ALNX 396400 – A Comparison

I was out railfanning this morning along the CN Redditt subdivision. I photographed an eastbound freight train and snapped a few photos of the rolling stock. One that I photographed was ALNX 396400:

ALNX 396400 near Anola 2016/03/13
ALNX 396400 near Anola 2016/03/13

When I was processing them in Lightroom, I recognized the road number as being the same as a model I have! Here’s the model, posed similarly:

ALNX 396400 model
ALNX 396400 model

You can see that they aren’t the same at all! The model is a Bachmann Silver Series car, which is a lower price, decent quality car.

Now here are the two of them, stuck together for easy comparison:

ALNX 396400 Comparison
ALNX 396400 Comparison

To be very critical, they don’t look a whole lot alike. The detail just isn’t there on the model in comparison with the prototype, and the lettering is larger than the prototype.

On the other hand, you can buy one of these for $15.99 Canadian and they are good operators, with metal wheels and Kadee couplers. They’re certainly better detailed and much better runners than the Life-Like cars! It would not be fair to compare it to, say, an Intermountain car, because you can buy two of the Bachmann cars for the price of one Intermountain car.

I don’t want to sound like I’m crapping on the Bachmann car. For the price it is a good deal and I would be glad to buy more like it.

I was tickled pink blue to see the prototype of one of my cars!


Second Operating Session with Car Cards

After my first operating session with car cards, I made one significant change, then started running some CP trains. Here are a few videos showing the trains.

Train Information Card

Train Information Card from second operating session
Train Information Card from second operating session

I added a train information card to the front of the card packet. This gives the train number, origin and destination of the train, departure time, and switching instructions en route.

I’m not using the maximum cars yet, and the departure time is only used to determine the sequence of trains. At some point I’ll jiggle the times to set up meets in Georgetown.

I’ve seen one problem already – the train number is hidden by the clip. Rev 2 will be better!

The Minnedosa Local

CP 976, aka the Minnedosa Local, was the first to run. The train had GMTX 768, five cars and a caboose, which is about the longest train you can stash in the Minnedosa sub / staging without the head end being visible.

CP 976’s instructions are to proceed west to Brandon, dropping any eastbound cars in the Georgetown siding and picking up any westbound cars from the Georgetown siding. As it happened, the train had two eastbound grain hoppers that it had to drop. There was nothing to pick up so it was a relatively short run.

CP 948

CP 948, the Brandon-Winnipeg (eastbound) train was next. This is the busiest of the four CP trains I have on my layout.

CP 948 runs from Brandon to Winnipeg through Georgetown, and works Georgetown industries while it’s there. The switches to the three CP-based Georgetown industries (warehouse, team track and grain elevator) and the CN-CP interchange track have eastward-facing points, so an eastbound freight can work them easily.

948 was short coming out of Brandon, with only three cars and a caboose behind big MLW CP 4505. They had one BN car for the CN-CP interchange, an eastbound scrap gondola, and a centerbeam flatcar for the team track.

There was lots of work to do in Georgetown. The three boxcars at the warehouse had to come out, the interchange track had two cars and a locomotive to remove and deal with, and the team track had a car that was heading out.

I had to split this into two videos to stay under the 15 minute YouTube limit.

In part 2 they switched the warehouse and put their train back together before continuing on to Winnipeg.

Next Up

The next train is CP 949, the Winnipeg-Brandon train, followed by CP 975, the local going back to Minnedosa. Neither of them have much work in Georgetown so they should be quicker to operate. Read on!

Operating on the BNML, Round 2

This past Sunday, I spent 4 1/2 hours operating on William Brillinger’s layout. What fun! You may recall I operated there once already, so this was round 2.

After I arrived at Bill’s house at 1 PM, Bill offered me the choice of operating CN 532, stopped at Letellier, or a BNSF grain train from Noyes to Morris.

For background, Bill is modeling the CN Letellier subdivision between Morris, Manitoba and the US-Canadian border at Emerson, plus the BNSF track between the border and Noyes, MN, with staging at both ends (track plan).

Following Bill’s advice, I elected to take CN 532 while Bill took BNSF. After seeing what was on the train, I brought it forward into Emerson. Bill is modeling the border crossing procedure so his app covers the customs procedures required to obtain clearance to cross into the USA. You can follow that link to see the procedures. I used the app to “contact BNSF” and “request clearance”. It worked very well and seemed realistic to me.

I had a bit of work to do before crossing the border.

As I completed the crossing procedure, Bill was ready to cross the border into Canada with his train. We had to meet somewhere, so I pulled into one of the Emerson yard tracks and he passed by on his way north to Morris.

