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May and June Update…

Wow, a lot has happened since I last wrote. Though I should have had time to update things, I haven’t really been able to sit down and write.

After our business trip to New York, we were home for a couple of weeks. Then we headed south to see the kids (son, daughter-in-law and grandson) in Kansas City. They had just moved into their new home and we went down to visit and help get them settled. We had been down there before, but hadn’t done much exploring of the city. My son and daughter-in-law were very excited about an area near downtown. It has a ton of small shops that they wanted my wife to explore.

Turns out I was happy to go along as the area they were talking about was the “West Bottoms”. Oh yeah, Chuck Hitchcock territory. If you are not familiar with Mr. Hitchcock, he has been modeling the yards around the KC area for decades. His Argentine Division of the Santa Fe has been featured in all major publications.

Kansas City is truly a railfans paradise. The freeway into downtown alone was tucked between the old airport and one of those yards. Unfortunately I was sitting on the wrong side of the car to get a shot of the railyard. I Figured I would get a shot on the way home, but my son took a different route.

Once in “the bottoms” my son found a parking spot and we started walking around. Turns out there is a great little hobby store there. Docs Caboose ( is tucked amongst the old warehouses. It’s located at 1400 Union Ave.

Docs Caboose, Kansas City, MO.

I had a great time looking around, found some things that just had to come home with me. If in the KC area I would definitely take the time to stop by. A side note, as you can see in the photo there are tracks right outside the door. Be mindful as they are active.

The West Bottoms in Kansas City.
View down the tracks.

After we returned home it was time to have my 2nd knee replaced. Being as I had been through this before I was able to plan on a couple of small projects. The big one (not in project scale but impact) was replacing the HobbyZone ( paint center for a set of their Modular Workshop System paint racks and drawers. If I had known about these when I had rebuilt my workbench, I would have designed it differently.

Anyways, the before..

The work bench now.

With the new system…

New Hobby Zone paint racks and drawers.
Wider view of Hobby Zone paint/storage racks.

Because of the power strip I built into the back of the work surface, I had to build the “shelf” along the back. Like I said, if I had known would have left that out so that I could have more drawer units.

Something I had found before but forgot to share was the following. It is a clearance marker. Found it in Red Wing on a siding on the Canadian Pacific’s line. The reason I had noticed it was that I was trying to figure out how to mark clearance points on the layout. Probably to “modern” for my layout, but it is cool.

They are from the Aldon Company, Inc. ( Their website is a wealth of information for railroad safety equipment. Looking for ideas, it’s a great place to visit.

The north end only had the marker bolted to the tie. The south end also had the tie and side of rails painted yellow. Also, as you can see the maker is made so that a sign or marker could be inserted.

Clearance marker on the north end of the siding.
Aldon Company clearance marker, top view.
South end of siding, with marker, entire tie and side of rail painted.

That’s it for now. The knee is doing better and I will be returning to the layout. I will keep you posted.

Till later, enjoy your summer…




New York, NY…

Recently spent a week in New York for a company trade show. Actually, we are in New York for this reason every April and October.

We were showing out of the Penthouse Suite in what was the former Bell Labs building overlooking the Hudson River in Manhattan. So what does this have to with model railroading, real railroading or any railroading?

Even though it was work, work, work from the time I got into New York until I left, I was actually able to do some “railfanning” from our showroom.

So, directly across the Hudson River from us in New Jersey is the former Erie Lackawanna rail terminal. Today it is still used. Ferries from Manhattan dock here and people transfer to the rail lines branching out to the suburbs.

And a little closer to home was the former Highline that runs through lower Manhattan. In fact it cut through the back corner of the Bell Labs building.

First, as viewed from the penthouse:

The Highline now growing over in grass. One story up from street level.

And then from street level:

Another view of the Bell Labs / former High Line through lower Manhattan.

And a wider angle showing where the building was built around the line:

The former Bell Labs building with the high line running through it.

The buildings on either side of the Bell Labs building are newer and thus do not have the cutouts for the Highline. I was hoping to carve out a couple of minutes and walk the street to see if there was any buildings around that still had remnants of the line. Unfortunately I didn’t get time to do this. Although it does sound like we will be showing there again in the fall. Maybe next time I can track down a little more of the line.

It was a lot of fun to see a little railroad history as I was working in New York.

Next time a little more traveling, til then…



Ah, Springtime in Minnesota…

Ah, springtime in Minnesota. That time of year when the temperature begins to rise and the snow starts to melt. Followed by gentle spring showers, May flowers, etc.

