Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Trees. More Trees!!!!!!

Well, sticking with my resolution to have trees for my UMG modules at the Truro Train Show in October I have been fairly busy. I've spent quite a few evenings since MudFest making trees while watching TV.

Two groupings of future trees.

I use natural materials for tree forms. The trees in the background are made using the dried flowers of False Spirea. I harvest these during the winter when the old seed pods are very dry and crumble off the stem easily. The trees in the foreground use a type of plant that I don't think we've identified yet. They grow in, amoung other places I'm sure, the field behind Jon Huneault's house in Aylesford, N.S. They have lots of fine branches and look like a very bushy tree.

In either case, I use Woodland Scenics Polyfiber for fine branches. Pull a small amount of the polyfiber off the bunch and roll it into a tight ball. Then start pulling it out, teasing it, until you have a very light and airy puffball. It should be teased out fine enough that you could lose it if you dropped it on the floor. I make a bunch of these, some small and some large for variations of branch sizes before moving on to the next step.

I put a fine coating of white glue on the branches that I will be attaching the polyfiber puff balls to. Then I either skewer the puffball with the branch or drape it over the branch. You can leave some branches leafless to simulate dead branches.

Remember the leaves of some real trees do not go around a branch in a perfect circle. You should also remember that not all trees are perfect globular forms. Real trees can have branches sticking out at odd angles and have clumps of leaves outside the main canopy of the tree.

The final step is to apply the leaves. I used to use cheap hairspray as adhesive to attach leaf material. It's fine for trees that get planted on a home layout and never get moved, but trees that are transported for a portable layout need something more. Lately I've been using clear, mat wood finish (Varathane). It's a little more expensive than hairspray, but I think it will hold up better.

I use different leaf material depending on the type of tree I'm attempting to replicate. I use regular ground foam for smaller bush type trees - ones that typically have smaller leaves. For larger trees I use a product I discovered a couple years ago by accident - leaves from Selkirk Scenery. If you've never visited Bill's site before you should check out his "How To" links. He makes some incredible scenery!
A tree made with Selkirk Scenery
leaves and False Spirea stem.

Anyway, spread out some newspaper to protect the floor from the adhesive and to catch excess leaf material for re-use. It's a good idea to have two areas of newspaper, one for spraying and one for excess leaf material. I start by spraying the underside of the tree and sprinkling a darker shade of leaf material over it, from the bottom up. This will simulate leaves shaded by the upper branches. Shake off the excess leaf material and spray another coat of adhesive to secure the leaves. Now, spray adhesive from the top down and sprinkle on a lighter shade of leaf material. Shake off the excess and spray another coat of adhesive.

Once the adhesive dries the tree is ready to plant.

It may take a few trees to get the knack of which colors work best for your layout, and your lighting conditions. Before you know it you'll have a whole forest of trees on your layout.
I'll have more on making trees in future posts.

Have fun making and planting trees!!!


Monday, September 24, 2007

New loco on the BS&T? Maybe.

I received an email a couple weeks ago from Joe Grubba at Factory Direct Trains offering to send a sound equipped Blueline loco for my club (the Half Nutters) to have a look at. He'd pay the shipping. If anyone in the group was interested they could purchase it at a discounted price. If not then we could send it back to him at his expense. He'd pay the shipping for future orders from club members.

Well, I could not resist the offer! Since I'd been half heartedly looking for an inexpensive steam loco with sound I chose the PRR M1. When I discovered the loco didn't come with a DCC decoder (the sound decoder works for DC out of the box), Joe offered to throw in a Lenz Silver decoder at no charge. So I told him to send me the loco and decoder post-haste. I couldn't wait to try it out!

My wife called me at work last Friday to tell me it had arrived. I wanted to take the rest of the day off, but had to curb my enthusiasm until I got home at my usual time. We had company when I got home so had to wait a little longer. They left finally and I was able to run to the train room to "play".

The loco, decoder, and "DCMaster" for
controlling sound on a DC layout. There was a
T-Shirt as well, but it didn't make the photo.

The decoder install was a breeze - definitely one of the simplest installs I've ever done. According to the instructions I had to move the wiring for the headlight from one plug to another, remove the small circuit board from the 8 pin NMRA plug, and insert the plug for the Lenz decoder.

Boom! On to the layout to try it on address 3. Wow! It was loud! But it worked wonderfully.

Back to the programming track to set the address. Oh, oh. I had read about problems programming decoders in Blueline locos, but had forgotten. After a few failed attempts programming the address of the sound decoder I started scouring the internet trying to find a solution.

Because there are two decoders, one for motor and one for sound, you have to lock one while you program the other. You can't program anything on the sound decoder using a Lenz system on the programming track. It has to be done using PoM (Programming on the Main), or Ops Mode Programming. But, you cannot set a decoder's address with Lenz using Ops Mode. I could set the sound volume, at least.

Joe did send me some information that I will try when I get a chance and post the results here. He's been very good with responding to email queries.

