolutely not.

Here’s the train sheet, all in all, a good session!

Layout redesign – Cranbrook to Creston

An operator at a session last year unintentionally unleashed a demon on my layout.

When are you going to put in Creston?”

When…when am I….well, first I have to figure out the track plan and proper operations, which have an impact on Nelson and Cranbrook. Looking into those, I realized I had a problem – the east siding switch of Creston was only about 400 feet from the west siding switch of Cranbrook. That was going to cause some problems! I decided to solve that as well as another problem at once by adding some run. But there’s no more room to expand the layout! Unless you think…. UP!

Here’s my Cranbrook, ca. 2017. It was in this configuration for less than a year! I had roughed in a middle level for stub ended storage tracks, approx. 2400′ long, for whatever I wanted to shove in from the non-existent helix that I had intended to connect the east and west ends of the layout with but never built or needed.

Here’s the old plan:

You can see the issue – this is compounded because operators have to walk around a fair distance to get from Creston to Cranbrook due to the furnace and water heater being in the way.

In real life, east of Creston, the line climbs up a maximum 1.25% grade up the Goat river to a summit at Goatfell before descending a short downhill to Yahk. There’s not too much on the way, the small town of Kitchener (station name McConnel to avoid confusion with Kitchener, ON, as the CP didn’t allow duplicate names on its system), but what really catches my eye are two features. First, east of Erickson (a stone’s throw from Creston) the railway crosses the Goat river’s box canyon at the town of Canyon (Original!) on a pretty darn nice bridge.

Canyon-Lister road also passes over the river and under the rail line, as you can see.

Up past McConnel, the line goes around a pretty nifty horseshoe curve that’s hidden by trees. I’ve never seen a photo of a train on it, but it’s plainly visible on google maps.

I realized that I had plenty of space to incorporate both of these, but I felt like I needed something more in the wide scene. I chose to add a 15′ wooden trestle that exists up at Goatfell. It should be a culvert, but instead, it’s a great project!


I drew up plans to move Cranbrook from its current elevation at 0.5″ to 12.5″.  After some experimentation, I decided this was the minimum deck separation from the lower deck that would allow it to be scenically workable. This also left enough room to access Cranbrook under Midway. Here’s the new plan:

You can see the Canyon bridge on the original alignment (which was dictated by the furnace and studs) leading up to the horseshoe curve before going through a 2 turn helix to bring it to Cranbrook’s new height. The grade is 1.25% from Creston onto the bridge, going up to 2.0% about the midpoint of the room through the horseshoe – more on that later.

Up in Cranbrook, I originally designed it with 6 run-through tracks and 1 shorter stub track. I guess I wasn’t paying attention when everyone said that you need to design more staging than you think you need! I added 1 long and 3 shorter run-through tracks (800-1000′) and removed the stub track. I moved the reverse loop to the right side of the room, keeping it on the east end of the line, as the tracks in Cranbrook were now reversed east to west.

Building a wedding cake helix:

I wanted the grade in the helix itself to be as mild as possible. My other helix continues with the 2.65% ruling grade of the Boundary sub, but I didn’t want to have such a prominent grade be an obstacle to operations. (The other one is so on purpose)

The grade is 2.0% coming through the horseshoe curve, but lessens to 1.75% through the helix. Why? Two reasons. The ruling grade is in the curve, which means that if a train either can’t make the hill you’ll know right away, and worse, if it stringlines, it’s going to do it where you can easily get it back on the rails without screwing around in a well-designed and accessible helix.

With the grade being 1.75% throughout the helix, but that meant that the separation between levels was going to be 2.1″ railhead to railhead. That’s not a whole lot! I decided to make the helix out of a 1/4″ plywood base supported every 6-8″ and 1/8″ hardboard on top of that to join the plywood together. Take away another 1/8″ for the ties and rails, and that leaves 1-5/8″ clearance above the rail. Note that this is slightly more than the NMRA recommended 1-9/16″, but that doesn’t allow for fingers. I cut them in arcs from smaller pieces I had kicking around. I designed it as an upside down wedding cake style so that you can reach in from above as well as the side, making access much easier. The radius expands by 1″ every level, giving (as you’d expect) a 1″ offset from one level to the next.

I basically laminated the two layers together with wood glue and a ton of clamps.

Here’s an overview before I wrapped the outside in hardboard.

