Thursday, December 3, 2020


When going through the 1% Waybill study (average 1950-54) for commodities shipped to CT, I decided to look at the most common commodities to research for waybills. The top four items were pretty predictable:

  • 305 Bituminous Coal (21,800)
  • 411 Lumber, Shingles, and Lath (12,650)
  • 633 Cement Porland (12,200)
  • 301 Anthracite Coal (10,900)

Of those, I wanted to get a better understanding of 411 Lumber Shingles Lath, but where do you find such information?

The AAR Freight Commodity Classification book, of course. I have one from 1947.

I don't know how often they were updated/reissued. It turns out that the category is rather large:

411. Lumber Shingles, and Lath

  • Billets, wooden
  • Blanks, handle, wooden
  • Blocks, bowling pin, wooden
  • Blocks, hub, wooden
  • Blocks, last, wooden
  • Blocks, match, wooden
  • Blocks or blocking, wooden, noibn (not otherwise indexed by name)
  • Blocks, paving, wooden
  • Blocks, spool, wooden
  • Casket or coffin stock, wooden, noibn
  • Cross arms, wooden
  • Dimension stick, wooden, noibn
  • Dowels, wooden, rough or rough turned
  • Flooring, parquet, wooden
  • Flooring squares, wooden
  • Flooring, wooden, noibn
  • Insulator pins, wooden
  • Lath, wooden
  • Lumber, native wood, Canadian wood, or Mexican pine, noibn
  • Pickets, fence, wooden
  • Planks, wooden
  • Shingles, wooden
  • Staves, flume, wooden
  • Staves, pipe, wooden
  • Staves, silo, wooden
  • Staves, tank, wooden
  • Timber noibn

Obviously shipments to the lumber yards will consist of a lot of these, but I also note the Blanks, handle, wooden entry, as that's probably a pretty common load to the Stanley plants.

The rest of the top 19 commodities shipped to CT by rail (all average 2,000 or more carloads/year):

  • 583 Manufactured I and S (Iron and Steel) (10,425)
  • 215 Meats, Fresh, NOS (not otherwise specified) (7,392)
  • 773 Feed A and P, NOS (Animal and Poultry) (6,150)
  • 763 Food Products, NOS (6,150)
  • 655 Scrap Paper and Rags (4,192)
  • 507 Refined Petroleum, NOS (4,150)
  • 613 Automobiles, Passenger (3,775)
  • 015 Flour, Wheat (3,150)
  • 527 Chemicals, NOS (3,050)
  • 657 Newsprint Paper (3,025)
  • 697 Glass Bottles and Jars (2,800)
  • 797 Waste Materials, NOS (2,408)
  • 213 Swine, DD (Double Deck) (2,300)
  • 559 Copper Ingot, Etc. (2,250)
  • 563 Lead, Zinc Bar, Etc. (2,058)

There were a couple of surprises there. 655 Scrap Paper and Rags? What's that? Apparently it's rag pulp, scrap or waste paper, pulpboard, fibreboard, scrap or waste rags. So I'm wondering where all of that is going in the state to rank ninth with an average of over 4,000 cars annually.

It also surprised me that the 17th most common commodity on the New Haven was swine. In a discussion on the NHRHTA forum about stock car traffic on the NH, the general opinion is that such traffic was quite low. But several destinations were noted as the discussion continued. In my case, stock cars would probably only be on the OA trains (Maybrook to Hartford) destined for Copaco in Bloomfield, Hartford, or the slaughterhouse in Middletown.

797 Waste Materials, NOS is a long list of commodities, broken abrasive wheels, alundum refuse, apple waste, to glue scraps, haircloth clippings, jute refuse, non-edible meat refuse, rubber shavings. Just about anything. Once again, where was this being delivered in CT to warrant nearly 2,500 cars?

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Bill Welch and Thanks

For those who haven't heard, Bill Welch passed away on November 15th of pancreatic cancer. My mom passed away 11 years ago on Thanksgiving morning of the same terrible disease. This year in particular is a tough one, because we have lost a lot of great modelers before their time. 

It's only in the last couple of years that I met Bill in person, but we had quite a few email discussions before and after. Known to many as the Extreme Modeler or the FGEX/Our Companies Guy, he was an excellent modeler, and generous man.

I'm sharing a photo that was the last correspondence I had with him shortly before he passed. Chris and I were prepping several new collections of photos to catalog for the photo library, and as soon as I saw this one I said, "I have to send this to Bill Welch." 

While there are plenty of other modeling buddies that will enjoy the subject matter, it reminded me of Bill because of his love of finding photos of unusual freight cars to model faithfully. Not unusual in terms of a rare car, but with minor differences from the standard of that car. Details such as slightly bulging corner bracing on a single sheathed box car, a damaged fascia board on a reefer, or freshly replaced boards in a wood running board.

This photo is taken from a series of photos after a derailment of New Haven train NO-7 in Newtown CT in 1959. It's the rather unusual repair that immediately jumped out at me.

So here's my little tribute and thanks to Bill Welch, along with all of the other modelers that have inspired me. And I hope we all take as much pleasure in (modeling) the little things like he did. We'll lament the loss of Bill and the many other modelers this year, but be thankful for how they have left our lives, modeling and otherwise, richer and better.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Operations - Employee Timetable

 Employee Time Tables, like most operational paperwork, were published twice a year at the start and end of Daylight Savings. If corrections needed to be made or schedules were changed, then supplements were issued with just those changes. Occasionally, another full time table was issued 'off schedule.'

I have copies of all the Employee Time Tables from 160 (June 2, 1946) to 183 (October 30, 1955). I don't know if I have all of the supplements. Each issue indicates what the prior Time Table was and, in some cases, notes the supplements. However, others don't note the supplement numbers.

Here's a list with the issue dates. I've highlighted the ones relevant to my operating sessions in bold.

  • 160 - June 2, 1946
  • 161 - September 29, 1946
  • 162 - April 27, 1947
  • 163 - June 8, 1947
  • 164 - September 28, 1947
  • 164.1 - December 15, 1947 (Supplement No. 1)
  • 165 - April 25, 1948
  • 166 - September 26, 1948
  • 167 - March 1, 1949
  • 168 - April 24, 1949
  • 169 - June 26, 1949
  • 170 - September 25, 1949
  • 171 - April 30, 1950
  • 172 - September 24, 1950
  • 172.1 - December 10, 1950 (Supplement No. 1)
  • 173 - April 29, 1951
  • 174 - September 30, 1951
  • 175 - April 27, 1952
  • 175.1 - June 9, 1952 (Supplement No. 1)
  • 176 - September 28, 1952
  • 177 - April 26, 1953
  • 177.1 - May 24, 1953 (Supplement No. 1)
  • 178 - September 27, 1953
  • 179 - April 25, 1954
  • 179.1 - April 27, 1954 (Supplement No. 1)
  • 179.2 - June 13, 1954 (Supplement No. 2)
  • 180 - September 26, 1954
  • 181 - October 31, 1954
  • 182 - April 24, 1955
  • 183 - October 30, 1955

My copy of 179 is interesting because it has Supplement No. 1 bound into it (primarily glued over the original pages). I also have separate copies of Supplement No. 1 and 2 of that year.

Model Operations

But what use are these timetables for modelers? On the prototype, they provide the complete passenger schedules, along with additional rules and information that's needed for an employee to perform their duties. But there's a lot of information in them, and I don't expect operators on my layout to be fully qualified for the entire New Haven system.

