I held a solo operating session during the month of July 2018, and recorded the session for your viewing enjoyment. I operated eight trains.
The session includes every scheduled non-VIA train on my layout, which includes:
CN 214 – a through train
CN 403 – works the CP interchange in Georgetown and the Cargill grain elevator at Helene
CP 976 – branch line train from Minnedosa to Winnipeg
CP 949 – westbound train doing switching in Georgetown
CN 404 – switching work in Georgetown
CP 948 – lots of switching work in Georgetown
CP 975 – branch line train from Winnipeg to Minnedosa
CN 215 – a through train
The first video features CN 214 and CN 403. The latter train is the highlight as it switched the CP interchange and did work at the Cargill grain elevator.
The second video features three trains. CP 976 comes out of staging, runs around its train, then heads to Winnipeg. CP 949 then departs Winnipeg (staging) and does a drop and pickup in Georgetown before continuing on to Brandon. Finally, CN 404 did a pickup from the Irving Oil siding. There was some complexity there because the siding was full, so the crew had to work around that.
The third video features CP 948, CP 975 and CN 215 and is the longest video. CP 948 did a lot of switching in Georgetown before continuing on to Winnipeg. CP 975 went from Winnipeg to Minnedosa (staging), running around its train in Georgetown. Finally, CN 215 – a through train – just zipped through the layout without stopping at all.
I learned a few lessons from this operating session:
Some of my locomotives are junk. Specifically, CN 3125, CN 5542 and CP 1341 – all Athearn blue boxes – are not reliable. They don’t start well, and need a little “push” now and then to get moving again.
My Bowser C630M – CP 4505 – runs like an absolute dream compared to the rest of my locomotives.
I need to be thorough in cleaning the track. I thought I did a good job, but there are some areas around the switches that need work.
I’m pretty sure my EMD leaser EMDX 769 has a broken axle. It also needs its couplers checked, as they didn’t want to let go.
I need to consider making switch lists ahead of time. My car cards work, but it’s unrealistic for the crew to not know what work is ahead of them.
On the positive side, I think the car card system works well for me, and I’m satisfied with the number of industries and the amount of work for each train.
I had a grain car that had a coupler issue. Just a tad low. Nothing that a new Kadee coupler won’t fix!
Sorry for the blurry photo.
There are a few remedies for low couplers like this. Sometimes you can use a fibre washer or two on the truck bolster to raise the whole body up. In this case the other end was fine so raising the body might have fixed this end, but it would have changed the height on the other end.
Bring On the Kadee
In this case I replaced the coupler with a Kadee #37, a “medium UNDERSET shank” coupler.
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.
I added fascia to the majority of my layout! I’m pretty pleased by how it looks. Photos to come soon.
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.
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.
These are the DCC-equipped locomotives / RDCs I have. Only CN 3665 (third from left) has sound.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
These are the next things I plan to do on my layout / trains:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Cost: $5-10 (used at train shows)
This is definitely a low end model.
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
Cost: About $20 Canadian
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
Cost: about $50 Canadian
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
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
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.
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.
That end was good. I flipped the car around to check the other end.
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.
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.
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.
Now it was time to check the weight of the car to see if it matched NMRA standards.
5 ounces was about right for the length of the car, so there was nothing to be done here.
Finally I checked the wheel spacing using an NMRA standards gauge.
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.
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.
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
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! 🙂
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.
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.
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.
Once all six screws have been removed, the shell slides off pretty easily. It should look like this:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s important to not cover the decoder to allow it to dissipate heat.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As you may or may not know, railways issue timetables to their employees that contain a lot of detail of the areas that employees run trains on. Areas may be named differently depending on the railway, but in general the smallest “section” is called a subdivision. Several subdivisions belong to a division, and several divisions may be in an “area” or an “operating region”. Again, names may differ among railways but this is the general concept that is shared amongst all railways.
My employee timetables also include information that would normally be in a car control manual, such as track layouts and names. They also include some information on staging tracks, which obviously don’t exist in real life.
As I said, this is revision 7 so they have gone through some evolution. No doubt there will be a revision 8 and beyond.