mystery multiplication

Earlier this year I set out to clear some space on the book shelves. Duplicates & the merely unwanted were to be done away with. This newly freed space would allow for the excavation of boxes containing my long buried books. There were more books than free space, I'm afraid.

The first batch was easy; about 3 cubic feet of duplicate Model Railroader & Railroad Model Craftsman magazines, mostly from the 50/60/70's timeframe. They went to a single mum's 12 year old railroader. Apparently the first thing he did was start sorting them into the correct date order...

The next batch was a whopper; about 10 cubic feet of MR, RMC, Model Railroading and Railmodel Journal. With the pending release of the MR DVD set, there was no need to keep the paper versions on-hand despite a preference for the tactile experience of reading the real thing. These all went to a young pastor who's just starting out in the hobby. I thought this was the last of them.

Early last week a pile of boxes were shuffled to reveal another 3 cubic feet of MR from the 80/90's time frame. These went off to the first young recipient, who by now has finished perusing the older issues and passed quite a number of them on to an 80 year old modeller who has a decided preference for the older columnists and authors.

Just today, a final pile of boxes was moved to reveal yet another cache of MR, RMC, and miscellaneous railroad titles. Oddly enough, I have no real recollection of these arriving on site. Some of the RMCs have taken residence on the shelf to fill in the gaps, but the rest are going to have to go. 4 more cubic feet; 20 in total.

I am not about to calculate the remaining (wanted) publication's space consumption; questions you don't want to hear the answers to shouldn't be asked...


a new blog

The S Scale Workshop, returning victorious from their recent trip to Milwaukee's Trainfest, thought it would be nice to have a group blog to collect progress reports, share information, make product announcements and so on. I've set one up here -
- so please drop in and say hello if you get the chance...


re musings

It may be obvious to some that the subject of modular, portable layouts weighs heavily on my mind.

I have been posting my thoughts on the matter and these, while not definitive or exhaustive, represent the lessons learned from a few years of effort (and numerous observations) in the field.

The most recent posting are, as yet, very rough. I wanted to get them out depsite incompleteness. Sometimes it helps to actually see what one is thinking about in order to better organise thoughts.

I will be editing these entries to add more content, links, and (hopefully) diagrams to clarify and expand on various points.


the incredible shrinking train show

The 2-day Toronto Christmas Train Show has diminished in size yet again. Fewer vendors, fewer exhibitors, and fewer attendees. The admission price remains high, and the on-site food remains poor value for money.

The organisers saw fit to call it quits at 4:00 PM today, an hour earlier than usual. No reason was given.

At least one vendor was overheard to say, 'if this year is worse than last, it's my last show here'. Not a good sign.

Due to overlapping schedules this weekend, for once I wasn't present for assembly and will not be there for tear-down of the layout. I managed to make enough time to operate (to allow for a break for the other guys) and share a meal with the crew today. I enjoyed the partial day out with my friends very much, but the meager offerings and reduced overall footprint this year is the least inspiring yet.

With the recent demise of the CHRA Spring Train Show, this is the last big event left in the area. No attraction sets it off from other shows. Little or no promotion seems to be done to encourage attendance. There is no incentive for exhibitors to continue their efforts. What is there to tempt any but the die-hards?

If this is the Christmas Show, where is Santa? Ah yes, he's off at his parade downtown. Perhaps this show could be better timed to ensure his availability? Maybe his people could contact the show people and make suitable arrangements...

Why so few vendors, exhibitors and attendees? It's a good bet that half of the candidates were at the other end of the city, visiting the 2-day Whitby Train Show which, for some bizarre and unfathomable reason, is scheduled to occur on the same weekend for the 3rd or 4th year in a row. How this benefits either event is entirely beyond me.

I greatly doubt that anyone will mourn the ultimate loss of this particular show; it has virtually ceased to serve a useful or constructive purpose. A shame, really. Most of the locals used to look forward to this annual event.

modular musings, part 3 (electrical)

If you can't get the control signals or power to the locomotives, all the mechanical construction effort is for nought. I will discuss electrical aspects with DCC in mind.

You need to have robust connectors, able to manage the high current draws:
i.e. Anderson, Cinch-Jones, trailer...
Each have their beneifts and drawbacks. Any one of them can be "bad" if they are not used properly.

What about power districts? Modern sound equipped locos can draw significant amounts of power, and having a short at one end of the modular layout should not disrupt activity at the other end.
- maximum track buss length for each booster should be less than 50'

Employ 'unique' connectors at the interfaces to prevent mix-ups. Throttle buss, track buss, and accessory power buss should NOT be able to be connected to each other. Throttle buss cabling is usually something like a Telco RJ12, so that's not too difficult to keep apart. However, you must bear in mind that there are 'straight through' and 'crossover' versions of typical Telco and Datacom cables - beware mixing them in a daisy-chain!


