Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Please let me explain..

OK, I'll admit I might have lost a few people with all the math flying around in the last post.  There is an easier way to set your loop levels, especially if you are building a conventional style helix.  My reason for using the formulas I described in the last post was because of my need to keep track of what the ruling grades would be climbing the backbone helix.  Like I stated yesterday, building a backbone helix, with it's alternating inside then outside loops, is like building a helix with loops separated by a wall.  It's harder to keep things lined up and accurate when you have that wall separating the loops.

On a conventional helix your ruling grade will be dictated by the radius your using, and the amount of separation you want to have between loops.  The NMRA clearance standards state no less than 3" between loops, and that's only good for steam era equipment.  If you're doing a more modern era, you need more clearance.  I wanted 4" of clearance between where the loops crossover.  I like the Ma & Pa's CF7 diesels from a more modern era (if you classify 1980's as modern) and maybe once in awhile I might want to run a more modern op session, but that would be in the future.  I'm still in the process of building my steam era roster so any purchases of modern equipment will definitely have to wait. 

Ma & Pa CF7 with a face only a mother can love :)  I think they look cool.

But planning for more modern equipment with their clearance issues now makes it possible to run them later, if the desire arises.

So where was I?  Oh yeah.. if you know what radius your going to use, and what clearance you will need between decks, it's an easy matter of setting the beginning loop level like this:  Using my clearance standard of 4" as an example, set up one full loop to start with.  Divide the loop into quarters.  At the 1/4 mark you will need to be at 1" of rise, at the 1/2 mark you need to be at 2" of rise, 3/4 mark 3" of rise.. get it?  Pretty simple and if you take your time and set the bottom level grade carefully, the rest of the helix will follow easily, especially if you use wood block risers cut to 4" to hold up the next levels.  An example of what this looks like can be found in this video by Jeff Johnston. 

He also had an article on building his helix in the April 2008 issue of Model Railroader.  Hopefully, if your building a more conventional helix, my simplified explanation helps.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Progress? or the Helix Revisited...

Things have finally calmed down around here.  I was able to spend some time working on the layout yesterday and today. 

Every time I've looked at the helix over the past couple of weeks since the work session, I've sensed something not right with it.  I started to lay out the next sections and came to the realization that the last loop wasn't going to be quite at the right height to meet up with the top deck.  But why?  I did the math, and 4 loops at the given radii and height separations should have gotten me there with a little extra wiggle room too.

As I started rechecking what we did, I noticed that some parts of the loops looked steep and some looked level.  I ran my torpedo level over the inclines, and indeed there were places that were perfectly level (in fact one spot on the inner loop went downhill for a short distance) so the problem seems to be that we didn't get a consistent grade going up the first part of the helix as we built it.  I think part of the problem is the type of helix this is.  It's hard to gage how it's going when one loop is basically on the other side of a wall (the backbone).  Going into the whole process of trying to build this type of helix I knew I would be flying in the dark, not having any reference material to work from as a guide, and I would have to try to get it done by trial and error.

Just like any other type of helix design you need to get the first loop perfect, then theoretically the next loops should line up perfectly.  What I need to do is unfasten the first two loops from the backbone and adjust them.  While I contemplated doing this I was drawn back to one of the ideas I had when I originally was thinking about how to build this type of helix, and that was to connect all the levels from bottom to top, then starting from the top, work backwards, and adjust each level till I had the right grade and level separation. 

First I re-did some math to help me determine how to set my grades: the formula I used is Rx2x3.14 (pi) to determine the length of the run of an entire loop.  In the case of the outer loop it worked out like this: 34" radius x 2=68x3.14 (pi)= 213.52" circumference.  When your figuring out grades you figure it this way: Gradient(%) = Rise / Run.  In other words a 1% grade then is: 1 inch Rise in 100 inches Run.  In my case  I needed a 4" separation where the inner and outer loops cross.  This should work out to be a tiny bit over 2% so in 100" of run on the outside loop (a tiny bit less than 1/2 way around) I need that side of the loop to be 2" higher than the starting point on the other side of the loop.  I marked the 100" mark on the backbone for reference on the outer loop so I'd know where to measure for the 2" difference. 

