Sunday, January 27, 2013

All work, and no play........

      So, as I finish writing this, my pals are on their way back from E. Springfield, MA and the "Big E" train show, but not I.....I decided to be a "good boy" and stay home this weekend and work on the layout. OK, OK, that's not exactly true, but I do have plenty of cleaning up to do before next Friday's shakedown session hits.
      Why cleaning up and not working on the layout? Well, LAST weekend, with the three day weekend thanks to MLK Day, the guys came down on Saturday as hinted to in my last blog post, and then I did a little more on Sunday, and then even on Monday, when my father came over (on his 80th birthday, mind you!) and helped me wrap up a few more things.
      Now before we go any further, he WANTED to come over and work on his birthday, so please, no "You made your father work on his 80th birthday? You rotten son!"-type e-mails, please! He got a nice dinner out of it at Joe's Crab Shack (he's wanted to go since last year), so he got treated just fine on his birthday, thank you very much! All he had to do was help put up some facia, and solder a few drops (I suck at it). Oh, btw, he's up at the train show with the guys, too.........All I know, is I got to sleep in Saturday morning, and not get up at 3AM to drive 3+ hours north!
      Moving forward, let's take a look at what got done last weekend, shall we?......Here's Sniffles, aka Craig Bisgeier, working away on four DCC signal snubbers. We've had engines mysteriously ceep during the last three shakedowns, so it was time to make that dissapear (or so we hope). We'll know in a week, the next shakedown is February 2nd! Craig was nice enough to come down, even though he was suffering from a cold/bronchitis/pneumonia thingy. Hopefully, he won't get any sicker at the show this weekend like he usually does. 
     Meanwhile, as seen behind Craig (and Dave Ramos checking his phone), Jay Held and Tom Callan decided upper staging (East Claremont) wasn't level, even though we rebuilt it two work sessions ago. Jay is a engineer at his day job, so maybe that's why he spotted it? Anywho, away went the heavy four foot piece of 1x5 supporting the yard, and in went some more insulation foam (always plenty left over to go around in this basement!) as the new base. Best part about that is, that it's now lighter, and slightly thinner in profile. And unlike the plank of lumber, it's not skewed like a hockey stick! Oh yeah, Jay extrended the remaining tracks to the end, too.
     An army of layout builders works on their stomachs, or at least their tastebuds......Two pizzas and a bag of chips were also killed in the filming of this work session...... 
Remember the giant hole in the backdrop, as seen here?

      Well, with the guys here to offer suggestions on how to fix it, we replaced that missing chunk. It's not perfect, but it's better than it was, and it's fixable. I have to do some filling (and feathering) of joints and the foam layout base with some lightweight spackle, but that's nothing.

     And the piece de resistance of the day was when Dave spent (pretty much all day) setting me up with a spare computer to allow me to run Decoder Pro and more importantly, JMRI so now I can operate engines using a smart phone! This will increase operator flexibility when there aren't enough NCE throttles to go around, should that ever happen. After a few false starts due to network conductivity issues, we got it to work. Right now, the computer sits UNDER the layout, but the "master plan" is to mount it above the layout in the overhead fascia and use the screen to transmit, via web cam, a view of the other side of the backdrop so the yard guys can see what's coming (trust me, they need it!) Now all I need to do now is buy a smart phone........

     So crew #1 left last Saturday, just as "Crew #2", "The Sheriff of Bloggingham, aka "Scary Ted" Ted DiIorio stopped by, and we (OK, he) dropped the feeders for the "new and improved" staging tracks.
     So after an hour or so, Ted left too, so while still on my "model railroad high", I spent the rest of the night tying it all into the power bus (not neatly, but it works with no shorts!) Also seen here is one of the DCC snubbers that Craig made.

