No Visible Means of Support

Way back when, I set a goal of getting Comstock Road self-illuminated so that I would be choosing the best colours based on the actual light conditions. (Or at least the best that I can). I have finally got the enclosing infrastructure to the point of proving that my light support concept can work. The first dry fit is pictured with a clear span of just over ten and a half feet.


The only support is the two visible clamps holding the light support to the side wings. Both side wings now have their front flush mounts to transfer weight directly downwards. I will be adding a couple of clips to each end of the top/side joins for the permanent attachment. Also missing is the front layer of hardboard.

The two sections are hinged together on the bottom edge with the biggest strap hinge that would fit which is not as bit as I would like. In place, the hinge is in tension and easily does the job but when moving the piece separately it is prone to twist. Definitely the weak link. A draw latch holds the back face together at the top but the two together are no match for the leverage of a six foot lever on either end if care is not taken.

It looks like it will do for the first iteration but I expect that it won’t take many outings before a second version gets developed.

I Meant To Do That


When I started this blog, I said I was going to share the mistakes as well as the things that go well. In a non-trivial design oversight, I implemented the above atrocity.  That is the backdrop extending about two inches into the space that the traverser used to travel through. First time operating with the backdrop up was a vocabulary expanding moment.

I cannot claim this was a failure of measurement since I failed to consider the traverser travel altogether. I think the much attentuated construction process allowed me time to forget about such an obvious thing.

On the bright side, the traverser is still usable as-is! The restricted movement means less flexibility and I am not sure that isn’t a good thing. Of the three tracks, the back one can reach the back siding and the runaround track. The center track reaches the runaround and the main and the front track just reaches the main. Effectively, there is a notional runaround with a turnout to the back siding and a storage siding off the main. Much more plausible than the full range of traverser movement. I think I shall keep things as they are and see if I like it. If not, I can rework that backdrop piece to clear things up later.

Another Take on Virtual Gatherings: The Hindsight 20/20 Virtual RPM

This last Saturday I “attended” my first Railroad Prototype Modelers meet all from the social isolation of my comfy chair. Organized by Ted Culotta of Speedwitch Media, Ryan Mendell of National Scale Car and Hunter Hughson, modeller of Penn Central’s Niagara Branch, this eight hour virtual meet was attended by roughly 170 modelers from all across North America and probably beyond.

I have not managed to attend an RPM in the past since the local one always seems to be a calendar conflict for me and I prefer to use my rare travelling attendance on meets with a wider scope. I decided to attend this one largely because it required no travel, no cost and Ryan and Hunter are two of the attendees for Train Night in Canada. My attendance was amply rewarded as I did come away with a number of useful ideas and learned some interesting prototype information that might be useful some day.

I listened to a number of excellent presentations on an assortment of specific prototype modeling topics. The speakers were all excellent although there was the odd technical hiccup as we have all come to expect in this era. Glitches were eventually overcome and all the presentations got delivered. For general historical interest, I particularly enjoyed Roger Chrysler’s  talk on  Lidgerwood and Hart cars. This was a system for bulk unloading of aggregate for ballasting and filling trestles. Picture a winch car at one end of a train pulling a plow the length of the train to push the load out the side doors. I had no idea such a system existed.

For specific usefulness, Jered Slusser’s presentation on USRE 40′ was definitely the winner. Most of my current boxcar fleet are variations on the old Intermountain 1937 AAR 40′ boxcar kit now carried by Atlas as ready-to-run. These would have fit the previous effort, based in the late 1940’s well but would be getting implausibly long in the tooth and rare in the mid 1970’s. Unless they were rebuilt! And now they shall be! Eventually….

The organizers are planning additional instances of their virtual RPM format in the future. If this is something you might be interested in, watching Speedwitch Media’s blog would be the best way to find out in a timely manner.

Flush Mount Clips for Detachable Backdrop

Waaaaay back when, I briefly mentioned flush mount clips in my baseboard plan for Comstock Road. I bought them from Lee Valley Tools and have finally got to the point of actually installing them.


