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Archive for February 29th, 2012

Wooden Coal Cars

I was going to use D&RGW style drop-bottom gondolas to supply coal to the loading facilities at Durango and Silverton. I found a couple of Grandt Line kits on eBay at reasonable prices, but the center sills on the under-frames were designed for On3 trucks, not On30 trucks.  On30 trucks couldn’t turn without hitting the center sill, and it would have taken some extensive modification to get them to work, so I’ll finish building those models, and sell them back on eBay. In the mean time, I started to design my own coal cars. I’m keeping the drop-bottom feature because I want to supply my coal towers with a through-the-track dumping system.
Research turned up a number of features that I liked such as the end slope sheets and outside framing on these two cars.
Here’s a nice “woody” look on this East Broad Top model.  Notice the top bracing, and the handles that release the dump chutes under the car.
Here you can see the chain mechanism that opens and closes the bottom doors.
Here’s the start of the project. I’ve taken one of my flat car underframes, and put on wooden side and end sills. I’m not going to completely plank the deck on this car, because I need to engineer the dumping mechanism. Here are also the starting pieces for the car sides.
Decking to a certain point, and more bracing on the side panels.
Decking completed, underframe painted black, side panels glued on.
Support bracing for the two slope sheets.
Slope sheets installed.
Styrene jig for creating eight identical slope sheet braces for each car. I’ll need to build three more of these cars, so I can have a loaded and an empty car for each of my two towns, and this jig will speed things up.  Note the additional piece on the bottom of the side panels.  Next time, I’ll make the vertical side braces long enough to bolt to these.
The center slope divider took some tricky compound angle cutting.  Those V-shaped ends on it are sanded underneath to match the angles of the end slope sheets. Two top cross braces installed.
This picture shows the difference between a truck with only paint (on the left), and a truck with paint and weathering powders (on the right).
Here the pipes for the chains to open the bottom hatches are in place, and the chains are on them. I may not bother to detail the actual doors; on the loaded cars they won’t show, anyway. I have also added Bragdon’s “Soot” weathering powder to simulate the left-over residue from a coal load.
This photo shows the large number of NBW castings I had to mount on the sides and ends. I am still looking for suitable round handles to mount on the tips of the pipes sticking through the sides. I may use something like a brake wheel casting.
When I build the two loaded cars, I’ll hide some weight in the load, and top it off with finely ground real coal.
I decided to go with the Grandt Line O-scale 16″ brake wheel for the wheel that turns the rod to unwind the chain attached to the bottom chute door.
So, aside from a little more weathering, the empty wooden coal car is finished. Now on to the one with a load….and then two more to build, so I can have service to the coaling towers at both Durango and Silverton.

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Wheel and Tie Car

Another kind of MOW car for the DD&SRR.  The wheel and tie car transported just that….wheels and railroad ties.
There were minor variations in the research photos I used, but that’s nice; you can decide which features to use to give your car just the character you want.
Here’s the real deal. It may be sitting in the yard at Chama, New Mexico, in this photo.
I began this car, like many others, by taking one of my “cheap falt car” bodies, and adding planking and then side stake pockets from Grandt Line.
Here is the start of the “pen” for the railroad ties.
I created little carraiges for the wheels. When I get back to it, I might try my Dremel tool with a grinder on it to blunt the axle ends. It would give a more prototypical look.  On these wheels I used Testor’s “Rust”, and painted everything, including the axles.
Two carraiges are complete, the wheels have been weathered with Bragdon’s Dust Bowl Brown, and the “pen” for the ties is complete.
The other end of the car has a short fence with steel diagonal braces and hand grabs. The white glue is Aleene’s Tacky Glue, and it will dry clear.
A close up of some end details with powdered weathering.
I wanted the finished car to look like it had once been painted with the light gray color that the D&RGW has used…..
I also wanted to try Woodland Scenics dry transfer lettering. “Railroad Roman” is the font style, and I bought a set in black and another set in white.  Although they looked nice, and my clumsy first attempt at using them just contributed to the worn look I was after, I might eventually go with custom decals because I can only letter a couple of cars from a Woodland Scenics set before I’m out of letters.
To get the painted, but weathered, look I was after, I used several thin coats of a light gray acrylic that I had mixed up. On top of that I dry brushed a little full strength acrylic white, and then powdered everything down.  To get the best mileage out of my ties (which I stained with the leather dye/alcohol mix to look like creosote), I stacked them criss-cross, and only used tie ends in the middle; the pile is actually hollow inside.

