Maine Central, Lamoille Valley

Maine Central, Lamoille Valley
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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Some Words for this Wednesday!

In addition to tweaking the Operations and getting ready for the next planned Op Session, I want to get back to doing a bit more actual modeling. Some of this would be making trees and installing them along the backdrop at Crawfords and down through Whitefield, I think having a complete tree line between the tracks and the backdrop will really help give a more finished look to the layout in that area. So I am preparing some Super Tree armatures for painting and flocking.

This area will look better with some trees along the backdrop, even if the foreground is not complete.
I also want to get track in the remaining few areas completed. I'd like to tackle the North Stratford area up on the shelf above Groveton first. Right now Maine Central trains TY-2 and the returning YT-1 simply depart and arrive on a single track here. Adding the interchange with the Grand Trunk and the North Stratford track will mean some work for the crew to do here prior to departing, and then again when returning. It won't take a lot of track either, just a few turnouts and some flex track will do it. So I'm finalizing the track plan there and making a list of track components I will need.

This will be a lot more fun to look at and operate once a little more track is in place!
And finally, I want to address the lack of structures on the layout, and in some cases the replacement of stand-in structures (I'm looking at you, generic Walthers grain mill in Sheldon Jct., looking particularly non-New England!).

To start with I dug out my kit of Crawford Notch station that I acquired, oh...about 20 years ago, and started work on it. It will be located right where you enter the layout area, so it will be good to help get that scene to completion and make a good first impression.

About time I tackled this kit. I was just glad that there did not seem to be any missing parts. Might be tough to get them 20+ years later!
Some filing and sanding of the resin parts and cutting out the window areas to start. Then I needed to take care of some warping by dipping pieces in hot water and laying out on a flat area. Overall a pretty nice kit just a little different than what I have done in the past with wood or styrene. I have competed painting the wall sections green (there are many of these!) to match the depot as it looked circa 1980. A few trim pieces are a light gray. This is just before the more intricate paint job it still wears today that seems to have been applied around 1983. Installing window glass and then on to building up the walls on the base. I'll post more pictures of that as progress is made.

For now though, lots of other Holiday activities, so I probably won't get too much more done until January. And in January I'll have to get the modules ready for the Free-mo layout set up in Springfield MA. Plenty to keep me busy!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Waybills of Winter

That title sounds like a Trans-Siberian Orchestra song doesn't it? :-)

With the MER convention  and open house in November now in the rear view mirror, I have had some time to evaluate things and plan my next projects. High on the list is to maintain regular Op Sessions. These may only be every 3 months or so, but I think it will be important to move things forward. With what I learned at each session I am able to develop a plan for what needs to be addressed and worked on. These would be things in addition to any regular layout building, i.e. scenery, structures, etc.

First up was some revisions to the waybills. Seeing the guys use them has identified some areas for tweaking. There is a big difference in reading a waybill when you are the layout owner vs. a visiting operator. Destinations for example are most important for the operator to understand quickly. It doesn't really matter what the destination is as long as the operator understands what that tells him to do with the car.

I previously posted about using a color in the upper right hand box to help the St. Johnsbury yard crew classify cars by destination railroad, Orange for MEC, Yellow for LVRC, Red for CP North and Blue for CP/BM South. I added a new color, Purple, for CP 937, hot cars off of MEC RY-2 that go on this train. These arrive in a block and quickly depart. But it should help the crew in breaking down RY-2 when it arrives. 

This boxcar is coming from Augusta ME and heading to Chicago IL. The new purple color code in the corner alerts the yard crew that this car is hot and needs to go on the CP 937 train. This is also reflected in the Instructions section. But why is the To Station showing Montreal and the From Station showing Portland? Read on for details!

I also previously posted about a subtle change to the waybills as far as Destinations were concerned. I thought I would expand on that a little more now that I have been working on that.

When I developed my waybills I utilized the Op Sig database to come up with prototypical off-layout destinations and shippers.While that is fine and interesting to those who care to read the details, one thing I think I made a mistake with was on the routing line, the "To Station Name" box. Having a To routing of Detroit MI for example does not really help a crew or operator understand what needs to happen with that particular car. Does the St. Johnsbury yardmaster put it on the westbound LVRC train, the northbound CP train, or southbound B&M train?

An operational aid for the yardmaster will help tell him that a car for Detroit should go on the CP northbound 904 train. That train is destined for Newport and then Montreal, and the car will eventually be routed to Detroit from there. This aid would be a list of destinations applicable to each train passing through or departing the yard. 

But even something like this could still be unwieldy. What if 5 cars arrived with 5 different destinations, and each one was checked against this list to determine which train the crew should route the car on? It takes too much time to scan a list for Destinations and find the appropriate trains.

I decided it made far more sense to limit all my To Station destinations on the waybills to either the town on the layout where the car will end up, or the destination of the train which will carry that car.

Going back to my Detroit example, the Consigneee box can still list Detroit, but up at the top where the operator looks for the To Station routing it will say Newport VT. Newport is the destination of only 1 train, the CP 904.

Taking that one step further, I am making sure my From Station names are also matching the origin point for the trains. Portland originates the daily MEC RY-2. Not as critical but sometimes it helps for operators to know where a car is coming from. (I can also tell you that it helps me immensely when it comes to restaging the layout!)

An example of a car being delivered on-line is shown below. East St. Johnsbury is on the layout and when that car arrives in St. Johnsbury, the crew will know that all E. St. J cars go on MEC YQ-1.

