Maine Central, Lamoille Valley

Maine Central, Lamoille Valley
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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Chill in the Air

(Note: I wrote this in October 2006, but realized I never posted it!)

Well, we're at the end of October and model railroading season is strarting to pick up here on the Northeast Kingdom layout. I've been somewhat busy with other things, but I have a few projects readyto start and some things coming up to get things going.

First up, I have an electrical project just finished up. I'm certainly no electronics expert, but I can solder and run wires pretty well. Back in July at the National Train show I stopped by the booth for Logic Rail Technologies <>. They had a neat display of a train going through a grade crossing with the flashers going on and off automatically. If you've seen the pictures from my earlier posts, you know I completed a road that crosses the mainline and siding on the Lamoille Valley at East Hardwick, VT. I talked about installing the unit and was convinced it was something I could handle. I picked up their Grade Crossing Pro package along with a bell ringer circuit and speaker.

I had planned to use the Details West Grade Crossing model, but I was unable to get it working with the LEDs supplied. Soldering them and getting them into the castings was frustrating and I ended up with some LEDs that did not work and did not disguise the wires easily. Oh well, back to the drawing board. I went through the Walthers catalog and decided on using the Tomar crossing flashers.

Well, to make this long story a little shorter, I got the flashers and the circuits installed with no real problems. Because I added extra sensors to activate the flashers from the passing and siding tracks, I have a pretty good amount of wires under the layout. But using terminal strips helps keep things under control. I added the bell circuit and speaker and hooked up the power supply. Everything worked! I did have to adjust the sensitivity on the photocells to get the on/off timing to work well. I also found that it helps to have a light source over the cells to avoid accidental tripping of the cuircuit when someone leans close to the layout. I actually already had this covered by havnig a set of three spotlights installed in this area because it seemed a bit dimmer than other areas. This answered my question of whether I needed that light!

I'll post a little video of the grade crossing flashers in action soon, but for now here is a photo:

It's nice to have a project like this completed as it adds sound and animation to the layout, something that is fun for me and for visitors. Speaking of which, I have my layout open on the annual November layout tour that occurs each year throughout the Philadelphia area. So I'll have a few weeks to get a few more things done before the visitors arrive.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Quiet Summer

Well, here it is the middle of August and all is quiet on the model railroad front. The long road to get as much done as possible on the layout before the Philadelphia National convention is now over. I knew about the convention before we moved in to our house and before the layout was started, so this was always a goal and a driving force to keep me motivated. There were also a couple of local open houses to keep me going as well. But now the convention is over and I must say I have taken a break from things the past few weeks.

First a recap: I had my layout open for 2 tours on the convention as well as one other night where I had some friends visit. (If you want more info on my layout, be sure to visit my website for the layout at The focus up to that point was to have the 2 independent mainlines in place so 2 trains could run unattended. That accomplished I focused on the scenery on what I termed the first phase. I wanted to get more done, but I think I got enough in to convey what the layout will look like, Fall in 1980 in upper Vermont and New Hampshire. I completed the farm scene at the right to help convey the feel of Vermont. I also comlpeted the majority of the scenery in St. Johnsbury plus I had the scenery in Sheldon Jct. completed last November. I put sound into a few more locomotives, completed a second Lamoille Valley RS-3 and weatherd a lot a freight cars. This work really paid off because many of the visitors commented positively on the weathering and the scenery, so this was quite satisfying.

The convention itself started for me Sunday evening working in the Silent Auction room, which was being run by the New Jersey Division MER-NMRA (go to the web site at: I also spent all day Monday there. (Tuesday was the 4th of July and I was of with the family). My first tour was Wednesday night and I spent all of that day making final preparations. Around 8:30pm the bus pulled up and about 20 people from all over the country descended on the basement. The trains ran without incident, everyone took pictures and had a good time, and I was happy that all went well. Whew! Thursday was back to the Auction room, then back home for the private layout visit. Friday I went to the opening of the train show, was floored by the Intermountain pre-production sample of an HO GE U18B locomotive, and purchased more stuff for the layout, of course. Friday night was the second tour and again all went well for the 20 visitors. I only wish I had time to take in some clinics, but sometimes you just have to be a volunteer!

