Modelling what might have been in southeast BC and northwest Wasington

Installing switch machines in staging

I have been working on the layout while we are self-isolating at home. The staging track yard ladder switches are made by Peco and have an internal over-centre spring to keep the points aligned. When I installed all of them way back when, I decided to just go with the intrinsic power routing that the switches provide, and that has worked well. However, I didn’t provide enough separate feeders to sections of the yard ladders which resulted in one needing to align switches way beyond were you are in order to get power. This has proven to be a continuing problem, especially for guest operators. 

I decided after VanRail to fix this problem, and after considering the overall situation where the power routing is dependant on the points, I decided to retrofit the switches with my usual powered frog solution using microswitches for reliability. This meant that all of the track switches would have to be lifted in order to drill the necessary holes for the point throw wires and to reconfigure their electrical connections, but in the end they will all be fully powered and operate exactly the same as the others around the layout. Brian helped lift the track a while back, but I never got around to installing anything until this week.

The first step was to prepare the toggle switches for the main throw mechanism, and then install them under the staging plywood.

Here are some of the switches after modification:

I now have all of the upper staging track switches back in place, and all but two of the switch machines installed under the plywood. My back will only let me do a few each day because there is very little room between the upper and lower staging decks. Working slow and steady, with constant checking has proven to get them installed and working correctly. They still need all of the microswitches for frog power routing, but that will come.

The switch machines for the lower staging yard are easier to install because I can get underneath the layout, but re-installing the track switches was a pain. With only 10” of separation between the levels, there is barely enough room for my head to be able to see to reconnect the rails and replace the track nails. What fun!

November 30th work session

Another great session on Saturday. The scenery around Curlew is looking great thanks to the guys.

November 23rd work session

More work on the 23rd. See photo captions for details. Progress is great.

November 16th work session

The gang continued on on a number of fronts, refer to the captions for details. Thanks guys!

Noxious fumes

Now that all of the new track at Carson and Curlew had been tested by VanRail and other operating sessions, it was time to paint it before we start on the scenery.

I have been using a spray paint made by Rust-Oleum called Specialty Camouflage – Earth Brown. It is very flat and covers well, and seems to stick to the plastic ties.

I clean the tops of the rails after it dries with a special tool I made from a simple piece of aluminum with one end sharpened with a file. The aluminum is softer than the rail, so it does not scratch it, but the paint peels right off with very little effort. The tool needs to be sharpened a few times, as the rail wears a groove in it. I found that if I tried to wipe the paint off while it was still wet, I would manage to hit the ties as well, messing up the nice finish. Also, by carefully using the tool, the tops of non-running rails such as guard rails can be left brown.

Rail cleaning tool.

I have not bothered to try to paint the rails a different colour, as I just don’t have the patience for that. I find that the dark brown colour of the paint seems to make the track just recede from view, and once it is ballasted, it looks fine to me.

Mainline track at Grand Forks after ballasting.

The only problem with this painting method is the fumes. You can’t really take the layout outside to paint it, so the room quickly fills with noxious fumes. I close the door to my workbench area which closes off both it and the layout room from the rest of the house, and I use a respirator when spraying. Afterwards, I run my paint booth exhaust in my workbench area for about 24 hours to clear the air. One window elsewhere in the house is left open a bit to let in fresh air, and it seems to travel through the heating ducts to the train room to replace the air that is being exhausted. This works well and we don’t smell the paint elsewhere in the house.

Curlew masked and painted.
Carson done as well.

While the spray paint works well, I really need to find a suitable acrylic alternative and learn to spray it before I need to paint future track additions.

Measure three times, cut twice

When “Measure Twice” is Not Enough

Fascia on the layout. It is a very important aspect that helps make a layout look finished, and it has to be good otherwise everyone notices. As one of the last construction steps before VanRail in September, the fascia around the corner with the Morning Star Mine was installed on Saturday with the help of my trusty Saturday gang. Everything was installed just fine, and it was left for me to drill out the three large holes for the switch control pushrods and guide cups. Due to the very tight space along that section of the layout with the track near the edge, there is no room for normal length pushrods. They are so short that there is no room for error and things have to line up well or it won’t work. So, I did a lot of careful measuring up, down, left, right, etc., etc., and made copious notes so that I could position the holes very accurately on the fascia, which is what I did. Or so I thought… I forgot to include the amount that the fascia sticks up above the plywood roadbed, so when I positioned the holes down from the top edge, they were in fact too high.

Oops, the push rods should line up with the centre of the holes.

