Tag Archives: steam

Steam Days at Glover’s Bend!

Steam Days at Glover's Bend

The CH&FR Railroad hosted a “Steam Days” event at the Glover’s Bend station over the weekend. Along with the railroad’s own 2-8-0 “Consolidation” and 2-6-6-2 “Mallet” engines, two more visiting locomotives were on hand: a 4-6-2 “Pacific” and a 2-10-2 “Santa Fe”.

Crowds gathered to enjoy some local Bluegrass music and share the hot dogs and hamburgers while looking over these historic iron horses. The station was filled up with a temporary museum exhibit covering the history of steam on the CH&FR and in the region, and Main Street was full of artists and vendors of all kinds.

The engines were fired up and used for excursion trips, photo run-bys and a whistle blowing contest (the Mallet won). The CH&FR’s newly restored C&O caboose was also on display, in its traditional position at the tail of a coal drag.

Mary Lou Harrison went home with the prize for the chili cook-off, and little Bobby Weismueller won the “fastest kid” race.

Here are a few more photos captured during the event:

Steam Days at Glover's Bend

Steam Days at Glover's Bend

Steam Days at Glover's Bend

Con-Cor / Rivarossi N Scale 4-6-2 “Pacific” Decoder Install (Part 2)

In Part 2 of this install, we’ll explore the trickiest problem involved in this install:  connecting power from the tender to the locomotive.


Older versions of the Rivarossi 4-6-2 used a plastic drawbar, and only the little spring wire pressing against the drawbar pin in the locomotive to transfer power.  For a DC locomotive, this turned out to be a fairly poor design, but for a DCC install, it makes isolating the tender from the motor pickups easy.

(Un)fortunately, this version of the model uses a metal drawbar, which is much better for ensuring good power transfer under DC, but makes it much trickier to isolate the tender from the motor.

A few options that either I considered or were suggested, which I rejected (and the reasons why):

  • Enlarge the hole in the loco end of the drawbar and put shrink wrap over the drawbar pin.  I was concerned about friction and wear on the shrink wrap, so no.
  • Replace the drawbar with a plastic one.  This would have been an excellent option if I could have disassembled the pin at the tender end.  I couldn’t figure out how without destroying it.
  • Insulate the axle wipers from the bar rivets and wire directly to them.  Again, I was concerned about wear, and I just didn’t have the parts.

In the end, the simplest solution seemed to be to cut the brass bar.  It would have been much easier if I could have removed it from the tender first, but it’s riveted in place, so no.  Instead, I used a drill press to drill up from the bottom where there’s an opening in the plastic, and then cut the rest of the way through the bar with a Dremel tool and a reamer bit.  I did a somewhat messy job of it, but it worked.

Here’s a view of the bottom of the tender before the cut. You can see the opening where I made the cut on the left.

Once the cutting was done, I soldered a piece of wire to the bar in the middle of the tender and routed it through the hole to the front near the drawbar. At the drawbar end of the wire, I attached one pin of a NEM651 female connector and shrink-wrapped the connection.


Finally, I finished the end of the wire coming from the loco with a single pin of a NEM651 male connector. At that point, we’re done except for buttoning things up and testing her out.


I found when testing that with the female socket secured to the tender, it was very difficult to connect up the locomotive on the track. The quarters are very tight between the cab and tender, and I had cut the loco wire just a tad short. By leaving the plug loose, I was able to bring it out of the tender enough that the wires can be connected before the drawbar is hooked up. Much easier, and with everything being black it still looks OK. We’ll see what the customer thinks. I hope he likes it.


Con-Cor / Rivarossi N scale 4-6-2 “Pacific” Decoder Install (Part I)

I was recently asked by a friend to install a decoder in an N scale Con-Cor / Rivarossi 4-6-2 “Pacific” locomotive. It seems that install instructions for this model are scarce, so I will share how I managed.

DCC decoder install in a Con-Cor/Rivarossi 4-6-2
(shown with the steam-dome shell screw partially removed)

This locomotive model has an odd (really, just old) method of pickup. The fireman’s side (left, going forward) rail is picked up through the drivers, while the engineer’s side (right, going forward) is picked up through the tender. Power is transferred from the tender to the engine through the drawbar and a stiff bit of spring-wire that contacts a peg sticking down below the cab.

