Saturday, December 30, 2006

Commentary - Big Shop or Bigger Layout?

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OK, Joe Daddy is wrestling with something. Do I make my shop smaller so I can have a bigger layout, or is the shop more important than more train? Getting more real estate (more room) is not possible.

So, my thinking is to expand my layout into my shop and build the layout over the top of my existing work table at about 50 inches or so and use the room for both.

My current shop
Like many, I got involved in model railroading as my hobby after I finished my basement. And, I did a really good job of it. I finished every square foot, into livable sized rooms. My shop is a about 14 x 18 but it has 3 doors. It is adjacent to the train room, just through the door and wall behind the work bench and cabinets on the wall.

Current Layout
This layout evolved from a plan in Bob Hayden's book
Track Planning Ideas from Model Railroader; 58 Track Plans from Past Issues . It was the Enchantment branch of the ATSF, of all railroads. I liked it because it has a double mainline that allows me to run continuous operations, something I very much enjoy. And it is a type of layout that lends itself to computerization. I put a 7 siding double ended yard on the first level at 39" and the double dog bone at 51" on the top deck. So what is the issue Joe. Well, I want more places to put scenery and I want to be able to walk along with the trains too. All of my curves are minimum 30". To get the big curves, I sacrificed for the narrow isle.
Proposed Layout

To facilitate the new layout, I have been making my power tools become more portable so I can store them under the new layout. There will only be a passing track and a couple of industry sidings on the new section, all to make room for more scenery.

So, keep the big shop, or more trains?

New Layout Shop is blended
Well, my third layout, now named the Colorado and Santa Fe (C&SF) is well underway and trains are running. Certainly there is a ton of work to do, but everyday, I make a little progress. Do something everyday and stuff gets done, right?

Progress being made. The shop? Well, it is still there, underneath the layout. Do I like it? So far, so good, the only thing I don't like is that when I sit at my work bench, the layout is just a bit too tall for me to be able to see it easily. What change will that drive? I don't know, maybe I will learn to stand more.

Update 8/2008
While under construction, I used my table and chop saw in the layout room itself. While I was diligent in my attempts to keep everything clean, several things caught up with me:

  1. Keeping it train room clean is almost impossible. Even a short run of the sabre (jig) saw creates a huge amount of dust.
  2. Air quality is the biggest issue. Running saws without a professional grade (expensive) vacuum system puts tremendous amounts of dust into the air. Ultimately, my lungs shut down the operation.
  3. Getting things out and putting them away either to get under the layout, or to chop a board became too much of a burden.
So, last weekend, I worked over my garage and moved my chop and table saw into the basement. MY 10" band saw remains in the train room. The vacuum cleaner seems to work well with it. And I added air filtration to the train room too.

Here is the slide show.

Clicking on the pictures will show a larger version!
Copyright 2006

Friday, December 29, 2006

Commentary - Using my time, do I expand or refine?

Time, we only have a finite amount of it don't we? Use it or lose it as they say. Well, the Parkdale Railroad version 2 can now run trains again! The dual mainlines can run independent trains and the ramps that make the 11 inch rise from the staging yard to the operations deck work just fine. I can pull 23 car trains with my twin F3s both powered and speed matched at a crawl, with a stop half way up and restarting with no back pedaling. I did not say no spinning mind you, but then I am all out of HO sand

The transition era diesels work fine, but my test steam locomotive a BLI Northern 4-8-4 found a couple of kinks that were hidden here and there. The root of the kinks, it turns out, is that I had gotten 'cute' and tried a new technique of leaving the ties mounted on the flex track and just cutting the tie to rail barbs. Looks great without the naked inch and a half of rail, but it still allowed the track to kink.

My first year anniversary of returning to Model railroad passed last week. At this milestone, it is time to make another decision?

Do I focus on scenery of my current layout, OR, do I do the expansion that Xpedx and I have privately discussed? Or do I do both?

It is all about time, isn't it, where do I spend it, building bench work, laying track and wiring turnouts, signals and crossing gates, Or do I get my hands into the plaster?

