Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sealing Modules

After using Tuesday to do some necessary tasks around the house, I got back to working
on the modules on Wednesday morning. I touched up ground cover here and there, then
added scrub bushes wherever they looked okay to me, a few trees here and there, and some
These are a new item from Noch, and I like the way they look. In the picture, they are the row of five white ones and two yellow ones. There are some red ones in the set, too. I used some of them on another module.
They may be a bit small in HO and larger scales, but they are a nice size for N.

Once this was done, I started the thing I hate most in model railroading ... sealing with water and white glue mixture. I'm very messy, and I feel that I'm ruining everything I've been working on. I know from past experiences that all will be okay, but still that's the feelings I have while doing it.

I sealed five modules today, four N and one HO. There are two more HO modules to do
tomorrow. Once all are done, I'll wind up the proceedings by attaching the track and
wiring (where needed.)

The HO module stack shows the four club single-length straights. They are stored and transported in two Payne frames, two per frame. The upper two modules are tomorrow's victims, uh, subjects.
The third from the top was the one sealed today. The bottom module is being worked on by Jan K. whenever she has time. She's also doing a couple of other modules, so she isn't missing this one right now.

The N stack has the other four modules sealed today. Like the HO modules, there are two of these double-length modules per Payne frame.

On top of the frames sits the junction module. I tried a couple of different ideas for the center depression. I didn't like them, so I did it like it is a dry gulch/lake bed ares, overgrown in grass and scrub bushes.

The junction and the next three frames below it were all treated today.
The bottom module was finished some time back. It is the one that was in the Plano show as a visitor, courtesy of the North Texas T-Trak Group.
Once the last two are sealed tomorrow, it's track time, and the smaller structures (that will fit while sliding the modules in and out of the frames) will be glued down.
If you're not familiar with these frames, they were inspired by a similar item made by Don Payne, hence Payne frames. I make mine 18" high, and usually place the upper module support in the middle, vertically. In some cases, however, I have offset the placement of the support to allow for a taller module above it while having a lower-profile module below. Except for this one fact, all slots are pretty much interchangeable, not module specific.

Why 18" high? That's the clearance under the solid tonneau cover on my pickup bed.
And, I'm going to add a thin sheet of cardboard (from a refrigerator box, for example) to the bottom of each frame position. This won't affect the capacity of the frames at all, but will keep wires dangling underneath from snagging on anything else.
To go to a show, I just slide the frames in the pickup bed, along with a dolly. They make it easy to transport a number of modules. In fact, the frames for the single-length straights and the corners hold four modules. So, they are about the same size as the double-length frames. The four frames fit on the dolly, carrying 12 modules at once.
If there's time, there's also two new 6-foot N modules that need me do something. They may have to be run with just bare paint, but I really hate that. I think I'd rather not show them at all. Their purpose it to be a long interconnect between my TTrak-N lop of modules and those of Allen's. We'll see if they make it to the show or not.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday Module Musings

It's Monday, time to work on the modules some more. Today's efforts focused on adding ground cover and ballast to HO and N modules.

The TTrak-HO module is different from the one in the last post. This one will be The Sheep Pen. If you look carefully, you can see a couple of tracks for a pickup running just behind the track location. The large area to the module's rear, with a greener color, will be the pen. The fence, the sheep, a couple of codgers leaning over to look at them and few details should complete it.

The next are the new 6-foot modules. Today, tee-nuts were glued underneath with epoxy and the first coat of paint applied to the visible surfaces. For this show, I think that a few low mounds of blue foam or Sculptamould to represent open, arid prairie will do. Something cheap and removable for future development. In fact, to point towards that, I have the 'Surveyor Crew' figure set to put out there.
The long term plans for these do involve a scene I've wanted to do for a while, and this will give me the place to do it. What is it? It may be October before it finds its way out.

The Grain Elevator module received grass around the office and weedy ground cover elsewhere. A few details, shrubs and flowers by the office entry, and seal it. Then, just add track and call it done.

The Main Street module got the ground cover treatment, too. I need to make a sidewalk for a building or two.
Finally, the Junction module. For me, this has been a difficult module to add scenery.I finally settled on a low hill running lengthwise. A dry lake is down in front. The story is that the RR first ran a track parallel to hill, spanning the lake. Later, it was decided to make a cut and connect this track to another line the RR had just purchased.
I plan to "streak" the reddish-brown areas with a lighter color to try to represent erosion of the top soil layers down over the revealed deeper dirt.

