Tuesday, November 28, 2023

A Second Look

Time has a way of changing one's perspectives.  It's not usually a sudden change but instead one that happens on its own schedule.  

As I have practiced Photoshop and other photo processing software, I have become more adept at creating images that more effectively communicate the feeling I had when I made the image.  That is a goal of my prototype photography, and also my modeling - to take the viewer along for  the experience.  

Here's an image from a 2014 trip to Syracuse, NY, expressly to photograph the last stand of the classic searchlight signals on the former NYC main line.  These signals worked into the Conrail era and beyond into the CSX era, and were finally replaced about a year after I made these images with modern color-light signals.  This experience was awesome - this train surprised us, following another westbound, and the sky was in the last stage of dusk.  The image was a tough one.  Last daylight with a camera of that era had a photograph with reds all washed out, muddy shadows and a bland sky.

Back in 2014, my skills weren't enough to even show this image to anyone!  Today, while I am still a long way from being an expert with this, I was able to bring the image to a spot in my mind's eye that reminded me of standing there in the cold, shivering, waiting for one more shot.  Reds were restored, the sky layered up, and color temperature adjusted.  And so here we have Q367, if I recall, the daily Selkirk-to-Chicago manifest train.  Today it is complete with Union Pacific power enroute to home rails.  

And we have an image that is worthy of the memory:  for a moment, it's like being there.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and best wishes into the holiday season!

Monday, November 6, 2023

State of Good Repair: Improving Signal Reliability

It is amazing to me that the signals on the Onondaga Cutoff are all approaching 10 years in operation.  The system has worked very well, overall, and I would do it again given the options back then.  The only downside to the current-based detection and the 3.6k Ohm resistors is the rate at which the rails get dirty.  A simple track cleaning ahead of each session essentially guarantees excellent detection, which is the foundation of good signal operations.  

One other intermittent issue which comes up each fall and each spring as the weather changes is the occasional dark head issues with the signals.  In nearly every case, that has turned out to be traced to loose wires in the screw terminals (Digitrax 'TSMK' boards) beneath each signal.  The searchlight heads are comprised of three LEDs in each head, one each for red, yellow, and green.  The wires that connect them to the system are tiny: 'magnet' wire, a superfine insulated 36-gauge copper wire.  

The screw terminals are better with about 24 or 26 gauge wire.  Even when I doubled up the ends of each of the magnet wire by looping it back on itself, some of the heads would work just loose enough with the change of seasons and we'd have a dark head present itself during a session.  I considered soldering under the layout to make a better connection, but the process would have been arduous at best and create a situation where removing a signal if needed would require more soldering or cutting wires.  Yuck!  

A tip from fellow signal modeler Rodney Kantorski turned me on to a tool called a ferrule, essentially a small metal tube with a plastic collar at one end.  The thin wire slides inside, and a special crimper is then used to crimp the metal ferrule tube tightly about the wire, essentially increasing the gauge with no soldering needed.  Thanks, Rodney!

This allows the wire (plus crimped ferrule) to be reinserted into the screw terminal and tightened, which results in a nice robust friction connection.  

So far, every head so equipped has had no issues with the weather change.  Success!  State of good repair projects can really add to the satisfaction in the hobby.  

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Back to modeling in a busy era

After a whirlwind summer and early fall, in a busy year of a busy era, the next few months offer a lot more time to get back to some of the basics.  We had an amazing number of high-impact singular events in 2023 and that time has to come from somewhere - and a good chunk of it came from modeling.

I model mostly in the evenings after the kids are in bed, or weekend mornings while everyone is getting going.  Weaving activities that require downtime - paint drying, glue curing - into active time is something I am getting better at.  

As was discussed back in the springtime, I am working with a young, small company in Garden State Modelworks and another associated company called Upstate Custom Models to help in improving the fleet on the OC.  That includes light and sound upgrades for some locomotives, along with proper paint schemes on others.  Recent fleet upgrades included Conrail GP40-2 3312, which needed new sound and lights as well as proper paint changes and detail upgrades, as well as Susquehanna SD45 3612, which got sound for the first time as well as full lights.  

When work like this is done, it makes me examine other things that I can improve.  The window glass on 3312 was fogged due to the CA I used 10 years ago when this locomotive needed windows reinstalled.  That was before I knew about canopy glue.  I made new windows from clear acrylate and replaced the old, clouded ones, securing the new parts with canopy glue for a much improved appearance. 

The 3612 got a new decoder and speaker for sound, as well as lighting.  

Part of 3312's improvements included 'Conrail-izing' the grab irons on the short hood.  Due to the cab signal box on the engineer's side, Conrail had the grabs on the fireman's side, a small but distinctive Conrail/PC/PRR feature.

New lighting installed along with a new engineer figure and the sounds, and we have a clear improvement for all to enjoy going forward.  3612 never looked or sounded so good on the OC!  

Making the most of the time available is something I consider a responsibility.  Like many notions these days it is one with a bright and positive result, and a corresponding shadow side that balances things out.  On the bright side we have a happy and satisfied family in good health, full employment, the satisfaction of the submission of a second book manuscript last week, ongoing excitement and fulfillment in the model railroad hobby - really, a very full basket of wonderful things.

The shadow side fills in the rest, always there, always helping provide contrast that shows how good the rest of life is.  Honoring that and making the most out of both bright and dark is how we can truly maximize our time in a busy era.  People often mention "I don't know where you find time for all this!" Well, when you consider the 135 minutes of commuting time each day, 95% of which is on a train, you have a big piece of the answer.  Filling most of that time with creative work on a mobile device opens all sorts of avenues to finish projects at other times.  