So I've pulled out the relevant sections and produced a version more appropriate for operating my layout. Like the Rule Book, a lot of these are either things that many operators already know, or they may be interesting things to know, but aren't actually needed on the model version. 

Simplified Schedules

I've reduced the schedules down to the trains that actually come through New Britain. Since I created these time tables entirely from scratch (they aren't scanned), these took the longest to compile and format to match the originals. I hunted down the closest free fonts I could find to do that. 

When operating, the crews need to clear the mainline 5 minutes before a scheduled train leaves the prior station. So the crews will need to check these before occupying either the east- or westbound main, but will only need to look at either Newington or Plainville.

Speed Restrictions

There will be speed limit signs as per the prototype, but this is good information to have regardless. The limit on the Berlin Line is 35 mph, since there are no passenger trains. On the Highland line, east of Elm St the limit is 50 mph for passenger, and 40 for freight. Starting at Elm St, and all the way off the west end of the layout, the speed limit is 20 mph.

But there are two additional rules that might be important during a session. A train handling a scale test car (which may be used) is limited to 20 mph. There is also a rule for handling certain open loads that changes over the period I'm modeling. So depending on the year of the session, this rule is important to know.

General Rules

Most of these rules are just 'scenery' but there is clarification regarding those certain open loads. Rule 1707 indicates that between Elm St. and Curtis/High St. (depending on direction) that whistle signal 14 (l) (grade crossing) is not used. This basically means that trains will only use the grade crossing whistle signal at East Main St.

Track Capacity

This is the only section I have modified. The original lists the length of all passing sidings on the railroad. I've altered it to list the capacity of all yard and industry tracks to help out the conductor when planning moves. It identifies all of the tracks, and the length in 48-foot cars (which is how the New Haven measured siding capacity).

Public Crossings at Grade

This lists when certain crossings are stop and protect. While there is always a lot of information here, it is basically indicating that the crossing shanties are not occupied nights or weekends. In other words, it won't apply to the model crews.

Block Systems, Train Order, and Yard Limits

These are also just informational in nature, but helps complete the appearance of an actual employee time table. 

Otherwise there's a rule designating regular trains as first class, and what additional symbols on the passenger time tables mean.

Special Instructions

This section has rules that pertain to specific locations. Not all of the time tables have rules relevant to New Britain, and for the most part they won't alter anything that the crews actually need to do. There is one rule, though, that I might try to incorporate.

Rule 1912 indicates that the crossing watchman at East Main St can control the gates for Rule 1705a for Smalley St. when needed. The engineer can use whistle signals to let the watchman know when to raise or lower the gates for switching movements. I don't have Smalley St. on my layout, but I could set up a switch for the gates at East Main St. instead. This would allow me to turn off the automatic gates, and have the crew use whistle signals to let the Agent know when to lower or raise the gates. This would work pretty well, because East Main St. is basically next to the Agent's desk. It might be fun to set up the gates to 

Ops Sessions

These are available to all operators prior to the session, and I'll have hard copies here for use during the session. 

During ops sessions, I really only expect that the passenger schedules and track capacities will be used regularly by the crews. One exception in later time tables is Rule 147, which indicates that headlights will be used during the day. This rule first appears in Time Table No. 173, April 29, 1951. Prior to that the crews will not be using headlights.

I've added several of the Employee Time Tables to the same location as the Rule Book here. I will continue to add the other ones I complete. I'm still proofing and correcting them, but if you find a typo feel free to let me know.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Interesting Finds - Freight Operations

 For several reasons, I've been having to go through my files on the computer. In the process, I've (re) found things I haven't looked at in a while.

I have a spreadsheet that was posted in the Steam Era Freight Car list over a decade ago (it's still there). I wasn't able to identify the original poster (yet), but it's a spreadsheet of waybills from Watertown, MN 1954. It's either missing some info, or the town wasn't served daily. Regardless, it's a treasure trove of info.

Of the 539 cars documented, there is a car with a load from Stanley Tools in New Britain. The car itself was LCL, and here are the contents:

  • 1 box machine parts from Chain Belt Co, Milwaukee WI (MILW) for Green Giant
  • 1 box wood casket and 1 steel casket from Nick & Sons, Heafford Jct WI (SOO-MILW) for Blomquist Funeral Home
  • 1 15 gallon drum oil, 1 pour pail from Hyrotex, Chicago IL (SOO-MILW) for Walter Kubash
  • 1 case price lists from Stanley Tools, New Britain CT (NH-ERIE-CBQ-MILW) for the public school
  • 1 case bed sheets, 1 case pillow cases from Ely & Walker, Post TX (P&SF-GC&SF-ATSF-Nemo-MST-MILW) for Edelsteins

Based on the routings, it appears (at least some of) the contents were transferred from another car. It's likely that all of the shipments went to a MILW freight house to be reloaded to this destination, and it's possible that there might have been other goods for other destinations.

No New Haven cars were delivered to the town in that year.

One of the things I found interesting is that all this was loaded into a reefer. ART 51859. There is an ART reefer with LCL traffic on another day as well (29149), and that also has a load from CT (Philip Brenner in Derby/Shelton CT, a load of 7 cartons of rubber mats) which took the same route as the other car.

A third load from CT was part of an LCL load in B&O 276754 from CF Anderson in East Lyme CT, 3 cases of surgical dressings. This took a different route, NH-CV-CN-GT-CBQ-MILW.

Of particular interest to me as I dig through it is ideas for LCL commodities to add to waybills for the freight house. In this case, there are two caskets. Looking through the list there were 15 wood, 4 steel, and one iron casket delivered. All were destined for the same funeral home, but from three different suppliers. One of them was noted as a rush. With the City Directories, it's easy enough to find the local funeral homes. 

A quick check online tells me that the population of the town was 867 in 1950, and 1,046 in 1960. New Britain was 73,726 in 1950, and 82,201 in 1960. 21 caskets for a town of 1,000 is a 2% annual delivery rate. If that's constant that would be nearly 1,500 caskets delivered to New Britain annually. Of course, it's not likely a constant, but it certainly indicates that this would be a relatively common delivery unless there is a source close enough to New Britain that it would have come by truck. However, if there is, then it would also likely be a source of outbound traffic via the freight house.

Looking in the 1951 New Britain City Directory and there are eight funeral homes listed:

  • A W Carlson Co
  • J M Curtin Co
  • Erickson Funeral Home
  • James F Farrell Memorial Funeral Home
  • Laraia Sagarino & Co
  • B C Porter and Sons
  • Rose Hill Memorial Park
  • Sorbo Funeral Home

All of these are potential customers on waybills to the freight house or bulk tracks. Additional research indicates there were around 700 casket manufacturers in 1950, although I haven't found a listing yet. 

A bit morbid, perhaps. But interesting and part of the work of the railroad in that era.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Operations - Rule Book

A continuing operations question I see online a lot is how much paperwork and other aspects of prototype operations should you include in your model railroad operations?

It's no secret that I lean quite heavily on the. 'as much as possible,' side of the answer, but the only right answer is, 'as much as you want.'


Now that the basement is coming together and the Agent's desk is good to go, I've spent some time continuing to work on the rule books for operations. 

Rule bookS? Yep. Plural. Why? Well, that's what the prototype had, and that's my starting point. 