Sorry, but that's the best I can come up with at this time. Maybe in the future, the lake will have water.
All modules need details, including trees, scrub bush clumps, and, of course, figures and vehicles everywhere. I'm looking for narrow (1/32" I hope) white and yellow tape for road markings.
That's it for Monday, 2009/04/20.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Module progress, 4/18

This morning I worked on details for the modules for the show in about 1 1/2 weeks. While it was cool outside (I have no heat in the large part of my shop) I stayed in and glued together fencing for a module. It's not shown this time, but it will be featured in a blog soon. There were a few other sundry items, such as track details, but I won't over-bore you with them. Besides, my memory's not that great.

After it had warmed up some, I spent this afternoon in the shop working on modules. That is, when Darrell wasn't over here. We did "invest" some time in good "discussions" which were "mostly" on rr stuff - ha! The module we are doing "together" is a story for another time.
The main efort today has been to finalize the structures and their placement on two modules, one HO and the other N, and get a start on the groung coverings.

The TTrak-HO module is single wide, and is club-owned. I had asked the club members to donate a few buildings for it. Several have provided more structures than I can use, a happy problem.

After a bit of trial fitting, I settled on the scene shown here. Clockwise, from the bottom center, first we have a switch tower. I know there are no turnouts on the module, but with a little imagination, ...
Then there is a small freight house. Across the track from the freight house is a converted boxcar serving as the local bar, serving, well, don't ask.
Next, the small green one is a set of his n' hers toilets. Behind that is an old general store.
Across the road is the local bank. Obviously, it's doing well in these difficult times.
The red barn has been refurbished into a diner. And finally, on the right front are a pair of oil tanks, for the oil patch here in West Texas. In it's final placement, it will be turned so the ladder is away from the tracks.

Once all this was settled, I started applying gravel, grass, weeds and grey paint (for a concrete road) to the module. Obviously, a bit more touch up will be needed, but good progress was made.
One of the things I wanted to have here is a road that is not square to the tracks, and I did achieve that.

The other module is a TTrak-N module, double length. All I got done there, after locating the pieces, was the gravel drive around the office/warehouse and through the elevator shed.
The return curve's a bit tight for semi's, but that's all the space available. One must assume that the entry drive is off-module to the viewer's right.
For size perspective, if the module were a football field, about half of each end zone would hang off the ends. It is a small space. Some grass around the office, and a some weeds and scrub bushes should finish it off okay.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Module Fest - Spring '09

For the past few days I have been working on TTrak modules, new and old, N and HO. First, there are three club-owned TTrak-HO modules.

The first has the Atlas rerailer/grade crossings spliced into the Kato Unitrack. If you're new to this, check a previous blog entry for details. At any rate, the TTrak-HO loop will have the rerailer functions that Kato does not provide. The track is just sitting there, not yet fastened.

Certainly, a bit of work will be needed to make the ramps from plywood up to the edge of the Atlas pieces. This module will have a small town with buildings along the road from the front to the rear, probably angling a bit.

Several club members have generously donated more structures than I can use here. The open space behind the tracks is about 19" wide x 20" deep.

The second of the club-owned TTrak-HO modules (not shown) has a 'sand hill' running front to rear, with a small cut for the tracks. It is nearly finished. The third (also not shown) is bare, but will finish out quickly. A bit of 'grass' and a fence, some sheep, and a pair of old codgers looking at them. I have all the pieces and supplies, so it won't take long to finish them.

Then, there are three TTrak-N double length modules. These frames are left over from my teardown a year ago. Since then Allen, a local modeler, has become involved in TTrak-N. This winter he has built four corners, four single and four double straights, and a junction. We had a test day recently, and interconnected his and my modules in an expanded double-loop layout. It was fun. Anyway, that has re-ignited the N fire for me. So, I've pulled these carcasses out and started re-doing them.

The first has a grade crossing and the double cross-over on it. The light and dark gray areas represent gravel roads and business lots. A hedge or two, a little grass, some trees and plop down the structures (I did keep most of them from the tear down) and it's complete. Since it has the double cross-over, I think I will add power connections to this module.

The dark gray is an attempt to capture the look of recycled paving material. I think it turned out a bit dark, but it's okay.

The next also has a grade crossing. The gray is concrete colored paint for streets and driveways. Again, there's the dark gray gravel parking lot. If you look close you can see the names of the businesses that are planed here. On the left end will be a small terminal for the railroad.

