Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Planning - Layout

Yep, I'm a couple of posts behind. Things got a little busier than expected since Emily's nurse ended up not being able to come on vacation this year.

The biggest post-vacation/summer push is to get the layout running. There's quite a bit of work on the layout and the room to get that going, but progress is good.

Just so I feel like I've made some progress, here's a shot from February 2010:

Often building a layout seems like two steps forward, one step back. But the overall progress is forward. So what's the plan for August and into the fall?


I have all of the lights that need to be installed in the ceiling, and just need to install them. I've come to the conclusion that it's probably best to hire an electrician, but that takes a bit project out of my hands.

Trackwork and Feeders

I have a turnout that I need to hand lay to complete rebuilding part of the mainline. That east side of town also needs new feeders, I want to get that running so I can start thoroughly testing the mainline with passenger trains. It may need some tweaking. After it's running well, I can let trains run while working on other things.

Stanley Works and most of the west side also needs feeders. I also need to finish the coal trestle for Russell & Erwin.

There's some track to lay for the turntable, and then wire everything there, plus some feeders in staging to address. That will take care of the main layout.

The Berlin Line in its entirety needs feeders, and I need to lay rail for the bulk tracks.

I want to get the track scale operational, which requires the installation of some sensors.


I have more of the racks to install for paints and supplies, along with general clean-up and organization.

So while there is a fair amount of work (outside of locomotives, cabooses and passenger cars as I've been covering), I think that a lot of this can get done within 30-60 days. The trackwork is largely redoing what was running before (just better), so it will be good to get back to that point, but I think it's the lights that will feel like the biggest step forward. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Planning - Cabooses

To be prepared for ops sessions, I'm also going to need to finish some cabooses. I have some information as to which cabooses to use, but there are some holes in my current research.

For regular trains (such as a local freight), a caboose was frequently assigned to a specific conductor/job. The conductor was responsible for ensuring the caboose was stocked with all of the supplies required. By always having the same caboose, they could set it up to their liking and not have to remove their belongings/supplies at the end of each run. So there is quite a bit of consistency once some data is acquired.

The first information I had to work with were the caboose assignment books for 1950, 1951, and 1953. Photos are useful to confirm or fill in holes in information, but unfortunately the caboose is often not identifiable since people tended to take pictures of the locomotive.

Here are a couple, though:

C-139 on YN-3 in Berlin c1946. Kent Cochrane

In this photo the train was hauled by an I-4, it could have been earlier. This was fortunately taken from the back end, and an earlier shot of the same train had the caboose right behind the locomotive.

In another Cochrane photo of YN-3, this time in Plainville on July 7, 1947 with DEY-5 (S-2) No 0606, it has an NE-5. Unfortunately, I can't make out the road number.

I also have photos of NE class C-116 on HDX-5 hauled by K-1-d No 479. This is consistent in any picture Kent took of this train.

I initially pulled the assignments for all trains running through New Britain. Since the NE-6s were delivered in 1948, other than the first 4 in 1947, I figured a number of the trains in 1947 and earlier had wood cabooses. I also had a video of an NE-2 going through New Britain.

So I built a small collection of cabooses, a couple of NE, an NE-2, four NE-4s, five NE-5s, and five NE-6s. But once I narrow the focus to trains that will run during diesel-only ops sessions, I end up with only four potential trains:


The earliest assignment I have is 1950 and it's NE-5 C-546, which is also noted in 1951. It's reasonable to believe it was also assigned in 1949. This became NX-25 in 1952 with the elimination of the Hartford Division. I don't have assignments for 1952. In spring of 1953 it was C-706 with C-546 as a spare assigned to Hartford, so either is a possibility for late 1952.


Running through 1952, this train always has two cabooses assigned to it. I'm not sure why, and I don't think they run two together, but they are NE-6 class C-708 and C-709 in 1950 and 1953, and C-707 and C-709 in 1951. In 1951 C-708 is a Hartford spare.


In 1951 this is NE-6 C-701, the train also ran in 1952, so I'll assume it's the same.

So a lot fewer cabooses than I thought I'd need.