Employees had to be familiar with the Book of Rules, the Safety Rules, and any changes via the Employee Timetable, bulletins and circulars. Freight conductors and engineers also needed to be familiar with the booklet on handling explosives and other hazardous materials. In real life, it's a lot to keep track of, and to qualify for a job you had to pass a test on much of the material as well.

I initially considered a condensed set of rules in a single document. But as I was working with it, I found that it seemed more confusing that way. I think that's because the bulk of the rules (those in the Rule Book itself) are fairly well known and won't need to be referenced frequently. So the Rule Book is largely what I consider a 'scenic' element for the operators. It's also something that can easily be shared prior to the session.


The rule book was updated and republished periodically. The one in effect for the entire era of my layout is the 1943 issue. The next update was in 1956. Here's a brief description of each section that I included in the book:

GENERAL NOTICE AND GENERAL RULES. Just part of the scenery, although they do apply. Rules G, H and K are the ones most relevant to modeling. Rule G as it applies to alcohol (in moderation) will be annulled with a circular when appropriate.

DEFINITIONS. Not something that will need to be referenced during the session, but it does clarify terminology used in the rules, and that I'll use. A couple are probably less commonly known, such as, 'in rear/advance of signal,' and the different terms for speed.

OPERATING RULES and TIME-TABLES. Most of this is also well known and won't need to be referenced, but Rule No. 86 is the important one, requiring trains to clear the main for regular trains 5 minutes before they leave the prior station.

SIGNALS. Most won't need to reference these, but it will be easy to flip to them if needed. It is nice to have a reference for use of the lights, and bell.

DESIGNATION AND USE OF TRACKS. Modelers have lots of different ways to identify tracks. This makes sure we're all on the same page.

SUPERIORITY AND MOVEMENT OF TRAINS. All rules that are well known and probably won't need to be referenced, but good to brush up on ahead of a session.

AUTOMATIC BLOCK SIGNALS. The signal aspects are a nice reference to have for those not used to running trains following signal aspects. The info on the speed boards is important too, because I expect crews to follow them. 

ADDITIONAL GENERAL RULES. Rule No. 737 is important - don't block a crossing for more than 5 minutes. I've heard 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and this clarifies it for my layout. But what I particularly like in this rule is that cars on yard tracks should be pushed as far from the crossing as possible is something many may not know.

The rule that the whistle should not be used when passing a passenger train is another one that most will not have seen before. 

The only other rule in this section that's of particular interest is under FREIGHT SERVICE. It includes where to place specific types of cars in the train (and we'll see later on that this is modified in many of the employee timetables).

So there are 9 pages of rules, but 99% of them are best read prior to the session, and probably won't be referenced during the session. While a few are included for completeness, it's been narrowed down to the most important rules that help define the 

Here's a link to the book. This will probably work for any New Haven layout, although many will need the Time Table & Train Order portions, and possibly the Manual Block Signal sections depending on what you're modeling.

New Britain Station Book of Rules

Set your printer to print landscape on both sides, flip on the short edge. That will allow you to stack them and fold them in half into a booklet. If your printer doesn't have a duplex feature, you'll have to manually flip the pages. Since each printer is different in the orientation, you'll have to experiment to print it properly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Layout Construction Update

 Progress continues in multiple areas:

Whiting St. Yard

Painting (most) of the walls at Whiting St. so Chris could help me with the last piece of backdrop and get started on the drop ceiling.

As you can see, the grid is in, and I have one tile in place to ensure things are square. I need to install the support wires, and get the LED panels for the lighting in this section. The door and frame are painted, and I need to work on the trim. Most of the sheetrock work is done, with just a couple of corners left to complete.

The clock was moved to a new position above where the phone will be, to allow space for a chalk board/bulletin board which turns this into a small crew information area. 


I started painting the fascia Hunter Green to see how I'll like it. The trend seems to be toward black, but I've been planning this for a decade or so now... It's not a perfect match to NH Hunter Green (too light and too much blue). It looked quite good as the trim around the room, but I'm on the fence with the much larger surfaces on the fascia. There's a good chance I may just go with black.

I've also been testing the banquet table skirt in a couple of places to see where I'll land. My current thought is skirting from the fascia, plus additional skirting that is below the lower level (which will go to the floor).

The lights are bright enough that it needs two layers of skirting to block it out, so this is folded back on itself. It's very inexpensive from Amazon or a number of specialty sites online. I haven't decided whether I like it from the fascia or not. Since it only comes 30" high, it won't go to the floor, but it's so much less expensive than alternatives that are longer, it's what I'm going with.

It actually makes the room feel a little bigger when it doesn't go all the way to the floor, since the lower level is set farther back. It makes the room look cleaner, since it hides the staging level. But I may just do a skirt around the lower level, and leave staging visible instead.  Just in case staging is hidden I installed a couple of fast clocks that will be visible while working in staging (they'll be useful either way). The one you can see at the end of the room is the desk the yard crews will use for their paperwork too, so the clock makes sense there.

Progress also continues in gluing down track, and drilling for feeders, etc. so everything is moving forward to where I can get to ground cover, ballasting, roads, and other below-the-rail detail. Not to mention getting trains running for some shake-down ops sessions.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Ballast Again...

 ...for real this time!

A couple of years ago John Grosner passed along a switch stand he had. The thing is massive (I think I found that they weigh around 800 lbs). 

A month or so ago, Joseph stopped by with some ties for the switch stand. After (mostly Joseph) attempted the first spike, we decided drilling a pilot hole was the way to go. I can't imagine how millions of ties were laid by hand.

He had previously found a set of targets for me, which I sanded, removed the reflective tape, and repainted with Rustoleum safety red, safety green and white.

Yesterday I collected some ballast from the (long-abandoned) track at Cook's Quarry to finish it off.

At some point I'll find a lantern that fits. Although it was common for the NH to use them without lanterns as well. I usually have folks enter the back for open houses and ops sessions, and it points the way. You can see how dark the NH trap rock is, also with a bit of brown. This is from the same basic location where I collect ballast for the layout.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Pullman-Standard 1937 AAR Standard Box Cars

Yes, another rabbit hole...

Railway Prototype Cyclopedia Volume 35 recently came out, and it's incredible. The entire 385 pages are on the 1937 AAR Standard Box Car, with lots of new information. Of course, the best part of these books are the hundreds of photos.

As is my usual nature, as I go through a book like this, I start to compile information that will be useful for modeling. In this case, looking at the minutia that differentiates the various prototypes. I decided to start with the Pullman-Standard built cars, and I'll work my way through other builders.

This is primarily a post to dump the information I'm gathering so I can come back to it later when I start building/modifying these cars (I have quite a few RTR ones already, of course). In the listings I've included the number of cars built by P-S along with the total number of 1937 AAR Standard box cars rostered by that road. I don't know when I'll get to the rest of the cars built by other roads.

Ever since Ted Culotta's Essential Freight Cars #40: Early PS-1 Box Cars (RMC January 2008), I had come to the conclusion that the particular shape of the side sill tabs that he modeled was a P-S trait. I'm not the only one, obviously, Ryan Mendell has produced these in resin and are available from National Scale Car Company

While these are minor details, these are the sort of things that differentiate one car from another, and also become a spotting feature when looking at photos. It can also be used to identify which models that are available are the best starting point. My plan is to start with decorated models where I can. RTR or kits are fine with me, I have no problem modifying either. 