If you choose to use something like an Anderson Powerpoles for both the track and accessory wiring  harnesses, ensure that you use different dovetailed plug arrangements for each.

Hermaphrodite connections saves 1/2 your material costs for electrical hardware, and is especially useful in Free-mo 180° end-for-end flip situation.

Make troubleshooting provisions from the beginning. Nothing takes more time than tracing an electrical  fault. Employing quick disconnects, terminal blocks, and nicely dressed colour coded wiring will help but remember that each break in the wire (for a connector, plug or whatever) is another potential point of failure. Also, DO NOT make something that only one person can fix, and DO NOT rely on proprietary "gizmo" solutions.

- buzzer box
Radio Shack buzzer + 2 alligator leads for track laying
see "Testing" section of http://www.wiringfordcc.com/track.htm

- buss run AWG
Heavy, stranded, Landscape wire (designed for outdoor use, thick insulation, high amp/low volt)

- track buss taps
3M IDC Suitcase connectors,
Telegraphers "tap" slice (aka Western Union joint in some circles)

- track feeders AWG
light, short (less than 6"), solid

Keep accessory power draws OFF the DCC buss! DCC is for loco power & layout communication only! If you're wondering why you loco is behaving erratically, maybe you should disconnect the 'welding flicker' and 'telegraph sounder' from your track buss. Electrical noise coupled-in to the command signals is BAD. The decoders determine what to do through edge-detection in the DCC signal. Don't add to the noise by tacking on a bunch of animated elements. A DC or AC wall-wart adaptor, or an old PC power supply (with PWRGOOD mod) will run all your online accessories.

- Loconet buss termination
A properly sized resistor at the end of the track buss will help reduce or eliminate ringing & overshoot of the DCC signal. Early Tsunami decoders were susceptible to overvoltage/spikes, causing premature failure in some cases. Spikes can hit over 22V on a DCC system set for 16V output.

- communication buss
With the advent of full-duplex radio, it may be that you don't need this on the layout. However, there is no need for the expense of radio throttles at yard locations. Adding a few plug-in throttle jacks won't hurt, and may help to reduce radio interference at larger shows.

If you are going to add throttle jacks to your modules, put two at opposite diagonal corners of the module set. This ensures that, whatever the orientation, there are jacks at even spacings around the layout. You won't have far to move if you need one.

- DCC vs DC
will depend on # of simultaneous locos & operators

- getting power to the layout
anti-trip mats to run power cable through, do not daisy chain extension cords, multi-tap AC cords

- turnout power
local adaptors, low volt AC buss, low volt DC buss, Tortoises vs solenoids (CD, SwitchWitch or Circuitron), servos (TamValley, AneModel)

- turnout control
DCC throttles, momentary buttons, toggles, computer, hand thrown, Pete's panel

- cables
making your own, 3-pair telco, x-over vs straight through, proper crimping tools

- test equip
RRAMp meter, Telco cable tester, hooking up UP5 LEDs, buzzer box, Digitrax LT1

sites for further study:


Circuitron "Snapper" cap-discharge solenoid driver:

Tractronics "SwitchWitch" stall motor driver:

RRAmp meter for DCC testing:

series 302 Cinch connectors:

Anderson Powerpole connectors & accessories:

R/C servomotor controllers for turnouts:

IDC Scotchlok connectors:


modular musings, part 2 (mechanicals)

The enemy is variation. Avoid dimensional softwood lumber for portable applications; continual changes in temperature and humidity wreak havoc with it. You may be well served to seal any wood to limit the effects of moisture (something like sanding sealer or shellac, perhaps); beware of acrylic coatings, the painted surfaces can stick to each other after being clamped together.

Goals are fast and repeatable setup, and optimal strength-to-weight ratio. Heading straight to "lightweight" can lead to fragile construction. It won't matter if it's light if the first time you clamp it to another module the endplates flex or rip right off, or you drop it and it turns into a pile of kindling.

Track expansion. Attach rails firmly above the interface (soldered to PCB tie plate or brass screws), and allow for rail gaps somehwere inside the MODULE confines.

PC board tie plates (Free-mo)

Thought points:
- (Simon's) profile blocks to ensure consistent rail height at each joint.
- A single socket directly below the main line. Fit pin as needed to align to next section or module.
- Minimum number of tracks crossing any joint.
- Solid vertical member under the subroadbed itself to prevent sagging.
- Track must be 90°to both the horizontal and vertical planes at each INTERFACE.
(an INTERFACE differs from a SECTION JOINT, as a MODULE differs from a SECTION)
- Maple Leaf Mafia aluminium CNC frames

Avoid using porous material in the subroadbed, especially if you use the water soluble method of applying ballast or scenery near the track. Absorbed water tends to swell and distort the material. Using soap or alcohol to cut surface tension just makes it easier for the water to get in.