Only one NE-5 and up to four NE-6s. It's interesting that these are the final four NE-6 (or any for the NH) cabooses. I could get by with one caboose for NY-4/YN-3 and reduce that by two cabooses. At some point I'll need to add one or more NE class cabooses as well, but it's looking less likely that I'll need an NE-4. But I can cover 1949-1953 with only three cabooses:

  • C-546 (NE-5) (HDX-5), with a possibility of C-706 (NE-6) for NX-25 in 1952.
  • C-701 (NE-6) (OA-2/AO-3)
  • C-709 (NE-6), optionally with C-707 and C-708 (YN-3/NY-4)

I'll get into the details and the modifications I'm making to these in future posts. But here's a list of what I think are the most accurate models of these classes:

  • NE - Crown Custom/Railworks brass with the F&C/NHRHTA resin kit a close second
  • NE-2 - Overland brass
  • NE-4 - Challenger
  • NE-5 - Overland brass (1999 release)
  • NE-6 - Atlas

I haven't examined any potential NE-3 caboose models, I don't even recall if one has been released. I'm not finding one with a quick search.

The NE, NE-2, and NE-4 cabooses need only minor corrections, although none of them have an interior. Ironically, it's the NE-5 and NE-6 models that need the most corrections.

Ce la vie.

I'll probably work on these in August/September since I don't have too many to do (and I've completed a lot of the work already).

Friday, July 9, 2021

Planning Ahead

DERS-2c (RS-3) 529 with a circus train in New Britain c1954. K. Cochrane.
I think this is during the summer of '54 when the Highland Line was single-tracked.

I've been working a lot of extra hours lately, we're getting ready for vacation, and I'm still working on rebuilding the main website, among other things. Plus it's mid-year so it seemed a good time to take a step back to refocus my efforts. Usually I would be doing this about this time after the NE Prototype Meet.

I do want to finish those flat car models, and paint more, but the primary focus needs to be getting the layout fully operational for ops sessions. A lot of time will be spent on the layout and basement.

Another thing I need to work on locomotives. There's a good chance that I'll have a friend do the decoders, not because I can't do it, but it's time consuming and I'll be putting that time into other projects. I'll still need to detail them as well. 

For now, the focus will be solely on diesels, since they will be easiest to get running. That narrows the focus to 1949-1954, but the reality is that the line was single-tracked in the summer of '54, so if I'm sticking with November, I'm really modeling through 1953.

The goal is to be able to start some sort of Operating Sessions in September.


This is the obvious starting point since it's only the 44-tonners and RDCs, and priority No. 1. I'll plan on one major locomotive project per month, and I should be able to complete this in August.
  • 44-tonners (3)
    • Repair/replace the gears.
    • Install decoders/speakers/weight.
    • Paint and letter.
    • By completing all three, one can be leased to Stanley.
  • RDCs
    • Decide whether to apply the Fight Cancer decals.
    • Weathering.


The other years require quite a few more locomotives. This is probably the easiest in terms of the amount of work to be done to get them ready. I'd like to get these done by the end of the year to be able to add a more complex session. 
  • FA-1/FB-1/FB-2
    • Two Maybrook freights. This is late enough that they can be the factory painted Proto 2000 FA-1/FB-1, plus the Rapido FB-2. These will need a look for final details, then weathering.
  • Two RS-3s.
    • I'll be detailing three total, at least to start. These will need some work, particularly the pilots. 
  • RS-2 0503
    • Already done.
  • DL-109 
    • The brass one, since it would be rebuilt by then. It will be the first brass locomotive running on the layout.
    • Paint, letter, and weather.
    • DCC.


There are two locomotive projects, a bit more involved:
  • RS-1
    • Since I've decided to go ahead and make modifications to the shells, these will take some time. 
    • Acquire one more.
    • Modify the shells
    • Paint (hopefully just touchup) and renumber at least two of them.
    • DCC if I get one with DC only.
    • Weathering.
  • S-1
    • I'll need two different road numbers, one for 1949, and the other for 1950-1.
    • Get KV Models to produce the correct fan grates (the P2k model is wrong).
    • There will be other modifications, but not too many.
    • Build the cabs.
    • DCC
    • Paint, letter, and weather.


Only one additional locomotive project.
  • DL-109
    • If I haven't completed it with the other DL-109
    • Complete roof and other shell modifications
    • Touch up paint, letter and weather.
    • DCC


This will be last simply because I'll need to custom paint and get custom decals made for the Comet. Other than that, all the other locomotives needed will already be completed.

To model operations for any year other than 1953 will require cabooses and passenger cars as well. I'll work my way through those lists in another post or two.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Road Trip

John and I took a little road trip to Selkirk and the surrounding area. I'd never been up there, but John went to college (and met his wife) in Schenectady.

