Thursday, December 27, 2012

A car, a car, my layout for a car!

      Well, here we are, almost the end of 2012, and what a year it's been, a blog "back from the dead" and all that. Big things are in store for the LVHTRy next year, so make sure you keep your browser tuned in here for 2013! And I decided that since all I've been going on about lately are carfloats and floatbridges, I thought I'd wrap up the year and change gears to talk about building a car or two for once! After all, what's a layout without some cars, right?

Shouldn't everyone have one of these cars on their layout? After all, it "contains no horsemeat"!

      So as you can see in the photo below, that I've got a LOT of cars to build, and I better start building them sooer than later, 'cause nobody is gonna build them for me! But the real reason was that as of right now, even after my recent monumental car shopping project (see the blog post for December 8th -, I have found that I only have seven Lehigh Valley boxcars on the layout in total, and out of that number,  four of those are 50ft. boxcars, and only three are the more ubitquitous 40ft. cars. Clearly, the lack of home road cars, home road let alone the ratio of 40 to 50 ft. cars is skewed, and not in a good way.....But the solution is at least easy....Let's get ready to build some cars!

Welcome to my Little Hobbyshop of Horrors!

      Now, if these cars were anything other than simple "shake the box" kits, I know for a fact that they would STILL be sitting up there above the layout. But those Accurail and the older Branchline Yardmaster "kits" that I have amassed build quickly and better yet, nicely, so I was saved the "excuse" of not building anything - time (and money for extra/correct parts) were my only barriers. And with active staging in effect on my layout, these cars can take repeated handling and still retain their ladders and grabs, unlike some of my nicer P2K and Red Caboose cars have already.

      As you might not be able to make out in the photo of my "stockpile", in the case of the Yardmaster Series cars, that while I have many different road names to choose from, they are all the same style of boxcar, as opposed to the Accurail cars that I have yet to build that are composed of hopppers, reefers, gondolas, and four different styles of boxcar. Sure, it's nice to get that great feeling of accomplishment when you look at the track full of five dozen (or more!) 40ft. boxcars you just kocked out, but what about the variety, man?! While I've been told that you can never have enough boxcars on your layout, I also know I need to "bulk up" on some of my other car types too, but since I'd rather not buy anything else until I can make some more room, I need to build what I have so I can get around to making room and buy what needs buying!

Never you mind the Phoebe Snow car in the background....

      So with that in mind, I busted out the "car repair shop" on the folding card table in the open isle of the layout the other night, and picked two LVRR box cars from the pile - A Branchline Yardmaster Series 1937 AAR 40ft car (item #8008), and an Accurail USRA Double Sheathed 40ft. car (item #4631). The nice thing here is that I can build up a fleet of a bakers dozen of each car if I choose, as Accurail sells a decal set allowing you to re-decal the original factory car to twelve different numbers, and I have two of the Yardmaster four pack sets (plus a duplicate of each set), as well as two cars I found 99% built by my father from the nicer Branchine kits, or as I call them R-T-B cars, "ready to break", that I had stashed away that require more weight, Kadees and steel wheel sets. Now don't get me wrong, I don't plan on building them all in one sitting, but I would like to add at least a half dozen before the next session in February, which is a more than easily acomplished goal. Had I not had to purchase a new roofwalk to replace the one suplied by Branchline (and a few other little details, too - more on that in a minute), these cars would have been complete in half and hour and been layout ready. As it was, working in five little 5-10 minute work sessions, I was able to give myself two nice cars to add to the layout.

      So yes, the roofwalk....As you can see in the photo below.....

Walk the plank, you scurvy dogs!

