Clutter Sentimental and Aspirational

Those in the de-cluttering business talk about different classes of clutter. Aspirational clutter is that which you acquire to make yourself look better to either others or yourself. I tend to think of it as including unbuilt kits unrelated to the current project, books long unread or never read and perhaps magazines containing information you might need some day.

Sentimental clutter is that which you have an emotional attachment although it may be to the memories the object invokes rather than the object itself.

For me, a prime example of that combines some of both is old model railroad magazines. All have been read, sometimes many times but how much information do they contain that I will really ever use. Old modeling techniques are mostly obsolete but prototype drawings, for example, might be useful. But if I actually go to build something, I can obtain a reprint from either the publisher or the NMRA library. Intellectually, I cannot really justify keeping a couple of cubic yards of paper on the chance I might need a couple of pages out of the lot. Yet I still have them.

Or did. In a fit of ruthlessness or simple clarity, I have managed to bin most of the old magazines. My Toronto maximum sized recycling bin was not sufficient so I have lesser bins staged up for the pickup after next but the job is done.

Here is what is left with includes a few volumes kept for specific reasons but mostly special issues:magazinesredux

Featured on top is a BRMNA publication on Cuban sugar railroads I had forgotten I ever had. Thus highlighting another hazard of too much of something. I guess that might count as abundance clutter.

Here is the 2×4 foot rolling pallet the magazine collection occupied that is now off to make Christmas decoration storage a bit more convenient. The space it is in is the right hand end of the space for Comstock Road. The remaining two! pallets of non-hobby stuff will handily fit under the layout, one per support section. I am at last at the point where I can get back to layout itself.surpluspallet


As I previously mentioned, a major cleanup and reorganization are required to site the new Comstock Road layout against the wall. A primary task was removing and disposing of the last section of the old layout benchwork. Here is a shot of the bottom which is the interesting side.


This section never had anything on it that was supposed to be there and has been serving as a big, very solid shelf since it was built. (It was going to be harbor water and piers.) I cleared it off this morning, carted it out to the driveway and cut it up so that it could join other detritus in a trip to the waste transfer station.

Always one to try a new benchwork construction method, I built the previous layout using the “waffle” approach. The results are rigid to an extreme. Tapdancing elephants might crush it but it probably still wouldn’t flex. Construction time is probably on the same order as the plywood sandwich I am using on Comstock Road but with more sawing with a jig saw required.

But, you knew there must be a but,  the rigidity was at the price of weight. 1/2″ plywood + Homasote over all made the sections firmly in the movable not portable category. There are clubs who base show layouts on waffles so portability standards obviously differ. I suspect such clubs are well provided with extra hands and hauling capacity.

Traverser Automation Plan

controllerpartsI have acquired the necessary electronic components to implement my plan for automating the traverser. Working with stepper motors is a new thing for me so I wanted to start in on that sooner to qualify the technical risk aka figure out if it can be done. In the interests of speed, I decided to go with fast and effective for the prototype.

Initial major components are:

  • A NEMA23 stepper motor which the size typically used by small CNC machines. The traverser table will be rolling on drawer slides and hopefully this motor will have enough torque to move the table when loaded with cars and loco.
  • A Big Easy Driver board to control the motor. This motor can draw up to 2 amps so you can’t drive it directly from microcontroller PWM outputs like a small servo. This driver is one that has good Arduino support.
  • An Arduino Uno R3 microcontroller board. This is major overkill for this application in terms of processor power and functionality but the quickest to get something running. Final version will probably be an Arduino mini but that board doesn’t have on-board debugging support so I wanted to defer that until later.

I am going to use the Arduino development environment with its associated cornucopia of software and community support. I would not base a commercial product on Arduino but nobody is paying me for this so I am trying to focus on the model railroad goal and avoiding the temptation to start from scratch firmware-wise.


In preparation for cutting out roadbed and sub-roadbed, I have been creating the detailed track templates. General track planning software such as AnyRail which I use is good for general planning but does not produce templates for hand laying track.  For that, the go-to tool is Templot by Martin Wynne.

Templot is free to use although I bought it when it was a licensed product. It is a powerful specialized CAD program specifically for producing custom trackwork templates according to prototype practice.  If all of your turnouts are a standard, regular size then something like a FastTracks jig may be all you need. If, however, you need to produce more challenging track formations such as a yard ladder or a crossover on a curve, Templot can’t be beat.

That’s the good part. Not so good is that Templot, like other serious CAD programs, has a steep learning curve. It takes time to get up to speed which is an additional hurdle if you, like me, only need to produce templates every once in a great while. All of the terminology is based on UK prototype practice which also takes a bit of learning.

That being said, I have blown most of the dust off of my modest Templotting skills and am mostly done the tough bit of the Comstock Road plan.  Here is a screenshot of some of the work in progress.templottingwip

The lower right turnout is not a model railroad-esque right hand turnout with what should be the normal route going through the curved leg, it is a #6 left hand turnout diverging from a right hand transition curve.  And incidentally going straight into an asymmetric crossing. Once I had got back up to speed with the Templot interface and watch a couple of subject specific videos, the actual template creating didn’t take that long.