One further step to help the operators: For all cars destined to an on-line industry, I am highlighting the consignee box. This will help alert the crew that this car is going to be spotted by a local train, another aid for yard crews and also local train crews to distinguish between cars to drop and those to carry through to the destination.

This B&M Covered Hopper will end up at Ciment Quebec, a local industry on my layout. The colors on the waybill help the crews. 1) the Orange in the upper right box quickly tells the CP St. Johnsbury Yard crew that this car will be routed to the MEC, 2) the highlighted To Station Name tells the yard crew that this car goes on the YQ-1, and 3) the highlighted Consignee box will alert the YQ-1 crew that this car will be dropped in E. St. J at Ciment Quebec.
I think these simple changes will help the crews and provide consistency for those that attend multiple sessions. At the St. Johnsbury yard it will be easy to spot destinations on the car card boxes or by looking at the schedule of trains and know for certain that this car belongs in this particular train. 

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Annual Open House - Sat. Nov 14th

It's that time of the year again. Dozens of great model railroads will be open throughout November in the NJ, PA, MD and DE area. Your complete guide is at

My layout will be open on Saturday, November 14th from 1pm to 5pm. Stop by and say hi!

There are 3 other model railroads open that are within 10 minutes of my house, so you can easily see our 4 layouts and then more a little further away.

Hope to see you on the 14th!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Op Session #2 Lessons Learned

Op Session #2 went pretty smoothly last week and I am very happy with the results. Definite progress in getting the operations plan tweaked, and a few things learned to help going forward.

We had 1 extra guy, making a crew of 7 plus myself. I think it probably runs better with 6 guys, but all in all, things went pretty well. I think when the schedule is balanced better and the guys are more familiar with the layout, things will run well. But good to know I can accommodate an extra guy if that happens. And if we only had 5, I would probably have to jump in to help, as just 2 road operators would slow things down. There are also a few trains on the schedule that could be skipped if necessary, without disrupting other trains.

First time attendee Rick B. is dropping some cars from MEC RY-2 at the interchange in Whitefield for the B&M.

We started rolling trains at 7:45 and finished up about 11:30. Ideally I'd like to be done by 11 so it is not too late for the guys heading home. As there was still a fair bit of instruction to get things started, I do know that time will be shaved off at the start as we do this more often. Normally it will not take 45 minutes from when guys arrive to when we start running, even with a bit of socializing.

Three trains did not run. The Amtrak and CP TOFC trains could have run - these need to run near the same time as they must pass each other in St. Johnsbury. I held these trains as things were pretty busy enough in St. Johnsbury without additional trains coming through. Ideally these will run at a time when the yard quiets down, perhaps when the yard crew guys are grabbing a snack. And the CP 904 northbound train which is scheduled to depart late in the session did not run again. This was really just a time issue as it was too late.

The Crew Call Sheet at the end of the night.

I tried to be as accurate as possible in recording train times for started and ended. Some of the crew helped out too filling this in as they came off duty and returned the train card. I made some on-the-fly changes in the schedule to keep things balanced and will use that in sequencing the trains for next time. I also will fill in start times for trains based on the info from this session. I'll update this with actual times during the next session to see how it compares.

The goal will be to get a good spacing of trains and allow crews a little down time to snack and socialize, knowing what else is coming up. This works well on other area layouts, and hopefully I can get there after a few more sessions. 

Mark F. and Joe C. held down St. J yard duties again. I thought it would be helpful not to start moving people to different assignments yet as I try to get the operating plan nailed down.
The guys were still having some trouble with the waybills and I had to do some explaining now and again. I thought about the questions they were asking and ways that I might address some of those issues encountered.

One of the things I have on my waybills is information about where the car is coming from and going to off the layout. For example, a car of cement might be coming from Howes Cave in New York, and the waybill reflects that.

While this is pretty cool (at least I think so!), in the heat of operations, guys are pretty much just wanting to know where does the car go NEXT. That can be difficult not knowing as much about the layout, the railroads modeled and the geography of the area as I do. What is easy for me to figure out is not quite the same for everyone else.

With that in mind I am making some subtle changes to the waybills to assist. First, on the To and From boxes, I am using only actual layout locations. This will assist yard crew in figuring out which cars go on which trains. For example, if a To destination is East Deerfield, that car needs to get onto CP 917 heading south, the only train heading to that destination. Even if the car is later destined for Howes Cave NY, that is off the layout and does not really concern the crew in St. Johnsbury. As much as it is nice to have waybills that are more prototypical, if it does not help the crew get the job done, then that is an issue during operations

The other change will be to highlight the Consignee destination box for any car that will be spotted locally on the layout, i.e. a car that will not end up in staging. This is just one more helpful hint to assist the operator.

An updated waybill, the To and From are layout destinations now, while the Shipper and Consignee contain some of the prototype info that I want to include on waybills (and used to be in the To and From boxes). This car will be set out locally at Ciment Quebec, which the highlighted box helps convey.

It is now easier to tell the crew to just look at the colored sections of the waybill: The upper right color assists yard crews in sorting trains (orange is a MEC destination), the highlighted To box is where this car is going next, and if highlighted, the Consignee box indicates the 'local' industry receiving the car.

I also know that the turnout controls operated via DCC with the throttles are slowing things down too much, and are not making for a good experience for the crew. This is another thing that worked well when it was just me operating the layout, but does not work as well for a visiting Ops crew. This I already have started to address and will write up in a new post later.

