and, speaking of print...

Peter Jones' book, Building Small Steam Locomotives, has a title that means what it says. The book reviews the nomenclature, planning, and process of building your own steam loco, either from commercial components or from raw materials. While no specific plans are printed within the covers, you are given just enough information to help locate all the bits & pieces (including drawings) to begin construction.


It's difficult to accurately categorise the newest generation of online "publications" as direct replacements or even competition for traditional magazines. They exceed the capabilities and features that mere paper can offer. As such, they may not replace the old ways very quickly or completely.

Both Model Railroad Hobbyist and The Modeler's Guild (sic) offer a familiar format of articles, reviews and photos but also provide streaming video, user conversation/interaction, and reader feedback options not possible following the print paradigm.


one corner of the promised land

That is to say, land that I was promised. Finally, the workspace begins to take shape. A little more elbow room and a little less worry about dropping pointed, heavy, or glue-covered stuff on the floor.

More bins will have to be added to hold detail parts, and a rack will be made to hold both wood & styrene strip. Currently envisioned is a set of 12" long plastic tubes (2.5" or 3" diameter) arranged in a "wine-bottle" style matrix.

One issue that needed immediate resolution was that of humidity. Having noted rust on several steel surfaces, purchase of a decent humidifier with a continuous drain occurred forthwith.

Still outstanding are a powered vent for solder/paint fumes, and flat storage for sheet goods & drawings. Existing ceiling lights really need to be replaced with something that actually illuminates; the camera flash is deceptive.


to thine own self...

Solid reference material like this article on Byron Henderson's blog, will get most people moving down the right track in terms of their own layout planning. Note: make sure you follow along to the subsequent parts of the article series to get full benefit of the material; it's well worth the time invested in reading it.

Having spoken to a number of people (of various experience levels) about their layout plans, I've noticed one very important factor. The more honest you are with yourself with respect to an analysis of your own abilities, disposable cash, and overall goals, the more likely you are to build a satisfying layout. This seems like a "duh" point at first but, having now seen the results of the planning and execution of several layouts - and getting the back-story of a few more layouts during operating sessions, a definite pattern is emerging.

Those people who ignored finances (I never have enough money for gas, but I'll need 33 extremely rare brass locomotives for this plan to work) skill level (despite the fact I can't tie my own shoes, I'm sure I'll be able to cut my own offset mitre gears for an N scale Climax one day) or goals (I'm a confirmed and grumpy loner but my design requires 7 to 9 tightly-knit operators to make the sessions work) have generally built layouts that make them unhappy to own and operate.

Notice I've used the qualifier "satisfying" instead of "good". A good layout is not necessarily one that receives critical acclaim for its clever use of materials or 100% adherence to prototype track arrangement, but it certainly is one that brings you joy to use and is not a unbearable burden on your time, a regrettable use of your space, or an onerous money-pit that can't be finished without depriving yourself of food & clothing.

almost, but not quite, entirely unlike success

The progress bar is at 99.9%. Legal eagles have taken their pound of flesh, inspections are acceptable, and the final few arrangements are made. Receipt of keys is pending, and that appears to be clear sailing at this point.

So far, so good. Only a few crashing breakers to spoil the otherwise feathery chop of waves.

Construction of a layout will not be the 1st priority, but it will be nice to be able to erect (and leave out) the S module set for repair and further additions to scenery and structures as time permits. It's always been a problem not having a protected space to work in while being here at the condo. The cats would have a field day with the field grasses, and I'd never see the scarecrow again...


down to the wire

We're cutting it close. Things are happening on the home front but, as usual, not as quickly or smoothly as we'd like. The process of changing locales must have been deliberately made painful to discourage the average person from confusing civil servants with their whereabouts.

If everything works out according to plan there will be room for a workshop, a large garden, and our endlessly growing library of books. The kitchen is merely adequate as-is, and must be renovated to meet our future needs. If it all happens on time there will be barbeques and a garden party of some sort while the weather is still nice.

First steps will be familiarising ourselves with the perculiarities of the new house, getting used to new traffic patterns, and learning where all the local shops & markets are. A bit of painting & mending will see us through the summer & autumn.

The lot size is ample enough for even a garden railway venture should "planning permission" be given for such a folly. Proportion for native equipment would be 1:19.1 on 32mm gauge track, however, a dual gauge 32/45mm right-of-way would be built in order to accomodate visitors.


servos you right

Duncan McRee has developed a DCC accessory decoder to enable R/C servos to control turnouts.

He is offering the schematics and source code free at the moment. I understand that pricing for pre-assembled units is to follow soon. The possibility to control other devices (turntables, signals, gates, etc.) is also present with code modification.