These clips are only 1/8″ thick when together and provide a rigid enough attachment to keep backdrop sections upright on their own. Any sort of serious lateral force would be a problem, though, so I am making a tradeoff for speed of assembly and disassembly. The sections just drop into place with no fussing around. At least once I figured out the best way to mount them.

The product description specifies #6 screws but the ones available to me don’t fit entirely flush in the holes in the clip or are at least nigh unto impossible to get exactly flush. (The photo above shows the #6’s) The tightness of the fit between the two pieces makes any protruding screw top an problem. I did the first side piece with #6’s and it is a jam fit. I then tried #5’s for the other side and they work a treat. So 5’s it is if you plan on taking things apart often. I will have to redo the first side at some point soon.

Here is the stage left end with a back section propped in place for the photo.IMG_20200527_143937521

The backdrops will take a bit longer than anticipated due to a design oversight. The backdrop is supposed to clip onto the back of the baseboards and span the section gap. (Two 4’6″ pieces will do the visible part before the fiddle yard.) Also spanning that gap on the back is one of the clips holding the sections together… I will have to do something like frame around those points and cut suitable holes. I am not sure what the solution would look like if I planned for this but I have enough leftover 1×2 to bodge up something that will work.



Back on the Bus

IMG_20200523_215448698One of the non-layout related projects I have started is a David Provan etched brass kit of a Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes railbus. I had always wanted to have a go at a UK etched kit and an On30 North American outline vehicle gives me something more than a display model. (Or at least to the same extent as the rest of my currently un-layouted On30 rolling stock!)

With the recent acquisition of a resistance soldering unit and an increase in time for model building, I decided to have another go. I got stuck back in during our usual Train Night in Canada video call. It was easy to find the project in progress since it resides in one of my storage boxes. Remembering where I was at and what I had worked out about the pieces on the frets is still in progress. Nevertheless, I did get the next bit on although I used my digital iron since the joint wasn’t amenable to soldering tweezers and I haven’t worked out a satisfactory method of grounding for use with the probe.

The only downside of this sort of project during a video call is that it requires focus. I missed some of what others were showing to the camera. I need a call specific project like applying shingles. The modelling equivalent of knitting as it were.

Woodwork Complete

Yesterday, I finished assembling the frames for the backdrop and light bar for Comstock Road. Other than whatever accessory mounting work might come along, that concludes all the actual cutting of wood with only the gluing of hardboard panels and installing mounting hardware left to make things actually useful.IMG_20200523_135222617

I came up with a better temporary assembly jig by putting the framing square on the outside. This allows me to just bang both pieces into the corner and clamp; much more efficient than having to separately align the ends with the square on the inside.

Hopefully, I can get the panels glued on over the next day or so and start getting things mounted. If all goes according to plan, Comstock Road should look dramatically more complete in just a short time. Of course, some actual scenery wouldn’t go amiss, either…

An Ambitious Number of Windows


Above is the trackplan for my previous, un-achieved layout, the Manhattan Terminal Railroad. I was corresponding with Chris Mears over our mutual interest in densely packed little bits of industrial railroad somehow I committed to posting the plan, so here it is.

The plan is on a 1 foot grid, the scale is still 1:48, the main entrance is through the drop leaf at the top. The overall concept, as suggested by the title, was an offline(accessible only by carfloat) terminal operation on the island of Manhattan, somewhere on the west side in the 30th-40th street range. (40th was the PRR, the Erie, B&O and several others were also there. I cherry picked the bits I liked to produce a proto-freelanced line that would fit my space. The ruling curve around the end was a flange squealing 38″ so fit was tight and the location provided the excuse for the intense switching I desired.