They yard itself is basically inaccessible to railfans, although we stopped and walked up an overpass to watch a bit of switching from a distance. Of course I didn't take any pictures there (duh!), but a long freight of auto racks was getting prepared to run west so we decided to head down to a grade crossing to get a better vantage point.

We went further down the road to Voorheesville which has parking for the rail trail right at the crossing. The rail trail is the old D&H line, and this is right about where it crossed the NYC/B&A There were several other railfans waiting here and we caught a small train that appeared to be a clean-up job and probably the last for the morning/day.

After that we went up to a point where the line crosses the tip of Watervliet Reservoir at Twin Bridge. There's a pair of single track bridges built at different times, although one clearly has a pier for a double track. I don't know if it was built as a single track, but the design itself is really interesting.

I'm not sure what to make of the truss, or the angled lattice structural members at the pier. It would be quiet interesting to model, it's such an odd looking bridge.

For my AML buddies, we had lunch at one of John's old favorites, Slick's in Schenectady. I think I could have made four sandwiches with this. It was delicious.

We also caught a couple of Amtrak trains on the way, but I didn't get pictures/videos, plus saw another freight at a distance headed by a couple of NS units.

It was great checking it out, but even better to be with somebody who knew the area and the history.

Monday, July 5, 2021


I'm writing this post simply because I seem to be responding to this sort of question multiple times a week on Facebook and elsewhere. Of course, I don't have to respond, but...

The context and specific questions don't really matter, because the same myths and comments inevitably arise in the comments. Usually the post isn't even asking which is better. Instead, it's somebody asking how to do something in DC and the thread is flooded with folks trying to convince them to convert to DCC.

This gives me a post to refer to when responding, instead of writing it over and over again.

Obviously, I'm a DCC guy, and find that there are a great many benefits. But this isn't intended to convince somebody using DC to convert. Just to provide some info to address some common myths, even after all these years. If you want to stick with DC, that's just fine with me!

So here are four common myths, in no particular order:

Myth No. 1 - It's Complicated

You don't need to know about CVs, programming, etc. to use DCC. You need two things:

  1. The DCC system needs to be connected to the track. You do this the exact same way as DC. Two wires, or a bus, and make sure there are no shorts. A short in DC is a short in DCC. And if your locomotives work on the layout in DC, they will work with DCC. 
  2. You need a decoder in your locomotive. This is where I think there's a lot of mystery about it's purpose and how it works. So here's my explanation.

With DC, you control the power and direction of the locomotive directly through the track. The polarity determines the direction, and the amount of voltage determines the speed. Very simple.

With DCC, the track voltage is always at the equivalent of full power on a DC throttle, and you don't have to be concerned about the polarity. Instead, your throttle tells the decoder how much voltage, and the polarity, to apply to the motor. 

In order to do that, each locomotive has an address. By default this is 3. If you're only ever going to run one locomotive at a time, then there's no need to change this. Press Loco on your controller, then 3, then enter, and you're running a train.

Otherwise you'll want to change the road number. This will be a little different on each system, but it's often the only programming you'll ever have to do. Some stores (online or brick and mortar) will set this for you if you ask. Otherwise I'll use the MRC system as an example. No need to connect a programming track, you'll do this on the main. Just make sure there is only one locomotive on the track with the default number of "3."
  1. Press Prog
  2. Select Prog Main Track
  3. Press Enter
  4. Type "3" to select locomotive No. 3
  5. Press Enter
  6. Adr will flash on the screen
  7. Type the number that you want to use for that locomotive (usually the road number).
  8. Press Enter
Although another option will flash in the screen, if all you are doing is changing the locomotive number, then just press Loco, type in the new road number to select it, then press Enter. You are now ready to run that locomotive under that number.

For the majority of modelers, it doesn't need to get any more complicated than that. However, there are many other features that DCC offers that you can't do easily, or at all, with DC. This includes things like consisting, sound, speed matching, tweaking motor performance, etc. I'm not going to say that these are all simple, and some systems are better than others in these regards.

Myth No. 2 - Wiring is Complicated

I'm sure we're all familiar with the, "DCC only needs two wires," marketing copy. While it's technically correct, in practice you'll probably want to do a bit more. The bottom line is, if the wiring is sufficient for reliable running under DC, then it is for DCC too. But I have a few comments:

DC can often be far more complex to wire than DCC. This arises when you want to be able to run multiple trains independently at the same time. So you have to create different electrical blocks, with separate controllers, etc. 