You know, I think I am going to do both. . . After all it is only time. . .


Opinion - The MTH K-4, will it change the hobby?

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The issues list for the MTH K-4 is growing and from the overall hobby standpoint, interesting indeed.

As you may know this company has recently gotten the great Union Pacific Railroad to come down from Mt. Olympus (omaha) and treat the model railroaders like sons, not stepsons. This while they are in a lawsuit for patent infringement with the Lionel company.
  1. Well, the K-4 represents some other issues that could impact the hobby as well. Their implementation of DCC is to be polite, a bit weird.
  2. They have not respected the defacto function key operations which does affect every user.
  3. The engine does not use the programming track, won't work there, all programming is done on the main including engine address changes.
  4. And as I have already mentioned, other little gotchas are there from an operational perspective.

Having said all this, it is still my favorite engine but at what cost? I think the guys in O gauge can attest that MTH is now a huge player in their scale. Are they heading for HO next? Looks like it. How has O gauge benefited from their presence?

If MTH continues down their path, they will be setting some very strong precedents about how other manufacturers will and can implement DCC. It will be interesting to see if the NMRA steps in with them and tries to keep them centered with the other manufacturers, or will MTH, as MRC has done, continue to forge their own niche in the DCC world. Taken to extremes, we could be on the verge of a very complex and confusing set of 'standards' for how Locomotives work from a function key perspective.

More later, got to make a buck.


My K-4 does not respond to the emergency panic stop button on my Lenz LH100. All other trains stop and are silent. The K-4 continues moving, totally ignores it. This is a concern. My work around will be to reconfigure my LH100 to power off instead of panic stop.

When I tried to configure address, I get an error02, loco not found. I am running a booster. Have not tried to trouble shoot this yet, as I am having too much fun running it as 03!

F8 is sound off/on on most if not all other DCC sound locomotives. Why did MTH have to be different, stubborn or an oversight? F3 is sound on or off?

The smoke unit switch on the tender is not labeled on or off and no picture in the documentation. The ON position is to the LEFT (when viewed from the rear of the tender forward). The smoke unit responds to F8 and the switch so you have four different combinations to find the only one that works. My unit arrived (factory packaging intact) with the smoke unit turned off. This is why it was an issue.

I think I got a woodie!

WOW! Realism, Sound and Smoke. Undeniably the BEST locomotive I have in the roundhouse (virtual). Every other steam locomotive I own, and they are all BLI and P2K DCC/Sound equipped are inferior to this one.

MTH, More, please, now!

Joe Daddy!

Got an email from Lee, my K-4 is in the Mizell roundhouse! Got to go pick it up. Yesterday, we went to the Longmont train show and my darling wife Jeanne told me how much she likes the Lionel's belching smoke as they roll past! Does she have a surprise coming!

Warren Mizell has a unique train store on the North side of town (Denver). I only needed a couple of things for my mountain making so I thought I'd drop by and see my friend Lee and look around.

Big mistake. Lee was helpful as usual, but he and Jim thought I should see the MTH K-4 in operation on the test track. OK, what the heck, nothing wrong in looking, right? Besides, I am not an Eastern railroad fan, much less the PRR. Nothing wrong with it mind you, but I do admit to being a bit of an ATSF bigot. So I am safe, wrong road name.

If you have not seen this locomotive in operation, I suggest you don't. I have 6 BLI/P2K full on DCC/Sound steam locomotives, so I am very use to them, know what to expect and am rather hard to impress these days.

The chuff got my attention, definitely NOT QSI, but when it started belching smoke, I was a goner. Now I am not a rivet counting modeler, I'll never be good enough to be one, but the road name needs to at least say ATSF, right? "We had a customer buy one with a set of Santa Fe coaches", he said "he didn't care, he liked it anyway."

Then they tell me it comes in undecorated. Ok, can you order me one? Yes, two weeks.