Moving the Cranbrook Staging Yard:

So I’m adding a couple tracks, does that mean I want to rip out the whole yard? No – and it’s designed sectionally, as is the rest of my layout. So why not take it apart and put it back together? Sounds easy! Of course it’s not. Coming apart went well. I used my ultra thin dremel cutoff wheel to gap all the rails first.

Took out all the screws, and she’s free!

I disconnected the wires from their terminal strips at the section joins and carefully pulled everything apart, making sure none of my additions were looped or stuck, removing the occasional piece of benchwork to free some wire or another until the section was free.

Then things started to get weird.

This just felt wrong! Anyway, those stayed like that for the next couple weeks while I tore out the old benchwork and put in new. Things were very messy during this time. I was able to reuse about half of what was there before, but other changes were too big and I had to add new L girders and joists.

One complication: My wider helix was closer to the wall than the original curve into the yard, so I have to shave a couple inches off that section, in a straight line. I clamped a 1×3 in precisely the right spot to keep the blade of my circular saw where it should be, and prayed that I wouldn’t destroy my track.

In the end, I only messed up the flex a little bit and broke one PCB tie on the turnout. Not too bad!

I added in 2 additional turnouts to this ladder as well as a small extension on the table to accommodate the 2 extra tracks. I put the turnouts in while the section was still loose, it was the easiest way to work and didn’t have me hunched into the corner for hours.

I also cut a new ladder of  3#8 turnouts in at the back. I chose 8s because the angle more closely matched how the yard came away from the wall.

Moving the yard over by those few inches also left me with a choice – do I move the whole yard over, or make it slightly longer? Might as well make it longer! It was easier on a few tracks to replace the flextrack to the next join rather than splice in a 4″ section. I added the other new tracks later in order to get the layout running faster.

Out by the furnace, I had to replace the dispatcher’s panel as it was soaked by a leak from the furnace humidifier that I didn’t realize was even on, so I built a sort of box to support both the Cranbrook reverse loop, the line up from Creston, and the new DS panel. At the same time, I realized this wall isn’t load bearing, so I removed a couple of studs. Hehehe.

Down the Hill to Creston

Let’s jump back a bit. Since the staging yard was gone and accessibility was at an all-time high, it was time to build the grade down to Creston. As I’ve done before, I used xTrackCAD to make the best use of my plywood for the cookie cutter roadbed. I don’t have that file anymore, but here’s one from earlier construction:

That jigsaw was a damn good investment.

Put them all up on risers, as I’ve done a hundred times before – I use shims and levels to make sure the height difference is correct between the risers, as well as to check the risers are level on top.

I left this gap for my tiny trestle. I hadn’t decided if it was going to be as small as in real life (it will be) so I left a bit of extra length and height just in case.

I didn’t use cork roadbed inside the helix, but I did transition to it before the visible run. I’m superelevating the curves using the masking tape method I’ve been using forever. Superelevation looks SO GOOD, GUYS.

I’ve made a change to the way I designed this part from the rest of the layout. Most of the curves on the rest are 18″. Here, I tried some variation, as well as adding a few longer straight sections. There’s an 18″ curve, a 24″ curve, even a 30″ curve! Believe me when I say it looks FANTASTIC.

I mentioned this was all because of Creston, right? While I haven’t yet finalized my design for it, I decided where the mainline was going to go – which isn’t where it was previously. I wanted it to be on a ridiculously wide curve. How was I going to manage that? Well, I decided to grab a piece of 1/4″ hardboard, clamp it to 2 pieces of lumber where the ends were, and let it decide the rest.

Mmmm. If I managed to get it close, that’s about a 110″ radius – a 4° curve!

It was at this point I took a 2 week break from trains to get married. (Sorry, not sorry.)

With that checked off my life goals list, I went back to lay track up from the Kootenay Landing bridge to Cranbrook as well as add in the 4 new staging tracks and reverse loop, put the feeders on, and ran 2 extras back into staging where they belonged!

See what I mean? These curves look fantastic.

Gee, seems empty up there…

You can see the Midway panel kicking around where it shouldn’t be – that’s because it was too tall and interfered with Cranbrook once it was moved. I decided to make a new panel for Midway and make fascia for the staging in order to make it look a bit nice. I also had to make a new panel for Cranbrook. I reused the old bits from both to save myself from a ton of soldering, which constrained me somewhat size-wise.

