Thursday, December 30, 2010


Added some additional details to the outer boom - the diagonal section at the front of the boom; the attachment point for the boom support; and the other walkway.  Almost there - just handrails and some lighting details and the hinge bracket and it's done.  I also started building the frames for the inner boom - seven of them, same 10' spacing - 60' boom.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


After assembling six of the frames for the outer boom I cut four pieces of 5/32 channel a scale 50' long for the horizontal members and also two scale 50' 3/16" I beams for the crane rail support.  Mark these parts off in 10' increments and carefully assemble the whole structure, keeping everything square.  Using .030x.060 strip add the actual rail to the rail beams.  Take 3/32 angle and create the top diagonal bracing as shown.  And finally, using .060 angle create the side vertical and diagonal framing as shown.    I've included an in-progress photo of the pier - tracked and in the process of paving.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Since reworking the tracks in the port area a few months ago I've been working towards finishing that area on a number of fronts - the R&H Chemical building, the connecting bridge for the coal dock, lighting for the coal dock, the pier bulkheads, and concrete pavement on the pier.    I've been studying historical photos of mostly New York area railroad piers, of which there were a tremendous amount.  The older piers tended to be massive wooden structures with plank decking, while concrete became more prevalent later in the 20th century.  Some of the concrete piers were paved, others were simply ballasted so either way will work for modeling.    The pier in my port is a multi-purpose structure, capable of on or off loading a multitude of freights, from minerals such as iron ore, coal, or whatever, to general freight and steel products.  Of course steel will make up a fair portion of the cargo at this port, which iron ore being imported and finished steel products exported.  The pier has three tracks - although this didn't always mean that three tracks were available - railroads many times would store freight on one or two of the tracks if things got busy and ships were being off-loaded faster than railcars could be loaded.  
Most ships, with the exception of those carrying bulk materials could unload themselves using deck booms.  Since I will be dealing with iron ore I need some sort of crane.  The prototype I am using was a neat little multi-purpose crane used by the Anaconda Copper Company at their Perth Amboy plant.  I am scaling it up just a little since it was used to load narrow gauge railroad cars and I will be loading full sized cars.  See photo.   This crane can change between a claw bucket for unloading ore, sand, ... etc; a hook for general freight; and even an electromagnet for loading pig iron or unloading scrap.  The operational variations are endless.  The S.S. Valhalla is an ore carrier but way way down the road I'll probably build a few different vessels to match the railroads operations.  
I'm using parts from the Walther's Heavy Duty Crane for the hoist and cab assembly - I've wrapped the kit parts with 1/4" I-beam and channel.  Some additional window details have been added to the cab, which will be painted before final assembly.   The crane will be built in sub-assemblies - the hoist/cab; the outer boom; the inner boom; and the legs.  The outer boom and the inner have similar construction, the inner is just bulkier.   I'm using a drawing on a piece of MDF as a guide for gluing up the frames from the outer boom - mostly 1/8" I-beams with an upper 1/4" crosspiece.  I will need six in total for this boom - 10 feet between frames.  

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Finished the cast concrete support structure for the ammonia tanks.  The prototype had a similar structure but it was actually only two tiers high, not three, but was much wider - I had to compress things a bit.  I added a modified stair tower that provides access to both of the upper levels and I've finished the four lower tanks.  The tanks are from the Gas Works kit and the saddle bases are scratchbuilt.

HQ - Part 1

It seems I always end up a johnny-come-lately when it comes to model railroad stuff - by the time I actually get around to deciding to buy something, half the time the structure or other kit is out of production.   So I look for it at train shows and on Ebay, usually finding it for many times the initial price.   One such item(s) were the Bachmann large city buildings.   I never bought any while they were out initially, and as of just three months ago or so had heard that the Hotel model was fetching $600 on Ebay.  Thankfully Bachmann reissued these kits in early November.  They are perfect for modeling a large city center, which I am no longer doing, however, I had been thinking of modeling a Headquarters Building for Raritan Steel.  Inspiration was the large HQ building overlooking the Bethlehem Steel Plant.   The Metropolitan Building, and art-deco office building fit the bill pretty good.  There are some minor issues with solid lower level side walls as I believe this structure was intended to be placed mid-street, but otherwise the size is I think perfect.   The original location I'd though of placing the building would have meant a little bump out into an isle - not the greatest thing since isle space is already tight.  I came up with an alternative location that will require putting one leg of the wye on the Iron branch into a short tunnel, but overall it will fit well.  The location places the structure right in the heart of the mill, but between two distinctive sections - the iron making blast furnaces of the lower works, and the open hearth plant of the upper works.   Each part of the mill will be accessible via enclosed walkways and the structures placement will help smooth the dramatic vertical transition between the upper and lower mills. 
The basic construction of the building is actually pretty easy - four sides and a roof and base.  Installing all the windows and doors will take much, much longer.   Besides the already mentioned walkways I plan on adding some lighting, window treatments, and some sort of large lit sign.   

