I want to model THAT!

I had a couple of “ah ha” moments this week while cleaning up and organizing some reference materials.

I’ve written some about being inspired by the Auburn, Colma, and Placerville that was in the May, 1988 issue of Model Railroader (How my path…).  The ACP was in the first issue of Model Railroader I ever bought.  It would have been part of a birthday gift from Ann (One of the 5).  I still remember going to Talbots Toys in San Mateo, CA and spending hours in the model trains there.

ACP in Model Railroader

Inspiration: My First Issue of Model Railroader (author’s collection)

As I was picking out issues of magazines to keep or find new homes for, I spent a few minutes to just sit down and enjoy the ACP article again.  I was reminded about some of my early goals and “I’m going to have something like that, one day” dreams while reading that article.  One sentence in particular tickled me greatly.  “The time is 1927….” It starts.  1927 happens to be the year I recently picked to do some modeling for, and I hadn’t remembered that the ACP was set in 1927.  It’s amazing that something like that, so deep in my modeling history and story, most likely influenced my choices now without me remembering it and making a conscious choice.


The photos of, and fictional backstory for, the ACP influenced my early, formative, thinking as a model railroader.

Another fun pull from the book shelf was my copy of “The Complete Book of Model Railroading” by David Sutton.  As a kid I would go to the local library, or the school library, and check out the model railroading books.  In those years, when visiting the model train store after going to the kids shoe store down the street, I would see brass locomotives on the shelves, and my parents would tell me that those trains were for “adults” and one day I could buy one if I was still a modeler when I got older.  Going to the library and getting into Mr Sutton’s book, it’s full of photos of brass locomotives, and I used to pay the dime for photocopies of pages as I would plan my future layouts.  One locomotive in particular, a United Santa Fe 1950 class brass 2-8-0 constantly caught my eye and I would plan all my layouts to include having a 2-8-0 like that (or exactly that).  From an early age, the 2-8-0’s were my favorites.


I planned, as a young modeler, to have one of these locomotives.  The lines of the locomotive were appealing, and the 2-8-0 became my favorite wheel configuration.  This photo, more than anything else, locked me in as a “steam guy” for life.

Following my path to Yosemite, along the 78 miles, there have been many influences that have changed what I’m doing, where, when, and how.  I’ve learned from and incorporated all of these things into my own style, and my stile continues to evolve along this journey.  It’s always interesting, though, to look back and see where things started, where my ideas of what I want to build and do as a modeler “root” and then see where they’ve grown to.

Time to get back to the workbench!



On the Hunt for Vision Solutions

Solutions to seeing models as I build are a constantly evolving task.  It seems that some things are a constantly moving target.  Occasionally new products come up that I try, and some I like, while others don’t work for me as well as I hope, and then onward I go, hunting for other ways to address an issue.

I’ve been having difficulty with my headband magnifier for a while.  The one I’ve been using, while my favorite I’ve ever owned for the magnification option of adding two magnifier plates and the best I’ve ever owned as well for the openness of the sides to allow more light in, also has a very heavy light mounted above the visor, and that’s an issue.  I recently removed the light, but still have been running into the lights at the workbench as I work.  Finding a way to address those issues has been on my mind, and as it’s been a couple of years since I hunted for a new magnifier, I went looking.

(All items discussed below were purchased through Amazon.com)


New headband magnifier. 

The newest magnifier to be tried is an LED lighted headband magnifier.  This one mounts a pair of various magnifying choices, including a monocular if desired, has an adjustment to move the viewing area from side to side, and mounts the battery pack for the lights at the back of the head.  I found it to be comfortable to wear during a weekend at the workbench, but there is a learning curve.  The viewing plates are smaller than what I’m used to, and while not bad in any way, this makes my eyes work very hard to stay within the viewing area.  Some might not have that issue.  I’ll keep trying this, as the magnification was fantastic, I want to try the monocular, and it solved both my main issues with the last headband magnifier, but created a new one.  I may hunt to see if I can find something similar with larger magnifying plates.


The dark side (with a piece from a Tichy boxcar). 

