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…

N: Nine Millimeters

An N scale customer told me about a railroading club in Irving, TX, and I just had to check it out!  The North Texas Ntrak Dallas club has a two-part layout.  One loop is designed to run DC locomotives, and the other is designed to run DCC locomotives.  I brought a U.S. Army hospital steam set with a 4-6-2 (Prairie?), a Santa Fe 2-8-8-2 Y6B Mallet, and an Alco PA/PB diesel set.  I remembered the Army engine had problems and wasn’t sure if it would run, so I brought my Y6B as a backup.  I am glad I did.  The Mallet took a little nudging and encouraging, but it slowly woke up and took to the rails beautifully!  Even though the Army engine did not run, I still enjoyed coupling its cars behind the Mallet.  I didn’t get my Alcos out because I was limited on time.

I like how the NTNDC’s control system works.  It uses radio controls for each line or set of two lines of track for speed and direction control.  The layout is continually being built and redesigned.  There is a whole section of tunnel that is still undecorated, bare plaster.

My taste for the different scales is still changing and growing, but visiting the NTNDC layout has certainly bolstered my enjoyment of N scale.  While I am still less tolerant of the three-rail set-up, I whole-heartedly LOVE the Lionel Big Boy locomotive that came to the store for appraisal.  It has synchronized double whistles, lights, operating sounds, and it is in beautiful condition!  I am very tempted to make an offer for it if the customer declines the store’s offer.  Three-rail or not, I have a very soft spot in my heart for articulated steam.  As of today, I see decision between the Big Boy and a contrabass bugle that I want for marching performances.  I am a tubist, and I have my local LGBTI Pride celebration parade coming up in a month.

Below is a video of the Mallet.


Below is a myriad of photos.  Most are from the store, but the last few are of the NTNDC layout.

The next two photos are of an S scale diesel engine that ran across the workbench.  I learned early on that it is always a good idea to take photos of wiring if I think I might have to undo more than a few at once.  It is also nice to have photos of how everything goes back into place.  Of all the scales of engines and cars on which I have worked, S scale engines–be they steam or diesel–have the most wiring and removable parts.  They sometimes have lots of gears, rods, and shafts.

In one steam locomotive, the gear set operated the driving wheels and the puffing mechanism for the smoke unit.  The engine had been in storage, presumably exposed to atmospheric and temperature change, and many of the parts were badly corroded.  The main drive shaft was basically rusted to it pinion and frame.  It took much hammer tapping, but I finally knocked and wiggled things loose.  I soaked the old parts in a mixture of electronics cleaner spray and tile floor cleaner to get rid of as much corrosion as possible before taking my rotary tool and a wire brush to everything.  After everything was cleaned, oiled, and greased, the engine ran magnificently.  I cleaned every other aspect of the engine before finding the corroded gear, and it turned out that that singular gear was the only thing that kept the engine from moving.  It was a very trying job, but it was very rewarding when I saw how smoothly the engine ran in normal condition.IMG_2921


I took this when I rewarded myself for climbing about twelve feet in the air, servicing an elevated G scale set.  I was too lazy to walk to my Pathfinder and deposit the car, so I just took it to Subway with me.IMG_2919


These next few photos are of a special project I took on for one of my coworkers whose grandson is very enamored with model trains.  I took the trucks out of an old engine to use in a boxcar.  I removed the boxcar chassis and weight plate to make maneuvering room for the rotary cutting bit.  I had to cut away part of the inside of the car to make the weight plate fit in the top.IMG_2894IMG_2893IMG_2892IMG_2891

These last photos are of the North Texas Ntrak Dallas Club’s layout.  The final photos is of my Milwaukee Road GG-1 electric locomotive.  I meant to show it to a friend, and I happened to have it in the car with me.  I thought it was worth a photo.  It is heavy, strong, and smooth.  IMG_3020IMG_3018IMG_3017IMG_3016fullsizeoutput_2775