I combined the Midway panel with the tiny panel that controls the switch into Midway but is on the far side of the backdrop, and made everything tiny and compact.

Cranbrook’s panel was a bit more complicated to move, what with the changes in track configuration and all.

A lot of my electrical looks really good. Here, I was just tired of it all. I stopped caring. I still don’t care.

Time to put the dispatcher panel back! I made a new one that was larger and had room to put random bits of information on.

Then I had an op session. The end. For now.

LED Layout Lighting – Blindingly Bright!

One of my projects recently was to light my layout properly. I did this in August, and I’m only blogging about it now. Yikes! They were visible in my last 2 posts, so you’ve probably been wondering how I did it.

Power limitations are something I’ve run into time and time again in building this layout – without a panel replacement and a new service from the local transformer, I was limited to a pair of 15A breakers. (20A is not allowed for a branch circuit in a residential dwelling, no matter how sure you are about your wire size.)

One of these 15A breakers was devoted to a branch circuit serving all the receptacles in the room. The other I’m devoting to LED lighting. Room lighting (work lights) are on the original lighting circuit which had a pair of incandescent 60W bulbs on it. It’s fine, honestly.

The circuit goes straight from the main panel to a duplex switch at the entrance to the layout room – directly above another duplex switch which controls the work lights and the layout power. The LED switches control the lights separately for the lower and upper deck.

From the switches, each branch goes to a 600W (12VDC/50A) transformer – one for the upper deck, and one for the lower. These are in a 12×12 electrical junction box because I ordered them off eBay and I’m terrified of fire.

These generate a LOT of heat, so I drilled a bunch of holes in the case for air flow. More than are pictured. I also added 4 80mm computer fans, 2 on top, and 2 on the bottom, to force air through the units in addition to the onboard flow. These blow air in from the bottom and out the top, and are spliced into the terminals of the lower deck supply (which I have on more often.) They probably make it way louder (probably like 50 or 60dB) but I like a lack of fire.

From there, I divided the layout into 6 districts, 3 per transformer, as equal as I could make them so that no circuit exceeds 15A.

On to the LED strips themselves!

I did a fair bit of experimenting with the strips to find what appeared ‘correct’ to my eye.  The brightest strip available as of this writing is a 5630/5730 chip with 60 LEDs per meter. I couldn’t find a single colour that appeared correct, but I found that a combination of ‘white’ and ‘natural white’ side by side worked.

They have adhesive backing, but it doesn’t adhere well to wood and I placed my stripes directly on my benchwork. To solve this, I used hot glue to secure the strips as I went.

Now that they’re in on both the lower and upper levels, they look fab. Fab! Just don’t look straight at them if you value your eyesight.

ESU Loksound DCC Sound installation in a Life-Like C-Liner

It’s the Kootenay Division, ca. 1970 – that means a lot of Fairbanks-Morse/Canadian Locomotive Company power. I’ll be covering the H16-44s in another post, but this is about my C-Liners.

C-Liners were only produced in N scale by Life-Like in a DCC incompatible format. There’s a good review on detailing them – they’re great runners, powerful pullers, and you can’t drop a decoder into them. All CP units are from the original 2001 run.

I didn’t take a ton of pictures for a step-by step, since I fully expected the decoder to fizzle and smoke the first try, so bear with me.

First off, you’ve got to disassemble the locomotive – be comfortable with this! You need to take the frame apart and remove the motor in order to isolate it from the frame, as well as mill the frame. I didn’t take any photos of these steps, but they are exactly the same as installing any other decoder, and there’s a great set of instructions here on the TCS site:


This is what I was nervous about. I decided to use a dremel such as this one with a a cutting wheel on it to slice out a rectangle. I actually ended up using my older corded one rather than my newer battery powered one because you will drain a battery way too fast doing this!

I had to mill 2 spots on the frame – one at the rear for the speaker, and at the front for the decoder. The frame is shaped oddly at the back, and looked like the easiest place to make room for ESU’s 11x15mm speaker. These come with sound chambers, but in N scale, space is truly limited, so I just glued the top plate over the speaker with CA and went with it. If you want cheaper options, they’re out there, without baffles.

I marked where I was going to cut with pencil.

