Maine Central, Lamoille Valley

Maine Central, Lamoille Valley
Click image to link to my web site,

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

NER NMRA Convention, Mahwah NJ

I'll be at the Northeastern Region NMRA Convention this weekend in Mahwah, NJ, September 13-16. I'll mainly be on site at the convention hotel coordinating and operating on the Free-mo modular layout. We have modules from NJ, MD, NY and MA coming in for the show and we'll be operating Thursday afternoon through Saturday afternoon.

If you are at the convention, stop by and say hello!

Here's a look at the layout we will be building for this event:

If you are free over the next few days, its not too late to join in on the fun of the convention. For more info, check out

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Good, the Bad...and...the Lightning?

I've been fairly busy with summer activities for the past few months. That has meant not too much has gotten done on the layout. But hopefully things will get back into swing as we move into the fall

I did complete my kit of the Grand Trunk station I plan to use for North Stratford. Although I started the kit in January, and quickly made progress on the walls, windows, foundation and platform, I got hung up a bit on the roof and this sat a while. After finally getting the cardboard roof form cut, bent and fully built as a single piece, I painted and braced it and got it installed on the building. This finally allowed me to start the slow and tedious process of shingling the roof. I used peel and stick strips that I pre-painted. I actually ran out of shingles and had to get more to finish it off. Once done, I did some extra painting of the roof to break up the overall darkness. So that was good progress to get something completely finished.

The finished station. Lots of shingles!

This is the approximate position of the station on the layout, the upper shelf representing North Stratford and Beecher Falls. This is an elevated photo view as this shelf is closer to 66 inches off the floor. With the station in place,  I'd like to work on getting the track in up here. The far track against the wall will be the Grand Trunk. I plan for this GT mainline track to be non-operational and will in fact stage extra freight cars here to help the transition to the photo backdrop. The curving track will be the North Stratford line to Beecher Falls. It interchanges with the Maine Central to the left.
Another good thing that happened was during one evening when I had some time to tend to some small layout tasks, cleaning things up, etc. I decided it would be a great time to run a train around the layout while I worked, as it realistically had been many months since a train moved.

As many can attest, trains and rail that sit for a while tend to have issues with electrical conductivity. As I have treated my rail and loco wheels with CRC-26 a while back, I wondered if it maybe had been too long to get the same results I had been seeing for well over a year when trains last ran.

I pulled the CP local out of staging and ran it into St. Johnsbury. The sound-equipped RS10 did not have any issues moving smoothly over the rails while maintaining the sounds of the MLW Alco prime mover. This was indeed very good!

But I cannot say I did not run into an issue. It just wasn't with the train, the rail, the sound, or anything I would have expected. As I routed the CP train onto MEC rails and started to head towards Whitefield, I noticed I needed to align the turnouts in Whitefield to the MEC main line.

These turnouts are controlled by the excellent Berrett Hill Touch Toggles. The problem was that as I touched the glass over these toggles, nothing happened. I tried all 6 in Whitefield and found only 2 worked with 4 non-responsive. A quick check of my 19 toggles on the St. Johnsbury panel confirmed that they were all working well. So what was up with the Whitefield panel?

I took the panel off at Whitefield and examined things. With nothing obvious I started doing some testing. I quickly learned that the 2 working turnouts were attached to a 2 output panel, while the 4 not working were attached to a separate 4 output panel. I tried moving the toggles and turnout connectors around (easy to do as everything is plug and play with these boards), and found that indeed the issue was with the 4 output panel only. Why would this panel suddenly stop working? This was the bad, certainly.

Luckily I have a separate 8 output panel I have not used yet, so I swapped out the 2 and 4 output panels and reattached everything to the 8 output panel. Testing went well, so I re-installed the panel.

Here I am swapping the Touch Toggle leads from the panel (the orange/red/brown wires) from the 4+2 output panels on the right, to the 8 output panel on the left. The wires to the turnouts are attached to the blue connectors, which were also a simple matter of removing and plugging in to the new board. So at least this process was easy, a little good with the bad.