There was also a few mechanical type layout issues (a dead frog, a short circuit issue, some cars not operating well) that are normal things to fix on the layout, but are not necessarily an issue with the operations plan.

For now, a couple more pictures from the last session. As always, I wanted to take more, but when things get busy, I just forget to do so!

Bill H. again handled duties at Morrisville, keeping the Lamoille Valley humming right along. Bill provides good feedback and has helped me in refining the operations plan.

John R. ran the MEC local YQ-1, seen here spotting cars at Ciment Quebec and Maple Grove Farms in East St. Johnsbury. In the back is another newcomer, Phil D., handling the paper mill switch job on the B&M at Groveton.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Moving Along

I have been able to dedicate time just about each day to the layout. I have another Op Session scheduled for the end of the month, and there were "hit list" items I wanted to address.

A couple of freight cars had issues and these were corrected and put back into service. I am also trying to add a few more cars to the layout as I find that I really do not have enough cars to adequately fill out trains. This was evidenced by trains that terminated in staging only having a couple of cars, like the LVRC MV-1 train and the CP 917.

What I need to add are simply some cars for interchange, going from one railroad to another. I spent a good deal of time making sure I had cars and waybills for local industries across the various railroads on the layout, and also some run through cars, but not enough cars that get passed to another railroad and then terminate off line in staging.

So I have been putting a few of my more recent acquisitions on the layout and generating the appropriate waybill for them. As usual, my "workbench" in Lyndonville has been a convenient location to do this work. The picture here looks messy but really is not that bad. I have a few cars in progress, getting weight and checking wheels and couplers. The cars actually on the track are part of the CP RS-2 and RS-1 trains getting restaged before moving back into the staging yards.

Once I get the rest of the track in Lyndonville, I'm going to miss my "work station"!
I also took care of some other things like raising the Digitrax UR91 and UR92 receivers up above the backdrop to get better overall reception. I was able to control a locomotive from out in the other room of the basement, so I think this will alleviate the issues we had in the first session.

In St. Johnsbury yard there was an issue in having space for the MEC power on RY-2 and YQ-1. I found that the tracks used to store the power for RY-2 and get to the storage track for YQ-1 were just a little short when the caboose was included. I do not have a dedicated caboose track, as St. J was not really that type of yard in the 1970s. The cabooses tended to stay with the power. So it was a relatively simple matter of adding a little flex track to 2 stubs in the yard to address the problem. 

Extending this siding to hold three MEC U18Bs and a caboose from RY-2 was easily accomplished. The RY-2 power lays over until later in the session when it returns to Portland, Maine as YR-1.

Another issue operators had was knowing exactly where to spot cars in some locations. I made sure the waybills identified the location and contents, and I know where it is supposed to go, but it is not that obvious for the operator who does not know my prototype so well. So I just used a few post-it notes for now to identify where cars should go.

At Gilman, empty boxcars go to the Outbound paper track to be loaded.

Also at Gilman, it might be obvious where the Kaolin tank cars go, but this is also the Inbound pulp unloading track. Bales of pulp from another paper mill in Maine are shipped here to be processed into paper goods.

I also worked on a couple of track issues in Hardwick. I had to replace the throwbar on a Central Valley turnout and then instal la ground throw. I also had to install a missing ground throw to the team track spur. After doing this I test ran a locomotive and some cars to ensure all was operating well. This peeked the interest of our one cat Roxie. From the looks of it she might be in line to be a future operator!

She just needs a throttle in her paw as she intently watches the LVRC train pass through the covered bridge.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

St. Johnsbury Yard Power

A few years ago I purchased a Proto 1000 of Canada CP Rail RS2. I have seen many pictures of these units holding down the switching duties in St. Johnsbury yard. I also have a few slides from my late friend Glenn Salvatore showing these in St. J circa 1980.

Glenn captured CP RS2 8403 in St. Johnsbury yard in the Fall of 1980. This view shows off some of the interesting details, like the front numberboard, extended cab window, ditch lights and radiator fan cover,

A few months back, getting ready for the initial Op Session, I finally got around to installing a DCC decoder. The space inside the cab area allowed for a speaker, so Tsunami sound it was!

Unfortunately during the Op Session, the yard crew mentioned that the RS2 just did not have enough power, or more accurately weight, to push long cuts of cars given the slight grade the loco gets to once the cut of cars gets long enough. It looks good (even without weathering and a few specific details) and sounds great, but it can't really cut it in operations, at least not by itself.

Some of this is my own doing. First of all, I imposed a grade just outside the yard as I needed the CP mainline to drop down before hitting Newport staging. In hindsight I should have kept the parallel MEC track level to avoid a grade in the same spot, and that would have helped, but maybe not completely.

I also have weighted my freight cars a little heavier than NMRA specs. A 50' boxcar comes in around 8 ounces, nearly double the spec. I enjoy the operational benefits, but once a grade is encountered, things get a lot more like the prototype and you start needing more horsepower to move tonnage. This wouldn't be an issue at a yard, but with compressed distances, that grade comes a lot sooner than on the prototype.

The third thing working against the little RS2 is my application of graphite prior to the session. There is no doubt in my mind that this has now caused a slightly slippier rail for the trains to traverse. BUT, given the benefits and much improved electrical contact, there is no way I am giving up on the graphite.

Here you see the (unweathered) CP RS2 pushing a cut of cars uphill into the yard. The yard crew would on occasion have to give an assist when the loco had more than it could handle!

I could consider doubling up locomotives for the yard job, although that is not real prototypical. The best solution would be to add more weight to the RS2, and I'll have to see what is possible.

