Thursday, December 27, 2012

Happy New Year, Once Again!

Best wishes to all who read this blog; thanks for your support and encouragement!  2012 has been a year of new experiences and new ideas, not without its challenges, but also with new joys and success.  Would that each year ahead could be this way.

Signal work on the Onondaga Cutoff is underway - not too much new for photos, at this point, but that will of course change soon.  Change is inevitable.  The challenge is to make that change progress. 

Best wishes!


Thursday, December 6, 2012

New Leaders

To populate a full operating session with locomotives, I had purposely moved quickly to get as many of my older, non-DCC compatible locomotives in service as quickly as possible.  In several cases, that included a decision to put off the installation of headlights until a later date.

Now, as operating sessions have become more regular and more demanding with additional trains, those units are needed to lead trains during a session, which to me requires a headlight.  Therefore a focus of the last few evenings was to install new LED headlights in a pair of units that did not have headlights before.  Both had been superdetailed in the early 1990's, making both engines almost 20 years old...which simply does not seem possible!

First, I installed a low-nose headlight in CSX C30-7 7003, an early 1990's Atlas product.  Atlas did a beautiful job on this General Electric locomotive, but improperly built this model with a cab headlight instead of the nose headlight, as was standard for units owned by Family Lines/Seaboard System.  I had modified the unit with a non-lit headlight in the proper spot in the early 1990's, and replaced that this week with Athearn lenses and an LED for illumination.  An 'old dog with new tricks.'

Next up is my only model of a General Electric C32-8, which was essentially an experimental creation by GE in the mid-1980's and the predecessor of the whole Dash-8 line.  C32-8's were only ever delivered to Conrail, and there were only 10 of them on the roster.  I detailed, painted, and decaled a Rail Power Products shell and mounted it on an Athearn 'blue box' U30C chassis to create my version.  Now, it too has an LED headlight, and this rare bird will now regularly lead freights on the Onondaga Cutoff.  I always loved the tone of blue on this unit:

Soon, I will begin again the long process of installing block detection for my signal system.  It's a daunting task - 15 blocks are wired to this point, with about 20 left to go, and each requires rewiring all the bus cables beneath that piece of railroad.  Glad I built everything up at eye level!  It will keep me busy on evenings...along with Christmas presents, time with Kristen & Susie, chores, etc etc etc...never a dull moment, that's for sure!


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Staging Modifications

Of all the advice I have received so far about building a large layout, some of the most valuable has been the advice to have regular operating sessions as soon as possible, and long before finishing scenery or signals.  The reasons are simple - operating sessions will find the weakest parts of a layout immediately, and those weaknesses are more visible and much, much easier to address before everything is covered with scenery. 

 In my case, several changes have been needed, but none more than those surrounding the staging yard. With the addition of the 'Island' track earlier this year, I added turnouts to CP274, and totally reconfigured CP294 to allow full access to staging and to the Island (see the March 2012 blog entry in the list to your right).  While these changes made things significantly better for the dispatcher and the flow of train movements, it didn't solve the issue entirely. Then, after adding the NYS&W turn and another trainset more recently, staging flexibility again became paramount and the limiting factor on the railroad.
Shown here is the staging yard, about halfway between its ends.  The closest track is S-5, with S-4 beyond, down to S-1 in the back.  Jack, a regular dispatcher and operator on the railroad, suggested that to better utilize the 60-foot long staging tracks S-4 and S-5, it would be very helpful to install crossovers midway between the interlockings, as this would allow power or trains to come in on S-4 or S-5 and exit on the other track, even if something were blocking them from the front.

