Brain Dump

I know I haven’t posted in a long time, so I’m just going to do a brain dump and list some things that I’ve been picking away at.

Accomplishments

  1. I added fascia to the majority of my layout! I’m pretty pleased by how it looks. Photos to come soon.
  2. I bought a bunch of “inexpensive” freight cars, some of which I have refurbished for my layout, and some that I resold on the excellent CANADA HO/N Yard Sale group on Facebook.
  3. I started doing some weathering with PanPastel artists’ pastels. So far I weathered one Bachmann grain car and sealed it with Dullcote. I’m pleased.

The Fleet

These are the DCC-equipped locomotives / RDCs I have. Only CN 3665 (third from left) has sound.

Current Fleet

New Acquisition

I bought another locomotive and I hope to receive it by the end of next week.

It’s a Kato/Atlas GP38 custom painted by Scott Holmes in a fantasy CN/VIA scheme.

I’m not sure if I will repaint it… I’ll have to see it and operate with it for a while first to see how I feel about it.

I’m excited!

Time For DCC

Speaking of exciting, I bought a trio of TCS T1 decoders to go into my two VIA “blue box” locomotives and an old Bachmann “RS18”.

Ready for DCC
Ready for DCC

These VIA units have some extra detail on them – handrails, grilles, etc. – so they are definitely a step above your normal Athearn “blue box” quality. I believe Craig Takahashi did the detail work.

I’ll be following these instructions for DCC installation. It’s definitely not my first decoder installation – see my RDC installation – but I don’t do it often enough to be able to do it without glancing at instructions.

Operations

I haven’t done any formal operations sessions in a while. I have run trains a few times when my nephew came by – he does love the trains but I think he likes driving my toy trucks more.

I am getting the itch to run trains so I think I’ll be doing that soon.

 

Next Steps

These are the next things I plan to do on my layout / trains:

  • Install the three decoders
  • Run an operations session
  • Weather a few more cars

One More Year

Motorcyclist in Morse, SK
Motorcyclist in Morse, SK

I listen to a lot of podcasts.

Most have nothing to do with model railroading, but a few do. I started out with The Model Railway Show, by Jim Martin and Trevor Marshall. It’s over now but it is well worth listening to the archives.

Then I tried The Scotty Mason Show but it’s not really to my taste.

My friend William Brillinger mentioned A Modeler’s Life, hosted by Lionel Strang and featuring several other characters including Jim Rindt, “Bruce the Mail Boy” and “Uncle Larry”. It took an episode or two to get into it, but I like the podcast very much. It’s not very serious – sometimes not at all serious – but there’s a good rapport between Lionel and the other guys, and his interviews are very good.

Early morning podcasting
Early morning podcasting
Lionel Strang
Lionel Strang

The podcast is good to listen to in the background when you’re driving or working on your model railroad layout.

Lionel was a regular Model Railroader columnist, has written a few model railway books and has hosted a number of videos over on TrainMasters.tv.

Today on Facebook I noticed an ad from Fast Tracks that mentioned Lionel and his cancer. His.. what?

Lionel was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer two years ago. At the time he was told he wouldn’t live another year. I had no idea. Lionel never mentions it on the podcast.

He’s been counting the days (up) since he was told he was terminally ill. He’s at around 735 now, a bit more than twice the year he was told he had. That’s the inspiration for “One More Year”.

Lionel seems to be living life to the fullest and enjoying what he has left, and I think we can all take inspiration from that. Life is too short to spend it doing stuff you hate.

Motorcycle, Canola and a Train
Motorcycle, Canola and a Train

Lionel has a GoFundMe page, not for him, but to raise funds for the Psychosocial Oncology Clinic at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto (Lionel is Canadian). The clinic helps patients and family deal with cancer and improve their emotional well-being. It sure seems to be working for Lionel! It’s important to help people not only with the physical effects of cancer, but also the mental effects on the person who has cancer, and their family and friends as well.

I encourage you to visit his GoFundMe page or buy from Fast Tracks (they’ll donate 10%) to support Lionel’s cause.

Also, go check out Lionel’s podcast, A Modeler’s Life. It’s good.

(The two motorcycle photos aren’t of Lionel, but I know Lionel likes motorcycles and trains, so they seemed appropriate)

Grain Car Comparisons

Foobie grain cars
HO scale grain cars

On a layout based on the Canadian Prairie, you need a lot of grain cars! If you are cheap have a low budget, you might be willing to run the less accurate models for a while. Let’s face it, accurate rail cars are expensive.