20171010 175430


So you’re using a dremel. Chunks of metal are flying everywhere. The cutting wheel jams and breaks. Are you hurt? No! Why not? Because you’re wearing a long sleeved shirt, safety glasses, maybe even a full face shield if you have one. Do your milling in a box to contain debris, and watch out, the frame gets HOT! I made 2 cuts, one vertical at the pencil line and one horizontal just underneath where the weight protrudes – the perfect size for the speaker. The speaker fits with the long dimension across the frame.

Meanwhile, in the front, there’s a cutout in the weight for the cab, but it’s too small for the decoder. I decided to mill back from the cab front – just a tiny bit. I also shaved a little bit off the top behind for the wires. WATCH OUT – The motor flywheel cavity comes up a bit here, and you don’t want to mill into there. (I did, but only one one side so it’s fine I guess?)

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Now it’s time to install the decoder. Once again, these instructions work for the motor, electrical pickup, and lights:

Do yourself a favor and use pre-wired SMD LEDs. They’re super bright, and you don’t have to mess around with tiny tiny solder pads. Example on Amazon

The hard part is over, so just attach a brown wire to each of the 2 speaker tabs, being careful not to touch the enclosure. Use whatever adhesive you prefer to hold it down, and you’re done! I left way too much wire, just in case. The green and yellow are spares if you need other lighting functions. I ended up putting a piece of tape over the top to keep them all in line.

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So this was my first go at a sound installation in any locomotive, and the age of this unit made it terrifying to me – I’m going to update this with more, better pictures when I do another install.

A last night – fitting the shell can be a bit challenging. Make sure the decoder is snugged far enough back that it is behind the front cab windows, otherwise it will jam into them. Also, if you force the shell on and find that it widens in the middle, it’s incorrectly positioned – see the slots in the frame? Those need to match up with the tabs inside the shell. Made that mistake myself, but now it looks great!

Here’s a video of a consist led by 4105 making its way across my layout.

I picked up a Lokprogrammer and used it to load the FM 38D soundfile, which is 2 cylinders short, but close enough. I also tweaked volume levels so the random effects and sander are extremely quiet, since you can’t really hear them from a distance, the bell is middlingly loud, and the horn is the loudest – and of course, master volume is way down!

Feel free to comment if you have questions, I’ll answer the best I can.

Dust off your switchers – September op session

Remember my last post? My last op session? Seems like forever ago. I’ve been extraordinarily busy since, well, February. In that time I’ve done a few things:

-Added a valence

-Carved some sweet rocks

-Commissioned 8 more H16-44s

I’ll blog about those later. I spent the better part of last week cleaning up – not much has changed operationally, but I’ll go into the changes at the end.

This was an unremarkable and fairly smooth session. With a total of 4 operators and myself dispatching, it was as quiet day on the Kootenay Division. I didn’t have much time for photos, dispatching and all…

We started on time, and Cam took out extra 3001 West on the dawn freight from Cranbrook to Nelson.


Cranbrook Roll-By

I had Brian kicking cars and taking names (or at least reporting marks) on the Nelson east switch job. Main complaint: Previous yard crews leaving cars on the wrong track!

Next up, Cam was given the Boundary sub east wayfreight – Extra 8602 East. Lots of freight from Midway and the remains of the Carmi sub today, lots of blocking to do!

Rule 93. Within yard limits the main track may be used clearing the time of first and second class trains at the next station where time is shown.

Brian steers clear of Rule 93 as No. 11 arrives, 2 minutes behind.

11 at Tunnel, flying by some dank rocks.

Jon’s 11 at Paulson Gap, in DB coming down the 2.7% grade past some future dank rocks.

Cam’s picking up and setting out chips at Grand Forks Sawmills with 8602, the current pride of the fleet, on point.

Along with 4 others that I’ve yet to DCC, 8602 is a Kaslo kit (out of production) that was assembled by Jeff Briggs, an absolute master of resin.

Meanwhile, Al took No. 87, the kraft switcher, the most challenging and unpopular job (and my personal favorite!) Here he’s running around the train to drop a loose car at car spot A2, the Castlegar side ramp.

I put reference photos all along the fascia. This one hit close to home.

Here, I’ve got the hotshot, since nobody else was available. (I’m not complaining!) I ended up running almost perfectly below X8602E.

Dank Rocks, Pt. 2

With 81 being scheduled and 8602 east being an extra, the UCOR is clear – 8602 is to wait in the siding at Farron for 81’s 1425 arrival. However, 81 missed a car in Castlegar, so it took until almost 1600 for that to happen! The UCOR remains clear – 8602 has to wait until 81 shows up, or until 0225 rolls around and its schedule is cancelled.

