First Train at Glover’s Bend


Dateline: August 31, 2010, Glover’s Bend, WV

Construction crews for the CH&FR reached a milestone in the recent expansion to Glover’s Bend today as a locomotive – none other than the famouse WM 761 from the museum at Chestnut Hill – and car made the first test runs on the new track near the town.

Company officials report that the rare steam locomotive was used for advanced track testing because the rigid suspension system common on steam locomotives is less forgiving of poor track work than the more flexible Diesel engines. Earlier runs with a company owned GP-40 confirmed that the track was safe for the steamer.

Officials indicate that it will be weeks or even months before the expansion reaches the town itself.

DCC Bus installed


Originally uploaded by BGTwinDad

This evening, I installed the main DCC bus underneath the layout. One of the nice things about an HCD layout is the ease with which you can tip it up and get at the underside for wiring work.

I installed seven large barrier terminal strips. Six are distributed evenly around the layout to provide connection points for the track feeder wires, and the seventh serves as the central point of a “star” topology. The feed from the booster comes into the seventh strip, and cables spread from that strip to the other six.

I used 18ga. x 8 wire solid thermostat wire for the bus. Some may say that this is too small gauge for this bus, but I believe it will be OK, especially given the short runs. The white and black conductors will carry the DCC +/- signal, while the other six provide expansion for DC and DCC accessory power.

The photo above is the central master terminal strip. The brown cable entering from the top is the feed from the DCC Booster. This will go to a 4-pin fascia-mounted socket, and I will make a cable with mating plug for the booster to connect. There are only 5 cables exiting because the sixth terminal strip is daisy-chained from the terminal strip that happens to be in the same “region” as the master connector.

Now that this is in place, I will be able to connect feeders from the track as I install it. With a simple DC controller, I will be able to test connectivity and run trains while saving up for a Digitrax Zephyr.

Above is a “wide shot” of the complete bus system.

The installation was simple.  I used #4 wood screws to mount the terminal strips to the underside of the layout, I cut the cable to length with a heavy duty wire cutter, and removed 1 inch of the outer sheath with a utility knife (carefully!). In then folded the other six conductors back out of the way, stripped 1/4″ of the ends of the white and black wires, and crimped spade terminals to their ends.
I then simply routed the wire to the other terminal strip and repeated the stripping and spade-lug installation process.

To make the jumper wires for the master terminal, I cut another length of the thermostat wire and pulled the black and white conductors free. I then bent it to shape, creating a loop where each screw terminal would be located. After carefully stripping bare the wire in each loop, I simply removed the corresponding screws on the strip and ran them through the wire loops, screwing them in place on the strip.

I will probably go back and replace this jumper wires with neater ones made by crimping short lengths of wire into spade lugs.

Roadbed goes down!

Roadbed on the layout!


Originally uploaded by BGTwinDad

As you can see, this evening I was able to lay quite a bit of roadbed. The yard and engine service are complete, most of the staging is laid, and the lower mainline loop on the West (tunnel) end is in place.

I have a “divot” in the East end lower curve to fill before I can finish the roadbed there. The West end bridges and abutments are on the way, as are most of the electrical parts I need to complete the first stage of installation.

I will probably roadbed the mine branch, but will leave the town branch until I’m sure how the town is going to look. I’ll probably also leave the East end hill climb until I get the last set of bridges in a few weeks.

Next up is figuring out how the creek is going to run alongside the mine. I’ve got some serious cutting to do there, and I can’t go much farther in that area till it’s done.

NSN Summer Layout Party Completed

View of the (future) East High Bridge, Glover's Bend, WV.
View of the (future) East High Bridge, Glover's Bend, WV.

The Summer Layout Party concluded a few days ago (Aug. 15).  By all accounts it was a roaring success.  I was able to build my benchwork and get the foam rough-graded in preparation for laying roadbed.  You can see the full story in my thread on the NSN website.  Additional photos are available at Flickr.

While I was doing that, I was also fleshing out plans for the electrical system to drive this thing (there’s a thread for this, too!).  In typical Engineer fashion, I’ve seriously over-designed it, running at over 13 pages and still growing.  It’s a good thing that the design and planning part is something I enjoy.  Still, there are days when I envy the folks who can just throw some sectional track on a dinner table and start experimenting.

I’ve taken a bit of a break since then, mostly been purchasing parts & materials for the next phase, which will be tracklaying and installing the main power bus.  There will be more news on that coming soon.

Ongoing layout progress and electrical design progress will be tracked in detail on threads at, with periodic updates and news posted here as well.  I also hope to write a few articles on particular things I learn as I go along.

Oh, and in other news, I’ve got two big boxes from Parvia in my foyer!

Parvia: Build your own world… Part 1

Note:  The following post was written in June.  I unfortunately got distracted and didn’t get it published.


I recently found out about a new company and product available for scale modeling.  Parvia is an innovative company providing a unique product.  That much is for certain.

The folks at Parvia conducted a Beta test program where they invited some N-scale model railroaders (and other folk, I suppose) to free samples of their products in exchange for fair and honest reviews of their product.  So, I volunteered.

It took some time to get things started – mostly because I was distracted with other projects, but I recently placed my order for four of the complete sets, plus a few extras.  Since I chose the free, but slow shipping (because I’m cheap that way!) I’ve got some time before I can review the actual product.  For now, you’ll have to settle for some information about the company and the website.

Parvia, the company…

Parvia the company was founded in New York, but is based in Seattle, if you can say it is based anywhere.  It is a virtual company, and has no real offices.  All of the non-manufacturing employees work from their homes.  I find that rather fascinating.