      .....That the Yardmaster car comes with a (simulated) wood roofwalk. Now, I'm no freight car guru or stickler for detail, but I knew that something just didn't look right. Don't get me wrong - The Branchline part is nice and thin (well, OK, thinner than say an Athearn roofwalk!), and the detail is good, but I just didn't think it would look "right" once I completed the kit - It is a car supposedly delivered in 1952 after all. So a quick inquiry on the Anthracite Railroads (ARHS) Yahoo! Group - - Yielded an answer in no time as to weather a Plano or Kadee metal roofwalk would be appropriate, since I could find no data online. Turns out that the Kadee Apex running board is the right model/part, AND after snipping off two of the mounting tabs and trimming the end braces (it is made to fit a Kadee car, after all), it fit like a glove, and really makes things look that much better, as the photo below proves -

I hate it when the glue lets go on the roofwalk and you don't notice until AFTER you take the picture!

      Now, in the process of building the car, I snapped off one of the stirrups (other side of car), and while I can live with that for now (Lord knows more will snap off down the road), I am considering runing back out tomorrow to the store to pick up a pack of A-Line metal stirrups. Drill, glue and paint, easy-peasy.
The only other part on both cars that seemed "wrong" to me (and is one of those "easy-peasy" fixes), are the brake wheels -

Even with the slight blur, you can tell that the Kadee wheel (left) is that tiny bit nicer and finer in detail than the as supplied Branchline wheel

      Branchline's wheel seems a little clunky, and the brakewheel supplied with the Accurail car (not shown) seems to "simple", if you catch my drift. So another message to the group was made to see if Kadee made an appropriate brakewheel, which they do, it's an Ajax item #2030, and that i ran out and purchased on Christmas Eve (gotta love that the Model Railroad Shop - - is all of five minutes from my house!).
I also wonder if the replacement for the Accurail car's brakewheel is even worth the trouble replacing, meaning that I know it's going to probably go flying off relatively easily in the act of being "fiddled" in no time at all (and since I first started composing this blog on the 24th, it has!), and I know that Kadee does what appears to be an appropriate metal one, but do I want to even bother with something "nicer" that'll only end up lost (again)? I'm open to suggestions, faithful readers......

      I was very lucky that the kind gentleman who helped me with my brakewheel and roofwalk questions also gave me info on the correct doors to use, that being a Creco 7 panel, available from Wright Trak Railroad Models at - -
As well as info on what cars were equipped with Duryea cushioned underframes (not gonna go that far with that detail, thank you!)
I am also told that Speedwitch Media (aka Ted Culotta) also carries it, but he no longer has a website, but IS maintaining a blog - - And I'll have to remember ask him when I visit his table, if and when I go to the 'Big E' W. Springfield show this January.
Oh, that, and the vertical brake staff needs to be painted on the Accurail car, but that's easy.........

      So as I write this, the cars are done (minus the replacement brakewheel for the wood car) and are equipped with Kadee #148 couplers and Intermountain metal wheelsets (in the as-supplied sideframes) and with the addition of extra weight up to 4.6oz (my carfleet standard), these cars run slicker than whale snot a good 10 feet down the Edgewater Branch lead after I let them go at the top of my ruling grade!
So once I tackle the lone brake wheel "issue", I'll sit down and weather these cars up (another favorite activity), but that's another post for next year.

Roll on, and thanks for reading........


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

This Float's For You, Part Deux (or, "So you still want to know more, huh?")

      Well, hopefully, you’ve come back to read a little more. Hopefully by now, Riley has read Part 1, and is anxiously awaiting Part 2, or so I can hope. In this installment, we’ll be covering the locking “mechanisim” I built to lock the floats in place, and also the operation of the float bridges themselves.

       So like I said, we left off at the carfloat and their cart at the float bridges, so now let’s take a  look-see at the "how do I lock 'em in" question. I needed something robust to handle the stresses involved, just like the real railroads used (and still do) in order to deal with the rough handling that they would encounter both in the real and model worlds. While the railroads use rope lines to tighten the carfloat sung up to the bridges, the main appliance of “first defence” of dealing with the horizontal (right/left) and vertical (up/down) forces are something which resemble a giant set (or sometimes two sets) of locking pins that are called toggle bars (or pins), as seen below –