Unfortunately this year it happened pretty much all at once. Most of the winter was snow free. Not much of anything on the ground until the end of January. Then from the end of January thru mid March it snowed weekly. Average snow fall for the Twin Cities is around 54″. This year we ended up around 70″, almost all of it in that month and a half span.

Then when it did start to warm up and melt we got a major rain storm which dropped about 6″ of rain on top of the melting snow. After everything was melted, we then got an additional 10″ of snow in mid April.

So what does this all look like? Well, my wife and I took an over night to our favorite small town. I’ve talked about Red Wing before. Great place to get away from it all, my daughters wedding, etc. Looking out of the hotel, which overlooks the Mississippi river, I was amazed.

First a picture of the grain complex I took in the fall during my rail fanning during my daughters wedding.

Grain receiving building, river side of the tracks. Picture taken in September.

Now that same area with the spring flooding.

Receiving building, river side of the tracks with the river up.

As you can see the river is up quite a bit. The parking area where the  SUV is in the top pick, is completely underwater. The posts and the ramp you see about mid photo is where they tie up barges for loading. The ramp is to gain access to said barges. Again, the walkway in this area is underwater.

How does this affect local railroads? About 25 miles north of Red Wing is Hastings, MN. The Canadian Pacific is watching the river in this area because it could crest (reach it highest flood point) and cover its tracks in the Hastings area. Effectively shutting down all south bound traffic out of St. Paul. Hastings is about 21 miles south St. Paul.

The Union Pacific’s South St. Paul Yard is also having troubles. Normally there are 3 lines coming into the yard. Two of those are currently walled off to prevent the yard from flooding. The only open line into and out of the yard is across the Hoffman bridge. It is an old swing bridge across the Mississippi. In order to keep up, the Union Pacific has said that they have increased train length from 5000’/6000′ to 10,000′. And they are watching the river because it could crest at a point where they would have to wall off this track also to save the yard.

Anyways, back to Red Wing. Another thing I noticed was the staging of sandbags around the riverfront.

Sandbags ready to go.

As you can see in the photo, they have pallets of sandbags ready to go by the depot.

And on the lighter side…

The river is up! Road close and believe or not, the police cruiser was necessary.

The city had a squad car parked by the closed road. Yes, the river has risen over the road. And yes, it was necessary to have an officer here. I saw him wave down several cars and have them turn around. Not sure where they thought they were going.

As I write this (4/24/19), the river has crested and the CP and the UP did not have to divert anymore traffic. If you were worried about the BNSF, their yard is on the north side of the cities well above any flooding. Although the do have some trackage rights over the CP’s tracks through Hastings.

Next time, a bit of traveling. Til then, Happy Railroading…

On The Workbench #7…

On the workbench is one of the “special projects” I had mentioned last time. The backstory on this is that the upper level represents northern Minnesota. And in the Land of 10,000 Lakes we seem to have an equal number of rivers running someplace. This is especially true up north where everything is draining towards Lake Superior. A spot just ahead of the junction looked like it was just crying for a nice double track truss bridge over a river. So I hauled out the Walther’s catalog ( and started looking for one. When I got to the Campbell Models section ( I realized that I had one tucked away somewhere. Started digging and finally found it. And thus the project started.

Where I want the bridge to go.
The “new” kit.

As you can see by the price I’ve had this awhile. The sticker on the box says $24.75, the current suggested retail is $70.00. Opened it up and everything was there, well, almost everything. Much like the missing decals for the Whale Belly tanker, the instructions for the bridge went missing.

The kit, sans instructions.

So I headed on over to Campbell’s website to see if I could get a set of instructions. It turns out that you can, once you prove you own the kit. I’ll be honest, I was a bit taken back by this. I got over it once I realized that the instructions were mainly full sized templates that you built the bridge over. Having those in hand you don’t need Campbell’s kit, as you could supply your own material to build the bridge with.

Not wanting to wait for the instructions I headed to Google images. I found plenty of images of the finished bridge, all the same shot. But I did find an image that was a shot of part of the instruction sheet. It was nice as it showed about half the bridge with cross sections of the various pieces. So I printed it out and figured I would wing the rest.

The first thing was to figure out the spacing on the cross beam/supports. I took the total length and dived for the seven cross beams. I also marked the centerlines of the cross beams.

The alignment marks in place.

Then using my square I started gluing up the base.

Everything aligned and squared off.

Having squared up and glued the base sections I made myself wait till everything was set and dried. Not an easy thing when you could charge ahead, even though not everything was set. Once the glue was dry I moved on. Next up was the base longitudinal stringer and the vertical uprights.