     The remaining work on Monday that I spoke about with my dad was to put up some fascia boards, and even without paint, it's amazing how much more of a finished look it gives.
...and After

     Oh, and that "punch list" from a few posts ago? Pretty much decimated, I'm happy to say! The few that remain that I didn't get to actually require time and/or money, both something I don't have enough of before next Satrday. So in closing, the rest of today will be "Clean The Basement Afternoon", followed by "Take A Quick Look At Any Bad Order Cars Evening" before I spend most of the rest of the week staging for Saturday's session. Fingers crossed......


P.S. - Apparently the boys had TOO MUCH fun at Springfield, as I was the butt of many Facebook posts this weekend......Details to follow in my next post.......

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ready, Set, Work Session!

      Well, I didn't get nearly as much done on the layout this last week like I wanted to, I admit I slacked off BIG time (damn TV!), but with the guys coming over for a BIG work session this Saturday, I needed to make room down there so not only we can get some work done, but also look like I've been up to SOMETHING since they were over last so I don't get yelled at, not to mention putting some more checkmarks on those work lists I shared in my last post.

      So, something I could finish off real quick (like under an hour quick!) over a fe nights before dinner or bed, was to install some new car sorting/staging shelves. My pal Dave Ramos suggested last time he was over to clear off the bookcase over the West End staging as seen in the photo below behind "Scary Ted" DiIorio -

Lesson learned - Never give Ted a pointed stick.

      Mostly, all it was doing was harboring (non pun intended) junk anyway (oh, and holding up the staging yard, but that's another story), when it could (and should) be put to something useful like storing cars. Dave has similar car shelves that he built himself above and next to his fiddle yard, but since building and mounting something was NOT an option, I used what I had handy. Now, I didn't have all the shelves that has come with this thing when I brought it home all those years ago, and in typical particle board bookshelf construction fashion, the one I did have was about 1/4 thick. If I were to use more of these same shelves, I would not have had much room (only about 2 verticle feet) to stack more than two shelves tall before I ran out of the shelf "peg holes" pre-drilled in the bookcase, and that wasn't going to cut it for my desired car capacity. But being the packrat that I am and having quite a bit of Masonite, Gatorboard and Luan plywood left over from various past projects, I said to myself, "Self, why don't you just cut some shelves out of Luan and have yourself some nice thin shelves to save space?" And that's what I did......Though I admit, since I didn't cut them perfectly to length (they are a little loose, but nothing a screw or some Elmers can't fix), they are a wee bit flimsy (though its not like they have to hold a lot of weight), but it still works, especially after I added a little extra reinforcement. Before I could even install the shelves though, I had to go to Home Cheapo to buy some extra shelf "feet", and then I was able to stack them four shelves tall. My next concern was how to keep the cars from rolling freely and back OFF the shelves, so I thought that foam self-adhesive shelf liner stuff would fit the bill, and on a trip to the Dollar Store, my girlfriend kindly purchased two rolls for me, which was enough to do two shelves per roll -

 The foam bits keep the cars from rolling too far back
      So now we have a new spot to place cars before they go back into their staging drawers (below and to the right of the above photo, under the yard), or vice-versa. I also did the same thing at the carfloat end of the layout, by clearing off the top shelf on the rolling library cart that holds up the two Pier carfloats -
      The problem here was how to keep the cars from not rolling OFF the shelf, but from slamming into the inside end, since they are angled in and down, and Kadee couplers and metal shelves are NOT a good combo when combined with speed! Again, shelf liners to the rescue to at least slow things  down, and then some scrap foam from something we got in a large box recently, to shorten the length of the downward roll, and make for a soft "collision" when it does. One shelf only holds about 10 cars (not as much capacity as I hoped), so maybe I'll have to use the next shelf down, though its a little low on the cart...We'll see.