90° ends are critical everywhere. Setup & check your chop saw carefully. Verify the alignment with a proper try square and the cut-flip-match method of ensuring 90°. Cut matching sides and ends in pairs (at least). Mark what they are for. Clamp up and assemble frame pieces on a flat surface. Check 90° Horiz & Vert again. Get the frame dead square! Apply top and/or corner gussets. Route off edges of top with laminate trimmer bit (if it has a flat deck).

The primary mechanical goal is to ensure accurate track alignment across the joints. The secondary goal is an even fascia for the sake of appearance. Scenic continuity can be accomplished through application of loose material along the joint after assembly. Keep some spice tins or shaker bottles of each type of material handy in your toolbox for shows. Accuracy can be a problem if many people are making their own modules; everyone executes cutting and fitting tasks at their own skill level.

Low density self-adhesive foam weatherstrip can be used to take up the eventual (hopefully minimal) gapping at the joints. This stops loose scenic material placed on the joint for exhibition from falling through to the floor. Do not use thick or high density foam, you don't want to make the gap bigger (foam tape the perimiter of the end board to create even compression).

Pierre Oliver, master carpenter and owner of Elgin Car Shops, recommends cabinet grade plywood ripped to appropriate widths for all framing members. There are no voids or inclusions, and the multiple plies offer greater dimensional stability.

Creating the boards: Take the ripped plywood and make a frame. Add braces across the width. Stanley corner brackets or gussets should be applied to ensure squareness and add screw locations. Keep clamping & cable area at MODULE and SECTION joints clear.

Fastening the MODULES or SECTIONS together: Quik-Grip clamps. Try to clamp immediately below the track itself. C-clamps need more clearance for the lever arm. Loose bolts, washers & wing nuts - adds to part count and things that can go missing. T-nuts (or threaded inserts) and furniture bolts can strip out or seize at inopportune times.

quick-attach adjustable legs - single pipe with foot, interchangable, retained (bayonet, squeeze fit, spring pin)


Lee Valley dowel pins, leg feet:

patternmakers pins, etc.:

make an accurate drilling jig, use drill bushings, store safely:

More thought points:
- dropping the egg crate example
- French cleat vs ledger board
- protect root of cleat (cover/scraper?)
- legs/supports
- tool-less height adjustments
- height adjustment at the top of the leg
- pads to protect floors (gymnasiums, churches, etc.)
- crowd barriers
- concrete post bases + ABS 'tees' with rope on a spindle (Jim)


a traumatic idea...

...for a portable exhibition layout.

It's always a bother to drag legs, skirting, and the boxed-up sections of your exhibition layout out, using a hand cart or simply lugging the dead weight of it all. Often you have to make two trips back and forth to the vehicle.

How about using an ambulance gurney frame as the basis of the layout? The rolling chassis would fold up as you shoved it into the back of your van or pickup, and unfold as you dragged it out. Then it would be easy to roll it from the parking lot up to the venue and into your assigned spot. Just lock the wheels and drop some skirting around the edge of the frame to cover the chassis.

The frame would support an approximately 24" x 72" layout. Plenty for an HO or OO shunting plan, or an N terminus or single industrial complex. You should even be able to make a nice O14 or O16.5 scene in this footprint.

But where would you buy a used gurney?


modular musings

Half of the S Scale Workshop crew are exhibiting at Milwaukee's TrainFest this weekend. The rest of us, being un-retired, are occupied with domestic chores and household tasks that are forcibly compressed (by dint of regular employment) into the weekends preceding the first major snowfall.

I am the group's primary nerd/geek. Knowing that I wouldn't be there to assist if the DCC system decided to throw a fit, I prepared some documentation for the guys to take with them to both simplify the setup and aid in troubleshooting. I also played a role in determining the electro-mechanical standards at the group's inception. After examining dozens of modular standards, we distilled what we considered (at the time) to be the best practises to follow in order to meet our needs. For the most part, we succeeded.

The absolute necessity of following proven methods for building a modular system cannot be overstated. Any flaw in a module will affect ALL of the others. "It ain't no fun if the trains don't run". Each module must meet (and preferably exceed) the minimum requirements in order for the whole system to work as intended.

No skimping on wiring or structure; no corner-cutting on fittings or fasteners. The pennies you save up front will be spent a hundred times over during the life of the project, and the aggravation caused will haunt operations to the bitter end. If you don't know how to do something that's been agreed to by the group, ask for help or have someone do that bit for you in exchange for you doing stuff they can't manage. Each person has a distinct skill set and no one can do everything perfectly. Share the load.