This was going to be a major project.  I decided to use a Walthers (Shinohara) Code 83 'double crossover' that makes use of a diamond to reduce the length of the crossovers.  While this would be very unlikely to be used on prototype freight roads, it saves a tremendous amount of space in staging!  However, there is nothing that feels good about cutting into smooth-running trackage.  That said, it is true that this would be an important capital improvement.  I began work Friday night and completed it late Sunday night.
The new crossover has a closer track spacing than what I constructed.  So, we had to swing one of the tracks to accommodate the new crossovers.  First, as seen above, I used a long steel spatula to cut the adhesive caulk below S-4 and loosen the track assembly. 
 Once the roadbed was free, I was able to gently but firmly adjust the Micro Engineering flex track to relax the curve on S-4 a bit, all this while leaving the foam roadbed attached.  Foam roadbed saved the day here!  In the photo above, you can see the cut-and-throw in the track to accommodate the crossovers as I test-fit the installation several times before making any cuts.

After moving S-4, I removed just the track from the roadbed on S-5, since the S-5 alignment could remain the same.  This was a gentle, careful process, done after cutting the rails.  Slow & steady.

I cut ties off the ends of the crossover, slid rail joiners down all the way until they were clear of the ends of the new track, and then glued the new trackage in place, taking care to also slide the joiners onto the new connections.  This was a delicate, trial-and-error process, but everything came together.  Above, you can see the weights on the newly-glued track and roadbed while it cured overnight.

Finally, after removing the weights, I installed ground throws and feeder cables to the new crossover, then carefully adjusted gauge and the switch points using a test car and jeweler's files to ensure everything rolled smoothly.  All that remains is to install ties beneath the joints, and we will be set to use the new "Midway" crossovers at the next operating session!

Finally, HAPPY THANKSGIVING to all of you out there - I am thankful for this great hobby, for the ability to be constructing a big layout, and for the community of modelers that appreciate it.  Most of all, I'm thankful for my wife and family.  Their support makes this project possible.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

And Suddenly...

After a longer hiatus than usual here, I'd like to welcome you back to the blog!  2012 has been a year of new experiences; a high-contrast time, as I like to say.  New highs and, yes, some new challenges that may qualify as new lows.

Thanks to the graciousness of my wife, I was able to get away for a break from reality, and choose Cresson, PA as the place with some good friends during what have been some crazy times.  That trip yielded some great images, such as NS 11A, an Altoona, PA to Conway (Pittsburgh), PA manifest freight coming west past eastbound coal loads at Cresson, PA:

Back in the 'real world', I'd like to thank those of you who have inquired as to how we did with all the chaos from Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy.  We are safe and sound, thanks, and that is indeed a blessing.  Our house, however, took quite a lick during the height of the windstorm that came with Sandy:
Thank goodness for quality construction and old, overbuilt houses.  And, thank goodness for the fact that the 150+ year-old Norwegian Maple that came apart wasn't just a few feet closer to the house!  (The model railroad, BTW, is fine, thanks :-)  After such massive, epic damage, both work around the house and work at NJ TRANSIT have been quite a stretch.  As I found a few minutes here and there, I was able to finish up my latest kitbash on the Onondaga Cutoff, this time resulting in Conrail B36-7 5023:

Let's put it this way:  in 2012, as you regular readers know, my wife and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our world.  That, of course, brings with it a total shift in our world and lifestyle.  It was harder than expected, but is getting better and is just an amazing experience.  But it's worth mentioning that in addition to that, we in New Jersey have had a series of events that are not typical of New Jersey.  Over the summer, we had a significant earthquake, and now we're dealing with record coastal flooding.  We had record winds, and a record warm winter, but only following a record snowfall in October 2011.  Then we have more snow in early November 2012.   I don't know what's coming, but I do know that the results will continue to require effort and time away from the model railroad.  So, I need to keep pushing, keep fitting things in where I can.

And, yes, Susie is doing very well.  She's a happy, healthy 4-month old little girl, and this brings new meaning to each moment!

Be well, and I will do my best to bring you more model railroading sooner than later!


Monday, September 24, 2012

Lighting Changes

Moving forward, I have decided that some lighting changes are needed for the Onondaga Cutoff.

While I like the halogen-bulb track lighting that I installed some 6 years ago, it leaves several dark areas and also casts a decidedly yellow light on the railroad.  This is good for photography, as you have seen for several years.  However, for operations, more is needed.  Further, the late-summer and early-fall light I'm looking for also is a cooler light temperature, meaning it appears more blue.