I then did the math for the inner loop 30"x2x3.14 (pi) which gave me 188.4" circumference.  I marked the 100" point on the inside loop which was approximately just over the half way point (94.2" is the official half way point).  The inside loop, because of the tighter radius works out to be a steeper grade, but still comes in at just under 2.25% which is acceptable. 

I connected the very top loop to a riser that is the height of the top deck and started working my way back from there.  Knowing I need to be 2" lower at the half way point allowed me to get the grade more even.  I attached temporary 8" risers under the roadbed so once I have the whole loop where I need it, it's just a matter of raising the next outside loop to the bottom of the temporary risers to get that level at the right gradient.  I only got the first upper loop done, but I will also do the same process for the inside loops.

Here you can see the temporary risers.  Once the top and bottom outside loops are at the proper height and grade, I'll fasten them to the backbone and remove the temporary risers.

I'm hoping this is the fix, and that the helix will be done on the construction side soon.  I can then lay down some track, and test it out to make sure everything works out the way I want it too.

Today I also took an inventory of all the Fast Tracks turnouts I have built to date to see how many more of each type I need to build.  I figured out I need 3 more left hand and 5 more right hand turnouts. I started cutting and laying out the pieces I need to build two more in my #6 turnout jig.

My entire inventory of right and left hand #5 and #6 turnouts built with my Fast Tracks jigs.

I also have 10 Central Valley #6  flexible turnout kits that I haven't had the courage to try and build yet.  I had bought them for a good price and I know I need at least one curved turnout.  I might try and tackle one this week.  I'll let you know how it turns-out.  Hey!  A model railroad pun! ;)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sad day for us..

There hasn't been much in the way of work on the layout so I haven't had much to write about.  We had been dealing with my better half Amy's Step Father being operated on for cancer last week, and his being in the hospital since then. 

Today we lost him to complications and heart failure.  It had looked up until yesterday that he was starting to get better, but early this morning he passed on.  It was, and is a shock to us, and we are all trying to come to grips with what just happened.  Uncle, as I called him (a term the younger generation in Chinese culture use for older generation males not related to them as a sign of respect) will be missed by us all.   I know the family will get through this, but it's always hard when things like this happen, especially around the holidays.

No work on the layout Sunday, just ran trains..

This past Sunday I took the day off from building in order to participate in an op session on my friend Ted Pamperin's  C&O New River and Alleghany Subdivision layout.  He models from Alleghany to Clifton Forge WV and also models a good portion of the Manns Creek RR in HOn3 with an active interchange between the two railroads. I'm a regular operator there (you will usually see me operating the west end of Hinton Yard) and he runs the third Sunday of the month.  Though I didn't get anything done Sunday on my layout, it's always a welcome break to get out and run some trains on someone else's layout. 

Ted's layout is well designed and lots of fun to operate on.

Sewell WV at the coal loader and coke plant.

Same place at Sewell looking towards the Manns Creek RR interchange.

The engine house at Thurmond WV.
My friend Ralph Heiss took some nice pictures at the op session and I will post them one day when he sends them to me.  If you ever have the chance to see Ted Pamperin's C&O I'd highly recommend you do. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The aftermath...

Sunday my head finally stopped spinning from Friday's work session.  The session went far better than I could have hoped for, but as my friend Jim Fawcett stated in a conversation the other day, it was chaos. :)  The good kind, if there is such a thing. 

So Sunday I went back into the basement and worked on installing the double wide section that contains the engine house, and roundtable.  Plus it's the section of the layout where the main branches off from the yard and heads towards the removable sections that will contain the York, PA station and PRR interchange/active staging table.

I had connected legs to the center of the double section and strengthened them with two metal angle brackets similar to the ones used to hold up the top deck.  I hung this section on the brackets, and then bolted the connecting sections to each side of it.

Double wide section in place and being checked to make sure it's level.

Final section is bolted to the other side.  Now all of the bottom deck is installed.

Once this section was in place I worked on some issues that were brought up at the work session by Ted Pamperin and Jim Fawcett.  Both were concerned that since extra weight was added to the top of the helix frame, the legs were starting to flex a little.  So I added angled bracing to stop this movement. 