With DCC you'll need multiple throttles as well, but you don't need to wire in blocks for independent running. This is one of the biggest advantages in my opinion. It's often described as, "controlling the train, not the layout." In other words, you don't have to worry about flipping switches on the layout, or not running into a block controlled by another throttle as you might with DC. You just choose your locomotive and run it.

You might use separate blocks to install circuit breakers in case somebody causes a short (a derailment, for example) in one section of the layout. By doing this, that short won't shut down other sections of the layout. But it's not required.

It's also much easier to wire a reversing loop in DCC. With DC you usually have a manual switch (although there are options to automate it). But there are more options with DCC.

Some other areas you'll often see mentioned are using boosters. A booster is needed only when you are drawing too much voltage. That's determined by the number of locomotives and how much each locomotive draws. The number of boosters doesn't have anything to do with the size of the layout itself. a 4' x 8' or 40' x 80' layout can both be run on a single booster. If you're considering DCC, start with one and see what your actual usage requires. 

Then there's the idea of "DCC Friendly" switches. This isn't a defined term, so it means different things to different people. Switches should generally not be wired for power routing. Some use it to refer to whether the frog is powered or not. Another common description is when the points are electrically connected. All of these situations will work for DCC. 

If your layout is already built, then yes, there may be some alterations that you might choose to make. The advantage to a powered frog is the same as DC, it prevents stalling (particularly for small wheelbase locomotives). I'd recommend that the points should be electrically isolated whether DC or DCC, but they will work with either.

But if you have a fully wired DC system, with blocks, etc., then converting is certainly something that may require some work. In fact, for a reasonably large existing layout I would consider this a more valid reason to not convert than probably any other. 

Myth No. 3 - It's Expensive

Obviously, "expensive" is a relative term, so what you consider is expensive, somebody else may not. So instead let's say, "it costs money."

Unless you have a fixed budget for all the money that you will ever spend on your layout in your lifetime, the question isn't about how much it costs, but whether you'd prefer to spend the money on something else. You could buy several more freight cars, or get a DCC system. Get a new locomotive, or install a decoder in one or more existing ones. 

Certainly if you have a large roster of locomotives, then converting them all to DCC may be a considerable expense. If you actually use all of those locomotives on a regular basis, then this may be a very reasonable reason not to switch. Having said that, I've known plenty of people with extensive rosters that have used a number of approaches to switch.

In my observation and experience in this (and other) hobbies, people will spend money on something if they want it enough. If DCC doesn't reach the level of "want it enough" then you probably won't spend the money on it. 

That's really the reason why people don't switch - they don't think the potential benefits are worth spending their time and/or money on. "It's too expensive," is really, "it's not worth that to me."

The fact is, the DCC system will usually cost less than the benchwork. Or the track. There's a good chance that it's less expensive than the switches and wiring needed for a complex DC block system. Or many other things. If you consider what you'll spend on your layout over a lifetime, a DCC system isn't going to rise to the level of a "major" expense. So you'd rather spend the money on something else. Nothing wrong with that.

Myth No. 4 - "DCC Ready" Means Something

"DCC Ready" is a marketing term. It is not defined, and thus can mean something different to every manufacturer. There are two general categories, though.

Newer models, that were released in DC and DCC versions in their initial run, generally just need a decoder added. Those that were initially released with sound may even already have a speaker installed. Regardless, they were designed with a place for the decoder (and for sound units, a speaker). This makes it very simple to upgrade.

Older models, that weren't initially designed for DCC, can be more complicated. I've purchased "drop-in" decoders for a "DCC Ready" model that required some modification of the frame to fit. I've had others that required you to cut several traces on the circuit board when you install a decoder. 

I usually remove any circuit boards when converting an older model.

The fact is, any locomotive can be converted to DCC. But older ones can be somewhat complicated. My advice is to plan on paying somebody to install a decoder if it's an older model, regardless of whether it's "DCC Ready." If you learn how to do it, or it's a simple installation, then all the better. And sometimes "paying somebody" is working on something else for a buddy who installs a decoder for you.

DC(C) Works for Me

This is not a myth.

If DC works for you, then great! It's worked for decades and will continue to do so. I do understand that if you are happy and continue to use DC that you'll be subjected to a lot of people trying to convince you to switch. Again, that's not my intention here, but on the flip side I do think most people will find operating with DCC "better" and want to help dispel the myths that might prevent you from switching.