The other item that I hunted for recently was a new cutting mat.  The light gray with blue lines that I’ve been using (and you’ve seen in photos) for the last year is great, but sometimes the blue lines make finding parts more difficult.  When my eyes are tired, I sometimes want a darker, less reflective, surface.  I tend to rotate my cutting mats depending on what’s working best at the moment, going from light green or yellow to gray.  This new one was advertised as dark gray and light gray reversible, so I decided to give it a go.


The light side (with a nearly completed Tichy USRA Boxcar)

The dark side was fantastic for me when my eyes were very tired, and the light side worked really well when I was less tired.  The dark lines that didn’t change color pallet from the mat were easier for me when than the blue on gray have been.  Overall, this one is a keeper.  The one thing to keep in mind is the color of the materials you’re working with.  I’ll have to rotate the mat depending on what I’m building as some darker plastics or resins might blend in with the dark side.

Overall these two items were a success.  They made for a relaxing and fun time at the workbench, and I’ll keep hunting for ways to improve how I see what I’m building to constantly improve my skills.

Time to get back to the workbench!


My Own LCL Deliveries via the United States Post Office


I took this photo of track running through Duluth, MN.  Decisions on track and deliveries of materials have started for this year’s layout building.

Track has started to arrive for layout building this Spring/Summer/Fall.  It’s winter, making any work in the garage a little on the painful side when it’s cold.

Some decisions have been made, though:


I purchased Micro Engineering code 70 flex track and turnouts.  I still intend to learn to build Fast Tracks turnouts, as eventually some code 55 trackage will be warranted, but to get started, the detail of ME track is what I decided to opt for.  I’ll be following Paul Scoles methods for weathering the track once it’s laid.  The track will sit on top of vinyl roadbed called Flexxbed.  Subroadbed will be made from 3/4” high quality plywood.

Turnout Control:

I’m gong old-school for the motors and modern for the interface.  Turnouts will be controlled by Switchmaster slow motion motors mounted in Rix Rax mounts.  I like the very quiet operation of these motors.  Each frog will be hooked up to an individual Frog Juicer from Tam Valley.  Control on the fascia will be via touch-toggles.


I’ve decided to go with an NCE Radio DCC system.  The layout will be broken into three zones, and each zone will have it’s own booster mounted.  Wiring will be using green wire for the turnout frogs, black wire for the rear rail, and red for the front rail.  “Back in Black”.  Suitcase connectors will make their first appearance on any layout that I’ve owned.

Structures and equipment are coming together too. The goal we’ve set for segment 1 of the three segment layout is to have it operational before Christmas 2018.  It’s going to need to be one of those “before” things, as once it get’s cold in the fall, nothing that needs wood working tools gets done for 3 or so months.

With that decided, it’s time to build some trains!


Ed Petry’s “Sierra RR”

I was fortunate for several years to be able to operate on an amazing home layout owned by Ed Petry near Minneapolis, MN.  Ed’s “Sierra RR” encompasses the whole thing, from the connections with the ATSF to Oakdale and on to Jamestown, the Hetch Hetchy branch, the Angles Camp branch, the Pickering and on.

I even got my dispatching fix from time to time sitting at the big desk in the crew lounge and directing traffic over the line.

Recently I ran across a couple of cab-ride videos of Ed’s layout on YouTube.  They brought back some fond memories.  I thought they’d be fun to share.  Part 1 is the railroad mainline from the bottom to the top.  Part 2 are runs along the branch lines.

Time to get back to the workbench!


Workshop: Updated and New Tools

Over the last few months I’ve made some changes/upgrades to the workshop, and found a few new (to me) items that I thought I’d share with you.


The new storage bins I found to use in lieu of finding more Hilco bins.  These hold more cars, and are readily available.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking for more storage boxes, like the the laboratory trays that I use in the workshop.  I know a few of you who read here have also been looking for the Hilco laboratory trays and they’ve become harder and harder to find.  While I was at Trainfest, I found a new type of tray that I hadn’t seen before, and ordered a sample set.  When the pair arrived, I tested samples, and I am excited to report that there is a suitable substitute for the Hilco trays.  These are “White plastic storage tray(s) (2×14.5×8.5) trays, and I ordered them from a new supplier that I am frequenting for tools and other things, B&B Hobby Supplies, https://hobbytools.com.  The trays were reasonably priced.  They will hold cars more comfortably than the Hilco tays, and hold the baggies of parts that I use to keep small things together.  They are my new recommendation for trays if the Hilco ones are not available.  I plan to add a handful more to the workshop, and may add some other storage uses for these, or similar, trays.


