The railroad project

A chronicle of my rolling crack addiction


Train Pages

Construction Photos

The Fleet

Chip's Thomas Page

Layout shots




Kadee - couplers and stuff

Bowser/Stewart Hobbies

Bachmann Trains

Digitrax - DCC control

Micro Mark - small tool specialists

Miller Engineering - Neon displays


The Train Station 


M.B. Klein


Glossary of model railroading terms

All about steam locomotives

Train layout at the Museum of Science & Industry, Chicago


Did You Know...


In 1970, the Soviet Union experiemnted with a jet powered passenger train



The official beer of model railroading? Close enough for me



It works. I can run trains until my feet hurt, and the whole thing works extremely well. Time for an ale.


I've been doing some of the harder stuff that I've been avoiding. Namely, soldering power leads to the track for improved operation. Soldering is one of those things you jsut gotta learn yourself. And it would go a lot easier if I didn't get a $6 soldering gun. The trick is heating the solder and joining the metal tie to the wire, before the plastic rail ties melt. It gets easier, and I didn't burn my fingers, or burn the house down. But man, the soldering gun I have is a miserable crapstick.


I haven't given a lot of updates, as I'm not sure this page is ever visited. But anyway. Sorry, just in a mood.

I'm back to working on detailing some of the structures, which is rather time consuming. But, the layout is for most intents, DONE. Now it's the piddling little details. I can run trains, and all of the track has been laid out and works well (except for one or two spots with occasional derailments, but those happen) .



Pictures are up on the construction photos page - more to come...

The landscaping is time consuming, but not nearly as hard as it looks...the hills were built up with layers of foam panels (the foam insulation boards used in home construction)

Over these are balled up newspaper covered with plaster cloth. The plaster cloth gave nice contours,but you could see the grid pattern of the cloth material showing through. So, I covered that with a layer of 'sculptamold' basically paper mache and plaster mixed together - it has the look and consistency of oatmeal. After that, paint (only 3 colors - yellow, burnt umber, and slate gray) and some ground foam. Not complex, but since this all involves products that have to air dry - you can only do a little each day. it takes a few weeks to get it all together.


I've made some progress on landscaping over the past few weeks...stay tuned for pictures!


We went to the Pittsburgh train show over the weekend, where I picked up lots of stuff for the layout - scenery and buildings mostly, I have enough trains for right now. I did pick up another locomotive that I couldn't pass up:


A Pennsylvania RR 4-6-2, otherwise known as the K4, which I know sounds like gibberish to you. It was one of the most widely used locos in the 20th century. It should work better than the Tolstoy (the 2-10-2, which was too big for my layout's curves - the track would curve, but the loco would try to go straight.) The K4 is smaller, and should run better.



Let's update my little list:

Done - create tunnels along back wall

Done  - re-do plywood bridge

Done - finish retaining walls for station area

Kinda done - complete brewery kit

Ongoing - upgrade wheelsets and couplers on rolling stock


The tunnels are done, and some other landscaping is starting to take shape.


While the rate of progress may seem to be stretching out to decades, it isn't that bad. I'm about halfway through building tunnels for the rear areas, and the station area is about 80% completed. The bridge will be my next to do, once the tunnels are completed.


Well, a milestone has been reached...all of the track and roadbed is now secured in place. This involved redoing several sections of track that worked before, but now did not fit due to the more precise fitments of the final track laying. Luckily, flex track and a pair of rail nippers made this less aggravating work than it may sound.

Now I can start the landscaping and getting rid of the 'Planet Claire' look that it has now.

to do (with respect to Gigamatt, the master of lists):

 - create tunnels along back wall

 - re-do plywood bridge

 - finish retaining walls for station area

 - complete brewery kit

 - upgrade wheelsets and couplers on rolling stock

I never thought that talking about toy trains could sound so grown up nad technical...


I've been securing the roadbed and track for the last few weeks.  Very tedious work...and it forces a lot of minor changes that magnify into larger changes in the layout design. One of the biggest factors is the gaps between individual track pieces. The track was just laid out for fitment, but as it wasn't secured, it could work itself loose as other sections were added to it. This was a first timer's mistake, as I see now I should have secured it as it was being laid down.

