Friday, June 30, 2017

Old, and New (well...rebuilt, anyway)

In the late 1970's Conrail took delivery of a fleet of General Electric B23-7 locomotives. These dominated the Albany Division in yard and local service during the later 1980's and into the era set on the Onondaga Cutoff - the 1990's. By this time, the B23's were becoming a ratty bunch, and so Conrail started to rebuild and then repaint them at its massive Juniata Shops in Altoona, PA.

On the Onondaga Cutoff, I work to model locomotives at different stages of weathering, reflecting photos from the era. Here, Onondaga Yard on a warm fall evening in 1995 finds 1987 and 1989 working side by side, classifying cars for outbound blocks:

Below is a closer view of 1989, with the Conrail specific details like the cab signal box and Leslie RS-3L horn, deck-mounted ditch lights, and a lack of sunshades:

And finally an image to communicate some of the tiny work that goes into detailing an HO scale locomotive, showing the metal casting ditch lights that I drilled out using #70 drill bits to accept the LEDs and their wires.

Conrail in the 1990's was a proud company that had come through a tough 15 years of demoralizing rationalization. But, part of that tough period was rebuilding the physical plant, and refurbishing a fleet of equipment - which developed a generation of railroad managers that defined the next 20 years of railroading in the Northeast.

And so it follows that some of the most ratty of the B23-7s were working next to freshly rebuilt B23-7's, and I have modeled that with Conrail 1987 wearing its 1979 paint, and with Conrail 1989 wearing its new ditch lights and 1995 paint. I enjoy weathering rolling stock and infrastructure, but when your era allows contrast, sometimes it provides as much interest as the weathering does.

Best wishes as the summer arrives!


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Modeling Maintenance Of Way

A critical part of prototype rail operations on any railroad is 'maintenance of way' (MOW) - the employees that work to keep the track, signals, bridges, buildings, and electrical services in a state of good repair.  Railroaders don't just run trains, or man the towers and dispatcher desk.  My whole railroad career has in fact been on the maintenance side of the railroad, so I am familiar with the equipment and people that do this critical work.

As operations on the Onondaga Cutoff have matured we have added some MOW activity, taking tracks out of service for maintenance.  This adds variety and challenge to the sessions as well as providing a job for one or two guys.  Here is a photo essay of recent track maintenance at an operation session.

Early in the morning of Friday June 10, 1994, Track Supervisor Jacob is on his hi-rail pickup ahead of the ballast tamper, rolling east from Onondaga Yard into CP 280.   He has copied a 'Form D' - essentially a track warrant under the NORAC (Northeast Operating Rules Advisory Committee), authorizing him to be in charge of that track so that he can move the equipment to the work site.

Once the equipment is moved to the work site, it is joined by a fleet of other vehicles adjacent to the track that work together to repair the track structure, in this case by replacing ties and tamping the ballast to level the rails.  While the work occurs on Track 2, Track 1 is busy handling trains in both directions.  Here ML-403 comes upgrade around a boom truck and the ballast tamper doing their thing.

We turn to watch ML-403's locomotives blast past another boom truck laying out ties for spotting.

TV-13 works west later in the day behind three big GE's based out of Selkirk.  The engineer sounds the horn and rings the bell, following the rules, as he passes various maintenance vehicles and approaching CP 277.

After the work is complete, by late afternoon, the track gang has cleared up.  They give the track back to the dispatcher for use with a speed restriction for the first few trains over the freshly tamped area, then remove the restriction once the track has settled under the weight of revenue trains.   The gang ties up all their equipment back at Onondaga Yard and heads for a well-earned few beers at a local tavern!

Modeling the maintenance of the railroad is something we can all do at operating sessions to add variety and give some credit to the railroaders that few enthusiasts pay much attention to.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Take the Highway

We all do it quite a bit:  driving on the interstate is a very 'plain Jane' experience in America.  So, it needed to look right on the layout.  As this scene came together it was important to get some of the accents right.  Here's a few images of the nearly-finished I-481 scene along the Onondaga Cutoff!

Traffic, including my 1989 Dodge Caravan (correct circa 1994) heading north towards Dewitt.

Now that things are stabilized there, I am working to complete some of the background as well to make for a seamless, front-to-back view from this angle.  That means deciding finally on industrial ground cover for the Iroquois Paperboard plant in the background.

Work and usual springtime activity have dominated my thoughts lately, along with family life and even squeezing a trip in to see N&W 611 do its thing on home rails.   As always, though, a few minutes here and there lead to progress on the layout, and every little bit counts!


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Blending Progress Together

One of the reasons there is continuous progress on the Onondaga Cutoff is the generous donation of time and effort from several talented modelers.  While the operating sessions require hours of preparation and then the participation of 12-16 people to make the railroad run, I also have several guys that have been a big help with scenery.

Jason W., who built the I-481 Interstate highway scene for me, is one of those guys.  He's been instrumental in helping with backdrops and he built the highway scene off site and once it was completed, he helped me install it.  The edges were left without ground cover, and now I am working to blend in the edges with the adjacent layout surfaces in order to create a seamless scene.