      Now, there are PLENTY of nice scale toggle bars (and pockets that they slip through) cast out of white metal or other materials out there on the market, but again, fast and dirty won the day, and I wanted something robust and more importantly, easy to make. Plastruct to the rescue! -


      I built them using square tube, with a smaller diameter stock slipped inside that, and a piece of flat styrene strip as a base plate. I made the inner "toggle" long enough to poke out both ends of the "pocket" and then long enough to span the "float" and "bridge" by about 1/4 an inch, or enough to grab. Once glued down in place, I simply sliced it in the middle, ensuring a perfect plumb fit to each end when “docked”. Now, to keep the pin from pulling out of the pocket, I drilled through the entire construct to fit a locking pin (actually, much like the prototype did, too), thus locking it in place, and preventing you from pulling the float away from it’s landing. In the real world, these bars were ratcheted into place, but that's one thing I didn’t have to replicate here! Also, they could adjust the rails right left with another ratcheting device, but that's where the rail joiners (as also seen in the above photo) come in, keeping those tracks in perfect alignment. Until we institute actually moving carfloats, this keeps things locked up tight and derailment free!
      The real carfloats and float bridges suffered years of relentless beating in the course of being used, and that kept things from lining up correctly after a while. I actually have the same problem on my two back float bridges (1 and 1A), and that’s because the carfloats and the float bridges were built separate of each other, keeping the tolerances from being less than perfect. In yet another example of NOT taking pictures of a work project, it took us a few hours of “massaging” the floats and the bridges to allow cars to move slowly from one set of rails to another. My point in all this being, is that the ratcheting of the rails (as seen below) is accomplished by slightly nudging the float bridges to get the rails to line up better.

Aligning the rails on 1 bridge, Jersey City 1974

The construction of the back two pairs of contained apron bridges prevent the use of the rail joiners between them and the Walthers 3-track floats to lock things in place. As can be clearly seen, the left hand tracks are aligned, the right, not so much. But a slight "finger ratcheting" of the bridges takes care of that. Not perfect or elegant, but it works.

    So far, I’ve only been talking about how the carfloats were built and will be operated, but not about the other half, the float bridges themselves. There are particular physical movements to both types being modeled, at least in the real world, and that does bear some mention, as there is a factor of operation to them that can be modeled. If you are following this blog, I’ll assume you are at least moderately familiar with how the electric, or contained apron and the wooden, or pontoon float bridges were constructed and/or how they operated, so I won’t go into exacting detail. I will explain however, that the two types of bridges are/were mechanically different in how they were raised and lowered. To simulate this (and again, add some “play value”), my original “grand plan” was to add a spring suspension to them to simulate the compressive actions (up and down due to the weight of the cars) upon them, and the carfloats as well, in order to replicate the list as cars were pulled on and off. Well, this is all fine and dandy, but there are great problems with that idea when you don’t exactly take your time and build things to exacting detail like I admit I did. ‘Tis far better to have operated smoothly than to never have operated at all, I have become fond of saying! And that's what would have happened if I had tried this, of that I am sure. So with that being said, these "weight differential" actions must be simulated within the "theatre of the mind", but it can be done! Though part of this borders on operations (the subject of Part 3 in this ongoing series!), it does bear some mention here.    
      There are two ways I can simulate proper prototype loading and unloading practices, one being pretty easy for most people to grasp and not bellyache over too much, if at all, and that's using a reacher gondola, as seen below -

      As you can see, the gons has extra-large steps for getting on and off the car (presumably while moving, albeit slowly) and seating for the brakemen to ride the cars back and forth thru the yard, and the body of the car was weighted down with some sort of ballast to provide enough downward force to, in essence, "sink" the float bridge when it was riding high in the water (more an issue with the wooden pontoon floats than other types) to meet the level of the carfloat. Some railroads like the LIRR and Erie had little "doghouses" on a flat car, as opposed to a gondola. Regardless, the railroads used these cars to keep the engine, as much as possible, off the float bridge aprons, though it was not completely forbidden to do so, but rather just smart operating practice. The sudden braking of an engine could very easily snap the mooring lines and cause a float to pull away from the bridge, or worse yet, cause a mechanical failure, causing the steel work to skew and wrench, causing a catastrophic failure as seen below -

And they were even using a reacher car!