Eliminating these little gaps and aligning the track pieces properly is a good thing, but the 1-2 mm gaps that are now not there mean that the other end of the track section can (and will) shift position by an inch or two to the side. Doesn't sound lke much, but when the track is on inclines that are only 2 inches wide, a little shift over here can mean big changes at the other end of the table. Hopefully I will get this done in the next week or two, so I can start the landscaping bit.


I built up the concourse for the passenger station last night, using Walthers modular kits. These give basic building components to design your own structures. The kits are really nice, although they package them in a way that makes you buy several just for a basic job. Wall sections, wall joiners, and roofs all come separately. Yeah yeah, this goes with the modular philosophy, but gets annoying when you have to keep running out to the store to buy an additional kit, just to get the few pieces you need.

I mean, say you go and buy the wall sections kit. 99 times out of 100, you probably want to build a wall with these. So why not include the wall joiners, which are needed to, you know, build the wall? It's like selling paint brushes wih the handles and bristles sold separately.


I made a lot of progress this past weekend...I got about 1/3 of the subroadbed glued down. (subroadbed is what the track rests on, the raised gravelly bed) This was put off because of the relative finality of this - gluing stuff down. But it was a lot easier to move along once this mental block was breached.

I finished the track layout, with all the sidings and spurs placed. Let the landscaping begin!

I also bought the kit for the brewery, and some little odds and ends for the passenger station.



The brewery will be the Olde Frothingslosh. "Brewed from the muddy waters of Upper Crudney on the Thames, just down river from the glue factory."



As Jehovah is my witness, I will publish photos soon - a lot has developed with the layout. I've got the city area more or less roughed out., and the station area as well. I'm still playing with how to situate the station - I'm having problems figuring out how to add a passenger concourse for access to the trains by the residents of New Caprica. But I think it will be easier than I'm making it sound.


Before I got too far in landscaping, I needed to finish the track layout. The main lines have been done for a while, but I needed to sketch out the rail yards and turnouts for operations. (destinations for the trains, otherwise they just go round in circles). Also, I needed to add some siding tracks, to allow trains on the same line to pass each other.

Here's the existing track plan, with the lines still to be added in red:


There will be 3 main areas: large city of New Caprica, and 2 smaller towns, Picon and Geminon. A big gold star to the person who can guess where those names are from.

Looks like I've got some track laying to do.



Ive decided how to model the city scene...I've been cutting up foam to make an elevated area where the buildings and station will rest. The track will be on a lower level. Some of the track will be tunneled underneath the city...wait for the pictures, you'll see what I mean!


I haven't had time to work on much of anything for  a few weeks - I haven't had a weekend at home since July (well, August 12, but that was spent catching up on everything else). And this is my weekend in Toledo. Maybe next weekend I can make some progress. I have also lost the cable for my camera to download pics - once I find that it will be picture a go go.


So the thought has been playing in my mind as to what to do with all of this. Just running trains around and around would get dull quickly. How to get aroudn this? Operations. Give the trains a purpose. Give every car its own bill of lading and orders on getting cargo from A to B. The getting part is where the trains come in, obviously.


I got the walls behind the train table painted. I painted them a light shade of blue, for a sky effect. It was suprising how this changed the feel of the layout - with a natual colored backdrop, the buildings and scenery will look more realistic than if theyr'e viewed against a white basement wall. I may start gluing down the roadbed and track this week, but I'll probably leave that till after the anniversary party this weekend.

I got a bunch of photos taken yesterday, I hope to post them on here soon...maybe that should be my project for tonight.


When I was a kid, I spent years playing with trains, and building plactic models. These were always separate activities.

Now, since I'm more patient, I've been able to combine the two. They sell kits for freight and passenger cars, which I've been building. The car kits are simple - I can usually do one from start to finish in about an hour. It gives me that extra sense of accomplishment - and I can usually buy 3 kits for the cost of 1 assembled car. So far, I've built about 10 freight cars, and 2 passenger coaches.