So since then, I have not done too much. I have really enjoyed wathching the trains run through the new scenery and listening to the sound equipped units. But I think things will be picking up soon. At the train show, I picked up a crossing flasher circuit and I really want to get that installed now that I have a highway grade crossing in place (here at Hardwick, VT). I also just received in the mail my Digitrax sound decoder for the Kato F40PH. This is supposed to be an easy install and then I can try out my Amtrak train (a bit of proto-freelancing to have an Amtrak train travel through St. Johnsbury - I'll have to post my thoughts on that in the future). So I am starting to feel like doing some things now that the burn out is wearing off. The good thing now I suppose is that I don;t have to feel to much pressure of an approaching deadline. I can do some projects I enjoy and still run the trains around for my own enjoyment.

Of course, there is the local November model railroad self-guided tour. I could put my layout on that tour I suppose, just to help keep things moving. Maybe I can get that corn field in place and that rough scenery in Lyndonville, VT completed. And perhaps I can get the paper mill at Gilman, VT started. Hmmm....

Sunday, May 28, 2006

South Jersey Workshop

In my last entry, I mentioned an informal "club" that I participated in where we built some modules and worked on home layouts in a round robin style. That group was called the South Jersey Workshop and the idea was based on the Hartford Workshop, a group of modelers in Connecticut that worked on each others layout. The group started out with members who participated in another, traditional model railroad club but were each interested in starting personal layouts.

I dug through some old photos and found 2 pictures from about 1988. Not the greatest quality, but they do show what we were doing at the time (Interesting how today with digital cameras I take pictures of everything and sort through them on the computer, but when it was film that had to be developed I was much more selective before pressing the button).

The first photo here is from Glenn and Diane's layout. It depicted the Rutland from Bellows Falls to Rutland. This was the first scene, Gassetts, VT. Diane really did some great scenery here and we did get the foreground and fascia in later. To the left, the layout crossed the entrance to the room on a drop bridge into a workshop area. Under the top level is the lower level. The layout used an alternating upper level/lower level scene, giving space between each town on each level, with the backdrop creating a shadow box type look.

In the next picture, this is to the right of the Gassetts picture, turning 90 degrees. Here the layout continued down the wall, across the far wall and back up the wall to the left. At this time, Rutland yard (and the hidden Whitehall staging yard) were not built. The 2 modules we first built as a group are temporarily added here to the end of the mainline so we could run trains back and forth. I really wish I had more photos documenting our accomplishments on this layout.

There were a lot of good times working on the layout with Glenn, Diane and our friend Anton, plus a few others here and there. The SJW concept worked well for us. We all learned a lot about building layouts and we got a lot more accomplished then if we worked alone. A few years later we started work on a layout in my home. Glenn helped a lot getting the basement area ready and then handlaying some track.

Here you see me doing some early benchwork assembly on the area of the layout to depict Bartlett. This photo is from October 1995. A lot of the concepts learned on Glenn's layout and then this layout were applied to my current layout, such as the benchwork style and spline roadbed assembly.

In this last shot, we see more of the Bartlett benchwork completed. The corner location meant that we were going to include the wye in Bartlett. The tail leg was going to be used for a continuous run option and that is where the loco and boxcar were sitting at the time. This area progressed to full trackage with handlaid code 70 and code 55 track featuring switches built by Glenn. A move from this house in 1996 ended the layout. But one thing I realized from the trackplan and what I had built is that the layout I was building, Portland staging feeding into Bartlett, Crawford Notch, Whitefield and finally St. Johnsbury, was going to be faithful but did not offer too much in the way of operations. The St. J area would have the most action, including north and south Canadian Pacific staging and a short Lamoille Valley staging track in the electrical closet. These lessons were important as I planned my current layout and found that focusing on St. J offered the most operating potential for the era and geographical area I wanted to model.

