Monday, April 30, 2012


Been working a lot lately so not really in the mind-set to get involved with anything complicated on the railroad.  Railings, and I have many many many to build, are something that is tedious but don't require a lot of thinking, so something good to work on when my head isn't in it.  I've done much of the intake manifold walkways and also extended the walks down the two mains.
More railings
If any of you are interested in woodworking, in addition to steel mills and model railroads, I've started a blog about woodworking.  The address -     This topic has been both a hobby and a profession for me and my blog is just a record of techniques used, my woodworking philosophy, tool reviews, ideas,...etc...  Take it for what it is worth.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Railings, railings, railings.....    Work continues on the walkway and platform details on the precipitator complex.  The clean gas manifold walkway is done and the dirty gas manifold is under way.  Still two more walkways underneath the goggle valves and more on the waste gas burner.  Then a few hatches and other details, and maybe I might be able to paint this thing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Adirondack Backpacking

I've just returned from a four day backpacking trip with my son's Boy Scout Troop to the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness Area in upstate New York.  This area is north of Lake George and in the eastern reaches of the Adirondack Mountains.    I'm pretty tired as my old bones aren't what they used to be after carrying around a 60 pound pack and sleeping on rocky ground for three nights, so I will be brief and just post a few photos.  Had a great time as usual.  No cell phone or email reception for four days was a blessing - You really don't understand how connected some of us (I'm one) have become to these devices.  I was able to clear my head, relax, contemplate,....etc..  all while enjoying the beauty of nature, night skies full of stars not visible back in New Jersey with all the light wash from the cities and suburbia.   It did snow the first day and it was cold for most of the trip, but that was expected, and we always had a nice warm campfire going.
The Journey Begins

View from my tent at dawn - Berry Mill Pond.  This is one of my all time favorite places to camp.  I have my own perfect spot - about 100 yards or so from the Lean-to and the rest of the group, in a small depression between two rock outcroppings, on a soft bed of pine needles, five feet from the edge of the lake, and about 50 feet from a decent sized waterfall that I listen to as I fall asleep.
Self portrait backpacking - Note the all purpose repair/first aid kit hanging from my pack - duct tape.

Communing with my favorite reading(and sleeping) rock.  This rock outcropping projects out into Clear Pond.  It is a favorite of mine for reading or sleeping - Nature has left fairly comfortable seating arrangements on either side of this peninsula, which I take advantage of depending on the position of the sun in the sky.  This trip I shared it with a particularly friendly snake.  Jimmy caught me in a monastic pose, ensconced in a fleece blanket to ward off the chilling winds from the water.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Besides model railroading, my Dad had a few other hobbies - model building, model rockets, woodworking, and electronics - sensing a generational pattern in my family?  Well some families hand down spousal abuse, alcoholism and depression, so I guess I'm lucky.  And not to get too wacky, but I also just remembered my Dad was into paper models too ----  He built a 3'x5' HO scale diorama of Mystic Seaport.  All the buildings were made from heavy paper from what I believe was a kit or kits commercially produced.  Ensconced in a plexiglass case, it slid out from under the model railroad bench work and two legs dropped down to support the cantilevered display.   Despite his untimely death when I was 11 years old, his modeling legacy lived on - from the large model railroad, to the 4' high Saturn V rocket in my room, to the many models on my bookshelves, the two level Aurora Model Dinosaur diorama in the guest room,  the paper Mystic Seaport, and much more.  And then there were the Heathkit Electronics throughout the house.