      The entire project took about an hour over a day or two. A little more "dressing up" to make everything neat, and the project can be checked off the list. This weekend I hope to get a LOT done with the guys here (it's amazing what the offer of free pizza and beer does!), so I'll report back next week with what we did get done (fingers crossed!).
      Before I go though, I also want to thank everyone who has been checking in lately and following the blog. There's been at least three new "followers" in the last week or two, so I guess I've been talking about things that people want to read, LOL! I've also noticed some VERY interesting "check-ins", and hopefully they are legit and not spambots....Far away countries like Austria, France, Germany, Australia, Spain, and even one from Iraq (I'm hoping maybe that was an interested fan serving with our Armed Forces?). If indeed these are people checking in from around the world, please drop me a line or post a response, I'd love to hear from you and learn what attracted you to my blog, or even what you'd like me to cover or clarify on in a future blog post. And of course, my "loyal" return visitors from places like El Paso, Manassas and Albany are always nice to see, too. Thanks, guys!

Talk to you all in a few days!



Thursday, January 10, 2013

LVHTRy Laundry List

      So here we are, 10 days into 2013. Most people whom have made their New Year's resolutions have already broken them, so I, knowing myself ALL to well, made none as usual. But what I DID do last December right after the November Shakedown, was to draw up a list of "to dos" before the next Shakedown session in February. In fact, I even went and put MORE pressue on myself to get things done, but scheduling TWO Shakedowns for February. So I guess you can say I made a "Shameful Goal" list, because if I don't get at least 1/2 to 3/4 of the list done by the February Shakedown session, I'll not only be ashamed of myself, but my friends will CERTAINLY heap shame upon me for slacking off!

      And by calling them "goals" and not "resolutions" or "promises", there is not only (in my mind at least) more of a drive to attack them and check them off the list, thus giving myself a feeling of acomplishment towards, gee, a GOAL, and also, if I don't get every little last one finished in time, there is not stigmata of shame, real or imagined - After all, we all have other more important things to do in life than work on our trains! (wait, we do?!?) And also key is that there is no order to it - If something next on the list would take too long to finish on any given day, then skip around and find something that CAN be done in the allotted time.
      So without any further ado, here are my 2012-2013 list of goals -

LVHTRy “To Do” List
*to do before February session

*Fishing extending staging yard tracks (both levels)

*Install 3 more re re-railing ramps in staging (1 NDR, 2 ML)

Re-level Nat. Docks Branch piers

*Install 2 feeder drops on CNJ staging track and solder all other rail joints on track

ü *Fix 2 Blue Points at Edgewater Br. End of West yard

Install 2 new Blue Points at NJ Millwork and Warren Plumbing

*Fix couplers on 4 LV engines, check VO-1000 coupler height

 Build and install at least 3 DCC signal snubbers
 (Washington St., west staging & Edgewater Br.)

Extend Milk siding(s) and move Blue Points acordingly

ü   Fix fascia around JP Dale Coal

 Equip CNJ RS-1 with Tsunami decoder

ü   *Buy 8 mini-clipboards for CNJ industries (@ AC Moore)

ü   *Buy 5 more wood bill boxes for car tags/bills (@ AC Moore)

ü   *Install new throttle pockets
*Tighten up selected (or glue) Blue Point actuator pulls (JP Dale, CNJ, Grand Street in particular)

ü   Fix backdrop on Grand St./Jersey Ave. corner

*Wire CNJ Yard into power bus

ü   Install extra car holding shelves on bookcase at west staging yard

      OK, OK, so I haven't made THAT big of a dent in it yet, but I'm trying! Not only did I make this list, but I still had more I wanted to get done, but it was stuff that wasn't a priority, so I made an addendum list-

LVHTRy Work List Addendum (non critical)
*as of 12-6-12 

Paint upper valence doors

Paint fascia

Hang more black drapes below fascia 

Paint “lift steps” for yards

Ballast track

Hang proper signage for track/industry locations on fascia and on bill boxes

Build buildings or mock-ups

Rebuild DCC system
Install computer for smart phone wireless throttle app

Finish off Yardmaster and Accurail cars for fleet

Separate, store, and label cars in staging by type and region
      As you can see, I have my work cut out for me. I have a very big out of town contingent due to arrive in April, so I do need to get cracking. Luckily, they are mostly simple things, but some are semi-time consuming (unless I set up a bunch of fans to help the paint dry quicker!), and then even some are not "visably gratifying", like wiring.