Another area that I'm working on at their urging is to get rid of some of the flexing we were noticing when you press down on the shelf bench work.  The problem seems to be with the brackets flexing a bit when leaned on (The obvious answer would be NOT to lean on them, but it's probably a good idea to stiffen them up because you know someone, whether during an operating session, or work session, will inevitably will do just that) so legs will be added on each corner of long sections.  Since the bottom deck will have skirting I'm not worried about how a few legs will look on the layout. For extra bracing up on the top deck, I'll possibly use something I saw in Tony Koester's Multi Deck Layout Book, that John Rogers did on his last layout, using a large carpenter's square as a bracket strengthener.

This is the type of carpenter's square John Rogers used for his upper deck support.  A 16"x24" one goes for just under $6.00 on Amazon.

I figure 4 of these will do the trick.  I will have one on each end of top deck/shelves along the two walls.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Helix's day of reckoning..

The dust has finally settled after Friday nights work session.  I'd like to give you a detailed description on how exactly we got the helix built to its present state.. BUT.. How do I describe the indescribable?

  • indescribable - defying expression or description; "indefinable yearnings"; "indescribable beauty";    "ineffable ecstasy"; "inexpressible anguish"; "unspeakable happiness"; "unutterable contempt"; "a thing of untellable splendor"

As we wrestled with how to go about building something none of us ever built before, let alone even having any guidelines or instructions on how to build it, the crews thoughts throughout the night probably encompassed just about every one of those definitions stated above. 

We talked about and debated over what our plan of attack would be for about 25 minutes.  We finally chose how we would start and went on from there.

First, let me introduce the cast of characters who braved the Parkway South traffic to venture down below New Jersey's version of the Mason Dixon Line (The other side of the Driscoll Bridge which crosses the Raritan River).  Craig Bisgeier (of Housatonic RR fame), Tom (we call him lovable Tom) Callan, Jim Fawcett (No relation to Farah), and Ted Pamperin, who has a beautiful layout based on the C&O New River and Alleghany Subdivision, set in the winter of 1943.  There is no way I could have gotten this helix started and built to its present state if it hadn't been for their help.  This hobby is always at its funnest when I'm around these guys.  And, as I said would happen, I heard the phrase, "who cares, it's only Ted's layout", plenty of times.  Paybacks a bitch..

So.. I think I'll try to show what we did Friday through the pictures I took, and I will do my best to describe how we did what we did..

First we laid out the inner and outer helix loops on the frame.  I was trying to give the guys an idea on how the backbone helix concept worked.  In this picture, Tom Callan and Ted Pamperin.

There was quite a bit of discussion on how to start. In this picture: Craig Bisgeier and Tom Callan. 

It was decided that we'd screw together two full loops, one inside, one outside, then set the elevations by temporarily adding risers to get the first two loops at the proper height and grade.

Jim Fawcett was the first one cast into.. uh I mean.. to crawl into the pit.  Here Jim starts to set the first elevations for the loops.

While the backbone style helix's design advantage is that you have double the space between loops that are on the same side of the backbone (in the case of this helix 8"), you still have one very short section that you have to worry about having adequate clearance.  It was important we made sure there was proper clearance (4" minimum) at the point where the outer loop crosses over the inner loop. 

Ted Pamperin carefully set the height of the first inner loop.  He and Tom checked both the height and the grade (Tom brought along a grade measuring level).

Tom secures the temporary riser under the inner loop as Craig starts to set the height on the first outer loop.  Though both loops will be separated by the masonite backbone eventually, we still want to have each 4" higher than each other.

Once we were happy with the height and grade of the first two loops we inserted the masonite backbone between them.  Small blocks were glued and screwed onto the bottom of the loops in short intervals, and then screws were driven from the opposite side of the backbone, into the blocks.  These are what holds each loop up.

Tom is double checking the grade on the first outer loop.  We decided to leave the riser in on the bottom outside loop.

Tom is thinking "Is this thing actually gonna work?  Why did I agree to come here anyway? Will the Johnnie Walker Black run out before we finish?" :)

And this is why you ALWAYS wear safety goggles. Don't worry.  Craig didn't get hurt. :)

With the helix being half way to completion, here is a look at the back half.  You get a good feel for how each loop crosses over the other.