This is actually the trickiest part of the install. The drawbar peg on the engine is directly connected to the lower motor brush, and the drawbar itself is conductive. So in order to isolate the motor from the rails, you have to somehow insulate the drawbar and provide an alternate path for the tender pickup to the decoder. More on that later.

For this install we chose the Digitrax DZ126T as the best balance between cost and size. The TCS Z2 (also a good choice) is slightly smaller but more expensive. The Lenz LE077XF is only a little more expensive than the Digitrax, but is the largest of the three. Any of these would work, though, and would follow the same basic install process.

The first step is to locate a good spot to fit the decoder, and do any necessary milling or other modifications to make room. Another install page showed installing the Lenz decoder under the cab roof, after some milling to the inside of the roof and to the top of the frame. On looking at the frame design, I decided to fit the decoder into the boiler where the upper headlamp contact is. There is room for the DZ126T at that location without any frame modifications.

DCC decoder install in a Con-Cor/Rivarossi 4-6-2

Remove the shell by taking out the screw in the top of the steam dome on the boiler and then spreading the firebox sides slightly. It is a tight fit, but with some shaking the frame will drop out. Next, remove the two headlamp contacts from the center of the frame and disconnect the black wire running from the upper contact to the rear of the locomotive. Keep the lower contact. You will need it later. Also remove and keep the spade lug on the back end of the black wire. The upper contact and the wire itself can be discarded.

Next, I test-fit a pre-wired T1 white LED that I had handy. It fits nicely into the brass slug that previously held the headlamp. I went ahead and used this pre-wired model, but next time I would probably custom build a T1 LED and resistor to make it as compact as possible and make a little bit more room for the decoder. The shrink wrap on this LED assembly got in the way.
DCC decoder install in a Con-Cor/Rivarossi 4-6-2
Pre-wired T1 LED in the boiler

DCC decoder install in a Con-Cor/Rivarossi 4-6-2
Test fit of the pre-wired LED

After test fitting, I trimmed the LED assembly as short as I could and wired it to the decoder. The decoder Blue wire (common +) goes to the current limit resistor (connected to the LED’s anode) (red wire) and the white wire (forward headlight function) goes to the cathode.

DCC decoder install in a Con-Cor/Rivarossi 4-6-2

The upper brush contact of the motor contacts the frame through a brass spade lug. We must remove that lug, turn it around to face away from the frame, and attach the decoder grey wire to it.

To remove the motor, you must first remove the lower brush contact. Pull straight down on the white plastic ring around the tender pin until it comes loose. Be very careful. It is a tight fit, and when it comes loose it is likely to fly off, taking the spring and motor brush with it.

Next, pull the motor out of the frame by pulling (or pushing) straight back firmly but gently. Remove the spade lug tab from the top motor contact and solder it to the grey decoder wire. Solder the spade lug removed from the lighting tab wire to the orange decoder wire.

After measuring for proper length of the grey and orange wires (they’ll reach back from the decoder position over the top of the frame), I cut and soldered the wires to the spade lugs away from the loco to prevent overheating the motor brushes.

Aesthetically, it would be better to solder the grey wire to the bottom contact and the orange wire to the top contact, so the orange wire is hidden from view. This would make the motor run in reverse, but that can be corrected by programming the decoder.

I lined the inside of the back of the motor mount hole in the frame with Kapton tape to ensure no contact between the brushes and the frame. This might have been overkill but I wanted to be extra-safe.

Reinstall the motor in the frame and reinstall the lower brush contact and tender pin. Slip the spade lugs back onto the motor brush contacts with the tab pointing back away from the frame.

DCC decoder install in a Con-Cor/Rivarossi 4-6-2

DCC decoder install in a Con-Cor/Rivarossi 4-6-2

Once the motor is back in place, bend both spade lugs flush with the back of the motor.

Now, we’re almost done.

