Wednesday, December 31, 2014

ordo ab chao- out of chaos, comes order, part 2..

I've been using my vacation time doing a lot of things I meant to get done around the layout room and haven't.  One of the most important things that I've put off for way to long was to rearrange the layout room/family room to make it easier to work down there more comfortably and to get it back to functioning as a family space.


Old location of my desk/workbench.

My stepson Nick's desk, boxed in by couches, boxes, and various other brick-a-brac.


Sofas and easy chair relocated to a more useful location.  Nick's desk now occupies my desk's old location.  The Large TV will be replaced by a wall mounted flat screen.  Anyone need a TV?

My workbench now is located nearer to the layout.  The computer that will control the JMRI system and WiFi throttles is now where it needs to be.

Since rearranging the space, I've found it so much more comfortable to spend time there and this has meant working on the layout is so much more enjoyable.  I wish I would have done this sooner. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

You may delay, but time will not. Benjamin Franklin

It's been awhile since I wrote a "real" post.  Aside from my yearly Christmas joke post it's been over a month.  Not that I haven't been working on the layout.  I've actually gotten a bunch of things accomplished and will be writing a few blog posts over the next week or two covering them all.

Christmas Eve, one of my presents to myself arrived via USPS priority mail:  GML Enterprises (Model Railroad Electronic Controls) Fast Clock System. 

From the website: "This system design is for one (1) clock controller unit (Model #FC-6) and up to eight (8) remote analog clock units (Model #CLK-x). This CONTROLLER/REMOTE approach allows the installation of the controller in your dispatch panel and placement of a minimum of 2 and up to 8 remote units anywhere on your layout."

My friend Ted Pamperin Has used this system for awhile on his C&O layout so I know it works well.

I chose the 2:1 through 6:1 time ratios when I had this unit built.  The slow pace of operations on my layout will mean I'll probably be operating between 2:1 and 4:1.

All in all the whole system cost me $176 (controller, 2 clocks, optional time ratios).  I think that's a good price for a well built system.  Hopefully I'll get it installed this week while I'm off for Christmas break.


After publishing this post I went down to the basement and decided on trying to install the fast clock.  1 1/2 hours later it was done!  

One clock installed in the layout area.

Control unit installed and working.

I decided to install the control unit in the main layout area.

The second clock is installed inside the helix where it's everybody's favorite place to be a dispatcher.  OK, maybe it's not, but the clock can be easily moved if I move the dispatcher to another location.

The installation couldn't have been any easier and the system works great!  I'm very pleased. :)


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from my family to yours!

Merry Christmas

"I knew I shouldn't have let Craig wire my DCC system for me."

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

It's Curtains for you Rocky, curtains...

Ever give one of those gifts that give back to you?  I did.  Amy wanted a new sewing machine and we went out and bought her a nice one.  She's been doing all kinds of craft projects and hemming some clothes she used to bring to her mother to get done.  So a natural project for me to ask her to do was to make some curtain skirts for the bottom of the layout.  We found a whole roll of black fabric on clearance at Wall-mart and she went to work on sewing my layout skirting.  She did a great job!  Boy do I love that girl. ;)

My Sweetheart working on the layout skirting with her new sewing machine. :)

As you can see the skirts came out nice.

When we bought the roll of cloth, we thought we had too much.  But as it turns out, we barely had enough to cover the main part of the layout.  I need to go out and find some more so we can do the helix and then the skirting project will be complete. :)

I'm very happy how neat the layout space looks now with the skirting up.  All the clutter underneath the layout is now out of sight.  :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

NJ LD/OP and RPM Meet a Success!

The NJ LD/OP and RPM Meet held Oct. 25th and 26th was a great success!  Though attendance was down slightly from last year, do to the meet being the same weekend as the Timonium show, we were able to raise a lot more money this year.  This time around we were able to donate $700 to help establish a scholarship for Special Education Students who want to further their education after graduating UCTECH plus we donated another $500 to the UCTECH SKILLS USA Chapter to help offset travel costs to go to Nationals this year.  This makes the school happy, which guarantees we can keep holding the meet there, which in turn makes us happy.  A win win if you ask me ;)

My friend and fellow Ma & Pa Society Member Art Kuperstein manned a table for the Society at the meet.  Art also took all the photos in this post.

Rob Hinkle put up a display showing his plans and design for his Reading RR based layout as part of the Layout Design SIG display portion of the meet.

Lots of RPM models and dioramas were on display in the RPM section.

More RPM Models.