     So my point with this blog post is that I suggest everyone make a list (or two, or three) to help get things done around your layout. Not only does it motivate, but it helps you remember things, too. I posted three sets of these lists all around the layout so I had NO excuse to forget that I didn't see said list! Also, I have a penchant for forgetting I need to do certain things, so as I think about them, I add them to the list (I specifically left extra blank line to write in those ideas). I'll report back in a month and we'll see what I did (or didn't!) get done since this post!


Thursday, January 3, 2013

How much to Proto, or not to Proto, THAT is the question…..

(Author's note: updated as of 1/9)

      So, first off, let me welcome you all to the new 2013 season of the Lehigh Valley Harbor Terminal Railway Blog. While there are no “New Years resolutions revelations" to be made here, I do promise to keep things updated and fresh at LEAST once a month, if not more. Not only do I want to, but I know the Sherriff of Bloggingham (aka my pal Ted DiIorio of fame) is watching, ready to “delete” my blog just like that if I slack with the posts! Anywho, there’s a lot in store for the layout this year, and I’d like for those of you who regularly check in, or at the very least stumble upon it occasionally from other websites or blogs, to join me on that journey.

      OK, ‘nuff said about that, let’s get on with the real topic of the first post of 2013, and that’s about a lonely little freight car (yes, A freight car) that I just last month posted about when I added it to my layout roster.

      As you can see in the above photo, it’s a nice car, an Accurail model of a URA Double-Sheathed wood car, lettered for none other than the LV. Now, as I have alluded to in past posts, I am not a stickler for details or am I one to be obsessed to the point that everything must be “just so” as it was in 1951. I am not nearly disciplined (nor do I feel a good enough modeler) to pull that level of modeling off, nor do I want to…..I’m happy with me AND my layout, and I wanna have fun with my trains, dammit! While I do certainly consider myself to be a prototype modeler, if you take the time to look around, and/or are a knowledgeable LVRR modeler in particular, you’ll see that there are some trains and equipment that are “out of time and space” on my layout. And that’s OK – I’m OK with it, so anyone visiting my layout should be OK with that, too, and I make a point of telling people that - I'm not trying to skate under the wire! While picking a prototype to model has certainly helped focus (or is that curb?) my model purchases, there is just too much stuff that is available out there that’s too cool NOT to have, and I just can’t help myself sometimes, I'll admit it. I guess you could say that I subscribe to the Allen McClelland “good enough” philosophy, and then some! After all, my time, money and especially my patience are too short to model everything in exacting detail like it “should” be.
      But yet again, I digress……Just this morning, I received an e-mail from my friend Eric Hansmann (, who after reading my last blog post, wanted to “help a fellow post war modeling era brother out” by letting me know some more about USRA cars, and USRA cars on the LVRR in particular. Or as we’ll soon see, the LACK of USRA cars.

The following is original Eric’s e-mail to me -

Hey Ralph!

I read your recent blog posts and have enjoyed your progress. Something struck me concerning the Lehigh Valley USRA box cars.
I found my primary source on the USRA allocations and assignments and checked the details.
Please take this as a point of information to broaden your prototype understanding.

The Lehigh Valley was originally allocated 3300 USRA cars - 
1000 50-ton single-sheathed box cars
500 50-ton composite gondolas
500 70-ton mill gondolas
500 55-ton hoppers

In the final assignments, the Lehigh Valley was assigned zero USRA freight cars.
It has often been noted among hobbyists that the Lehigh Valley refused their USRA allocations. The primary source I have does not indicate any specific note of refusal, only that the LV was one of several railroads who were allocated cars but were not assigned cars under USRA control. FYI, the NKP returned their USRA double-sheathed box cars after USRA control was lifted.
These details come from the James E. Lane article, “USRA Freight Cars: An Experiment in Standardization”, published in Railroad History No. 128, by the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society in the Spring of 1973.
I suspect Accurail painted up the USRA double-sheathed models to represent the LV ’s “wrong way” door, double-sheathed cars.
Again, I wanted to share this as a point of information. This is not meant as a criticism, just sharing prototype detail on a pretty interesting railroad. 

