Thursday, December 31, 2009

Two Month Summary

Two Month Summary

I am very happy with the Dixie Central so far! Last night cinched it for me. This concept will work! The roundness of it, the waffle design and the distinct scenes make it a very eyecatching layout. You want to crawl in and investigate it.

So far I’ve put in almost 50 hours and close to $900. The benchwork is very time consuming and not nearly as light as I had hoped once the legs were attached. It is much straighter, flatter and stronger than I had imagined. The splinters are unbearable. I so wish I had painted the sections and may still do so. However, they really need to be painted before assembly. Using the Roto Zip and taking more time in the cutting process to be accurate would have saved a lot of time. I think I could build another set of these in half the time. The legs are still a bit wobbly and I may still have to make more modifications. The view blocks are excellent and do their job well. I’m still not sure that the Masonite backboard is going to work, but we are going to proceed.

Actually, the cost is not too bad. I figure that the total would be around $1,500 US. Similar to the cost of other 4 x 8+ small layouts I’ve built. Tonight I’ll add the DCC system to the list. One already exists, so I’ll use current costs and a couple of jacks for the throttles. The use of used equipment and structures helps defer some of the cost. The structures that I bought would have easily cost $100 and another $10 in paint and supplies, not to mention the 10 hours I’d need to build them. They still need modification, but not much. I consider myself lucky in this regard because most used structures are poorly constructed and aren’t worth the time to rebuild them. Ready to roll cars are VERY expensive and with the number of easy kits (Athearn blue box, etc) the cost of building a layout is going to skyrocket. The locomotive was very pricey, but it really needed to be a fully functional show piece. You could save $200 of the cost and use something less fancy.

As to the track plan itself, I’m still a little dissatisfied. I really wanted a longer main line but to do so just sacrificed too much scenery. Still, I can reach 100% of the layout from the pit and the view blocks are going to make it seem much larger. We won’t know for sure until we actually operate it. Moving up to two locomotives and adding some passenger flag stops might make it more interesting.

As of yesterday I got confirmation that the scenery design is going to work. Each section is designed with key focal points in the center of the module that keep your eyes focused away from the view blocks. These seem to work. One thing that I’m going to have to do is to increase the level of detail in each scene, which will be costly and time consuming. A large amount of figures will be needed and probably some creativity.

Water is still the big focus. The deep foam, while a pain in the butt to work with and quite expensive, is going to yield fantastic results. Section Three’s ocean, beach and water tank run off will be the first. These will be slow and painful assemblies as I’m doing them for a June clinic and I’m tinkering with new chemicals and techniques. Building water off the layout is not something commonly done (I’ve never seen anyone do it before, in fact) and the level of detail needs to be exemplary, yet simple.

I’ve got a leg up on the structures since most of them are already assembled. In about one or two evenings I can have them all detailed and ready to go. The jury is still out on the Cotton Gin. Really, it needs to be the focal point of the railroad and should be scratch built. But I am having a hard time finding a prototype for it that is not enormous. When trying to get NMRA AP points, freelanced structures don’t get it most of the time. You really need to model a solid prototype. I will probably add the wharf first on Section Three since it has track on it and is required for operations. The turntable presents a new and challenging project, as well as a time eater. I need to scratchbuild it for AP points, and to buy one is quite expensive. Besides, there are not good small turnouts. One plan is to build it for kit reproduction and sell it as an On30 turntable.

Speaking of On30, I’ve been looking at the design and it really works well for N, S and On30 scales. This is just the kind of interesting platform for On30 and its portability lends itself to a nice N scale display layout. For S I could see more of a switching layout design. I’m sure we’ll see an On30 version soon!

Scenery is really going to be fun. Everything has to be done just right to make it work. When have you seen a winter scene on a layout, at the beach and with no snow? One thing I keep forgetting to mention is that not only do the seasons change as you go clockwise around the layout, but the time of day changes as well. This is incredibly challenging to do! Every little detail has to be accounted for from length of shadows to lighting effects. The plan is spring at 6:00 am, summer at 12:00 noon, fall at 6:00 pm (sunset) and winter at night. One key issue facing me is the covering of the scenic divider holes for the track. There is only so many ways you can penetrate a board without a full tunnel.

The electrical system is not too complicated and I’ve still not planned it out fully as of yet. My Digitrax DCC system will go in the hole under the mountain on Section Four. There is ample space on the luan top to use as a work table. The UT5’s are a bit of an issue in that I want to use as few as possible, but need to be sure you can easily operate the layout. My first thought was one in the pit on Section Four, and two on the outside perimeter on Sections Four and Two. For the AP program I have to light a lot of the structures. I’m not sure how to power it yet and how the wiring will be connected from section to section. The electrical part is always my weakness and least favorite part.

I’m having fun…and that is all that really matters! Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Great Night on the Dixie!

Wow, what a great night!  I have to complain about the NMRA's AP system as it makes me work alone in the basement.  Tonight the guys came over to help me think out solutions to problems and we had a great time.  Its snowing here, too!

Coalfinger Ken braved the sleet and helped me set up Section Three.  Here we are checking his reach.  Ken is 5'6".

We laid Section Three on top of a 2" slab of extruded foam and drew the profile for cutting.

Using the new Harbor Freight foam cutter we tried it's variable heat power on the foam.

Ken pulled the trigger and it appeared to have plenty of cutting power.  Nice!  I only paid $15 for it.

Steve-bay was back from his holiday travels so we used him as a paperweight.