      So the point being, you can (as I do) have the crews use a gondola, and until I model one of them faithfully as seen the second of the two gondolas above, an Ertl gondola fits the bill just right, as the gons used in my era were small 34 footers, and not the larger 50 footers used in the later years.......

      And the other way to simulate proper loading/unloading of a float is to double on and double off the cars, and not just pulling everything all at one time, because in the real world, that would be a recipe for causing the float to capsize as all the weight shifted to one side. Instead of trying to explain this procedure, I will instead direct you to the following website that has a very good step-by-step diagram of this "dance" -

      So by doing the above "operations", one can simulate the realistic actions, if not the actual stress forces that are present in the operation of the real thing, even to this very day.

      So having witnessed switching carfloats at my pal Dave Ramos’ layout, I have come to realize that not only is switching a carfloat just a small part of the bigger picture, but also that because of that fact, I don’t miss the sight of the bridge OR the float bobbing up and down, listing port to starboard. As good as our standards for our car fleets may be, and our track perfectly aligned, the fact is that our models don’t behave like their 1:1 counterparts, and are far less forgiving in their tolerances. Thus, it’s just as well that things stay FIRMLY connected to the  “water” that they “float” in! In a larger scale like O, this might be something achievable, but in HO, I think that unless you are a watchmaker who is accustomed to working with delicate moving parts, I think this is something best left alone!

      Well, once again I've gone on a bit too long, but I can't help it! Since I also want to talk about the paperwork and how the operators will staff the carfloat staging as well as switch them, there will be a Part 3 in the very near future if I keep this pace up! See you soon!

Friday, December 14, 2012

This Float's For You!, Pt. 1


      I know, I can hardly believe it myself! On the heels of last Saturday's blog post, here's another one, this time in response to a blog comment by Riley Triggs (, asking about how I plan to handle my carfloats, and their operations. Well, if you've learned anything by reading this blog, you know that's like saying "here ya go Ralph, here's the keys to you very own railroad tug!"....Riley knew just the right questions to ask me to make me run off at the mouth, and I'm all too happy to answer them in detail.....I hope that all of you out there in cyberspace reading this also come away with some new ideas and/or fresh thoughts and comments, too. I'm also going to try something new too, and that's to break up my rather long-winded blog posts. I realized how I DO LOVE to go on (and on, and on...), so maybe this'll make things easier to digest (and keep y'all coming back!)
      So Riley asked me, and I quote "I'd be interested in further explanation on how you are dealing with your car floats. How are you locking them into the float bridge, and how is your cart configured? Are you physically moving all of them or just the two on the cart (in other words, are you lifting and walking any carts to another area or are they statically re-staged?)"
      I'm gonna start by answering the last question first (because it leads to how I lock them in). My original "dream" was to allow the two carfloats on the cart to be "docked/undocked" each time from the layout, as seen here in the following photos, but this was before I was "convinced" by my Chief Operating Officer that this wasn't such a good idea, at least for now and until we get the wooden Howe Truss floatbridges installed.

They can still be moved, just with a lot of finagling that makes it anoying to do. As you can clearly see, I (sort of) clearly have the room to move the cart, unlike my friend Dave Ramos does with his two carfloats ( Dave initially installed a "sliding rack" on the Erie side of his layout seen here -

      ...In order to hold the outward end of his carfloat as it "dangled" into the isle. The idea being that the carfloat could be picked up and moved in between "floatings" to clear the isleway. This soon proved problematic as it was inconvenient to move it every time you wanted to load or unload a float, and also maintain a trouble-free "floatbridge to carfloat" interface for reliable, smooth operations. Better yet, it soon became known as the "rotary car dumper" when certain people failed to navigate the corner of the room (which is immediately out of sight to the left) and thus taking out more than one car kit in the process! High winds, maybe? Anyway, Dave has since enclosed the float and the benchwork to combat that issue, and also provide a place for the Active Staging Agent to work and store cars (the stool in the photo is about where the Agent sits, and he faces the camera...Sorry, no photo!). But I digress.......

