Category Archives: General

Railfanning My Daughters Wedding…

As I had mentioned a couple of weeks ago my daughter was married. The wedding took place in Red Wing, MN., a  river town (Mississippi) south of the cities. It was at the St. James Hotel, and as anyone who has been there knows it is on the river. But between the hotel and the river is the former Soo, now CP mainline between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Chicago.

Our “room” wasn’t actually in the hotel, but in an old foundry building behind the hotel that is now part of the property. The reason I have room in parenthesis is because it was the top floor of the former foundry and larger than any of the apartments my wife and I had when first married. It was also only 150′ of the mainline. Yup, paced it off out of curiosity. Downside is that the depot was right there and next to the depot a grade crossing. You get the full effect of the diesels horns at that range.

The other downside is that I found that not a lot of trains went through during the day, rather most came through town from early evening, over night and into late morning. Found that one out when one came through town at about 4:00 AM and sounded like it was in the bedroom with us.

Not much variety either. AMTRAK came through each morning at about 8:45 on their eastbound run to Chicago. And stopped again in the evening westbound around 9:00 pm. Most of the freights were unit grain trains (not unusual as it is harvest time), a few mixed freights and an occasional unit oil train. Most of the action during the day was the switchers taking care of on the three large grain complexes in town.

One of the interesting things to watch for was how CP had set up the power in the trains. Quite a few had all of the diesels on the head end. But there were a lot with distributed power. Whether it was most on the head end and one on the tail or two up front with a couple of mid train helpers.

I didn’t shoot pictures of everything that came through (my wife started laughing at the situation, as I would hear a train approaching and grab my camera) but I did get a mix. Below are some of the shots.

Mixed road names on a southbound freight.
Shot with all for units.
Amtrak stopping in town.
Amtrak cars at the Red Wing depot.
The ADM elevator switcher.
GE 45 ton switcher
CP pickup line side.

The last couple of pictures are of the huge ADM elevator complex just south of the hotel. It straddles the mainline and would be one of those great builds to hide a hole that goes into the backdrop.

The ADM elevator complex straddles the main line.
Close up of the elevator complex over the mainline.

As you can see the larger structure on the right, which is the silo complex and the smaller unloading shed on the left are connected by the grain transfer pipes. As I said this setup would be great at hiding a hole. The silos, if placed towards the front of the layout, would limit what you could see of the hole through the backdrop. If I was modeling a more modern era I would probably take out the electrical plant that I have hiding the hole to the staging yard and replace it with a complex like this one.

So that’s it. The wedding was perfect, and the fact that I got in a little railfanning was an added bonus. Next time will be back to the layout.

Till then, take care, be well and happy modeling…

Number 100…

Yup, finally hit post number 100. Thought I would have hit this a lot sooner, but better late then never.

When reading up on how to do a website/blog, the recommendation was two posts a week to hold readers interest. That means I should have been here within the first year. But I have never been one to throw things out there just to hit a number. And than there’s that whole thing about having something worth writing about. Life happens and you can’t get things done if you don’t have time.

I do have a bunch of stuff to report on. Various things on the layout as well as things on the work bench. And I will, as we are now on the other side of my daughters wedding. You may remember the candy cart, still have it if you’re interested. The wedding itself will be it’s own story here as it was trackside in Red Wing, MN.

As far as the workbench projects versus work on the layout goes, it tends to lean towards the workbench projects.  I’m having a hard time getting into the mindset of working on the railroad. I still have a trade show coming soon, which means 8 days in New York. After that I’m thinking that the next project needs to be the helix when I get back. Getting the helix done means that I can get the rest of the track and wiring done. I have played a little with scenery but as I had mentioned a long time ago, I would prefer to get one thing done before moving on to another.

And with the helix in place and most of the upper deck track work done, at least to the upper return loop, I can start orbiting trains between the two loops. With that in place I will then want to get the scenery done. Because you don’t want trains just running on the “Plywood Pacific”.

One other thing I’m working on has to do with this site. There is far more content that can be added to dress things up, I’ve just been afraid to mess with things with the fear that I’ll somehow crash it. Got to get over it and just do it.

So that’s it. Happy One Hundred. Next time there will be something more then me just rambling.

Till then, have fun and Happy Railroading…

Disappointment and a Change of Plans – A Rant…

I recently received some disappointing news which has led to a major shift in plans. No, I’m not changing the layout.

