Thursday, April 17, 2014

Some More Video

The Thayer clan (Stuart and his brother Bill and nephew Pete) stopped by for a visit recently. Pete was able to catch a few trains in action on the railroad. Here's a link to the video:

Hope you enjoy!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dry Creek Coal Tipple #2

Over the past several months, I've been working on the tipple for Dry Creek Coal at Summit Springs. This structure is based upon Virginia Iron and Coal Company's Esco 10-K tipple at Esco, Kentucky. There are several excellent shots of this facility taken by Everett Young in Stephen M. Timko's recent book "Appalachian Coal Mines and Railroads in Color." Due to space constraints, I had to modify the arrangement of the tipple on the layout versus the prototype. Hopefully, though, I've been able to captured the basic feel of the structure and the location.

Using the photographs in the book, I drew up plans for the basic shape of the structure. The spacing between the tracks was already established and by using a hopper car as a guide, I was able to determine the height and width of the structure. From there, I simply sketched out the rest of the structure until the dimensions looked close to the picture of the tipple. Below is a shot of the basic framework.

Once the basic framework was complete, I went back and added all of the cross bracing. I had planned to use Plastruct angles for the cross bracing, but even the smallest sized angles looked too big. So I opted to use Evergreen scale 2 x 3's instead. The photos below show the tipple with the bracing in place.

Part of the challenge of scratch-building a structure like this is figuring out how to construct all of the various components in a way that allows everything to be assembled correctly and weathered appropriately. I knew that I would have to add a conveyor on the first floor of the structure so I couldn't have the top section of the tipple attached directly to the frame. Several other components would have to be built separately as well. The photo below shows all of the finished pieces, with the exception of the top part of the structure, ready for weathering.

With all of the major components built, painted and ready for weathering, it was time to turn my attention to the scenery in the area. First, I glued a small piece of wood in place to serve as the base for the structure. Then I added plaster to the area around the base until I had a fairly level surface area around the building. Next, I added some plaster to the road across the tracks and laid down the ties and rails for the crossing. I also built a small retaining wall between the tipple spurs and the main line. This helps highlight the vertical separation between the mine spurs and the main line. The photos below show the area at this point.

As the Thayer clan (Stuart and his brother Bill and nephew Peter) is stopping by for a visit today, I thought I would set the structure in place so they could see how it's progressing.

There's a lot of work yet to be done to finish this scene, but the end is finally in sight!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Some Ballast Hoppers for the CWE

For whatever reason, railroad maintenance of way equipment always seems to appeal to model railroaders. Perhaps it's the unique paint schemes that this type of equipment typically sports, or maybe it's the fact that much of the equipment is specially built or converted from regular revenue service cars. It seems everyone who has ever built more than a handful of freight cars has built some MofW equipment at some point. 

Many years ago I saw a couple of photographs of 55-ton hopper cars that had been assigned to ballast service on the Clinchfield Railroad. I knew right then that I had found the paint scheme for the ballast hoppers on the CWE and that a few would show up on the layout some day. I had originally planned to convert several old Athearn 2-bay hoppers for this project, but once Accurail came out with their 55-ton hopper, I decided to use them instead. They appear to be a very close match to the Cinchfield cars, and the detail on the kits is fantastic.

So here are some shots of the recently completed ballast hoppers. The first two are the Accurail cars.

CW&E 95034 was weathered based upon the photo below of one of the Clinchfield cars. I'd give credit where due for the photo, but it's another one of those that I picked up off the Internet.

Next up are a couple of MDC ballast hoppers with longitudinal doors.

And last up, an Atlas ballast hopper. I picked this up at a local train show for eight bucks and was amazed at the detail: wire grabs, full brake rigging, etc. This is the kind of detail you'd find on a brass model not that long ago.

Here are a few down-on shots of the loads.

All of the cars were weathered with artist's acrylics, powders and some airbrushing. On CWE 95034, I even added some rust using water soluble oils. The weathering on that car incorporates just about every weathering trick I know!

In the shot below, we see the ballast train as it moves out of a pretty empty Hollister Yard.

Next time we'll take a look at all of the equipment in the train and explore some ways to incorporate it into an operating session.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Op Session Update

Last Friday, the Chesapeake, Wheeling and Erie Railroad held its 12th operating session. It's hard to believe that the first ever session was held in April of 2012- not even two years ago. A lot has changed on the layout over that period of time, and more changes will take place in the future as the operating scheme continues to be modified based upon the comments of the crew and the additions of new equipment and staging track.