For now I will go back to another locomotive used by the CP in St. Johnsbury yard, an Alco S2 made by Atlas. Most layout owners will agree that these heavy little switchers are great for yard operations, and can really push a cut of cars. The S2 was used by CP in St. Johnsbury in the 1960s and 1970s, but by the late 1970s and early 1980s the RS2s were more common.

This picture from RailPictures.Net shows CP S2 7098 in St. Johnsbury in May of 1975. Note the trackwork, dirt and oil, good modeling reference!

I did however have to address an issue with this locomotive. A few years ago I swapped the decoder I had in it with an MRC sound decoder. Nicely engineered, this MRC decoder drops in and has a speaker already mounted on the board. There is a small section of weight to be cut off, but nothing too significant. Unfortunately the sound quality out if this is just OK. Certainly not Tsunami.

But the real trouble was the way the locomotive continued to deteriorate operationally. For some reason, no matter how much programming and resetting I tried, the loco would just not operate very well after a few years. Talking with another modeler he mentioned that sometimes the MRC decoders just start to go and the motor controls stop working well even though the sound is still there. That is what I was seeing.

So a quick pop open of the hood and back in goes the original decoder and out comes the MRC one. Nothing too complicated and only about 20 minutes at the work bench. And the best part is that the old decoder is already programmed from when it first resided in 7063!

That is the MRC board now removed. CP 7063 is now ready for yard duty again, repalcing the RS2. This should be good news to the St. Johnsbury yard operators at the next Op Session!
The RS2 will now get MU'd to the other RS2 I have operating on the CP local out of Newport, the RS-1 (that is not too confusing is it?).

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Preparing for the next Op Session

With a bunch of summer activities done, I am getting some things accomplished on the layout each day in preparation for Op Session number 2 later this month. This will be followed up by the MER Convention at the end of October, and I have a list of operational and scenic things I'd like to get completed.

The first thing I did was assess the layout and see where all the trains were from the last session. There were a couple of trains that did not complete, and 2 that never left their staging tracks. This I hope to address through some changes to the overall train schedule. For this first restaging I decided to generally put the cars back where they were for the first session instead of flipping waybills. The main reason is I want to make some minor adjustments and assess how well cars got to their intended destination. In some cases the waybills will need some updating for clarity to the operators, and in other cases I think a car may be in the wrong place to start based on the sequence of trains.

An example the first condition is a car not picked up by the MEC QY-2 local heading back to St. Johnsbury. Looking at the waybill I can see how the operator might be confused about whether to pick up the car or not. So I can fix that.

An example of the second condition is the LVRC train from St. J back to Morrisville, MJ-1. Once that runs, any additional cars for the LVRC that come into St. Johnsbury yard won't get picked up until tomorrow (the next session). What this means is that I should have some previous day cars in the St. J yard already for the LVRC to pick up.

This was evident by the small size of the LVRC JM-1 train, and the accumulatiuon of LVRC cars in the St. J yard at the end of the session. Starting with no LVRC cars in the yard was the issue, and I can balance that a bit by getting some cars into the yard before the session starts, and reduce the amount coming in on later through trains accordingly as these will sit until the next session. Overall the LVRC MJ-1 should be the same size I planned for.

Another reason I want to use basically the same cars again is to take better notes on how I staged things and how many cars in a train were destined for other locations. I realize now I need this data to properly balance the consists of trains in staging and make sure I get proper staging for the next session. Some minor differences are OK, but each session should be about the same when it comes to the number of cars in each train.

One issue I am sure each owner of an operating layout deals with are cars missing their car card, and car cards missing their car. I had one of each as shown below.

A Conrail Gondola was missing, while this SP&S car that I know came from North Stratford into St. Johnsbury was missing it's car card and waybill.

Many times it might be a car and car card get swapped, and if you find one, you've found the other. No luck in this case. I checked every inch of track for the CR gon to no avail. Looking at the waybill was even more confusing as this car came out of Newport staging on train 917, briefly stopped in St. J as other cars came off the train, and then continued on to East Deerfield staging. Really no where it should have gone off of that train.

So next I started looking under the layout. Really nowhere else to look! And there it was!!

Now how did this gondola fall from the staging yard approach and land on top of this box?

My first thought is that there was a derailment when the operator brought the train out of staging. But this seemed unlikely as the operators were real good about pointing out any issues that occurred, and a derailment there would have been obvious and reported.

What I think really happened is that I myself derailed the car while doing the initial staging before the Op Session. The car card was in the middle of a block that was just passing through from staging to staging so the St. J operators did not even notice. Anyway, mystery #1 solved.

Now the missing car card is still that - missing. I checked everywhere obvious, and all car card boxes but no luck. It could have been dropped, so I will need to do a thorough check on that. It is possible it ended up going home with someone but no one has reported that yet. Worse case I can reprint the car card and associated waybill.

So, restaging is nearly complete - all trains are restaged, but now I am checking and balancing things. Just a few more cars to balance out and a few additional cars to add to a few trains and in the yard. It is amazing how many cars a layout will consume for operations. And more amazing there are still some cars I need to acquire or get up and running to represent certain traffic that is missing. Just a single siding that receives 1 car can theoretically mean I have 3 cars on the layout representing that traffic. I'll write more about that in the future.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Quick August Update

Been a busy July and August, so not much to report. Summer activities, band rehearsals and gigs, including some cool ones on the beach at sunset, have put a dent in model railroad work for sure. But a few things have occurred.