So, I am installing LED strips behind a top valence to accomplish some new effects.  Here, the LED's are installed and are 'emitting' brightly:

The Camillus area at Nine Mile Creek, with the new lights:

We will see how this goes with additional scenery.  I may hang some sort of diffuser on the edge of the valence, as that will help the blue fade from bright to dark in a more even manner.  In any case I think it's a neat effect.

As the days get shorter, and the baby gets older, there will be more developments on the railroad!


Monday, September 10, 2012

Small Projects - Big Difference

As life rolls along towards a long-awaited fall season, a few small projects that will make a big difference are cooking on the Onondaga Cutoff.  Projects these days are the sort that allow me to finish parts of them here and there without causing long periods of not being able to run trains.  Therefore, cutting in signal detection has slowed down, but engine & car projects continue.

Our newest addition has been weathered, programmed, and adjusted, and is shown at the Onondaga Engine Terminal awaiting service, surrounded by Conrail GE's:

Yup, the NYS&W now will have a presence in the operations on the OC.  In the 1990's, and continuing today, the NYS&W (New York, Susquehanna & Western, or "Susie-Q" for short) has had an interchange with Conrail (and now CSX) at Syracuse, NY.  Since the OC is a fictional cut-off route around Dewitt Yard in Syracuse, I decided it was plausible that some days, the NYS&W turn that did the interchange would call at Onondaga Yard instead of Dewitt.  And so, F45 3636 was added to the roster, as well as 4002, a B40-8, and 3612, an SD45.  These will be used for train SY-1 which will come from staging east, run west to Onondaga Yard, interchange, and run back to staging.  It should add some variety to the operation.

And, I'll admit that my final push to acquire some Susie Q power was influenced by having our own Susie-Q come into our world!

Another project that I can do bit-by-bit now is to install the upper valence and fill lighting around the layout.  I am using LED-strip lighting to fill in the dark areas that are dimly lit by the track lighting; I will provide photos once I get more installed. 

Now more than ever, a few minutes here and there allows me to make some small but steady progress on the railroad.  These begin to add up, and also allow me to incorporate some creativity into a schedule filled with exciting family time, but mundane chores!


Monday, August 20, 2012

Slown' Down

The dog days of Summer are here in New Jersey, and our new little addition is growing fast.  The adjustment to fatherhood has been a curveball, at best, and it takes most of my time and energy to stay ahead of the 'usual' household tasks these days.  So, time for the Onondaga Cutoff is very limited.  When I have a few mintues, I am working to complete some small equipment projects.  First, a new B36-7 is coming along, almost ready for paint.  I need to install a few additional radiator intake grills and some miscellaneous details, and we'll be off to the paint booth for some Conrail blue:

Next, an LPG tank car that has been waiting for years to be finished and added to the roster is done, awaiting pick-up by the M&E:

A wise voice has advised that sometimes, it's important to slow down and appreciate the ride itself, even if it's challenging.  And so, I am working on that these days, working to be present for my daughter and my wife, which of course comes at the direct expense of time for anything railroad related, be it 'prototype' or model.  It figures, of course, that this would coincide with the exact time at which NS decided to launch the most amazing heritage program in recent memory.  Norfolk Southern, long known for its black locomotives and aversion to fans, goes and paints 20 brand new 'heritage' engines in long-disappeared paint jobs, and goes further to begin a revival of mainline steam in the east, even on the former PRR mainline.  It's best time in 30 years to be out chasing trains and I am at home, tending to the new responsibility of fatherhood. 

They say it's a blessing when you have to choose between good things.  To me, it's frustrating. When too many good things are going on at once, you're going to miss a lot.  Times like these mean that I just gotta keep pushin'!


Sunday, July 15, 2012

This time, a REAL new arrival!

Hello all,

It's with quite a bit of joy that I present to you a new arrival that, for once, is not railroad related:

My wife and I welcomed Susannah Grace into the world just a few days ago, and we are blessed with a healthy, happy, and hungry little girl!  Sleep has been hard to come by these days and there is a natural chaos to the process of learning to be a parent, but what a ride.