So you have the choice – do without, while accumulating funds to buy the really accurate models, or make do with foobies / inaccurate models for a while, or maybe even forever.

I have a variety of manufacturers’ grain cars on my layout, and I thought I’d write a little post to show the differences between them. But first, a little comparison photo to show differences in detail.

Grain Car Comparison
Grain Car Comparison

Two Bachmanns on the left, Model Power top right, and Intermountain on the bottom right.

Here’s a photo of a prototype… ALNX 396247 aka “Lethbridge”, a very typical 4,550 cubic foot grain car built by the thousands for the Canadian federal government and some provincial governments. Eric Gagnon has a great article on these uniquely Canadian cars.

Prototype ALNX 396247
Prototype ALNX 396247

What do you look for on an accurate grain car? The most glaring details are the roof walks and end ladders, plus the rib details along the sides. Let’s go.

Grain Car Comparisons

Model Power

Model Power grain car
Model Power grain car

This is a grain car made by Model Power, a manufacturer known for really inexpensive cars. You can see that ALPX 628099 above bears only a passing resemblance to the prototype.

  • Decorated for: ALPX (Alberta)
  • End ladders: Very chunky
  • Roof walk: Very chunky
  • Wheels: Large flanges, known as “pizza cutters” to modellers
  • Ribs: Absent
  • Cost: $5-10 (used at train shows)

This is definitely a low end model.

Bachmann

Bachmann

Bachmann makes the Silver Series grain cars in a variety of liveries. These are decent quality cars with metal wheels, Kadee-compatible couplers and finer details than the low end cars. They are still not terribly prototypical but they are decent cars. I wrote about ALNX 396400 already.

  • Decorated for: ALNX (Alberta), CPWX (red “Canada” and orange “Government of Canada”); CNWX (aluminum and yellow); SKNX (brown Saskatchewan); CN demonstrators (rainbow and environmental); CP (black with multimark); CN (gray)
  • End ladders: Chunky
  • Roof walk: Chunky
  • Wheels: Metal, good quality
  • Ribs: Absent
  • Cost: About $20 Canadian

Intermountain

Intermountain
Intermountain

Intermountain is known for higher quality cars and this one is no exception. It has a number of higher end features but it comes at a premium price.

The car I have is a “ready to run” model but I also have four plastic kits that I have not yet assembled. The kits are of good quality with many parts but don’t have the etched metal parts that the ready-to-run version has.

  • Decorated for: CNWX, CPWX (brown “Canadian Wheat Board”, red “Canada”); ALNX, ALPX (blue “Alberta Heritage”); CN (grey, and silver “aluminum”); CP (black with multimark, black with script); SKNX, SKPX (brown/red); CNIS (grey)
  • End ladders: Fine
  • Roof walk: Metal, fine
  • Wheels: Metal, good quality
  • Ribs: Present
  • Cost: about $50 Canadian

Walthers

Walthers recently announced a limited run of Canadian grain cars based on the National Steel Car 4,550 cubic foot car. They claim to have see-through running boards, finely detailed brake gear, roof hatches and end ladders, with metal 36″ wheels and metal knuckle couplers. They were released in April 2016 but I don’t have any in my fleet.

    • Decorated for: CNWX, CPWX (brown “Canadian Wheat Board” and red “Canada”), ALNX, ALPX (blue Alberta Heritage)
    • End ladders: Fine
    • Roof walk: Metal, fine
    • Wheels: Metal, good quality
    • Ribs: ??
    • Cost: About $45 Canadian

North American Railcar

North American Railcar has produced a few runs of Canadian grain cars. One was a special run of Saskatchewan Grain Car green hoppers, based on the Hawker Siddeley Canada 4,550 cubic foot car.

They claim to have see-through running boards, finely detailed brake gear, roof hatches and end ladders, with metal 36″ wheels and metal knuckle couplers. They were released in April 2016 but I don’t have any in my fleet.

      • Decorated for: SKNX, SKPX (green “Saskatchewan!” and brown “Saskatchewan”); ALPX (blue Alberta Heritage); CNWX (brown “Canadian Wheat Board”)
      • End ladders: Fine
      • Roof walk: Metal, fine
      • Wheels: Metal, good quality
      • Ribs: Present
      • Cost: About $55 Canadian

A note about 3800 cubic foot cars: These cars are smaller than the 4550 cubic foot cars above, but have not been available in model form. Some of the paint schemes above are for 3800 ft3 cars but are applied to the 4550s. This is changing as Rapido has announced 3800 cubic foot models for late 2016.