      The cart itself is a cast off library book cart from work. I dunno, I seem to have a eye for these things that other people call junk! Since the shelves are sloped inward, it makes for a great place to store things, like cars that want to run away on a metal shelf! Eventually, I plan to line at least two of them with that "tacky" shelf liner stuff to place the cars coming off (or on) the float. That, and it'll keep me from storing junk on them all the time........

        I can hear Riley now saying "OK, enough already, do you plan on moving this thing!". The short answer is no, the long answer, yes. Like I said, a trouble free float-to-land interface is key right now while we are in the Shakedown phase of operations. Also, in order to mount the fantastic laser cut Howe Truss bridges seen here......

      ....Requires some custom track work (mostly on the bridges themselves) and additional benchwork and redesign (it's all just foam there right now). Honestly, other than the added  "play value" I hoped to get out of moving the carfloats in and out (the other two 3-track Walthers floats have no where to go, thanks to the main water pipe to the house being in the way, so they will stay put), the thought was that getting access to the two back ones would prove difficult if I DIDN'T make them removable. That actually has since proven more or less incorrect, as you can see here, sort of -

There's that damn water pipe and meter!
      I built two simple steps that give a 6 inch boost, and that seems to cure any reach issues, especially when it comes to throwing the turnout on the two back float bridges. As a side note, in the above photo, you can see how I raised the "floats" up to the level of the rest of the layout. Oh, and the carfloats themselves? Quick and dirty (but to relative scale) and cut out off some Gatorboard I had around. I simply used the tops of my other Walthers carfloat kits to trace the shape and plot the track centers, and then just scaled them to fit 5 cars on each track. They are more "waterline models" than the Walthers kits are! And yes, I was too damn impatient to paint them before I installed them, not to mention a little slightly misshapen! I intend to use these two pseudo-floats until I install the float bridges and then purchase a pair of Frenchman River floats (below), or maybe even (gasp!) scratchbuild a pair.

      Now, I always wanted a clear delineation between the "interchange" floats coming.going from the likes of the New Haven, Long Island, ect, and the "pier" floats moving across the river, hence the two kinds of carfloats, and their respective "docking points". The pier traffic of the LV was more frequent, but not as heavy in volume as the cars moved via interchange. The use of 2 track floats for pier traffic and 3 trackers for interchange was not truly a hard and fast rule as seen in the photos below, but it does provide an easy visual way to do so in our model world. That, and the LV surely docked whatever carfloat needed docking wherever and whenever, unlike I plan on doing, at least for now.

       The other equation of the modeling of carfloat operations which is scheduling, also plays a part in the above delineation of 2-track and 3-track carfloats, and will be covered in my next installment.
      And so ends Part 1 of "modeling the carfloat operations on the LVHTRy". Part 2 is actually 3/4 of the way written already, so expect it soon, maybe even by Sunday! I'm also sure that this entry will beg more questions, so there might be a Part 3 round up entry as well. As always, thanks for checking in!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely......

Well, as promised (because I know at least four people are watching!), here is what I'm gonna call my "back to the future" update. Why? Well, because I have been VERY busy with railroad AND band stuff, and will continue to be for the near future. I'm gonna try to do my best to keep things updated though, I promise!

Honestly, I suffer from three reasons why I don't update things much around here - #1 - I'm lazy! #2, I spend all day on a computer at work, and want to work on the layout when I get home, not update my blog!, and #3 - I never remember to take "before and after" pictures of what I DID do!

So without further ado, this blog is going to cover about three months worth of work. Let's get started, shall we?