She has yet to see the Onondaga Cutoff.  And it's been a few days since I got much done there, too.  But, rest assured, that's coming soon :-)


Monday, June 25, 2012


This past weekend, I hosted the most recent Operating Session (OS) on the Onondaga Cutoff, and it was a success - a crew of 6 ran approximately 30 through trains, two locals, and the M&E turn over the course of about 4 hours (and several beers).  Jack was a stellar DS, as always, and the crew was great:  Nick, Mark, Al T., and our special guest this week, none other than the Doctor, Mr. Al Werner, many thanks to you all.  Al W. drove several hours down to the OC just for this session.  Thanks, Al!

Conrail train SEBU works the North Runner at the west end of Onondaga Yard while setting out cars on 6/22/12.

With much wiring still to do for the signal system, that work is the next major push for the railroad.  As it requires re-wiring one main track as well as locating junctions for the BD-20 detectors, the railroad is out of service while each pair of blocks is wired up. 

Plenty to come here, as always.  It's a great hobby, isn't it?


Thursday, June 14, 2012


As work progresses on the house projects, I have squeezed some time in for the railroad.  After getting the 6807 set up for service, I have repaired several units that had minor electrical issues, set up a few new cars for service, and also worked to complete a long-time goal of adding sound to one of the B23-7's that calls Onondaga home.  I chose the 1987 to recieve my first-ever installation of a sound decoder.

I chose a Soundtraxx 'Tsunami' decoder, as they are well-recommended, and they also make one specifically for the GE FDL-series prime mover.  On their website, you can hear samples from each decoder, and it's very impressive.  So, I took the plunge, and here is the result.  The 1987 comes down the North Runner to the West End crossover, just as your videographer is surprised by westbound TV-207 meeting eastbound TV-10 right at CP282.  As Ken says - 'Safety First!!'

Turn your speakers on!

Let me know if the video works - it was filmed with an iPhone, and should come up when you click on it.  I am hoping the computer can figure out how to make it come together for you!

That TV-10 train is almost entirely recently-finished cars and UPS trailers, just like the real one was.  CR 6807 leads SD60I 5544 while the 1987 chugs away in the yard.

Sound is adding a whole new dimension to the Onondaga Cutoff!


Thursday, May 31, 2012


A critical thing to keep in mind when building a large layout is balance - the fact that the rest of life keeps going, too.  There is much to do around the house besides the model railroad, as all homeowners know very well!

Currently there is a major project underway at our home - finishing the attic, and adding a staircase to allow for better access to the attic space. 
The Future!

Here we see the ceiling of one of upstairs bedrooms as been removed, as has the floor of the attic above.  The big, rough-cut timber stringers and bearing wall are now exposed and will soon support a new staircase.  I've enlisted the help of a contractor for this heavy work. The attic above will have new power and light installed, then a new baseboard heating system, and finally the space will be insulated and then finished with sheet rock and painted.

All this, while the railroad takes small steps of its own.  While I'm thinking of backdrop or finishing a modeling project, it's important to step back sometimes and realize how important everything else is too!  Our hobby is a wonderful escape and helps us re-engage reality.


Friday, May 25, 2012

What a Difference…

While far from complete, the backdrops on the Onondaga Cutoff are now spackled, sanded, and primed – and what a difference this makes in the appearance of the layout!  The white primer at least provides a uniform background for the trains and trackage.  

Also of note here is the 6807, just finished this evening - a nice Conrail SD50.  The 6807 is from the last order of Conrail SD50's, and as such rides on the EMD 'HT-C' trucks, instead of the older 'Flexicoil' trucks (like 6495 has in this image).  Athearn did a beautiful job with the CR SD50.  I had to add some Conrail-specific details, including the 'bug-eye' classification lights and the cab signal box.  I also added a TCS T-1 decoder, installed some miscellaneous details like MU hoses, lift rings, and a snowplow, and weathered the unit - it's ready for service!