The Commodore (Ralph Heiss) gave a hands on clinic on using Pan Pastels for weathering.

I had a display showing scenes from the prototype Ma & Pa that I'm modeling from, along with some maps and track plan.

And yes, I finally remembered to take some  pictures during a open house!

There is a lot more information and pictures on our website:

On a serious note, we will be changing the meet logo and name next year due to the Operations SIG asking meet organizers not to have them listed as co-sponsors, or using the SIG's name or any likeness of their logo in any meet publicity.  They are concerned over liability issues.  I think it's a shame and short sided on their part because there are so many operations weekends that are put on by the SIG members and those, along with our meet, have always been used to highlight the Op SIG and the benefits of signing up and belonging.  I can only see where this will be harmful to growing and keeping their membership up.  Anyway, next year look for a new name and logo for the NJ Meet which will probably just be shortened to the NJ Layout Design and RPM Meet since the LD SIG doesn't seem to have the same worries as the Op SIG.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

NJ LD Sig and RPM Meet this weekend

The second annual NJ LD Sig and RPM Meet will be held again at Union County Vocational in Scotch Plains.  If you are in the area stop in and enjoy 2 days of activities.  Saturday is a day of clinics and RPM displays and an evening layout tour of 3 layouts.  Sunday is a full day self guided layout tour with 8 more layouts to see, including my Ma & Pa Pennsylvania District layout.  All moneys raised after expenses goes towards the UCTECH Awards and Scholarship fund and SKILLS USA.

Check out the website for details:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

All Quiet on the Western Front..

It's been awhile since my last post, but considering not much has happened on the layout since the beginning of the summer, there really was nothing to write about.  We did some traveling, and I finished up work on settling my Mom's estate.  So things have been quiet modeling wise here.

Recently I traveled down to Fredericksburg, VA and attended the Mid Atlantic RPM Meet that was put on by my friend Norm Wolf.  

This is the second year for this meet and it was a lot of fun!  Over 120 people attended, which is almost double from last year!  It's always nice to meet up with friends that I only get to see at these meets and we always have a great time catching up with each other.  Make sure you don't miss this meet next year!

I normally do not take too many pictures of models, but when something that interests me shows up at a meet, I'll take some photos. Two models that really caught my eye were brought to the meet by Matt Hurst who models the Huntington and Broad Top RR.  The H&BT is the other railroad that called the area around the Broad Top coal fields home.  Lesser known then it's more famous neighbor, The East Broad Top RR, it still was a interesting line that you don't see too many people modeling.  Matt's models, two of the H&BT's 2-8-0s, were beautiful and I'm very jealous of anyone who has the talent  to scratchbuild steam locomotives.  Well done Matt!  

Here are pictures of both H&BT 2-8-0s Matt Hurst built.  Numbers 32 and 33. 

Attending RPM meets, and other model railroad events have a tendency to get you going again when there has been a lull in modeling on your home layout.  I'm feeling more motivated and I have been heading down to the basement more frequently since coming back from the MARPM. :)  Look for an update shortly.

Now, if you live in the NY/NJ Metropolitan area or you have allways dreamed of visiting beautiful central NJ, I have just the ticket for you:  Come out to the Second Annual NJ LD/OP Sig and RPM Meet at Union County Vocational -Technical Schools in Scotch Plains NJ, October 25th and 26th, 2014!  

OK so you really never dreamed of visiting NJ.  But I'm sure you'll have a great time, and hopefully get motivated to keep on modeling if you come out to the meet.  We have over 11 speaker/clinicians (including Tony Koester and Bill Schamburg) and 11 layouts on tour (3 on Sat. 8 on Sunday).  Check out our website at:

Or follow us on Facebook at:

Make your plans now and hopefully we'll see you at the meet!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"Like I said, all comedy is based on exaggeration, big or small, whatever you can get away with." -Drew Carey

OK so I ended my last post with a few exaggerations about my OCD so let me clear up some of them for you:

I had no problem getting the ingredients for Lou Sassi's Ground Goop recipe.  A couple of trips to AC Moore with 50% coupon in hand, one trip to Lowes and I had all I needed to get started.  I'll share some pictures of my attempt to use it for scenery later in this post.

After seeing some undesirable results on a friends layout, I wasn't too sure about using sanded grout for cinders.  But after looking on the internet, I found someone who used it successfully and plan to follow their example.  You can check out what they did here:

That same building site I mentioned in the last post has another huge stack of Blue Styrofoam stacked up.  They really are not scary guys, but then again I have a bunch of Styrofoam down stairs already so do I really need more?  It doesn't matter how much you have on hand, Styrofoam is one of those items you always think to yourself when you see it "should I pick up more just in case?"