Oh, bye the way, if you are looking for these kits, try Peachcreek Shops - see link in sidebar.  They are selling them for about 1/2 off the manufacturer's list price.  While you are at it, I think they have the new RS-3s too.

Friday, December 24, 2010


By the time I finish typing this blog it will be officially Christmas, so Merry Christmas to all.  We returned a few hours ago from spending some time in Westchester County, New York, with my inlaws and a portion, of my wife's huge extended family.  I'm still stuffed from the traditional italian dinner.  I scored a neat little Kibri Excavator model from my mother and father in-law that you can see in the photo.  It will fit right in on the cement plant module.  I'd recommend these kits highly to both model railroaders and  non-railroaders alike.  They are about an intermediate level as far as models go, but the fit is excellent and the finished product is very presentable without any paint.  I lightly rusted the treads for now but will be doing some more painting and weathering.  I'm on the fence right now about painting the hydraulic pistons silver like they would be as that will probably prevent them from actually operating.  
Riding along the roads of home also brought back memories of my childhood Christmases.  We took the Eastview exit off the Saw Mill River Parkway - I'd hoped that the old bridge that carried the New York Central's Putnam Division still showed it's New York Central paintjob has it had as late as the early 90's, but rust finally claimed the bridge in totality.  There aren't too many New York Central relics left and I'd hoped to show this one to Jimmy.  A bit of my affinity for New York Central equipment has rubbed off on him, despite our present residence in the heart of Pennsy territory.    A mile or so up the road from the old railroad bridge we visited the final resting place of my father, the massive Kensico Cemetery.  This cemetery once had it's own station stop on the New York Central's Harlem Division where the dead and the mourners could disembark from the New York City train.  Eventually, the name of the hamlet was changed from Kensico Station to Valhalla, reflective of the large necropolis that had developed there.   My wife pointed out that it has been 32 years since my father died.
Childhood Christmases where idyllic.  Both my mother and father made the holiday special.  My dad would outline our two story house with lights - those big large green and red bulbs, at least until it became politically incorrect to do so during the energy crisis of the 70's.  He also lit a number of trees, which we had many, and had a large plywood Santa and a plywood train that were lit by spotlights.   We always had the best set up in the neighborhood.    Inside my mom must have had 30 boxes of decorations, actually I think she still has the same 30 plus more.  Every square inch of the house was fully decorated.  To get us in the spirit she started us off promptly on December 1st with advent calenders filled with notes leading us to small and large presents daily.  The month was filled with visits to and from relatives,  friends and neighbors for holiday dinners or parties - the annual silver bells dinner at the Pleasantville Presbyterian Church - even our neighbor that would dress as Santa Claus and bring presents (dropped off earlier at his house by our parents) around Christmas Eve, of course having a drink at each stop - we were the last  stop so Santa was barely standing at that point.   It was a very special time thanks to my parents and from what I recall even after the death of my father when I was 11, my mom carried on tradition seamlessly.    
Trains were of course a large part of the holiday.  We had the large basement layout year round, but my dad would set up a 4x8 layout in the family room for the month of december and into january.  Although the track was permanently fastened to the board, my brother and me were free to configure the layout as we saw fit in terms of structures, roads, scenery,...etc.   One of the memories I have of my dad's last Christmas with me was a lesson on wiring lighting on a layout and the differences between parallel and series wiring.   As we were using 12v I had to wire the street lights and house lights in groups of series so as not to burn them out.  I can't remember if we ever pulled out that layout after that year, I don't think we did.   I think my dad would find it comforting to know that the grandson he never met set up a similar little layout this year on a similar, but a little smaller piece of plywood.  In a sign of how times have changed, Jimmy wired this layout with DCC - a Bachmann Dynamis system.   I forgot how relaxing it was sitting there watching the trains circle around and around - of course a New York Central F-7 with four lightweight passenger cars in tow.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas,...etc.