I crossed over the border, pulling slowly through the VACIS machine – a giant X-ray machine, essentially. The app told me that three cars had to be set out for further inspection by Customs. I set them out and pushed the rest of the train into a yard track behind the cars waiting for me to bring into Canada. Here’s the video for that movement:

Bill is visible in the distance, and I make a cameo as I checked to ensure the movement was able to clear the standing cars.

Once I dropped my cars, I picked up the Canada-bound cars, did the brake test (also in the app) and executed the Canadian customs procedures to cross over. I did a bit of work in Emerson and then carried on to Letellier to switch the ADM Corn Processors plant (and the Agricore elevator) there.

The ADM plant is a challenge to switch, as it has two tracks of tank cars with 5 spots each. The challenge is that the tank cars can’t just go in any location on the two tracks – each car may have a different product and products can only go in certain spots, so there is a lot of pulling and respotting cars.

William Brillinger's car cards
William Brillinger’s car cards – photo by Bill

Once I finished there, I carried on to Morris as there was no more switching to be done. Bill uses car cards, like I do, although his system is a little different. The car cards he uses incorporate the “to” and “from” and other details, whereas I use a car card with a pocket that holds the “to” slip. On my layout I don’t track where they came from.

Each car card also has a blocking code in the bottom right. This is a handy indicator to show where on the layout the car should go. In many cases the code indicates an off-layout (staging) location. Bill explains it here.

After my pickup in Noyes and the switching in Letellier, the train was a jumbled mess. I had to do switching in Morris to block the train so that all of the blocking codes were together in the train. This took a fair amount of time and the challenge is increased because there are limited siding tracks in Morris and several crossings you have to blow the horn for. I confess I forgot to blow the horn a few times. Fortunately, no train-vehicle collisions occurred.

Once the train was finally sorted, I ran around it to couple up to the head end and pulled it north out of Morris and into staging.

Note I didn’t do the mandatory brake test… oops.

Somewhere in the middle we broke for the traditional Allagash Lemon Cake with Bill’s wife and son. They are very tolerant of Bill’s train “play dates”… maybe because they get to eat cake too.

After the operating session was over, I bought a couple of tank car kits from Bill, along with one of his Simple Switch Machines that I am eager to try out. I’ll write a review once I assemble it.

On my way home up highway 75, I encountered the 1:1 scale CN 533 just north of St. Jean-Baptiste, and I photographed it approaching Morris, and passing the older Paterson grain elevator in Morris itself.

The full size CN 533 passing through Morris
The full size CN 533 passing through Morris

Thanks, Bill, for a great session and for inviting me to your layout again!

Read about my first visit


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.


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.


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.


Car Cards and Operations

I recorded a video to talk about the car cards I am trying out for my layout. I am going to use it to run through a trial operations session to see how well it works.

In this video I show the car cards I am using, the card pockets I installed around the layout, and the inserts into the pockets for the destinations. Photos below the video…

Car Card with Pocket
Car Card with Pocket

Here is a completed car card, with a caboose card inserted into the pocket.

These car cards were generated by the Easy Model Railroad Inventory program, a free program. See this Facebook group for a link to download it.

You print several cards per sheet of paper, then cut each card out and fold the bottom up and tape it to make the pocket. The fold lines are printed as part of the card, so it is really easy to put these cards together.

For card holders, I cut the tops off envelopes and staple-gunned them to the edge of my layout. That’ll do for now until I put a fascia on, and at that point I’ll look for a nicer card box. Precision Design Co. makes some very nice and inexpensive laser-cut boxes.

I used Excel to make the inserts for the cards. The inserts show where the card should go. Here’s an example showing an insert “EAST to Toronto”.

Car Cards with Inserts
Car Cards with Inserts

The intent is to use these to route the cars to their destinations. Once they have arrived, the yellow destination tags are removed and a HOLD tag is inserted to show it is to stay there.

Sometime between operation sessions, I’ll replace some of the HOLD tags with destination tags so they’ll get moved in the next session.

These destination tags are commonly called waybills. I am using a very simple system…. maybe too simple.

Some people use “4 cycle waybills” where there are four destinations on a waybill, and after a car arrives at the currently-shown destination, you flip the card over or upside down to show the next destination. The car will end up cycling between those 4 destinations.

This page discusses some other ways to forward cards.

That’s the basic idea… we’ll see how it works in the next post.

Question: What do you use for a car card system, if any?