Here is the Whitefield panel re-installed and working properly. I took the time to drill and install 2 screws which make for a better solution than velcro strips. Now the panel is solidly in place, and working well!
As I worked I thought what might be the root cause. Unless the board just up and died, the only other thing I could think of was a recent lightning strike. A few weeks back we had a pretty active storm while we were at home, and one lightning strike seemed very close. The next day I noticed that our outside lighting wasn't working. I finally traced it to the one GFI outlet in the basement that was tripping the breaker in the circuit box. After replacing the GFI outlet, everything was back to normal. I don't really know how this happened, and nothing else was at all affected other than the GFI outlet.

So perhaps this 4 output board also was compromised by the strike? The board is plugged into a power supply and that goes to a line that is always turned off except when I am in the basement working on the layout. That line has other power supplies on it, like the DCC power supplies. Nothing else (so far) seems to have been affected. But like the GFI outlet perhaps one item in a connected chain could take the brunt of a surge?

Not sure. But anyway, there's my update, the good, the bad and the lightning!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Front End Friday #2

Maine Central GP38 #261 sits in St. Johnsbury yard. This stock Atlas model released in 2001sports the original as-delivered paint scheme.  I applied some additional details, including a horn that is close, but not an exact match, a firecracker antenna, side mounted bell, and an MU hose on the receptacles. It is also lightly weathered and has KD #158 couplers. It sports an older Soundtraxx sound decoder, and it prime for an upgrade to Loksound and iPhone speaker. Like most every Atlas unit, it continues to run and look great.

MEC 261 in original scheme. In late 1970s the Maine Central started a rebuild and repaint program. The nose herald was changed to a simple round pine tree logo, an quick and easy spotting difference. The number boards were usually switched to black numbers on a white background at this time. It also got a new air filter, changing the look of the roof right behind the cab. Atlas released versions with this difference, in the appropriate paint scheme, in 2004. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Great Photos on Flickr

If you have not seen this (growing) collection of photos on Flickr, its worth checking out. Great images from MA, VT, NH, ME, NY, 1970s and 1980s.

The Michael C. Bump collection on Flickr:

Images have been slowly added over the past few weeks, so worth a follow if you are on Flickr (you'll get a weekly email if any new photos are uploaded).

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wordless Wednesday #25

Photo by Glenn Salvatore, October 1978

Friday, April 13, 2018

Front End Friday #1

On some Facebook groups I have noticed that members will post pictures on Fridays of prototype or model locomotives to specifically show the cab and front end. These usually get a hashtag of #FEF, or Front End Friday.

I figured I needed to post the picture below as it truly captures the intent of this effort. I did not take this picture but it is in my saved collection of images found across the internet for modeling information.

All four of the Lamoille Valley RS-3s lined up at the Morrisville shops. Pretty cool!

Hmmm, couldn't have switched up 7803 and 7804 to put them in sequence? :-)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

TBT - North Stratford NH 1999

On one of our vacations to New Hampshire, this time in 1999, we took a drive up into the north country of the state. This fairly remote area has just a few roads and a couple rail lines, and not too many people or houses. By this time, the former MEC and B&M lines in this area above Whitefield were being operated by the New Hampshire & Vermont Railroad. This track was in OK condition, but showed the effects of less traffic and even less maintenance.

However once above Groveton, as route 3 curves and twists northward paralleling the right of way, you eventually get to North Stratford, and see some real signs of active railroad life,

Here the former Grand Trunk line was now the main line of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic. The track is in great condition, and there is plenty to take in. However, as usual, I am not there at the right time to see actual trains in action. No problem though, still plenty of interesting things to observe.

The station and track are in excellent shape as seen here. The old semaphore is no longer used, but it is cool to still see it in place.North Stratford served as a junction point between the Maine Central and grand Trunk years ago, although not too much traffic was interchanged here, as the GT continues south to Portland Maine to do most of the interchange with the MEC there.

But this is the point where the Maine Central continued north along the Connecticut River to get to Beecher Falls Vermont and the still very active Ethan Allen furniture factory. On this day the line north is state owned and operated by the New Hampshire Central. Before that this line was operated by the North Stratford Railway, who took over from the MEC after the state bought the line. More info about that can be read here on my site.

But back to North Stratford. A string of boxcars on the siding is of interest. First, some interesting older paint schemes, some with new stenciled owners, others with signs of years of use.