       Interesting stuff, thanks for sharing, Eric! It must be said that if Eric hadn’t pointed it out, there's a real good chance I wouldn’t have ever known, which while certainly notable, is neither good nor bad from where I sit. I’m not saying I never, EVER wouldn’t have known, mind you, because maybe someday, somebody else might have came along (and have also been a lot LESS helpful than Eric was, by angrily pointing and wagging the “finger of modeling shame”, while decreeing in a loud voice, “That car is WRONG!!!!”), and could have left it at that! Luckily, I seem to have nice, helpful friends, LOL! And true, some day I just might have been so moved to learn more about USRA cars, and come to the same realization all by myself through research. But I guess I got off easy this time, since somebody was nice enough to share the info with me. As I explained to Eric in another e-mail, if somebody wants to start looking over my layout with a magnifying glass, I say be my guest! I mean, I really do try to be good about sticking to the year I model, and the LV in particular, I swaer! Problem is, we all like what we like, and some things (cars, engines, buildings) creep in when they quote/unquote “shouldn't”, usually due to a "timeline error" as I like to call it. I know some very astute modelers who have cars and engines that aren't 100% "right" for their chosen modeling era, but they run them anyway. I mean, it’s a hobby, right? And more importantly, supposed to be fun, right? I know, some people just don’t get it, but that’s their problem I guess....

      Now before we go any further, here's a photo of a REAL "wrong-way boxcar" that the LV had running around in the dozens for your visual reference. This fine example is preserved at the Pennsylvania State Railroad Museum, and you can not only clearly see why it's called a "wrong-way" boxcar, but how similar it is to the Accurail car, or at least similar enough.

       These cars are available in HO scale, through Funaro & Camerlengo -(
in at LEAST 10 different variations, if I'm reading things right. While I certainly could have these on my layout (and who knows, maybe one day I will), I have no desire to build a resin kit. I've seen these things hit the floor on a friend's layout, and I don't enjoy the prospect of "re-kitting" said models! Moving on...............

      Now if I may say so, on a small layout, I would think that it's not only easier to achieve this "perfect model" status, and also if you don’t, it would be more noticeable, or so it seems to me that it certainly would be so. I know (or at least I think I do) that if I had a small to medium shelf layout like a Tom Johnson -
or for that matter, a  Lance Mindheim -
I’d probably make the effort to strive for that “perfect” benchmark. Of course, "perfect" is a relative term. I mean, let’s for a minute forget that both Tom and Lance are incredibly talented modelers, and that what would take me a year and a day to do, is easy for them to recreate, and that they enjoy the challenge, too.  I know, they weren’t born with the ability to be good modelers, but it is a certain level of inate talent involved, and I personally would like to spend my time doing other things, if you catch my drift. Besides, if EVERYBODY could model that well, what would there be left to go “ooooh!” to in the magazines and on the Internet, am I right? Then there's also the whole "how strict - or good - of a modeler are you?” debate. I know I have no patience to model a particular year, day and season, or to super detail a car or loco, nor do I have the desire to gain the skills needed to, quite frankly. I certainly admire those who do, and that's what makes the hobby great, otherwise we'd all be happy with "Blue Box" stuff....And that wouldn't be any fun, now would it?
      So now that I’ve “philosophized poetic” about how I feel about, and how I approach prototype modeling, in the end, I’m keeping the car, at least for now. I’m at the point where every car counts, and someday, hopefully soon, I can sit back and start “cherry picking” the roster to weed out those “undesireables” from the roster! Active staging-style layouts take up a LOT of cars apparently.....

      So this marks twice now that a response from a fellow modeler has inspired a blog topic, so thank you Eric for helping me become a better, more knowledgeable modeler. And to everyone else, thank you for reading!