Thursday, October 31, 2013

ESU Lokprogrammer

Today I received an ESU Lokprogrammer, which I had ordered.  I now own a total of 2 locomotives that use an ESU Loksound decoder. While these were shipped to me with sounds pre-loaded, they can be updated with new or more custom sounds. This is what you need the Lokprogrammer for.
I've already made use of it to change the sounds in the decoder that I installed in my CP Rail GP38-2 locomotive. The new sound file is clearer and sounds a lot more like a non turbo 645 engine than the old file.

ESU also has some of the finest motor control in the business. Low speed performance is flawless, and that's important for use on switching layout, smooth acceleration from stand still etc. Nothing spoils the 'illusion' than a loco that 'yerks and stutters'.
Obviously, it also helps to have clean wheels, and a good mechanism. You can't make a bad loco perform fantastic, but the ESU electronics can certainly make it a bit better than others that I've tried so far.
If you're not into sound, but would like to upgrade your decoders, try their Lokpilot series decoders.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Enhancing the realism of track

In another post a little while ago, I showed you how you could make Peco (and probably other manufacturers too) turnouts more reliable.
This time, I'll share with you a simple technique that will help in making your factory made track look more realistic.
It takes a little time and patience, but it isn't difficult. 
If you turn a piece of track upside down, you'll see small pieces of plastic that hold the ties together.
These are there to make the track a bit more strong, but they also make it look more solid and unrealistic, there is no such support on real track. If you have a large layout then the following might take a lot of time, but if your layout is smaller, or if you have no problems in spending more time, then the following is a good thing to do.
Take a sharp knife (be careful obviously), and cut away these small interconnecting pieces of plastic.

The ties now are all loosely connected to the rail.  Do this on a stable underground, as you don't want to break the plastic 'spikes' that hold the ties to the rail.

If you then look at it from the top you'll notice that this gives the track a more realistic appearance, there is 'air' below the rail and between two ties.

Left: track after cutting , Right: Original track
The picture to the left  illustrates the effect well.

Now depending on what kind of track you model, on a piece of flex track you could remove a few ties, and be able to slide the ties a bit more uneven, with some larger gaps in between some of them, giving the impression of older, less maintained secondary trackage.

Obviously that's not something you'd see on a well maintained mainline, but an industrial area, or rail yard could see this quite easily.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

California Northern in HO

Below a few scenes that 'could have been' on the old SP trackage which was franchised to the California Northern starting 1993. It's 1994, at Napa Jct , and we see SD9 203 and GP15-1 107 on the service track at the loco maintenance facilities.  They're flanked by a variety of SP power that could still be seen in the area at the time.

The other shot could have been made in the same year, but also as recent as 2010, when the GP15-1's were still in regular service on the trackage of the CFNR. (They have since been replaced by Genset locomotives, and the GP15-1's have been leased out to many other short lines, and can be found in various different areas, including Texas). Here we see 107 approaching Cordelia tunnel on way to Napa Jct.

The GP15-1 is an Athearn Genesis model, that I've just received a few days ago. I'm hoping to get another one as they are iconic locomotives for the CFNR and have been for many years, and fit in the time frame that I'm modeling on my home layout.

I've now ordered a Loksound Select Direct for this locomotive, to replace the build in PCB and leave room for a speaker etc. I've seen how little space there is in this small engine, and I fear that using a plug in decoder on top of the existing PCB will not leave enough space for much, and not enough 'air' for the speaker to operate reasonably well, as far as that can be expected from such a small unit.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Weathering to improve realism

As you might know, weathering is the act of treating a model to make it look it has been exposed to the elements, both natural and man made.
There are some fantastic examples out there, but it is also something that puts people off, being afraid to over do  it and ruin a model.

However it doesn't need to be like that, and a few simple treatments can make the appearance of a model less 'toy' like, and isn't complicated or 'scary'.

See the below Before and After pictures.
All that was done to this hopper is apply a light weathering as follows:
- Using tempera pigment powders (any weathering powder or chalks will work just as well or perhaps better, it's just what I had on hand) and apply these with a soft brush and Qtips to the model. I only used three colours: Black, Burnt Umber and Raw Siena.
-Painting of the wheels in a rust brown colour (Humbrol RC402 in this case)
Dry brushing the trucks with the same paint (dry brushing is done as follows: dip the brush in the paint, wipe this brush off on a piece of paper until it almost doesn't let off any paint, and 'brush' the trucks. It is enough to accent some details ).

After I was happy with the results of the powders I sprayed a light coat of Testor's Dullcote over the model to fix the powders in place. (spray from about 8" away so you don't blow the powders off the model again).
Total time spend on this model, less than 15 minutes.
I could do a lot more, and I will in the future, but my initial plans are to treat every car on a basic level like just described, to make them look a bit less 'plastic', and more real, and then come back to them to add more intricate weathering etc.