I attended an Op Session on Mark Fryzstacki's PRR Northern Division, which just started up Ops this year. I'll have to post some more pics and info on that, but here is a look at one area of the double deck layout, as well as my paperwork for one train I ran.

Mark Fryzstacki's PRR Northern is a large double deck layout with a double track helix .
Mark's Waybills, Locomotive Card and Train Card. As you can see my train cards were inspired by what Mark has implmented on his and other local layouts.
I also worked on the short circuit issue. Running a long length of bus between the command station and circuit breakers did not do the trick, but I did notice that at some point I decided to wire jumpers to up the short circuit trip level. I think I was trying to fix an issue at the time, but now this causes a new issue with the circuit boards never tripping before the command station does. Cutting those wires seems to have fixed the issue. We'll see if this is a permanent fix as more Ops continue on.

I did raise the UR92 panel for better reception, but really should do the UR91 panel as well as most guys are running simplex throttles (all my throttles but 1 are duplex, so I need both to accommodate local guys who bring their own throttles). I still need to address a track issue in Morrisville and a dead spot in Hardwick. It would be nice to have some more trackage in Lyndonville and North Stratford to make those jobs a little more interesting. We'll see.

UR92 Panel now above the backdrop aty the end of St. Johnsbury.

I hope to have another session in early September. I have put it off only because I really have not addressed too much from the first session. Some adjustments to the Op Session schedule, along with some tips picked up at Mark's session, will be made implemented in the next session.

If anyone is on Facebook, do a search for Northeast Kingdom Model Railroad. I started a group there to occasionally share a picture or other update.

A reminder that the MER NMRA Fall Convention is coming up in October. My layout will be open for visits Friday afternoon. (The op session is already sold out). There will be Free-mo modules at hte hotel, including my Woodstown Jct. module. Check out for more info.

The annual November Open House is scheduled for Saturday November 21st from 1 to 5. I'll post this again later.

And, if you noticed, I also updated the theme for this blog page. Was having trouble really reading it myself, so went a little more traditional with just a touch of fall or Maine Central-like colors!

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Short Circuit Issues and possible fix

The Northeast Kingdom uses Digitrax, with a DCS100 and DB150 in booster mode handling DCC duties. I route the output from these 2 units into 6 separate PowerShield circuit breakers to create distinct power districts. The goal is to prevent a short circuit in one location from taking out the whole layout. In general this has worked fine. A derailment or engine running into a thrown switch in Groveton would not impact operations in St. Johnsbury yard, or Morrisville yard. All was fine except for one issue.

If too many sound locos were in one power district (and especially if this included QSI sound decoder equipped locos) a short circuit would trip the breaker, which was good, but it was unable to reset itself. The rest of the layout was good, but the power district would remain down until enough locomotives were removed (or at least tipped off one rail) to reduce the power draw and allow a reset of the circuit board controlling that district.

In research and asking questions, I found out that I could use jumper wires on the PowerShield boards to up the threshold for current draw before tripping, allowing for a reset even when a large number of locos are drawing power on the attempted restart (the sound decoders were drawing a larger amount of power on startup then settling back down a bit).

This basically worked, but then I started to see an occasional issue where a short would take down the whole layout, essentially rendering the PowerShields useless in providing power districts. I contemplated what to do and thought about removing the jumpers that upped the threshold to at least get back to what was working before, and the undesireable issue within just one power district to deal with.

During the Op Session, just such a short occurred and took out the railroad. A quick fix is to cycle the track power on and off via to the DT400 throttle. But I started to discuss the issue with Bruce Barrett and he asked to see how I had my DCC system set up and located, physically, which I though was interesting.

I have the wire outputs from the command station and booster running a short distance to inputs for the PowerShields, maybe 8 inches of wire. Bruce said "Aha!", but I was not getting it.

He explained that what was happening is that the PowerShields were letting the short occur long enough before tripping that the command station was seeing it and shutting down, thereby impacting the whole layout. Interesting I thought - but how to fix it...

Bruce said some people have their circuit breakers out on the layout, further away from the command stations, and the running of the power bus out to the boards was enough to prevent a short from getting to the command station before the PowerShield tripped.

In my case, Bruce suggested routing the existing power outputs out one leg of the layout and back before attaching to the PowerShields. Maybe creating a wire distance of 30 feet or so between the command station and the PowerShields should do the trick he advised.

It does sound logical given what I have seen occurring. I will give this solution a try tonight and test out short circuit impacts within each district. I'll report back the results, in case anyone else has experienced similar issues. And if you have tried this solution, please comment and let me know your results.

This is an older look at my power center, before expanding to a DCS100 and another PowerShield board. But it helps show the relatively short distance between the command station and the circuit boards.

Monday, June 29, 2015

First Op Session Success!

On Wednesday night I had a group of 6 local model railroaders, experienced at layout building and operations, over to conduct the first formal Op Session on the Northeast Kingdom. This has been a long time coming, having started the layout 12 years ago. The last few months have all been final preparations to make for a successful session.

Did I get everything done on my check list? No, I did not. But probably the best thing I did was send out invites on June 1st, setting a target date of 6/24. This helped me use the time available to just focus on the must-haves - the absolutes that would otherwise prevent trains from running.

I had to scale some things back, and eliminate certain trains, like the Central Vermont runs 537/538, St. Albans to Richford and return, because of missing track in Sheldon Jct. to make them serve any real purpose. But all in all it was enough to fill more than 3 hours, and left me with 3 trains out of 28 scheduled that did not run at the end of the ssession. Some schedule adjustments and better informational aids for the crews will help address this, allowing all trains to run and keeping the session at a reasonable length.