I’m not sure who their website designer is, but Parvia’s website is one of the more unique-looking websites I’ve seen.  Its look and feel very nicely matches the product itself, with simple, clean lines and soft colors, and is easily navigable.  The catalog and ordering process took a moment to figure out, but was still easy enough.  Certainly not the worst I have ever seen.  Pricing is clear, and a variety of shipping options are provided.

Parvia, the experience…

Parvia markets what I would call an “experience” or a “community” based product, nut just a pile of plastic parts to build from.  On their website, you can sign up for an account.  With that account, you can obviously order kits, buildings and detail parts.  You can also submit designs for custom buildings and entire dioramas.  If someone else orders a diorama you designed, you get a royalty fee.

There is a Wiki under construction, which will enhance the sharing by users, and suggestions for games and other group interactions that can be done.  And of course, some stories from Parvia users.

The system doesn’t quite seem to be fully in place, but their intent is clearly not just to sell parts, but to foster a community of modelers who share ideas, designs, models, and fellowship.  And of course, drive sales through all this community support.  That’s not a bad thing.  That’s a win-win.  It will be interesting to see how this develops.

Parvia, the product…

That’s all nice, but what exactly is Parvia?

Parvia is at its core a modular building system that most closely resembles “LEGO* for grownups”, if it resembles anything at all.  The townscapes are built on a rigid plastic frame which the company claims makes even large models sturdy and portable.  The model itself is made of modular pieces – streets, sidewalks, grass, building walls, roof sections, and details.  The walls have details printed on, and custom buildings can be printed to order.  So if you want to model that unique courthouse in your hometown, they can make it for you.

The models are in 1:160 scale, so 1 inch on the model represents 13 foot 4 inches in the real world.  Not by coincidence, this is the same as N scale model railroading, so Parvia is exactly compatible with N scale trains, accessories, and scenery, as well as closely compatible with a number of other popular small modeling scales.  For reference, a 6 foot tall person would be just under half an inch.

These are not hyper-photo-realistic models.  Which is where the LEGO comparison comes in.  Well, that and the glue-free click together construction technique.  However, they are very conceptual representative, and the printed building facades adds a very nice detail touch.

The bottom line so far…

Full disclosure: Parvia gave me the product I will be reviewing.

That being said, I don’t see myself using this for my model railroad layout.  It’s not the level of realistic detail I’m shooting for.  That’s OK.  Parvia doesn’t even pretend to be competing with Woodland Scenics.

I could see my kids using this for scenery on their layout.  Or anyone for whom being able to say “There’s the town!” is more important than having their friends wonder whether that photo is of a model or the real thing.  Or who doesn’t want to deal with glue and sharp knives just to have a model town.

I have a friend who has enjoyed town planning and design for many years.  He finds joy in deciding where the fire station should go, and whether the Northeast corner is a good place for the garment district.  How wide the streets should be and where to put the sidwalks.  This sort of product, assuming the real thing passes muster when it arrives, would be perfect for him.

I’m intrigued by the product concept and design, and I’m encouraged by the positive contact I’ve had with the company.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the actual product works out.

Stay tuned!!

* LEGO is a registered trademark of the LEGO group, and has nothing at all to do with Parvia, this site, or me… which should be obvious since this is a personal website.

CH&FR Announces Long Term Power Sharing Agreement with CSX Transportation

(Note:  In case you’re trolling for real CSX news and can’t tell, this is fiction…)

Dateline: August 2, 2010

The Chestnut Hill & Frost River Railroad announced today a long term lease and power sharing agreement with CSX Transportation, Inc.  Under the agreement, in addition to its own fully owned locomotives, the CH&FR will make use of surplus CSX locomotives under long term lease for certain power needs, and will also rely upon CSX to provide power for short-term spikes in operations on CH&FR lines.

In exchange, the CH&FR agreed to provide free trackage rights on the mainline between Chestnut Hill and Frost River, opening a new shortcut route for CSX through freights in that corridor and eliminating the delays and problems incurred with changing power for runs over CH&FR track.  CH&FR will also provide light maintenance on CSX equipment in the region at its Frost River Locomotive Works for a reduced fee.

In a gesture of goodwill with the CH&FR’s longstanding interest in railroad history and its association with the Chestnut Hill Historical Preservation Society, CSX has agreed to allow the CH&FR to repaint the long-term leased units in CSX heritage paint schemes, including those of the Chessie System, C&O, B&O, Western Maryland, Conrail and possibly even New York Central Railroads.

Railfans should expect to see the newly leased and repainted units on the rails in the coming months.  Rumor has it that the first such unit will be a  NW2 switcher in Chessie / C&O livery, to be stationed at the Glover’s Bend Yard.  The switcher is currently undergoing restoration to “like new” operational status.

CH&FR CEO James Frost was quoted: “We are excited about this landmark agreement with CSX, and consider it a win-win for all parties.  CSX gains access to an additional route through the coal fields that power our nation and a strategically placed light maintenance facility for their engines, and CH&FR gains access to much needed power without the overhead of owning extra locomotives.”

CHHPS Spokesperson Rachel Frost said, “The historical preservation aspects of this new agreement are groundbreaking.  We will be able to preserve and showcase some of the legendary locomotives and railroad liveries of our time, working hard on the rails where they were meant to be seen.”

CSX representatives were unavailable for immediate comment, but indicated that they are pleased with the agreement and are looking forward to working closely with the CH&FR.