Cut and solder the red decoder wire to the lower headlamp tab and re-insert the tab into the frame. Secure the decoder to the top of the frame where the upper headlamp tab used to be. Tuck and secure all of the wires. The black wire should run back along the Engineer’s side of the frame where the black headlamp wire used to be, and will stick out the back of the cab for some length. The yellow wire can be cut short and tucked.

DCC decoder install in a Con-Cor/Rivarossi 4-6-2

Bend the red wire tab up a little past vertical. This will ensure the red wire is not sticking down where it can be seen when the shell is re-installed.

Slip the headlamp into the hole in the boiler slug, then carefully reinstall the shell. It is a tight fit, so you may have to do some “encouraging” to get everything in. It helps to take a small screwdriver and tuck the black wire under the lower edge of the boiler to hide it, much the way one would tuck a cable beneath the baseboard of a house wall. Be careful not to damage anything.

At this point, you should have a complete, running locomotive, except the black wire is sticking a few inches out the back of the cab. To test the locomotive, use an alligator-clip test lead to connect the black wire to the engineer’s side rail of your test track. The locomotive should power up, respond to DCC commands, and run (at least as far as the test lead will reach).

Now is the time to fix anything that is wrong.

In the next installment, we will see how to connect the black wire to the tender and complete the installation.

Coal Drag

Coal Drag by BGTwinDad
Coal Drag, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

A first attempt at focus stacking.  There’s still plenty to do on the scenery, but I wanted to get a photo of my H4 Mallet pulling a string of 55-ton hoppers.  And I wanted to try using my new camera (not new new, the Lumix G5) on the layout.

One of the major problems of taking photos of small objects like an N-scale train layout is the extremely narrow depth of field most cameras give at suitable distances.  This results in one small part of the photo being in sharp focus and the rest being badly out of focus.  Though one can cleverly use this phenomenon to good effect, focus stacking gives another option.

With focus stacking, you take a series of photos, each focusing on a progressively farther distant part of the picture.  You then use software such as the open-source Enfuse or the commercial Helicon Focus program to “stack” the image… blending the sharply in-focus parts of each image together to create a single final image where the entire shot is in focus.

The above is only a first attempt, and a poor one at that.  I didn’t take enough original shots to get the back part of the layout in focus, and so the effect fails, though technically I did succeed in getting most of the train in focus.

Better luck next time, though.

Locomotive Roster “Complete”

IMG_2625 by BGTwinDad
IMG_2625, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

When I designed my Glover’s Bend layout, I put together a plan of the trains that would run regularly on it, including the motive power required to run those trains – or, more specifically, what would be used if it were the real prototype, of course.  I also planned for the type and roadname of the locomotive to be a visual cue to which train – and to/from which locations – each was.  This mean that I had a specific list of locomotives that I need to make the layout complete, just like I had a specific list of track pieces or structures or scenic details or electronics that I need.

As of my most recent purchase – a Norfolk Southern B23-7 by Atlas, lightly used, from a friend, that need list is now complete.  Not that I won’t be buying plenty more locomotives in the future – they are somewhat addictive – but they will be wants not needs, so to speak.

Front row (L-R):

  • Bachmann 2-8-0 Consolidation WM761 : excursion service
  • Bachmann 2-6-6-2 Mallet C&O 1397 : Coal and excursion service

Second row (L-R):

  • Atlas EMD SD35 B&O (Chessie) 7413 : Coal service (paired with CH&FR7401)
  • Atlas EMD SD35 CH&FR 7401 : Coal service (paired with B&O7413)
  • Atlas GE B23-7 NS 3982 : Northbound mixed freight from Norfolk Southern (Williamson, WV)

Third row (L-R):

  • Atlas EMD GP40-2 CSX 6218 : Southbound mixed freight from CSX (Russell, KY)
  • Bachmann EMD GP7 CHFR (Chessie, ex-B&O)6411 : Town branch freight
  • Kato EMD NW2 C&O (Chessie) 5278 : Yard switching

Fourth row (L-R):

  • Bachmann EMD GP40 ATSF 3500 : Out of service (soon to be repainted in Conrail)
  • Intermountain EMD F3A EL6611 : Excursion and general freight service


C&O Mallet Joins CH&FR Roster

  by BGTwinDad
, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

Dateline: Glover’s Bend, WV

The CH&FR Railroad and the Chestnut Hill Historical Preservation Society today unveiled the latest addition to their shared “living museum” collection: a Chesapeake & Ohio Class H-4 2-6-6-2 articulated “Mallet” steam locomotive.