Once everyone assembled, we went over some basic info, and I explained the waybills and the train cards to the operators. A lot of good feedback regarding operational aids was received, things like linear maps, additional info on the yard instruction sheet and the like will be easily implemented to help.

I assigned 2 people to the St. Johnsbury yard position. This was a recent idea, and I am glad I did. It is very busy there, and having a yardmaster as well as an engineer really helped keep things flowing well.

 Joe Calderone (front) and Mark Fryzstacki (back) volunteered for St. Johnsbury duty. 
 Mark and Joe ran things very well and picked up quickly on the operating scheme. There were some issues, mostly being unfamiliar with the layout and lacking some operational instructions that would help, but they did a great job. The yard itself was a bit different than they expected as it is really an interchange yard and not a traditional arrival/departure yard that an operator might expect. With trains from 3 railroads and tracks heading N, S, E and W, it takes a little bit of an adjustment. One issue was the planned CP MLW S2 for yard power died a few days earlier. The replacement RS2 lacked the weight needed to handle large cuts of cars. Getting the S2 back in service should alleviate that issue.

John Rahenkamp operated a number of road and local freights.
 Three operators were assigned to road duties, which included locals, a paper mill switcher and general run through freights. I found that I will need to keep track of start/stop times and develop a balance of when trains should be released for operation to help keep things flowing nicely. There was a little too much down time here and there for the road crews that could be eliminated with some schedule adjustments.

Bruce Barrett (left) and Bill Howard (right) working together in Morrisville, VT.
 Bill signed up for Lamoille Valley yard duty. Bill picked up things quickly and got things done efficiently. The schedule affected Bill a little with some down time. We discussed some ideas to address this and Bill had good input. It is very interesting to start to get input from others who experience your layout and start to understand how you are modeling the prototype. In fact it is one of the real rewards in having an Op session, seeing the operators bring your layout to life, and use terminology for your trains and locations.

Jim Homoki (left) checks his waybills for CP job RS-1 before switching Lyndonville, VT.
 Jim did a great job as well, quickly understanding the work needed for the first train of the night, Maine Central's RY-2. He also had no issue throwing some of the remotely controlled Tortoise machines that operate as DCC addresses of off the DT400 throttle. This was a little concern for me, and I do want to put up track diagrams with instructions for throwing the switches. There are not too many, but I want each operator to feel comfortable in routing the turnouts.

John waits while the yard crew reviews the train that he just brought in, MEC TY-2 from North Stratford.
 One thing that will help alleviate road crew down time, and perhaps give St. operators a little break and a chance to grab a snack, will be getting the remaining trackwork in place in North Stratford, Beecher Falls, Lyndonville and Sheldon Jct. This is not to big of a task and even if just the track is in without ground throws, the operators can deal with this until the time is available to finish things like that. Getting that track in adds work for a number of trains, and work = time, and fun, for the operators.

With the 3 road crews occupied with other jobs, Bill ran the LVRC freight to St. Albans, VT, which included switching the feed mill (with the stand in elevator, until I build a more appropriate New England style elevator!)

Bruce ran the Maine Central local YQ-1, which is shown here switching cars at Giman, VT.
 One big change will be establishing a paper mill switch job for Gilman. This is very much a case where strictly following the prototype does not always scale down well on a model railroad. The prototype ran a local out of St. Johnsbury, switched the paper mill at Gilman, ran on to Whitefield to interchange with the B&M and then headed back to St. J.

Initially this train left too late as I did not indicate it's importance properly to the St. J yard crew. And then, because of switching work, it takes a long time to operate. This is not an operator issue, it is just the reality of having to do a lot of back and forth, throwing of switches, dropping and picking up cars. On the prototype they had something like an 8 hour window to do the work. Most of this time was not running between towns, which on a model railroad is scaled down. It is the switching work that takes so much time, and same thing on a model railroad. Meanwhile planned trains get stacked up waiting for YQ-1 to complete.

So the solution I will implement is to establish a Gilman paper mill switch job, This job can do advance work to gather outbound loads, and then handle drops that will get left by YQ-1. This will allow YQ-1 to proceed to Whitefield and do work there. On the return trip as QY-2, the Gilman switch job will have spotted all outbound cars on the passing siding for a quick pickup.

The benefit will not only be a shorter time period for YQ-1/QY-2 but also a new operating job for the Gilman paper mill. It will need collaboration with the road crew, which also adds fun and interest. This was not what the Maine Central did in 1980, but for my model railroad, it will work better.

All in all it was a great experience. The layout ran really well, which was a relief. There were some issues that were put on the hit list, but that was to be expected. A few cars need couplers or trucks adjusted, but again, expected.

But I also have a long list of things to address to make for a better session, outside of the physical layout. Schedule change, paperwork, operational aids, some crew comfort items, and staging adjustments that I make to balance freight cars, will go a long way to making session 2 an even better experience. I plan to try to get that one scheduled sometime in August, so no time to waste on getting things started!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

T Minus 2 Weeks

Well, as I was often advised to do, I set a date for the first Op Session to take place on the layout. I sent invitations out on June 1st to a small group of people I regularly operate with, and most importantly, have each been involved in helping get a new layout off the ground and going with Ops. I kept a copy of Marty McGuirk's "Sea Trial #1" email from a few years ago as I thought it was a pretty good template to use. I just didn't think it would be this many years later I would be referring to it for my first session. But luckily I received 6 affirmatives and the first session will take place on Wednesday June 24th.