Anyway, the loco runs wonderfully, but seems to be a little less forgiving about poor trackwork than any of my diesel locos. Not that I have a lot of bad track, but I do have a few spots that cause problems every once in a while. The M1 will derail at these spots every time. I'll have to get busy and get those areas repaired.

I'm no audiophile, and no expert about prototypically correct locomotive sounds, but to me the sound from this loco is great! The only complaint I have is that you can hear a bit of a background noise (hiss) when the loco is stopped. During an operating session or a train show this shouldn't be a problem.
The M1 in Bayside Yard at the head
of the BS&T
excursion train

If I can get the necessary track repairs done, the BS&T may just have new power for a new passenger extra - an excursion train from Bayside to Tidewater and back.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Shield's Up!

So, I finally installed my Power Shield (PS4) from Tony's Trains a few weeks ago. I installed the thing the afternoon of an operating session on the BS&T. I only had time to install two zones. But it was enough to make a difference during the session.

The feature that really bugs me about using Lenz DCC is the way it handles shorts. Having to press a button to recover from a short is a pain. What usually happens is that more than one person presses the button - the first guy turns the layout back on, the second guy turns it off again. Now you wonder if the short cleared up? So everyone fiddles with their locos and the whole process starts again with a couple guys pressing buttons. You'd think we'd learn to assign an "official button presser". Nope.

Anyway, we only had a few shorts during the next session (there's still a few turnouts in need of repair), but we didn't have to press any buttons. The PS4 reset automatically after the short was cleared.

I installed the other two power zones on the afternoon of the last operating session. It seems an op session provides an incentive to get something done on the layout. It's great! Now only 1/4 of the layout is affected when a short occurs.

Both yards at Bayside and Tidewater are on separate zones, as are Stevenville/Derwin's Drop and Chappellton/Kenville.

The next project for the PS4 is to install short indicator lights around the layout. I think this is something that can be done, but not exactly sure yet how to do it.

I know, it'll be even better once I get the source of the shorting problems repaired. That's a project for another day(s).


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hangin' Around

For many, many years (at least 10) operators on the SVR and BS&T have had to use the post at the bottom of the stairs to hang their coats and jackets. This was workable, and cheap, but if the first guy in was also the first guy to leave he'd have to dig through all the coats to find his own.

The other evening we were operating at Brian's NeverDone Railway and when we were leaving he asked if I could use some scrap wood for burning. He and Susan had just finished renovating their bathroom (a great job they did too!) and had some scraps left over. Always looking for free heat in the shed during the winter I said "Sure!". So we started piling the 2 or 3 armloads in my trunk and I discovered a piece with 4 coat hooks. "Are you sure you don't want this?", I asked. "Nope." was the reply.

Since this past Sunday had the BS&T on the op schedule I quickly put it up. Finally, a proper place to hang coats and jackets.

A lounge, coat hooks, what else will I do to keep operators happy? Kim's cooking sure helps! More on that later.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The BS&T gets a lounge!!!!

Wow,! After years of waiting patiently, struggling through endless hours of changing diapers, feeding, cleaning, helping with homework, calming sibling rivalry, prom, graduation I finally have a crew lounge!! Well, not a dedicated crew lounge, but we'll be able to use it on operating nights - yippee!

Granted, it doesn't look much like a crew lounge right now (I have to question my son's taste in paint colour), but in my mind it will look like the inside of an old train station. There will probably be some influx of reality as I compete with the desires of my wife and "still living at home son" (who really wants a poker/movie room), but hopefully it will be close.

Does anyone have suggestions for the interior design of the train station crew lounge?



Thursday, September 06, 2007

Model Railroading Weather?

Is there such a thing as suitable weather for model railroading? I think so. Model railroading weather is when it is too chilly or wet to be outside doing other things. It certainly felt like model railroading weather this morning when I left for work! I could see my breath!

Anyway, on with the BS&T update...

I have no photos to show today. Sorry. I'll have some next week.

Since returning from the UMG RailFest I haven't done much on the layout other than put things away and tidy up a bit.

I thought I'd take advantage of having some things out of the "Control Room" and do some cleaning and rearranging. It looks a whole lot bigger now, especially since some of the stuff that was stored there got moved to the new "Crew Lounge" that I inherited after Kristopher moved out to go to university. I'd like to get a better storage solution for the supplies that I have stored on a shelf at the moment - something that takes up less space.

RailFest made me realize that I really must get busy making more trees. The ones I used on my modules were now gracing the BS&T layout and I didn't have the heart to pull them all out. So I had no trees for the modules at RailFest. My plan is to make a bunch before the Truro show in October, use them for the show, and then put them on the BS&T when I get back. Then I'll make more new ones for the spring show in Moncton, which will also end up on the BS&T. This way I have an incentive to make lots of trees.

I'll get pictures of the "cleaned up" control room, "Crew Lounge", and trees to show you next week.