To the left here we see the double-track main line, with I-481 to the right.  The crescent-shaped gap is what needed to be addressed.   I cut cardboard strip to fit the gap, using trial and error to get it close.  Hot glue is a great way to fasten cardboard strip to the plywood subroadbed.   I worked carefully to minimize damage to the surrounding details.

Using a small hot glue gun helps in tight areas like this.  Jason's work in the foreground is really going to 'pop' to the viewer's eye once the scene is blended in to the surrounding territory.

 Here is a view from the other direction, showing the crescent-shaped embankment formed by the cardboard.  This is the rough fit, with some gaps above that are best covered with plaster gauze.

Once the glue cooled down, I used plaster and gauze to overlay the rougher edges on the cardboard.  This will cure overnight, after which I can paint it black, and add the gravel and stone edges with appropriate weeds and ground cover.

Receiving top-notch help from excellent modelers like Jason is a huge benefit to the Onondaga Cutoff and it is a pleasure to showcase his talent along the route on my main line.  Without Jason's assistance, the railroad wouldn't be anywhere near as far along as it is.  Thanks Jason!   And, thank you to all the viewers that take an interest in progress here.  More scenery progress coming soon!


Thursday, April 20, 2017

A Step Forward, Then Back, Then Forward Again

I've written here before of my ongoing focus on doing things once - not having to re-do projects due to mistakes or less-than-stellar work.   In a cumulative hobby like model railroading, progress of any sort adds up to great results, but having 'do-overs' sets us back.  Well, you win some, and you loose some.

Here's an image of ML-482 rolling downgrade in the morning through CP 277.  This past week I had to 're-do' the ditch light installation on the lead locomotive, Conrail SD50 6712.  One of the ditch lights had burned out.  Frustrating!  I opened the unit up and found that one of the wire leads had become entangled in the drive shaft, which had sheared it right off.  A simple fix, and a good reminder to tape wires out of the way of moving parts.

However, several hours later, the other light went out.  Now I'm getting really frustrated.  I decided to look at the manual, and thanks to Alex Lang's advice, learned that the resistors on LED lights will only support one LED.  I had wired both bright surface mount LEDs to the same resistor, and burned out the channel in the decoder.  No good!

Thankfully, JMRI's DecoderPro easily allows us to re-map functions to different buttons.  Since there were other light function channels that had not been affected by my mistake, I remapped the ditch lights to that function, and wired each LED to its own resistor.  A test showed we were good to go.

Here too are shots of ON14's power in Onondaga Yard:

And, a shot of the maintainer's view of the CP282 westbound signals, from the cat walk:

Sometimes, even our best intentions can still lead to mistakes, and in those cases we need to take a breath, learn from the mistake, and move on.  Lessons learned can be worth the cost of a mistake, and in this case there is no doubt.  As more ditch lights come to the fleet, this lesson will save me plenty of mistakes to come!


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Moving Trains on the Onondaga Cutoff

Here are a few videos for you all of the last operating session.  These are minimally processed, taken straight off the iPhone I had available, but I think they give a good sense of what we do each month, when we model the operations of a certain day and night in 1994 or 1995.  

First, we have Conrail TV-9, a westbound piggyback train from Boston, coming upgrade through the approach-lit 275 intermediate signals as he approaches CP 277:


And, here is TV-556 coming downgrade at CP 277 later that day, with an all-SP (and D&RGW) consist up front as was typical for that train in this era:


The operating sessions remain some of my favorite ways to enjoy this hobby, combining modeling with operation and personalities.  We are able to re-create the atmosphere of the railroad on a model of it, and the experience is quite reminiscent of Conrail.  That will only improve as scenery grows more complete and as the crews get more familiar with the operation.   As we say often on the OC, the best is yet to come!


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Seeing the Light

Recently, a few regular operators referred to the area west of CP282 as a 'tunnel.'  I started to think about that a while back, and have long planned to make some changes there to better illuminate the area to suggest the main line curves into the woods.  This image shows the issue - trains disappear into a dark cavern even with the lights fully lit.

This is a challenge given that there are no tunnels anywhere near Syracuse on the Conrail main line.  New York Central called this the Water Level Route, and the only tunnels on the main line are east of Albany!

Based on a few ideas I'd read in Model Railroader in articles written by well-known author Paul Dolkos, the right combination of scenery and lighting behind the backdrop can effectively trick the eye so that it hardly notices the backdrop at all.  The main line looks to continue out of view, but on the far side of the backdrop.   The trick for me was to do that with some sort of dimmable light that was evenly spread through the visible area behind the backdrop, allowing this lighting to compliment the room lighting for my overnight operations.

The Internet revealed a number of dimmable LED light strips - a perfect solution.  Some even came with a kit for quick installation, and remote control operation.   I settled on one commonly available at Home Depot.  After installing a tree canopy on the far wall, and installing the LED lighting in a back-and-forth manner to increase the lumens in an even manner, I turned on the remote and the results really were remarkable.

It is hard to imagine I did without this for so long!