Category Archives: General

Puppy Interuptus…

February 9th, 2021. That’s the day the new puppy came home. Since that time I have spent maybe a total of an hour downstairs. And that was staging and taking pictures for the last several posts.

It’s funny how the mind erases things that are somewhat unpleasant. I don’t remember either of our last two dogs being this much work. I only seem to remember the positive things. But this little hellion is something else. When she’s awake you have to have one eye on her at all times. And when she’s asleep is when I can get things done for work and around the house. Basically, my model time is now keeping track of the puppy time.

But, things are improving. She’s now housebroken, so there is no more mad dashes to get her out. And for the most part she is self entertaining and will play with her toys or our older dog. But you still have to watch her as she will suddenly disappear and will inevitably find something that she shouldn’t be in.

The funny thing is I swore that our older dog was the last. But then Covid hit and we stopped going to the dog park almost daily. That was something we had been doing for almost six years and she had become very social as we had a regular group of people/dogs that we would walk with everyday. Without the daily park visits she became noticeably lonely.

So, in a moment of madness (or perhaps too many adult beverages) the decision to get one more dog was made.

The reason I even bring this up is because I am quickly running out of things to post about. But like I said, things are improving and I find more time to get extra things done. Unfortunately, most of those things are outside as the weather improves. This also works out as the dogs can be outside and I don’t have to worry too much about what the little one is getting into.

But, as I said things are improving with more time for things I want to do. I’m sure that by the time it gets to hot to enjoyably be outside I will be able to get back downstairs. Till then please be patient, I do have content that I want to share with you.

The pup…

The new pup, first day home.
Recent picture, they grow quickly.
This pretty much sums up where we all rank in her world.

Like I said, I have things to share. Please continue to stop by for projects and thoughts.

Till then, stay safe and Happy Railroading…

 

Christmas in April…

My wife and I are at a stage in life where if we need something we generally just get it. Doesn’t mean that we’re out constantly shopping, It just means we don’t have to think about it. In fact, we’re also at that stage of life where we are looking around and thinking we got too much “stuff”.

So apparently when my wife asked before Christmas what I wanted, my reply of “I don’t know, I hadn’t really thought about it” wasn’t the correct response. I answered incorrectly to the follow up question also, which was – “what about for downstairs?”. Meaning the layout. My answer was “I don’t really need anything right now.”

Let me explain. Early in our marriage, when money was tight, we would shop together and watch what the other would longingly look at knowing that it was out of reach at the moment. That was how we built gift lists for each other. As our situation improved there was less hesitation in buying things and the advent of the Christmas wish list came into being.

So after she “suggested” that I think about and put together a list so that she and the kids had some idea of what to get me, I started to look around and see if I was missing anything.

Turns out there were a few things that I had wanted but hadn’t gotten around to getting.

I follow several groups on Facebook and one of the popular topics that pops up often is track cleaning. Answers range from bright boys and gleaning to one of several track cleaning cars. As I now was running a bright boy over the rails on a regular basis the thought of a track cleaning car over the rails was appealing. But which one?

In the groups this is like asking which is better? Digitrax or NCE? Loksound or Soundtrax? HO or N scale? And the list goes on and on. It is, as I know, a matter of personal choice. Something that you started with, like and stay with. The intriguing answer was “one of each”.

And that was what went on the list. On the list was a CMX Products track cleaning car, a Centerline track cleaning car and a Walthers track cleaning car. Each operates a little differently. The Walther’s car has an abrasive pad spring mounted on the bottom. Much like a bright boy. The Centerline and CMX car use a cleaner and pad system. The CMX car is an actual tank car that you fill with your preferred cleaner. It drips this onto a pad that cleans the railhead. The Centerline car has a cloth covered roller that also runs on the rail head.

Of course just because I asked doesn’t mean I received all three. I did get the Walther’s and the CMX cars. The Centerline car will be in the future.