During the last session, we ran two freights that originated in staging for the first time- one eastbound and one westbound. The trains originated in staging, worked various locations across the modeled portion of the layout, and then terminated in staging at the other end of the layout. In the past. there was a westbound freight that terminated at Hollister Yard in North Pierce early in the session and an eastbound that originated there toward the end of the session. Hollister Yard was never designed to originate and terminate through and way freights- only locals and mine runs. This change to the operating scheme seemed to work really well, and I'm anxious to see how it plays out over the next several sessions.

The addition of two new U30C's enabled the railroad to have the two freights originate in staging. Below is a shot of the new units headed up the 2.5% grade from Big Chimney up to Summit Springs.

These units started out decorated for the L&N with headlights in the low noses. The factory paint was stripped using 91% isopropyl alcohol and they were repainted in CWE colors. Several of the regular operators on the layout who model the L&N and are die-hard fans of that line about had coronaries when they heard that I had stripped off the L&N colors. Covers were made for the nose headlights out of .005 styrene and rivets were added using Micro Mark's rivet decals. Sanding lines, speed recorder cables and wheel slip indicators were added to the trucks. New windshield wipers were also added as the factory installed wipers were glued on and couldn't be removed without destroying the parts. Lastly, bells were added to the long hoods.

The photo below shows the units heading onto Bridge #40 over the main line at Big Chimney and headed toward Cedar Falls Jct.

The shot below shows the steel plate over the former location of the headlight in the low nose.

And lastly, we see the two units as they blast through Cedar Falls Junction on their way to Summit Springs. The Sand Fork Branch leaves the main to the left and heads across White Oak Creek Trestle.

This last operating session was also the first time a special boxcar appeared in regular revenue service. The photo below show SOU 43029 on the rear of MTNM-6 as it crosses Bridge #40. This is the beautiful boxcar that Bob Zoellner built and gave to me at the last session in January. And yes, it runs as good as it looks. 

The U30C's still need some work with DecoderPro in order to better match the engine sounds with the speed control along with some tweaking of the low speed operation, but it's good to finally have them on the layout. And it makes me anxious to get the F-units that are in the paint shop ready for their debut. But that's a story for another day.

Monday, February 17, 2014

No.'s 99 and 100

One of the first things I did when I developed the concept of the Chesapeake, Wheeling and Erie Railroad was to establish a numbering system for the freight car fleet. Hopper cars would be in the 70,000 range, with earlier cars in the lower portion and more recent cars in the higher portion of the series. The chart below shows how various cars fit into the scheme.

Note the addition of cars in the 125,000 and 103,000 series. Once the Bowser 100 ton cars and the BLI H2A cars became available, I had to add expand the series to accommodated these cars. A quick check of the numbering series for the C&O's vast hopper car fleet revealed that cars were numbered in a variety of series. So adding the 103,000 and 125,000 series certainly seemed plausible.

As part of my renewed focus on building hopper cars for the layout, I took a tally of how many had been completed. There were just under 100 cars that had been painted and lettered for the home road. It occurred to me that I could memorialize a milestone by numbering the 100th car as XX100. And while I was at it, I may as well number the 99th car. So below are numbers 125100 and 125099 at Hollister Yard in North Pierce, WV.

In the picture below, 125100 is rolling east on the Sand Fork Shifter headed for one of the tipples along the Sand Fork Branch.

And in this last shot, we catch 125099 crossing White Oak Creek Trestle, having been loaded earlier in the day at Consolidated Coal Tipple #4 at the end of the Sand Fork Branch.

I sure hope it doesn't take as long to get to #'s 199 and 200 as it did to get to these two...

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Continuing Saga of the Mysterious Campfire

Over the weekend, reports surfaced of an unattended campfire somewhere along the Forest Park Southern right-of-way. Various sources claimed to have spotted smoke somewhere in the vicinity of Beagle Creek while others reportedly saw flames in the distance somewhere around Spook Mountain. Repeated attempts by railroad management to locate the fire were unsuccessful, which wasn't surprising to local residents. "Them people couldn't find the dang fire if they was sitting in it" said a resident of Beagle Creek. 

The Forest Service and local law enforcement officials have been called in to assist in the search. The authorities are confident the unattended fire will be found soon. As one member of Sheriff's Department said, "Where there's fire, there's usually smoke, and smoke isn't too difficult to spot, even on a cloudy day."

Saturday, February 1, 2014


After what seems to be like forever, the last two F-units are finally in the paint shop. The photo below shows them ready to receive their first coat of paint.

This is one of those projects that just seemed to take forever! It began over ten years ago with the thought that I would take a couple of old Athearn Blue Box shells and upgrade them with American Model Builders windows and a lot of detail parts. One unit was going to be powered and one would be a dummy. Along the way I acquired a Proto Power West can motor and installed it into the Athearn chassis. I even went so far as to add new trucks and side frames and installed a decoder to make sure it would run OK.