In no particular order, here are some things I like about the plan:

  • The carfloat based fiddle yard: instead of hidden cassettes, I imagined waterline model carfloats with felt lined bottoms manually pushed over the resin “water”.
  • Water covered drop leaf. I generally wish to avoid this sort of entrance blocking compromise but a surface merely for sliding floats across would be quick to raise and replace.
  • Plausibly scaled carfloat and pier warehouse. The proposed carfloats would be over 250 scale feet long which approaches prototype dimensions and would hold about 15 40 foot O scale cars. You can see why sliding is indicated!
  • Multiple routes through the trackage. The float bridge can be switched from both a front and back lead. One could conceivable have two switchers going at once.
  • Working a landmark, the expressway in. Most of the prototypes had to cross under that expressway to get from shore to the trackage that earned the money.

What killed it? Other than life distractions that may have provided an excuse, the scope of the structures required matched against the prospect of an eventual move. The backdrop would need to be 40+ feet of multi-story masonry buildings with the exception of the merely tall single store pier warehouse. I shudder to think how many windows that would require in the days before 3D printing was a thing. I am sure others could get it done but it eventually became obvious to even me that I was not that guy, at least not then.

As a contrast, Comstock Road is mobile, not just movable and will have, depending on whim, no more than 5 major structures. It offers much less scope for switching operations but, other than rolling stock, it is operational now. It took me (this is where a blog is handy to avoid rosy recollections) Roughly two calendar years to go from trackplan to operable with no scenery or structures yet in sight but momentum has been preserved.

It’s A Frame-up

On day two of the mini isolation vacation, I carried on with the sides for Comstock road. I applied some woodworking overkill by assembling the frames using pocket hole joinery. This works very well and gave me a chance to practice with my new pocket hole jig on something that where mistakes would be inexpensive.

I proceeded in production fashion by drilling all the pocket holes first.IMG_20200505_152640828

The trick to getting a good result when assembling is to get things aligned and clamp everything. Holding things with your hand is not going to work. (But, yes, I did try it on a test piece.) I have a framing square set up to give me something to align to and the bar clamp over the joint is doing the real work. There are expensive fancy clamps for this purpose but I made do with the bar clamp. If I was going to be doing a lot of this I would seriously consider a specialty clamp or fixture. And that was before I dropped the bar clamp on my foot!IMG_20200505_160157641

Here are the results of the afternoon’s work artistically arranged. IMG_20200505_163054183

Next step will be applying the hardboard pieces cut yesterday to the frames.

Sawing al Fresco


I spent the afternoon breaking up sheet goods in the backyard. While some household materials were involved, the majority of the work was 1/8″ hardboard for the backscene, sides and lighting pelmet for Comstock Road. All the hardboard pieces are cut to size and I also cut the 1×2 pine for the sides while I had the table saw outside.

Almost everything went according to plan with just one brain fart resulting in an eight inch cut in one of the side sheets where it is not supposed to be. I had prepared a detailed cutting list in advance but lost track of which was the side I was supposed to be shortening. I think I can conceal the cut in the fiddle yard where nobody should be looking anyway.

I didn’t cut all of the 1×2 because I didn’t have enough on hand. Much to my annoyance, my previous purchase was decidedly inadequate. I have no idea if this was because the plan used to be different or there wasn’t enough satisfactory pieces in stock or what. Of course I discovered this after making the curbside pickup at the big box store. Given the, ahem, highly variable quality usually in stock at my local store I will hold out in hopes of getting a chance to pick my own pieces. Otherwise, I will have to over order, hope for enough good pieces and eventually return the rest.

Foam Cradle

As I embark on various couple and truck installations, a simple product purchased on a whim is turning out to be very handy. I bought this foam cradle from MicroMark as an afterthought to some order or other. This is one of those things you can almost certainly make for yourself but I guess I succumbed to the lure of convenience or aspiration or both.

In any case, both I and the foam block have redeemed that aspiration and I am finding it essential for installing the new couplers, especially on the loco which tips the scales at over 5 pounds. Holding that upside down in one hand while attempting to tap a whole is not a great idea. Haven’t broken a tap yet, don’t want to start. I will take all advantages I can get given my record on ham-handed damage while handling rolling stock. I will keep this handy on my workbench to discourage any hasty corner cutting.IMG_20200502_204502804_HDR