The cars…

Walther’s 40′ plug door track cleaning car
CMX Products Clean Machine Track Cleaning car.

And they work great. The cars are both very heavy and offer a lot of rolling resistance. To get them around the layout I am using two BLI SD-9s. These engines are heavy in themselves and have great pulling power, The setup is one engine pulling the two cleaning cars in the middle and the other engine pushing.

Make up of the track cleaning train.

Even with the two engines, you have to give them more throttle than you would normally use. Otherwise they can get hung up on high spots like switches and mainly road crossings. But it is fun to run and the amount of dirt they pick up is surprising. I look forward to adding the third car to this consist.

The other things I had on the list and received were a couple of buildings from Micro Marks Scientific line. They are the Parson’s Home #89546 and the Protestant Church #89545.

Couple of new laser cut kits for the layout.

They are for a future town on the upper level and remind me of visiting my grandmother when I was little. I have had a couple of their kits and though the fit is great, I had some issues with the wood being a little brittle. Of course knowing this going in helps. When I get to them I will update.

Next up, my first actual DCC conversion/install.

Till then, stay safe and enjoy…

 

Some Thoughts, An Interlude…

I will try and keep this somewhat short and simple. Looking at the work I have been posting on and a couple of projects that are coming up soon, one would get the impression of a change of eras on the layout.

Whether you care or not, there is no such thing in the works.

It was the mid 80’s when I re-entered the world of model railroading. At that time if you wanted a decent steam locomotive you had to spend some serious money.  For those in my price range, I was looking at early Bachmann or IHC/AHM. I did purchase a couple of Bachmann locomotives. Worked OK, but pulling power (traction) was not great.

The real value at that time were the Athearn Blue Box Locomotives. I think at the time a powered loco was about $20.00 and a dummy went for about half that. It also introduced you to the world of super detailing as the level of detail on an Athearn was about nil.

So thats what I bought. My era at that time was the current year. Meaning I was modeling what was happening at that time. Think Eric Brooman’s “Utah Belt”. I bought mainly SD 40-2’s or variants, like tunnel motors. This was also the about the time when Walthers was introducing new cars like their cushioned coil cars. And the intermodal cars that I just recently finished. A great time for kits of modern cars.

Although I was able to purchase and collect the engines, cars and a wide variety of buildings, I really didn’t have room for a layout until our current house. The basement was finished and the layout started about 2000.

And thats about the time that Bachmann started coming out with their Spectrum Line of steam locomotives. Excellent detail and reliability at a great price. Soon followed by Life Like and Athearn.

So where am I going with this? Simple, once great steam was available, I switched from “present day” to the “transition era”. I set my date as 1954 and started rebuilding my loco and freight car fleet for that time frame. Which meant I ended up with a lot of modern equipment sitting in boxes unbuilt and only recently seeing the light of day.

And it’s been a nice change of pace. The modern trains will get some time on the layout where they’ll get a chance to stretch their legs. Plus the photo opportunity’s will be fun. The layout is, I believe, generic enough that I can throw some modern automobiles (yes, collected a bunch of those too) into a scene and have the era feel right.

It’s been nice to have a bunch of stuff to work on without having to go out or for that matter spend any money. Especially with the way everything has been this last year. Additionally I’m taking care of the problem that all modelers seem to have, a giant backlog of kits and never getting around to building them.

And there you have it, not a change of eras, just a change of pace.

Till next time – stay safe and happy modeling …

Where I’ve been and what’s ahead…

Wow, it’s been awhile. Six months since I last checked in with you. When I last left you at the end of September I was getting ready for the companies semi-annual trade show in New York. This happened in early October. Then, for a couple weeks after is always the follow up work from it. Which then brings us to early November and the prospect of getting ready for the holidays.

At the same time were rumblings from the company of a tightening financial situation. Which dogged us thru the first of the year. On January second my wife and I were released from the company. She found a new job rather quickly and I decided to go back to school so as to diversify our income stream.