The new hand saw with fine blades.  (Photo from Micro-Mark)

I had set out in December to build a sanding block, but was directed by a friend to a much easier and cleaner way of removing the ends from cars where a replacement end is to be added (like the car I got at RPM Chicagoland in October 2017.  The new tool is a small hand saw with ultra fine saw blades..  I got mine from Micro-Mark and plan to start using it to replace car ends shortly.  I have several cars, the C&EI car from RPM and a couple of Accurail 36’ cars, that need new ends added, and this saw will be the perfect way to do that.


On the left are my new tweezers.  On the right are my stainless steel jewelry tweezers.  You can see how fine the point on the new set are, allowing even finer details to be picked up with ease.

Also from B&B Hobby Supplies, I recently got a new set of tweezers to use in modeling.  The new tweezers have a black rubber/plastic coating to make them easy to hold onto, and the points are extremely sharp.  They’re a #4 Micro tip blackened tweezer.  I don’t plan to abandon my jewelers tweezers, but this new pair lets me grab even smaller items that I sometimes struggle with when using even the ones I’ve been working with for the past few years.


The new tool holder.  This was acquired to make storage of the pliers and cutters easier.  There is a drawer under the unit that allows storage of even more tools or blades.

The last piece of new equipment for the workshop is a new tool caddy that makes storing the growing collection of cutters and pliers that my wife and I share easier.  This tool caddy, that I saw at Trainfest and ordered from B&B Hobby Supplies (a similar one is also available from Micro-Mark) holds the pliers in the compartments on the top, and stores some of the modeling picks and other things we share use of in the drawer below.  The setup is much easier than the caddy we had been using.

Time to get back to the workbench!


Getting Kadee Ribbed Back Wheels Ready To Use


B-end detail on a 36′ boxcar.  Note the ribbed back wheels.

I was recently working on that Accurail 36′ double sheathed boxcar that I got at Trainfest, and looking at photos of prototype cars for identifying trucks, wheels, and other details, and I realized that most of the photos I was looking at showed some prominent ribbed back wheels.  I’ve been using Reboxx or Intermountain wheels for my cars recently, and hadn’t thought much about the ribbed back variety coming in the semi-scale wheel size.

As I started looking around to find wheels, the options in HO are limited.  There are old standard tread wheels from Life-Like (no longer made, but available on eBay and at some train shows) and there are Kadee wheels that have the proper semi-scale construction, but having used them once, I remember them being black, and feeling ‘funny’.  So I asked a few friends what they use.  The conversation turned to the Kadee wheels and how awful they are to keep clean.  The reasons suggested was that Kadee either paints the wheels black, and the paint picks up gunk from the rails, or the metal that Kadee uses for the wheels is inferior and has pits in it.  Being curious, I volunteered to do some testing to see if the wheels could be cleaned up, or if other options needed to be found.


Materials for this project:  Kadee semi-scale 33″ ribbed back wheels and “Dialux Vert” polish.  (Not pictured, my Dremel and buffing head)

The suggestion on how to clean the wheels from on friend was to use the “green abrasive stuff from the cheap Dremel parts kit” and the Dremel with a polishing head, to remove the paint from the tread.  Not having any of that non-specific materials, I went and found a polishing material on Amazon that was identified as looking like the same stuff.  The “Dialux Vert” is fairly firm, but the buffing wheel for my Dremel picks it up nicely, and (to me) it has no odor.


Kadee wheels out of the package.  The tread is a somewhat rough, black color.

