Easy Interchange

User “J Edgar” on nScale.net recently brought to my attention a very simple and extremely model-able interchange method being used between two prototype railroads, the Ann Arbor RR, and the Great Lakes Central RR.

The two railroads share a single siding at the meeting point.  The interchange method works like this:

  1. An AA train will leave some cars on the siding for the GLC
  2. A GLC train will arrive, couple head-on to the AA cars on the siding, and decouple from its own cars.
  3. The GLC train will push the AA cars out of the siding onto the main, reverse direction, and return to its home, leaving the cars it brought on the siding.
  4. An AA train will bring more cars, dropping them and picking up the GLC cars in the same manner.

This video illustrates the process better than any text could, I think.  It’s a clever way to use a minimal amount of track to pass off cars between two railroads.  And it’s nice to know that it’s not just something that we modelers cooked up.


Please excuse the “Screen Flow Demo” watermark.  ScreenFlow is a pretty nifty screen capture and video editing program, but buying the “pro” version isn’t in the budget yet.

Update:  After reviewing my video, J Edgar provided two additional operational details:

  1. On the prototype, cars are dropped at the opposite end from where I show them.  Train A leaves its cars at the B end, and train B shoves them all the way down the siding, dropping its cars at the A end.
  2. Also, on the prototype, the trains often have cars that are not meant for interchange.  This significantly complicates the operations, since the train must drop the non-interchange cars in a “safe” place, execute the interchange, and then reassemble the train.

I’ll leave those changes as an exercise for the reader.


Frost River Daily Mail, 3/28/2010

Teens playing at a local swimming hole were shocked by the sound of crashing and screeching metal early yesterday evening as the popular CH&FR steam locomotive #761 was derailed at a nearby switch.  No one was injured, and damage to the locomotive and other equipment was minor, company officials report.

A nearby local railfan captured this video of the engine striking the switch and jumping off the tracks in a frightening manner.


WM 761 was pulling a short freight through the Watash Creek Tunnel around 6:00pm last night when it derailed over the switch just beyond the East tunnel portal.  CH&FR officials confirmed that the train included the famous nScale.net Traveling Boxcar, but the car was undamaged.

Officials from the FRB and NTSB, along with local law enforcement and company accident investigators were called in, while crews from the Frost River Locomotive Works wreck team quickly re-railed the locomotive and towed it back to the shop for repairs and inspection.  Company officials indicate that the switch was quickly returned to temporary service, although a maximum speed limit of 10 mph was set over the area.  Permanent repairs will be made over the coming week as weather allows.

Switchman Bobby Joe Davis of Chestnut Hill was reported to be on duty at the switch.  Government officials declined to comment on the ongoing investigation, except to say that all areas will be investigated, from mechanical failure of the switch or locomotive to errors or negligence on the part of the engineer or switchman.

A company employee, speaking on guarantee of anonymity, said “We all love Bobby Joe like a brother, but he’s always had a bit too much of an eye for the ladies.  They never should have posted him to that switch station within sight of that swimming hole.  I just knew something like this would happen.”  When asked if alcohol or drugs might have been a factor, the employee replied, “Naah.  After he wrecked his truck that night a few years back, he went cold turkey.  He’s been sober as a church meeting ever since.  No way he was drunk.  No way.”

The railfan who captured the video reported nothing unusual happening prior to the accident, but indicated that the switch signal may not have been fully rotated into position prior to the accident.

Asked to comment on the video footage, Professor Milton Swarovski of the Frost River College’s School of Railroad Technology indicated that the engine may have struck an object on the tracks, rather than a failure of the switch itself.  He speculated that a loose piece of ballast, debris from the recent tunnel construction, or vandalism may be likely causes.

NSN Traveling Car Visits the CH&FR

Dateline: Frost River, 3/27/2010

NSNX 2010 entering the Watash Creek Tunnel behind WM 761
NSNX 2010 entering the Watash Creek Tunnel behind WM 761

The CH&FR Railroad had an interesting visitor today.  A traveling boxcar, NSNX 2010, is making an international tour of the rails in support of its owner, the nScale.net Model Railroading website.

Operated by the Danville & Rigby Junction under the NSNX reporting marks, this 50′ boxcar was placed into regular revenue service and released onto the rails as a combination advertising adventure and experiment to see just how far the car would travel.

To date, the car has visited locations in Maine, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas, Alabama, and now Kentucky.  A map of its travels is being maintained on Google Maps.  A number of railroads, largely short lines, have put in requests for the car to be routed on their rails, including overseas locations in New Zealand and Australia.

NSNX 2010 before repainting by the FRLW.