So like any model railroader knows, having something on the calendar only intensifies activities to get things done, and I have been diligently chipping away at my to do list of things I think are essential to hosting an Op Session. Short of cleaning the track and loco wheels (which I'll probably do that day before the session), most every critical thing has been done. Now I am focusing on some 2nd tier type items that will make things better.

One of those is the Central Vermont trains. If these do not run in the session, its no big deal. But if I have time, it would be a nice extra couple of small jobs to be assigned. I found that I was short on cars and waybills to support CV operations and a small amount of interchange with the LVRC at Sheldon Jct. So I have been addressing that. Of more concern has been my 'fleet' of 3 CV RS11s. One is an Atlas unit that runs fine, but it's older Soundtraxx decoder no longer does the sound thing. It would be nice to fix or replace that, but again, not critical. The other 2 locos are really nice looking Proto 1000 of Canada units. These have great detail, but for whatever reason, both run poorly, stopping and starting despite clean wheels and clean rail. I'm not sure if it is the decoder (both have simple LokPilot decoders from a number of years ago) or something in the drivetrain or pickup system. I probably need to remove the decoder and see how they run on straight DC first. This may or may not be possible by the 24th. So I could annul these trains, or use borrowed power, perhaps a MEC GP7 with a sticky note attached with CV on it perhaps...

I had a some extended time last night and decided to tackle the install of two more UP5 panels for the Digitrax Loconet system. One extra one at St. Johnsbury at the north end, and one at the Gilman paper mill. These will allow each "action" location to have a panel should there be wireless issues. I figured this would take maybe an hour and I could also move on to some other items. Wrong.

I cut the holes in the fascia no problem, I do run the common wire to provide daisy-chained power to each panel, and these two would come off an existing feed nearby (I power two separate branches of UP5s from 2 plug in transformers, plus have a UR91 and UR92 each separately powered). I also had to cut and run Loconet cable. I will say running wires is much easier when you do it before scenery and such is in place. Once in place, I disconnect the Loconet feed from the booster and test out the panels to make sure they are getting power properly from the common supply. If so, your plugged in throttle will start up and then the light will blink indicating no Loconet signal (using a DT400-series throttle). Well it seemed that the 2 new panels, and 1 existing one did not pass this test. After some time, I traced the issue to one panel not have a good solder connection on the feed wire and this caused issues downstream. I'd prefer if Digitrax made this common wire connection a screw terminal also like the others for track power. Oh well, that cost me about an extra 30 minutes. Coupled to the difficulty in routing the wires, and the decision to more logically route the Loconet bus with the 2 new panels, and I was past the 2 hour mark. Well at least that task is done and crossed off the list. It also is reassuring to have successfully tested each panel prior to the session, so that is a bonus.

Here is the new UP5 as well as a new throttle holder installed at the north end of St. Johnsbury. Next to that is a first draft of operating instructions for the yard crew. I actually have a new one that separates the arrivals and departures that I think will work better. Just need to print it out.

And here is the UP5 and throttle holder added to Gilman, but actually on the side fascia for Lyndonville. The coal cars are for the Gilman paper mill power plant, while the CV boxcar is sitting on newly installed temporary track for Lydonville local switching, as detailed in a previous entry.
I also took a couple of pictures from new angles recently for posting to the new Facebook group for the layout, a trend I have seen with other layout builders. I figured what's one more place to share info. That will mainly be pictures and just a little text though, unlike this blog which goes into more detail.

A closeup of the Hardwick Farms stand. An LVRC train exits the Fisher Covered Bridge while the rest of the town of Hardwick is in the distance. It's pumpkin season!

Looking forward to the first session in 2 weeks. Still more I want to get done before then, as I really want to have as much success as possible in that session. Unknown issues are bound to occur, I just want to have addressed as many of the known issues as possible!

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Power for Maine Central YQ-1

As I continue to prepare for the first Op Session, I am getting down to a short list of things to do and finalize that are critical to the session. Would I like more scenery, some more completed buildings, details, etc.? Absolutely, but none of that will ensure a successful operating session. They would make it nicer, but if certain things are not done, like locomotive assignments and staging set up, it will only be an open house, not an op session.

Next on the list was locomotive power for the Maine Central local YQ-1, an out and back (returning as QY-2) from St. Johnsbury to Whitefield. Looking at the available units, I saw a few GP7s and GP38s. This job usually ran with one or two GP7s, but on occasion other power was used. I decided to MU GP38 258 and GP7 562. These are both Atlas units and have similar operating characteristics, They also both have Soundtraxx sound decoders making speed matching a little easier.

Speed matching 258 and 562 in St. Johnsbury
I installed the sound decoders in these units over 10 years ago, and they are pre-Tsunami DSD decoders. As such, they no longer really sound as great, especially with Tsunami and Lok Sound decoders on the layout elsewhere. However for now, they will give the train crew sound, which to me really is necessary in order to enjoy running your train.

After speed matching was the important step of sound levels. First, these have different speakers, but more importantly I am finding the need to reduce volumes significantly overall now that most locomotives have sound. And in an op session environment, it would be ideal if only the general area occupied by the operator had that loco's sound, and could not be heard across the room.