The third one will have a grain elevator. Don't worry about the irregular light stripes. That area is under the track, out of sight (all pictures.)

I have found that it is best for me to mark the Kato roadbed outlines, then ballast from just inside the line to the desired width outside. The track is added last, after everything is sealed, and can be easily removed and replaced without disturbing anything else.

The big holes allow the Kato turnout control leads to drop under the module. Some holes are left-over and will be covered by track. Where they are visible, they are plugged and filled. This applies to all recycled modules.

The final module in the old group is a TTrak-N junction, ala the design of Steve Jackson (NVNTRAK.) After seeing Mike Moore's (North Texas T-Trak) junction with a trestle, I knew my trestle had finally found a home after laying around here for a couple of years. The blue foam areas will get a lighter "sandy dirt" color and grass, bushes, etc. The roadbed will get gray and ballast, and the somewhat vertical surfaces along the cut and the washout end will be an experiment. I'm going to try to streak them with a dry brush using the light color, to represent erosion washing down the faces.

Now, for the new. Both Allen and I have ATSF Super Chief sets. He pulls his with an E8 A-B set, as I remember, while I use an F7 A-B-B-A in front of mine. We moaned about the lack of space for such long (locos + 12 cars) trains. I remembered something I had considered once before, and he cut the wood for me. He's a cabinet maker, and has the shop to do precision cuts quickly on sheet plywood.

He cut some 2 1/2" rails from cabinet grade 1/2" ply he had left over. I bought some 1/4" birch ply and he ripped it for me. With this ready to go, today I assembled two new module carcasses. They are 12" wide and 6' (yes, a 6x module!) long.
Yes, the cross braces are not evenly spaced along the bottom. The top was only available in 60" lengths, so it had to be spliced. That located the first brace nearer one end. The other brace is centered from the first to the far end.

Why so long? To create a long, open plains type space. Why 1/2" ply? To be self supporting when spanning between tables, and not requiring one under it. Why 6'? Because I can carry them in the enclosed bed of my pickup, weather protected.

Just for a feeling of size, that's an Alco PA sitting there in SP&S green and yellow.

I've got plenty to do, and about seven or eight working days to do it. I can do it. I did seven modules from bare wood in three weeks part-time effort last year. Several modules need the same thing (adding 'grass' for example) and I can set up once and do them all, one after another. A module finishing assembly line, if you will. The long modules will get only basic ground cover for now. Possibly, by the time for my club's October show, something else will show on them. Or not.

After sub teaching for the last three days of this week, I'll be concentrating on the modules and the show deadline. I am having fun, a lot of fun.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tomix Easy Tram Module Project

While I'm waiting on the morning to warm up a bit in the shop, I sat down and began to experiment with the first pieces of the Tram Module Project. Just to review, it is to be a loop of track running a pair of trams (or small trolleys) around some stores. The stores are located on a lower level, under the module's 'community' tracks. This is one module of a set that are to form a cityscape. I'm aiming for an October target date for completion.

Here is building set B (I also have set A) and a pier. Each pier will hold two stores, and there are four stores in a set. The pier I selected is the 'small' pier, meaning it is a few mm shorter than the 'large' pier.

I laid out the pieces from the building set, and began slipping everything together. In all these pictures, I have used no glue. In final assembly, a little will be needed, but not very much. Assembly proceeds from left to right with the pieces laid out as shown.

Begin with sliding the end panels into the pier, followed by the clear 'window' panels. The diagrams on the box are very good, even without and English. Once these are in place, the floor panel is slipped on and the assembly turned upright.

Oops, no floor in the picture. Oh, well, ...

The small exterior panels for the front and rear are slipped in place next. Eventually, a small drop of glue will be used to hold them permanently. It takes longer to tell about this whole procedure than to do it. I noticed the windows seem to beg for interiors and lighting in the structures. I will have to look into this, probably with LED lighting.

Setting the piers in front of a TTrak-N double module, I found that five piers won't quite cover the length, but six are too long. So, five it is.

I then moved up on top of the module base and added the loop of track for the trams.The intent is to run two trams in front of the shops, alternating in direction. The passing sidings are to be hidden in the rear, under structures placed at the upper track's level. I have known that this would require an extension to the front of the module on the lower level. Now, I can see what I had only sketched previously.