Engine #1397 was built for the C&O in 1915 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, one of 24 such units delivered that year. Boasting over 70,000 lb of tractive effort, and featuring two independently articulted 6-wheel drivers, the Mallet was ideally suited for hauling heavy coal trains on the steep winding tracks of Appalachia. A single H-4 could more than replace two 2-8-0 Consolidations, reducing crew and maintenance costs and increasing efficiency.  Class H-4 Mallets like #1397 remained in service with the C&O until 1955.

CH&FR 1397 steams into Glovers Bend

According to CH&FR Spokesperson Rachel Frost, #1397 was restored and donated to the CH&FR by the LaVere family, in honor of Capt. James LaVere, great-grandson of company founder John Calvin LaVere and all of the Allied casualties in the 1944 Normandy Invasion.  Capt. LaVere was an engineer on #1397 prior to World War II, and was killed during the initial assault on Omaha Beach.  Frost River Locomotive Works employees volunteered hundreds of hours of extra work to have the locomotive ready for its introduction on the anniversary of D-Day.  Capt. LaVere would have been 100 years old this year.
“The employees of the CH&FR and LaVere Mining have lived and worked together for over a century.  We’re like family, and many of us actually are.  Due to the critical wartime need for coal and rail transport, many of our people were precluded from serving directly on the front lines, so we were especially proud of Capt. LaVere’s service – and by extension the service of all the brave men who fought and died on those beaches.”

The Mallet type articulated locomotive is actually two engines sharing a single boiler.  High pressure steam from the boiler is injected into the pistons driving the rear set of 3 axles.  Exhaust from the rear pistons, at a lower but still usable pressure is then injected into the front driver pistons.  This dual use of the boiler steam has certain thermodynamic benefits, and makes it easier to articulate the front set of drivers.  Simple-expansion engines such as the 4-8-8-4 “Big Boy” use boiler steam directly to both sets of cylinders.

Engine #1397 will be on display at the CHHPS museum in Frost River, and will be used frequently for passenger excursions, special events, and periodic revenue service hauling coal.

Model Power 4-6-2 Decoder Install

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

Over the last two weeks or so, I have been working to install a Digitrax DZ125 decoder into the tender of a Model Power N-scale 4-6-2 “Pacific” locomotive.  This was a “commissioned” job for a friend, who had the locomotive and decoder shipped directly to me from the store, and I will be forwarding it on to him shortly.

Even though I was using a Digitrax decoder, the installation instructions from the TCS website submitted by Jeffry Maurer of Sacramento CA — thanks, Jeff! — are perfectly suitable.  Jeff used a TCS MC2, I used the Digitrax DZ125.  I’m quite sure a TCS M1 or any other small hard-wire decoder would work just fine and install in the same way.  The tender is a bit cramped if you leave the weights in place, so you’ll want to use a small one.

(Note that Jeff claims that this install will also work for the Model Power 2-8-2 “Mikado”.  I can’t prove this but I have no reason to believe it won’t work.)

The basic decoder install is very straightforward, but the lighting update was a bit tricky.  Model Power has set this locomotive up to be “DCC Friendly”, and it is.  Power from the drivers is passed back to the tender via a red/black wire pair across the drawbar, combined with power from the tender wheels, and then returned to the motor in the boiler via  a separate grey/orange wire pair.  This little bit of extra wiring work on their part makes the decoder install very simple.

Inside the tender "Before" ...

To add the decoder, all you have to do is remove the tender shell, clip the grey and orange wires free from the black/red wires, and solder the color-matched wires (grey to grey, orange to orange, red to red, black to black) of the decoder to the tender wiring, tape everything down, and replace the tender shell.  Anyone with even a little bit of soldering skill should be able to do this much.

Inside the tender "After" ...