Power for YQ-1 is ready and idling on a siding in St. Johnsbury yard
I also addressed sound levels on a few other locos to get them ready for assignments. After working on the new B&M 200 Bicentennial unit, I used it to move some TOFC cars back to the staging yard. It got me to thinking about the Central Vermont's Rocket train, and perhaps using 200 on this indicating a special service being inaugurated. For now, the TOFC is on the back burner for an Op session, but I do have staging yard capacity, and it might be a cool train to end the session with, running from East Deerfield up to Newport.

Boston & Maine #200, an EMD GP38-2 delivered in 1973 as #212 and still looking good in it's Bicentennial paint scheme 5 years after it was applied, leads a special Trailer-on-Flatcar train consisting of leased Impak 5-unit spine cars. Looking to emulate the success of the Central Vermont's Rocket TOFC service, this new expedited train is being tried as a joint venture between the Canadian Pacific and the Boston & Maine to take trucks off the highway between Montreal and Springfield, MA.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Preparing Lyndonville for Ops

Definitely making an effort to do little on the layout each day now as I plan to hold that first Ops Session in June. I turned my attention to Lyndonville, which is where Canadian Pacific Local RS-1 will have work to do. As I am not modeling any other local towns along the CP besides St. Johnsbury, I felt it was important to at least provide a way to pickup and drop off cars here, even if I do not have my full plan in place for how the planned industries will be laid out. That way they will not just have to stay in the train. Like North Stratford, it will be more interesting once I get the rest of the track laid, but for now, it will support the basic operating scheme.

My plan for Lyndonville is as a small industrial park setting, with one track in and a few sidings to serve my industries of IGA (grocery supply), Lyndonville Building Supply, NEK Distribution (various items like appliances that transfer to truck for final delivery, and Vermont Furniture. That is what I have waybills for so far. If anything else can fit, I can look to add ti, but don;t want to overdo it either.

CP RS-1 will come south from Newport and then back its train into the industrial park (as a trailing point). The return trip, CP RS-2 will not work this as it is a facing point fot that train. CP RS-1 will switch the industry sidings as needed, and then depart for St. Johnsbury. In St. J, anything that can be dropped for the through freights 904 and 917 will be done, and any local switching in St. J will be done as well. Then the train will continue south to unmodeled towns East Ryegate and Wells River. In reality it will terminate in the south end staging designated East Deerfield. The return trip, RS-2, will use a different train from staging, made up from the previous session's RS-1.

So for now, I am lightly tacking down some Homa-Bed and flex track to allow RS-1 to drop cars and pick up cars without any local switching in Lyndonville. I need one turnout to accommodate dropping the caboose. The mainline here is on a grade, so nothing can be set out there while switching the park. Here is the start of the temporary track in the triangle shaped area designated as Lyndonville.

Homa-Bed, flex track and a simple Atlas turnout will make up Lyndonville for now. The three boxcars represent spotted cars that will be picked up (or left in place, depending on the waybill). I do not have a card card box for this location yet. Behind the CP RS10 is the CP mainline going downgrade to Newport Staging (where the boxcars go under Gilman). The hidden CV St. Albans yard track can be seen under the Tortoise (well, it will be hidden once scenery goes in), while the Maine Central is up top running through Gilman. 

Another view of Lyndonville where it splits off the CP mainline. Gilman in the background, and above that Beecher Falls, VT, which is beyond North Stratford  (unseen to the left) and served by the North Stratford Railroad (track still to be laid). I don't really have a double deck layout, but it kind of looks that way in this picture!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Op Session on the Harrisburg Terminal

I was pleased to get the opportunity to participate in an Op Session on Rick Bickmore's Harrisburg Terminal layout. It has been about 2 years since I was last there so it was great to get reacquainted with this great layout. Rick posts regularly to the Railroad-Line forum, so I know and have seen pictures of a lot of his progress since I was last there.

The layout is essentially a loop that is operated as point to point. His double ended staging yard represents Philadelphia to the east on one end and Pittsburg to the west on the other. In between Rick models what he calls the 7 miles of sheer hell. What makes it difficult (or more appropriately, interesting) is the density of traffic and the uniqueness of trains modeled. In addition to through trains and locals, Rick models steel mill operations that sees special hot metal cars and slag cars moved. All the movements keep a dispatcher pretty busy and a crew of 10 with just enough downtime to enjoy a little socializing. His session runs about 3-1/2 hours.

I didn't take a lot of pictures as I was busy running a number of road freights. But I did take a couple.

Here we see 2 shots of the general layout area.

The main yard to the left, and part of the steel making process on the right, along with other industries. The PRR double track mainline can be seen passing the yard, it continues around the entire layout, except where a couple branches break off.

This is exactly 90 degrees to the left of the other picture. The same double track mainline curves around the peninsula making its way back to staging. On the left is part of the massive steel mill. Rick dedicated a large space to it and a lot of operations occur there. Really neat.
Just one of the great scenes along the right of way. Rick is a great structure and scenery builder, and often comes up with and shares new ideas and techniques.

In relation to my previous post about turnout control in St. Johnsbury, Rick has really nice little control panels for controlling turnouts that are not hand thrown (which most are). A single push button and Red/Green LEDs really make it simple. If I find the need to change out my turnout control method, I would definitely build something like this. I need to see if there is a similar product that can take a pushbutton control to drive DCC stationary decoders instead of Tortoise machines, hmmm...
I ended my night by operating a high and wide movement, delivering this transformer to a GE Plant. One of Rick's great background buildings can be seen.
The return of the high and wide also had a load - good planning by the railroad! This GG1 was at the GE plant getting some electrical work done. Now it needs a repaint and can go back into service. Thats the massive Harsco Steel Mill in the background.