A Visitor from the V&O (sort of…)

IMG_2271 by BGTwinDad
IMG_2271, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

Back in 1962, a model railroader named Allen McClelland began to build the Virginian & Ohio, an HO scale model, in his home.  But it wasn’t just any model.  Allen created his railroad to be just like the real thing… a real railroad, only in 1:87.1 scale.  He used prototypical methods in the modeling, in the selection of equipment, and in the operation of the railroad.  At the time this was a real change from the common practice, and in the intervening decades, the V&O – as a railroad, not just as a layout – has become one of the icons of the model railroad world.

Allen wasn’t alone.  Two of his friends, Tony Koester and Steve King, built their own railroads along the lines of the V&O: the Allegheny Midland (Koester) and Virginia Midland (King).  Together, the three railroads shared a “family” relation along the lines of the real-life Chessie System or Family Lines, known as the Appalachian Lines.

In recognition of the relative fame of these model railroads and the immense contributions to the hobby by their creators, Fox Valley Models released a set of N scale model equipment decorated in the V&O and AM colors… a “fantasy” version of FVM’s GEVO engine, along with a set of coal hoppers and boxcars.  In one sense, these are not N scale models… they are 1:1.83 scale models of the “real” Appalachian Lines equipment (which was itself HO scale…).

I picked this one up from my favorite online model retailer, Fifer Hobby Supply, on special order.  Mike & Robin have a great operation, and are very easy to work with.  I may also pick up an Allegheny Midland boxcar, and I might even consider a few of their coal hoppers as well, if I can find them.  The GEVO locomotives are too big and modern for the CH&FR, but it might not be out of the question to custom-paint an SD40 or something, one of these days…


Light from the Past

  by BGTwinDad
, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.
My wife and I were “antiquing” in a little shop in South Charleston, WV when I stumbled across this little gem.  It’s a brakeman’s lamp, I know not what vintage.  On the top of the cap of the lamp is stamped the logo of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Lamps like these would have been used by brakemen (and I suppose other railroad crew members) to signal trains at night.  By holding the lamp or swinging it in various ways, they would indicate different messages to the engineer.

Company-Owned Cars

Untitled by BGTwinDad
Untitled, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

It’s fairly common in the real world (“prototype” to modelers) for a “customer” company such as a chemical firm or a power plant to lease their own equipment to haul either supplies to their plants or product from them (or both!).  Quite often, especially in the case of long-term leased equipment, the customer will place his own logo on the car, while the reporting marks still show the leasing company.  One will thus see covered hoppers with grain or chemical company names, or tank cars from various chemical companies or ethanol vendors or fuel suppliers.

The CH&FR serves NSN Scientific, Inc., a fictional chemical company with sites in a number of places, including Glover’s Bend, the town I am currently modeling.  I thought it fitting, then, that some of my leased hoppers bear the company logo.  These are the first, and I’m sure there will be more.

These particular hoppers have just had an initial base coat of clear gloss applied, followed by the “NSN Scientific” logo decal.  Next up they will receive a coat of matte finish to seal the decal, hide its edges, and kill the glossy finish, and then perhaps a bit of weathering.

I custom printed the decals using decal paper from Micro-Mark on my father’s Lexmark inkjet printer, and used Krylon Crystal-Clear and Matte Finish spray-can paints for the coats. The Micro-Mark paper seems to work well for black decals, but the color ones I tried on another model seem to run… I need to experiment more with that, as it could be user error.  The process is simple.  You just make up your decal artwork in any suitable computer program (I used a mix of GIMP for the image work and OpenOffice Draw for the page formatting), and print on the special paper with an inkjet or laser printer.  Then you spray over the decal paper with Gloss Coat spray paint.  Once the paint is dry, you use the decal just like any commercially purchased decals.

Both cars are Atlas models, the smaller a 70-ton ACF 3560 cu.ft. 3-bay hopper leased from GE Rail Services (ACFX), and the larger a 4-bay 5250 cu.ft. centerflow hopper “on loan” from Union Carbide Corp (RAIX).


LocoIO Completed!

LocoIO Completed! by BGTwinDad
LocoIO Completed!, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

What is this? This is the LocoIO board. It was designed by John Jabour and updated by Hans DeLoof, and is available from a Belgian company called “Het Spoor” (Dutch for “The Track”) as a kit for about $45 US including shipping, with the current exchange rate.

This little guy plugs into the Digitrax LocoNet, and has 16 independent I/O pins. Each of the 16 I/Os can either act as an input, generating a LocoNet message when the voltage on the pin changes, or as an output, changing its voltage in response to a LocoNet command.

What’s it for? Well, I’m going to use at least some of the I/Os to turn LED lighting on and off from my JMRI computer. I can use other pins as inputs from block occupancy detectors or control panel switches or whatever. I can even drive the flashers on a crossing gate signal if I like.

With an add-on board it can be used to drive turnout motors or solenoids, and of course the inputs can also provide direct turnout position feedback to the LocoNet.

The kit comes as a bare PC board and a bag of parts, and to build it you have to place and solder all of the parts. This may seem intimidating, but if you’re able to solder track feeders, this should be no harder than a typical model structure kit. The PCB is labeled clearly where each part goes, and aside from figuring out which resistor is which, the placement is pretty obvious. While there are a lot of pins to solder, the small size means it goes quicker and easier than rail soldering.

You may note from the picture that there’s an empty chip socket in the center. This is where the microprocessor “brain” goes. I need to do a final inspection and clean the solder flux off the board before installing this most important chip.

Assembly took about an hour, and went very smoothly. Next up after cleaning and testing, I will install it on the layout and hook it up to a 12V power supply, my LocoNet, and the lights I want to control. After programming it from JMRI, I’ll be ready to use my very expensive light switch!


(Note: Edited 17-Aug-12 to add attribution to John Jabour)

Northbound Mixed Freight

So I haven’t had much to post lately.  Real-world life has been keeping me busy.  But I have a couple of model projects in the works that I’m waiting till nearer completion to post on.  I think you will be pleased.  There’s actual scenery cropping up on the Glover’s Bend layout!

In the meantime, here’s a video of a Norfolk Southern mixed freight headed Northbound out of Lexington that I caught.  There are a few interesting cars, including a SOO LINE covered hopper up on a flatcar and a former CB&Q covered hopper where the old logo is still (barely) visible.  Some pretty interesting graffiti, too, if you’re in to that sort of thing.  A BNSF SD70MAC and two NS Dash 9-40CWs up front, and it is flying.

I always seem to be on the wrong side of the sun for these things, and while the iPhone video capture is better than nothing, it’s less than ideal for this sort of thing.  Still, enjoy!