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!!!

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


“Big Things Have Small Beginnings”

As the line from Prometheus says, what started as a little plastic train set around a cake has become four sets occupying the better part of my apartment floor, and it keeps growing.

I believe I mentioned this in a previous post.  I am absolutely fascinated with Z scale.  It’s so much fun to look at all the detail that goes into this miniscule scale of such mammoth behemoths!  My modular layout is very nearly complete in its basic form.  All I really have left to do is adhere rare earth magnets around the edges of the foam boards.  The magnets will keep the boards from shifting when the layout is displayed, and it will keep everything together when it is folded up and in transit.

Pay no mind to my messy apartment.


I experimented with different ways of setting the ballast beneath the rails.  I tried spray-on adhesive, but the acid ate away at the foam.  I mixed ballast, Elmer’s glue, and vodka to make a sort of paste, and it sort of worked.  The traditional ballast spreading device was okay, but I think it would have worked better on uniformly level surfaces.  Oh, well.  One thing I did really like was using a dropper to soak the curing ballast with more alcohol to help the glue run more along the outline of the ties and trails.  I never intended this layout to be very detailed.  I can’t have too much to it, or it could make a mess if it were all knocked to the floor or broken.

The Things We Do for Our Craft

There is nothing quite like walking through a doorway to a trainset running far above your head, where your dreams ever fly.

I was called to repair an LGB G scale trainset that is elevated nearly twelve feet from the floor in a dentist’s office.  It is a beautiful set.  The little 0-4-0 is small but mighty, and it has a powered tender that is just as strong.  It has only five cars including a lighted caboose, but it could probably pull four or five times as many.  The engine and tender each are plenty heavy and have a traction tire, so they have plenty of tractive power for a long consist.

On my first trip, I cleaned and lubricated the engine units and rolling stock.  I did not have enough time to clean the track.  The set has been up there for three or four years, and it has all of those years’ worth of dust and dirt built up.  I took one swipe of the rails with my hand, and it looked as it did at the end of the Christmas rush.  Black and grey.  ’tis no wonder things squeaked and grated.  I pulled everything down for cleaning, and that worked pretty well.  However, the newly cleaned rails packed on the old dirt and grit, and the electrical contact was lessened.  The track was no less a problem than the condition of the engine.

I had to do some climbing and clambering to reach parts of the track that twelve-foot ladder could not.  It took me three hours to clean the damned thing, but I got it done.  I could have fallen and died at any time, but my trains needed me!

One of my previous jobs had me throwing forty-pound weights on and off theatre stage pulley systems sixty-four feed above the stage floor.fullsizeoutput_275b

Not bad for someone who is afraid of heights, eh?fullsizeoutput_275c

A nice view from one of the upper windows of the dentist office lobby windows.  Looks like a baseball stadium.IMG_2561IMG_2559IMG_2556IMG_2555IMG_2554IMG_2553IMG_2552fullsizeoutput_275aIMG_2549


Here are some random train photos with some repeats and **drumroll** photos!

My question about the decoders was answered, later.  They were defective, replaced, and the new ones worked like a dream!

The little layout on the blue table is the one we have at the store in HobbyTown.  The N scale one is my personal set, and the HO set and structures are the store’s stuff on display.

To whomever reads my humble little blog, what do your layouts look like?  Have any stories of your own to share?

It’s the Little Things. The VERY little things.

Of all the different sizes of model trains, I find the most fascinating to be Z scale.  It’s so small and minuscule, but it is also so mighty!  The little engines are so tiny, but they are deceptively fast and strong.  My first Z set was a Micro Trains Line Desktop Railroad Set with a New York Central F7 diesel.  I also bought a Western Pacific four-car wreck recovery pack.  I really enjoy my little train set.

I’ve noticed something about how the whole consist pulls.  It may be due to the angle of couplers, or merely the size of everything, but it seems that there needs to be enough weight to everything for the couplers to catch one another.  If they are not taught, they release and come undone.  The lack of weight is good for long loads and going in reverse with a lessened chance of derailment, but not so great for staying together.

From little to not so little, I am excited to get into two-rail O scale.  I have only one such item–my Rivarossi 0-8-0 Indiana Harbor Belt steamer.  I’ve heard from several that the two-rail O scale models look more like models than the those of the three-rail variety.  Based on the details I have observed in my engine, I am inclined to agree.  Even so, the track seems to be quite expensive.  It will take much saving to build my little railroad, but the time and money will be well worth the effort.


Let’s move on to bigger things.  A customer brought in two O scale locomotives.  He wanted one to get some regular maintenance as well as have a smoke unit installed.  I wasn’t quite sure if I could make one fit, but I did!  I just happened to already have two smoke units in my spare parts dish.  I was sure I would have to do a lot of form fitting, cutting, molding, possibly melting, and major rewiring to make it work.