Ah, and that pickle car.  I've actually had one for awhile now.  A Heinz 57 car.  I don't know if they actually ever ran over the Ma & Pa but I'll invoke rule #1 on that one just case. ;)

I found this Athearn Car already assembled and it had Kadee Scale couplers already.  All I needed to do was add weight and some code 88 wheel sets.   Maybe I'll get a open sided round tank type car too. :p

The next two photos show a short test section of track in York using the charcoal colored sanded grout I picked up from Home Depot to represent cinder ballast. 

Here's a closer look.  I'm liking how it looks.

The first part of the layout to get some scenery is on the outer loops of the helix, in Yoe.  Here we have the plaster gauze painted brown in preparation of getting a coat of Ground Goop.

Here's the first batch of goop.  I transferred it into one of the many large Maxwell House Coffee cans I've saved.  I sealed the container with plastic wrap then the lid and used the goop a couple of days later.

Here is Yoe all gooped up.  I was very comfortable spreading it out with a spatula.  It was like icing a cake with chocolate icing. ;)

The Ground Goop was easy to work with but the only thing I'm finding I don't like is the drying time.  Well after one day, some spots where I went a little thicker to fill in some dips was still soft, and not totally dry.  I still like working with it so far so I'll be mixing up some more to finish off Yoe and move onto other parts of the layout.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Um.. What was the question again?

OK, I'll admit it..  I'm a little OCD.  I get an idea into my head that I need a certain thing on the layout and I'll spend days, weeks, months sometimes obsessing over it till I've either found what I wanted for the layout or completed the task I felt HAD TO BE DONE before anything else could progress.  Case in point?  I give you exhibit number 1: the manual turntable I absolutely had to have for the fiddle staging module at the Red Lion end of the layout.  Handling freight cars on and off the layout by hand was acceptable, but handling brass engines, especially to turn them at the end of the run for the return trip was definitely not!

So, for close to 1 year, I researched making my own manual turntable.  Then I figured that would be another one of those never gets done projects so the next best thing?  Buy a ready made one.  The Atlas turntable has been around almost longer than I have and it's manual (though there is a motorization kit for it) and there had to be some out there for the taking, cheap.  New ones cost over $30 so buying one of those was out.

After looking on and off for over a year on eBay, at train shows etc. I found one in Springfield at the Amhearst Show for $8.00, after a little haggling.  Joy and jubilation!  Now I could put this one obsession behind me and finish building them damn staging modules.

First the modules needed to be wired.

I built the turntable part of the staging module from a frame I had on hand from when I had a machine shipped to my shop at work.  It was just the right size.  I cut some plywood I had on hand to fit the top of the frame.  BTW, yes that turntable has brass rail.  That's how old it is.

The turntable portion of the portable staging module completed.

And finally.. The whole thing assembled together, ready to be put to work.

After I finished building it, I sat back feeling smug and gave myself the obligatory pat on the back for a job well done.  Feeling the relief of getting this monkey off my back I had time to reflect on just how my new creation would fit into my operations scheme.  Then it hit me..  the Ma & Pa didn't run out and back locals or manifests or passenger trains.  Everything that started in York ended in Baltimore.  Everything that started in Baltimore ended in York.  Theoretically, nothing needed to be turned in Red Lion staging except for the helper engine that was part of each manifest freight till it got to Delta, PA where it would be turned to help the next train in the other direction.  I still have the hand print on my face from the face palm I gave myself.  

So with the turntable being semi useless, and the engines still needing to be handled to take them on and off the layout, I'm back to square one figuring out what to do about handling engines.

For now I'll just deal with other things I've been obsessing over: Where am I going to get the ingredients to mix up Ground Goop? Can I use black sanding grout for cinder ballast like I've seen reported about online, and which brand?  I see another building construction site has extruded Styrofoam, and I wonder if they have leftover scraps?  But them guys in the hard hats look mean, and they'd probably look at me like I had two heads when I tell them what I want it for. And I really want a pickle car but did they ever run over the Ma & Pa?  To be continued...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Visit The Ma & Pa RR during upcoming GSD/NJ Div Joint Meet

 New Jersey Division MER-NMRA

The Garden State Division is having another dual meet with the New Jersey Division:

Saturday, May 17, 2014
90 Kings Highway
Middletown, NJ Clinics & Meeting 9 Am - 12 Noon
Contest is detailed Diesel Locomotives
Layout tour 1 - 5 PM

My Maryland  & Pennsylvania 1943 layout will be open for the tour starting at 1pm, so if you attend the meet, please stop by and check it out in person.