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Water Cars

As far back as the Civil War water and other liquids were being transported by rail in large wooden cylindrical barrels. Shortly after the Civil War, metal tank cars began being used in the oil fields of Pennsylvania. If my layout is set in 1915, these wooden tank cars would really be on their last legs, if even still in use at all. That’s the nice thing about having your own layout; I like the look of these cars, and so I built one.
I used several research photos to design my car, like this one from a site that specializes in Civil War era trains.
I decided to go with the three-tank version.
I didn’t have to look very far to find the perfect size cylinder for my tanks. A toilet paper roll from the bathroom fit nicely on the flat car with space left over on each side. As a bonus, it also fit snugly around my Aleene’s Tacky Glue bottle, so I could hold its shape as I worked on it.
I decided to make my tanks exactly one-third the height of the TP roll. Here I am gluing on some pre-stained basswood strips. I cut the strips a little taller than the cardboard base, so that my wooden top could inset into them.  I used a clear plastic square to make sure the strips stayed perpendicular to the flat car deck. 
By accident, I put my stained basswood strips in a piece of plastic packaging to dry, and I found that the sides facing down took a very heavy stain. This made for a nice variety in the coloring of my barrel staves.
Here are the three barrels sitting on top of the flat car under-frame.
For the banding on the barrels, I took a piece of 3M blue painter’s tape, stuck it on a piece of glass, so it wouldn’t lose any of its stickiness, and painted the non-sticky side of it with Testor’s Flat Black enamel. I let that dry overnight, and then cut 1/16th of an inch wide strips of it, long enough to go around the barrels. I didn’t have to use any glue to apply them; because the sticky side still worked just fine.  To get the bands level and all in the same place on each barrel, I held a pencil on top of blocks of various heights, and turned the barrels by it.  You can see the pencil lines very faintly on the barrels.
I used a compass to draw circles on some nice hard, thin, tag-board. I find emery boards make handy little sanders. I filed the edges of the cardboard until the fit was perfect.
I glued the same thin strips of basswood to the cardboard tops, sanded the edges for a nice fit, and then fashioned a hatch to get to the water inside the barrels.
The hatch is about half an inch square, and has a two-part styrene hinge, and wire fashioned for a clasp.
Then I cut boards to secure the barrels to the flat car deck. These are held in place by long stay bolts that go through both boards, and down through the flat car deck.
I didn’t need to put cardboard in the barrel bottoms because the glue container had held them perfectly round until the glue dried hard. So the bottoms were open, and I could weight my car with one inch square lead pieces stacked inside the barrels, glued to the flat car deck and each other.
In the research photos there were blocks on the deck to keep the water barrel bottoms from sliding. I used four little NBW castings to suggest how these were secured to the deck.
This photo shows one of the long stay bolts. I used wire blackened with ME Rail Weathering solution, and put a small NBW casting at the top.  There are four of these on each barrel.
These are pictures of the finished car. I still have to add a brake wheel. I put Grandt Line stake pockets along the sides even though they won’t be used on this car.  I’m getting so I feel my flat cars are naked without them.
I got some larger NBW’s from Grandt to use on my end sills. Compare here to the smaller ones in the deck block.
Side view. Truss rods and brake detail come with the Bachmann under-frames.
Top view. Hatches and stay bolts.  I used both “Rust” and “Dust Bowl Brown” Bragdon weathering powders on this car.
I can’t wait to see this car running water to the lumber camp and the mines.

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Videos on DVD

Eventually I plan to make videos of my layout including scripts with stories, characters, music, etc., but that’s still a couple of years in the future.  In the mean time, I worked on two train video projects last summer and fall.  The set of three DVDs pictured above were produced by Steve Mitchell of Yard Goat Images.  The whole set contains video of steam locomotives that Steve shot over the course of the entire summer of 2011, but my contribution, mainly on volumes two and three, covered the 2011 Railfest in Rock Island, Illinois.  My first assignment was to drive down to Newton Iowa, and chase two huge 2-10-2 steam locomotives that belong to the president of the Iowa Interstate Railroad, as they made their way to the festival in Rock Island.  These locomotives were built in China in the 1980’s.  The temperatures were over 100 degrees every day we shot, but it was still great fun.   Once at the festival, we shot material on all the trains and locomotives that were there, followed and rode trips out to Walcott, Iowa and back, and covered trips to Bureau Junction, Illinois.  The videos are available, singly, in pairs, or the full three volume set, from Steve Mitchell at <yardgoatimages.com>
Last fall I made a video on the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway, which is operated by The Minnesota Transportation Museum.  The picture above is the front and back side of the DVD case cover.  The 90 minute round trip train ride passes through some beautiful countryside as it travels down to the St. Croix River, across to the Minnesota side, and on to Marine on St. Croix.  I wanted to catch the train on the best day for the fall leaf color, but it only runs on the weekends.   As it turned out, I was very lucky with the weather, and I got some gorgeous shots.  You can purchase the DVD at The Minnesota Transportation Museum, or I can make you a copy.  The cost is $9.75 plus shipping.