Industrial Spur Lengths

Spur lengths
Spur lengths

Many model train layout designers try to have the maximum spur lengths they can, to maximize how many cars can sit at the industry, and therefore maximize their train lengths. There’s nothing wrong with this but you should consider how the industry actually uses the spur.

I’ll give an example: the grain elevator spur in Georgetown on my layout. The absolute maximum usable length of the track is 105 cm (41.3″) without cars blocking the main line. In HO scale terms that’s 91.35m / 300′, and it’s listed in the CN timetable as 260′ of usable footage (see above).

Given that a grain car is 50′ long (without couplers) in real life, that should translate to 5 cars capacity, and it is indeed listed in the timetable that way.

Here’s how the spur looks with 5 cars in it. They fit comfortably.

Siding with 5 cars
Siding with 5 cars

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that there is no place to move cars within the siding. Here’s how the grain elevator would actually use the cars:

  1. CN pulls whatever cars are in the siding.
  2. CN delivers empty cars to the elevator, spotting one of them beside the elevator.
  3. The customer fills the spotted car with grain.
  4. Using a car puller, gravity, or some other means, the loaded car would be rolled away and the next empty car would be spotted at the elevator.
  5. Repeat steps 3-4 until all cars are filled.
  6. The customer contacts CN for a pickup, and perhaps requests more empties at the same time.

Steps 4-5 are why you can’t fill the siding with cars – you need a place to put the loaded cars!

I will be operating this layout with a maximum of 3 cars. That gives 2 cars of space to roll the loads into with the third load spotted at the elevator.

3 cars on the siding
3 cars on the siding

Think of other industries and how they would use their spurs. Can cars only be loaded or unloaded at particular locations on their spurs? Other industries that come to my mind include oil spurs and paper mills.

Have a look at Chris Mears’ post on loading 100 cars in 15 hours to see how one elevator does it. You’ll see how they need empty spots too!

Happy operating!


Lighting the Peninsula

Lighting the peninsula
Lighting the peninsula

When we were finishing the basement, I negotiated a portion for my train room. I think my wife accepted that there was going to be a train room in this house.. she knows me.

We had drop ceilings installed with recessed lighting. This is handy as the lights can be directed, so I can point them to illuminate portions of the layout rather than lighting the floor. They aren’t 100% pointable but it’s better than nothing.

Unfortunately, the train room has a plenum for the air conditioner running across the room. Our contractor built a box around the plenum and we were unable to recess any lights in this area. My Cargill grain elevator peninsula runs under the plenum and it had a dark patch in the middle where none of the ceiling lights could reach. This has bothered me, but not any more!

I spotted these puck lights at Costco and knew I wanted to give them a try.

Puck Lights
Puck Lights

There are six in the package, and they use AAA batteries so there is no wiring involved. I used 3M Command sticky pads to attach them to the ceiling to avoid any marks.

Puck lights in place
Puck lights in place
Capstone remote
Capstone remote

They come with a handy-dandy remote to turn them on and off. There are a lot of functions on this remote!

I really only use two – the big green ON button and the big red OFF button. You can vary the intensity but I want them full power. You can also set a sleep timer using the bottom four buttons, which could be handy to avoid leaving them on all the time and draining the batteries.

The remote is quite small and I’m concerned that I will lose it. So far I’ve been leaving it on the layout but I’m going to glue a tether onto it so I can hang it somewhere for safekeeping.

They aren’t as bright as I would like, and they are a bit blueish, but they are better than what I had. I used just those lights for photographing my Switching Cargill post. These puck lights will do for now.


Building The Walthers Concrete Grain Elevator aka A Learning Experience

I recently completed building the Walthers Concrete Grain Elevator kit. It was a long build, for several reasons, and I made a number of mistakes. Let me walk you through how I built it and show you the mistakes I made.

“The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything” – Theodore Roosevelt

I’m calling this one a learning experience.

The kit comes in a large box and covers a footprint of 25cm x 13cm (approx. 9.8″ x 5.1″ or a scale 71.3′ x 37.1′) for the elevator itself and 23cm x 13cm (approx. 9.1″ x 5.1″ or a scale 65.6′ x 37.1′) for the silos. I list them separately because the silos are not attached to the elevator at all… much like real silos are built next to grain elevators and attached only with piping. The elevator is 34cm tall (approx. 13.4″ or a scale 97′ tall) and the silo complex with head house is 26cm tall (approx. 10.2″ or a scale 74′ tall).

The shell of the Walthers concrete grain elevator
The shell of the Walthers concrete grain elevator

The grain elevator is a giant rectangular structure built out of four walls plus roof pieces. The first problem I had was gluing the sides together. I tried using CA (Cyanoacrylate) glue but it really didn’t work well, perhaps because the edges didn’t line up very well. I ended up using No-More-Nails and that worked much better. Thicker CA might have worked too.