 

Ready for Service

Walthers All-Door Boxcars
Walthers All-Door Boxcars

I picked up these two Walthers all-door boxcars at a toy show in Morden, Manitoba. I just had a few steps to go through before they were ready for service.

This kind of car was used for paper service and most were owned by paper companies, such as Boise Cascade and Weyerhauser as seen here. I paid $30 for the pair and I was pleased to have them, as I didn’t have any cars of this type.

 

Coupler Height Check

First it gets put on the test track to check coupler height.

Coupler height check
Coupler height check

That end was good. I flipped the car around to check the other end.

Coupler height FAIL
Coupler height FAIL

This was a FAIL. The coupler was way too low, with the whisker hitting the plate before it could even couple up. It was also obvious that the coupler itself was too low.

I checked the coupler and there wasn’t much play in the box so the solution was to add some washers between the truck and the car body to raise that end.

Adding washers
Adding washers

It ended up taking two washers before I could get the end raised enough. I also snipped off most of the whisker using side cutters.

Good coupler match
Good coupler match

When you raise one end, you have to check the other end again to ensure it didn’t throw that end off! In this case it was OK.

 

Weight Check

Now it was time to check the weight of the car to see if it matched NMRA standards.

Car Weight Check
Car Weight Check

5 ounces was about right for the length of the car, so there was nothing to be done here.

 

Wheel Check

Finally I checked the wheel spacing using an NMRA standards gauge.

Wheel Spacing Check
Wheel Spacing Check

No problems here! There is rarely a problem with wheel spacing on cars, but if there is, the usual fix is to twist one of the two wheels until the spacing is correct.

 

Finish the Paperwork

I printed up the car cards in Easy Model Railroad Inventory and stuck some destination cards in the pocket, then put the car cards into the appropriate slot.

Car Cards - Check!
Car Cards – Check!

 

Ready for Service

The last step was to actually put them on the layout, ready for operation. They are on the CN-CP interchange track now and will get picked up by CP 948 on my next operations session.

Ready for service!
Ready for service!

Further reading:

Putting a DCC Decoder in a Proto 1000 RDC

BC Rail Proto 1000 RDC
BC Rail Proto 1000 RDC

I installed a TCS decoder in a Walthers Proto 1000 RDC today. It was pretty straightforward!

The basic process is as follows:

  • Remove the shell (and couplers)
  • Cut traces on the board inside
  • Solder decoder wiring harness to board
  • Tape decoder down
  • Replace shell
  • Program decoder… and play!

Here are the steps. Just a generic caution – there is a chance you could damage your decoder or your RDC. Be careful and proceed with caution. I’m not responsible if you break something or hurt yourself! 🙂

The Decoder

I used a TCS T1 decoder. This is a basic no-frills decoder that comes with a separate wiring harness. The decoder features auto-adjusting BEMF for slow speed control… not really required for a speedy RDC but it came with the decoder anyway.

RDC and TCS T1 decoder
RDC and TCS T1 decoder

Removing the Shell

In order to remove the RDC’s shell, you have to remove the couplers on both end, as well as four screws.

Screws to remove
Screws to remove

On one end, you have to turn the truck to remove the screws (one per side, as shown in photo above).

The other end is easier as the screws are closer to the end of the RDC.

Coupler removed, other screws to remove
Coupler removed, other screws to remove

Once all six screws have been removed, the shell slides off pretty easily. It should look like this:

Proto 1000 RDC with shell removed
Proto 1000 RDC with shell removed

 

Cut Traces on the Board

There are three traces on the circuit board that need to be cut to enable DCC operation. They are clearly marked with an X.

X marks the spot(s) to cut
X marks the spot(s) to cut

Some instructions say to use a knife to make multiple cuts and eventually break the trace; some suggest using a pin drill to break it. I decided to throw caution to the wind and use a cordless drill.

There are a couple of risks, of course. You could drill right through the board and break a trace on the other side… or you could put too much pressure on the board and snap it. So be careful!

I used gentle pressure, with my free hand on the bottom of the board to support it, and pulsed the drill quickly to remove a bit of material at a time. I found that as long as I was careful to have the drill perfectly perpendicular to the board, it worked very well and the drill bit didn’t wander. A few minutes work and the traces were cut.

Traces cut by drill
Traces cut by drill

Naturally you must test to ensure they are actually cut! I used my ancient digital multimeter to test on each side. You test P2-P5, P1-P8 and P4 to one or the other end of the long trace that runs the length of the board.