Along with these side sill tabs, the Pullman-Standard built cars all have the following characteristics in common, unless otherwise noted.

SREM Improved Solid Steel roofs or C-H Dry Lading Riveted Roofs.
Many modelers prefer the tooling of the Red Caboose 'Rectangular Panel' Roof, although as the article now makes clear, there were at least two roofs manufactured to this design. The SREM Improved Solid Steel Roof, and the Chicago-Hutchins Dry Lading Riveted Roof made under license from SREM. As I work on models, I'll settle on the Intermountain for one type, and Red Caboose for the other. Most likely I will use the more readily available Intermountain roof for the SREM roofs (since it was far more common), and the Red Caboose one for the C-H.


5/7/5 Youngtown Door on mid-level door track

The doors were manufactured in three panels, riveted together. The numbers refer to the number of corrugations in each panel, starting with the top panel, but not counting the corrugation that forms the frame of the door itself. On these particular doors, the riveted joint is on the flat panel between corrugations. The Intermountain and Red Caboose doors are both a good match.


If you examine pictures of box cars from this era, the lower door track is mounted in one of three locations. The first, which is what is done on all of the available models, has the lower door track mounted along the bottom of the center sill itself. While a few of the P-S built cars for KCS and Southern have this configuration, most have a lower door track mounted slightly lower, with a visible gap between the bottom of the side sill and the door track. A third variation, which doesn't appear on any of these cars, has the lower door track attached near or at the bottom of the stiffening panel that is mounted below the side sill.


The door stops on the IMWX/Red Caboose cars are a better match for most of the cars. But if they need to be changed, or for cars that I build with the Intermountain model, National Scale Car Company has resin door stops available.


Ajax Power Handbrakes

These are the most common handbrakes applied to 1937 AAR Standard box cars. The handbrake is the type that has all eight spokes connected from the outer wheel to the center post. They are available from numerous companies, but the most readily available ones at this time (and probably the best casting) are from Kadee.


Of the other brake wheels needed, Kadee also makes the Equipco, Miner, and Universal handbrakes.


3D printed Klasing handbrakes are available from Resin Car Works, and a prototype of a different one has been produced by Kadee, hopefully to be available soon. If you were lucky enough to get some of the ones we made at True Line Trains, those work too.


Detail Associates manufactured a Ureco handbrake, although it's not a match for the SP cars. I'm not aware of any other Ureco handbrake right now.

7-Rung Ladders

This is the most common configuration, with 7 rungs on both the side and end ladders. Some have 8 rung ladders, and a few have 7 rung ladders on the side, with 6 rung on the ends. I haven't started digging through all of the options out there, since Intermountain, Red Caboose, Branchline (now Atlas), and others are probably appropriate. But the biggest addition to the ladder options available is the Yarmouth Model Works etched ladder kits.

I haven't determined which ladders I prefer yet.


Pullman-Standard 1937 AAR Standard Box Car Variation #1

In addition to the characteristics listed above, these cars all have 

  • 4/5 Dreadnaught Z-bar (square corner) ends with poling pockets
  • Wood running boards

Because of the z-bar corner ends, the Red Caboose (now Intermountain) square corner models are the only starting point. However, there are some shortcomings. The poling pockets for most of the Pullman-Standard cars are more of an indentation on the tab at the bottom of the end, than a raised flange. However, the model is of the raised flange type.

The ATSF cars had Duryea Underframes. There are a couple of versions available on the market now, but the ones from Speedwitch Media are the correct ones for these cars.


I am not aware of a Pullman-Standard flat panel roof that is available for the Soo cars.


Intermountain finally announced their first run of the square corner cars about a year ago. They are still taking reservations, which means they haven't received enough orders yet. A number of those are non-P-S prototypes, but of these Southern, T&P, SP, and SOO are included

A couple of the C&O cars are in the P-S number range incorrectly include Viking roofs. That's easy to replace, and you can save the Viking roof for something else.

Likewise the SOO cars lack the P-S flat roof, but should one become available it's also easy to replace. I highly recommend placing orders for any/all of these so these excellent models will continue to be produced (ideally in undecorated kits too).

  • ATSF 136000-134999 (Bx-26)(500 of 2,503) 9'-7" IH, 5/6/5 Youngtown, high door track (no gap), Duryea Underframes, 7/6
  • ATSF 136500-137999 (Bx-27)(1,500 of 2,503) Duryea Underframe, 7/6
  • C&O 4500-4999, 11000-11999 (500 of 4,000)  C-H Dry Lading, 8/8, no poling pockets
  • KCS 17000-17449 (450 of 750) 9'-8" IH, 5/6/5 Youngstown, high door track (no gap), 7/6, no poling pockets
  • SOO 136000-136198 (100) high door track (no gap), P-S Flat roof, early Universal, wood, 7/6 or 7?
  • Southern 10000-12022, 13043-14395 (3,377 of 5,897) C-H Dry Lading, High door track (no gap), Ajax, Miner or Universal
  • Southern (CNO&TP) 261000-262036 (1,1037 of 1,537) C-H Dry Lading, High door track (no gap), Miner
  • Southern (AGS) 306000-307021 (1,022 of 1,022) C-H Dry Lading, High door track (no gap), Ajax or Miner
  • SP 32770-33269 (B-50-18)(500 of 1,750) C-H Dry Lading, Klasing, Universal, or Ureco
  • SP 37840-38089 (B-50-19)(250 of 1,000) C-H Dry Lading, Ureco
  • T&P 40000-40499 (500 of 1,000) Union Duplex fixtures (National Scale Car minikit)
  • T&P 40500-40999 (500 of 1,000) Union Duplex fixtures (National Scale Car minikit)(Mount Vernon Car, but same tabs)

Pullman-Standard 1937 AAR Standard Box Car Variation #2

These cars all have 4/5 Dreadnaught W-section (round) corner ends with poling pockets.


For this group, the Intermountain models are a better match due to the way they tooled the ends, particularly the poling pockets. 

  • A&WP 37300-37339 (65 of 65) 40 in Aluminum and black paint, Miner, Apex
  • CG 4500-4749, 6000-6149, 6500-6999 (900 of 1100) Equipco, Miner or Universal, Apex, Youngstown or 7-Panel Superior
  • CR/COPR 4000-4009 (10 of 10) 7-panel Creco, wood, 8/8
  • D&M 2700-2704 (5 of 205) 7-panel Creco, wood, 8/8
  • ERIE 79000-79199 (200 of 1,200) Viking, Apex 8/8
  • GA 19900-19974 (75 of 75) Miner, Apex
  • NH 31000-32999 (1,500 of 2,500)(3) Youngstown or 7-Panel Superior, Miner, Klasing, Ajax, Apex
  • NP 15000-15499, 17000-17899 (1,400 of 3,000) Youngstown or Creco, Ajax, Wood, 8/8
  • P&LE 30500-30999 (500 of 1,900) High door track (no gap), roping staples, Equipco or Superior, wood
  • SAL 19500-19999, 22200-22499 (750 of 750) Youngstown or 7-Panel Superior, Apex or Gypsum
  • Southern 14396-15895 (1,500 of 5,897) High door track (no gap), Miner or Universal, Morton
  • SP 82990-83239 (B-50-21) (250 of 1,000) Equipco, Apex
  • SP 95520-95863 (B-50-23) (344 of 1,744) Klasing, Apex
  • TNO 54600-54849 (250 of 750) Equipco, Apex
  • WLE 23000-23499 (500 of 1,002) Youngstown or 7-Panel Superior, roping staples, Flat roof, wood (Ralston Steel Car Co, but same tabs)
  • WofA 17300-17359 (60 of 60) Aluminum and black sides, Miner, Apex


Pullman-Standard 1937 AAR Standard Box Car Variation #3

These are the same as the Variation #2, except that they lack poling pockets.