CH&FR officials confirmed reports that some vandals apparently “tagged” the car with graffiti somewhere between its last official stop in Alabama and CH&FR’s receipt of the car.  Company officials indicated that the Frost River Locomotive Works has volunteered to clean and repaint the car at no charge.

Officials report that the car will spend about a week in local service before being forward on toward its next official stop on the Dakotah Western Railroad in Northwest North Dakota.

Tunnel Project Complete!

The tunnel project, long in the making on the Mini-Layout, is officially complete!

There are, of course, several minor touch-up items to address, such as fixing paint issues in the tunnel lining, adding some color washes to the painted-on rocks, and cleaning the rails on the tracks.

The easiest way to chronicle this is with some before & after pics.

So, here is as close to a “before” as I have, where I was test-fitting the portals and the tunnel lining:

Test-fit of tunnel portals and lining.
Test fit of tunnel portal and lining.

Here’s a photoshopped version of the above picture, showing the “vision” for the tunnel.  I even included the new paint scheme on the train…

Photoshopped vision of completed tunnel.
This is GIMP, not Photoshop!

And finally, here is the finished product.  I did my best to get the same camera angle and train position.

The finished tunnel.
The Finished Tunnel!

A long shot of the whole hill.

Long shot of complete hill.
The front side of the hill.

And one more:  the back side.

Back side of the hill
Back side tunnel porta.

Here’s a 100+ photo slideshow of the whole project.  And here’s a thread on nScale.net chronicling the construction process.

The whole project has taken just over a month from conception to completion.  And the good news is that it’s finished just in time for the arrival of the nScale.net Traveling Car!

More Railfan Pics

I caught another RJ Corman train passing by…

RJCC 3805 - a GP38.

This is RJCC 3805, a GP38-2 that used to be NS 2775.  It’s not pulling a steep hill.  This was a quick-snap shot with my iPhone, and I was accidentally holding the phone at an angle.

Here’s one of the cars it was pulling.  I don’t condone defacing other people’s property, but you gotta admit, this is a pretty colorful “tag” and would make an interesting car to model.

Tagged boxcar on a local train

And for the record, I didn’t pick up the phone/camera until I was already stopped by the train at the crossing.  Safety first!

Oh what a difference a little detail makes!!!

A little scenery makes a big difference

Now that we’ve got the basic landscape done, and a stock of trees at hand, the kids and I were able to make significant progress on our tunnel project tonight. Here’s a shot of the tunnel as is. Still to do: plenty more trees and ground cover, adding more campers atop the cliff, and starting on the landscaping at the base of the hill.

We’re also trying to decide what to do with the back side of the hill, in order to make it an interesting photo op.

A few notes here.  First, you can tell that as foreground trees, the Woodland Scenics are far superior to my bamboo skewer trees.  That’s OK.  It’s exactly what I expected.  However, the new thing is that I now realize this scene has a lot more foreground than I thought it would.  I’ll go ahead and use the skewer trees for now, but I may “upgrade” them later.

Second, I don’t recommend using the “Great Stuff” in the blue can.  It cures to an open cell foam that is too squishy to firmly hold a tall tree.  I had to sink the pines below the bases of their trunks to get them to stay put.

The forest ground cover is actually crushed leaves from my front yard that I dried out and ground up as best I could.  I think it would look pretty good in HO or O scale, but it really needs to be ground a little finer for N scale.

I’ve found a good use for spare clump foliage from the Woodland Scenics kit.  It makes fine bushes and brambles alongside the rocks.

If you look closely at the cliff high on the hill, you’ll see a lone hiker enjoying the panoramic view of our kitchen.  He’ll soon be joined by two friends, and they will be setting up a campsite up there.

Here are a couple of additional pictures:

Closeup of hiker on the cliff above the tunnel
Closeup of hiker
Closeup of tunnel and cave
Closeup of tunnel and cave
Layout before landscaping project started
Where we came from

More Trees

I took a second stab at making bamboo skewer trees.  This time, I used Woodland Scenics Coarse Turf instead of Fine Turf.  It’s a bit harder to work with, but the results are significantly more tree-like.  With the fine turf, I was able to pour some in a sifter and sift it onto the glue-covered polyfiber.  Nearly all of it stuck on the first try, and most of it stayed on the tree.

With the coarse turf, I couldn’t sift it.  I had to pinch small bits between my fingers and hand-press them into the polyfiber.  Lots of it would fall off initially, and I fixed this by spraying the turf with glue after pressing it on.  I think the results are pretty good…

Bamboo skewer tree made with coarse turf
Coarse Turf in Light Green

The second tree, I got in a rush applying the polyfiber to the stick, and it kindof fell apart on me.  I think it’s salvageable once the glue dries, though.