I would recommend that if you prefer it, then don't bother justifying why. If you say, "it's too expensive," then somebody will try to prove to you that it's not expensive, and may actually cost less than the DC system you're building. 

Just tell people you're quite happy with how it's working for you, and it's what you're using now. In particular, I wouldn't say the reason you are sticking with DC is one of the ones that I've listed, because many folks will see that as an invitation to dispute that myth. 

It really doesn't matter why somebody chooses to use DC or DCC.

Why DCC?

Like I said, this post isn't intended to promote DCC over DC, but I think it might be useful to know why I use it. This is probably more for new modelers rather than those who have used DC for a while and are happy with how it works for them. But for those on the fence, or new to the hobby, why consider it at all if it will cost more for a DCC locomotive than DC?

I mentioned several advantages like independent control of locomotives, consisting, motor control, etc.  Overall, I think DCC is more flexible, and offers many features that DC just doesn't. The ease of installation (of the system, not decoders in locomotives), are all reasons for me. As a prototype modeler, I want my model railroad to operate like the prototype as well. This includes how the locomotives move, things like sound (because the use of the bell/horn and a number of other features) is important for actual operations. But that's me.

But the No. 1 reason why I prefer DCC is its ease of operation.

Most of the reasons that people give for not switching to DCC are focused on the layout owner. This makes some sense, since it's their layout and they are paying for it. But as somebody who has operated on dozens of layouts, I can tell you that it is absolutely the best option for operating somebody else's layout.

I can go to a layout that operates using DCC and immediately know how to run my train. I've also operated on a number of DC layouts, and it's always a much more complicated process. For the layout owner, who is used to their particular block and control design, it may seem simple, but for a visiting operator that's usually not the case.

With DCC all I need to know is the road number (or consist number), select a loco, and run my train. It's the same on every DCC system. 

This is also one of the main reasons I love the ProtoThrottle. It's very intuitive, and simple. I'm also not interested in more "advanced" DCC capabilities. For example, I've operated on layouts where turnouts were controlled by DCC. This is fine if everything is operated by a Dispatcher, but not if each operator is expected to control switches from their throttle. 

Like DC, the layout owner will say, "it's easy." But I find that in both cases we spend more time asking for help in getting the layout to work when I'd prefer that my focus (as an engineer) is on my train. I appreciate it from a technology standpoint. But I don't want to use it. 

I want it to be simple for operators coming to my layout.

What System?

If you do decide to go with DCC, obviously, I'd recommend MRC, which I've been using for over a decade, although I'll be switching to ProtoThrottles for the actual throttle. So any base system that works with them is fine with me.

But when asked which system I recommend, the answer always starts with whatever your modeling buddies use. They will be your first point of technical support, and can also bring throttles over so you don't have to buy several at once. Around here that would be NCE. I'm comfortable going my own way, so will stick with MRC. I'm not a fan of the Digitrax design, but they are also a very capable system. Outside of the "big three" there are varying degrees of features, flexibility, and complexity and you'd have to be willing to go that route knowing that you many not know anybody else that uses that system. Although I think a lot fewer modelers use MRC, I can say that I know it is a fully capable system, like NCE and Digitrax. On the other hand, I've never used something like the Bachmann system, so I can't tell you if it has all of the core features I'd expect.

Each system does have its strengths, and since I'm not familiar with all of the latest features of all of the many systems, I'm not really qualified to answer anything more than that generalization. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

Speedwitch L&M Gondola

I pulled out a kit I started a while ago, the Speedwitch L&M USRA clone gondola. At the time I was having issues getting the ends glued on.

The problem (I should have taken a picture) was two-fold. First, the ends were slightly warped top to bottom. Second, the sides had warped inward. Because the original frame is cut out to accept the new ends, probably combined with the styrene boards I glued to the styrene bracing, the sides had bowed in quite a bit.

In both cases, with some fairly firm bending, I was able to correct the issue enough so they weren't all pulling in different directions when trying to glue the ends on. I also learned that CA actually has a shelf life at which point it's effectiveness decreases. I had purchased an entire box several years ago, and even though I was using newly opened bottles, I decided to go with a fresh one I purchased recently.

How much work is left depends on how much more of the detail I want to add. Ted's described what he did here. here, here, and here. I don't have the set of punches he uses (yet...), but I'll probably do most of the other details.