Friday, July 1, 2011

Latest track plan becomes reality

The PLR track gang (i.e. me) has been busy this summer in the track laying department. Because track switches are at a premium, the PLR's Operations Manager first decided to cannibalize a switch from Blumenthal and re-install it for an additional siding at Paradise for staging trains. Daily operations rarely required the passing siding at Blumenthal, so it has been converted to a stub track. One more siding soon followed at Paradise, providing a four-track yard, point of origin for PLR trains. The yard can also double as overflow trackage for trains arriving at Boulder Point at the other end of the line.

As this is written, track is being laid at the PLR's newest town along the route, Viterbo -- themed as a small Italian village. Though Viterbo has been "on the map" in name since the beginning, it will now enjoy its own passing siding and house track (or "team track") for spotting freight and occasional passenger cars. And, we can look forward to the Viterbo Express making short trips up the line for those wishing to spend the day in this Italianate village. The Express can now turn its train there instead of relying on the reverse loop at Boulder Point. Buon Viaggio! And welcome to the 2011 version of the Ponderosa Lines!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

First Operating Session: Photos and Recap

I had hoped that the Ponderosa Lines would lend itself to some operations, and yesterday was the first big test. The typical spring wind here at 7,000 feet was the main obstacle, though once we dove into our respective jobs the gusts seemed to take a back seat. With battery power, we didn't need to worry about flying obstacles disrupting power, though I was wondering if those batteries were going to outlast the longest running time to date (they did). After explaining the Train Engineer Revolution controllers (Aristocraft) and the "geography" of the railroad, crews acquired their trains. The full session lasted 1.5 hours, about what I had planned. Two trains made their way from Paradise to Boulder Point and return, with various switching duties scattered throughout. A third "express" passenger train made the shorter run from Boulder Point to Viterbo (half-way point) and return. The following photos reveal some of the action.

The Day Tripper is the first to depart Paradise, shown here approaching Blumenthal.

Longest train to date behind the railroad's recently renovated Mogul, Engine #6, pulling the Peddler Mixed.

The Peddler Mixed rumbles over Palmer Gulch while the brakeman checks his train orders.

The mogul arrives at Viterbo passing siding to prepare for some switching.

The railroad's Baldwin ten-wheeler (a Bachmann "Annie") glides the Day Tripper down Angels Flight.

The crew of the mixed freight demonstrates a rare sight these days, that of "doubling the hill". If a grade is too steep for a longer train, the train is cut in half at the bottom, and the locomotive takes two trips over the hill. Here the Mogul is backing down into the second half of its train for the final trip up Baldwin Hill.

While the Peddler switches cars at Viterbo (background), the Day Tripper takes the reverse loop at Boulder Point.

A switching puzzle at Blumenthal. "Did we forget to drop the 'gon?"

While the Day Tripper rests at Boulder Point, the "Viterbo Express" awaits passengers. This train retrieves two combines (passenger cars with baggage area) at Blumenthal and Viterbo before making its return trip to Boulder Point at mid-day.

A highly technical approach to uncoupling - the plastic picnic knife. (Please see previous post for details.)

Uncoupling tool for hook-and-loop couplers

Necessity is "still" the mother of invention, I suppose. Knowing that our first full operating session was only a day away, I thought about the past year of struggling to uncouple those time-honored hook and loop couplers that adorn my equipment. I prefer having hooks on both ends of each car, primarily to strengthen the connection and prevent break-aways (again from experience). But uncoupling them manually can be a bear, without ripping both cars off the track in frustration. I also haven't been impressed with various track-based uncoupling gizmos that I've encountered (for my purposes, anyway). So, my first thought was that I needed something long and flat, to push down between the "loops," thereby releasing both hooks simultaneously. My first thought nearly solved the problem: Kitchen knives... long and flat.... but too expensive to bring outdoors. Plastic knives! A quick rummaging through a kitchen drawer revealed a pack of them. Only one test was necessary, as it worked perfectly. All crew members on Saturday were provided with uncoupling tools, one of which is seeing action in the accompanying photo. Perhaps somebody thought of this decades ago, but I'm still strutting around for finding a cheap, household solution. One crew member did notice a vital flaw on Saturday, however. He cautioned that because we were using knives as uncouplers, we could only use them once on each pair of cars!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Testing the Peddler Job for Operations

Adding a single switch and siding to the Ponderosa Lines last week opened a whole range of new opportunities. One goal with the railroad is to conduct operating sessions that provide the railroad with a purpose - at least an imaginary one. In HO scale it was easy to keep adding track and sidings and industries, allowing for a slew of operating schemes. With a more prototypical G-scale layout, however, track switches are at a premium, and sidings are, by necessity, minimal. At least for now. With some old fashioned ingenuity and a little imagination, however, it's quite possible to create a workable and realistic operating scheme with a relatively simple track plan. And so I put my brain and notepad to work.