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How to get two small bridges out of one kit for a larger bridge.
Kit photo.  If you look at my track plan, there are two small bridges below and to the left of Silverton. On earlier versions of the plan, these were labeled “Howe Truss Bridges”, but the kit I got from Australia was for a McDonald Truss Bridge. This McDonald Truss Bridge kit is based on a prototype across Cox’s River at McKane’s Falls near Lithgow in New South Wales. Completed in 1893, the Heritage Listed structure is one of the oldest timber bridges in NSW and is significant as a surviving example of one of the largest of the type ever constructed in NSW. This classic 1880’s design by John A. McDonald was developed to solve maintenance problems of earlier Public Works Department designs which used single, heavy timbers. Replacement of individual hewn timbers was problematic without demolishing the bridge!
This photo from the kit shows a number of variations that can be built.  There are enough materials in the kit to construct a bridge about 21 inches long (84 scale feet). The two bridges I needed could only be about 6 inches long, so I decided to use the materials to make two identical small bridges.
There are enough materials in the kit to construct a bridge about 21 inches long (84 scale feet). The two bridges I needed could only be about 6 inches long, so I decided to use the materials to make two identical small bridges. In order to do this, I had to modify the plans for the bridge sides. This photo shows the plans for a shortened bridge, and the adjustment I made in the angle of the beams running to the thrust blocks.
Here are two of the bridge sides under construction. This kit from Australia came with balsa wood, rather than the basswood that we usually work with in this country. I was unsure of the strength of this material, but went ahead anyway. I had watched some videos of Australian modelers, and they really do nice work, and they work primarily in balsa. It may be that balsa is more readily available “down under” than basswood. At any rate, I was happy with the way the wood worked, and the final results were just as nice to look at as a basswood model.  Balsa takes an alcohol/leather dye stain very nicely, and quickly!
Here is one of my bridges with the connecting timbers in place between the sides.
One completed bridge with truss rods, nut-bolt-washer castings, and bridge decking. The bridge decking that was supplied was a harder wood. I think it may be mahogany. I also weathered the bridge with Bragdon Light Rust powder. I’ll put the track in place when I do my track-laying and position the bridges.
I used some of the left over materials to fashion bridge abutments for the project.
Detail of bridge deck and truss rods.
End view of bridge.
Close up of plate holding truss rods. Aside from the wood, and the rods themselves, everything else in this photo is plastic, painted and powdered to look like rusty metal.

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Track Plan for the D,D&SRR

As work progresses on the loft space, I keep getting better ideas for the track plan. The thought that I will certainly be, some day in the not too distant future, committing this plan to reality can bring all kinds of things to light. Today I totally redesigned the town and rail facilities at Durango. I realized that the area of the plan that I might have to reach into the most often, the yard, was the furthest area from the edge of the layout. (See older drawings below) This didn't make sense, so I brought it forward to within two feet of the edge, easily within reach of the 0-5-0 switcher. I also put one of those little hand operated trolley turntables next to the station like the ones that are used in San Fransisco where the lines terminate by the waterfront. You can click on this photo to enlarge it.

Hi Railfans,

Here is a recent version of the track plan. I have used a program called Empire Express to do the drawings. It works well on my MAC, and has as many features as I need, without being too complicated. I keep working over the plan to conform to prototype practice, as my research continues. If you have seen earlier versions of the plan, you will notice some changes. If you are looking at the plan for the first time, the total space is 23 feet by 10 feet, and the little gray squares on the plan are one square foot each. The scale is On30, which means it is O Scale (1/4″ to the foot), but runs on HO Scale track, which represents 2.5 gauge or “narrow gauge” in O Scale.

