I Hear That Train A Comin’

There’s been a lot of work done the past couple of weeks and I guess the end result is that we now have a train we can run.

Comin' Atcha

Comin’ Atcha

The road bed is down, the main line and a siding are down, and we even have a couple switching yards, one permanent and one temporary.

Please don't drive off the end of the track.

Please don’t drive off the end of the track.

I’ve discovered that this seems to be the perfect hobby for my easily distracted, ADD-ish brain. If I feel like doing some rough carpentry work I can modify the bench, if I’m in the mood for electronics I wire up a switch machine or solder a switch on the control panel. I can build or paint a model if I feel like working on the details.

Wiring up the temporary control panel

Wiring up the temporary control panel

Or, if I want to just sit back and watch a train run around a track, I can do that now. The Boy and I can even do some “operations” and move box cars around the switch yard.

There’s really no shortage of tasks.

One thing I attempted to do is paint the backdrop. Sadly, my lack of artistic talent could not be disguised and the end result was a blue wall with some messy white brush strokes and a couple of laughably bad “clouds” in the sky. It’s really kind of embarrassing, actually. My wife is a bit more artistic than I am so I’ve asked her if maybe she could re-do it and I’ve even contemplated paying someone to paint me a simple backdrop. I can’t afford to hire someone to do a full-on mural, though I would really love that.

Getting the track powered up was pretty exciting. I have plans to make a nice-looking control panel but in the mean time I’ve put together a temporary one for the turnout switches and another bus for the DCC power.

DCC Power bus

DCC Power bus

The Boy and I have had great fun moving the box cars around the track, sorting them in the yard, and building a train. Our layout is rather small, the only siding isn’t even big enough for a full train, but we’ve made the most of it and have had fun trying to figure out how to place a certain car onto a certain track. Eventually we’ll have some industries we can serve.

One of the more exciting milestones was when I got the first switch machine installed under the layout. After doing some research I chose to use Tortoise machines. Getting under the layout to install them was not easy, nor was soldering the electronics to control them, but once I was able to flick a toggle switch and have the turnout switch to another track I felt like I had really accomplished something magical.

Tortoise #1 installed under Turnout #1.

Tortoise #1 installed under Turnout #1.

I have a bunch of bi-color LEDs that I will eventually wire in to the control panel as a visual indicator of which track is active but for now I’ve built a temporary panel with just the toggle switches. We first have to get all the turnouts and switch machines installed permanently so we can draw up a track schematic on the panel.

The track power is supplied via a couple 18 gauge wires under the layout. From the main bus I’ve installed track feeders every few feet. These are 22 gauge wires coming up through the plywood, soldered to the track. I still have many more to install, including several on each turnout, but in the meantime the entire track seems to have power so I’m in no rush to get them all installed.

Can you find the track feeder?

Can you find the track feeder?

In order to populate the track I’ve been buying cheap rolling stock on eBay, mostly buying cars that have some sort of nostalgia for me or that fit the theme of the layout. My latest acquisition is a Wonder Bread / Hostess car. I grew up across the lake from the bakery and the former spur line that goes past my current house would deliver an occasional car filled with Twinkie filling or bread dough or whatever.

Childhood memories

Childhood memories

I also have a couple of Conrail boxcars, a Polaroid car, and some custom Carling cars. I’ve had to replace the couplers and trucks on most of them, occasionally modifying the car body to take the new coupler gearbox. I’ve been cutting, drilling, tapping, gluing and adjusting. Lots of fun.

Wonder Bread!

Wonder Bread!

We’re still running all these trains on bare plywood so even though the track may be powered up we still have a lot of work to do. Once all the switch machines are down I’m hoping to build a fascia and then we can terraform the landscape with a cardboard lattice and some plaster cloth.

In the meantime The Boy and I are having a blast watching our train go around and carefully working the switches to operate our barren, miniature world.

The Boy takes it for a spin.

The Boy takes it for a spin.

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About Jim

Just a guy who likes to make stuff.
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