Things to consider to ensure consistency:
- settle on ONE coupler type, ONE turnout type, ONE turnout mechanism (Caboose Ind., Tortoise, Bullfrog, Bluepoint, etc), ONE wheelset; supplying spares is much easier if there aren't a mish-mash of choices
- buy components IN BULK and distribute as necessary; it saves money and time
- make JIGS to cut and drill components the same way each time; store these carefully between uses
- cut ALL of the module end plates at once; make a few extras for future expansion
- make ALL of the legs interchangeable; no "specials"
- use the PROPER crimping tool(s) for electrical connections; don't make do with generic pliers (or a hammer)*
- use ONE type of fastener for all of the legs, carrying cases, backdrops, section joints, etc; same head type and length**
- INSPECT & TEST each module as it is ready to put into service; don't simply assume it's been done right***

Things to consider to make life easier:
- DON'T design & build a module that you can't transport or erect safely
- make a CHECKLIST of everything you need to take; do not check off a box until you hold the item in your hand and put it in whatever carrying case is going to the venue
- TEST your power and DCC cables as part of preparing for a show
- bring SPARES of your fastener and cables
- TEST your module regularly; things get broken/come loose in transit

If you aren't having fun at the shows you attend with your modular group, you're doing something wrong. Figure out what it is and fix it. There's no sense in continuing the misery. If it's a systemic problem (like undersized wiring) schedule a group work session and get it ALL done at once. If it's a single bad turnout, a dip in the roadbed, a gauge problem, kinks in a curve or whatever - repair it before the next event or don't bring that section out to the show.

* Electrical problems, especially intermittent ones, are the MOST ANNOYING and time consuming problems to solve. You often can't see the fault because of insulation, backshells, or accessibility (under the deck or in the framing). Yes, some crimping tools are expensive, but it's a one-time cost that saves hours or days of future frustration. How much is your time worth? How much more do you value the enjoyment of your hobby time over that of the daily grind?

** Pierre Oliver, of Elgin Car Shops, is a Master Carpenter and theatrical set builder. If there is someone who knows more about constructing and moving robust sub-assemblies around, I haven't met them. This is his idea and I can find no fault with it. Hex head (Allen) furniture bolts are available (nearly) worldwide. Forget slot head and Phillips; too easy to slip or strip out. The Robertson head is superior, but isn't universally available.

*** Many people get bent out of shape when they are subjected to the indignity of a "quality check". TOUGH. Your components have to be "known good" in order to ensure a favourable experience for ALL of the participants. If you want to work with a group, put your primadonna attitude aside. You are not immune to errors, and you don't get to do something different (non-standard) just to show everyone how clever you are. It's a collective effort and you need to conform for the sake of consistency, reliability, ease of troubleshooting & repair, and the overall enjoyment of the group.


too bad, so sad,

bye bye.

The newbie's hand-me-down layout was not worth saving. It was a 5'x9' Granite Gorge & Northern from Altas' old "6 HO Railroads You Can Build"

When it was prepped for storage or moving, almost all of the wiring was torn out from underneath, the control panel was disconnected (cable cut) and the many bridges across the middle joint were very roughly removed. In the process, several sections of cork and track were damaged. The track was a mix of brass and nickel-silver; likewise the turnouts were from various manufacturers, in various states of repair.

I wasn't confident that this could be repaired easily. I knew the fellow was eager to run some trains, and it would be many hours of work for a newcomer to get this thing back in decent shape (if it could be saved at all). Frustration could set in very quickly, and I wanted to avoid yet another bad experience for a beginner.

Based on our discussion of what he was interested in (and his skill level), my recommendation was to scrap the top and replace it with a flat deck. Then obtain a starter set of either Kato Unitrack or Bachmann EZ-Track, a Bachmann Berkshire with DCC, and an NCE Powercab.

I found out that the local hobby shop had a single Kato World's Greatest Hobby starter track plan set left in stock and suggested that purchase to him. It was still in the shop on Friday, so I'm not sure where he's at with his activities.

tinkering, thinkering

I have been mulling over the idea of a "participatory event", hopefully assisted by the local hobby shop. The concept is to pre-package enough plywood and track for anyone to build a T-Trak module in N scale. It wouldn't be a contest so much as a way to develop modelling skills and encourage a bit of diversity within the area's exhibition landscape. At the end, all modules would come together in a group display. Perhaps a popular vote would be held, but certainly a reward of some kind would be dispensed to all participants.

Many newcomers to the hobby are overwhelmed by the idea of a large, home layout. Some intermediate modellers stall in their thought processes. Long-timers may wish to dabble in something else; "a change is as good as a rest", it is said. City dwellers and young people relying on public transit find it difficult to move large modules. All of these people would (likely) benefit from interaction with like-minded modellers. A small project like this would offer a kickstart or development platform.

T-Trak offers an incrementally-sized base to build upon, starting at about a foot square. The material requirements for baseboards are minimal; no legs and only a simple box frame. Track requirements are similarly light; parallel (at each end) Kato Unitrack components. It may be possible to provide a kit of essential parts for as little as $25. Modules are connected together on, and supported by, the ubiquitous 30" high folding-leg tables lurking at exhibit & conference halls.