If this is the first version you are looking at, my railroad, the Denver, Durango & Silverton, will be modeled on the narrow gauge operations of the Denver & Rio Grande Western and the Rio Grande Southern in the southern part of Colorado. These narrow gauge lines flourished in the late 1800s, and gradually died out in the mid 1900s, as the resources they carried, primarily lumber and silver and gold ore, decreased. The advent of better highways to serve these areas also contributed to their demise.  Some sections of the line are still run as tourist railroads, notably the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad.

My railroad will model the line from Durango up to Silverton, about a 45 mile run through the amazingly beautiful Animas River Canyon. I will also have an off-line hidden return helix that will lead to a hidden yard representing Denver if entered from an eastbound direction, or Farmington, New Mexico, if entered from a westbound direction. Basic traffic on my line will come from Denver to the yard at Durango. From there trains can go on to the yard at Silverton, or run through to Farmington. Return trips go the other way. The locals will serve the various on-line industries, as well as taking loads and empties between Durango and Silverton or to Denver and Farmington. The mines and the lumber camp will be served by (2) little 0-4-0 and 0-4-2 Porter steam engines. I also have (2) two-truck Shays that will bring logs down to Durango from the lumber camp. Two other Porters will serve as yard goats, and the main line will be served by two 4-6-0 Moguls, two 2-8-0 Consolidations, and a 4-4-0 American.   A newly purchased DCC/Sound Porter will replace one of my old non-sound Porters.  Eventually the goal is to have all locomotives equipped with DCC and sound.  The larger locomotives will handle the local duties, and the run to Denver and Farmington. These lines also carried passengers, mostly miners and tourists, so I will be modeling the D&RGW’s famous San Juan Express, a short train for passengers, mail, and small shipments that can fit in the baggage express car.  Eventually I will be running two sections of this train each day, one Eastbound and one Westbound.

One unusual feature of the layout will be what I am called a “roll-under”. As opposed to the traditional “duck-under”, access to the west (or right hand) side of the layout on the plan will be via some kind of a seat on rollers that goes under the central cross-over section.

The small numbers in parentheses on the plan refer to reference photos I have in digital files that I use for modeling.   See the posts on the Reference Photos for Plan Sections.

I hope you enjoy looking at this, and I welcome comments.   You can enlarge photos by clicking on them.

Town of Durango, railroad yard, entrance to helix to Farmington.
Center roll-under section between Durango and Silverton representing the Animas River Canyon.  This area will be rendered to be viewed from both sides.
Silverton and Cascade Canyon Lumber Camp area of layout.

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Hidden Return Yard

A hidden return yard, or “staging” yard, as it is sometimes called in model railroad circles, functions as an imaginary distant place, or places, which are not rendered on the visible part of your layout. You can then send trains to these towns, and receive shipments from them in return, which increases your operational possibilities.  Some layouts, called “point-to-point” layouts, use one or more hidden staging yards in separate places, under the layout, or in other rooms. Others, called “run-through”, or “continuous running” layouts, use double ended staging yards like the one I have designed. This enables the operator to set up one or more trains to run in circles, as it were, around the layout for simple train-watching, and have other trains “waiting in the wings” to make their “entrances upon the stage”.  Funny how theatre language applies to model railroading.  The length of the run, and the route, are determined by the design of the visible part of the layout plus the hidden section.  Originally, I was going to use two helixes at opposite ends of the route to represent a yard at Denver, and one at Chama, New Mexico. After further consideration, I made two changes. Since in the real world, Chama is located between Denver and Durango, I changed the Chama yard to the Farmington, New Mexico, yard, which is further West and South of Durango. The other change involved designing just one larger yard with double ended access, which can receive and dispatch trains in both directions. This makes a continuous run on my layout possible, although it still uses the original two helixes. Here are track plans, in the same format as the visible track plans, which show the helixes and the hidden track for the yard. Although I say “hidden”, for convenient access this track is as close to the front edge of the layout as I can make it, and it is only 13 inches below the lowest level on the main layout.

Images may be enlarged by clicking on them.

Another really big advantage of this change is that I can get rid of two return loops.  Return loops, or areas where locomotives can return to track that is of the opposite polarity than the track on which they are running,  are challenging and expensive to wire and operate, and the fewer of them on the layout the better.  My two turntables still constitute “return loops”, because the locomotives are turned around, and put back on track running in the opposite direction.

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