So, it looks like my railroad is finally going to get a Pacific. I'll badge it Santa Fe, now to find some pictures of a Santa Fe Pacific, I think I remember hearing and seeing one somewhere. I gotta figure out what number it ought to be.

I sent a note to MTH asking what their next HO product would likely be. They responded that was confidential, and they only release that information in a catalog.

Note to self, stay out of those Local Hobby Shops!

Best to you all,


Commentary - What does your hobby cost?

Many years ago, I got pretty tight with RC boating. What a load of fun that was. RC race boats are loud, fast and exciting, not to mention dangerous, propellers turning 20,000 RPM will cut about anything they touch. Hey Joe Daddy, you lost your brain? This is a train web site, go to the RC Boat forum. OK, OK, I'll get to my point.

Like all hobbies, RC boating can get very expensive, very quickly. I was at the lake, having a great time and a fellow walked up and said "how much do them boats cost, like that red one over there?" "About a thousand to get it into the water", I said. "You gotta be kidding me! Fer that little toy boat? Hell, I only got 9 thousand in my bass boat sitting over there?"

"OK, I said, so, do you drive that new Ford 250 to work too?" "Heck no," he said indignantly, "that truck is special, I only use it for pulling my boat."

You are way ahead of me, you have had a similar experience I am sure. Well, that red-neck did make me do some thinking, later of course, a couple of years later, when I had tired of boats and had already moved on to RC Cars. After a trip to the hobby shop to buy Nitro and a new set of tires for my race car, that 125 bucks kinda got my attention. These were operational costs, you know, something I was going to just wear out quickly and replace again. Fact of the matter was that I could buy or build a full size street rod for about what I was dumping into the RC cars and boats, so that is exactly why I left that hobby.

Model railroading is different, you cannot build a prototype sized railroad for what it costs to build a model railroad. Even a live steam 7 inch gauge will likely run you five figures just for the engine, not counting track and property, and and and.

Someone has decided to label model railroading as the world's greatest hobby. You know, it may just be that. After a year, and I am looking at my self very closely, now, am I still enjoying it as much as I did 9 months ago? Yes and perhaps even more, no, I am sure of it. There is just so much variety, when I get tired of something, I do something else. What has been so perplexing is that some of the areas where I have had the absolute most experience and related skills have been some of the areas most difficult to execute. If you have read my blog entry on frying decoders, you may see what I mean. I have been fixing and repairing computers, and I mean fixing them for 45 years, and yet I have burned up three decoders. Go figure!

I do find myself becoming somewhat more patient, though, especially now that I am doing some scenery work. Paint, glue and plaster has to dry doesn't it?

Have a great day,

Joe Daddy

Lesson Learned - The Bargain

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There it is, an ATSF 40ft box car, El Capitan it says across the side. Looks like it has good couplers, you know, them Kadees we all love. OK, it is only 6 bucks on eBay, I won! Postage 4.65, not bad, 10.65 for a nice Athearn box car.

Week later, UPS shows up with the box, finally it arrived, heck it was only coming from 100 miles, I wonder why it took so long to get here, that is another unrelated story, nothing to do with trains, er, maybe it does.

Out of the box, nice looking car, just like the picture. Wait a minute, one of the trucks is broken. Seems that about 5% of the train cars I have bought on eBay arrive with broken trucks and or couplers. OK, I'll find a new truck. Well, it looks like I have to replace both trucks, these are those old sprung ones that I have so much trouble with and those look like the old profile wheels too. OK, a set of metal wheels and two trucks, 4.85 at the Caboose, lets see, my bargin box car is now $15.50 but it ought to be good as gold!

Lets put it on the track and see how she rolls. Smooth, lets connect her to 201 and let her fly around the track for awhile. Nice. Oh crap, she came uncoupled, wonder why, oh, no wonder, those are not Kadees after all they are plastic! Well another 2 bucks and we'll have this thing in top shape.

All right, everything is just perfect, working like a champ, my bargain car has now cost me $17.50 but I am so happy with it.