Cam called me over for this “foamer moment”, as he put it.

Jon is seeing having PTSD flashbacks to last session, when he neglected to line a switch to normal, causing a…very nasty wreck. That did not happen today.

A successful session, all trains ended up where they should be (save for late night No. 96)

From the dispatcher’s desk, not much work! No orders were issued at non-terminal stations, all meets were done by the timetable, so it was basically just watching things happen. A few times are missing on my dispatch sheet because I was attending to emergencies, or running the trains myself.

The tweaks I made were pretty minor. A few sessions ago I added a Rossland sub wayfreight, unprototypical, but a way to solve some issues with the hotshot – notably the unpredictable length was messing up my JMRI kernals. That didn’t work, so I went back to having the hotshot handle a bit of work – it handles one leg of a closed loop of acid cars that shuttle back and forth between the Trail smelter and Celgar, as well as some limestone hoppers that originate at Fife and end up at the smelter. I’ve made it so these come off as a block at Nelson, that way the hotshot doesn’t need to work at Castlegar, and it’s all very speedy and becoming of a second class train. Seemed to work well, and the length doesn’t fluctuate more than 3 cars now.

Well, another op session done!


A Tale of 3 Op Sessions

It’s been fairly quiet on this site recently. Don’t worry, I’ve been doing a LOT of photography, which is great for the ol’ train budget.

In April, I hosted 3 op sessions in 4 weeks, plus another in May. (The first session is chronicled in this post)  They were all markedly different!

Op Session the First

The first run was with non-train friends – two couples. It went very well, all the trains were run and, for the most part, everything went smoothly. Two hiccups…the crew of No. 81 ran out of cares to have, so they didn’t switch grand forks, instead leaving the drops unorganized in the yard. That wasn’t too bad.

The other problem was that X4104 East was switching Fife, which requires a handbrake at the end of the train to prevent a runaway. Unfortunately, the engineer, going dutifully about his work and unfamiliar with clearance points, left his train fouling the track he was backing down. With 6400hp of engines on his train to tackle the 2.7% grade to Farron, he sideswiped the first car, and pushed the whole train back into the tail end handbrake, scattering loaded ore cars left and right! It was then I decided to finish the scenery in that section.

All in all, it was a lot of fun, and I think these non-train folk will come back for another round! Unfortunately, I neglected to take photos. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Op Session the Second

The second run…where to begin. It was for out of town people attending Supertrain. It had 8 people, including 4 IRL railroaders – a CP engineer, retired CN engineer, SRY conductor, and CP trainmaster. You’d think this would be an asset, but it turned into a serious liability, very quickly.

The session started late due to slow service at a nearby pub. Things went immediately haywire after everyone arrived…I couldn’t tell you what we were running on, MBS or OCS, but it sure wasn’t timetable and train order.

In retrospect, I should have been tipped off by the piles of rejected and crumpled forms around the dispatchers desk. It told the story of how so few orders and clearances were issued.

At Nelson, Rob begs for the sweet, merciful embrace of death. Or a ride home.

Adam’s in the yard. It’s not going well for him, either. Never put a trainmaster behind the throttle.

In his defense, Nelson was PACKED. Here, the power for No. 87, the Kraft Switcher, is attempting to head out to the west end, but finds a flatcar in their path.

Ken, a former CN engineer who worked with TT&TO, knows how to wait, and wait he did. His Extra 8610 is ready to go with a full CLC consist, but won’t get clearance for another couple hours. Just like the real thing!

87 finally gets clearance to depart, thankfully – Matthew has a lot of work ahead of him. This was after the dispatcher hung up on him several times, breaking his heart.

A side note – there are two kinds of people: Those who would rather run anything than the Kraft, and those who talk big about how they’ll do it better and faster than anyone else.

Unsurprisingly, things went downhill from there. Turns out that despite the time it took to build the trains, nothing was blocked, so the kraft switcher had an extra ~3000 moves ahead of it. On top of that, it left a dozen cars behind at Nelson! An hour later, Matt said “I’m done, going back to Nelson!” which was wholly unbelievable, as it takes me an hour and a half to do the job, and I know all the tricks and shortcuts! I find out all he did was pull the mill and dump his train…that’s not how the game works.