Then, after remounting the fascia, and noticing my mistake and immediately knowing why, Suzy came along to inspect and tried to push the plastic control cups in and found that they hit the plywood. No problem, as the holes are too high, so that is to be expected, right? Well, it turns out that even if I had positioned them where I had so very carefully measured, it still would not have been right, as I had neglected to allow room between the cups and the switch mechanism attached to the bottom of the plywood. The track is so close to the fascia at that point that the cups have to be even lower than normal to clear the mechanisms.

Notice that the cups are hitting the switch mechanisms on the bottom of the plywood.

The solution was to install offset push rods that lower the rod so that the white cup can be below the switch mechanism and all will be well.

Now the cup can be lower and miss the switch mechanism.

So, even if I had “measured twice” and “cut once”, it still would have been wrong. I needed to measure “three times” and “cut once”. This is exactly what I did on the newly purchased second piece of fascia hardboard the next day. Tom was a huge help in coming over mid-week to help get it installed, and this time everything lined up correctly. We also decided that since we had a new piece of hardboard to play with that we would cut some significant undulations in the edge to add more scenic interest. So, in the end, it all worked out even better than had I done it “right” in the first place. Thanks Tom!

Morning Star Mine development 3 – The mountain

More work on the mountain beside the Morning Star Mine. The track was first enclosed inside a cardboard tunnel, with side access, to keep dust and scenery materials off of the track. Then a web is made of cardboard strips, followed by a layer of brown paper to even out the “ribbed” effect from the strips.

Gordie and Tom installing cardboard strips for the mountain.
Looking good.
Tom completing the brown paper overlay.

Continuing on with the elves

The next Saturday after I returned home we continued on from where the elves had left off during my absence. Work began as Gordie contemplated various connection schemes between the two sections which were almost on top of each other. He was inspired with a concept of two temporary switching leads one for Curlew and the other for Darestof. (What would we do without him?) Thanks again to John for the photos and comments.

Gordie contemplating

Most of the day was spent locating, adjusting heights, unwarping new plywood and securing the temporary Darestof section so it could be connected in a manner that would ensure smooth operation of both sections.

Gordie gluing

While leveling and arranging was ongoing, Greg and Brian were busy locating and installing track feeders in the permanent Curlew section.

Greg and Brian contemplating track feeders

And Tom was working on the cardboard web supports for the mountain behind the Morning Star mine. Tom is also responsible for the very nice retaining wall at the bottom of the hill beside the track. That is the narrowest spot, due to the proximity of the lower main line, and he offered to build a wall for the spot. Thank you!

Tom “webbing”

Off to one side Ken was quietly busy building the land of the “Ents”. (Tree-hosts, look it up online.) Although the scenery in this area does not represent a West Coast rain forest, nevertheless many, many trees are required to achieve scenery appropriate to the area around Grand Forks, British Columbia and looking down towards Spokane in Washington State.

Ken, the Tree Maker

For once, we had everyone present for the work session, but unfortunately somehow Brian got missed in the final shots of the gang. Everyone looks a bit tired from a good days efforts on the layout. Many thanks to you all!

Weary helpers
And the rest (except Brian, sorry)

The perils of going to a convention

In May, I attended the NMRA Pacific Coast Region convention in Sacramento, followed by the joint UP/SP historical societies’ convention in Ogden Utah commemorating the 150th anniversary of the completion of the US transcontinental railroad. It seems that while I was gone the Saturday elves were hard at work in my absence, working to get the portable end of the line section known as Darestof installed in preparation for VanRail in September. What is not evident in the photos is the amount of stuff that had to be moved to make room for the new L-girders and benchwork to support Darestof. The event was recorded once again by John.

The elves at Darestof

They did leave me to install the track to connect Darestof to Curlew. I didn’t want to compromise the design of Curlew just for VanRail, so the very end of Curlew was left unbuilt so that we could join it temporarily to Darestof. Once we continue along the wall and move Darestof to its next location, the south end of Curlew will get finished. For now, there is lots of track that has just been nailed down instead of glued.

Darestof installed

Darestof was not the only location where the elves were working. The sawmill in Curlew needs some sort of a log pond, so the trusty sabre saw was put to good use to cut out the plywood. They installed another piece lower down for the pond bottom.

The sawmill pond cut out.

Many thanks to the guys for doing this to advance the construction, and to Suzy for inviting them over in the first place! . There was considerable consternation amongst the group that I may be mad at them, but why would I be, after they did so much to help me.