Maine Central, Lamoille Valley

Maine Central, Lamoille Valley
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Saturday, November 17, 2007

November Open House

With the NER Fall Convention done, I turned my attention to getting some things done on the layout in preparation for the November Open House. This year the open house coincided with the public layout tour, so I had visitors from the Division Meet as well as some general public. As it turned out, over 50 people visited, but only about 15 were general public. I think there was an issue this year with not having printed layout books this year, they were only on-line. So I don't think enough public people were aware of the open house tour this year (by contrast, I had over 40 general public visitors last year). We'll have to see if we can do something about this next year to spread the word.

Anyway, I focused my attention on 2 areas for this year - adding more scenery and details to the Hardwick area and putting scenery into the section between Morrisville and Johnson. As I mentioned before, I put in crossing signals at the road crossing in Hardwick and added to that were some new structures, more details and more scenery elements. The video here shows the scene and the crossing signals:

In Hardwick, I added lots of the Siflor "tufts" and some more trees. I also added power poles (no lines yet), people and details, the recently completed church and the farm stand with pumpkins. I also started the swampy area with tall reeds right next to the road. I will continue this down between the tracks.

Over by the farm, I located the potato house and sceniced around it. I also added some larger foreground trees. Here are 2 pictures from a different angle than usual (along the track instead of straight on from the aisle.

For the area west of Morrisville, I have a curve going downgrade with a switch leading to the talc mill location in Johnson. I struggled with what to put in this small area and then thought about giving a winter scene a try. I have seen how late Fall in the high hills in VT and NH sometimes result in some snowfall, so I decided to try that. I also needed a place to put the A-frame house I won as a door prize a few years ago at the Stamford NER Fall convention. So I put in basic scenery, then added trees. I used larger trees here as I was not trying to force the perspective at all. With the location visually separated from the other areas of the layout, I think using snow works OK. Dusting on the snow was fun and I slowly built it up until I got the look I wanted. I then added some cross country skiers getting in an early run. I found it hard to get a good pictures of the scene, so I shot a little video instead:

Having the open house date helped me get these scenes finished. I got to sit back and watch trains run and also did a little yard switching in St. J. It got me to thinking about operations and what I still need to do to get there. So I want to finish up the other scenery, clean up some details in St. J and then think about work on the next phase, to get the required staging yards in place. That will be my goal by next year's open house!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

NER Albany Convention Update Day #3

This morning I am heading out on the Port of Albany Tour. Two large buses are here, so it looks like more than half of those in attendance will be going on the tour. We arrived in the Port and did an around the area tour by bus narrated by Tony Steele so we would know what we were lookoing at. Nice to see the D&H lightning stripe geep switching cars in the yard.

Next we stopped adjacent to the Cargill grain unloading facility and were able to get off the bus and stretch our legs. We were able to go over and check out the Port of Albany RR SW9 and CP caboose they use. We even got to climb on the equipment and go through the caboose! No one was on hand from the RR and they were not operating today.

Across the street a couple of Cargill employees came out and answered questions while operating their remote controlled switcher. This locomotive works a lot like model railroading with the engineer walking alongside the loco and using a large radio throttle to control movements.

We arrived back at the hotel around 11am, so I had time to grab lunch before going to see Dominic Bourgeois's clinic on D&H modeling. Dominc's clinic was a nice mixture of prototype and model slides and he provided a good deal of information on various paint schemes and uses for the cars. Many of the models seen in the slides were on hand in the next room on his impressive Schenectady layout section. Here are a few pictures of his impressive modeling.

Due to the staggering of clinic start times, I was not able to get in to see the start of a Jim Six presentation on structure building. I think it was interesting to try staggered start times, but the result seems to be too many clinics where people are coming in late off another clinic. Probably best to have uniform start times and provide half hour breaks to allow prep time and social interaction. So I will head in to see an update on Tony Koester's NKP layout at 3:30.

Tony's clinic was crowded so I am glad I arrived with time to spare. As usual it proved to be interesting and thought provoking. I have been to a number of Tony's clinics through the years and his clinics follow a rolling pattern. His ideas and concepts are presented and then through subseuent clinics you get to see the results presented on his layout. As these items are "checked off", he moves onto newer topics. As displayed in the lcinic, he is progressing well on his layout. I enjoyed seeing things he presented as concepts years ago at the Boston convention (2003) now implemented on his NKP layout.