Testing resistance
Testing resistance

All I was doing was checking to ensure there was no connection between the two points. Simply set your multimeter to measure resistance, and touch the two points. The multimeter should blink or otherwise indicate that it can’t measure resistance, meaning that there is no connection. Make sure you touch the leads together to get a zero resistance reading to confirm that your multimeter is actually working correctly.

Measuring resistance with multimeter
Measuring resistance with multimeter

My Micronta multimeter blinks “30.00” when there is no connection.

Solder the Wiring Harness

The next step is to solder the wiring harness to the board. DCC wiring harnesses use standard colours so every decoder should have the same meaning assigned to each wire colour. These are the correct colours for this particular board:

  • Orange wire (motor positive) to P1
  • Yellow wire (rear headlight) to P2
  • Black wire (left rail pickup) to P4
  • Grey wire (motor positive) to P5
  • White wire (front heading) to P6
  • Blue wire (common) to P7
  • Red wire (right rail pickup) to P8

I did not use green (function F1) or violet (function F2). These could be used for interior lighting, ditch lights etc. if desired.

You may or may not want to cut some of the wire off the harness, as the TCS harness’ wires are quite long. I elected to leave them as is.

Wiring Connections
Wiring Connections

 

Tape Decoder Down

You can’t have the decoder floating around inside the RDC, so you need to secure it somehow. The TCS T1 decoder is already in a sleeve so there is no need to cover it. I stuck a piece of double-sided tape to the circuit board and stuck the decoder to that, then coiled up the wires and used Scotch tape to secure the wires.

Decoder secured
Decoder secured

It’s important to not cover the decoder to allow it to dissipate heat.

Replace Shell

Replacing the shell is simple. Slide the shell back on, ensuring that it is oriented correctly – it won’t go on backwards. Make sure you don’t pinch any wires.

Put all six screws back in and you’re ready to program!

You might want to leave the shell off until you confirm the decoder is working

Program the Decoder

You’ll have to refer to your DCC system manual to learn how to program decoders. The TCS T1 comes programmed with address 03 so you will want to change that to something more appropriate, like the number of the RDC itself. In my case the RDC is BC-31 so I programmed it to use 0031.

I had a rising sense of panic when programming this decoder. It wasn’t responding properly and would sometimes show CANNOT READ CV VALUE on my NCE controller, yet I could tell the decoder was responding because it was twitching the motor when I was sending commands. I couldn’t get it to accept the new number…

Finally I realized that the wheels were probably dirty and that was interfering with the decoder receiving the commands. I cleaned them and everything was smooth as silk after that. Lesson learned.

Play

I drove the RDC around for a bit, then coupled up an old Athearn dummy RDC as a trailer and brought it to the CN station in Georgetown.

Proto 1000 RDC at station
Proto 1000 RDC at station

I even took a little video so you can see and hear it run. Note the headlight being turned on at the start.

So that was fun! All told it took about an hour.

For other instructions, you can follow this one from Tony’s Trains which includes replacing the lights with LEDs, or this one from TCS themselves.

PS if you want to wait, you can get Rapido’s new super cool RDC! Check out this great video from Rapido Trains.

 

First Operating Session with Car Cards

I did my first operating session on my model train layout with car cards. I took video with my phone and here are the videos. I broke the video in two because it was too long to upload and I wanted to edit out a few bits where I put the phone down to throw switches.

The main reason I wanted to show these videos was to show how I use the car cards I described in the previous post.

Part 1

In part 1 I brought CN 3665 and train into Georgetown and did some switching. The train had a CP locomotive and a car to drop at the CP interchange, a grain car for the UGG elevator in town, and a caboose.

The work done was to service the CP interchange, pull the loaded cars from the UGG grain elevator, and drop the empty grain car (plus two other grain cars that were in the siding) at the UGG elevator.

Part 2

In part 2 I pulled two cars from the Irving Oil siding, and delivered one of those to the CP interchange, then collected up the train and left Georgetown for Winnipeg.

Comments

So – what do you think?

Personally I think I will use a tripod arrangement next time so the video isn’t so shaky, and I’ll be able to have two hands free – one for the throttle and one to throw switches and uncouple. I also need to look into a skewer or something similar to uncouple cars. So many things… so little time.

 

Model Train Store Directory

I’ve created a new model train store directory to list all of the train stores in Canada.

The existing directories on the NMRA and CAORM web sites are woefully out of date, so I decided to “roll my own”. I’m using the Business Directory plugin for WordPress and it seems to work quite well.

Please check the directory out, and if you have any additions, modifications or deletions, please comment!