Don’t get me wrong, this was the most fun op session I’ve ever had. The dysfunction only added to the hilarity of getting this group together.

In the end, it was a long day, and the only train that actually made it to its destination was the sleeper freight to Nelson, which terminated at 0500, so I made the choice to reset the session rather than run it to its conclusion myself. Considering neither of the wayfreights made it to Grand Forks, where the bulk of their switching is, I regard that as the correct choice.

Op Session the Third

I figured it was time to give ops a rest after that debacle, but Andrew, a good friend, was driving through Calgary one weekday evening, and on short notice I managed to scrape together a small but experienced operating crew. Andrew had dibs on the Kraft, and I, for the first time ever, got to run a train during my own session!

It went very well. Andrew methodically and efficiently worked the Celgar and Pope & Talbot mills, while the other trains got around the layout in good time. I popped off to make some drinks for the crews while I waited for the 1600 call for No. 12, the Kettle Valley Express. This took a bit longer than I hoped, so 12 ran 15 minutes behind.

I entered Grand Forks as Jon wondered out loud where 12 was. He was working in the yard and had cleared the main 30 minutes ago as per UCOR rules, so was itching to get back to work.


This is what I found after hearing those words…

I’ve never knocked a unit off the track before. 81’s crew neglected to line the switch to normal, and 12 came into the siding for a cornfield meet at track speed.

The face of embarrassment:

Aside from that, the run went well. Every train made it to its destination, even No. 96 on the Nelson sub, which I usually run after everyone’s gone.

And with that, I’m off ops for a few months, I’ve got so much on my plate! I’ll be doing scenery and potentially lighting work in the near future, and I look forward to telling you all about my adventures getting plastered. Til next time!

April Ops and winter changes!

This is going to be a busy month for ops. I’ve got 3 sessions scheduled with 3 different groups of people. The first one was last weekend.

What’s changed since my last post? I’ve been tweaking the crap out of JMRI. I changed the tracks in Nelson so that 5-7 were each assigned to a particular train (5 is 81 west and 90 east, 6 is 87 west and 92 east, etc)

I changed the plan for Nelson yard – that’s detailed in This Post.

I’ve also been doing some more scenery. I finished off the fascia at Shields and put in the big fill – but my local dollar store changed their construction paper to something flimsier, so I’m having issues with the fill now 😦

West of Shields, the line comes out of Shields Creek valley, over a retaining wall, and through a tunnel, all high above Lower Arrow Lake. This is a scenic highlight that I’m very excited about. I haven’t got the time to work on it myself, but my dad chipped in a little and did some light scenicking on my behalf. Thanks, dad!

During the op session, not many people could make it. I tried dividing the jobs into different crews, so that people wouldn’t have nothing to do.

20170401 crew calls

There were 5 people, but this requires 6. (4 road crews, 1 yard, 1 dispatcher.) I decided to be crew D, just to get movements done.

The session started off around 0500 with me bringing the sleeper into Nelson, and the yard crew working away to get 87 out and about. Jon was crew C, so I gave him #11 to kill the real life hour before his first train was due. Here he is halfway up the hill at Shields. 4080’s headlight was burned out, but it’s the Kootenay Express, they can’t stop and wait!

In the yard, Brian was fantastic. Both trains 87 and 81 were ready to go on time, which was ironic, considering I removed them as scheduled trains.

The Kraft Switcher was running as No. 87, seen here crossing the Kootenay river at Taghum.

The eastbound Boundary sub. wayfreight departs Midway early, at 0730, so their work at Grand Forks, which is 90% of switching, is done before the westbound wayfreight arrives. Here Doug is, working on Grand Forks with Extra 8610 East, while 87 crosses the Kootenay below.

A first for the Kootenay Division, Cam actually finished the Kraft job. It took from 0830 to 2130, but he did it! Hardly heard a peep from him the whole session, though.

The east and west Boundary sub wayfreights met perfectly at Farron – I love it when a plan comes together. Too bad I was running 92.

8610 arriving in Castlegar:

81 working Grand Forks Sawmills, the main industry in the area and within GF yard limits (inspires creativity!)

After 81 and 92, the eastbound Cranbrook freight from Nelson were made up and departed on time, Brian had a lull in the yard while waiting for Extra 8610 and Extra 8647 to arrive back. Out came a through freight from Penticton and other points west. Must be a mudslide on the mainline! Extra 4072 East following Extra 8610 down the hill.