The Happy Hour and Dinner Banquet followed and the food was suprisingly good (better than the usual convention fare). Having Sam Adams on tap doesn't hurt either. The awards presentation went OK, not taking too much time but still getting the recognition out to those who excelled at modeling, which was good. I was real happy to see Dominic get awards for his models and layout section. A real nice turn of events was Dominic winning not only 2 Merit Awards for his structures, but also the Baldwin Award for the best in show, awarded to his Schenectady layout section. The ironic part about this is he was not even going to enter the contest, but instead only display his work. Just goes to show you that it never hurts to put something into the contest. Same could be said for Glenn Glasstetter who did not build his structure of a residential house for contest purposes but still walked away with awards because he decided to bring the model and enter it.

The presentation for next years NER Fall Convention in Syracuse looked really interesting. Nice to see the use of technology in helping present, plan and execute a convention (i.e. an on-site iMac allowing those to vote on choices for rail and non-rail activities, using Mac software to put together photos, video and text to advertise the convention). They have some nice new concepts to try out as well, including a CD packaged with the map book so you can get photos of the layouts with full 360 degree views and turn by turn directions to get from layout to layout. And they have 50 layouts planned so far. Looks like a full slate of events with a group well organized and ready to go. Check out for more info.

Wrapping up the night (after checking raffle tickets and winning a CP Rail boxcar) is a layout building clinic presented by Jim Six. He touched on a lot of his clinic topics while presenting his overall concepts for building his latest layout. A nice way to end the on-site convention activities.

Friday, October 19, 2007

NER Albany Convention Update Day #2

Friday morning. Breakfast is included in the room price which is better than trying to head out and find a suitable breakfast place on your own. Met lots of other NJ and Philly Division guys here - more of us than the "locals" so far! Things starting at a laid back pace. Registration just getting set up but there are some clinics in progress. Most people here seem to be heading out to the afternoon operating sessions, and most of them seem to have also participated in last nights Op Sessions. That is an activity at Regional Conventions that has really become quite popular.

Looking forward to seeing some good clinics and layouts today. I also am fine tuning my own presentation today between conversations with others. Jim Dalberg has asked that I present my clinic at the Philly RPM Meet next March, so it is good to know that I will get some "mileage" out of what I have put together.

First clinic I am attending is Weathering with Mike Rose. Mike covered topics that have been featured in RMC over the past few years. These include the Dullcote and alcohol fading and using oil paints to do rust and letter streaking effects. It is really great to see these processes in action and be able to ask questions. The effects from start to finish are quite dramatic. Also good to see demonstrated is the ability to reverse many of these effects if you make a mistake. To me this is the essence of a convention, getting really great hands-on information that I can take home and use on my layout.

Headed over to the hospitality room. Of interest is a great display for next year's NER Fall Convention in Syracuse. Go to for more info. Also on display are DVDs on building stuctures and weathering including one by Mike Rose on the same presentation he just gave. Needless to say, I decided to pick one up! Here is the producer of the tapes, Scott Mason.

A great clinic was followed up by a great layout. Andy Clermont's Rutland is really nice. He has steam in northern New York circa 1950. I really liked the scenery he has in place and trains really looked good running through those areas. I look forward to seeing the layout again, I'm sure in a magazine at some point.

Next up was time to give my clinic, an overview of Northern New England RRs and how I adapted that into my layout. It went well, although it went a little longer than I expected. But I did get a second request to give it again, this time at the Hartford National in 2009, So I guess people enjoyed it!

With not too much time left, I decided to head out for some more layouts. I went north to Lou Sassi's with the plan to make my way back south and see some more layouts on the way to the hotel. Lou's layout always looks great and it was good to see lots of detailing ideas up close so I can take ideas back to my layout.