My brother bought a Proto 1000 Alco S1 switcher locomotive a few months back in Toledo. I brought it down, to change it to DCC operation. BUT...I've learned that not all of these locos were not made to be DCC compliant. Well, sorta, but on some,the motor is not properly insulated from the frame. This is very important, to control the voltage that can reach the decoder's relatively delicate circuit board. Because of this lack of current control, unless the motor is properly isolated prior to decoder installation, the 1.5 amp decoder can get hit with up to 5 amps of power, which from what I gather turns the decoders into little melted lumps of plastic. I've found instructions on how to get around this, but based on past experience with stuff I read on the internet, I'm a little leery of taking this on right now.


I know that all 3 of you have been anxiously waiting for the latest - well, it all worked out. I swapped the decoder for one with an 8-pin connector, and Snoopy can now run free under DCC control. I just need a decoder for the Melbourne, which will need to be soldered in place. My goal is to have that done by the end of August.

I redid the station area yesterday, now i have 5 parallel yard tracks instead of 4. I had an idea last night for repositioning the turnout for the yard siding, placing it at the end of the table. If it works, it'll give the sidings an extra couple feet of length.


Remember when your 7th grade Social Studies teacher told you not to believe everything you read?

I decided to buy a decoder for Snoopy this week. I did all the research, to see what type of decoder was needed. I checked the documentation that came with Snoopy, checked a couple of online sources, and checked with the decoder manufacturer's website. So I went and bought what everything told me was the right decoder.

What I forgot was to actually study Snoopy to see what his insides looked like. Turned out the type that everyone told me would work won't fit at all. So now back to the store to exchange.


Well, The Tolstoy is now DCC controlled. All it took was a 64-cent 1k Ohm resistor. Why they couldn't include it with a $150 locomotive is anyone's guess.

No cutting was needed, I just laid the resistor across the tracks to lower the current a bit. And presto, the decoder was accepting commands. Strange fix to a strange problem.


I've been getting frustrated with the Tolstoy lately - I've been trying without success to program the DCC decoder that it came with. I get nothing but error messages from the control panel. I had no problems at all installing and programming a decoder in my Stewart Hobbies loco (The Kyushu), which was a harder job - I had to buy a separate decoder and install it myself. 

Here's a quick summary of DCC (again):

  • You use a throttle/command station to tell the system what you want a train to do.
  • The command station makes a digital packet out of the information and sends it to the booster.
  • The booster adds power to the digital packet and sends it out through the rail.
  • The decoders in all locomotives (even those that are not running) read all digital packets, and decipher them to get the address contained in the data packet. If the packet address matches the decoder address, the decoder uses the rest of the packet information. If the address does not match, the decoder continues doing whatever it was doing - whether it was running forward, backward, with or without lights, or nothing at all

Got it?

The decoders can be programmed with a number of configuration variables (CVs): which way is 'forward', how quickly to accelerate/brake, etc. The Tolstoy's decoder works fine under its default programming, but it will not allow itself to be edited. I've gone through the manuals with no success.

I've learned from msg boards that the decoder that was factory installed in the Tolstoy is sent with a number of resistors on the decoder circuit board. Because the Tolstoy is sold in many markets worldwide, it is apparently shipped in a 'safe' mode to prevent damage to the engine.

Of course, this was never discussed in the owner's manual. 

So now it's down to a pair of wire clippers to see if I can 'unlock' the Tolstoy.


I got all the pink foam and the incline risers glued down over the weekend. Sweet. I rearranged some of the track to give more space for the passenger station area - now I have 4 station tracks (up from 1) and a couple of 'spur' tracks (dead end track for car storage or industrial settings). It's coming along pretty well now!


I started laying the foam base last night...pretty easy. And those panels are strong - you can punch them and barely leave a dent - so they should be nice and sturdy.


Last night I decided to see how the track plan could handle multiple trains, to see if there would be any traffic jams or bottlenecks....I set up 3 running at the same time, and ran them for 10 minutes with no problem. Trains a go go.


Gigamatt and Nala stopped over last night for some food, Nala shot some video of the train layout - it's the last couple minutes of the video below- enjoy:



Not a lot of updates lately, I've been busy painting and assembling structures for the layout.  