A string of boscars sits on the siding. Appears to be dropped for the New Hampshire Central by the St. Lawrence & Atlantic, but that is a lot of cars for that small railroad...
I walked down the track to get a better look and a couple photos of the boxcars there

New Orleans Public Belt boxcar looking very much like the Athearn PS5344 that at the time had been recently released, the last of the Athearn Blue Box kits. Here we see it re-lettered and some nice weathering on top of its 1970s paint job

Ubiquitous for this area from the late 1970s into the early 2000s were these Berlin Mills boxcars with their distinctive jade green paint. They hauled paper regularly from the paper mill in Berlin, and could be seen on the Boston & Maine local between White River Junction and Berlin, until that service ended, and the tracks were later removed.

A closer look at the tack board reveals this and the other boxcars spotted here were dropped for interchange to the NHCR, the New Hampshire Central, on August 8, 1999. 

The New Hampshire Central did not have a lot of local customers, but in the 1990s htey constructed a railcar repair facility. This provided plenty of traffic for the shortline, to take cars in for various repairs, and then return to the St.L & A for active service on the nation's rail network. You can read more about the repair facility in an article I wrote for the NER coupler, click here (be sure to click through to the original page as I may not have updated the new page by the time you read this).

On another siding I find this bulkhead flat built for pulpwood loading. Here a truck can pull up alongside and load logs onto the car to then be moved to a paper mill by the StL & A.

The St. Lawrence & Atlantic was previously the Grand Trunk, which was very much a child of parent Canadian National. On other trips, it was easy to find plenty of CN equipment, and even CN locomotives on the trains operating on this line, even after the StL&A took over in 1993. One time I found a train with a good number of Central Vermont GP9s in Green and Yellow operating a train through Berlin NH.

Another look at the North Stratford area reveals that there was once a bit more activity here, back in the Maine Central and Grand Trunk days. A small yard facilitated more interchange, but most of those tracks are now removed.

These ties in the dirt speak to another time when more tracks were needed to facilitate operations at North Stratford.

A trip to New Hampshire in 2017 revealed not too many changes to North Stratford. The StL&A is now part of the Genesee & Wyoming system, and the ex-MEC Beecher Falls line is still active. The rail car repair facility has been converted to a propane transload, and the line beyond the facility has a stock pile of older cars not currently in service, probably earning some money for the storage service provided.

I'll soon be laying some track on my layout for the North Stratford area. This will be mostly about facilitating some additional operations for the MEC, adding a passing siding, a spur or two, and the line over to Beecher Falls (greatly condensed) for the North Stratford Railway to service a scled-down version of the Ethan Allen furniture plant. This is all up on my shelf area that was added in a moment of inspiration after I thought I had completed the basic layout footprint. I will be digging through my prototype books and articles to draw out some ideas and inspiration for this small area of the layout.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Working on Whitefield

I've spent a few sessions continuing to work on the scenery in Whitefield, starting from the area where I added trees up to the diamond crossing. I ballasted the B&M and MEC tracks and added dirt and grass between. The MEC track is straight Arizona Rock ballast, NS/CSX blend. The B&M is a mixture that includes Northern Pacific gray along with sone various other ballasts I have on hand to create a dirty blend to represent older ballast. The MEC in my time period was regularly ballasting the Mountain Division and I wanted the clean look that is evident in many pictures.

The other areas include various Scenic Express blends of dirt and turf. I added static grass with a Noch Grassmaster, and also some sections of Heki wild grass fibers. I still plan to add more, and then fill in more trees as well.

It is nice to see the structures in a sceniced area. It is a lot of fun to bring the scene to life with some added details I've had for quite a while. Included is a casting for the B&M call box. Plenty of more details will be added, especially around the MEC section house. But for now it is a good start.

An overall view of area. In the back is a dark brown patch where I will add a structure for Whitefield Plastics.

A lower level view of the ball signal with a B&M and MEC train staged. 

Looking back towards the ball signal, this grade crossing links to the section house parking lot. Additional weeds and treatment to the gravel will be done here.
The siding for Whitefield Plastics is in place, but I need to build a structure and some tanks for the covered hoppers to unload. I like the way the the gravel road came out, which has a number of different materials added and final dusting of granite dust.
A close-up of the section house. Pretty cool Dodge pickup model that will look good in this prominent location. Just need to add the NH license plate decals.