For those of you unfamiliar, Heathkit was a manufacturer of a vast array of electronics kits and for several decades, almost an American institution.  Yes, there was actually a time when there was an economic advantage to building your own television.  Well economic in terms of cost, not factoring in your time, but it was a hobby and it was fun.  I used to help my dad sort out the thousand of components that would come in a kit for say a large console TV.  I remember maybe 8 or 9 thick instruction manuals with a box to check for each resistor, capacitor,...etc. that you soldered to the many circuit boards.  We had a Heathkit TV, Organ, Stereo, Weathers station, electric garage door opener, at least one radio, and other things.  Later on I built a few kits myself and then started to dabble in electronic circuits.  This dabbling continued for years, well into adulthood, but my problem was that I either was unable to, or didn't devote enough time to understanding how transistors and integrated circuits processed electrical signals.   So I was ultimately unable to craft raw electrical components into circuits that would perform whatever function I was looking for at that time, and pretty much had given up on this hobby until the emergence of small, inexpensive micro controllers a few years ago.  A micro controller is essentially a small circuit board with a number of digital and analog inputs and outputs controlled by a programable processor.  This was key as I am fairly able in writing programs.
Arduino Uno
There are a number of micro controllers available, however, I primarily work with the Arduino.  There are others that are probably faster and more powerful, however, there is a mountain of available online support and tutorials out there for this open source platform.  The Arduino can be purchased assembled or you can build it yourself - remember since it's open source, the circuit board information and schematics are available to anyone.  Shown in the photo is the latest version of the base Arduino - the Uno.  There are larger and smaller ones (more or less i/o capacity) and also the older versions are still out there and usually pretty cheap.  Radio Shack, formerly a go to place for the electronics hobbiest, has even gotten back in the game and they sell these assembled for a little over $30.  The silver box on the left side is a USB plug to connect with your PC, Mac or whatever.  The black round box is for a 9v plug in wall transformer power source.  Once you load the program onto the Arduino it can be powered independently and run the program stored in it's processor.  If you want to tweak something or change the program entirely - just plug in a laptop and upload a new or revised program.  Everything you need to compile and write programs are free downloads and there are thousands of programs online written by others available for free too.

The Arduino on the right and a "Shield" on the left.  This is specifically a RGB Backlit LCD Display Shield
Now you can wire everything directly to the input and output plugs on the board, or you can use what is called a "Shield".  A shield is basically a circuit designed to use the Arduino inputs and or outputs that plugs directly ontop of the Arduino Board.   Shown is an RGB Backlit LCD Display Shield that I bought as a kit from Adafruit Industries.  I can't say enough good things about this company.  Started by a young MIT grad named Limor Fried, or "LadyAda", Adafruit Industries is the hipster version of Heathkit.  Besides designing and selling kits, including a variety of Arduino related ones, Ms. Fried, provides support, tutorials, online troubleshooting and feedback, to the nth degree.  She also posts programs (known as "Sketches" on Arduino) to download for free to use with her devices.   The shield kit shown was a little over $20 and took me about an hour to solder all the components on.
Soldered up - note the pins that will plug directly into the opposing pins on the Arduino Uno
The shield connected and also note the USB cable (will still run without this using 9v transformer)  Running my Bessemer Plant program
I am using the shield as a test bed to develop the program to use this type of display as part of my model railroad operations.  Ultimately the Arduino will be directly wired to the independent display, and also to lights, sounds, and motor animations on the layout.  The photo shows the "Bessemer Plant" sequence running.  By the way the LCD I am using has five  backlight colors - red, green, purple, yellow, and blue.

The MintyBoost
Just for kicks - another Adafruit Kit - MintyBoost.  This ingenious little circuit fits into an Altoids tin and uses two AA to charge Iphones and whatever via a USB port.  Somehow it boosts the 3v output of two AA alkaline batteries into the 5v needed for a USB charger.  It burns through batteries fast, especially with my iphone 4, so it is only really practical where there is no way to plug a charger in, like my upcoming backpacking trip in the Adirondacks.

Power in a can

Sunday, April 8, 2012


It's been over a year and a half since I touched this model.  The sad thing is that most of the hard stuff is done and what's left is a lot of repetitive modeling that I've done before.  There was one hang up of sorts - the lower conical sections of the vertical intake pipes.   There are four of these so I figured I would make one master and cast the other three pieces.  Well I finally got around to it.
Resin cones
The master was a piece of wood turned on the lathe.  I then made an RTV mold and cast the pieces in gray resin.  With some minor sanding, they fit well.  By the way, don't ask me the purpose of these pieces as I don't really know.   The cone was glued onto the bottom of the intake pipes and then a 1/8" diameter styrene tube was glued in place as the support.
First conical pipe end in place with support pipe
Next I moved onto the walkway on the clean gas manifold.  The usual .030 styrene cut to shape, with .040 strips underneath and then  .030x.080 spacers to lift the platform a little above the pipe to clean the raised joints on the pipe.  I took care on spacing these parts as I planned them to fall where a handrail post is mounted.

Underside of clean gas manifold walkway
The tedious task of adding the handrails is underway