Leaving Lou's the rain really started to fall and quickly became a torrential downpour. So I decided to skip more layouts considering how wet I would get trying to go from my car to the house. It took me about twice as long to get back to the hotel. With it nearing 10 pm I decided to get to the bar as soon as possible to get some food and drink before "last call" like the previous night. I just made the food cut-off! At the bar was fellow NJ Division members, so we discussed the days activities and upcoming NJ Division events. As people emptied out over the next hour, an early "last call" came again. Probably OK though as the Port of Albany tour leaves early tomorrow.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

NER Albany Convention Update Day #1

Well, a good italian dinner was had at Tony and Diane's. I arrived early enough to see all of their recent landscaping first hand while there was still daylight. I also saw where a 50' tree recently fell onto their deck. Nothing like having a major distraction whilst trying to keep the convention planning on track! Looks like both the deck and the convention are on firm footing at this point. Joining me for dinner was Dominic Bourgeois. A few other invited guests got held up at the hotel getting things ready for tomorrow's clinics. Dominic is from Montreal and I only knew of him through published photos and articles in the magazines, so it was nice to meet him in person. Dominic has sections from his D&H layout to set up at the convention hotel. Some interesting discussions took place about getting model railroad sections through customs across the border from Canada into the US.

After dinner we headed down to the basement to view the layout progress. Tony and Diane have quite an ambitious plan underway. Utilizing sections from the past USS D&H and Diane's Rutland layout, they are piecing together a multi deck (like 7 levels!) layout featuring the D&H and the line into Vermont to interchange in Rutland, VT. Right now they are getting key scenes in place and working out how everything will fit together. Very interesting to see the genesis of a new layout like this.

Some scenery is in place and it looks pretty good as the photos show. Tony is explaining the Howe's Cave section of the layout to Dominic above. And below Diane is discussing the scenery on the highest level (both are standing on step stools).

Getting back to the hotel, it is really much more crowded now. I headed to the bar to see if any other model railroaders were about, especially with some arriving back from operating sessions. Unfortunately the bar closed up early and I was getting the last beer for the night. Strange because while I was there many people came in looking for drinks, including a group who just got back from Massachusetts from a session. They were directed to a place down the street. Oh well. But the wireless internet throughout the hotel is real nice. I was able to check e-mail and get news (Flyers beat Devils 4-0!) while at the bar. I'll leave you tonight with a few more layout pictures.

NER Fall 2007 Convention - Albany

I will be posting updates here throughout the weekend as I attend the Northeastern Region NMRA Fall 2007 Convention, the Commodore Vanderbilt, in Albany, NY. This is being hosted by the Hudson-Berkshire Division and is chaired by my friend and past Suth Jersey resident Diane Steele. I'll share some observations and things that I see, along with some photos, from this weekend event.

I really enjoy coming to NMRA Regional Conventions. These usually are attended by 200+ model railroaders and feature lots of great clinics, layouts, some prototype visits and just a good general interaction with other like-minded people. this convention is a return to Albany which last hosted a Regional in 2001. There are some great layouts in the area as you will see in the coming days and they also have a great slate of clinics on tap. I am also giving a clinic here on the railroads of Northern New England and how I used them as the basis for my in-progress layout.

The drive up went very well. It is very warm right now, not like October at all and much warmer than past Fall conventions I have attended. The high while driving hit 79 degrees. I had to stop by the local Best Buy on the way to pick up a special Mini-DVI cable that will allow me to attach my laptop to the digital projector. After that it was relatively easy driving and only took me about 3 1/2 hours. Fall is a little ahead up here vs. back home, so I saw lots of nice foiolage on the drive up - plenty of reds, yellow and oranges like I am trying to duplicate on my layout. Here is a quick camera-phone picture I took:

The hotel is the Best Western right off I-87 near I-90 in western Albany. Nice enough place although just one elevator might be an issue once people start to arrive. Right now it is fairly empty although I did run into another contingent from the NJ Divsion as I arrived, including Carl Corsi, Ken O'Brien and Chris Widmaier who serve on the NJ Division Board with me, and Division member Bob Doan. They were going to scout out a local hobby shop. I have "reservations" with Diane and Tony Steele who graciously invited me to dinner for this first night. I was told that Jim Six will also be in attendance, so I am looking forward to meeting him as well as seeing Diane and Tony's layout progress. I'll post an update later tonight when I get back.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Getting Ready for NER Albany

I have put aside some of the layout work for now as I prepare my clinic for the NER Fall Convention, Commodore Vanderbilt, in Albany, NY this Oct. 18-21. I am adapting a past clinic where I looked at the railroads of Northern New England through slides by me and my late friend Glenn Salvatore. I am expanding the clinic to include adapting the prototype into a layout and looking at my layout's design and construction. I hope to share information the railroads of the VT and NH area, circa 1980, and show some layout design concepts that others can take home and use when building their layout (New England based or not).

