Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Helix Progresses, and Fast Tracks delivers!

I spent the better part of my free time (in between a trip to the Asian Food Supermarket to pick up stuff for the Chinese New Years dinner and watching the Giants beat the 49ers :) this past weekend working on finishing up the helix construction.  I went back and redid all the elevations starting over from the bottom, and worked carefully up till I reached the top level.  I now feel I have the grade that I wanted, and everything worked out exactly to where I originally calculated. 

Once I was satisfied that I finally had the grade and separations fixed, I worked on making the top outer loop wider to accommodate a passing siding.  When I originally did the track plan, I didn't have any passing sidings.  This wasn't so much an over sight as it was because I was following the actual Ma & Pa track diagrams for the section of the railroad I was modeling, and I didn't see any.  But after talking with some friends and really thinking about it for a while I decided I needed at least one, but where do I put it? 

This is where having a backbone helix with two outer loops exposed came in handy.  I'm putting the passing siding on the top loop, and it begins right where the top loop connects to the top deck and ends where the top loops starts to duck over the lower inside loop.  This gives me a siding that I can approximately fit a 15 car train with motive power and caboose, which is more than long enough for the trains I'm running.

Here is the helix and you can see where I widened the top loop to hold the passing siding.

I also started working on the lower, exposed outer loop.  This is where the station at Yoe PA will be located.  Yoe had a small wood framed station, that was located on a slight curve, and had what looked to be a team track also.  I think this scene will fit nice in that spot, and between it and the passing siding add more operation to the layout in a spot (the helix) that's usually wasted and hidden.  Hopefully now you understand why I went through all the trouble to build this kind of helix.

Yoe PA. Station photo (Courtesy of The Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad Preservation and Historical Society)

Yesterday I got one of my belated Christmas presents: Fast Tracks Twist Ties.  I had gotten some money for Christmas (ALWAYS the best present IMHO ;) and just before New Years, Fast Tracks was having a sale, 20% off Twist Ties and Quick Sticks if you ordered before Dec. 31st.  So on New Years Eve I placed my order and received enough Twist Ties to finish off every turnout I have.  I originally was just going to lay down individual ties and mount the turnout skeletons on them to save money but this was such a good deal, and they are so much more convenient to use, that I ordered the Twist Ties.  I saved about $50 and it will take a fraction of the time to finish off my turnouts.

Here are the Twist Ties from Fast Tracks.  I ordered number 5 and 6 Twist Ties and now enough for each turnout I have on hand now.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kung Hii Fatt Choi! Happy Chinese New Year!

Kung Hii Fatt Choi!  Which translated from Cantonese means "Congratulations and be prosperous!"

Happy Chinese New Year! From our family to yours!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Some Low Tech Solutions...

Last week I worked on some of the issues brought up by my friends when they came over to help with the helix a few weeks ago.  If you remember, they had some concerns with the decks flexing when leaned on.  Part of the problem is there are sections in the layout where the gatorfoam bench work is 2 feet wide.  The brackets holding everything up are 1 foot long, so there is a little bit of flexing at the end of those sections.  I originally was going to use an idea I saw John Rogers use on his layout in Tony Koester's Multi Deck Design book from Kalmbach, which was to use large carpenter's squares to brace the layout decks.  But while I was thinking about this I went back to something one of the guys suggested.  And that was to simply use a few legs under the bottom deck on the ends, and angled bracing in the middle, and to use wood riser to support the top deck.  I think they worked out great and turn out to be relatively a low tech, and low cost solution to the problem.

The following pictures show what I did:

Here are the 2x2 legs with 3/8th" carriage bolts for leveling.

One leg installed on the end of a section.

Angled support for the middle of a section.

Riser type brace for the upper level.  The backdrop curves to the front at the end of most sections, so this brace will not be seen.

Another look at the top deck brace with the helix rolled out of the way.

I also built the portable peninsula that will have the Ma & Pa's York Station scene on it.  Yes, your eyes do not deceive you.. that's plywood bench work there, not gatorfoam.  I'm out of gatorfoam at the moment.  I've been keeping in contact with a couple of suppliers in the area waiting to get some scratch and dent sheets of gatorfoam.  The price of a clean sheet of 4'x8' 3/4" has shot up to just over $100.  The stuff I've been using was originally bought by my friend Ted Pamperin, and he had gotten scratch and dent damaged pieces from the supplier at a greatly reduced price.  If your going to use gatorfoam, that's the way to go.  No sense buying perfect pieces when you're just going to rip them down to 1x3's anyway.

In the meantime, I had two stands that I had put together to hold up my first gatorfoam test sections for display at the Hartford NMRA convention in 2009.  They were "L" shaped measuring 6'x2'.  I decided to make use of them in the layout and glued and screwed the two halves together to make the bench work for the York Station scene.  Once I put the section together I worked on the removable legs for it.  I built in leg pockets then drilled out holes in the side of the leg pockets, and the legs, to accept 5/16ths carriage bolts.  When the section goes up for an op session its just a quick matter of bolting on the legs, and a recheck to make sure the whole section is level.