After waiting about a year I finally got the official word from Atlas ( about the fate of their signal system. I don’t know if you are aware or not but a little over a year ago they had sudden problems with their Chinese suppliers. They aren’t the only ones, as I have heard from various industries of manufacturing plants suddenly closing up in China. The companies then scramble to retrieve plans, patterns, molds, whatever from the plants. The problem is they are usually just gone.

You may or may not recall that my plan was to use their signal system on my layout. It was a simple system to hook up. Not as in depth as others, but would give me basic block occupancy and a little animation. One could “see” around the corners as to the status of the track.

As well as having their circuit boards for detection and signal control which were made in China, Custom Signals ( were supplying them with the type G signal masts. Custom Signals is closing up shop. Not sure where Atlas is getting their signal masts from now.

The word from Atlas is that they will be selling the signal masts (type G) as well as a block detector.  Great, except I can get type G masts from other suppliers cheaper and the detection units only work with standard DC. No offense to those staying the course with standard DC, God bless your heart, but really! Plus they are not offering the signal controller, which is the heart of the system.

So, after looking around at what is available, I’m going to have to buck up and go with the Digitrax ( system. The basic layout wiring that I have in place will easily work with their (Digitrax) system,  it’s just more complicated. It has far more features than I need, although in the future when things are nearing completion, as in scenery and such, I can look at using more of the features. You know, the layout is never done. As to cost, it’s more or less a wash.

That’s it, that’s the major change. Not really a big one as signaling is still in the future and I have time to plan for it. But it’s kind of annoying, as I have a bunch (not enough to finish the layout) of the Atlas masts/detectors/controllers on hand and now they are worthless. who knows, maybe Ebay.

Thanks for listening, till later…

Early August and What I’ve been up to…

Wow, it’s already August and you’re probably wondering what I’ve been up to.

Looking back, I noticed that I failed to mention that my youngest child, my daughter, is getting married this fall. I have found that as parents of the bride, we are far more involved in wedding planning. I should probably clarify that and say I am more involved. With my sons it was far more easy, what am I wearing and when do I show up. With my daughter it seems to be everything, plus the extras.

Case in point.

My wife was hosting a bridal shower for my daughter, thought that I wouldn’t have any involvement with this. Then one night my wife called me over to her computer and wanted me to see this really cute candy cart she found online. For those who don’t know what a candy cart is, which up to this point included me, it’s a copy of cart that a vender would push around hawking his candy wares with.

Looking at it I said it was cute. She just sat there waiting for it to click. After a minute or so of me looking at the picture and her looking at me, it finally hit home. She wanted one for her party. And she wanted me to make it.

Quick side note. My wife’s friends tell her she is spoiled. And they refer to me as her drive up window. She wants something, she pulls up and orders it. And then I deliver.

So with nothing more than a picture and two weeks time I built her a candy cart. I give you the finished product.

The Candy Cart.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the challenge. Plus you keep mama happy and she doesn’t mind you playing downstairs. The actual wedding is still a month and a half away. I image time downstairs will be hard to come by. More so as we get closer. But I have gotten somethings done and will have an update on those things soon.

Till then, anyone want to buy a slightly used candy cart?

It’s Been Awhile…

Hello, it’s been awhile and for that I once again have to apologize. I haven’t looked, but I don’t think I’ve gone this long without checking in.

So, what’s been happening you ask. Why this total lack of letting you know what’s been going on. Knowing what was going to be happening the last time I posted, I thought that I would actually have more time to get things done.

First there was work. Two business trips spaced out every other week followed by a quick 5 day vacation that we squeezed in because we realized that we wouldn’t be able to later. And then I had my left knee replaced.

It’s been something that I knew would have to happen one day, you can only get cortisone shots for so long and then it’s time. I seriously started looking into the surgery late last January. That’s when I walked into my LHS (I hadn’t been in there since before Thanksgiving) and noticed a sign on the door with shortened hours due to surgery.

I asked the owner what was up and if he was OK. His response was, yes he’s OK and doing great. Turns out he had his knee done in late November. Two months later, he’s back at work and lovin’ life. Best decision he’s made.

Got me to thinking.

So on my next visit to my doctor I told him I was ready. We set a date in mid May. This got moved to early June as the second work trip popped up. And I started planning on what I could do while recovering.

Turns out I was wrong as to what I could do while recovering. I knew that they wanted you up and moving as soon as possible. It turns out this was about 6 to 8 hours after the surgery. Yup, same day. I thought that I would be able to sit at the workbench and get things done. Turns out that any sitting was in a recliner and I could only stand for so long. You get up and walk, do the exercises and then in the recliner and ice the knee. Rinse and repeat.

