What’s on Your Workbench?

By Ron Polimeni

With no railroad of my own, I participate by assisting my friends who do have layouts. I’m ever grateful for being included in the operating sessions and enjoy contributing in whatever ways I can. The pandemic has brought this home. With no operating sessions, how do I stay involved and connected? By continuing to do as I’ve done all along. I have my shop.

I have my tools, my imagination, and my skills. Having projects from my friend’s layouts in the works on my bench allows me to feel connected. When operating sessions resume once again, I’ll have something to show for my time in isolation. Here are a number of the projects I’m currently involved in.

These passenger cars are O scale items for Jay Beckham’s railroad. Jay discovered 13 ancient Walthers passenger cars at a flea market for cheap. The kits had never been completed and were badly deteriorated. Especially the wood parts. I offered to do what I could to resurrect the old cars, flea market finds being of interest to me. It took a bit of doing to figure out how to disassemble the cars as they were pinned together.

Jay wanted the roofs removable. To that end, the stamped steel sides had to be reinforced by soldering brass channel just below the top edge. The most difficult part, however, is restoring the deteriorated wood. I’ve been using wood putty to fill in the shrinkage in the grain and will probably work with painters tape to simulate tar paper. The monster soldering iron is on loan from Bob Winkler. Bob was a plumber in a past life. He loaned me the iron with the comment that he hadn’t used it in 50 years and didn’t expect he’d be needing it in the near future. Turns out it’s ideal for the job.

Disassembling the car was a problem. I couldn’t figure a way to remove the screws that held the roof to the car ends without drilling through the floor. Then, on close inspection, I discovered two pins in the cast ends which held the ends in alignment with the floor. Removal of the pins allowed the floor to be slid to the side allowing access to the screws. Essentially the entire car was held together with pins. The stamped sides being attached to both the roof and floor with pins.

I’d always admired the open flat car lumber load as featured on John Allen’s Gorre & Daphetid. When Owl Mountain Models brought out their version of such a load I thought it would be worth a try. Bob Winkler has a sawmill in the town of Coryville on his Central Maryland RR. So far the mill has been shipping their lumber in boxcars and ties in gondolas. Now they can begin shipping lumber on flat cars. The load is modular, in that it can be constructed in several variations. It can also be built so as to fit several different applications and be removable. I constructed this one to fit the Athearn 40′ ‘blue box’ flat. It still needs to be painted and given a wash to help the individual boards to stand out. A simple fun build that will add a great deal to the layout.

Bill Reynolds needed a turntable for turning helper engines on his last layout. I had tried to modify an Atlas turntable to do the job but the mechanism wasn’t up to the task. Bill had a kit, however, for a turntable that would be ideal for the job. Never having built a turntable before, I volunteered for the task. It appears to be an interesting kit. The pit is to be constructed of several layers of plywood. Different diameters of pit opening and thickness of wood being used to create the step for the ring rail. I haven’t begun this project yet but am looking forward to it.

Bob Winkler has a set of locomotives he set up with a pair of old AHM FT cab unit bodies. I’m not sure what the chassis are but they run beautifully. They’ve always irritated me though as the wheelbase is wrong for the FT. To that end, I decided to fit out a pair of F7 shells to replace the FT shells. The stirrups on the pilot of one shell were broken. Rather than attempt a repair of the stirrups I thought it would be interesting to install steps on the pilot of one of the locomotives. Both will be fitted with Walthers “diesel dress-up” kits. Unfortunately, I have to strip these shells once more as I didn’t get my mix right when spraying the Scalecoat blue and it developed a case of orange peel.

The NW-2 is another project awaiting attention in the spray booth. It will be painted and lettered for Bob Winkler’s “Central Maryland”. Bob has a thing for EMD switchers. The handrails are his handiwork and are essentially scratch built as the locomotive shell had none.

 

Alex has expressed interest for some time in building a layout based on a “spaghetti western” theme. Think Clint Eastwood and John Olson’s ‘Mescal Lines’. To that end, I’ve turned over my MDC ‘old-time” equipment to him. At present, I’m working on his caboose roster. Adjusting coupler height on the bobber cabooses is proving to be a bit of a project.

