Thursday, July 18, 2019

Philosophy in Practice?

I started building the Richford Branch last summer - early August to be exact (see this post). Even though I've done a pretty good job of sticking to the script (ie., the plan Lance Mindheim designed) I have been tempted a time or three to "Add just (chose one) <more track//more industries//a spot for that structure kit that looks cool but doesn't really fit with the rest of the layout>.
The only one of these changes to make it to the plywood stage is the staging yard. Lance designed the layout with a deliberately simple, small staging yard. I added an extra eight inches or so of benchwork and added a few more staging tracks.  
That was, in itself, fine. 
But it also put me firmly on the precipice - It was like the those devil vs. angel arguments from classic film and television: 

Devil: "Add a couple more tracks and sidings and the Canadian Pacific interchange could be a "live" one, and create an another operator position or two."
Angel: But you're not a CP modeler - the CP tracks are there to provide context. Besides, where does the devil think these "live staging" tracks will be? 
Devil: Along the narrow walls at both ends of the layout  - you could screen it with hills and trees. After all, you'll never need to access them. There's almost 4 whole inches between the CV line and the wall. Plenty of room!" 
Angel: So a CP train is just going to be sitting there behind the scenes you want to build - you know, the ones that inspired this whole project in the first place?" 
Devil: "Plans are made to be broken."
Angel: "You discussed with this with Lance when you were designing this thing. And he made some really valid points about not needing to add more operating capacity - there's plenty there already."
Devil: "That guy ruins all our fun!"

Okay, enough of the silliness. 

I'll summarize all this by saying even though I wish I hadn't added extra tracks (and benchwork) to the staging yard, it's in place and working so I'm not going to change it out now. 
And, other than some roadbed, which is easily removed or scenicked over, I didn't get that "live staged" CPR connection in place before I stood back and realized how silly it would look.
That takes care of adding additional track and more "operating interest."*
What of the temptation of adding things that really fit the theme of the layout? One perfectly valid approach is to say "It's a hobby, I like it!" and simply be done with it. Perhaps if it's not around, there won't be a temptation to use it? 

Seeing what my friend Bernie Kempinski is dealing with this week has given me pause. He's had to pile all his stuff in the center of the room, and he's amazed at how much stuff was living under the layout. I know some of it he hasn't seen in years.  
Of course, there's no universal standard defining too much, or too little, stuff . It varies from person to person. 
And it's not because I'm a hoarder, or have some sort of psychological disorder (see the last comment on this post for one of the oddest comments I've ever received on this blog!). 
I've come to realization the very presence of things I know I won't use on this layout are actually impeding progress. They're just "in the way" - even if they're stashed under the layout or in the back room. 

* Of course, the added operating position would have consisted of running a short train from behind a row of trees, setting off and picking up some cars at a feed mill, then the CV interchange, before heading into another stub ended track at the other end of room. Hardly engaging, especially compared to the CV Richford local job!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Spanning the chasm

(16 July: Edited to actually upload the photos) 

Stic came by yesterday and after a somewhat slow start with the planned assembly of the last of the IKEA Ivar cabinets being deferred to a future date due to shortage of a unique piece of IKEA hardware best referred to as a "thing-a'mick- bob" we fell back to regroup and decided the best use of our time wasn't hanging more track lights but instead getting started on the gate that will permit access to the "interior" of the layout area. 
My original intention was to simply build a lift out - but in the end we decided a hinged access gate made more sense. For one thing the problem with lift outs (as opposed to hinged access methods) are when you remove it you're standing there with a board in your hand - and you need to put it somewhere. It's also necessary to connect and reconnect the power to the track every time the liftout is removed and installed. 
None of that is insurmountable, since the layout is designed to be operated "from the inside." meaning it would be a simple matter to get everybody in the layout area, put the lift out in place, and connect the wires, reversing the process at the conclusion of the op session. 
But I tend to get a lot of non-railroad visitors - they will want to see the interior of the layout area, and will most certainly want to see a train run - meaning I needed a solution that would be a little less clumsy than a basic liftout would be in practice. 
Hence, the swinging gate approach. And since this is such a critical element to the layout (the entire scheme hinges on it, pun intended) we decided to tackle it head on now....).
But keeping our priorities straight, we first broke for lunch. 
After lunch we stopped by Lowe's and picked up an assortment of hinges, screws and the like and set to work.
Honestly, we probably spent more time noodling through how to do this than we actually spent cutting wood. There was even a point where we realized we were overthinking this thing and were in danger of an over engineered monster. Luckily we caught ourselves before we started down that path.  
While we didn't finish the assembly or installation yesterday we did get the plywood bridge "surface" cut to fit, installed the "plate" that the hinges will ultimately connect to, and Stic routed a matching angled notch in the floating end of the bridge to support the bridge (and take pressure off the hinges). This will also ensure the track lines up properly. 


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Tracking turnout issues

Like many modelers, I opted to use Micro-Engineering turnouts on this layout due to the appearance and the fact that they have a a built in spring mechanism to hold the points in position without the need for any under table mechanical or electrical devices.
While all turnouts need some tweaking prior to installation, I've noticed some disappointing - infuriating actually - issues with the latest batch of Micro Engineering turnouts I obtained.