Finished 2'x6' section built from ripped down 3/4" plywood.  The wood from this section was originally two stands built to hold up my test gatorfoam sections for display in the LD SIG room at the 2009 NMRA Hartford Convention.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Recharging the modeling batteries..

This past weekend I attended the NJ Division meet in Haddon Twp. NJ with my friends Ralph (The Commodore) Heiss, and Jim Fawcett.  It was a great meet with quite a few good clinics given on a variety of subjects.  I went to Mike McNamara’s  getting started in JMRI clinic.  Since I will be using JMRI for decoder programming and also WiFi control (operators will have the option of using their smart phones or iPod touch as a throttle on my layout) I was able to get some good info from Mike’s clinic.
Another clinic that stood out was a tree making clinic that Arnold Kimmons gave.  Arnold showed examples of different foliage materials and their uses in model tree making and he demonstrated some fast and easy techniques for building trees plus ground foliage techniques too.
Speaking of Arnold Kimmons.. After the meet there was an opportunity to visit some layouts.  On the advice of our friend Tony Laccassi (Sorry if I butchered your last name Tony) we went to Arnold’s house to see his Royal and Edisto RR.  This is a freelance short line set in the low-country of South Carolina in 1956.  Arnold has taken the approach of some other well-known modelers in that he’s finishing one section then moving on to the next.  The following photos will show you how well Arnold has captured the sandy pine barren like terrain on the first section he’s built: the RnE’s interchange with the Southern RR in Edisto, SC.

All in all it was a great day out, and it gave me motivation to come home and get things done. :)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Some endings, and some new beginings...

Today marks the official end to the Christmas Break and I'm back to work tomorrow.  It wasn't a good vacation, we had to deal with the death of Amy's Step Dad just a few days before Christmas and then his wake on Friday December 30th, and his funeral on New Years Eve.  The whole week was surreal and stressful, culminating in a sad goodbye to not only Uncle, but also 2011.

We kept ourselves busy during the week up until the funeral, and for the past few days after.  I tried to work on small things, mostly building the #6 turnouts I need, a few blog entries and on Wednesday I headed up to my friend Jim Fawcett's house to check out his layout space with some of the other guys in our group.

I managed to build 5 more Fast Tracks #6 turnouts during some of my down time this week.  Here is a #6 left hand turnout completed, with all the parts ready to be soldered for a right hand #6.

Wednesday night a group of us showed up at Jim Fawcett's house (invited of course:) to help him out with feedback and some ideas for his design.  Jim is building an HO version of the B&O's Old Main Line circa 1965. Craig Bisgeier, Dave Ramos, Henry Freeman, Ted Pamperin, Ralph Heiss and myself were in attendance and we helped Jim brainstorm to come up with ways to get his railroad built using the optimum amount of space, and as prototypical as possible.  It was especially good to see Henry there because Henry is one of the more authoritative people out there when it comes to modeling the B&O. 

Here Jim is explaining what he's looking to do.  Notice how Jim prepared for our visit by putting a proposed footprint of the layout on the floor with craft paper.

Here Ted Pamperin listens to Ralph Heiss giving his opinion on the design.  Ted has a nice glass of Morris Code Chardonnay and at this point all he's hearing is "blah blah blah..blah blah.." ;)

Jim's layout space is 15' x 21'.  Being the good friends and advice givers that we are, we proceeded to check out the spaces beyond the boundaries of the designated room to see where we could expand "his" layout to.  Ted is checking out the wine cellar to see if it could be utilized, but it seems to be on the narrow side and maybe only good for some additional staging.  Ralph is still talking "blah blah blah.."

On the other side of one wall was a storage area that also contained all the mechanicals for the house.  We all agreed, including Jim, that staging could go along this wall and the helix would go into the far end. 
I think Jim survived the visit well and hopefully came away with some good ideas so he can get started on building what looks to be a very interesting layout.  I can't wait to help him get started. :)

It was nice to get out for a while Wednesday, and it was fun to get up to Jim's to see what he's doing.  It was one of the few bright spots in my week.

Helix grade tool..

While I was looking around Google trying to find more information on figuring and setting up grades on a helix, I came across this site: 


On this page Craig Beck put 3 useful tools for model railroaders: a grade calculating tool, a helix grade calculator, and a scale converting tool.  Each one is easy to use, just plug in the information you already know. Like in my case, using the helix grade calculator, I put in 34" radius for the outer loop curve, and the 4" separation between loops, and it calculates the grade. The grade for my outer loop works out to be 1.87% which is .23% less than what I came up with with all my guesstimating and rough calculations.  I came pretty close, but remember, I'm a pastry chef in real life.. NOT a mathematician! :p   I wish I saw this last week.  It would have saved me some work trying to figure out my grades on the helix. :)  In fairness I wasn't that far off, and all I really needed was to get a close enough idea of how much of a grade I was dealing with on each loop. 

I hope you find these tools useful.