Narrowing Things Down

I’ll post more about my suspended layout, later, but I want to mention some other things I’ve been doing of late.

Primarily, I’ve been working with HOn3 narrow gauge steam locomotives.  Bill is a cliet from the Detroit, Michigan, area, and he has had me busy upgrading his Blackstone steam locomotives with KeepAlive.  Blackstone is a division of SoundTraxx, and it specializes in American narrow gauge model railroading.  They are also known for their quality of live, recorded sound.  All Blackstone steam locomotives are equipped with DCC Tsunami sound and DC/DCC compatibility, but they are not equipped with KeepAlive.  Bill has had me upgrading his locomotives with Tsunami 2 and SoundTraxx’s trademarked CurrentKeeper.  The CurrentKeeper stores electrical energy that suppliments power to the decoder when the locomotive and tender cross dead spots, dirty spots, or “imperfect” trackwork.  Depending on the size of the locomotive, the sophistication of its motor, and whatever else may be going on with the locomotive, the CurrentKeeper can maintain power for eight to twenty-five seconds.  It’s pretty great.  I once timed it with the locomotive simply idling.  There were no head- or back lamps lit, no sounds sounding, no motor moving; it was pure idle and die.  I timed 25.66 seconds after I removed it from the rails and before it finally died.  It’s pretty great!

Below is a Blackstone C-19 steamer.  It had no original number so I called it “Lil’ Blue”.img_6582img_6581img_6580img_6567

Rather than keep all the wires in one housing block, I separate the rail-pickups.  This is more compactable and less confusing in the longrun.img_6568img_6569

I use Dupont crimp-style wire connectors to avoid soldering and possibly burning right through the tiny wire.  I also paint the connector housing with white-out and label the wires individually so I know what is where.img_6570

C-19’s are pretty small, even for narrow gauge, so I am limited to how I can fit everything into one space.img_6573img_6566

The original wires are all black, so I requested a wiring diagram from SoundTraxx.img_6572

This stuff is AMAZING!!  It’s a  welding gel that hardens and cures when exposed to UV light.  It cures and hardens in about five seconds, so it’s great for temporary placeholding (coupler assembly) and permenant placeholding (loose wires).img_6574

Between HOn3 upgrades, I installed DCC in an HO Rivarrossi 2-6-6-6 Allegheny articulated steam locomotive.  One of my fellow model train club (Crawford County Model Railroaders) members asked me to install this for him.  It’s one of his abolute favorite locomotives, and he wanted to be sure it would be done correctly.  I installed a Train Control Systems Wow101-KA-Steam decoder.  TCS is known for their superior slow and fine motor control and their “Goof-Proof” warranty.  I’ve always been very pleased with TCS’s products and customer service.  The finished installation sounds fantastic, and their audio-assist programming feature in their larger, higher-end decoders is a beautufily designed consumer-friendly tool.  They also offer multiple designs of KeepAlive.

Fun fact about the Allegheny:  it was more powerful than the Big Boy by 1,210 HP!!!


Another thing I’ve been doing is Frankensteining a custome N scale locomotive.  I started with an old Con-Cor 2-8-8-2 Y6B.  I took the shell off and insulated the motor, removed the original little headlamp, and unsoldered the motor-to-track power leads.  The Y6B started as DC, but I’m converting it to DCC.  I plan to use a Train Control Systems Wow101-KA-Steam sound decoder.  It’s designed as an HO scale decoder, but it just fits inside the auxilary tender I’m going to add to the locomotive.  Most steam locomotives use only one tender, but they can use one or two extras for longer trips, or trips that will require much more than the usual amount of fuel.  In this case, the decoder I’m using includes TCS’s KeepAlive.  I will be using two speakers—one in each tender–and have several lights in the locomotive tenders.  With all those wires and speakers, the original tender isn’t large enough, so I’m adding a Bachmann tender from a 4-8-4 Northern steam locomotive.  The additional tender is larger than the original, so the initial decoder, one speaker, and two 3-millimiter LED’s will go in it.  The KeepAlive, wires for the head lamp, and another LED will go in the original tender.