At this point, though, the (incandescent) headlight is still directly powered from the rails via contact strips on the driver axles.  It cannot be turned off, and will be fairly bright.  If you want DCC control of the headlight, we’ll have to do some minor surgery.  On this particular model, I decided to replace the incandescent bulb with a 1206 size SMD (surface mount) LED.  Unfortunately, I failed to take very many photos, so you’ll mostly ave to take my “word” for it.  The good news is that the instructions provided by Jeff above are exactly what I did with only a few very minor modifications.

The basic process is as follows:

  1. Separate the boiler and cab from the locomotive drive train
  2. Clip off the contact strips from the headlight assembly
  3. Solder two wires to the headlight and run them back to the tender
  4. Attach the wires to the blue and white decoder wires
  5. Reassemble the loco.

I found only one minor variation to Jeff’s procedure, and that is that apparently on the version of the model I have, the cab is not a separate piece, but comes off with the rest of the boiler.  Other than that, the process is the same.  Instead of painting the decoder wires black with a Sharpie, I cut the blue and white leads short and replaced them with lengths of black wire.

I also only had to make a few minor changes to swap in an LED as well.  First, back in the tender, I added a 1KΩ resistor on the blue wire.  This limits current to the LED and protects it.  Second, you replace the lamp with the LED, making sure to keep the polarity correct.  The cathode (“negative”) terminal of the LED is usually marked with a dot or other mark, and this should go to the white wire, while the anode (“positive”) terminal goes to the blue wire.  Keeping this straight is especially important if you have replaced the decoder wires with black wire.  To be sure of this – and to make handling the LED a bit easier, I soldered short lengths of blue and white wire to the actual LED pads, and then connected these blue/white lengths to the long black wires back to the tender.

SMD Led with blue and white leads attached...

One other change.  The headlamp (mounted on the drive frame) sticks up through a hole in the bottom of the boiler.  To get the 1206 size LED and its wires to fit, I had to square up the hole just a bit with a needle file.  I did so just enough so that the LED now press-fits into the hole in the boiler instead of mounting to the frame.

LED installed in the Pacific boiler

The basic decoder installation is very easy, assuming you know how to solder wires together.  A reasonable level of care and attention to detail will do fine here.  Connecting the headlamp up requires considerably more work, but even so, most of the trouble is mechanical – routing the wires unobtrusively beneath the running boards, removing the incandescent lamp, and reassembling the engine.  Having completed this one I concur with Jeff’s assessment, if an easy drop-in is a “1”, then the basic install is a “3” and the headlight work is a “6”.

A visit to Cass Scenic Railroad

Cass Scenic Railroad Shay #11 at Whittaker Station, Cass, WV
Cass Scenic Railroad Shay #11 at Whittaker Station, Cass, WV

Over Labor Day weekend, my family visited the Cass Scenic Railroad at Cass, WV.  Cass is a living museum of the logging industry that thrived in the area during the first half of the 20th century.  In particular, they are home to a large stable of Shay type geared steam locomotives, and provide 2 and 4 hour excursion rides up the old logging railroad on Back Allegheny Mountain.

We took the 2-hour round trip to Whittaker Station, about half way up the hill.  This ride features some spectacular views as the train crawls up the steep grades (averaging 4.5% and rising to 8.7% in places) and sharp curves (up to 29 degrees!) on the mountain.

Shay locomotives (and their competitors the Climaxes and Heislers) were specially designed to handle these difficult trips, with tilted boilers, vertical pistons and geared trucks that helped provide smooth, continuous power to the rails.  Our host for the trip was Shay #11, weighing in at 105,000 lbs.

The smooth power delivery of the Shay becomes evident as it begins pulling the grade.  Shays do not produce the sterotypical “Chugga-Chugga” of standard steam locomotives, but more of a smooth rumble that almost – but not quite – resembles a Diesel engine.  There’s no mistaking that black plume of smoke and the ash blowing off the roof of the cars, though.  This is coal-fired steam power at its best!

If you decide to go, you should also check out the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank, WV, only a few miles away.  I don’t have any photos, since digital photography isn’t allowed (it messes with the radio telescopes), but it, too, is well worth the visit, and is a wonderful mix of astonishingly beautiful scenery and science at its best.

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.