Setting the uprights in place.

Lastly, the end diagonals and the top stringers along with the embossed paper gusset plates.

First side done, with gussets in place.
Backside gussets in place.

I realized that if I had the instructions I would have built the side panels over the templates and then glued them to the base. I figured this out mainly from the gusset plates as I had to cut them to fit around the finished pieces. The next photo is of the finished bridge primed.

The bridge done and primed.

I have to apologize, I didn’t take pictures of the other side being done, just seemed redundant. And then I was suddenly finished with it. The main thing I missed by not keeping the photo record going were the upper web trusses. Campbell had you making these up with small pieces glued into a balsa channel. For this I would have needed the templates. What I did instead was take a styrene web truss, cut off the flange and glue it into the balsa channels. Then I glued them into place.

After that, I obviously primed it. After 24 hours I gave it a final coat of flat black.

In it’s final color waiting for weathering.

Considering that I was working without instructions, I think it turned really nice. Of coarse now I have to cut and fit it into place. And just like the last bridge I added in after the track work was in place, I will have to move the feeder wires first.

Well for now that is the end of this adventure. Till next time-

Happy Railroading…


Odds And Ends…

Well, we are into the last half of March which means it’s been way to long since I last sat down here. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, I just have not had the time. Also, except for a couple of specific projects, I would have said that I really hadn’t gotten anything done. But looking around the other night I realized that I have accomplished a few things. So, without further ado, lets get you caught up.

First up is a craftsman kit that I picked up 30+ years ago. It is a Quality Craft Models Kit. Quick history, Quality Craft made kits in HO until about 1980. I had picked this up at a LHS off of their consignment shelf. I had finally got around to finishing up the assembly about 2 years ago. It then went to the paint area where it got pushed to the back. Well, looking for something to do I finally painted it.

GATX #96500 tank car.

It is a model of GATX #96500. This is a 63000 gallon tank car, commonly referred to as a Whale Belly car. It was 98ft long over the couplers. The only commercial plastic kit was made by Atlas in N scale. All that’s left is to decal it. Small problem, I can’t find it’s box or the decals. That is the real problem with a long term project. I’ll keep looking, however if I can’t find them the instructions are full sized. I can scan them and make new decals on my printer.

Next up is New Brighton Yard. I Know! Talked about this for a long time.

The meat packing plant.

The yard in New Brighton.

As you can see it isn’t and never will be a classification yard. There is the meat packing plant, the dairy, power station and a yet as unidentified business. Plus some trackage to store cars on for these businesses.

I also finally got the programming track in and wired. It’s next to the staging track lead.

The new programming track in the fore ground.

Last but not least I continued on with the basic ground cover in Jackson. I am now up to Main Street.

Basic scenery continued.

Basic scenery done up to Main Street in Jackson.

I wasn’t sure what to do with the space up front that is bordered by the front grain elevator and the switching spur. It is a crescent shaped space. Thought about throwing in a crop field of some sort. But looking at it the shape made me think of the outfield of a ball park. Thus, the city of Jackson got their “Town” ball field. If you are unfamiliar with small town baseball, you should find one and go sometime. They are usually very nice ball parks. The games do start later as all the players have to finish work, go home and eat. Then they head down to the park for the game. They are a lot of fun.

The new ball field is in.

That’s what I have for now. Next time I will cover one of the “specific” projects I had mentioned. The other was an Epic Fail and right now we are not talking about it.

Till then…

Interstate Junction…

Interstate Junction or as it’s also known as “the Junction” exists because of Duluth’s unique geology. Duluth and her sister city, across St. Louis bay, Superior, Wisconsin are at lake level. And while the land south and east of Superior is relatively flat, Duluth is surrounded on the south and west side by a ridge that rises approximately 600 feet. Below is a map of Duluth and the surrounding area.

The yellow line that I drew in is approximately the top line of the ridge. From there it’s a pretty consistent slope to the lake. This situation worked well for the DM&IR as they didn’t have to figure out how to push a loaded ore train up onto a 80ft high ore dock. Rather they could ease the train downhill and then pull an empty train back up. The DM&IR”s tracks did come through a cut in the ridge at about the same place as Interstate 35. This probably saved them 50ft of drop. Even then they still had a 2.2% grade to the docks.

The Northern Pacific also had a line that climbed Proctor hill from the lake side, but I couldn’t find any information on the percent on the grade or how often they used it. Even the DM&IR’s lake side line came in from Two Harbors, 27 miles to the north.