Wait a minute, the DCC powered off. Look at that mess on the track. That new car again, the front truck fell off, well let me see what is going on, oh boy, the screw hole is stripped.

I wonder what that car would cost me new at Caboose? $15.95 they say.

Lets get back on eBay, maybe I can find a dozen more, I'll make it up in volume!

Oh, but I wish this were not true. My used cars have cost me as much as a new car in many cases, and some of them, well they look used, my friend calls it weathered, I call it used.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Opinion - The perfect hobby shop

Now I think this is going to take me a few times to get this where I think I want it, but I need to start somewhere, so here goes.

I keep looking, you know, for that perfect hobby shop. It must be somewhere, I have found three really good ones, but each of them, well, I'll keep looking. Now I am not trying to be difficult, mind you, but I have this place in my mind.

Look at that parking lot, how did they get all those spaces right next to the front door! Clean, well kept, and the spaces are so big, I parked right between Ford and GMC 2500's and still had room to open the doors! Wow.
And the bathroom is right near the front door. Great, I don't have to ask someone where it is! Gosh is it big! Look at those isles, and I love the carpet, feels good on my feet. Was that a Brass Mikado that just went by over my head? Well, for G Scale it sure looks like brass.
Look at that tyke layout, I must bring my grandson next time, he will have a ball, and that nice lady is watching all those children, I think she works here, yep, she is the kid's hostess. Grandma will even like it here.

I love looking at hobby shop layouts. They should always be first class and this one has the best, very nice scenery, and look, they have a real train, with cars on the tracks! And it runs too! Gee, look at the signal crossing gates, they work! Wish I could get mine to be as smooth. You know, I think every inch of this layout is completed. Oh, am I envious.
Hmm, let me see, N, HO, O and G, and each one of them has that section of merchandise right behind it. Wow, this is nice. Z has to be here somewhere, my eyes are not what they once were, oh, here it is!

Well, now, would you look at this, an amazing collection of books and magazines, all in one place, and a lounge area to browse. Way cool! I don't think I ever saw so many DVDs! They even have some VHS. Wow, old Jake will love that, sorry, no Betamax.

Scenery Barn
Don't get me wrong, Woodland Scenics has done a tremendous job serving the needs of model railroaders everywhere, but so many hobby shops think that just having their wire racks about 1/2 full is all that is needed to meet our needs. My ideal hobby shop has a whole section, I'll call it the scenery barn for lack of a term, just chock full of trees, backgrounds, molds, ballast and every glue that NASA knows about. And for goodness sake, have Hydrocal in 10 lb bags for a low price too!

Snak Bar
Right at the front of the store, there is a little coffee shop, no they won't let you take your food or drink into the rest of the hobby shop, but it is a great place to meet your buddies for a cup of joe and a stroll through the place afterwards. It would also be a nice place to park your dearest who decided to ride to town with me, she can sit there with her latest book and sip on diet Pepsi!

Loco demo
Imagine all the different locomotives in one place, kind of like a round house with the test track where the turn table is. They have someone there to run your favorite locomotive, and they are happy to do it. They know the DCC system inside out and will even test your own loco if you wanted. Want to see an N-Scale diesel next to an HO or O? No problem, just tell the fellow (or lass) what you need and bingo, you get a dose of model railroading up close and personal! And, you know, the test track is about 53 inches high, A little step discretely to the side for those who might be height challenged or want to see a view from the top.

Electronics are Us
At my perfect hobby shop, there is no need to go to Fry's or Radio Shack, everything is there, and not just the Lenz or Digitrax DCC set. They even have someone working there who actually knows more about DCC than I do, alot more than most people do, you know a real specialist! Someone who has actually used a Switch Decoder and knows that a Rabbit is spelled with a W! Have you ever seen so many LED's? And they have all of Tomar and Oregon Rail's stuff in stock!

Repair Center

Training room
What a place, a hands on lab, with a series of test tracks and work tables, even a place for your own tools and a panavise at each station. The schedule is amazing and the one on the website matches the one on the training room wall and it is up to date! Unheard of!