After working with it for a bit, I decided (for now, at least) to use all the buildings I have for the piers. That fills four piers. However, I have the parking lot kit for another pier, so all five piers will be filled. I am thinking that I want the parking lot in the middle, and the sensors on the rear sidings for stopping the trams in the middle, too. That will give kids a chance to peek through and see the other tram parked in the rear. They should find that discovery exciting.

Finally, I laid the double track for the main lines on top of the piers. I think I'd better order elevated viaduct sections to go up there.

Okay, soapbox time. While I enjoy what I do, I keep thinking that anything that causes extra excitment in a viewer is something that may help recruit new members to the model railroad fraternity. Hence, most of the rationale for doing this tram scene this way.

End of soapbox.

Here's the rear view, to be hidden from sight.
Just for size and clearance checks, I set a couple of Kato Pocket series steeplecabs on the track to see how it looks. Right now, it looks close but okay. When the final trams are in place, I may need just a skosh more room. If so, I am thinking that the parking lot pier may get a little shaving on each end. It shouldn't take much, if any at all. A couple of support beams on the ends and it should be good to go.

Speaking of going, I've got to put this all away for now and concentrate on the club needs for the show coming up soon.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mating Kato and Atlas track

Kato N-scale track includes a rerailer-grade crossing piece, but the HO line does not. We (the members of the Lubbock Model Railroad Association) have found that it would be helpful to have such an item on the club's TTrak-HO layout. So, I set out to graft an Atlas piece to the Kato track.

The first picture shows the initial problem, a difference in "deck height." This is about 1/4",

so I fitted 1/4" square styrene stock under the Atlas piece to raise it. This is slightly high, but that will be remedied in a few moments.

Next, I decided to remove the extra ties at each end of the grade crossing. I think this will make it easier to blend the scenery together.

A quick check shows that the joint is lining up rather well, I thought.

Next, I glued the styrene to the grade crossing, one piece under each rail. I later had to trim it back a little, but that may not be necessary in all cases.

The ends of the crossing were opened up a bit around each rail. Again, this may not be necessary in all cases. I did it to give me room to solder power feeds to the bottom of the joiners.

Then, a bit of careful sanding brought the Atlas down to the desired height to match the Kato.

Okay, now for the Kato part. First, remove the Unijoiners from the track piece. You will save them for later, right? Carefully examine the base of the rails at each end of the section. On one end, there are small 'dimples' in the rail flange that lock the rails to the roadbed. I call this the 'locked' end. The other end I call the 'loose' end.

Using Atlas rail joiners, connect the locked end of the Kato to the Atlas, and solder. Do this at both ends of the Atlas crossing. The railheads should be in alignment. If not, a little filing will clean it up. In my case, the alignment was almost perfect. It is certainly closer than I often see Atlas-to-Atlas across module boundaries.

Next, since this is to fit a particular length, I needed to trim one of the Kato pieces to a custom length. This is where soldering the locked end comes into play. The length I needed is twice the length of a Kato straight. With a full length on the left of the Atlas, I butted another Kato straight against that as a measuring stick. They are touching under the Atlas plastic.

I selected a place near the middle of the overlap, as shown by the pencil point, and marked it as my cut line. I have found that the joint will be much less visible if the ballast is kept and the cut occurs on the edge of a tie. The exact position of this cut is not critical. Being near the middle, however, helps keep it away from the Kato Unijoiner sockets on the track ends.

The cut line is transferred to the bottom of the track piece.

Then, placing it in a miter box, I cut it with a razor saw. Cut only the plastic! When the saw reaches the rails, stop.

The loose end will now slide off the rails with little to no effort. Clean up the cut ends.

Realign the track and the reference piece, and align the loose piece just cut. These are the only pictures where I used the alignment markings of the work pad.

The end of the locked piece is used to mark where to cut the loose piece to length. If in doubt, cut it a shade long. The loose end can always be sanded to precise length before permanently attaching it.
Once cut, slide the loose piece back on the rails and check the joint for tightness and the overall length for fit.
Remove and sand it as needed, rechecking periodically.

When satisfied with the length and fit, turn the track over and glue the joint. Sometimes I add a little scrap of styrene across the joint, but it isn't necessary in a good, tight fit.

When the glue is dry, flip it upright, trim the rail ends flush to the roadbed with nippers, install the Unijoiner (you did save them, right?) and install it.

Install in place, finish off the scenery, and enjoy your grade crossing/rerailer.
I have one last comment. Kato is code 83, the Atlas I used is code 100. Using the Atlas code 83 crossing may make it a little easier. I only had access to the code 100's through my LHS, so that's what I used.