The next step for the backdrop is to paint a sky with some high-level wispy white clouds.  Following my good friend Ken’s advice, I am going to make sure the ‘sky blue’ includes plenty of light gray, since skies here in the Northeast usually contain at least some humidity!!  

In my planning for the backdrop, I spent time looking at the sky – and noticed that the sky at the horizon is almost always brighter, and more white, than the sky above.  There is a gradual but definite fade to darker blue as you look from horizon to sky.  I plan to try and replicate that as best I can.  I am no artist, but will do some experimentation to see where the project takes me.

A very important part of convincing backdrops is the lighting for the railroad.  My plan is to use LED strip lighting to fill in the general space, and to continue to use the halogen track lights to create shadows and add the yellow color that filtered sunlight generally provides.  Any suggestions are welcome!
Signal block detection is continuing, as well as some mechanical department work – building resistive wheelsets, detailing cars, and detailing/programming locomotives.   I try to fit projects into the time I have available for the model railroad – sometimes that’s 5 minutes, sometimes it’s several hours. 

One of these days, I am going to begin work on a pair of Conrail B36-7’s, beginning with the Atlas B30-7 model.  They will need minor body work and extensive additional details, plus a coat of paint and decals.  Each of these is the ‘silver series’ model and as such, they will also need after-market decoders.  My plan is to purchase sound decoders for these models, and give sound installation a try for the first time.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Some Variety

Right now, there are two large, arduous tasks underway on the Onondaga Cutoff:  installation of block detection and the sanding (of spackle) and then painting the backdrop.  The prior involves significant wiring changes and cutting new insulation gaps into mainline track.  Both are not much fun.  The latter involves a tremendous amount of spackle dust, which is flat-out miserable.  I took a block of time last weekend and just plowed ahead with it, finished the sanding and got all the backdrop primed.  I'm really, really glad that I am done with that part of the project.  Tasks like these take hours and hours to do well, and neither will be complete any time soon.

This can get frustrating, especially with the rest of life going on, and the new summer coming soon.  My answer to the frustration is to give myself a break from those activities once I get something done, and instead focus on another project that can lend more immediate satisfaction.

One of these has been equipment upgrades, as you have seen over the last few months.  Another is putting new cars into service-and I am proud to introduce you to the first new cars for the Peter Doelger Brewing Corporation, located on the M&E.
PDBX 1201 is one of what will eventually be 7 similar cars, all for modeling the movement of finished product from the brewery to the world off the layout.  I have two cars done, a third in progress, and more to come.  A key feature here is the custom decals, made from digital photos of the actual beer bottle labels.  I used small decals, as that is more plausible for a 1990's-era car than a large logo would be.  Here's a close-up view:
Many thanks go to Mark for all his help with this project - these decals are perfect and just what I imagined they would be.

Further, I also decided it was time to upgrade the local interlocking control panels from cardboard to masonite, even though the final boards are coming soon as well.  Cardboard, while OK at first, did not stand up to the operating environment.  Masonite is much stiffer and more stable.  Here's now the new 'temporary' board looks at CP 280, screwed securely to the layout subroadbed:
It's nice to be able to accomplish side-projects that give a sense of progress while the bigger projects drag on and on.  As always, the key is to just keep working, even bit by bit.  Eventually, it all comes together!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Block Detection

Railroad signaling, regardless if scale or size, works on one principal:  block detection.  Simply put, the signal system must be aware when a certain block is occupied.  Once that is known, the system can be designed to display signal aspects that protect movements between blocks. 

On the prototype, since trains either generate their own power or get it from a catenary wire (or third rail), the detection works by changing the status of power running to a relay, which is held open by the power.  Trains, with solid steel wheels and axles, then complete a circuit between the rails, dropping the relays (or solid-state sensors) that in turn trigger a track occupancy light (TOL) on the dispatcher/operator board (or screen). 

In model railroading, with DC power over two rails, the power in the rails is what drives the locomotives.  Therefore, another method of detection is necessary.  This topic is well-covered on other sites on the internet, so I will only discuss the one I chose to employ:  current-sensing block detection, using the BD-20 detection unit manufactured by NCE.