Despite the lack of an update in a while, work has progressed steadily on the layout - the type of work that isn't probably interesting to anyone - concrete block walls, concrete slab, benchwork,...etc....    Years ago I made an effort to expand my basement by digging out part of a crawl space - not fun work but it was made easier by the fact that I was able to dump the dirt down a well in the corner of my crawl space - we have city water and the 30' deep 6' round well right under our kitchen floor was creeping out my wife a bit - think the killers basement in "The Silence of the Lambs".      Anyway, after this initial push I only went as far as constructing a partial concrete block support wall and a half of a concrete floor - just enough to be able to move the heater there to make room for the trains and workbenches elsewhere.  I had never intended to extend the layout back that way so being a professional builder/carpenter, I did what I usually do when working on my own house - leave the project half finished.    Well flash forward ten years and it looks like the layout is going to extend into this space, so, I finally finished the basic building work.  As usual, my benchwork is all plywood.  I don't use any solid wood, just strips of 3/4" plywood - this material is stable and easy to screw together without splitting.   I don't have any real method, just years of building things sort of give me a feel for what is strong enough and what is overkill.  This isn't the part I like about model railroading so it's the step I just want to get through the fastest.  
As of tonight one track of the two track main is back up and running with the loop completed.   You can see some of the track and the benchwork in the one photo - the yard is to be to the left of the main line and the engine facility will be to the right.    I've also been working on some of the narrow gauge track and will start wiring this soon -  I've included a photo of a narrow gauge engine with scrap buggies right next to the bridge that carries the narrow gauge line to the open hearth furnaces.  The white caulk under the one piece of track will dry clear and will eventually be buried in ballast.   The ironic thing about this photo is that the Grandt Line engine in the photo can't make it up that grade - the other two engines based on N-scale mechanisms can no problem.    The final photo is of a bottle of Vallejo paint.  You might have heard some talk about this paint on the model railroad podcasts - I am fortunate that a local hobby store has carried this paint for a number of years.  The paint covers better than any other brand I have used - great solid pigment coverage, quick dry, and smoothes out nicely.  These bottles cost me $3 each.  The bottles are great as you can just put a few drops on my glass work surface and add as needed - you waste very little paint.   You can probably find a source on-line if it isn't locally available.

Friday, December 10, 2010


I promise there will be some steel related posts soon, but in the meantime I will continue with the chemical plant.   In one of the photos you will see a pile of Detail Kits for the Walthers Ethanol Plant - These make a total of nine of these kits that I have purchased.  As I mentioned before, they have a mix of detail items, but I am specifically after the stair towers, which there are two.   They are nice looking and from a cost standpoint probably work out to be just cheaper than scratchbuilding, but they are of course, much faster to build.   This should be the bulk of what I need them for right now, but in the future I probably will pick up one or two as I see them.  
In a continued effort to detail the main production building, and also to stick to the prototype, I've built a materials elevator for one side and a twin fractioning tower unit for the other - see photos.  The elevator was built from a Kibri leftover and some Plastruct parts.  The fractioning towers are from the Vollmer Refinery Kit - left over from my Dad's layout.  This kit was always one of my favorites as a kid.   I saved the model but over the years I've broken it apart - some of the pieces are featured in the coke works by-products plant, as well as in the chemical plant.  The kit railings are severely out of scale so I've replaced these with scratchbuilt styrene units and for the ladders, Plastruct parts.  The piping is a mix, mostly from the Walthers Gas Works kit.    Both these elements were part of the prototype structure, just on opposite sides.  
Finally, the styrene framework structure represents an ammonia tank facility in the prototype.  I've condensed the structure by half but added some height to it.  I've used Plastruct 1/4" square tubing to represent the vertical supports and Plastruct 1/4"x3/8" rectangular tubing for the horizontals.  After capping the exposed ends I will paint this structure to represent cast concrete.  The tanks are from the Walthers Gas Works kit.