As we get back into the regular swing of things, I am excited about what will be possible this winter!

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Waiting on the 2102

 A unique privilege and blessing is to be able to show young people something new that you know will fill them with wonder and joy.  And so it was this past weekend with the boys and the Reading 2102, the massive 4-8-4 restored beautifully to working condition by the Reading & Northern Railroad.  2102 now runs on its home rails in glorious fashion, leading trains alone up and down the valleys and hills of central Pennsylvania.  

I believe that big mainline steam is a religious experience for those of us able to be there and experience it in 2023.  Photos and video commemorate a moment but don't convey the sheer sense of overwhelming awe of the full experience.  If you can get out and see mainline steam doing its thing, DO IT - you won't regret it!  

Saturday, October 28, 2023


When you have a chance to celebrate something, do it.

There has been a great deal to celebrate so far in 2023.   When NJ TRANSIT set up a series of events this year to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the railroad, a group of us took the opportunity to jump in with both feet.  

Many months of preparation, careful planning, and team building were required to set up the first major excursion in decades, which ran from New York Penn to Newark and down to Bay Head, and returned on the same route to Newark before going back to Hoboken Terminal.  That started us off on a series of three events that each required a lot of heavy, volunteer effort to coordinate.  

Electric to diesel: replicating the old power swap that occurred here until 1988

Hundreds and hundreds of excited onlookers - THIS is great public engagement!

Time-honored tradition of T&E communications

Thirty-six years and three weeks before these photos were taken,
Jack and I met on the first day of 5th grade....and on we go.
We used to dream about being part of things less grand than this.

The day following the excursion was a public display of most of the NJ TRANSIT Heritage Fleet along with other equipment that fit the bill. This was one that allowed family to join, and I had a great day there with my wife and kids!
The boys loved the display-with our logo at the entrance

EL U34CH 3372 and PRR E8A 5711 in afternoon sun,
while Kristen and Susie were across town at the festival

Pete & Teddy and my first choice for a true heritage unit

Teddy & Pete, this time with both of my big initiatives in the fleet

WE DID IT, guys!!!!

Finally, the following weekend was the annual Family Day celebration, again allowing me to bring family to a great event so we could all be together and enjoy the larger railroad family too.   

Abeles 'Clamily' 2023

As our world changes and as we are more and more exposed to everyone's latest buzz and every last piece of click-bait news from a commercialized media, there is more and more pressure - and temptation - to watch.  And in too many cases what we are seeing is something that is negative.  What is hard to keep in focus in that cauldron of media is that most of the negative headlines from the news or our friends is either ultra-rare, a one-off, or a pattern that we cannot affect.  How can we be more present, more positive?  How can we reduce anxiety and be more connected?

One way is to take opportunity when it comes to be part of something real.  Something tangible.  Events like this one are just that - a reason to come together for something good.  We can still do these things!

Friday, October 27, 2023

Manuscript #2 - Enroute to the publisher!

When I was in grade school, my least favorite of all assignments was a book report.  It took a lot of work, it stretched out over weeks and even months.  And so, if you'd told me back then I would be submitting an entire book manuscript I would have laughed and said NO WAY.  And if you then had replied that there would be two such submissions, I would have insisted there was a mistake and someone else must have done it.  

Well, Friday October 27 I wrapped up a fully-loaded thumb drive and sent it off to Waukesha, Wisconsin, the location of the Kalmbach offices, to the attention of the Editor.  The second book manuscript is on its way, due by contract November 4th.  It's and introduction and ten chapters, 29,970 of words, 203 photos and images by me and others.  This time the goal is to introduce modelers and hobbyists to the concept of railroad yard design and operation - a key point for nearly all model railroaders.

The book project sheds some light on the lack of posts earlier this fall, as I was putting all my available hours into that project.  I am excited about the fact that a book on this topic may reach more people than the last book on signals and interlockings, which was more focused on a smaller and more technical subject.  Only some modelers include signals.  But - nearly all have a yard.   

Somehow, I think my middle school language arts teachers are smiling, somewhere.

It's exciting, in any case!  Look for a release in the Spring of 2024!  

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

We Blink....and it's October

Another day, another commute.  It’s early, before dawn, and the grind continues. 

But at the moment the train around me slides through the chilly rain, the only noise the sound of steel wheels as they sheen along wet, curved rails, and the distant sound of the air horn from the head end over a background white noise of the conditioned air blowers inside.  I woke from an early morning nap to find nearly 80 other people in this car and none of them is making a sound.  

There’s something wonderful about riding a train as the world outside wakes under a curtain of rainfall.

Yes, it's a sort of grind working for operations on a big railroad.  But it's also a dream long chased to be working for a railroad at all, let alone in a job that allows me to create a vision and staff a department for the future.  

The long break in posts has seen a truly remarkable summer and fall.  We had visits to Central New York, Canada, and South Carolina with the kids, while hosting family from Australia for a week between those trips.  We visited Pennsylvania overnight on separate trips, hosted operating sessions and set up nights for a traveling group, hosted an 80th birthday party for my mother in law, and this was all while I was intimately involved with the NJ Transit 40th anniversary celebration and the three major weekend events that were part of it.  Oh yeah, and the book manuscript for the next Kalmbach Yard Book is due in November!

All of this stuff in reality is the stuff of dreams, things I wished I could have done at different times of my life - and now they are happening.  And so 'the grind' from that perspective is a wonderful and fulfilling thing.  The Grind translates into 'Living the Dream.'  

Thanks for being along as part of it!