The IMWX/Red Caboose, now Intermountain cars are probably a better starting point, since the poling pockets on these models is of the raised flange type and will be easier to eliminate. In most cases, only the left side tab is on the end, since that's where the uncoupling lever is attached. So the right side tab is removed, leaving a small portion for the attachment of the end grab iron.

Many of these cars have roping staples. See photos for the placement. Most are under the side sill, but the P&LE ones are mounted horizontally on the bolster tabs.


  • C&O 3500-3699, 10500-10749, 11000-11999 (1,450 of 4,000) roping staples, Apex
  • CIL 9000-9449 (450 of 925) 7-panel Superior, roping staples, wood
  • L&N 90000-90499, 91000-91343 (844 of 1344) Miner or Univesal, Apex
  • M&StL 50400-50498 (even) (50 of 1650) Equipco, Apex
  • NC&StL 18500-18999 (500) Miner, Apex
  • PM 83650-83799, 84300-84399 (150 of 800) 7-panel Creco or Youngstown, roping staples, Apex


Pullman-Standard 1937 AAR Standard Box Car Variation #4

Although the majority of 1937 AAR Standard box cars were built with SREM Dreadnaught ends, they weren't required. Pullman-Standard produced their own 4/5 corrugated ends which were used on these cars. These are often known as carbuilder's or car builder's ends.

There are two variations of these ends. On the TC/WLE (later NKP) version, the large corrugations terminate at the corner of the end. On the CGW version, the corrugations terminate before the corner of the ends.

These are the easiest to model, provided you purchased the resin kits/minikits when available. Otherwise you have a bit of work to do. None of them were built in large quantities, but they are interesting cars. The TC/WLE cars also use the P-S flat roof. The WLE cars were eventually lettered for NKP c1949-61.


CGW 91000-02149 (250 of 250) 4/5 P-S end, Equipco, Wood, pp Resin Car Works minikit

NKP 2400-24501 (up to 302 of that group out of 3,675) ex-WLE cars

TC 7900-7999 (100 of 100) 4/5 P-S end, 7-panel Creco, P-S flat roof, Miner, Wood  Southbound Model Works

WLE 24200-24501 (302 of 1,002) 4/5 P-S end, P-S flat roof, roping staples, Equipco, wood, no poling pockets Southbound Model Works

The Southbound Model Works cars were originally from Smoky Mountain Model Works. They are incorrectly noted as 'PS-0' box cars. The 'PS-0' designation is a modeler/historian notation that refers to early welded cars (presumably predecessors of the PS-1 box car) that Pullman-Standard produced with the same type of ends (although some were 5/5 instead of 4/5 ends). B&LE, CGW, NKP, PM, and WLE versions of these welded box cars are available from Funaro & Camerlengo.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Layout Progress - Agent's Desk

I finally have a desk big enough for my work! This has always been a challenge, since we have a relatively small house. It means that the workspace I've got is always doing double or triple duty, requiring me to move something I'm working on to make room for another.

Most of the time I have computer work to do, along with things I'm doing on paper, with books, etc., and of course I also like to be busy working on modeling things. I've always preferred a large desk, so with the reconfiguration of the Agent's workspace, I could finally install one.

The original plan was out of stock, although when I finally got a chance to look at the display pieces I was less than impressed. Rather than wait for the full solution, I could use the legs I had from Ikea for the old desk, and build the tabletop now. It's a solid core door cut to fit the space, and stained with an espresso stain, since the wainscot was spray painted espresso.

Although it may not always be evident, I do like to be organized. My problem tends to be that I work on too many things at once, combined with the fact that I don't have a place for everything to go while I do so. Now that we've made such great progress with the major construction in the basement, the stuff is all starting to have an actual home. Which means it can be quickly and easily moved out of the way when needed.

As you can see in the picture above, the desk is separated into work areas. The Agent's desk is intended to always be clear, for ops sessions. Between sessions, it's the actual desk space where I can work with paperwork, books, etc. 

My computer, important for my work, now has a permanent place along with my phone in the middle. This lets me always have access while doing other things. 

To the right is my modeling workstation. Whatever the current project is now has a place to stay, instead of me having to move it out of the way when I need to do other work.

My primary toolbox lives on top of a rolling cart that fits in the space just to the right of the desk, and next to where I've set up the modeling station.

My favorite part about having a home for all of these things (and various in progress projects) is that I won't have to be constantly cleaning things up before I can get working on something. While working on the RS-2s I still had to move them out of the way frequently, and then get everything back out when I had the time to work on them. So this saves a lot of time and effort.

Another part of the design as planned are several brush plates to allow me to plug things in without having to install outlets in the Agent's office.

This way I can run several wires through to a power strip that is in the space behind the Agent's office. I did have to remove the end of the vintage lamp cord, since it didn't fit. But that was easy, two wires to unscrew then reattach after passing the wire through the wall. I installed three of them so I don't have any wires under the desk, or in the way on top.

I installed cork on the side wall to use as a bulletin board:

I haven't decided if I want to have anything under the desk anymore. The initial plan was for a small bookcase base that would point to the left aisle. But I've rearranged book storage, so that's not necessary right now. I'll probably look at some sort of rolling cart instead if I feel I really need it. 

Now I need to work through the process of hooking up the vintage phone system and the Agent's office will be complete.

Another shout out to Chris, Dick and Pete, because this really wouldn't have gotten this far without them. Thanks!

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Layout Progress - Circuit Breakers and Fast Clocks

This is the sort of work that I don't do nearly as well as I'd like, it's time consuming, takes me longer than it probably should, but it's got to get done.

I've been working on the sheet rock, the benchwork for the bulk tracks on the wall opposite Whiting St Yard, and painted the door New Haven #292 Warm Orange:

Like the rest of the basement, the walls will be New Haven #246 Silver Gray and the trim is New Haven #212 Hunter Green. I simply take the paint chips for the New Haven Color Guide (available from NHRHTA) and have Home Depot match the colors. Oddly, their machine was unable to match the Hunter Green this time.. Too dark they said. Fortunately, they had matched it for me 10 years ago, and I brought in a piece of trim that I had already painted and they were able to match that.

I'm also trying to engineer the swing bridge (my preference) or lift out to connect the bulk tracks to Whiting St Yard. I have the materials to install the grid for the drop ceiling too, so the room is coming together quite well, if slowly.

Wiring Circuit Breakers

While the construction is continuing, I've also completed some more interesting projects. These go much faster...

As I noted in a prior post, I ran a new bus line all the way around the room to allow both parts of the Berlin Line to be in the same electrical block. The lift out is where the two sections meet, but I didn't want to make an electrical connection across the lift out since that would require plugging/unplugging wires to operate and it's across the only entrance/exit to the basement.

So I decided to figure out where I'd place the remaining circuit breakers, and rewire for those.