Which brings us to the Junction. Except for NP’s line up the hill and the DM&IR’s line from the north, all other lines came into Duluth from the east/south through Superior, Wisconsin. These included the CMO (Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha), C&NW (Chicago and Northwestern), The Soo Line, Great Northern, Milwaukee Road and the Northern Pacific. As seen in the photo below, The Northern Pacific, being the first one there was about the only line with a major yard in Duluth. All others are in and around Superior.

So the Continental Northern’s line heading north out New Brighton had to swing east into Wisconsin in order to then swing west back into Duluth. The “Junction” is where double track mainline branches. One branch that heads north and then west, while the other heads east, then north to Superior and Duluth. I have the double track mainline as well as a double ended siding for each mainline track. It then becomes an interchange within the railroad. This section of the layout becomes an industry where cars are dropped off and picked up.

I did it this way because mid Minnesota industry is mainly farming. How many grain elevators and feed mills do you want. It also means that I can run loads that are not necessarily farm related on this section of the road. After all, a little variety is a good thing.

I also realized that in trying to explain all this to you, that I need to come up with a map outlining where the railroad fits into the world. And when I do I will share that with you. Another thing that I would like to share with you is the variety of industries in and around Duluth/Superior. Most people believe that it was all iron ore. But that is for another day.

Till next time, Happy Railroading…

Back On Track…

Yup, I’m back on track. OK, enough with the stupid puns, I promise. I was able to get back out to the garage and get the plywood cut for the subroadbed  curve around the end of the peninsula. How was this possible? I was finally able to get  rid of the Candy Cart. Insert happy dance here. With it out of the way I have room to get things done now.

The cart went away around the end of October. With it gone I shifted into high gear. My goal was to have track in and wired on the upper deck up to and including the upper reverse loop by Thanksgiving. That way I could orbit a couple of trains. My family loves to see the layout and to see the trains run. However, watching a train run to the end of the finished track and stop just doesn’t cut it. I have learned that unless you’re into model railroading  you want to see trains running. Even if it’s a big circle.

With that in mind I got to work. I installed the curve around the end of the peninsula and the plywood for what will be “Interstate Junction”. Side note, I will have a post in the near future explaining the “Junction”.

Upper mainline around peninsula end in place.

Laying out the “Junction” required working out the return loop first. How the return loop lies determines where the track cuts off the mainline.

As I had mentioned before, the return loop crosses the mainline as it comes out of the helix. So that is where I started.

Upper helix lead. Return will crossover here and hide entrance to helix.
Laying out return loop.

With this laid out I added the support structure for the return loop subroadbed.

Planned bridge scene that will hide helix entrance.
Return loop over helix started.
Longer view of return loop entrance over helix.

The plan was for the loop to meet back up just past the bridge to head back out to the mainline. However I had clearance problems. The return loop ended up climbing a bit over the end of the helix. I had to run the loop down the other side of the divider before meeting back up.

Working on the return loop exit from over helix.
Laminating the subroadbed for the return loop exit.

Once I had this part laid out I went back and laid out the mainline track work and where the loop branched off.

Working from the junction to the return loop.
Approach track from junction to bridge scene.

And then it was just a matter of piecing everything together. Once done I started adding the cork roadbed.

Working on the track placement for Interstate Junction.
Cork in place and ready for track.

After the cork was in place it was on to the track and wiring.

Track in place for Interstate Yard.
Alternate view of junction.
Closer view of “The Junction”.
Track work in place for return loop.

I have kept all grades (the amount of rise or fall of the track) to 2% or less. Because of the climb over the end of the helix, the return loop drop is closer to 3%. I don’t see this as a problem because trains are traveling counter clockwise and the 3% is downhill.

Anyways… once the track was in and wired it was time.

First train headed into upper return loop.
Around and over upper helix lead.
And back out of the loop.

I was thrilled to have gotten this done. It has been a long time goal and now I’m there. Of coarse it was not problem free. When I wired in the lower return loop with the Digitrax ( AR-1, the return loop worked flawlessly. With the second wired into the upper loop I now have a problem. The first train entering each return loop (upper and lower) trips a breaker, pauses and then goes on. After that no more problems. Only thing at this time I can think of is to tweak the trip current on the AR-1’s.

AND this was all done Thanksgiving Eve. Trains ran beautifully on the big day.

With this done, I’m now able to let the trains run. Where this is important is getting all the engines out and running. They’ve been in storage for way to long. I’ll be able to see which are fine and which will need some TLC.

And that’s it for now. Till later…




Takin’ It To The Streets…

As I had mentioned in my last post I wanted to keep going with the basic scenery. In order to do this I had to get the streets in Jackson in place. In the past my streets were simply styrene plastic painted and weathered. I decided to take it up a step.