The event organiser would have to provide four corners and one straight section in order to guarantee that any number of participants could be provided for during the culminating exhibition. Tying-in with a large local train show would be the best course of action; many modellers would be in attendance anyway, and the display could be seen by the largest number of visitors. I would recommend the "33mm spaced centre" version of the T-Trak build, so that many of Kato's accessories could be incorporated without modification.

Kato's track products are, frankly, some of the best in the hobby. My recent experiments with their N Unitrack sections have proved pleasant and trouble-free. I was able to have a long-idle locomotive running on a loop of track in mere minutes. While the pre-ballasted track sections are not preferred for many advanced techniques used by "serious" hobbyists, they provide a good looking basis for reliable and consistent running - minimising disappointment and maximising the fun factor; crucial elements for newcomers to the hobby.


coulda, woulda, shoulda, didn't

I actually turned down the offer of many dozen Railfan & Railroad magazines (in proper binders) the other day. Who would have thought I'd reject yet more reading material? Could've taken up the space I just emptied last week...

Did receive 3 volumes published by Wild Swan in the UK from a bookseller I haven't dealt with before, British Railway Books. Great service. Two are by Gordon Gravett on 7mm Modelling techniques, and the third is about Narrow Gauge Modelling in the British style. If I was ever required to get rid of all my reference material except one source, I would keep the Wild Swan books.

Missed a chance to buy something that is now out of stock everywhere. Hadn't thought a mass-market item would disappear so quick. I guess times really are changing; even large manufacturers are no longer making thousands of the same SKU only to have the remainder sit on their shelves for years. Should get stuff while you can.

A portion of our S Scale group will be in Milwaukee for Trainfest next weekend. I expect about 30' of modules will make the 800+ km journey to the show. I didn't book time to go, as I couldn't justify the trip; too many other things requiring attention and funds at the moment.


space, man

As in "making some".

Finally divesting myself of all my Model Railroader magazine back issues. The disappearing paper spans the 1957 through 2009 timeframe. This equates to about 10 ft³ of volume that can be used for other things or, indeed, for nothing at all. I may obtain the entire MR collection on DVD at some point in the future. The Trains! collection on DVD is a useful reference, but I don't find myself accessing it as much as I had thought.

I still obtain the Kalmbach Special Issues and Model Railroad Planning annuals; they are good distillates of theme-based material.

The recipient of the magazines is looking forward to browsing the many articles and photographs. He's new to the hobby and is eager to devour any information he can find. I will have to point him at the searchable indices online in order to help him find articles by topic. His plans at the outset seem fairly modest; focusing on the 1950's era with no particular prototype in mind (yet).

I've offered to cast an eye over the 5'x9' hand-me-down layout that he recently obtained; may be better for him to start fresh than try to resurrect it - I get the impression this pike has seen better days. I know he'd like to have a train running sooner rather than later.



Had a great time at the 2nd annual "CanAm S Scale Social" near Port Dover today. Fantastic to see so many S Scale modellers all in one place. Must have been 2 dozen of us from the northern US and Ontario, Canada gathered in fellowship to celebrate our shared interest. On hand were some great examples of modelling skill, ingenuity, and perseverence.

A homemade luncheon was provided and everyone were able to spend time furthering international relations. It was very nice to see some attendees from last years event, become acquainted with some new people, and finally put faces to the names of long-time correspondents.

I was able to obtain some much-needed detail parts and a passenger car for a future project bash. Other swap'n'sell table items certainly tempted, but forbearance was the watchword.

This event, organised by a local enthusiast, has all the makings of an eagerly anticipated yearly pilgrimage. Indeed, thoughts of what could be done for "next time" have begun to percolate in the ol' brain pan.


in & out

Over the past week or so, many things have changed hands.

Outgoing, a hard-to-find locomotive kit that I may possibly slightly occasionally regret parting with later but is now in better hands. Several pieces of RTR rolling stock and a few kits that never quite "made the grade" are also gone. My S scale module has found a home with a new owner and, outside, a nettlesome pile of scrap metal has moved on to the big rust pile in the sky. Existing books and magazines have been thinned, if only a bit.

Incoming, a lovely On30 caboose built by Jeff Young rests on the shelf next to a hard-to-find copy of Bob Turner's "Skyline Limited" book on the Kaslo & Slocan Ry. A significant pile of pine 1x? lumber has taken up residence in the garage pending future uses too numerous to mention. On the floor, not quite underfoot, sits a mint condition MIG welder and a plethora of accessories that I won't even be able to put to use until new wiring is installed out to the breezeway. To cap it off, an ex NorTel 140 lb black granite surface plate made it down the stairs and into the shop. However, for some odd reason, roughly 75 pounds of printed periodicals showed up in five boxes while my attention was momentarily elsewhere.

This is all leading towards a future state which I'm fairly certain will be beneficial and more satisfying than the current one.