I had originally installed a switch to allow DCC or DC use, but now that I'm installing the PSX circuit breakers, it was time to finally remove the DC option. I mounted the circuit breakers for the main deck and the staging deck on the wall between the two.

This seemed like the best place to keep it out of the way, but accessible. To do so I used some scrap 1" x 3" lumber drilled into the studs, so I could mount the boards to a piece of Masonite across those, leaving space behind the board for wires.

Fun fact: the piece of Masonite was the test piece to see if it would work for building the helix. I glued two small lips (3/4" strips of Masonite) to stiffen it, and brought it to the NE Proto Meet and showed it to Bill, who immediately said, "I know what that's for!" He agreed that it looked like it should work, and I moved on from there. In this case, it was a scrap piece just the right length to span this location.

The main power comes up from the MRC Prodigy Advance unit on the shelf below, behind the board, and comes down to the input on the top left of the upper PSX circuit breaker. There are short connectors to the board below it, and then the output on the bottom left goes behind the board again, then up to run under the upper deck. This required yet another bus that I just ran to provide the power to the Stanley Works and Berlin Line. Between the center of the layout and the Stanley/Berlin Line circuit breakers there are three bus lines under the upper deck - the upper deck bus, the bus to the circuit breakers, and then the bus back from the circuit breakers to get to the other half of the Berlin Line. 

The right outputs go to the upper deck (upper PSX), and staging deck (lower PSX). Very simple, actually, and mostly required repositioning the existing wiring and allowed me to eliminate the DC/DCC switch I had installed.

Behind the agent's desk are the PSX boards for Stanley Works (top) and Berlin Line (bottom):

Access is through a window I cut in the utility room wall, which also provides better airflow to the furnace (which is needed). The input is the upper left, and the two boards are connected on the left. I haven't run the new Stanley Bus yet. The two wires to the left of the boards are the Berlin Line which will connect to the output of the lower PSX.

I tested them all, and power is flowing to the circuit breakers and not shorting. All of the feeders are ready to be soldered on the Berlin Line. I'm getting started drilling and pulling feeders for Stanley Works and the east and west sides of town. I'm also completing some track adjustments in staging.

To the left of the window the Berlin Line bus is connected to two terminal blocks, because I needed to run a bus to the three (!) different sections of the Berlin Line:

You can see that one of the bus lines goes back through the window, and then circles the entire room to get to the Berlin Line. The others connect to Whiting St Yard and the bulk tracks.

My initial plan was to separate the main line into its own circuit, but it's really not necessary. I still have to cut gaps for the different blocks as well. But I have 4 blocks now for short protection:
  1. New Britain. This is the main deck, from just before you exit the top of the helix from Hartford, to just after you enter the helix toward Plainville. 
  2. Berlin Line. This will keep the two switching crews in separate blocks for a lot of the session. This starts just east of Elm St on the Berlin Line, to the end of the Berlin Line Staging.
  3. Stanley Works. Again, this keeps this crew entirely independent electrically from the others.
  4. Staging. This includes the helixes.
The goal is to largely isolate each crew electrically so that if one causes a short, it won't affect the other crews. There will be times when both switching crews are working parts of New Britain (I think), and two crews will operate in the same block for through trains. But for probably 80% of the session, each crew is isolated electrically.

Installing Fast Clocks

Another project that has been a long time coming is to install fast clocks. I've looked at a number of options, but the key for me is that I wanted analog clocks. So I'm using the FCC4 by Mike Dodd. (He has a great website for his model of the Virginian too, although unfortunately it was dismantled when they moved. He is working on a new one.)

It's a pretty simple system. There's a controller, you can wire some switches for additional control to it, and then use modified quartz clock movements installed in cheap clocks. You can purchase the controller as a kit, and he also shows you how to modify the movements yourself, or you can buy them preassembled by Mike, which is what I did. I've had them for some time, and had a number of clocks ready to convert.

I installed the controller next to the PSX circuit breakers, and used a surface mount electrical box to house the switches. The upper left turns the power to the system on/off. The upper right starts and stops the clocks. The lower left is a fast forward switch (which causes them to run 17x faster than normal), and the push button resets all the clocks to your start time. There are dip switches on the circuit board to change the fast clock ratio, for now I have it set at 4:1, I might experiment with 3:1 as well.

Right now I have one clock I built into the fascia at the station:

There's a second clock at the agent's desk:

It also conveniently hides the seam between the two pieces of plywood. 

I installed a larger wall clock next to where the phone will be at Whiting St. Yard:

The square hole is where I'll run the wires behind the phone. This one is behind the door if it's open, but I don't anticipate having that door open during sessions unless somebody needs to go into staging for some reason.

I needed to order another movement and a couple of sets of hands. Once those arrive, I'll install one above the other desk, plus one in the center of the staging level. Basically I want at least one visible from all of the common operating locations. Since the staging will probably be behind a skirt/curtain, they'll need one. And if the crew is using the desk to work on paperwork, they'll have one right there as well.

The system supports up to 15 clocks. I have three of the smaller ones that I haven't used yet, and when we get to the next shakedown session I'll see if we need to put up a few more. I'm thinking that maybe I'll need one near Stanley Works, although they do have a clear view to the one at the station.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Roster - Locomotives - DERS-2c (RS-3) Locomotives

DERS-2c (RS-3) 529 in New Britain Yard with circus train c1953/4. Kent Cochrane photo.

Since I've started detailing and putting decoders into locomotives, plus narrowing my operating hours, I've started revisiting my research to verify what I'll need.

The DERS-2c (Alco RS-3) locomotives were delivered in 3 groups, 517-536 from August-September 1950; 537-546 in October-November 1951, and 547-561 in January-February 1952. 

Based on my notes from the past, I was planning on building at least six RS-3s, maybe as many as eight. Here's the info I've had on my site for years:

DERS-2c Assignments 4/27/52
526 - NY-2, YA-1
530 - NY-2, YN-1
531 - AY-1, YN-1
537 - 463
545 - 444
546 - 157, 421, 446, 472

DERS-2c Models

My initial choice for road numbers was based in part on the fact that I have four of Athearn 520. The Athearn is the most accurate option, although the cab windows are better in other models. But I have so many of this one because it's the only one released in the delivery scheme with the air-cooled stack. I selected four road numbers for the 1950 delivery, and two for the 1951 delivery since I have two undecorated models.

However, looking at the September 1952 assignments, there have been some changes:
523 - 444
532 - NY-2/YN-1
533 - NY-2/YN-1
538 - 467
555 - 446/443/458 (probably a typo and should be 448)
556 - 150/157
557 - 472
558 - 458/463

Now we're up to eight. But once I start looking at my schedule, that eliminates 448/458/467 along with NY-2/YN-1, eliminating 523, 533, and 538.

But digging a little deeper, the RS-3s were only in service on many of these trains until the Budd RDCs were delivered. So by November 443/446/458/460/463 were all handled by a new RDC-2.

That leaves only two RS-3s, 523 for train 444, and 556 for 150/157. So I went from 6-8 to only 2 RS-3s to model, one in each of the delivery schemes.

I'm still lacking engine assignments for 1951 (except steam, I wish I knew who copied that part so we could get the rest...).  In 1950, all passenger trains on the Highland were handled by RS-1s. It has been mentioned in several articles that they lacked the acceleration needed to maintain their schedules and were replaced "within weeks" but the engine assignments indicate they served the Highland Line passenger trains for at least 3 years, through 1950. In April '52 almost all of them are in yard service, after all of the RS-3s had been delivered.