Actually, it started with some of the first dozen or so - cars and engines derailed regularly at the frog on several of them. At first I suspected the frogs were too high (a common problem with ME from a few years ago). But that wasn't the case here. Closer examination revealed a piece of plastic sticking up above the rail head surface - essentially the plastic filling the insulating gap where the frog connects to the closure rails was sticking up - quite a bit (close to .040-050" by my best estimate. I was able to trim it away on top easily enough, but this same plastic had filled the inside of the rail web - not as easy to remove.

Second issue - the latest batch of turnouts I bought earlier this year  have some sort of systemic issues with the throw mechanism since all (okay, 17 out of 20) of the springs don't snap back to one side when they're thrown. In other words, they only stay thrown right or left. It's like the spring has too much tension in one direction and not enough in the opposite direction.

Third issue - much less common - but on several of the turnouts it takes little - very little - force for the rail to spring free of the ties. In one case I'd used a rail cutters to shorten the straight side of the turnout only for the entire rail to come off in my hands.

I'm frankly at a loss for what to do - I have a fair number of these installed (the entire mainline "loop" - and I've gotten savvy enough to know I need to check for these issues and avoid installing any turnouts that exihibit these problems. But I do need turnouts for the peninsulas and don't really want to have to buy 60 turnouts to get 20 that work correctly. And I certainly don't want to have to rebuild the things.

What I'm leaning towards is to leave the ones that are down and working in place - knowing full well that I might have to replace them "someday."

I might just handlay the turnouts for the peninsulas - but that obviously is going to take more time and I really wanted to get all the track in place by the end of the summer. Perhaps "temporary" track (Peco, Atlas, etc...) on the Richford peninsula - enough to finalize the track arrangement? I don't know.


Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Layout Video Update #4

I've posted another video update. You can find it on YouTube by clicking on this LINK

I'm really enjoying doing these video updates - although if you're not careful video can become a real time sink and frankly I need to spend my hobby time working on the layout not messing around on the computer!

Appreciate any and all constructive feedback - positive and not so positive. Just remember, like the blog, this video is worth every penny you're paying for it!

And remember, a thumbs down vote, without some indication of why you feel that way, is virtually useless to me. 

I'll say that this particular update is a little more "what I'm going to do" as opposed to "what I've done" - something that didn't dawn on me until I was editing it. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Main Street, Enosburg Falls, Vermont -1941

From Shorpy, Enosburg Falls, 1941, Jack Delano photo. 
To access a larger version of the image click on this link:

In the process of googling for information on Vermont feed mills - I was hoping for Sheldon Junction but thus far other than one fuzzy distant photo in "Vermont's Covered Bridge Road" no photos have turned up. But I did come across a link to this Jack Delano photo on Shorpy (reproduced in small size above, to see an expandable version on the Shorpy site  click HERE.
I’m familiar with series of 1941 WPA photos Jack Delano took in northern Vermont as they appear on the LOC website. These photos include some images from Sheldon Springs (the paper mill), and the creamery at Enosburg Falls, but the image at the top of this blog post hasn't shown up on the LOC site and is by far the coolest. (And the fact that it hasn't appeared on the LOC site tells me an in-person visit to the Photo Room may be in order to see what else may be lurking there!)
If only Jack had turned just a little to the right so I could read the sign on the feed mill! I strongly suspect this was the LL Marsh Feeds  based on the position of the mill relative to the track and the street (see the Sanborn Map above) - which would mean XTRA 453 is crossing Main Street
The ice cream store, gas station, feedmill, and of course the Consol are all neat - but that popcorn stand is just too much!

Here's a closer view of the Sanborn Map - showing basically the area covered by the photo (the photographer was standing on the right side of the map, looking to the left.): 

The map dates to 1920 - the latest Enosburg Falls Sanborn Map on the LOC site.  Also note on the map: 
  • The two story structure directly across the tracks from the feed mill 
  • The pink outlined building, indicating a brick faced structure, at the corner of Main and Bismark Streets
Note the ice cream shop is not on the map. Not surprising as the map predates the photo by 20 years or so - but if you look to the rear of the ice cream shop in the lead photo you can just barely see a series of additions and the like along the track.  

Time to fire up Google Map Street view and see if anything recognizable is still there: 

  • The Shell station is gone (there's still a Shell station north of the tracks on Main Street,  but it's a newer building - none of the character of the one Delano used to frame the left side of his photo.  
  • The popcorn stand, alas, has succumbed to the siren song of progress (and microwavable popcorn...!)
  • The feed mill and the tracks are also gone - the old CV line is now a bike trail visible in the center of the screen capture above
  • The ice cream store, with the extensions and other small structures along the right of way, the vintage two story brick building and the bank at the corner are all still there. 

And, in this view from Bismark Street behind the bank that unlabeled two-story frame structure is still visible: 

First prize to whomever can turn up a photo showing the entire feed mill, including the lettering that's obviously on the tallest portion of the structure. Based on the spacing and the letters I can see it looks like the lower portion of lettering may read "Wirthmore" - which was a brand of feed. 
I recently turned up a group of Enosburg Falls historical society newsletters online - time to search through them. I also plan to reach out to the historical society and see if they can help. 
In the meantime, anyone else want to take a crack at figuring out the feed mill lettering?