Essentially, the BD-20 works by detecting current flowing to a track circuit, generated by the presence of a piece of equipment that draws current.  This works immediately for locomotives, but also lit cabooses or passenger cars.   When the BD-20 senses the current drop, it activates, and sends a signal to the computer that the block is occupied.  When powered, the LED on the detector is illuminated, as seen below.  Here, Track 2 is occupied, where Track 1 is not.

The two middle terminals will be wired to the NCE input unit, which has yet to be installed.  One step at a time!

One issue is that this current-sensing detection does not work with standard freight cars, since they do not draw current.  How do we solve this?  The most expedient method is to use special wheelsets, equipped with a small resistor to allow a tiny amount of current to be drawn between rails.  These can be bought - at approximately $2.25 per axle, which adds up quickly since I have close to 400 cars - or made.  I choose the latter. 
Shown is an Atlas HO scale 33" metal 'caboose' wheelset.  Those pugs at Atlas make 'freight car' wheelsets that do not fit anyone's trucks but theirs, and 'caboose' wheelsets that just happen to fit everyone else's truck sideframes.  Yea, I figured that out the hard way.  That said, they are beautiful wheelsets for operations on a big layout - heavy and properly gauged to NMRA standards.  What I did was order 200 4.7K ohm resistors, costing 2.4 cents apiece.  Again, I learned the hard way that the 4.7K resistors were too big for my use - the detection wasn't picking up any current.  So, I changed to 3.6K ohm resistors, and the results have been much more consistent.  I glued them to the axles with CA adhesive, let that cure, and then connected both sides of the resistor to that respective wheel with silver conductive ink.  Once that cured, I tried it out, and wa-la!  Resistive wheelsets and working block detection.

So, now I am plodding along building wheelsets and installing block detection, much of the latter requiring me to add additional power bus wire and feeders for the second main track.  It's a large undertaking, and it's a bit discomforting to cut into a power bus that is working well for basic operation!  But, with eyes on the prize of a working system, it is what needs to happen.  7 blocks down, 23 to go...

Step by step!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Edge of a Dream

Ever since I was young, I have been fascinated by railroad signal systems. Of course, the trains came first, and those remain the star attraction, but the idea that an operator or dispatcher could give trains permission to move over track by controlling signals and switches from a remote location always captured my attention. So, you can imagine the first time I witnessed a working signal system on a model railroad – WOW!

A sign of things to come...medium clear!

Therefore, one of my life-long modeling goals has been to have a working, dispatcher-controlled signal system on my model railroad. For me, that means scale, functional, NYC-style searchlight signals.  Exactly like the one above, manufactured by Integrated Signal Systems.  But there were always questions: first, how does that work? Second, once that works, it needs a full-time dispatcher. How then can I have the signals work as an ‘automatic’ signal system for the times when I am running the trains myself?

These two short questions have taken more than a year to answer. And we’re still working on it. It has been a real learning process to this point trying to figure out how all these goals can be accomplished; many thanks go to the guys that have spent so much time on this so far - Nick, and Alex. Thanks also go to Jack, Mark, and Scott, all of whom have made valuable suggestions in the design.  Model railroad signaling is complicated and expensive, especially on a big layout like the Onondaga Cutoff. The signal systems themselves, especially if they are to be dispatcher-controlled, boil down to systems that must work hand-in-hand with the control system.

Digitrax users have the benefit of the fact that Digitrax has a fully functional signal system to choose from that simply couples in to the Loconet cab bus. For us NCE users, we pay for the easier interface that NCE provides by having to use other’s signal components, since NCE does not yet have a working signal control board. In fact, while I am depending on NCE for block detection and layout control, I am depending on Digitrax for future turnout control and for signal control.