Give it a try.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Improving Peco Insulfrog reliability

You might have found similar tips around the web, but I thought I'd share this anyway.

Peco Insulfrog turnouts are a great product, and their US style code 83 track is fairly easily obtainable.
As with their (british) code 75 products, they come both as insulfrogs , and electrofrogs.
Electrofrogs can be used if you want to electrically connect the frog of the turnout, but it's not always needed, particularly with the bigger locos many US railroaders use (exceptions being track-mobiles etc).
Insulfrogs can still be improved upon. They normally rely on the moving blades to touch the stock rail , in order to supply power, but paint, ballast and other dirt can make this less reliable over time, and then your loco stalls.
The solution is simple however, and that is to solder small wire bridges to the BOTTOM of the turnout, prior to installing them on your layout.
I won't go into explaining how it works here, but rather show you a picture on how they are fitted.
It's easy to do, asuming you have a soldering iron and have some basic skills:
Step 1: get a small thin wire, strip it and tin it using some solder.
Step 2: add a tiny drop of flux to the bottom of the two rails between which the wire is placed.
Step 3: Tin the tip of your soldering iron
Step 4: place the wire in the right spot and touch both areas briefly until the solder melts (this goes pretty quick).
Step 5: cut of the excess, and optionally paint the wire to make it less visible.

That's it. The result looks like this (seen from the bottom , where you would solder it) . The arrow indicates the jumper.

Tree Point, Wisconsin

Just to let you know, I've decided on a name for my new module. Tree Point, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin, because I wanted to model something in the mid west to have a 'home' for some of my other models. Tree Point is a name that I found sounded good, and sounds like 3 point, the number of switches on my module.

Track was ordered from RD Hobby in Germany, and is shipped so I should receive it soon (ish). This will make a nice winter project, and I hope to have something to show soon.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

New track plan for a new module

After some deliberation, and playing with track planning software, I've settled for the following track plan.

It is very simple (and therefore prototypical), but should provide me with some switching fun.
Purely coincidental, the track plan does look a little bit like the Palmetto Spur plan, by Lance Mindheim, but still has enough changes not to be a blatant copy. It measures 18" by 3ft in length.

I haven't fully decided on the industries and their respective locations yet, the only thing that is certain is that there will be a corn syrup facility.

Just in case you're interested, below is the first track plan, which looks 'interesting' but has several short comings, and therefore I decided against it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

And we're off

Strike the iron while it's hot is what they say, so I went and bought 3 pieces of flex track, managed to get hold of a pack of extruded foam board (it's getting harder and harder to find nowadays, not good news I feel), and cut two of them to size of 3ft x 18" , in total giving me 6 feet to play with.
I had initially thought of trying to go for half that, but looking at it, that would just be too small for what I want to do.
I'm trying to make a trackplan for a switching layout, that I can use as a stand alone, but also eventually use at meets and join up with other modules.
While I've been trying to sketch all sorts of configurations, I find that using the actual boards, and move about with track and templates a bit , gives me a much better feel for the size and available space, and works better for my imagination :-)

So here's first evidence that things are moving on.

Corn Syrup industries

The tank cars I reported on last post, are actually dedicated cars for the transport of high fructose corn syrup. This syrup is used in virtually all soft drinks. I found that the contents of one of these cars, is sufficient for 1.000.000 cans of Coca Cola or similar.
I've been doing some research and received a great deal of help from various persons on a variety of railroading forums, I've received articles, links and a lot more. It turns out that these cars and specifically their unloading facilities take up little space, but depending on the grade of syrup, might have different unloading spots along such facilities, but can be on the same track.
Therefore it's an industry that is easily added to a model railroad as it does everything you need for the limited space you have. It takes little space, and lot's of operational potential. Also the facilities are fairly basic in appearance, so not complicated to build either.
So you've guessed it, my 'to build' module will have such an industry on it.

To give you an idea on what these look like, here's an areal picture of one, this particular installation has 3 tracks, one for the unloading, and two to spot full and empty cars , but there are loads of similar examples that have just one track.

The other is a similar, but simpler facility, with two tracks.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My newest purchases

There, I couldn't help it, but I happened to pass a hobbyshop today, and had a look inside, and resistance was futile, I walked out with two tank cars, and a structure kit...

I now have got myself another 'problem'. My Wolter Springs module is now in the UK, and I've got nothing to operate these on, as I found these in a shop in the Netherlands...  (Harlaar modelbouw in Badhoevedorp, about 10K away from Amsterdam Schiphol airport by the way). 
So I am now trawling the internet for inspiration, to build myself a small, portable switching layout, just to have a bit of fun with while I'm over here. Once I've got a track plan I'll let you know, and I will post here from time to time how I get on with it.