Mocking up Buildings


This has been a slow process, and finally putting that pile of boxes my wife has been bugging me to get rid of to use. Basically I’m trying to recreate a busy industrial scene, but don’t want to end up too busy. I’m not sure if I want to extend background buildings behind the cement plant or if that would look too busy/contrived. Another option would be to use fencing to obscure the horizon on the backdrop… or both.

On the leftmost picture in the bottom left corner there is building that’s open to the operator, my idea is to make this a building that extends off the layout and as such be a cutaway with detailed interior.

The large background buildings will likely be done in brick as older established buildings with some of the smaller foreground buildings mixing up construction types with more of an emphasis on more modern commercial building construction techniques (like steel or concrete etc)

Shelf Layout Track Done… again…


Earlier this week I got the last of the feeders hooked up which meant track and wiring was done. Then I was cleaning things up with the intent of doing a layout tour video and had a point break free of the throw bar. No biggie, grab the soldering iron and reattach it easy peasy. While I’m at it I think I should figure out why cars always derail through the last turnout I installed, should be easy…


The above picture is after I removed all the spikes and wood ties, unsoldered the feeders, unsoldered the throw bar, and it from the layout, filed down the stock rail and started re-installation.

For interested parties the problem was I had not filed enough out of the stock rail on the straight piece so the gauge was just a tiny bit too tight when the wheels first hit the points. The front truck of a car would roll through but without fail the second one would hop the points. This was a turnout I built a couple years ago when I had borrowed a fast tracks fixture from a friend. I made a couple extra left and rights until I had used up the last of my supplies while I had the jig so this one never got tested.

Track done… mostly



I just finished up the last of the track work* just need to finish up the wiring. I figured rather than try to take a bunch of pictures of the track I’d wait till I get it all wired up (and the debris trail of ties, spikes and tools picked up) I’ll shoot a little video walk through.

As a bit of an observation I oddly found myself dragging my feet a little bit on the last stretch. Perhaps my subconscious being nervous about the next step (scenery) as it’s an area I don’t normally get to in my model railroading projects and I’ve never done winter before.

Ideally I’d be installing the backdrop and the top (which will just be a shelf with a small valence) but it’s been cold dipping below -12F/-24C so I’m not even bothering with saws out in my uninsulated garage so for now I’ll just start working on basic land flow, figure out what the basics of the buildings, and operations.

* There is still some track work to do and I might revisit sections that are using flex track but it’s done in the sense that if the feeders were all hooked up a train could run everywhere my plan calls for it

Weekend Update 24

Trains, Weekend Update

As I was collecting things I’d done over the last couple of days for a weekend update I realized I’d worked on a lot of different things.

The biggest achievement size wise was the completion of the first siding on the shelf layout (and cleaning it off enough to take a couple quick shots)

Next up was working on my Soo 320 switcher project. I started with some new hand rails in a lighter wire and painted with a white primer (hopefully sticking to the brass better).


With them drying on the first coat I turned my attention to lights… or at least that was the plan. I ran some test runs to make sure it was running well first and had some pickup problems. This involved completely tearing it apart and making a mess of things but I was starting to see light at the end of the tunnel when this cracked…


Lovely, I’m poking around looking for a donor mechanism or replacement parts. Although the pickup on this locomotive in particular (but to an extend all of them) works way better on the non-weathered rail. It’s all ME code 83 but some of it is the pre-weathered and it gets better when I run a cleaning car over it but it’s still not perfect. Is this common on the pre-weathered rail?

While I was working on the SW1 pickup and had the trucks torn apart I took some Vallejo Matt Varnish (70.520) and painted the faces to give it a flat surface for some weathering powders which I did when dry. It’s not a terribly noticable effect but I like it.


Speaking of track cleaning car, I’ve got a cheap Walthers (I forget which line it comes from, but I paid less than $10 and in a brick and mortar hobby shop and it wasn’t on sale.. and it come with metal wheels) boxcar with a piece of masonite under it. I decided to have a little fun and spuce up the wheels and trucks. The trucks got the vallejo steel metalic colors treatment and Matt Varnish, while the wheel faces got a black varnish and Matt Varnish. Then brushed rust colored Bragdon powders on.


I didn’t cover it with anything (as that tends to turn the powders into a solid paint color) so we’ll see how it lasts with handling.

I also got the RaspberryPi running again with JMRI, I’ve got it hooked up to my Digitrax Zephyr with a PR3 but I don’t think I’ll be installing any UP5s (at least any time soon) and just using Engine Driver on my phone. I do prefer the tactile buttons but the price of wireless is just so much cheaper than Digitrax.

I’ve got a couple interesting projects coming in the next week, and I have some time off after Christmas that should make some fun projects (let’s just say I’m super excited!)

Getting Wired!


I’ve managed to make a bit of progress over the last several days, with a few moments here and there of stolen time I’ve managed to get every stretch of laid track at least temporarily wired up. By temporarily I mean the stretches of flex track that I’ll re-lay later have feeders soldered to rail joiners not the rail itself. The idea being I’ll solder directly to the rail when I permanently install it. The turnouts are soldered in more permanently as they are (hopefully) not going anywhere.

This means I have ten whole feet of straight track I can run a train up and down on… and no alligator clips in sight (seriously if you find them let me know, they’ve gone missing). I was thinking about getting the RaspberryPI and JMRI up and running but realized that power strip I bought specifically to power the Digitrax command station, PR3, and Raspberry PI seems to have found a new job somewhere and little “helpers” had found me so laying more track was out so hey why not blog about it.