The link between the two systems is provided by the Java Model Railroad Interface, or JMRI. JMRI is an open software package available online for no charge, supported by a group of modelers that use it daily. This software allows for computer control of the DCC system and model railroad. It allows a computer interface to program decoders, speed tables, consists, effects, and also provides a pathway to link NCE to Digitrax via a USB cable so that my NCE layout can use the full Digitrax signal system. Plenty to come on this amazing project!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Island

Work on the new wye, the Island Track, is coming along.  All that remains is to wire in a new PSX-AR unit into the power bus, which will allow the tail tracks of the new wye to automatically reverse polarity depending on which leg of the wye is aligned for the mainline.  The PSX-AR is a DCC breaker/auto reverse unit that, according to the documents and reviews, will allow this to appear seamless to the operators.

The new look of the eastern part of CP294, on the bottom level:
The new turnout is in the center of the frame, with the new 294 lead working east, and with the corresponding 274 lead working west behind the risers.  They come together at the Island Switch.

More to come soon, as the operation integrates this new infrastructure!


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Competing For Time

Work on the Onondaga Cutoff competes for available time, and that is a precious commodity indeed these days. With several home projects also on the table, the layout is not always where I get to focus my effort. Further, even when I’m able to spend time in the basement, there’s choices to make: backdrop, car construction/upgrade, locomotive construction/upgrade, signal wiring, or something else? Lots of chores and not much time.

That said, a lesson I learned early in my model railroading is that it’s important to try and get your hands on the model railroad each day that you’re home. Even if it’s just a few minutes between errands or chores, you might have time to adjust a car, or sand one spackle patch of backdrop, or weather one side of a locomotive. Each item brings you closer to your goal, and each item done with care is something you can put behind you as you move forward.

An example is a recent addition to the roster - C40-8 6039, a locomotive I bought about 5 years ago, and one that I just detailed, weathered, and equipped with a DCC decoder recently.  I finished this project in 15- to 20-minute blocks of time over several weeks.  Now it's done!  Here's the big GE awaiting service at Onondaga Diesel:

Conrail 6039 at Onondaga Diesel

The hostler was aboard, and moved the unit slowly up to the shop entrance.  Onondaga Diesel was a busy place this day!  SD60M 5544 was in 3 Bay ahead of the 6039, and a variety of other locomotives surrounded them.

I am working with several friends to develop an implementation plan for the new signal system, which will allow the railroad to stay functional during that time. It takes a lot of extra thought now, but this way I hope to make less work later. Coordinating the design of the system and the signals themselves, too, is time-consuming, but it is something that is vastly improved by access to the internet and email. This sort of system would simply not be as feasible without those tools.

Thanks to several recent operating sessions, a new need has become clear - the ability to move locomotive consists from one end of staging to the other, without going through staging.  The solution is an 'Island Track' reversing wye, located between the two entrances to staging.  Here's an image of CP294 with several noteable changes.
First, in the foreground, you can see the new crossover that I installed to allow trains access to Track 1 coming down from 282.  That new crossover allows universal access to staging, which became necessary due to trains fouling 282 during sessions. 

Second, you can see the new island track going in in the distance.  At the far end of the crossovers, you can see new roadbed and benchwork that stretches back into the distance; this will be the west leg of the wye, with the east leg visible behind the risers.  All of this to make operations more efficient - and fun.

Speaking of which, I am working to do an operating session shortly, with more to come before springtime really sets in and brings outdoor work back to the daily schedule. And, well- there’s always plenty to keep me busy on the OC. I don’t remember the last time I was bored!


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Scenery for the Short Line

With signal design underway and new wiring to follow on the OC, the only area where I can begin to install fascia board and scenery is on the M&E.  Fascia is being fabricated from 1/8" masonite hardboard, the same material as the backdrop, and will be installed before scenery so as to help define the land contour in front of the tracks.  A combination of foamboard and plaster castings, as well as some traditional paper mache, will be utilized as base scenery.

Here we see the Skaneateles Creek area on the M&E with newly-installed facia:

I love the look of model railroads with scenery and fascia - to me, it is a very 'finished' look and lends a professional feel to the look of the entire layout space.  I am eager to get the rest of the railroad to this state, too, but signal wiring must come first.

Foamboard will be stacked, glued, and shaped to represent cliffs, and then I have several ideas for how to model the distinctive Finger Lakes-area shale that is so prevalent in Central New York.  It exists in several shades of gray and dark purple, so it will be an adventure to replicate that look in HO scale!