The major problem I had at the start was making the building square! The kit walls basically meet just at the edges so there is nothing to keep your supposedly square base from turning into a parallelogram.

Is it square?
Is it square?

I really struggled with this. The building felt really flimsy, because of the edge gluing problem I had above, and I was concerned I was going to screw it up and end up with a misshapen monstrosity. I put the kit aside for quite a while until I found the solution.

I have to credit Ron Einarson, local modeler extraordinaire, for providing his wisdom to enable me to continue. I talked with Ron at the NMRA Canada open house late in 2014 and explained my problem. He suggested the use of gussets to square up the corners. What a great idea!

The base
The base

I adapted it a bit. I took a piece of wood and glued it to the layout to provide a square edge. You’ll notice I notched the corner to clear the little bit of lip at the joint inside the shell.

Once that was firmly attached to the layout, I applied No-More-Nails to two of the bottom edges of the grain elevator and stuck it down to the layout. I only applied the glue only to the two edges that would be on the base. I wanted the other two to float so I could square them up afterward.

I put a few heavy objects next to the elevator to keep them pushed up against the base until the glue dried. No-More-Nails doesn’t take too long to dry.

Holding in Place
Holding in Place

Once that dried, I squared up the opposite corner and glued it down too.

Soon afterward, I noticed my first and second major mistakes.

1. I hadn’t painted the elevator. And it was glued down.

2. I had already glued the windows in.

So. What to do?

Ideally I wanted to spray paint the elevator.

I could have ripped it off the layout, with a fairly high risk of breaking the elevator or at best separating it at the joints and starting again.

Since I had already glued the windows in, I’d have to mask every window before spraying… and then there’s the problem of the paint fumes in the train room, where I work every weekday. To me, spraying it in place was out of the question.

All I had left was to brush paint it. Not ideal.

So I painted it with a paint brush. It doesn’t look great close up but it’s OK at the 3′ viewing distance. Sigh.

I learned my lesson and took the silos, roof pieces and so forth out to the garage and spray painted them.

Once that was done, I carried on with assembly and built the head house on top of the silos, and glued the roofs on the top of the elevator. Here you can see how I was holding the pieces in place while the No-More-Nails dried.

Waiting for the glue to dry
Waiting for the glue to dry

I installed the truck driveway on the back end. I glued the frame to the elevator and here I had glued the vertical wall on and was waiting for that glue to dry.

Always waiting for glue to dry
Always waiting for glue to dry

When I was building the head house, I noticed that you could look through the windows and see the emptiness inside and the backs of the windows on the other side. I decided to stick some junk in the middle to block the view and look vaguely like machinery.

I took a few blocks of foam and brush-painted them black, then glued them inside the head house with a little bit of silver piping from a refinery kit I never finished, from a previous layout..

It was then that I noticed a third mistake. You may have noticed it above the driveway two photos above.

3. I forgot to glue a door in.

The big problem is that they glue from the inside, and I had already glued the elevator down and glued the roofs on. There was no way to get into the elevator to glue it from the inside. I briefly considered some Mickey Mouse way of putting it in sideways, held with tweezers or something, then trying to pull it back into the right place but I decided there was a pretty high probability I would drop it inside.

I realized that the silos, not glued down to the layout, were covering over a large blank wall on the side of the elevator. I charged up my trusty Dremel and cut a hole in the side of the elevator before I thought too hard about what I was doing.

Making a hole
Making a hole

Once the hole was cut, it was easy enough to reach in and glue that last door. Now I also have a way in to put lights in should I decide to do that later.

I finished everything except the trackside shed and applied the Cargill decals that came with the kit. Note the rooftop dust collectors that came with the kit.

With Cargill decals

Once the shed was glued in place, I drilled a hole in the side of the elevator for the top of the car loading pipe. You’ll notice the support for that pipe in the photo above. I had to hold the pipe in place while the glue dried (CA this time) so I used a handy holder.

Grip it
Grip it

You can see the brush paint here in this closeup. Awful at close range.

After that was weathering and scenery… topics for another time.

Here are my take-aways / lessons learned from building the Walthers concrete grain elevator kit:

  1. Paint everything before assembly.
  2. Use gussets or something square on the base to keep everything square.
  3. Don’t glue structures to the layout if you can help it.
  4. No-More-Nails is da bomb.

Now the elevator is in service and receiving cars from CN. I’m going to call this a success! 🙂


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!