Saturday, September 10, 2011

Shifting priorities

Yeah, that's right. I'm using commercial turnouts. Here's a picture of the nearly completed New Britain yard (I need one more turnout).
New Britain Yard under construction
For the two of you that have followed this blog (and prior ones) for a while might be wondering what's going on. When I started this project several years ago, I was seriously considering building it to Proto:87 standards with all handlaid track and using Sergent couplers. Well, I'm not.

Adding Steam and Sharing EquipmentThe steam and equipment sharing evolved at about the same time. Hanging out with the guys on Thursday got the steam bug rolling, and we decided that at the very least we could run a partial or full steam session by having the guys bringing their models along. Of course, Grosner could populate the entire session if he wanted to, he wasn't attending at the time we were discussing this.

Sharing equipment made it essential that I used HO or HO:Fine Scale standards. I was wary of swapping out the diesel wheels anyway. In addition, I had been waffling between Proto:87 and standard HO because of this and because of the need to be more precise.

We could potentially swap couplers or use a transition car if using Sergent couplers, but that didn't seem worth the effort either. Bill uses the 'scale' Kadee couplers and clips off the 'air hose.' When actually operating a layout it looks just fine and you don't really notice them.

It's the Operations, StupidThat leads to what is probably the main reason, and the others support it. My real goal is to get this up and running so we can run operating sessions. And from experience operating on other layouts (including a couple of 'plywood centrals'), the details become far less important. Sure, I enjoy modeling in great detail, and for contests, display, or photographs, I can add the Sergent couplers and even the P:87 wheelsets if I'd like. I also realized that the standards I had were somewhat flexible in my own mind. For example, the many RTR cars I've got don't have the same level of underbody detail I would have if I built it myself. But it helps get a roster running and closer to operations. In the future I might go back and upgrade these models. But for now they look just fine.

My (lack of) Modeling SkillsMy modeling skills led me to look at other alternatives. Although I found that building the turnouts was pretty straighforward, it's not something I really enjoy doing. I don't hate it, but it's not my favorite thing to do. So I don't, for as long as I can. Because basically I can do it. It's just not something I do really well.

In addition, the prototypes I made worked just fine, but once I had some to install on the layout I found that things didn't work like I had tested. Some of this was my consistency. So I worked on simplifying the approach by using the CVMW tie base as a jig (see Joe Fugate's approach to this in the current Model Railroad Hobbyist). I started using more PC board ties to strengthen the turnout since they were easily falling apart when Chris or I were making them at the bench. This wasn't a factor when they were built in place.
But the main area where I've had difficulties is in actuation of the turnouts. It worked fine on a couple of prototypes, but there was little margin for error on my initial approach. Then I found that under table actuation wasn't as straightforward as I though either. Nor was the layout designed with that in mind.

Up to this point I also hadn't ever seen the Micro Engineering turnouts. Once I tried one I found I was OK with the detail (not as good as the handlaid, but workable), and it was easier, of course, to just install a commercial turnout.

It wasn't until I learned of the frog juicer, and ultimately realized that the combination of just flipping the points of the turnout combined with the frog juicer was about the same price as manual or eletric actuation options. The final contenders I had settled on were the Bullfrog or servo controlled. But the ME turnouts with the frog juicers are about as simple as it gets for a powered frog and turnout control. I also found that the handlaid turnouts have enough friction to flip the points in the same manner, but not enough that I'd be comfortable using them on the mainline.

So Chris and I were discussing the possibility of a friction spring, but finding a way to install it under the throwbar to hide it. But this would have required more experimentation...

Anyway, I'm comfortable with my handlaying abilities that I can build some special trackwork if I need it. But for most of the layout, I don't. And it's going so much faster that I'm out of supplies (turnouts and track right now). And I really want to get this up as soon as I can.

So 80% of staging is done. I can add some additional staging later, but for now I want to complete the main deck of the layout. New Britain yard requires one more turnout, and there are about 20 turnouts left to complete the main layout. The east side switching areas and the west side industries aren't included. But once I get the main portion up I can start testing all of the locomotives to make sure I don't need to change anything. The switching areas only need to work for the T-2-b's and 44-tonners which is easy. I'm using the L-1 and the Osgood Bradley cars as the test for the rest of the layout.

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