See you at the meet!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Moving Forward...

First off, I want to thank everyone who has sent their condolences and well wishes, either through this blog, or by private message.  It's been hard, very hard, dealing with the loss of both my parents in such a short period of time, but all the love and support that I've received from my friends and family have meant so much to me.  Thank you. :)

Keeping busy is one of the best ways to help cope, and I have been moving along with some pressing projects that needed to get done on the layout.  The most urgent thing turns out to be a problem that popped up recently.  Two of the three power districts dropped dead, and would not power up at all.  At first talking with some friends we thought maybe we had a Frog Juicer go down and take out the section it controlled.  After testing each Juicer in the districts affected, I determined it was not them.  I then turned my attention to the power control board where the circuit breakers, and power supply was.  If you remember a while back I had two of the four DCC Specialties (Tonys Train Exchange was actually the manufacturer at the time) circuit breaker boards crap out, and I had to do a quick fix by combining two of the 4 districts into one, making the railroad a three district railroad.  Money was tight so I bought a NOS older single Powershield and reused the remaining TTX 2 circuit breaker board.  This worked for a time but when the current problem popped up, I checked voltage going into the board, which was the full 14v and then checked the outputs which were showing 2-4v fluctuation on both breakers.  Basically, they were toast.  The boards were old, from my original L&HR layout, but I felt that layout, along with the current one, was never run that much so the boards shouldn't have crapped out.  Last week I had to bite the bullet and order new DCC Specialties PSX4 (4 circuit breaker board)  from Yankee Dabbler (who had the best price including shipping) and install it.  Now everything is back to normal.  I probably should have done that to begin with, instead of trying to salvage the older breakers.

The old power board with the older TTX circuit breakers.

I had to remove the power board to work on it at the workbench.

Panel at the workbench ready for the transplant.

DCC Specialties PSX4 circuit breaker panels.

The new PSX4 installed on the power board.  It actually looks neater since I did not need the terminal strips anymore.

It lives again! :)

So far, the layout is running like a champ again, so I'm happy about that. 

I have more progress to share, but I will leave that for the next post.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mom 1936-2014


Words cannot convey the pain I feel losing both parents within the past two months.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Working Spray Booth and Other New Tools..

Things are finally settling down after dealing with everything needed to get done after my Dad passed away this month.  I was able to do some work, mostly cosmetic, on the layout, like staining the turnout ties, and weathering all of the exposed track.  

A closeup of the rail weathering.  I've been using the Floquil rail brown paint markers.

Another look at the rail weathering.  I've since cleaned all rail surfaces and test run trains over the entire layout to make sure I didn't miss any spots.

I stained all the Fast Tracks turnout ties with Hunterline Tie Brown Stain.

Two of the more exciting developments have been things not directly related to building the layout per say, but help with my enjoyment of the hobby as a whole.  I was able to get a blower for my homemade spray booth and I finally purchased a Dremel drill press and a new Dremel Moto-Tool to go with it for my work bench.  Two of my excuses for not trying to tackle building some of the resin kits I've acquired through the years was one: I didn't have a functioning spray booth to paint them, and two: after trying with much frustration to drill holes for grab irons with pin vises, I really wanted a way to drill them out with some sort of powered drill press.  I had tried using some high speed bits in a battery powered Dremel but broke bits because I didn't hold the tool steady enough. (Pierre, I know I was not doing something right, but I couldn't figure it out)  I hope using the new Dremel at low speed in the drill press will help me make short work of drilling grab iron holes accurately.

I picked a blower for the spray booth via Harbor Freight when it was on sale plus I had a 25% off coupon which saved me another $20 on itThis particular blower is used normally for a dust collector, and has a high CFM output.  That's a 10' flexible vent hose and there will be another on the output end of the blower to direct fumes out the window vent.

The Dremel Drill Press was something I always wanted, but never got around to buying.  I had a bunch of points to use on one of my credit cards and I redeemed them for Lowes gift cards which I then used to buy the new Dremel and Drill Press. 

Hopefully next month I will have a few of the guys over to help shakedown the layout.  I'll be "leasing" some motive power though till I get my fleet equipped with their sound decoders and stay alive capacitors.