Monday, December 6, 2010


On the electronics front....
I finally got around to connecting my NCE DCC system to a computer.   Like most of us I had at least a half dozen old PCs sitting around.  The only reason I hadn't tossed them was that I wanted to take out the hard drives first.  Turns out these older systems are just fine, if not better for connecting to the NCE system since you do so by a Serial bus, which most newer systems don't have anymore.  NCE sells an converter for USB but it's a few bucks and like I said, not needed if you use an older machine.  
Why hook up a computer to your model railroad?  -  Basically, to run JMRI.  I think it stands for Java Model Railroad Interface or something along those lines.  It is free, available online for downloading.  Which I did.  It took about a half hour or so to download into my computer - actually first I did a complete dump on the computer hard drive and reinstalled windows, and just a few drivers needed to run the machine, but otherwise I wanted a stripped down unit - it's sole purpose is to interface with my layout.  In case you are wondering - I used an old Dell desktop machine with a 4ghz Celeron processor and 256mb of RAM and Windows XP - JMRI will run on a lot slower machine and earlier versions of Windows.   I will probably hook up a printer for operations and also probably Itunes for sound effects.    The machine has no wireless internet connection  - to connect solely for downloading JMRI and anything in the future I just temporarily pull a long Cat 5 cable from the basement to my router - no big deal.
JMRI loaded fine and worked with the NCE system from the start with no troubleshooting or tweaking needed.  At the basic level, JMRI's Decoder Pro is an easy way to program decoders and even easier to change CVs - no working with the NCE controller - just change the values on a computer screen and press enter.  There are also many options to keeping track of locomotives,..etc.   I programed an Atlas RS5 right off the bat as a test - no problems - then even cooler I used an on screen throttle to run the locomotive.  The potential for automated operations and other things are in this system, its just a matter of learning to program using it.  Also with JMRI is Panel Pro - this allows you to create an on-screen control panel - when you link this to decoder operated switches and a detection and signal system you can run your railroad like the pros.  Again, I'm excited about this feature and plan to use it for my mainline, but I need to learn to set it up first.   There is also an operations feature that I dabbled in for a bit that looks real promising as far as generating switchlists, ..etc. 

Getting back to the old computers - I did end up finally taking the hard drive out of another one while I was setting up JMRI.  But, before you toss the rest of the machine it pays to take it apart - there are a number of very useful components -  I got three motors and a bunch of gears, belts, and other mechanical items that might be useful for layout animation in the future from the CD Drive.  There is a nice 12v fan that might be useful - maybe even on my boat.  The real prize however, is the power supply.  This bad boy puts out five different voltages, most useful to some extent on the layout.  It also has it's own cooling fan and metal case.  It took a few minutes to figure out what everything does - fortunately the circuit board was labeled so that made it pretty easy.  The hardest thing is that this unit won't power up by just plugging it in as there was a separate switch on the computer case for this.  The switch connects to the mother board so it's pretty much impossible to trace back from there - what I did was eliminate all the other wires as having a purpose, and there are a lot, until I was left with a grey and a green -  obviously the switch leg.  I tied them together and plugged in the unit and it powered up.   On my power supply here is the color code (it might be different for your computer)
Blue - -12V (yes that's minus - probably wont use this)
Orange +3.3 volts - think LEDs
Red +5 Volts
Yellow +12 Volts
Black - Ground
Purple +5 volts filtered or something - much lower amp rating
Grey - switch leg
Green - switch leg
Brown - single wire, smaller gauge - some sort of supply 
Pink - same as brown.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

S.S. VALHALLA Part - 4

Just when you were wondering what happened to that ship I was building - 
Well it basically sat for awhile for two reasons - first the port area was a mess and was awaiting a complete re-tracking, so no rush.  Also, in my tradition of leaving the hardest for later, the stern section needed to be hand shaped.     I talked of the new track for the port in an earlier post and will post a sketch in a future one, but with the new track, the work on the chemical plant, and the fact that this is the smallest section of the layout and hopefully the easiest and thus the first to semi-complete.    
As you know, the core of the ship was MDF cut to the rough shape of the boat and laminated with styrene - this generally works well, except for the stern quarter of the ship where you have variable compound curves.  Ship modelers usually attack this my building the ship in small lifts and using a plane and then sandpaper to shape - to do this you need to have good plans and lines for the hull.  Seeing how I am doing this by eye it was easier just to glob a bunch of Bondo on there and sand away with 80 grit.   The photo shows the Bondo applications and the mostly finished product - I sprayed it with some primer to check the shape and to make imperfections show up better.   With this done I should be able to get back to work on the hull and the super structure.  


In the midst of 20 other projects I have been making slow progress with the R&H Plant.  The main processing building is built and partially painted.   If I haven't mentioned it before, for the brickwork I always use a wash of a sandy colored paint.  Taking care to put on the wash while the wall surface is flat and stays so until dry.  I use a pretty thin mix - my philosophy on that is that I want to see just a hint of the mortar lines, after all in full scale they are only about 1/2" so in HO they are practically invisible.  I take issue with a lot of these models you see with heavy mortar washes and a film everywhere.  With the prototype this would only happen if someone was laying brick for the first time, and even then, the boss would have made them clean the excess mortar off with an acid wash.  Professional bricklayers rarely get so much as a smudge of mortar on the good face of the brick.    The architecture of this building is interesting in that it almost looks like a church - abet a church that made sodium cyanide and formaldehyde.   Also in the photo you can see a CNJ RS5 sitting on the unfinished high line to the coal dock, and the double track main just to the left of the building.