Where am I at now? Doing great and lovin’ life. Getting around pretty good. At the two week check up the doctor was very happy with where I’m at. The physical therapy people said I’m ahead of the curve in many areas.

And I’m back downstairs. Working the top is no problem and i have made progress on a few things. Reports to follow soon. Anything that requires working on the floor (ie. working under the layout) is out of the question right now.

Like I said, I’ve got some stuff done and will have a post on that real quick. Thanks for stopping by even though nothing was happening.

Till later…

On The Workbench #5…

For this edition of “On The Workbench” I’m not so much covering what’s happening on the workbench as much as what is happening with the workbench.

For Christmas one of my kids got me a bench top paint rack. Anyone who had seen my workbench would know that I needed one as the paint jars were kind of all over the place. I just didn’t realize that they had been down there and had paid attention to the mess.

Anyways the paint rack needed assembly and had ended up in the to-do pile. Bored, I was looking for something to do and figured I would put it together and see how useful it would be. I don’t know where they got it from, who was the manufacturer or even what country it was from. My guess would be Eastern Europe somewhere and the translation to English was horrendous. Luckily there were pictures and the overall kit was pretty simple and straight forward. Some carpenters glue, masking tape and a couple of clamps and it went together rather well. I don’t have any pictures of it going together.

As every modeler will tell you, no matter how big your workbench is you only ever seem to have 1 to 1 1/2 square feet to work on. In my case my workbench is 2′ x 8′, but I still only have 1sf to work on and the paint rack ended drying on the layout benchwork. Which meant if I wanted to get the paint rack on the bench I was going to have to do some cleaning.

The picture below is a bit misleading as I had done a bunch of cleaning before I took the picture.

Workbench before the purge. This was what I considered extremely cleaned up at the time.
View from the other angle.

So I attacked the workbench. I threw out anything that wasn’t needed or was old. A lot of paint went this way.

By the time I got done there wasn’t a whole lot left on top of the bench. Kind of the point I guess.

The work bench now.
From the other way.

And the paint rack that started it all.

The new paint rack, the reason for the clean up.

It’s a nice little paint rack and getting everything else cleaned up because of it was really nice. Now we’ll see if I can keep it that way.

Next time, more little projects that got done.

Till then, Happy Railroading…


An Apology or Two…

I would like to offer an apology or two. First is the length of time since the last time I sat down and updated this site. I would like to say that because of the number of natural disasters that have occurred here in the last month I haven’t been able to write anything. Or because of the zombie apocalypse and all that it entails, I haven’t been able to write. The truth is that yes, the work travel schedule has been something, home 1 week, gone the next and rinse and repeat. I have managed to get quite a bit done downstairs. It’s just that  I get to the end of the day and figure I’ll write the next night. And then I don’t.

Like I said though, I’ve gotten quite a bit done and will start updating real quick.

The second thing I would like to apologize for is the appearance of the site, specifically the sideways photos that have been in several posts.

I didn’t even realize it was happening until a recent trip. I had meant to log in to the backend of the site but ended up signing onto the actual site. Since I was there I figured I would read through the site as you see it. That’s when I came across several photos that were sideways.

This is because I have always viewed the site through the backend or admin side of the site.

I had taken the photos vertically, but as you know the camera records them horizontally. When I download them from the camera, the computer automatically flips them back to vertical. I then move the pictures from my computer to the server hosting the site. Every once and awhile they will show up there back in a horizontal state. I will flip them back to vertical and save them that way. They are then inserted into a post and before I publish I will preview the post (the way you see it) to make sure everything reads and looks well.

Everything was right, including pictures, when I did this. In fact when I saw the problem I logged into the admin side to correct them but there they were in the correct orientation from the admin point of view. I have chatted with WordPress and the web hosting service but they’re not sure why this has happened.

I have replaced the photos that I could with ones I retook horizontally, as pictures still seem to orientate themselves to horizontal no matter what. The few that I can’t retake, I have left until I figure this out and get them right.

I realize there are larger problems in the world then this, but this really bugs the OCD side of me.

Like I said I will have updates real soon on what’s been happening and sorry about how long it’s been since I said hello.

Till later (but not to long), Happy Railroading…



A few of my favorite things…

As I’ve had a chance to consistently work on the layout for the last month and half, I’ve come to appreciate of few of my latest acquisitions. Or as I said, a few of my favorite things.

First up is the Dremel Multi Max oscillating tool. I originally bought it because of it’s triangular sanding head. Great for getting into nooks and crannys on woodworking projects. But recently I have started to use the saw blade more and more.