The primary purpose of the RS-3s was to complete the dieselization of the NH (along with the C-Liners). By November '51, had the RS-3s bumped the RS-1s off of Highland passenger service? I'm going to guess that yes, some of them had been replaced already, since they were being serviced in April 1952 with locomotives delivered in 1951; 537, 545, 546. 

So that gives me a roster of 5 RS-3s:
523 - 1952
537 - 1951 - delivered 10-19-51
545 - 1951 - delivered 11-9-51
546 - 1951 - delivered 11-8-51
556 - 1952

While I haven't set a specific date for operations, I know I'm thinking early November, and a Monday. If I set that to the first Monday in November, then in 1952 that's November 5. Which leaves me with a roster of 3 RS-3s: 523, 537, and 556.

I like that not only because it reduces the number of locomotives needed, but it also puts the layout in the middle of a transition. An RS-3 is running on passenger service, but so is an RS-1. In 1950, train 157 is a DERS-3 (H16-44) and 131/136 is running with a DER-1 (DL-109), so each train has different motive power if I carry those forward.

Only one is from the 1950 group, but if I can get a good match for the Pullman Green used on the Athearn model it won't be hard to mask to paint the hood top

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Structures and Scenery - How Big?

One of the things that I've noticed over the years is that non-railroad portions of many layouts are under scale. In particular, this tends to be the case for roads, trees, and structures. I'll address roads and trees at a later time, but let's look at structures.

Many times structures one model railroads are undersized. This is particularly true of industrial structures such as factories. Why would this be? 

To start with, a lot of commercial structures seem to trend towards compressed. This makes some sense, since they want to make the building capable of fitting on more layouts. Not everybody has the space for very large factory buildings, for example, and I believe the most common layout footprint may still be a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood. One or two large industries fill up a lot of space on a layout that size.

There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but I really like the idea that sense of scale with really large industries. Particularly when modeling railroading's past, it's a reminder of the sheer scale of industry that was spawned by the industrial revolution. For example, the Stanley Works and Russell & Erwin smoke stacks.

Of course, big industries take a lot of space. And other compromises come into play when building a model railroad. For example, if you're building a double-deck layout, the clearance can often limit how big you can go. But my general approach is to start with a scale footprint, and then make modifications from there.

Right now I'm tweaking the corner to the east of Elm Street. New Britain Yard, between Elm and Main Streets, is modeled somewhere between 70% and 80% to scale. I haven't measured things in a while. While this seems very high, there are still compromises that must be made with even that amount of compression. We'll see what impact that has when I get to building the structures.

But east of Elm St is worse, because the track has to curve back around to the helix. As I've noted, on the prototype this section of track is curved the opposite direction. So nothing can be in the exact place it should be.

So how does that affect the scenery, particularly the structures? As it turns out, City Coal & Wood, later City Supply, can be modeled almost entirely to scale. The placement of some elements might be a little off, but overall it can be modeled very faithfully. 

As you can see in this picture, I've cut out footprints of the two main buildings. These are fully to scale and will fit pretty well. Here's a reminder of the prototypical layout. Note that the coal bins, the footprint on the right, is already gone in this photo.

So the oil tanks can be modeled, just not in the exact location. I can probably add a bit of the structures across the parking lot, which are still part of the same industry. But what's different is that Swift & Upton/New Britain Lumber Company won't be in the correct location behind it. Instead, it has to be next to it as the track curves away from the first industry on the layout,

Furthermore, it's clear that the prototypical length of the lumber sheds won't fit at all. They would cross over the mainline, and it leaves no room for the stacks of lumber that are outside. Clearly this will have to be shortened or, more likely, run into the backdrop. 

Fortunately, these are very straightforward and plain structures. There are no windows or loading doors, no real features that would indicate that the model is compressed. Most of the time, this is much more complicated.

Another signature structure will be the freight house. Fortunately it looks like I'll be able to model that do scale, a full 7 1/2' in HO scale. I'm going back to the Sanborn maps to cut out scale footprints for the other structures I'll be modeling, and use that as a starting point to see what will need to be compressed for each of them as well. Part of the art of model railroading, is figuring out how to compress things without losing the character of the scene. Most of the structures are still a ways off, but it's good to revisit the plan and see how things fit together while I'm (re)finalizing the plan, gluing track down, and dropping feeders. Because after that's done I'll get to work on ground cover, roads, and ballast. Knowing the footprints of the structures will be important to get worked out before I do that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Good Enough

A common "standard" that is promoted in model railroading is "good enough." But what does that really mean?

It means whatever you'd like it to. That is, you decide when a given model is "good enough" that you're happy with it.

We all have to decide how much time, effort, and money to put into whatever we're modeling. In addition, our own skill level may be a limitation, although we always have the option of paying somebody else to do what we feel is beyond our skills. For example, hiring Pierre Oliver to build your resin kits. Many people pay to have decoders installed for them. I know a lot of folks that have paid others to finish their brass steam too.

Many modelers have different bars for different things. I've seen layouts with exquisitely detailed scenery and/or models, with sloppily applied ballast. It's not uncommon for modelers to put more effort into locomotives, cabooses, and home road cars than those or foreign roads. Although I think this often has to do with the information readily available, although the internet has changed that considerably.

For me, "good enough" is a moving target. Many of the compromises I choose today are "temporary" and I intend to address them in the future. For example, for most RTR cars I just put them on the layout as is. And for plastic kits, I often do the same with the idea that if I had purchased them RTR, they would have just gone on the layout. That doesn't mean I won't go back and make modifications, add missing parts, etc. Just that I'm not doing so now.

This also applies to things that are beyond my skill set right now. As my skills improve, I'll go back and upgrade things at a later date.

Other times, projects go on hold while I accumulate the information or parts I need. This happens because I often have more opportunities for research than hands-on modeling. Chris and I joke that the curse of prototype modeling is that once you know, you know. I'd rather not know that K-1-d #479 has Southern valve gear, and that it was the locomotive assigned to the New Hartford local. But I know. And I care...for now.

When I get to the point that I'm getting my steam ready for operation, the model very well may retain the Baker valve gear that's already on it. At least until I, or somebody I can pay, can replace it. It might never be altered.

Because the reality is, I'd rather know and choose not to make the modification, than not know.

My goal, though, is for everything to be modeled as prototypically as possible. The trains, the track, the scenery, and also things like the movement of trains, operations, and the paperwork too. I've been going over some of the operations and paperwork recently, but what is "good enough" for my physical models?

I know what my capabilities and standards are for diesels now that I've completed the RS-2s. Locomotives, cabooses, and passenger cars are the three key types of equipment that I'll need to be able to operate regularly. So those are where I'll continue to focus my equipment modeling for now. Freight cars will be primarily RTR with whatever issues they have, and I'll address that later on. But the ultimate goal is for everything to meet the standard set by those locomotives.

And I think that's ultimately what 'good enough' is - the point where your capabilities, resources, and goals meet. That doesn't mean that you're limited to your capabilities and resources today, though. Stretch yourself. Work on the things within your current skills now, and as they improve, you can grow into your goals.