As for the South Jersey Workshop, Diane moved to New York a few years ago and Anton is curently living and working in Maryland. Anton did help out on a lot of the initial benchwork on the current layout when it was started in 2003. So the SJW is somewhat in hibernation I guess, pending visits from past members for work sessions (hint, hint) or bringing some new people into the fold. My advice: In the area where you live, look into establishing a round-robin group like this. There are many benefits and it can really boost your ability to get things accomplished on the layout. You'll make some great friends along the way too!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

My model railroad background

(Note: The idea for this web log was inspired by a similar blog by Mike Hamer. Mike actually hosts a few blogs, including the blog and the blog. Both are very interesting with great pictures and I highly recommend a visit to both)

My interest in model railroading goes back to having trains when I was young. My parent's gave me HO trains at Christmas and helped me set up a 4' x 8' layout in the basement. They supported my "hobby" by giving me additional gifts of cars, structures, etc. as I grew up (in the 1970s). Meanwhile, our family would go camping each summer in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. At this time, the Maine Central ran regularly through the area, Crawford Notch and Twin Mountain, on its way to St. Johnsbury, Vermont or back to Portland, Maine. Seeing these trains helped cement my interest in railroading and model railroading.

One Christmas, my parent's included a Railroad Model Craftsman magazine with my gifts. Included in this issue, the October 1980 issue, was an article about the ball signal at Whitefield, NH. Wow! This was a place I had been to. Along with the other articles and photos, this feature helped me realize that playing with trains could be based on what was going on out on the real railroads. I would say this is the point that I became a model railroader. I started getting more copies of RMC, including back issues, and started learning a lot about model railroading. The Editor's Notebook column in RMC written by Tony Koester really influenced how I perceived model railroading should be done, how things should be based on the prototype and how operations could really enhance your enjoyment of the hobby.

At this point, my main prototype knowledge was the current day Maine Central running through New Hampshire. That became my modeling focus and remains so to this day. It was probably the purchase of the MEC by Guilford and the abandonment of the Mountain Division through NH that kept my interest locked into 1980 or so.

My model railroading was helped along by having the good fortune of quality hobby shop in my hometown, Sattler's Hobby Shop, in Westmont, NJ. I was lucky enough to also work there for a little over 1 year while I was in high school. It was from Sattler's that I learned about the Gateway Model Railroad club and soon I was visiting their large layout in Gloucester. I soon became a member and learned many new skills over the next few years. I also had the good fortune to meet Glenn Salvatore and his wife Diane, members that also had an interest in New England railroads. (The top picture on this post was taken by Glenn in 1981). Soon after Glenn and Diane moved into a new home, we set up the South Jersey workshop, a modeling group that functioned like a club, but without the politics, dues and other "club" issues.

Our first project was a pair of HO modules based on North Stratford, NH. These would be my first "real" model railroad as I would consider it as it was fully wired, had scenery and was used in a few local modular set ups. Next, we started work on Glenn's layout, which featured the Rutland line between Bellows Falls and Rutland, VT. We met weekly at Glenn's for a number of years, and had the layout open for a local NJ Division NMRA Meet. We also started a layout in my home based on the Mountain Division between Bartlett, NH and St. Johnsbury, VT. Sadly, Glenn's health deteriorated and I lost my good model railroad friend in 2000. (I do remain freinds with Diane, who has since moved to NY state.)

In 2002, we moved into a new home with a nice basement and plans were underway for a new railroad. I knew I would still want to model the Maine Central in New England and the timeframe would be the late 1970s to early 1980s as that was the focus for much of my model building and research. How I came to choose the theme for my current model railroad will be the topic for a future post.