Sort, Stabilise, Shine, Standardise, Sustain.


it's the most wonderful time...

Well, it could be the most wonderful time of the year.

Train show season.

That is, if the shows were good. Most of them are not. Sad but true, for our locale anyway.

The same tired displays, the same tired exhibitors, and the same tired excuses.
No shopping deals, and no squeals of delight from any but the youngest attendee.

Planning to make it to the Brampton show next week for a brief visit. This was a decent event last year so I am looking forward to the upcoming one. The 2nd "S Scale Social" looms in October, but this is not an 'open' soirée. Certainly there will be a regular visit to Copetown and a return to Narrow Gauge Madness in 2012 (but that's an eon away).

The Christmas Train Show, on the other hand, does not beckon. It desperately needs a complete overhaul of its premise, presentation, and participation. With the demise of the Spring CRHA Show, this is the only big event in the region. For at least the last two years, the event planners have managed to arrange it for the same weekend as another train show at the other end of the city AND the primary Santa Claus parade for the whole area - thereby splitting the attendance of vendors, exhibitors, and punters. The entry fee remains too high, the on-site food price remains too high, and the consideration for the exhibitors remains too low.

The trouble is, a group of people who are going to put the hobby ahead of the pure profit has to step up and do what's needed to sort this all out...

up 'n running

Dad had converted an On30 Bachmann 0-4-2 to a more British looking engine using a number of 1:43 Bagnall components from KeyKits in the UK (now sadly closed). He followed the general process outlined on Brian Fayle's website for the conversion itself.

The Bachmann porter has a number of features that make it a desirable engine, but also some that make it a royal pain in the posterior. One of the worst aspects is the close clearance of the rods to the cab structure. Over time the motion has become sloppier, resulting in reduction of free space between the moving and non-moving parts.

Finally, the engine just stopped moving, but the motor kept running. Essentially, because of the rod ends constant banging into the underside of the cab floor, the wheels got so badly out of quarter that the siderods jammed up and the drive gear on the axle spun. Not a good situation.

After a suitable period of squinty-eyed consideration, I was able to requarter and regauge the wheels, add a drop of CA to the ends of each axle, and grind a pair of clearance slots into the underside of the cab floor above the left and right rod ends. Reassembly yielded no unexpected spare parts and the engine actually runs better than it did when new, as there is no longer even a slight drag of the rods on the structure.


OO yes

A brass kit in OO scale, 3' gauge. It represents a Schull and Skibbereen railway coach from Ireland. The kit is available from Worsley Works in the UK.

Wheelsets, journal boxes, and buffers are extras; the kit is a pair of flat panel etched frets intended to get you going. The pieces are being joined together using acid flux and 63/37 solder.

Lots to learn putting together a kit like this. Most short run North American model kits are resin rather than brass, and the assembly techniques required are a little bit more esoteric than I am used to. It's been fun so far and, now that I've obtained the proper wheels, I can continue with the undercarriage pieces.

Lake Erie Aggregates

Here's a shot of my talented friend Jim Martin's On30 "Lake Erie Aggregates" micro layout. It won a top prize at last year's Schomberg Narrow Gauge show. The overall layout only measures about 2'x4', and is a point-to-point arrangement, in a "U" around the central backdrop. The careful thought Jim put into the planning and execution translated into a layout that looks bigger than it actually is, and successfully conveys a sense of place.

Jim is currently co-hosting The Model Railway Show podcast, and was a veteran radio broadcaster in his previous life. He's also building an S scale layout in his basement, incorporating the Port Dover module set which formerly accompanied our modular group to local shows.

wind from divest

Last weekend I packed up the S scale module set and carted it off to another caretaker. As part of the recent space-gaining process, I've found a new owner for the nearly 10' siding "S" curve. This doesn't mean a total withdrawal from S, or from the modular group. However I need to get on with certain tasks around the house, and the module sections were sitting smack dab in the middle of the projected work area. Mind you - so are a lot of other things, but the module was by far the biggest and most awkward to keep shoving around. It was going to get damaged or thrown out in a fit of pique.

Future state demands a smaller vehicle to offset rising commuting expenses, which would leave the module stranded in any case. At that point I'd be even harder pressed to be able to transport it to a new home. Better that someone has use of it than to have it idle or inadvertently injured. At some point after the purchase of an alternate vehicle and its capacity is assessed, a new module may indeed be built. Lessons learned from this build will help ensure a better product.

blog roll

New blogs to watch:

I've mentioned Trevor Marshall's new adventure story at:
Port Rowan in 1:64

Now Jim Lincoln has begun a record of his Proto48 efforts;
Deleware-Lackawanna in P48

I subscribe to many more blogs and, for the most part, enjoy the content. Better than traditional magazines in many ways because the material is likely to match my interests; after all I hunted down the blogs by keywords in the first place.


good, better, best

One of my former bosses once told me, "perfection is an obstacle to progress." To a certain extent, I have come to agree with this statement. Constant iteration of a single item in pursuit of the 'perfect' object means, effectively, that this item is never finished or (in some cases) ever brought to a useable condition. The idea that the NEXT instance of the item will be better than the last should not be ignored, however. There is no reason not to incorporate improvements in material, technique, or functionality when creating subsequent renditions.