Taking the wheels, I simply picked up some of the Dialux Vert on the buffing head and dug in.  It didn’t take long for the black paint to start coming off.  I estimated it was about 1-2 minutes per wheel to get them cleaned up.  With these you have to be careful to hit only the tread because the axels are plastic.  After about five minutes, I had two wheels (enough for one truck), and gave everything a test.  From the photos you can see I need to spend maybe another minute or two cleaning the treads, but I can do that final cleanup after I paint and weather the wheels to make sure everything is clear.  The metal wheels are smooth, roll nicely, and on a layout should be easy to maintain just like the Reboxx or Intermountain wheels.


Wheels after about 2 minutes of Dialux Vert and buffing head on the Dremel.  The black paint has come off to reveal a nice smooth metal tread.


It only took about 5 minutes to clean up the wheels for one truck.  In the grand scheme of things, I can probably get a whole package of these wheels done while watching a TV show, and the effort is worth it in the overall result.

Overall, I’m thrilled with this experiment, as I have plans that include building a bunch of older equipment that the appropriate wheels are the ribbed back variety.  It just confirms once again that when you have a question, ask.  You’re sure to get answers you can investigate and see if they’ll work for you.

Time to get back to the workbench!


2017 Departing On Track 1


The start of a new year feels like a crossing sign (this one at the Illinois Railway Museum).  It’s a good time to Stop, Look at projects and plans, Listen to that inner voice and advice received, and then step forward into the new year reinvigorated

As 2017 comes to a close, I thought I would take a few minutes and thank you, readers of this blog, for coming to see what I have to share.  When I started really trying to write here in 2014, 100 of you read posts that year.  From there on, through 2015 and 2016 there was exponential growth, until this year, when over 7400 visits to the page have been made.  I’m honored and humbled by that number. I hope those of you who visit have found these thoughts to be useful, and I am thankful that you are choosing to spend a few minutes each week reading what I have to share.

December is usually a difficult month to secure modeling time, with school concerts, parties, shopping, and holiday preparations taking time that might wind up being spent at the workbench.  This year has been no exception, but I have found time for some small projects.  My goals for December were somewhat lofty, but I didn’t do too badly at achieving them.

The Accurail 36’ Trainfest special car did get new details added, and I enjoyed every minute of doing the work on that car.  I will build more of these in the future.  The car hasn’t managed to get touch-up paint done, so I’ll call this goal 50%, but the details are added and a few minutes of time will get it to the finish line. There will be more on this car early in the new year.

I wanted to build a new sanding block for cutting my RPM boxcar.  I decided to hold off on this, and have asked Santa for a new saw to remove the ends, having learned a different technique other than sanding the ends.  As work picks up on that car in 2018, I’ll share what I’ve decided to try.

I wanted to accomplish some full-size track planning for the YV.  That has been done.  You can read about it in last week’s blog post here:  https://yosemitevalleyrailroad.wordpress.com/2017/12/19/11-track-planning-with-large-paper-part-1/

I wanted to sort projects, which I’ve done, making some changes by deletion.  I decided to pick two projects at a time but not to plan the full year.  I’ve chosen to focus on having fun, and not over-planning.  I’ve discovered that my penchant for planning has paralyzed some actual progress in certain places.

I also wanted to share 2018’s goals with you, so without further ado, here is what I want to do in the New Year:

  • 2018’s modeling will be based on having fun.  While modeling in general is fun, the Accurail car I built showed me that I don’t need to be building a resin car for the fun.  I need to be building what I’m interested in, and doing something at the workbench, without trying to program and assembly line my models.  I’m aiming for quality models, learning new skills, and enjoying all I can.
  • I plan to learn Sketchup to be able to model some unique equipment and parts.  I haven’t yet picked a subject for starting with, but I have established a Sketchup account and collected several photos and drawings to work with.
  • I want to build my planned model of Bagby, and have it at least to basic scenery by the end of the summer.

That’s it.  The goals are really simple, leaving me wiggle room to tackle them in small monthly goals and adjust along the way.

2018 is bound to bring some changes to direction along the way.  Some of my efforts will be going to a joint project with my wife that we hope will last the next decade while we’re in our current location and may go further into the future.  Yet another reason to lighten up on the planning to some degree.

One thing you can be sure of is that I will be sharing 2018’s portion of the path to Yosemite here with you.

Time to get back to the workbench!