And then the current situation hit the world.  She’s still working and obviously I’m not attending school.

Now that’s not to say I didn’t get anything done on the layout. I would pop down there as time permitted if for no other reason then to take my mind of things.

And now that Covid-19 has us all staying at home, I seem to have nothing but time. So in the next little bit I will work on getting you all caught up on what I’ve gotten done downstairs.

Of course my wife has also noticed that I have nothing but time and the Honey-Do list is growing.

See you soon…

 

September Update…

We’ll go with the September Update, but it should be called “what I did on my summer vacation”. Furthermore it probably should be labeled “part 1”, as there is way more than one post should have.

So, with that in mind I’ll start with something of a highlight to the summer. Union Pacific #4014.

Minnesota got lucky with the touring locomotive. It rolled into St. Paul on a Wednesday afternoon. Spent Thursday open to the public outside the newly refurbished St. Paul Union Depot. Friday it headed north to Duluth, Minnesota. Spent Saturday outside their depot, which by the ways house an impressive amount of historic locomotives and railcars. One of them being the Big Boys contemporary, the DM&IR’s Yellowstone.

On Sunday it headed on back to St. Paul’s union Depot. I believe on Monday it rested and on Tuesday headed off to Chicago through Wisconsin.

My dilemma was where to see it. Going to see it in St. Paul would involve finding a place to park and then fighting the crowds. Odds were that you couldn’t get a decent picture or get close be cause of the crowd size. I later learned from some friends who work downtown that it was a madhouse down there.

A check of the UP’s schedule for the train showed that it would be stopping for fifteen minutes in Northfield, Minnesota on it’s way to St. Paul.

Northfield is about a half hour south of the Twin Cities or an hour south of me as I live on the north side of town. Having a time and a place, I looked at a map of the town and saw that the tracks ran right past a large park. This would give me a place to park and space to shoot photos and a video.

Unfortunately I was slowed by a couple road construction projects and I rolled into town at the same time the train was supposed to be arriving. So instead of heading to the park, I stopped at basically the first place I found. It was a convenience store parking lot at the junction of the mainline and the main road in (which comes into play later).

Hurried trackside with phone (video) and camera in hand, and then waited. For about an hour. They were running late.

Though I thought I had a pretty good position for photos, when the headlight appeared down the tracks everyone milling around suddenly moved closer to the tracks. This forced me to move almost to the ballast line.

Rolling into town.

This killed any hope of a clear video, but I got a couple of good shots.

Union Pacific 4014 rolling into Northfield Minnesota July 17th.
Tail Car for the 4014. Love the Herald on the gate.

With a couple shots in hand and a not so great video, I decided to head on home instead of trying to see the engine. Problem was, as you can see in the last picture, the observation car was parked across the road back out to the freeway.  Having looked at maps before hand, I knew there was nothing heading south out of town.  My new plan was to head north through town, get ahead of the train and then find a way back out to the freeway.

Passed this on the way through town. Happy I didn’t walk down to see the engine close up.

The crowd in Northfield looking at the 4014.

As I headed north out of town there was no way to cut across. I figure I would go to the next town up the line where I knew there would be freeway access. As I was driving I watched the dirt roads (I was out in farm country now) and saw small crowds (emphasis on small) at the crossings.

New plan. I turned off onto one of the roads and followed it to the crossing. Found the crossing and the small crowd .Had a great time talking to the people while waiting. Some had been leap frogging towns from the Iowa/Minnesota border and had plans on where they were headed to catch it next. Also talked to one guy who had been at the park I had planned to go to. He had said it was really crowded.

Anyways, did shoot a decent little video.

up 4014 video

That’s it  for now, many more updates to come real soon.

Till than, Happy Modeling…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 (docscaboose.com) 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 (hobbyzone.pl) 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. (aldonco.com). 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…

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…