Fast forward a few years and I decided to upgrade the units with Highliner shells. When the boxes arrived, I was amazed at all of the parts and the options. It was clear that, in addition to the time required to build the models, I was going to have to do some research and decide which variation of F-unit the railroad would have in service.

At one point, I pulled out a couple of Stewart F3's with Kato drives that my Stepfather had given me a number of years ago. I remembered his comments about how well they ran, and it occurred to me that I might be able to use the drives under the Highliner shells. Alas, there didn't appear to be a way to make this work. So it was back to detailing the shells. I started with the rear of the shells and worked my way up to the top before losing interest in the project. It was off to work on other projects.

Sometime around 2006 or so, I came across a post on a forum somewhere that talked about how the Highliner shell was a perfect fit for the Stewart chassis. I believe it may have referenced an article on how to make this work. That did it. I went to my file card holder where I've made notes on the articles of interest that I've come across over the years and pulled every article on F-units. There were several that covered the installation of an Highliner shell on the Stewart chassis. By this time, however, I had mounted the couplers to the shells of the F-units. In order to see how they would fit on the chassis, I had to remove the ends of the chassis. This meant disassembling the entire chassis, cutting off the ends with a hacksaw, and then re-assembling everything. After all the changes were made, the Highliner shell fit just as advertised. Perfect! Now I was off to the races. Until I went to put one of the motors back in and broke both of the drive shafts. A quick search of the Internet for parts turned up nothing. A check of the Bowser website showed what appeared to be the correct parts, so I ordered them. Of course, once they arrived, I realized they weren't the correct parts. So the project went back into storage.

Some time later, I came across an article about re-powering a locomotive in which the author used brass tubing to connect the two ends of the driveshafts. Bingo! There was the solution to the problem with the F-units. I pulled the kits out, figured out what size of plastic tube I would need, and began working on the project in earnest again. At this point I was adding sound units to the layout, and I decided that both of these engines would get Tsunami decoders. I completely stripped the chassis, disassembled the trucks, cleaned everything, cut out an area for the speakers and the cab interior, and then carefully reassembled the chassis. The truck side frames even made it through the paint shop. The photo below shows the completed chassis at this point.

Now that the chassis were almost complete, I turned my attention back to the shells. I wanted to add grab irons to the engineer's side of the cab so I carefully marked the locations on the first unit and drilled the holes. I then proceeded to drill holes for the NBW castings above the grab irons. Every third or fourth try, I would miss where I intended the hole to be and would have to fill the errant hole with Bondo auto body filler. Once the  filler was dry, I would sand it smooth and start a new hole. As I neared the top of the shell, I really missed. I filled the hole, but every time I tried to drill a new one, the drill would walk into the old hole. Completely frustrated, I put the project aside again. However, the two shells remained on the shelf above my work area and the chassis were in a box next to them.

About the time I put the F units aside, I started operating the layout. It quickly became clear that I was going to need a lot more motive power, and it was clear that a lot still remained to be done on the F-unit shells. So the quickest solution to the problem was to build other units. In short order, two U30B's, a Broadway Limited F unit, and two Kato SD40's were painted and lettered, weathered, and placed into service. Then came the construction of the west end staging yard and the changes to the scenery and track around North Pierce. Still later came 18 Detroit Edison unit train cars, two more SD40-2's, and a couple of GP38's. 

Toward the end of last month, I decided it was time to finish all of the projects that were in various stages of completion. This included the F units. I made one more attempt at drilling the hole for the NBW casting that had stymied me before- with the same result. It then occurred to me that I could shave the stem off the NBW casting and simply glue it to the shell. Success! I was finally able to move on with the project. Prior to  digging back into this project, I had come up with idea of creating a small dimple with a pin where I wanted to drill the holes for the NBW castings. The small drill bits have a tendency to walk away from the initial starting point without a pilot hole, and this seemed like the solution. And I also started using a magnifier, which has made all of the difference in the world. Rather than trying to fight to see the location on the shell and denying that I was having any problem seeing it, I finally gave in to the magnifier. Now I wish I had done it years ago.

So at last the F units are finally in the paint shop. I still have to paint some figures and determine how I'm going to mount them in the shell. And I have to paint and weather the units. But the finish line is in sight now, and that has provided a lot of motivation to finally finish this project.

Postscript: When I told my wife this story, obviously pleased with my progress, she said "Now they'll probably sit in the paint shop for two years." Sigh...