As it turns out, all I needed to do was shim the whole frame of the engine.  The smoke unit just fit.  There is absolutely no room for any movement, jostling, spare wires–it could almost be air-tight.  But it fits.  It works.  And I didn’t have to do ANY drilling or filing.  The customer is sure to be happy.

Oh, and the engine, itself, works good as new, too.  Not that that was the whole point of bringing the thing in, or anything…………..


As for the other engine, it seemed to be much more of a challenge.  Fitting a new unit in the body was easy.  It even aligned with the smoke stack.  However, getting the mechanism to puff the smoke in equal and consistent puffs was more than adverse.  The new smoke unit fit, but it wasn’t shaped the same way.  The empty air reservoire that actually pushes the smoke up and out was offset in the old one and directly center in the new.  The lever that operates the reservoire column was too long and not correctly shaped to properly work with the new unit.  I tried flexing the lever and form filing the reservoire, but everything caught and stuck.

I was fidgeting with the old smoke unit, trying to figure it all out, when I dropped the thing to the floor, and the burner element fell out of the loose end cap.  Then, it hit me.  All I had to do was swap out the old wax melting element for the oil boiling one.  After much scraping and digging, the new element fit perfectly.  I soldered everything up, slapped the cap on, fit the rest of the engine back to the frame, and crossed my fingers.








’twas most awesome.

That same engine had a funky reversing unit.  I cracked it open, and everything was pretty dirty.  The funny thing about a reversing unit is the number of parts it takes to make an engine simply move.  The inner drum is lined with metal belts that are shaped to alternately contact metal flanges.  Each flange is soldered to a different wire that either provides electrical flow or redirects it somewhere else.  If a single one is bent out of shape or contacting the wrong belt, nothing works.  It all just sparks or sits dead.  The flanges took some flexing and sanding, but I got it all back into shape.  Pulling the drum out is easy.  Putting it back in is a pain.  The two walls that hold the drum in place have to be close enough to contact it, two flange boards have to fit into slots of the unit walls, the flanges have to be spaced wide enough to allow the drum to fit back into place, and the clip that rotates the drum has to be out of the way.  Much in the fashion of re-assembling steam engine drive rods, everything has to fit in just the right way at just the right time.


I really wish I had had the sense to take photos of the things I’ve been mentioning in this particular post.  Oh, well.  There will be plenty more photogenic opportunities.

In the meantime, here are some photos of other things.IMG_2453IMG_2434IMG_2433IMG_2430fullsizeoutput_2728fullsizeoutput_2729fullsizeoutput_272afullsizeoutput_272bIMG_2484fullsizeoutput_26c6

Time is Quality

Here’s a thought that I’ve been thinking, lately:  “Time is quality.”  Every job I’ve ever had has been an hourly wage-based one, but I’ve never really thought of time as money.

I could spend hours on one repair and never blink an eyelash.  That’s how we were taught in Red Wing.  We were taught quality before speed, and speed came to everyone at very different paces.  The only real speed I ever learned was speed in sight reading sheet music.  Not quite as practical for musical instrument or train repair, but I don’t mind.  I enjoy whiling away the long hours with the littlest of things.

I’m sure I can hand-make electrical pick-ups for a passenger car faster since I’ve done it once, but I won’t try to be lightning-fast.  It’s too easy to slip up and miss something when going fast.

One thing I think I should really learn about is air brush painting and mixing.  I started painting a diesel engine and some freight cars months ago, and I’m nowhere near being finished.

Time, quality, and money.  The big three.  You can have something done quickly for less money and lesser quality; you can pay for high quality in whatever time is required; you can get finite standards of quality within finite time for a finite amount of money.  Those are what I have typically known to be true.  What is the best balance or blend of the three?  What kind of tastes do you have?  I was raised to value quality, money, and patience.


Imagine the time it takes to go from this…..img_2214

… this…..fullsizeoutput_268a

… this.

Just imagine all the hours spent hunched over a plank of wood or stooped on the ground–fastening, gluing, painting, wiring, always modifying.

’tis most exciting.

I love little work like taking apart steam engine drive rods and putting them back together.  Standing back and taking in the fruits of all that hard labor, time, and effort feels great.  You made something exactly how you wanted it, and it looks GREAT!!!

I’ve been talking with a college friend, and he is just getting started on making his railroad.  He just bought $700 worth of Great Northern Empire Builder passenger cars for $160.  I am excited to watch how his collection grows.  I just wish I could make my bank account grow enough to match my train collection…..