One of my sources of inspiration is Model Railroader’s Video Plus( And one of their contributors is a personal favorite. Fellow Twin Citian, Gerry Leone. Gerry is a long time contributor to Model Railroader and now MRVP. His Bona Vista Railroad has been featured many times in the magazine. Anyways, one of the videos he has done is a two part series on making roads.

The main difference between the way I had been doing it and Gerry’s method is that he glues 100 grit sandpaper to the styrene. The end result is that you have a very nicely textured surface when done. If you would like an in depth description of the process I would suggest watching the videos, otherwise I will do a quick recap with pictures.

I was adding two streets to the scene. Both ran from the front to the back. Because of their location, both streets cross five tracks. The first thing to do was to install Blair Line ( wood grade crossings.

Getting ready to build a road. timber crossings in place.
The street prep for the main street crossing in Jackson.

After they were in place it was a matter of cutting the styrene road pieces to fit in between. I had to add styrene strips to the back to bring them to the proper height.

After that work progressed in the following order:

Primed the sections. Airbrushed the base asphalt color (Tamiya – Medium Grey). Airbrushed a lighter grey for contrast. Masked and then added center stripes. Added cracks with a fine point Sharpie. Added a little more weathering and then installed. In the pictures below you will notice that I had mounted the sections in order with proper spacing on a piece of cardboard. This was done so that all weathering / striping / whatever remained consistent.

Backside of the asphalt sections showing the spacers to get the to the proper height. All number so that I don’t screw them up.
The asphalt sections. Styrene plastic with 100 grit sandpaper glued to it. Painted.
Close up of the asphalt sections. The texture does resemble a older tar road.
Dry brushed a little white on to the street to pick up some highlighting of the grain.
The street sections glued down in proper order with correct spacing. Final asphalt color applied.
Center stripes masked off.
Dry brushed on white paint for the stripes.
Center stripes painted. This is why the proper spacing.
Adding the patching for cracks.
Last step before installation. Adding various weathering colors.
And the street in place.
Jackson Main street in place.

Also while I was at it I finished the streets in New Brighton.

Also finished the streets in New Brighton.
A closer view of New Brighton streets finished.

A side note. The patches on the streets are for real. The masking tape lifted some of the paint. Instead of trying to match the paint I used darker grey to give the look of a fresh patch.

That’s it for now. Next time we’ll get back on track.

Til then…



Keeping Busy…

After the track was painted and the tops of the rails wiped down, it was back to the actual base scenery.

And the base scenery was all I am trying to accomplish at this point. What started this was wanting to keep busy and get things done that moved things forward. To this end I had got out episode one of Model Railroaders Dream, Plan, Build DVD series. I had subscribed to it when it first came out, which was while a was building my last layout. The first disc arrived just as I was putting the backdrop up. And one of the instructional pieces was backdrop painting.

My initial plan was to paint the backdrop on this layout first and then add ground cover. When I watched the video, they had the ground cover down so that they could match the background color to it. And that is why we are at where we are at.

I had stopped by one of the big box stores and hit their “oops” paint section. I was looking for a brownish or a brownish green color to cover the white plaster. Found a quart can of a light brown for a couple of bucks. Perfect. The guy working the department walked buy and asked if I needed help. Told him no, that I had found what I wanted. He looked at the can in my hand and said “that is some cheap paint”. I looked back and asked “you mean the price or the paint?”. He just said “Yup”, and turned and walked away.

Well, he was right. If I was trying to paint a room with the stuff, I would have shot myself by now. but since it’s for the layout it’s fine. As you can see in the pictures, the white plaster is barely covered. This is with several coats of paint. Again, for what I’m using for, it works.

The plaster in with a base coat of paint. Better sense of what it will look like done.
Plaster landform with a base coat of paint.

With the paint down it was on to the base ground cover. My method for this is simple, spread white glue with a brush, hit it with the various ground covers and let it dry. Then vacuum off the excess.

View down the berm scene with the first layer of ground cover on.
working on the first layer of ground cover with a little inspiration in the form of a picture of a finished scene.
The first layer of ground cover extended around the corner.

As you can see I didn’t finish the yards around the houses yet. I had planned on dirt driveways but think I may need to go back in and add asphalt driveways before the grass goes in.

Even the base layer is a huge improvement, so I decided to carry it all the way through the town. So I have to get the rest of the plaster base down. Which means I will have  to get the roads done first.

And that is where we will pick up next time.

Till then, take care…