An example? Stanley S-1. With some encouragement, particularly from Dick, I'm moving more toward scratchbuilding it entirely. I've got several potential chassis that I can use, but they aren't quite right. What's changed? I think that it is a combination of the few structures I've scratchbuilt so far, combined with finding creative approaches for scratchbuilding small details for the RS-2s. At this point I think that scratchbuilding steam is still beyond my current skillset, but it's growing. In the meantime, I've gotten to the point where I understand how I can go about it. What pieces will be needed, and how to fabricate them. One option is to start with a kitbash, then either upgrade that, or scratchbuild it afterwards. But if I'm going to scratchbuild it, then I might as well put the time that I would use kitbashing into something else. 

I can operate without it, using 'leased New Haven power.' But now that I've put the effort into the RS-2s, I'm not sure a kitbash for the Stanley locomotive is good enough for me anymore. In the meantime, I have a layout to complete...

Thursday, September 24, 2020


One topic I see come up frequently online is feeders. My general approach has been the same from the start - I don't want visible feeders, so to me the only option is to solder them to the bottom of the rail. Yes, I've seen people do them to the back of the rail, but that assumes you never take photos where that side of the rail is visible. You also have to be more careful not to create a problem when soldering to the inside of the rail.

As for attaching them to the bus? That's a different story.

Since I've basically re-laid the east and west sides and Berlin Line, and of course have the new Whiting St Yard and staging, I have a lot of feeders to drop again. Chris will be coming over to help with a lot of them, since this approach is tougher for tracks farther from the front of the layout, but it can be done without help.

Feeders to the Rail

First step is to drill 1/8" holes for the feeder wires. I do this so the feeder will come up behind each rail. I have a small piece of Masonite with a larger hole that I drilled that I use to protect the rail so I don't mark it with the drill chuck. I've used my Dremel or a regular drill to drill holes. Either work. In this location the benchwork is 1" foam on top of OSB.

The bus is 14 gauge, and the feeders are 22 gauge bell wire. I would have preferred all the same color, but this was what I could find and as long as red is connected to red I'm good.

I then push lengths of the bell wire through the holes, strip a small amount (maybe 1/4") and bend the tip over. As you may have noticed in other pictures, I've been doing this step around the entire layout, then I'll go back to solder them. 

I use a no-clean non-acid flux on the wire and tin the wires with thin, silver bearing solder. Make sure you preheat your iron. I use one of the brass wire cleaning sponge to clean the tip once it's hot, and before I put the iron back in it's stand.

Once the wire is tinned, I apply flux to the tinned wire, then pull the wire down so it is under the rail. This can be a little tricky, which is why you want a very small bend at the end of the wire so you can work it under the rail (this track is already glued down).

Then you press the wire from underneath with one hand, or if you can't reach that, use tweezers to do it above the deck, and touch the iron to the joint. I usually do it on the back, where the elbow (bend) in the wire is. If needed, I'll touch the iron to the spool of solder to pick up a very small amount of extra solder. I know this isn't the proper way to do it, but it has worked for me.

After I remove the iron, I typically do a slow count to 20 before removing the pressure on the wire, then give it a good tug to see if it's a good connection.

If you felt so inclined, you could file the bottom of the rail, or even tin it before this step. While that makes the soldering super-quick, it makes the process as a whole take longer. Without prepping the bottom of the rail, other than flux, I find it just takes a few extra seconds for the solder to flow.

For feeders farther back, I'll just go under the layout and press the wires to the bottom of the rail while Chris solders them.

I have tried soldering the feeders to the rail then putting the rail down. I found that much harder to do for a variety of reasons so didn't pursue it further.

And that's it. Once ballasted, they are buried and you can't see them at all.

Connecting to the Bus

For the other end, I originally used the 3M Scotchlok 'suitcase connectors' like these:

The problem is that if you need to make changes, all you can do is cut the feeder wire. Which led to using this as a pigtail to connect to the feeders themselves using wire nuts:

While that works well enough, I found that when you start adding more than a couple of wires to a single nut, it can be a challenge to get them all to connect securely. Also, the more you add, the more difficult it is to remove just one, which means I end up cutting the wires anyway, and redoing the entire nut. There are different sizes for different numbers of wires, but that means you need to have a variety on-hand.

So I tried a different option, which are press-fit connectors that come in multiple sizes (for 2, 3, 4, 5 wires, etc.). Since I was going to cut the wires anyway if I were to remove one, this was a simple solution. You strip the wire, and push it into the connector:

Faster than wire nuts, but I was back to an option that wouldn't allow easy changes. It also requires you to have a variety on hand, or run feeders in a way to maximize their use. Although it's not a bad idea to leave an empty port for future use.

There are versions that have little levers that will let you release a wire, but they were quite a bit more expensive when I picked these up. And I didn't think I was going to change anything anymore...

You can see one wire that was clipped in that photo.

T-Tap Connectors

So today I tried another option I just found. T-Tap Connectors. I got mine on eBay, but you can get them elsewhere like Amazon. I tried some electrical warehouses nearby, but they didn't have them. However, it appears they are used primarily in the auto and boat industries, so you may be able to get them at an auto parts store.

In any event, this is what they look like:

Like the suitcase connectors, you hold it to the wire:

Fold it over:

And crimp it shut:

These are much easier to crimp than the suitcase connectors, you can just use your wire stripper. But that only taps into the bus. You then measure, cut and strip the feeder...

...and crimp on a male spade connector. You can get the ones that have protection like I did, or without.

Then it just plugs into the side of the T-Tap Connector:

This can be unplugged any time (although it's a very tight fit), and if you need to reuse it, just put a spade on the new wire. Because the spade and T-Tap Connector are separate parts, you just get the sizes of each that fit. 

I can't say it's 'better' than the other options, just different. You can still use this as a pigtail if you'd like to go to a group of feeders. But I like the fact that I can disconnect the feeder if I need to (although in theory I won't need to anymore...), and I also like that the feeder comes off perpendicular to the bus, which is a little cleaner than the suitcase connectors, and you can place them closer together if you needed.

I've got 200, so it's what I'm using now (I do really like them), and hopefully that will be the end of feeder hell.

How Many Feeders?

Which leads me to another point, which is asked frequently online - how many do you need?

The answer is...enough that you don't have significant voltage drop anyplace on your layout. I am using the tried-and-true adage of a feeder to (almost) every piece of rail.

The real answer is that a feeder every three feet or so is overkill. But you're also building in redundancy, so if one feeder fails, you won't have to worry about it. You're also trying to compensate for the poorer connectivity of rail joiners, especially over time and after scenicking.

What if you solder your joints? Then you need fewer feeders, but you're also relying on that soldered joint to not fail. In addition, you have to adjust for expansion/contraction differently than if you don't solder joints. Lastly, as I've found out, you may decide to make changes in the future, and that's harder to do if you solder your joints.

Having said that, if I were laying track now, I probably would solder the joints, but not use rail joiners at all, instead using KV Models joint bars to keep the rail aligned when doing so. That would ensure the alignment is consistent, then cut expansion gaps where needed.

What it really comes down to is how much you hate adding feeders vs how hard it is for you to fix future potential issues. I find that it's really not that difficult to fix or add a feeder even after the track has been ballasted. But it is more challenging if your operating crew is waiting for you to do it.

Especially with help, Chris and I have found that we can do a whole lot of feeders in one work session. And doing it now greatly reduces the number of times we have to deal with feeder issues in the future. Now that both of our layouts have been operating in some capacity for a decade or so, I think we'd both say we're happy with our decision to err on the side of too many feeders.