The last train of the day was 12. It ran right to schedule east from Midway to Cranbrook.

Finally, all trains made it into Nelson, leaving just the sleeper to be thrown together. The session lasted from 0500 to 2230 on the 4:1 fast clock, about 12:30 to 5:30 real time. The Kootenays are pretty grueling.

The takeaway from this session was encouraging. With 4 road crews, few meets were necessary, and the dispatcher’s position was manageable despite the time it takes to dictate train orders.

My new timetable has instructions on wording (meet vs pass, run vs permission to go from A to B) so there wasn’t any confusion. Nobody had to back up!

Additionally, I finally got everyone signing the registers!

I’ll be tweaking the design before the next session to make them more clear.

Over at the dispatcher’s desk, things look busy.

Enough paper for you? I finally got my own copy of the 1962 UCOR, which has helped me hone my train order protocol.

Train sheet and train order record

Two more changes: Stick-on arrow tabs to indicate where trains are. Dispatchers tend to forget about the Boundary sub wayfreights during the hour or more that they’re in Grand Forks. This helps! The arrow indicates direction.

I also got more phones so that there’s always one within reach if necessary. (Justification: There’s a phone in a shack in Celgar, and another in the station at Procter despite it losing its operator)

Lastly, a pile of train orders.

A good session, all in all. Up next: A non-train-people guest session, and a session for out of town folk during Supertrain. Can’t wait to see how those go!


Changes to Nelson Yard, Part 1

Two things led me to make some fairly major changes to Nelson, the largest yard on the layout, and one that has its own assigned switch crew (and possibly 2 in the future)

The first was a comment from the yard crew, mixed in with others from my last op session, that it would be nice if Nelson had a yard lead so the switch job wouldn’t need to clear the main. No problem!

I decided to pull out 2 of the 3 switches at the east end of Nelson, push the main track outside of where it previously met with the yard lead, and effectively double track it through Procter. I also put a crossover in where the east siding switch previously was.

Removing the 2 switches from the east end was easy, but turned out to be fantastic, as even though they were cut to fit a specific space, they fit perfectly in with the new switches in Procter!

Original position. At left is an industry track to various warehouses, centre is the main, the MLW S2s are on the yard lead, and to the right is the shops.

With switches carefully removed…

…I took them to their new position, and cut out that precise length of track.

Then I installed them by sliding the rail joiners completely onto the turnouts, and then sliding them back once in place.

Mission complete!

Now, the crossover was difficult. I couldn’t fit a pair of turnouts into the space available as a traditional crossover, so I opted to use a curved turnout on the main. A Fast Tracks 30″/20″ radius #8 turnout would fit, but I wouldn’t want to spend $150 on a fixture for a single turnout. So I downloaded their template, printed it out, and went at it! I made sure to bend all the rails to just the right curvature and shape before soldering them down.

It ended up being very sexy, even though it took more than twice as long to build as a regular turnout! I installed it across from a normal #8, making the S curve very gentle.

I use Ribbonrail track alignment gauges on my curves, and in this case, I used it to keep the curve flowing properly into the switch as I laid it.

Looking good!

I throw my turnouts with servos controlled by Tam Valley Octopus IIIa boards, and to save on outputs, my crossovers are thrown by a single output together.

So far, it’s been operating nearly flawlessly. Huzzah!

There are more changes to tracks that haven’t been laid yet. Let’s look at the plan again.

I’ve had issues with JMRI not being able to move all the cars it should, and it’s due to limitations within the yard. Look just below the diesel shops and left of the roundhouse, and you’ll see the RIP (Repair In Place) yard. I had 2 tracks in the original plan, and I was simply going to put bad ordered cars there until I could get to them.

Instead, I moved things around so that there were 4 tracks of the maximum length that fit (#5 ladder) to use as an overflow for the class yard. I may even end up building the shorter trains, such as the Creston turn and my Tadanac wayfreight on them. (The second may be short lived, however.)

I also moved the drop-down wye further into the aisle. It’s still up in the air whether it will be built as such.

Lastly, I moved the top right tracks a bit. In real life, the merchandise terminal is on the north (aisle) side of its tracks, but I moved it to the far side so the switch crew could actually reach it!

Time to have an op session to test this out.