And then there’s my drawing board.

Currently, I’m working on visualizations for the scenery on the turn-back loop by the entrance to Don Florwick’s P&SP Railroad. I took some pics when last I was there before the pandemic struck. We had mocked up some ideas using cardboard. I’m using the pics as a guide in developing the scenery ideas. The sketches will eventually be filled in with colored pencil.

Track planning is a hobby within the hobby for me. Superintendent Jerry Skeim is in the process of constructing a large, double-deck On30 layout. Jerry and I have enjoyed working together as a crew during operating sessions. Talking trains, one thing led to another and Jerry asked if I could offer some thoughts on his project. Beware of what you ask for.

Suffice to say, I’m busy. Despite not having a railroad of my own, I’m able to stay involved, active, and connected in the hobby through my friends.

What’s on Your Workbench?

By Tom Fedor

This summer I finally completed detailing and upgrading my Atlas Classic HO scale C-424 Phase 2 Locomotive, modeled after the Livonia Avon & Lakeville’s (LA&L) diesel number 424.

Atlas Model Railroad Company released the model in 2006 with a list price of $109.95 for the DC version. I ordered mine through a local hobby shop with plans to detail and install DCC.

Why did I choose this model from an obscure short line in western New York state? I worked for the LA&L for 3 weekends in the summer of 1990 until my college course workload prevented me from spending my Saturday’s on their track gang. I believe I even had a cab ride in number 424.

Fourteen years later, this locomotive was now unassembled on my workbench. Atlas’s version was a close replica, but due to industry practices at the time the manufacturer created models that generally adhered to the specific “Phase” (in my case phase 2), so not everything was a match. Some minor bodywork and paint were necessary to address a couple of obvious details that stand out on the real locomotive, making it a distinctive piece of LA&L equipment. Additionally, the Classic series was not plumbed for sound. I had to have the rear weight milled, drilled, and filed to fit a speaker.

Is my model an exact duplicate of the prototype? Not quite. There are things that would require extensive bodywork which I didn’t feel I could successfully achieve.

In addition to a SoundTraxx decoder, I used many images sourced from the internet (above) to place the following details.

  • Modified fuel tanks
  • Exhaust stack
  • Rearview mirrors
  • Sun visors
  • Air intake shields
  • Sand hatch
  • Snowplows
  • Windshield wipers
  • Wheel slip detectors
  • Speed recorder
  • Chain/chain guide
  • Radio antenna
  • Bell
  • Fuel filter
  • Air horns
  • Working front/rear ditch lights

What’s on Your Workbench?

From Don Florwick

Popping into my layout room the other day with no real purpose in mind, I spied a note on one of my staging yard switch panels. The note was reminding me to relabel the panel to clear up an inconsistency between adjacent yard panels.

I have three staging yards (left) along one wall of my layout room stacked one above the other and the 4-yard panels for the three staging yards are similar for each yard. Each panel has a rotary switch to choose the proper staging track. This makes picking a staging track pretty straight forward for my operating crews at the Pittsburgh & South Pennsylvania (P&SP) RR.

So why the note? It seems that for some reason unbeknown to me, I labeled this panel for the middle yard, Wheeling Staging, showing yard track #1 on the wall side of the shelf, whereas the other two yards had track #1 as the first track on the aisle side of the shelf. This inconsistency had not caused major problems but it had caused confusion from time to time if an operator failed to look at the yard panel track diagram before picking their track with the rotary switch, hence the note to self to fix it someday.

I try to remove inconsistencies from my railroad’s infrastructure when I see they create confusion. Operators are busy enough minding their schedule and deciding whether they have the authority to make their movement. 

Making the change was rather easy. I used a piece of an old credit card to remove the dry transfer labeling (left) from the track and rotary switch areas and I repainted the rotary switch area.