One key difference between the clinics is that I will not be using a slide projector, but instead a laptop to do the presenation. I then had the problem of how to best convert some of the 120 slides from the first clinic into digital form so I could paste them into my presentation. I tried scanning them, but that was just too time consuming and the quality was not real great.

So instead I opted to set up the slide projector and display the slides onto a screen. Then I set up my digital camera to take shots of the projected image, turning them into digital photos. Pretty quick and painless and the results are pretty good. Here is a shot of me going through that process:

I'll have to put up another post later to let you know how the clinic and convention went. After the convention, I have an open house set for November 17th, so work on the layout will be back in full swing. That should lead to some more posts with construction updates.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


I think it is safe to say that most (not all, but most) model railroaders do not enjoy wiring. It is one of those necessary tasks to make a model railroad work and increase the enjoyment. This means the wiring has to be done well of course! Personally, I don't mind doing wiring, but I can't say that I look forward to doing it. I have tried to keep the wiring installation concurrent with my track laying. This means putting in feeders on each track section and ensuring that connections to the bus wiring is made and tested right away. The pay-off is being able to run trains on new track sections right away, making the task a little more enjoyable. But, as the pictures in this post show, wiring in itself does not do much to make your layout look any better to you or your visitors.

I'm not fanatical about by wiring. Some guys do really nice jobs under the layout with labeling, routing and neatness, and I admire that. But I'm more functional and pretty much just use color coding to make trouble shooting a little easier. That's about it. I am, however, more particular about how the wiring looks above the benchwork. In that regard, I take care to solder my feeders to the underside if the rail so the connection is totally hidden once the track is ballasted. I also make sure that all pieces of rail get a feeder to ensure continuous electrical connection. Sometimes this seems like overkill, but it really makes a difference, especially when you operate sound-equipped locomotives.
Recently I made the decision to finish up some wiring work that I put aside in order to have other things completed in time for last year's open houses. This included dividing the layout into separate blocks and installing circuit breakers. I picked up a Tony's Train Exchange PSFour Intelligent Circuit Breaker last summer and decied it was time to get it installed. I also needed to complete the installation of some turnout decoders to complete the control of all installed Toroise switch machines. (This is a picture of one of the Digitrax DS44 turnout decoders (blue) installed on my layout)

I had already knew how I was going to split up the layout into blocks. Basically each "leg" of the E-shaped layout would be isolated. This meant that the LVRC section would be one block, the St. Johnsbury peninsula would be another section and MEC Whitefield/CP Rail Wells River section on the far wall would be the third block. I have found from operating experience that is nice to have separate operating areas under separate blocks so that one short doesn't interrupt other operators in another area. This left me with one circuit on the PSFour and I soon knew what I would use this for. With the layout under one block, if a short circuit occurred because a locomotive encroached on a turnout, I had no way to reverse the decoder controlled turnout to clear the short. By putting all of the Digitrax DS44 turnout decoders on their own circuit I was able to eliminate this issue across the entire layout.

What this meant is that I had to run a new bus wire just for the turnout decoders. I also needed to take the existing sets of bus wires and separate them out to the separate connections on the PSFour. This took 2 afternoon sessions to get completed, but everything went well and worked. I tested shorting out blocks to make sure trains in other areas continued to run. I also installed a center off switch to set up a programming track for locomotive decoders. The picture here shows the completed wiring of the Digitrax command station with the PSFour board attached to the shelf. This area is hidden by a layout skirt, but removing it gives me full and easy access. There are a set of leads I wired to a terminal block for remote LED short circuit indicators. These are real handy on my friend John Rahenkamp's (much larger) layout, so I know I want to have these installed in relevant areas on the layout. I just need to figure out the best spot for each one. That will be a wiring job for another day!