I’m not using a caboose as a tender.  I was going to tack it on behind the second tender and wire it to draw power from both rails, but I decided this would be gawdy enough without it.  I will probably use it with The Lilliputian.img_6550

This new locomotive will be called “The Livingston”.  It will be repaitned in Baltimore & Ohio Railroad royal blue and antique gold with some silver trim, and it will be primarily a passenger train.  I’m also repainting and repurposing two old Con-Cor heavyweight passenger sets, a small three-car Rivarrossi passenger set, and an extra observation car to match.  Normally, the Y6B wouldn’t be able to haul all those at once without a helper engine, but I’m adding GO2 glue to all sixteen drivers to bolster her hauling power.  GO2 glue is perfect for adding traction to driver wheels because it doesn’t run during application, it dries crystal clear, it’s shock resistant, and it’s temperature hardy.  You won’t see it after it’s been applied and has set, and what little dirt it might pick up and show from the rails just makes everything look more protoptycial.  The only drawback is that it nearly completely degrades the elcctrical pick-up abilities of driver wheels, so I must draw power through another medium.  That is another function of the second tender.  The first tender will draw only from the right rail, and the second will draw only from the left.


I have also started creating a sister locomotive called “The Lilliputian”.  She will be much smaller than her big sister; she is an Atlas 0-4-0 steam switcher.  The Lilliputian won’t have lights because the engine is just so small.  It is so small, that I must wire a passenger car to permenantly follow the tender.  Adding the GO2 stops the pick-up of the engine wheels, altogether, and the tender draws only from one rail.  It can’t be insulated to do both.  That is one of the functions of the passenger car; the car will also house the decoder, KeepAlive, and mini cube speaker.  I am not sure whether I will use TCS or SoundTraxx for the decoder, but I am sure I will TCS’s KA4-C KeepAlive.  SoundTraxx’s CurrentKeeper is dimensionally too long.

This is roughly how The Lilliputian will look when finished.img_1294

I had to replace the original tender pick-up flanges to better suite the re-orienting of the trucks to avoid contacting metal parts of the chassis.img_1290

I created a new drawbar out of plain plastic, and I painted it matte black.  The wire that leads from the rear truck to the decoder winds half-way around the drawbar and up through the step platform.img_1291

The wire will then lead through the door of the passenger car as inconspicuously as possible.img_1292


The Livingston is clearly more powerful and likes to show off, but The Lilliputian doing the same thing looks more impressive!

With all the HOn3 upgrading I’ve been doing, I’ve not had enough free time at once to work on my suspended Z scale layout.  Oh, well.  In due time…

Lights! Camera! Action!


There are these things called cameras.  They can be installed on or in locomotives, flat bed cars, or whatever you want!  Lately, I have made a project of installing a long-distance capable drone camera into the cab of an HO Amtrak diesel and the boiler faceplate of a G Lionel Rail Scope steamer.  So far, I am very pleased with my work.


I initially considered installing the camera in my Chessapeke and Ohio BL2 diesel, but there was not enough room.IMG_3158IMG_3157

The camera fit very well in the front of my Amtrak diesel.  It looks weird, as if the engine has a big nose, but it works very well.  I may paint over part of the camera lense encasing to make it blend and match the color scheme.IMG_3160Not in the photo is a makeshift wooden sprung bumper that I installed for the camera’s safety.  If this were to fall any distance and land face first, the camera would surely be ruined.  The bumper extends about an inch from the frontmost point of the engine shell.  I dismantled a couple of mechanical pensils and used their lead casings, springs, and a piece of basla wood as buffers.


IMG_3156It just happened that the propogating antenna was the perfect size to fit in the steam locomotive’s dome.  I was going to run wiring through the cab, but this saves on wiring going every which way.



I was super pleased with how similarly sized the old and new cameras were.  The new one took some form fitting to fit the frame of the faceplate, but it came together very nicely.  I am still working on extending the camera power supply wiring back to the cab.  I am also toying with varius LED bulbs in and around the locomotive.  Who knows?  I may even install a smoke unit and sound decoder.  The more I think about it, the more I realize that I am going to have one souped up little tank engine.

Don’t mind my hairy stomach.  It’s Texas.  It’s hot, and a singular window air conditioning unit doesn’t always cut it when the room is attached to an oven of a garage.



One very new development in my train goings-on is my parting of ways from HobbyTown USA.  I am now my own boss and run my own model train repair business!  It is appropriately named “Livingston Lines” to match this blog.  I am very excited to start this new endeavor, and I look forward to serving my model railroading community!  My Facebook business page is searchable via @livingstonlines, and my business e-mail address is

Good change is afoot!!!