Dremel Multi Max oscillating tool.

The fact that you don’t have to drill a starter hole for a jig saw and then worry about the depth of cut is such a relief. As long as the hole is at least an inch wide, you are good to go. A recent example would be the holes for the UP5’s.

Hole cut for the UP5 panel.

It was nice to know that I could cut the hole and not worry about the wiring just behind the fascia. As a side note, Jim Kelly had a write up about oscillating tools in the latest (March 2017) issue of Model Railroader Magazine.

My next greastest find is the “Raskog” three tier cart from Ikea ( Great cart, easy to put together and the quality is far better then I expected, even for Ikea. I have two (bought 1 and then ran out and got another). I currently use one for construction equipment and the other for wiring equipment and supplies. Eventually one will become the scenery cart.

The Ikea Raskog Carts.

I wish I could say that I “discovered” this, but I first heard about it on one of the forums.

Last is rather strange, it is an EYE VAC  floor sweep vacuum cleaner.

The Eye Vac floor sweep vacuum.

I had first run across this at my hair stylist. Seeing it in action, I knew I had to have this for downstairs. Sweep up that which needs to be swept up, get it I’m front of the EYE VAC, the sensor kicks in, the machine turns on for about thirty seconds, boom, the mess is gone. I find myself cleaning up more often simply because it is easy to quickly sweep everything over and make it go away.

So there you have it, three things that are making my life a little easier and more enjoyable. Not saying that you need to get any of these as I don’t know what your hobby budget is, but they should be considered as they make life a little easier.

Till next time, Happy Railroading…




End of January Update…

It is the and of January and I have some actual progress to report on the railroad. First of all, for those wondering about the roundhouse, progress on it is as far as it can go until it is set in place. And when that will happen is a whole post on it’s own.

So what have I gotten done. Well, as I mentioned at the beginning of the month, I had cut a whole bunch of wood so that things could get done. First the “power box” that I touched on in that post.

I have been reading in multiple blogs and forums that one should be able to kill the power to the whole railroad should something happen. Add to that all the extension cords and power strips I had everything hooked up to, I figured I should do something. My answer was a box that would control power to the deck lights, aisle lights, blue rope lights for night lighting and all the power to the DCC system and related equipment.

It is simply a box tucked into the one of the electronic cabinets that has power to it, with switches on the front for the different functions and outlets on the back for the related items. Here is a photo of the finished box in place.

Main power panel – light control as well as all power to the layout.

It wasn’t hard to do, just a little time consuming, but I already feel it has been worth it as I used to have to plug in two cords to get the deck lights on in order to work on things on the lower deck. Now, I just flip a switch.

Next was the missing backdrop sections. Those installed were: The short section near the power station between the staging yard and the power station, behind the roundhouse and behind the berm scene.

Scenic block between layout and staging yard.
View from the staging yard.
Backdrop behind the roundhouse scene.
Backdrop in place behind New Brighton berm scene.

I have one section left on the lower level which is on the backside of the berm scene. I have the piece cut but have not installed it yet. The gaping hole between the piece behind the roundhouse and the berm scene is where the helix will be. Its backdrop won’t be installed until it’s installed.

The next thing I have been working on has been the fascia around the lower level. I had started with the piece under the staging yard and have been working my way around. I have it in place all the way up to the town of Jackson. However, I stopped just outside of town as I’m trying to figure out some of the scenery contours and need to figure out how wide to cut the next piece to accommodate a hill that acts as a scenic block.

Fascia in place in the back aisle. Holes cut for UP5 panels.
Fascia installation working it’s way around layout.

I also have mounting the UP5 panels for the DCC system to the fascia. I made a mounting template out of styrene to mark screw hole location and the hole for the circuit board. Fun to make and it makes it easier to mark the holes and keeps things consistent.

UP5 template I made to speed up the hole process.
Hole cut for the UP5 panel.
UP5 panel mounted.

Lastly, the first set of doors are done and installed. These are on the side that faces the stairway up to the family room. Since there is no door that would block the view of the unfinished layout, it has been my wife’s biggest bug-a-boo and why she wanted them in.

First set of cabinet doors finished and installed.
View of the layout from the family room. This is why my wife wanted the doors on.

As I said this is the first set, only 25 more doors to make. But the heat is off to get them done.

So looking back at January what have I learned. Probably the same thing you had noticed, that after several months of not being able to work on anything major downstairs, I was all over the board trying to get everything done. Time to sit back and take stock of where I’m at and organize where I’m heading.

Till next, Happy Railroading…