I've also been battered about the head and neck with "The 3-Foot Rule". This states that if it looks OK from 3' away, it's good enough. This philosophy I have more of a problem with, as 'good enough' is a purely subjective measure. Also, the viewing conditions and eyesight of the beholder will vary, especially if the item in question is in any way portable or subject to public scrutiny. I maintain that, in order for it to look good at 3', it had better stand up well to even closer examination. We have no scale-sized atmospheric haze to soften the edges and dull the colours no matter how small we make our models, and the camera tells no lies.

'Good enough' is, at best, a sliding scale. Certainly something that was good enough when you were a relatively unskilled teen is not the same as good enough when you are a more experienced person? Surely no one pursues sport or games of skill with the battle cry, "Only as good as I did last time!" For my own part, I try to learn something from each endeavour that can be applied to future endeavours. Sometimes I have to look pretty close at what I've done to get a useful lesson out of it, but it's always in there - somewhere.

There is a sense of personal achievement in hobby pursuits that is often sadly lacking in most daily occupations and, it must be said, we need all the positive feedback we can get. Exercising the hands & the brain, shaping raw materials into finished objects that delight & inspire, teaching &/or learning new skills, possibly even creating a little order from the chaos - all laudable ways to spend time and energy - a lot of the experience can be transferred to other areas of your life in a beneficial manner.

However, if the goal of a pursuit is merely to kill some time, then you might as well have someone nail your box shut now and get it over with.


tick the boxes

In an effort to focus, pare down, and lighten up I've been considering what I like most in the hobby; a process brought on by having too much to think about, too much to choose from, and too much to complete. There is a primary pattern to the result, and it's narrow gauge. The themes include logging, mining, and industrial topics. There is little desire for a basement-filling empire, but a strong inclination to start the garden railway as soon as next Spring rears its head (and the ground dries up).

I'm much more interested in individual models than complete systems, and more inclined towards the critter than the Challenger. There are plenty of opportunities to work on other people's layouts, so not having anything more substantial than a micro or a few modules will be fine. Electrical, benchwork, and tracklaying tasks will all present themselves in sufficient quantity regardless of the scope of any one project. The decision to build kits rather than buying RTR has also allowed me to decide what stays and what goes.

Scale is not important on an individual level, as the large layout scenario is unlikely. Being able to dabble in 16mm or 7mm, 3/16" or 1:76 as the mood strikes has very broad appeal. I suspect that a display cabinet (or two) for finished items, coupled with a portable micro, a pair of modules, and a garden patch will be the end result of the soul searching...

project shuns

There are a few projects which I feel must be completed before too long. The first two, small efforts involve 3D modelling and brass kit building.

The former relates to the WDLR (War Department Light Railways) steel and wood wagon bogies. There are a few modellers who would like to be able to buy (nearly) RTR bogies for their 7mm scale models. I will be converting the available 2D files into 3D, and uploading them to a 3D print service. With planning and a bit of luck, this should be a straightforward excercise (despite a certain rustiness with the 3D side).

The latter involves a long-overdue review kit that was sent to me for evaluation. Apparently I was the only one foolish enough to think burnt fingers and strained eyes were a desirable experience. It is an Irish OOn3 (1:76 scale, 3' gauge) coach. The sides and ends of the structure have been cut away from their frets and soldered together with minimal damage to the thin plates. The under frame is awaiting W-iron and wheelset installation. I was fortunate to obtain properly gauged wheelsets and accompanying bearings from the UK.

Mac attack

Neglected to specifically mention that the G5 Mac power subsystem packed it in. After deliberation, and the trial of returning to daily WinTel usage, a Mac Mini was purchased. The recovery of all data from the Time Machine drive was so painless, so effortless, and so quick that it practically offset 1/2 the cost of the purchase purely in lost time savings. I had alloted 3 entire evenings to restore, reload, and reconfigure the data and computer to the previously known state - based on previous experiences recovering from WinTel failures. Much to my surprise and delight, the data reload, OS & application update, and Mail sync were all complete before 8:30 PM the first evening. Bewildering.

Of course, Apple has subsequently released an even better Mini but this is to be expected. I received sterling service from Computer Systems Centre on College St. in Toronto for both the LaCie Time Machine drive and the Mac Mini purchases.