A short video of a beta unit in operation is available courtesy of the Model Railcast Show.



The Model Railcast Show is coming up on episode #50. Recent podcasts have covered benchwork construction and DCC topics.

The informal, ad-lib presentation style may not appeal to every taste but there is certain charm and spontaneity that you simply won't get with a script. Listening to the show often feels like you're just having a bunch of (knowledgable) guys over to your basement layout for a work session.

I have to applaud the primary host, Ryan, who is sticking his neophyte neck out every single show - letting everyone know he is not an expert model railroader. The honest (and sometimes basic) questions he asks his guests have forced me to re-think some of the things I "know" about the hobby and how to approach it. This has improved my understanding of areas I had taken for granted, and made me appreciate many aspects in different ways.

I find myself looking forward to each weekly installment. You do not need an iPod to listen to the programs; Quicktime, iTunes, or an mp3 player will do fine.


There continues to be a lot of discussion about what it really means to be a model railroader. Frankly it's going mean a different thing to each person. It doesn't follow that any one approach or definition is going to be better or worse than any other.

One could argue that someone who only buys RTR is not really a model railroader. Unless, perhaps, their efforts are focused on modelling operations rather than equipment? You could also argue that someone who only builds models of equipment and doesn't have a layout to run them on isn't really a railroad modeller, just a model builder, right?

It really is too bad that so many people are spending so much time in specious arguments backed with dubious data. In the end, it's the person who isn't spending all of their time yakking it up in the discussion forums who is actually getting models built and running trains.

And that's what this whole exercise is supposed to be about, isn't it?

down time

Circumstance has temporarily dictated sedentary pursuits.

Having some time not otherwise occupied, I finally had a chance to hook up a LocoBuffer-USB from my PC to a Digitrax DB150 command station/booster. The free JMRI software allows you to program decoders, control the command station, operate virtual on-screen throttles, create CTC panels, and many other functions. Full details of hardware & OS support are on the website.

My main reason for implementing this software and hardware is to program decoders. I have one diesel, an S Helper Service SW9, with two decoders (Lenz Gold-JST & Soundtraxx DSD100LC-EH) which is a particular pain to program and keep track of the CV values. Hopefully I will be able to synchronise the sound & motion better using the graphical programming "DecoderPro" portion of the JMRI package.

I did notice that there is a mechanical problem with the diesel that I was unable to see or hear in the large auditorium of the last show. I will have to disassemble the loco to check out the issue. It seems that one of the pickup wipers is "clicking" during the wheel rotation.


questions, questions everywhere, so let's just stop & think

There are a lot of questions flying around in discussion forums. Regular appearances are made by the likes of "What size turnouts should I use", "What colour should my fascia be", "How do I lay track", and "What rail code should I buy"? Reference Byron Henderson's slightly tongue-in-cheek post What sized t-shirt...?.

What can be considered very basic questions are asked for a variety of reasons. While some instances are a real search for answers they can also arise from pure laziness, the desire to pontificate, or even attempts at bushwhacking the self-proclaimed experts who populate all corners of the Internet.

A real tyro needs this basic information just to get started. Magazines like Model Railroader & Railroad Model Craftsman and 'getting started' books by Kalmbach & Carstens Publishing excel at presenting introductory material in an easy-to-digest, highly pictorial manner. The big trouble you run into on a typical forum is that one seemingly simple question will generate dozens of responses, often contradictory or even incomprehensible to a newbie. It's great if the inquirer can manage to sift through the resulting text to figure out what to do but it may leave them more confused and worse off than they started.

For many of these questions, the answer is going to be based on personal preference (what scale, what colour, what era) and no one (especially a stranger, even an expert one) will be able to tell you what your personal likes and dislikes are. The newbie will simply have to decide for his or herself. This will require personal effort in historical research, visits to clubs/layouts/real locations, watching videos, and simply reading books & magazines on the subject(s) coupled with some trial-and-error, hands-on work in order to get some idea of what's involved and how capable you are.

Once the initial hurdles of a) simply understanding model railroad specific terms and phrases, and b) learning about your own preferences are overcome, the newbie will be able to ask some informed questions and (hopefully) make better sense of the answers. Choice of an approach (freelance, prototype, protolance) and an honest evaluation of your own skills will shake out some of the remaining details (era, theme, turnout #'s, rail code, etc.)

The Internet has made it tremendously easy to cast a question out into a vast pool of knowledge but it useful to remember that, when fishing in a pool, you do not always hook into something you can digest. Don't rely on others to tell you what to do, or expect the "right" answers to arrive at the surface without getting your own feet wet.