Friday, January 13, 2017

You Don't Always Get What You Want (When You Buy a Locomotive), But Sometimes You Get What You Need

The Rolling Stones sang "You can't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need."

What I wanted, about 15 years ago, was another CP Rail GP38-2 for my locomotive roster.

I found a Proto 2000 GP38-2 in the used bin at a hobby shop, so I bought it.

From day one, it ran poorly.

I tried everything, to no avail. 

I even had a friend who was expert in such things look at it.

It didn’t matter how much tinkering was done: It just wouldn’t run well.

When it ran, the motor squealed. Other times, it wouldn't run at all; it would just sit there and hum.

Occasionally, it ran flawlessly, then reverted to its old ways.

(I'm not alone; a search online shows that lots of people had troubles with these units.)

Frustrated, I turned it into a static prop in the engine house in Fort Frances. 

And there it stayed for over ten years, its nose sticking out of the door, just part of the scenery.

But last week I was bored, so I decided to try to fix it one more time.

Nope; still the same problems.

In a fit of inspiration—or maybe just a fit—I decided to take out the motor and turn it into a dummy.

If it couldn’t pull anything, at least it could look like it was, in a consist with two other four-axle units.

And that's what I did. At first, it felt bad tearing a locomotive apart. But I got over it.

And now it runs perfectly! Those Proto 2000 units roll so easily once the gears are removed.

And after some weathering, it looks good, too, now earning its keep on the layout, running with two other powered GP38-2 units (from Atlas).

So I didn't get what I wanted, but I got what I needed: Another four-axle locomotive for the layout. 

This is not the first time I have dissembled something I wanted to create something I needed on the layout. Click here to read how I took apart my finished and painted Rico station to make it fit better as a flat against the wall in the Fort Frances yard.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Frozen in Time

Up here in the Great White North, we might be frozen, but not forever—not like the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub. in my basement.

We have had a lot of snow this year in Manitoba; more than in the past few years, that’s for sure. And now we’re in the middle of a really cold spell—minus 20 and below (Celsius).

But on the layout, it’s always summer, and always the early 1990s. 

Frozen in time, in other words.

It’s also frozen in time in another way, as I explained to my friend, Sheldon, who visited today. (The reason for the crossbucks in the snowbank—to help him find my house).

A trip to the M & M Sub. is literally a trip back in time, in two ways.

First, it's figuratively a trip back in time to the early 1990s, a time when CP Rail's trains were mostly pulled by the ubiquitous SD40-2 units.

It was a time when you could see a variety of liveries on those and other units: Multimark and no Multimark, Twin Flags, SOO (white and red and only red), and others (e.g. ex-UP and primer red and grey).

It's also a literal trip back in time to the early 1990s, when DC was the only way to operate trains, and Blue Box Athearn locomotives were considered among the top of the line model railroad locomotives..

Yes, that’s right: For those of you who might be new to the blog, the M & M Sub. uses DC (Dinosaur Control) and block controls.

In the early days, it was a matter of money. I didn’t have much, and it was too costly to convert to DCC.

Now, money isn’t as much of a problem, but I still don’t feel the need to change over from DC.

Although I can run up to four trains, I mostly run the layout by myself, so there’s no need to worry about needing to have multiple units running at the same time.

Plus, it's getting near to the end of the life of the layout; in another year or two, I figure, we will probably downsize to a condo or apartment.

Then the M & M Sub. will meet the fate of all layouts, coming down as they all must—part of the great Mandala of time.

Upgrading to DCC at this point would be foolhardy, then, if all I might have in the future is a small switching layout with a locomotive or two.

But until then, I will continue to enjoy the M & M Sub., even if it is frozen in time.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Helix, Nolix, Ovlix and—Rectix?

The "rectix" on the M & M Sub.

I was visiting the website of Brian Keay’s great Wolverine Lynx model railroad when I came across a word I hadn’t seen before: Ovlix.

On Brian’s layout, an ovlix is a version of a helix that is in the shape of an oval (oval + lix equals ovlix).

Brian's "ovlix"

I immediately recognized the concept, since it is similar to the way trains traverse between the lower and upper levels on the Manitoba & Minnesota Sub.

On my layout, I also employ something that looks like his ovlix and does the job of a helix.

In my case, it goes around a 5 x 9 foot storeroom that also houses my upper and lower staging yards.

It’s like an ovlix, but larger. So maybe I can call it a rectix (rectangle + lix = rectix).

(Because the size of the room, I can't actually get far enough back to take a photo of the rectix. Plus, it is mostly hidden on one side and both ends.)

I think Brian is on to something, and maybe I am, too. In addition to the traditional helix (a circle of track that connects levels) and a nolix (where the track rises around the walls of a room, as on Bill Darnaby’s Maumee Route and Tony Koester’s NKP), we can now have words like ovlix and rectix.

They may not catch on as words of the year, like “post-truth” in 2016, “emoji” in 2015, and “vape” in 2014, but maybe they’ll take off in the model railroad world.

Friday, December 30, 2016

New Grain Hopper Cars for Canadian Railways

According to a report in the December 29 Western Producer, National Steel Car has been selected to provide the new grain hoppers that will replace Canada’s aging cylindrical hopper fleet.

The new cars are 55 feet, eight inches long, have a volume of 5,431 cubic feet, and weigh 60,000 pounds.

Current hopper cars are 60 feet long and have a volume of 4,550 cubic feet. They weigh 62,000 pounds.

The new cars are able to carry 20 percent more grain, or ten tonnes, than the older cars.

Also, because they are shorter, there can be more cars on each train.

Today there are 22,400 of the older cylindrical grain hoppers in service. Of that total, 8,400 are owned by the Canadian government and 3,100 by the governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta. The rest are former Canadian Wheat Board cars.

All the cars will reach the end of their service lives between 2022 and 2027.

In other grain hopper car news, CPR president Keith Creel says that current unit grain hopper train length will be increased from 112 cars to 134 cars.

Read more about the new cars at the NSC website.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas and Model Trains: Eastern U.S. Firehouse Christmas Train Gardens

(Time for the annual Christmas and model trains post! This time, a repeat from a year ago.) 

Trains and Christmas have gone together for a long time, whether it’s a model train around the Christmas tree or a department store Christmas display.

But model trains, Christmas gardens and fire departments also go together in some U.S. east coast communities, as I recently discovered.

Ellicott City, MD

It goes back to the 19th century, when Moravian immigrants that settled in Pennsylvania and Maryland brought along with them the custom of creating an indoor miniature garden to tell the story of the Nativity.

Thesse gardens, called a “putz” (pronounced “pootz”), would include people, animals, buildings, and landscaping.

Wise Ave. train garden

Locals who saw the Moravian gardens began putting them under their Christmas trees. Later, they added trains to the scenes.

Since not everyone was rich enough to afford a garden in their home, firehouses began creating and displaying train gardens so everyone in the community could experience them—a tradition that is still practiced in some firehouses in those states.

Baltimore Fire Museum

One city where the trains gardens are likely to be found is Baltimore, where they can be found in homes, firehouses and businesses. Other communities also have them.

Read more about the train gardens here.  Check out this Christmas train garden at the Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Company in Dundalk, Maryland. Also check out this one in Highlandtown. 

Read more in the Christmas and Model Trains series.

Jarrettsville, MD