Friday, February 3, 2012

Next Steps

Today, I have a a few action shots for you all, and a general discussion of the current progress on the Onondaga Cutoff.

First, though, the images.  Be sure to click on each for a full-size view: 

WAON-14 spots boxcars of scrap paper to be used for paperboard at the big Iroquois Paper facility east of Camillus, NY.

SEBU-7 sweeps around the curve and slams through the crossovers at CP280 with the Onondaga Engine Facility in the background.  Leading three other units is Conrail C39-8 #6000, recently upgraded with an LED headlight.

Now that the trackwork is in place and there are less and less issues with track leveling, alignment, and design, the Onondaga Cutoff is moving towards the next real challenge:  an operating signal system.

Ever since I was very young, I have been interested in signals on railroads, and in how they function.  It follows that to me, the crown jewel of a quality model railroad is a prototypical, working signal system.  From an operation as well as a photographical standpoint, nothing compares to watching a train on the layout 'knock down' the correct signal aspect for the move at hand!

Thanks to the efforts of several operators, namely Nick and Alex, I am formulating a plan and budget for the purchase of components that will be used to replicate block detection of trains which will work with computer-based CTC, including the operation of a working signal system.  While I am fully commited to Northcoast Engineering (NEC) components for the DCC system, I will be using an older Windows-based PC to run free software known as "Java Model Railroad Interface" or JMRI for signal control.  JMRI will work with a Digitrax signal system to drive signal heads and display aspects for operations based on block occupancy.  I will do my best to document the process for you here.

Since block detection and signal wiring will require extensive additional wiring work beneath the roadbed, I have elected to minimize progress on layout fascia and scenery until the signal system is installed.  It will be much easier to run new wire and make new connections before the fascia blocks easy access!  However, this approach means it will likely be more than a year before scenery begins in earnest on the main line.  However, since the M&E will not have signals, work on scenery there can begin sooner.  Plenty more to come as the winter wears on!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Into the New Year

A new year, and slow, steady progress on the Onondaga Cutoff continues! Best wishes for 2012 to all. Thanks to assistance from several regular operators, most of the backdrop is now installed, awaiting tape, spackle, and paint. It’s actually nice not to see the foundation walls, at least, behind the railroad.

One recent development on the OC is that through operations, a limitation has become clear. If you click on this ‘straight-line diagram’ of the railroad, which shows both original and new crossovers now at CP 294, it becomes clearer.

Though there are 5 tracks in staging, there was no way for a train in either direction on Track 1 in staging to come out of staging and cross over to Track 2 until that train reached an interlocking with turnouts that allow that move. For westbound trains, this is resolved at CP 277, where a universal crossover exists just for this purpose. This allows a dispatcher to route trains on either track in either direction, and at a nice distance from Onondaga Yard.

For eastbounds, however, there was no universal interlocking from staging all the way to CP 282, which is also the west entrance to Onondaga Yard. Trains leaving staging on Track 1 working east could not cross over to Track 2 until they were at 282. When a train is working the yard and fouling Track 1 at CP 282, then, Track 1 was essentially unavailable from CP 295 all the way to CP 280, more than half the railroad.

Therefore, it was necessary to build a crossover to enable trains leaving staging eastbound on Track 1 from CP 295 to cross over to Track 2. The existing geometry allowed me to install a new #8 right-hand crossover at CP 294, creating a new universal interlocking there – and eliminating a major bottleneck for the dispatcher.

However, the installation of that crossover meant cutting into existing track and roadbed, drilling new holes for Tortoise machine throw rods, mounting Tortoises – challenging tasks, especially after the fact. It took time to align the new turnouts with existing track, and with each other. This allowed me to locate the throw rod locations and drill the holes, and finally to install each component while ensuring the geometry worked out as intended. Finally, both turnouts had to have feeders installed for track power.

The next major development is a biggie: design and construction of a working, dispatcher-controlled signal system. Much more to come soon as this gets underway!