I waited a day to let the new paint around the rotary switch area dry. The dry transfers were applied and then over-sprayed with dull cote (below) to protect them.

Total time to make the change; about two hours of puttering around. Another inconsistency was cleared from the P&SP.

Model Railroading: An Ideal Hobby

Photography and essay by Jack Fritz

Never trust a man who doesn’t have a hobby, a female friend once told me. Thank goodness model railroading has been my hobby of choice for over 30 years – I must be very trustworthy.

Why do we enjoy this hobby so much? Forget the idea of the train set running under the Christmas tree or G-scale trains running around a sports bar ceiling. How do we explain our love for the hobby to inquiring minds at a barbecue or cocktail party? How do we convey our enjoyment of various aspects of the hobby: track installation and design, scenery and buildings, locomotives and rolling stock, electronics, simulating switching problems, creating a diorama depicting time and place, railroad research, history and documentation, and railroad art?

For me, the joy of model railroading is twofold.

  1. I get to recreate a world of transportation long gone by.
  2. I can create a complete transportation infrastructure in miniature.

We begin with a planning exercise – what do we want to see before our eyes – perhaps a train pulled by a steam locomotive trundling through the countryside as a period piece?

We strive to create a realistic depiction of time and place, as if we were standing on a station platform. What does our world of rail transportation look like in 1900, 1945 or 1970? In this process we find ourselves trying to understand what the physical world was like, especially the world of railroad work involving varieties of heavy machinery. It’s a way to travel back in time, historically and artistically.

Through this hobby, I am reminded that modern America was not borne out of Silicon Valley, but from workers and tycoons during the late 19th and first half of the 20th century in towns like Bethlehem, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. For those of us interested in steel mills, coal mines, lumber mills and heavy industrial enterprises, research helps us dive deeper into the reality of that time. It’s important to learn about the organization of work in pre-internet America (for those of us who haven’t already experienced it) and the complicated battles fought between labor, management. Wherever there were railroads, there were adjacent enterprises dependent on national connections, and homes and neighborhoods subject to air pollution, noise, unpaved streets, and outdoor plumbing.

Because of model railroading, I’ve can appreciate even more those who inhabited these neighborhoods and did these dirty and dangerous jobs to create the America we know today. By creating these worlds in miniature and giving thought to their complicated histories, we honor those who built industrial America.

Budget Model Railroading

by Ron Polimeni

Ron’s “Corkys Diner” is a former Bachmann trolley with a bottle cap sign.

I recently completed a model of a diner for which I wanted to have a round sign on a pole. My problem was, how to make a round sign without attempting to cut it from sheet styrene. I figured I could possibly hack out a roughly circular shape from styrene and then file it into a disc but that didn’t really seem practical nor did a sliver of PVC pipe which would then have to be filled in. 

On my daily walk I happened to look down as I came up to Capon Bridge’s big green bridge and there were several bottle caps laying in the gravel. Miller Light bottle caps to be precise. And they were undamaged by a bottle opener. Twist-offs perhaps. A light went on and I picked them up. Back at my model bench a check of the scale rule proved them to be approx. 8′ in diameter in 1/87th. Good enough. 

As the pics show, the knurled apron of the cap can be sawn off in a vise. It is necessary though to put a spacer within the cap in order not to pinch the saw blade. The cap must be rotated as one cuts through it so as not to cut into the spacer.

When two bottle caps have been so prepared, a notch for the pole is filed in the lip and they can then be joined back to back using a wood or styrene filler piece. The seam between the halves can be covered with a strip of styrene or filled with putty or both. For lettering I used dry transfers, as I don’t as yet have the capability of making my own decals. Learning to print decals will be yet another project. Never a shortage of things to learn and/or do in this hobby.

The diner was bashed from an old Bachmann trolley. A skirt was made from styrene board and batten sheet. The steps are wood bits with commercial railings. The doors are Tichy castings. Caboose stove pipes, bits of wire, Microscale Industries Kristal Klear windows and a kitchen shed from the scrap box complete the structure. Paint and finish was done by my pal Dotti.