The first issue was the length of the main line from Paradise to Boulder Point (see the "Concept and Maps" label). While I'm grateful to have a lengthy backyard pike, there is a simple way to instantly double the operating length of the railroad: take the train around twice. After I got myself beyond the issue of doubling up operations on the same track, this opened up a wide range of possibilities. After the first lap around, the origin town of Paradise turns into the instant town of Viterbo. With the new siding there, Viterbo provides trains with a passing siding and stub track. The next stop (second loop) is Blumenthal, where the passing siding can serve doubly as an industrial siding or house track. Finally, a "third" separate siding serves as a house track at the effective "end" of the line at Boulder Point. Three sidings provide plenty of opportunities for a simple mixed or peddler (local) freight that drops and picks up a few times during its round trip! Passenger trains provide yet other avenues for creative "jobs," which will likely provide fodder for future blog posts.

During a spring-like though chilly evening, I took the future Peddler on a test run using an operating scheme. A pick-up at Blumenthal, drop-off at Viterbo, and pick-up at Boulder Point. This train included the recently acquired Drovers caboose, which necessitated some local flag stops at minor stations. The whole trip required four laps around the yard, so to speak - two laps to Boulder Point, and two on the return, including the aforementioned stops. The entire job lasted about 40 minutes and ran perfectly as a small mixed train headed by WP Diesel #3. Now to integrate the job with a passenger train, something I've got plans for on paper. Three trains on this layout might be pushing it, but not impossible. For now, I'm looking forward to some simple ops sessions with 3-5 operators: two crews with two each, and Dispatch or yard master.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cleaning an LGB Mogul 2-6-0

Since the time I began thinking about building a G-scale railroad, I have always admired the LGB Mogul. Its 2-6-0 wheel arrangment should be perfect, I felt, for a branch-line type railroad and short passenger or freight trains. And now there is one inside our house, having arrived on the porch step the other day in used condition. My first task was to clean up the outside of the engine to remove the apparent years of dust and grime. Some light soap and water and a combination of kitchen sponge and paper towel did the trick. Looks practically like new (see photo below).

The next step involved performing minor surgery, exploratory in this case. If possible, I wanted to inspect the drive wheel axles and pickups, which in HO scale are typically the first to gather hair, dust, and grime. This case would be no different. Using a variety of handy kitchen props available within eyesight, I flipped the engine on its "back" and scanned the underside. I gathered various implements of destruction including pliers, tweezers, and various sized screw drivers. With surgery ready to proceed, it was time to reverse-engineer its "insides". The cover plate looked easy enough. All four screws came out with no problem, but they were of different sizes. I was therefore careful to keep them in the correct order on the counter for ease of reassembly later. I highly recommend this practice. As you "reverse engineer" an unknown locomotive, be careful to keep track of where the parts come from.

I heard a "sproing" when the cover plate came off, exposing the gears, contacts, and drive wheel axles. It happens that the front pilot truck is connected to a short spring that provides tension to the pilot axle as it turns. These Germans were creative! After gawking at the mass of metal and plastic (and grime), I dove in and took off the pickup shoes and long metal contact plates. Nothing seemed that complicated, and it was a pleasure to work with such large parts after dealing with HO scale in the past. I was more pleased to learn that the brake shoes pull right up out of the frame, so I organized them with the other parts so that I could tell what went where later on (see photo below). These pre-molded plastic parts were easy to put under soap and water, immediately relieving them of their years of collected hair and filth. I then gingerly toyed with the drive wheel axles to see how I could separate them from the frame for cleaning. I was not courageous enough to remove the wheels from the tie rods, and I saw no need to do so.

I took some Goo Gone to the wheels, both their tires and the insides of the wheels. Looked like a lot of grease, and the nastiest part of the whole cleaning process was the grease and oil that a previous owner had apparently applied. It became an instant mess, not unlike that of cleaning a bicycle chain. I ruined a couple of cheap wash cloths, but they had already been downgraded to "railroad cleaning" duty previously. The black stuff got all over my hands (like a bicycle, which is why I don't clean those often, either) and was tough to wash off. I can't imagine that the engine will need any more lubrication in the near or far future, as most modelers advise newbies like me to not go so heavy with the grease and oil.

Thanks to good planning, I carefully reassembled the undersides after cleaning all of the contacts and surface parts that I could easily access. Should be ready to go for its first test run on the Ponderosa Lines! Needs to be converted to battery power, first! Not willing to wait that long, a neighbor G-scaler has kindly agreed to test run the loco on his own track-powered layout. Soon after, C&S #6 will be the fourth locomotive assigned to the Ponderosa Lines roster.