At this point you are probably expecting a picture or even video of a train under power but things are a mess of tools and bits of wire so maybe next time.

Shelf Layout Update


It’s been a while since I’ve posted about my shelf layout… because it’s been a while since I worked on it at all. My plan was to use my speeder shed diorama as a test for whether or not to do tie plates on the shelf layout. I don’t feel like I’ve got a good result either way yet and decided I didn’t want to continue waiting on that since I haven’t been able to spend time on it lately. I also knew I’d need rail even if I went with more conventional hand-laying but I didn’t want to do conventional hand-laying and then take it all up later so I ordered some ME flex track. The idea being I can fine tune the layout idea and start working on basic land forms and buildings with the flex track and then decide later what I want to do, and if I want to I can replace sections of flex with hand lay (and just cut the rail away from the plastic ties)

Well having ordered and received this track I start thinking (which is usually a not a good idea). I was using a secondary track towards the back as a scenic abandoned for revenue service track with a jordan spreader ready for snow fighting duty. I also have this unused assembled Walthers Medusa Cement structure, which got me thinking could I incorporate it somehow. This lead me to thinking what if I had an active industry that wasn’t part of the layout operations. Something where I could swap out cars at this industry between sessions to give a little bit of scenic variability.

Then I got to thinking what if it wasn’t in the background, but was the foreground. So in a normal operation session the train will enter the scene in the background and push cars past the cement industry to get to the served industries. If I need a simple switch job for the kids it’s still connected to the main or if I want to throw in a bonus complication there could be a special move that involves moving the spreader to the cement siding in anticipation of an upcoming snow storm.

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This is what my little helper Jacob and I came up with this afternoon. An additional advantage is that it allows me to move my switch further away from the top right which gives us a little more room for switching and a little broader curve the upper left side.

Laying some track?


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You may be looking at these pictures and thinking “hey, wasn’t he working on hand laid track with tie plates, what’s the deal with the Bachmann EZ-Track?” and I’d totally understand  but I can explain.

As I mentioned in an earlier post I’ve been super busy painting the house (I negotiated today off) which means not getting train time and even before that I’d been itching to run some trains but didn’t have anything setup or anywhere to set things up. This is also part of the reason I built some bench work this month. I’ve been trying to decided what level of detail to go with, either plain hand laid or hand laid with tie plates like I’ve been working with on the speeder shed diorama. I haven’t reached a firm conclusion on which way to go, in part because I think my technique (lack of) is what’s causing my failures and frustrations. In the meantime I don’t want to wait to run things, and don’t want to handlay track and then rip it up if I do go with tie plates, or buy flex track and do the same. I do have this Bachmann EZ-Track though.

It’s actually track from some 7-8 years ago when I was just getting back into the hobby and I have a bunch of it that only gets used when I setup something on the floor for the kids. So I thought why not set up a temporary track that’s roughly what I want to build so I can run some trains and test out how it’ll operate.

See more posts about this project here.

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Shelf Layout: Plywood plains


Not going to call it plywood plains… just the current status.

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I realize I haven’t blogged about it for a while and to be honest was at risk of being a list of the projects I never start. But it’s been nice outside and have had a little motivation from some blogs I follow so I gathered up the saws and set to work. The blog post that pushed me over the edge can be found here at the Model Railways of Oly Turner and Chris Matthews. The line that acted as a catalyst was “at home I wanted to do some shunting” and it made me realize that I had been wanting to do that too. Now Oly and Chris’ blog has really made me want to dump everything for British trains budget to completely switch prototypes and lack of knowledge to do it well.

It’s built in three sections, on the rightt side is a 1ft x 8ft section and on the left 1ft x 4ft with a 2ft x 2ft section in the middle. Right now the middle piece is a square but will later be trimmed but I want to wait until I’ve got the track arrangement figured out so I don’t cut too much off.

I got some thread inserts and screws for the joints so they work as alignment but are easily removable. I’ll need to find a couple washers so I’ve got a little bit more torque holding things together but it’ll do for now.

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>See more posts about this project here.

Check us out on facebook at Matt’s Model Railroading

Shelf Layout Started… sort of


I was at the Albert Lea train show this weekend with a little modeling money burning a whole in my pocket. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your perspective) I didn’t find anything I just had to have. I was accompanied by my middle child Jacob for a little Daddy/Jakey time. Before we left I found a nice souvenir:

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While there I caught up with a friend from a previous Free-mo setup and had an interesting conversation that actually prompted some action on my part on the shelf layout. I don’t want to rehash the whole thing but after what should have been a minor difference in opinions between the friend and another free-mo modeler resulted in my friend being “kicked out” of free-mo with the threat that she would be prevented from being involved in any free-mo setup in the Midwest.

The friend has modified her modules to work with another group’s setup and is having fun but story really rankles me and seems to go against the free-mo spirit…. and the fact that this is a hobby.

I had already been on the fence based on the space they take at home and experiences I’ve had at setups (being blamed for electrical issues on other modules that demonstrably weren’t caused by my modules or having “free-mo” participants who don’t seem to have modules and don’t help with setup or takedown come and fill the layout with trains).

So with a hobby money in my pocket I decided to head to Menards instead and got some shelving brackets which will hold my planned shelf layout. I’m not sure what I’ll do with my free-mo module for now, I might set it aside for a while and maybe come back to them in the future unless I can find a better use for the benchwork or lumber… or I can’t find a good place to store them and am forced to get rid of them.