Still to do are:

  • spurs out from the crossing
  • assorted tweaking of ties such as those overlapping and/or too widely spaced around the crossing
  • check turnout motor locations against module boundaries.

Once everything is as good as I can make it, I will print out the whole thing full size on my home laser printer and there will then ensue a lot of trimming margins and taping sheets together. The whole thing then gets used as a template to cut out the Homasote roadbed and off we go.


The linear progress on a single modeling project described to this point might cause one to wonder about my choice of blog title. Wonder no longer! Here is the other project nearest completion.

Some time ago, I chanced to re-read an installment of Bob Walker’s excellent Scratchbuilder’s Corner column in Railroad Model Craftsman where he suggested on build a shed as start on scratchbuilding structures.  After a bit of thrashing around, I settled on a PRR handcar shed since plans were freely available on the internet at PRR Standard Plans.

I got the whole thing done except the roof and wandered off to other projects. I have recently started on the roof since that seems like a short step to done.  Never one to do things the easy way, I decided to try a technique for creating tarpaper roofing from kraft paper using an India ink and alcohol wash I read somewhere or other.

So, shed with insufficiently rigid 1/32″ plywood subroof:shed

And roofing in progress:roofingfactory

To do:

  • Resolve subroof rigidity issue.
  • Finish staining roofing.  Photo is two coats of stain, I think I need to add more ink to the mix.
  • Apply soffit.
  • Apply roof.
  • Door hardware, perhaps an exterior light and a stove pipe.
  • Affix shed to a minimal base.
  • Lighting?  The door is not openable and there is no interior.

Baseboard Frames Done

Tonight I finished gluing up the baseboard frames.  I decided to do a test setup just to make sure everything fit before the glue dried.  There was a bad moment where I was looking at two section ends both labelled 1 and top but had pins on the same side.  After a little bit of panicking and preparing to rip and end out I flipped the end section over so the pins and sockets aligned and…. it all fit.  Which leaves me pondering where I mislabelled an end or accidentally made things symmetrical enough to work upside down.  Almost certainly the former.  Still, I don’t like it when software bugs magically go away without explanation either.  Oh well.

Here, crammed into the aisle in the shop, is the current state of the layout.  Internal cross bracing will wait on getting the trackplan laid out full size so that turnout linkages can be avoided.  Next up is a big tidy/declutter/rearrangement so that the layout can go up against the wall to the left and a start on the backdrop ends and valance.


The Alternative Plan

I wanted to take a look at the other plan finalist and contrast the two.

Here, again, is the plan I intend to implement: comstock12.1

And here is the leading alternative which I think of as the no hidden track version:comstock6

I like the alternative almost as much and suffer periodic wobbling of intent.  (Until I start cutting roadbed, I could go the other way if I wanted).

Things I like about the alternative:

  • No hidden track
  • Nice long multi-spot siding.
  • Main alignment is not parallel to the baseboard edge.
  • No problematic fiddle yard entrance to disguise

Things I don’t like:

  • Short leads at either end of an implausibly short runaround.
  • Reaching over to uncouple on left end.
  • Half the turnouts are sitting on baseboard joints with less freedom to move them off.
  • No way to fiddle equipment on and off the layout off-stage, at least without some sort of additional extension which the current layout site discourages.

Things I like about the intended plan:

  • Traverser both provides a bit of staging and it replaces two turnouts.
  • Off-stage end of run around track makes the runaround effectively infinite in length and less toy-like.
  • Headroom for switching sidings is less constrained.
  • A bit of special but plausible track-work.
  • One more spot with one less turnout. 🙂

Things I don’t like:

  • The inevitable need for some sort of disbelief involved in disguising the fiddle yard entrance.
  • Most of the traverser automation needs to be bulletproof before operating entirely from the front is possible.  I can do it but the critical path is not the best place for the experimental project.

Weekend Reading: Scratch-Building Model Railway Locomotives by Simon Bolton

Reading is the one hobby I have pursued longer than model railroading. Naturally, some of the former involves subject matter relevant to the latter. I thought I would share some titles that I have found interesting:

Scratch-Building Model Railway Locomotives by Simon Bolton is an accessible read covering the subject from a start useful to the beginner new to scratch-building in metal i.e. me.  This was an exciting find since the articles on the subject in such wonderful publications as Model Railway Journal tend to assume a basic level of knowledge and experience that many of us in North America lack.

Simon describes the construction of a simple British locomotive in a cheerful style illustrated with many colour photographs and hand drawn diagrams. Tools and techniques are introduced and explained in detail.  Neither is unachievable by the average intrepid modeler.  No lathe or milling machine required!

Even if I never actually scratch-build a locomotive, I learned several techniques that I have already put into use.  There is a sequel, Scratch-Building Model Railway Tank Locomotives that builds on the first book while tackling a more challenging modeling subject.  Both books are available through certain large online book sellers in North America which is how I found them when searching for books on the subject.