Let's start with everyone's favorite piece of the layout, the float bridges -

After a sucessful work session back in I believe September, Jay Held, aka the Marine Superintendent, messed with the interface between float bridge and carfloat to assure a smooth, derailment-free action. I'm happy to report that we (and I after a recent 2 night fix-and-repair that I again DID NOT photograph!) have acheived a 90% sucessful ability to do so. Because of the method of construction of the floatbridge apron, the mating of the float-to-bridge interface will never be super-tight and I have found that any remaining car derailments are due to excessive speed or things like tight trucks on cars, or over-scale car door tracks getting caught on the lifting yolkes.
And speaking of cars.........
During the "great storm of '12", aka Sandy, I got to spend 2 weeks at home from work! Once the power came back on (kind of hard to work in a dark basement), I started working on weighing and
re-couplering my carfleet where Ted DiIorio, aka The Sheriff of Bloggingham - - 
and Jay Held left off two work sessions ago. As you can see, I got a lot done after a few visits to Home Cheapo for various nuts (for hoppers and gons) and Harbor Freight for some stick on weights (everything else)......

And the end result of over four weeks of almost daily "weighing sessions", was over 200 cars "layout ready" -


At one point, I lined 98 40ft box cars from one end of the carfloat to the end of track at west (Oak Island) staging.....It was kinda cool to see exactly how long the layout was from end to end! Doing this also let me know what types of cars I was low on (reefers, tank cars and home road cars) or had too many of (50ft box cars).
Another project that was a "big deal" in as far as really achieveing a good overall look, was the installation and rearrangement of lighting around and under the layout. I've had in place for a few years now, some thin, made for under cabinet lighting that I intended to place under the overhead valence doors. I never got very far until the September work session when Dave Ramos and Tom Callan said "let's get it done!" Well needless to say, we didn't have enought to do the whole job, so I sent out my VERY lovely girlfriend to Home Depot to pick up more (in the interim years, better ones became available, so instead of the "no name" ones I had, the new ones are from GE) and then after a  SECOND trip by me before luch to get four more, we now have a nicely highlighted layout, almost shaddowbox in effect -

The effect isn't really shown to full effect in these photos, but along with moving the overhead shop light fluorescents I had hanging in the middle of the isles, It really makes the layout "pop", not to mention making it easier to read car numbers and reporting marks!
And oh yeah, the guys yelled at me for having "flimsy benchwork" (and rightfully so), so we re-did the "backbone" and legs of the west staging, using my favorite layout leg material, PVC pipe - 
So now it can "take a licking and keep on ticking", and the three tracks (3 on each level) can hold the 15 car trains that I have designated as the layout's maximum train length.
One last "improvement" was the addition of waybill boxes along the layout -

 This was an idea "stolen" from Mike Confalone (of Allagash Railway fame). They are sold as "wooden tote bags" at A.C. Moore. All I did was cut off one of the bag "handles", and then I Velcroed them to the layout fascia. Just needs paint and labels.......
And if you're wondering, "is all this leading up to something?", then why yes, it is......

On November 30th, I held my 6th shakedown session. Luckily, each one gets a little better, and I think that next year starting in February, I can start having regular monthly sessions. This year was tough for me in regards to getting things running smoothly, but with a little help from my friends, we got past the hurdle and I saw the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Right now, the major mechanical hurdles have been met, and the ones that do remain can be delt with in short order. The major probelm the last two times has been lack of time getting the paperwork done (he funny part being that those who know me call call me "Mr. Paperwork"!) and the layout propperly staged in time for everyone to come over and run the railroad (I always thought that was the easy part, and I envy my friend Dave Ramos for making it look so easy!).  The derailments were minor and the work list has been drawn up on what needs fixing (to be covered in the next blog entry), so I think we're on a roll here to make things happen in a big way in 2013!
So that about wraps it up.....I made my 11:59 December 8th deadline (ha,ha, Ted!), and I hope you guys enjoyed what I've caught you up on (and please excuse the typos, I'm trying to make a deadline here!)......Much more to come in 2013, and maybe even before!
And as Beetlejuice once said.....