Bamboo skewer tree with dark green coarse turf
Coarse Turf in Dark Green

The glue is still wet on that one!

Here’s a shot of all four trees together.  I think the coarse turf looks better for a mature tree, but the fine turf would work very well for, say, a manicured bush.

All four trees together
All Four Trees Together

A cheap way to make background trees…

Jerry (“Cox 1947”) on nScale.net posted a great little tutorial on how he makes trees out of toothpicks and  foliage clusters.  Since I need a LOT of trees to cover my hill for my tunnel project, and I’m on a tight budget, I jumped right on this idea.

However, since my forest is mature, I needed significantly taller trees than Jerry’s.  So, based on an amalgam of other tree-making techniques, I made a few changes and came up with this…

First, I got some bamboo skewers:

I cut them roughly in half, giving me 6 inch long sticks. Next go-round I’ll break them at the 5/7 inch mark to give a bit of height variety. Then I spray painted them brown, and tried to mist on some black. Lesson #1: You can’t “mist” on Krylon rattle-can with the cheap spray head. You might be able to do it with the directional head. This would look FAR better done with an actual airbrush, or with some other paint technique.

Next, I took some aquarium filter fiber (basically fine-mesh polyfiber) and spray painted it black. Lesson #2: this is really hard to do successfully. It takes (and wastes) a LOT of paint. I think next go-round I’ll just fork over for the black stuff from Micro-Mark.

After all the paint had dried thoroughly, I coated the upper 1/2 to 2/3 of the sticks with white glue, took a section of the polyfiber and wrapped it around the stick, pressing it into the glue a bit. I could have dressed it up a bit here, but I didn’t. In the photo, you can see how some parts of the fiber didn’t get blackened fully.

I let that dry overnight (because I was busy!). This evening, I sprayed both of the trees with Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement and then I held the tree over a pan while I sifted Woodland Scenics Fine Turf (“Green Grass” color) over it. Lesson #3: This is really a two-man job. For the second tree (the one with more fiber on it), I had TwinBoy rotate it like a pig on a spit while I focused on the sifting (I used “Weeds” color on this one). This worked much better, and he enjoyed it.

I think the Coarse Turf would look a bit more tree-like, but I didn’t have any. This came out pretty good, though, for a background tree. Here’s a couple of shots of the finished product, with a GP-40 for scale reference.

The first one is with some side-lighting, but no flash. The second, I added flash.

I’m still working on my camera technique. You can see in the flash shot how the tree on the right didn’t get as good coverage because I was trying to do both things at once. The left-hand tree came out better.

The white bits are wet glue. I’ll have to give them a good shake tomorrow to confirm how much of the turf really adhered to the polyfiber.

These are going to be filler/background trees on the hill over my tunnel. I don’t think they’d do all that good as a foreground tree, but as background filler I’m fairly pleased. They’re extremely cheap to make (i’ve got enough skewers for at least 200 trees, for about a buck!), will fill in the canopy well, and there’ll still be trunks if anyone looks closely.

Things I’d do differently next time (lessons re-capped):

  • Don’t try to “airbrush” with a rattle-can.
  • Maybe used textured paint on the skewers.
  • Cut or break the skewers at varied lengths (this was the plan all along).
  • Skip spraying the polyfiber and just buy the black stuff.
  • Spend a little more time shaping the polyfiber.
  • Use a helper (I’m lucky – I have two!) when sprinkling the trees.
  • Use blended or coarse turf, instead of fine turf.
  • Maybe mix in a little brown turf, like Jerry suggested.

Many thanks to Jerry for providing the toothpick technique that inspired this (I don’t think I invented anything here, just made his trees taller), and to “ddold” (also on nScale.net)  for suggesting the skewers. I think it’s going to work very well for my forest.

RJ Corman Delivering the Goods


Originally uploaded by BGTwinDad

I caught this shot while stopped for traffic in Lexington. A pair of RJ Corman engines (a GP38 and a GP16, I believe) bringing some hoppers and empty gondolas to local businesses.

I believe the hoppers were probably going to the GE light bulb plant, and the gondolas were most likely headed to the local metals recycling facility.

Had I been on the street a minute later, I would have been caught at the crossing and been able to take several good, close-up photos. As it was, I was already past the crossing and caught in traffic behind a light. I only had time to catch one quick shot before traffic started moving again.

This is my first “railfan” photo with actual rolling stock in it. Not bad for a quick snap with a Blackberry, eh?