Santa Claus (me) got some more stuff...buildings, and a Digitrax DCC system. The DCC is a digital system that allows you to run multiple trains on the same track, without all the wiring mess that is usually needed to do that. Each locomotive and accessory is assigned a 4 digit address for individual control.  You know that you care.


I'm going to start laying the foam board and setting the track this week. In my searching for cool stuff for the layout, I came across this:


meet GM's 'Aerotrain' which was to be the wave of the future for passenger travel in the 1950s. 2 were built to be used as demonstrators for the railroads, but the trains quickly grew a reputaion for being underpowered and rough riding. No orders came in, and they were sold to the Rock Island RR in Illinois. They soldiered on until 1966 doing commuter service in Chicago. But who cares about the problems, what a kick ass look for my 50's layout! This will be joining the empire in a few months.


I've taken a breather on the project for a few days, playing with the trains and doing a little detail on some buildings. This week I'll buy the foam base and start gluing that down.


Well, I've finished the table, and laid out the track. Best news - it works!  The layout seems to run well, and it fit together perfectly.  I'm relieved it all went together without any real trouble - the track lined up, and all that. Now making it look like a model and not just track on a plywood table.


The railyard/station is done, I just need to cut legs for it and connect it to the rest of the table. Then the angled pieces. Then tabletop. Then the real fun starts.

I've been taking pictures of all this, I'm going to try and upload them tonight.

Here's some of the passenger cars I have for the layout:



I took the weekend off, as I was in Toledo. Last night, I was making some measurements of the benchwork and comparing them to the original plan. Just double checking before I went further, and and making sure I'd have the space needed. To my pleasant surprise, I had more room than I initially sketched out - about a half foot in both length and width. Better than having less room.

The benchwork is essentially done, except for 3 angled pieces, and a 2' by 3' section for the railyard at the bottom of the diagram below. Those will go on tonight. After that, the tabletop. Then I can start laying track - whoo hoo!


Patrick came down to help with the work - and to provide guidance from a pro's point of view. This should really speed things along. Not that it's gone slow so far. But a second pair of eyes and another brain are good to have, especially for an inexperienced carpenter like me.


Well, I stayed home this weekend, and got started on the benchwork. The construction is pretty simple - I'm doing open grid construction, which is simply dividing the entire layout area into smaller rectangular sections, building those, and bolting the sections together. Lots of cutting, but thank god for miter saws. I have the benchwork about 80% completed, I just need to cut a few angled sections, and brace the legs. The top will go on this week at this rate!

The secret beauty of this project is that there's absolutely no pressure. It is the ultimate stress reliever, letting me forget everything and fill my head with measurements and calculating the correct size for all the parts.

I'm not making a desk or something where every single thing has to be 100% exact, or else it looks bad. If one part is cut a little short, then just make the next one a little longer. No problem. No stress. Just methodical planning and work. And I can spend the time to make sure everything is as perfect as I can make it.


Most of the work so far has been reading. All types of methods for building the benchwork and supporting structures, wiring, and scenery.  Lots and lots of expensive little books.

(rough sketch of the track plan - the layout space is 9"6" by 9"6")

I've got the layout design planned out, but doing it on paper and doing it in real life are two different things. It will be a continuous loop, double figure-8 design.

The layout will depict the mid-1950's - not because I like Ike, but because the 50's saw the end of steam and the rise of their diesel powered replacements. I read that in 1950, 97 percent of all locos in the US were steam; by 1960, 90 percent were diesel. Diesels were much cheaper to run and maintain, and the railroads were starting to see a decline in ridership - so only the latest and greatest would do. Modeling the 50's lets me have both types operating side by side. Because it looks cool.

 - The lower right area will be an urban setting, with a large passenger station on the tracks at the lower edge of the diagram. Most of the track in this area will be below street level and semi-hidden from view 

 - The rest will be rural, with a few industrial areas - a brewery will be located somewhere 

Is this too much for a first timer? Stay tuned.

Iv'e bought most of cars and locomotives I need to get it up and running - now it's the 'want' list instead of the 'need' list. Well, I don't need them, but a layout with one train running is kinda lame.