The end result of Friday night's work.  The helix is halfway to completion and you can see how it's going to look.  By the way, the casters really helped out with the construction.  We were able to roll the whole helix into the middle of the room so we could have access all the way around it.

I have to say we started this not knowing if first:
  • We can come up with a way to build this helix,
And second:
  • If we'd be able to pull it off even if we had an idea on how to get started. 
We were all amazed when we finished for the night, and we congratulated each other on our accomplishment.  I was joking around that I must be a genius, but then again, so was Wiley Coyote.. and we all know how that always turned out. ;)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hanging in the basement...

I had a rare moment of motivation (often lacking on weekday evenings do to my schedule and workload during the week) and went down to the basement Monday night to get things ready for Friday’s work session.  Mainly I wanted to move some furniture and other things around to make space for the crew to be able to work on the helix.  I had a bunch of sections that were finished, and ready to be hung, which were leaning against one wall.  I decided to hang them on the brackets in their final locations.  I was able free up a lot of space in the room by doing this.  As a bonus,  with the exception of the double wide section where the York Engine house is located, the pieces that go between the two walls and bridge the opening across the sump pump closet, and two more sections that still needs to be built, most of the layout is now up.  Once the helix is done, I can connect it and start laying roadbed and track on much of the layout.

Upper and lower decks in place, just off where the helix will connect.

Both decks on the back wall.  The lower deck, where York Yard will be located is just missing the double wide piece where the engine house and the mainline branch off to the PRR Interchange.  (Yes, the sombrero still hangs there, but it's days are numbered :)

Just a few more sections need to be added then we'll be ready to lay track in earnest!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sections get tops and the Helix gets its legs..

Today I worked on the layout on and off between errands.  In the morning I worked on cutting the Styrofoam I had picked up at HD earlier in the week to fit the tops of the remaining sections that needed them.  You'll notice I'm using the pink stuff for these sections, but it's not by choice.  The local Lowes in Old Bridge was one of the casualties of the 20 stores Lowes closed last month.  It was conveniently located for me, but I always did notice not too many people were ever in there compared to the local HD.  I like the foam Lowes sells under their own name.  It comes in 4'x8' sheets and works out to be a few dollars cheaper than the Owens pink foam sold at HD (which only comes in 2'x4' sheets).  There's another Lowes further out in Holmdel, but I got lazy, and I went to the HD close by work instead.

The new Styrofoam pieces cut and ready to be glued to the sections.

After a fun trip to Costco (I just love getting run down by shopping carts, pushed by frenzied shoppers, rushing for the next batch of samples just hot out of the microwave) I glued down the the Styrofoam that I cut to size earlier in the day onto the top of the last remaining sections that still needed them.  I have about 4 more sections I need to build, but I'm out of my stockpile of Gator Foam pieces that came from the original sheets Ted Pamperin gave me.  A few of the guys in the group are looking to buy some, so we'll probably split a case from the local supplier in Hillside NJ.

Here are the last five sections with the foam tops glued on and waiting to dry.

After dinner I went back into the basement and worked on getting the space the helix will occupy ready. 

The furniture has been moved and the space is now ready for work on the helix to begin.

I flipped the helix upside down and attached the rolling legs at the inside corners of the pit (the pit is the inside of the helix).

The legs are attached at the pit's corners.  I screwed the legs on in two different directions and they are surprisingly sturdy.  I might still brace them but they do not flex at all now.

Once I attached the legs and made sure the whole structure was level, I rolled the helix frame into its final resting spot to see how it looks there.  When it's time to build the backbone on top, I'll roll it out to the middle of the basement so we can work on it easily.  

Some of the guys from our round robin group will be coming over this Friday, and hopefully we'll get the backbone and roadbed installed.  Once this is done I will roll the helix back and lock the wheels. 

The helix frame rolled into the spot where it will reside once it's fully completed.

I'm excited about finally getting the helix up soon!  Once it's in place, I can hang the rest of the sections and start laying track.  I can hardly wait!