It remains to be seen if the G5 can be economically repaired; it is still an able machine despite its age. The susbsytem fault could be on either the motherboard or inside the power supply itself; it is a known condition on certain builds. It is an intermittent fault condition and cannot be triggered at will, making diagnosis time consuming and tedious.

spatial opportunity

The impending release of Kalmbach's Model Railroader DVD set bodes well for the volumetrically challenged. Experience with the previously released Trains DVD set indicates that the useage pattern is reference and research, not relaxing reading. The intergrated ability to search the content is invaluable; offering an improvement over the online database searches which require you to then paw through the pulp stacks looking for the elusive issue. Switching to digital in this case should save me between 6-8 cubic feet of shelf space; a valuable commodity. If RMC, Mainline Modeler, and the NG&SL Gazette were similarly offered, a further 8-10 cubic feet could be reclaimed.



The Model Rail Radio podcast enjoyed its 2nd anniversary yesterday. A few hundred hours of model rail content now reside on the net for comment, conjecture, and consideration. It's been a blast talking to modellers from all over the planet; I've made many new friends and learned many useful details to aid my own efforts.

The 1st anniversary of The Model Railway Show rapidly approaches. This Hallowe'en will mark the occasion. A different approach to model rail audio, this professionally presented podcast is short and sweet. Many leading lights in the hobby have already appeared on the show, offering commentary on the past, present and future of our beloved pastime. I wish I could take credit for the content itself, but all I need do is nudge the odd electron or tweak the odd byte.

hack 'n slash

It must be that time again. An end of days for Trevor Marshall's On2 S&PCR model railway (rev 2) was marked by the destruction of the original piece of the first On2 layout. While I did my best to carefully unscrew the various electrical fittings, Tortoise machines, and pattern-makers alignment pins from the layout's shadow box frames, Trevor bashed mightily on the upper surfaces with hammer and cold chisel to release the signature structures so laboriously built and blended into the scene.

While this incident ends one saga, it begins another. I have been priviledged to work on several projects with Trevor, and the latest one will prove as rewarding as the preceding. Our involvement with the S Scale Workshop has exposed us to the wonderful modelling that is possible in 3/16" scale. Coincident with the acquisition of suitable motive power, Trevor has decided to assay a CN themed point-to-point and has begun to assemble a fleet of cars. You can follow this latest adventure at Port Rowan in 1:64


flea bitten

A second, semi-annual flea market has come and gone. Numbers do not tell the whole story. More material changed hands than the first event, but the volume occupied did not decrease as much as hoped. A reduction by 20% (one empty box of the 5 taken) will have to suffice.

Sadly, items anticipated as wanted did not move. Pricing was within market norms for most of the goods on display but I cannot yet bring myself to release certain pieces for virtually nothing. If I cannot recoup the amount I desire, I simply won't sell them.

The next market day has already been announced. Table price has increased. Past experience shows that the usual crowd of attendees are not looking for the goods I am selling, being somewhat esoteric compared to the regular fare. In a veritable sea of HO and N RTR plastic, I attempt to vend brass Sn2, non-Flyer S scale, On30 kits, detail parts, and niche magazines. A mug's game.

A more suitable venue must be found; it's simply not cost effective to sit largely idle for most of a day in the vain hope that someone equally offbeat and fainitly masochistic will waltz in and be smitten by a pretty pile of trinkets.

more of...

Many months of apparent intervening inactivity. Several things have come to light in the interim. The two main points:

1) More space is required, and
2) more time is required.

In order to make more of the first, certain things are being sold, donated, or simply discarded. A bit of progress with each facet has freed a portion of the total volume. More to come. The process of choosing what to rid oneself of can be painful, remorse-laden, and time consuming. The benefits, however, should outweigh the penalties.

You cannot make more of the second. There isn't any extra to be had - only what you are alloted by a higher order of being, or eke through pure luck of the draw. You can, though, reduce the demands on precious time by eliminating commitments, combining activities, and improving efficiency. I cannot honestly say that I have had much success in any of those avenues but, with further effort, I should gain ground in each area.


divide and conquer

The semi-annual Model Railroad flea market approaches. A table has been booked. A variety of items are gathered in boxes to be carted out and, with any luck, transferred to the possession of someone else. Just freeing up the space consumed will be a benefit, however a monetary gain will certainly be realised.

Recent consultations have all pointed to a need for tighter focus and drastic reduction in excess inventory. There simply aren't enough years in a life to undertake all of the projects one would like. Removal of distraction will, no doubt, be liberating.

A discussion overhead by a coworker has yielded an opportunity to provide a younger hobbyist with a significant amount (30+ pounds) of previously enjoyed reading material of the periodical variety. He'll have a big box of MR to peruse by tomorrow night...


on a positive note

public display failure
neighbourhood power failure
ABS plumbing failure
drainage failure
tractor drive belt failure
laptop battery failure
iMac power supply failure
medical system failure
appointment scheduling failure
employment ethics failure

but, frankly, the bacon was absolutely delicious