It takes a bit more kerf than I like, but way better than a hot wire.

Here Steve is cutting on a hard surface (the work table) which didn't work so well.

Here is the cut.  Not bad!  This foam has scored breaks in it and the hot knife helped to seal them so the foam didn't break apart.

Hanging off the table it worked well.  We all took a turn getting the feel of the new knife.

We test fit the foam.  Just a little too big.  We have view blocks on either side that must fit tight.

The foam is a bit rough, but still fine for what we are doing.

I dug out the foot long rasp.  We used it to "sand" down the edges to make the wedge fit.

The kerosene heater knocked the chill off as we fit the foam to the wood.  Perfect!

Switching to 1" stock (which is really 7/8") Ken takes a turn cutting the thin stuff.  It works great!  Made a very nice cut.

It still makes a wide kerf that you have to plan for.  But the knife cuts VERY quickly.

Here the 1" is dropped on the 2" (which is really 2") and we test fit.  The edges are a little shaggy, but still better than a serrated edge knife cut.

The right and left view blocks are next.  They are cut from 1/4" sandply plywood.  I don't have a proper compass or radius tool, so Big Blue Steve Rowe (yes, he showed up!) showed me how to cipher it out.  Haven't seen him in a long time and it was great to have him over.  He's a very experienced modeler.

We played with the board until we finally decided that it needed to be 16" long.  This seemed to be (for us) the proper amount of backdrop without going so high you couldn't reach it from the pit.  We clamped it on a looked at it from all sides.

Here are the dimensions we needed.  The side view block is 29 3/4" long, 16" high and has an 8" radius cut on the front (outer) side.  The backdrop is 1/8" Masonite cut 29 1/4" long and 16" wide.  We will trim the Masonite down and I'll post the exact length later.

Steve helped me test fit the rather springy Masonite.

Steve R. and Ken made a radius template so that all future boards are cut the same.  Then they cut out the left view block.

"Ahhh...a bit short.  Maybe Scott won't notice.  He's too busy talking anyway..."

There!  The view blocks and the back board are temporarily clamped  to the module.  We put an extra piece of foam for the upper level, a loco and track just to get a feel for it.  We like it!

The section looks bigger to me than it did in my head while drawing it.  I like it!  There is a lot of room here.

At this height will be the service area for the locomotive.  The tank and sheds are in their rough positions.  Everything on each section has a focal point that keeps the viewer's eyes from wandering around.

Steve R. stands in for me as the operator.  All you will be able to see is his head in the pit.  Steve R. is 6" tall.  We've also put the warf building and some track in on the left.

With the backdrop, reaching more than half way across the layout becomes impossible.  Too high?  Not sure.

Here is the left view block.

The back drop.

A view from the right side.  The backdrop height can't be any lower or higher.  Its just right.  So how do we reach the cars?

Steve B. had an idea.  Raise the operator!  We put him on an 8" high step.  Steve B. is 5' 10".   Now he can reach everything while the viewer still has their trackside view.  Excellent idea Steve!

The 8" is just right and when I tried it the lift gave me the ability to reach 100% of the layout.  I asked the guys if it looked funny with me standing up so high, but they said no.  It is always optional.  I thought I might make a tool and parts box that you could stand on and use that.

The joints where the two boards meet must be strong and perfect.  We kicked around some ideas but the Masonite is still my big worry.  It just has to bend too much.

Ken came up with a great idea.  Put in steel L-bracketts and screw them into the back.  Steve R. and Steve B. added a support of 1/2" plywood behind the Masonite to recieve the screws.

The section looks awesome!  Just what I had hoped.  All are excited and I can't wait to work on it some more tomorrow.

Thanks for all the ideas about a Roto Zip.  Steve R. brought his Dremel with the Roto Zip bit over and showed it to me.  Now I HAVE to go buy one!!!

As always, keep the ideas and comments coming!  Questions, too!

You may notice that some of the pictures and appearance haven't been as centered and nice as before.  The kind folks at Blogger changed the software.  Hopefully they will fix it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


It's the Novelty Iron Works #5047 from International Hobby Corp. (recently out of business)

Bob LaGoe

Thanks, Bob!  Appreciate the help!


Wow, now this is a kit that looks cheap in the box, but can REALLY be dressed up to be a fine model.   It is an odd piece.  It is very tall and quite thin.  On a small layout it probably wouldn't fit in normally.  The person who built the one I have used muted, natural colors for the stone and the roof.  It is VERY believable up close.  It's a shame this one is out of production, though there were eight of them on Ebay tonight running from $15 to $24 each.  Leave the signs off.

Cough Cough Cough

Another fun filled night of making sawdust!  Luan sawdust is NASTY.  Cough cough.  Even with safety glasses and a dust mask.  I'm wheezing as I write this!

 Section Four is the first up for surgery.  Sand sand sand....ah crap.  My sanding belt is worn out!
Yup, this one is about shot.  It's easy to tell because the wood starts smoking!  I put out the module and head to the shop.  NO SPARES!  Double crap!  Me and the dog load up in the car and head to Homeless Depot where I buy a few more sanding belts...and...

I bought two 2'x4' 1/4" sand ply boards.  These will be for the sides of the section.  I am just getting enough to do Section Four.  If it works, we'll get enough to do the rest. 

Also on the spend list was a 2' x 4' 1/8" sheet of Masonite.  This will be the backdrop piece as it needs to be more flexible than the sides.

Here are the 3" x 18" coarse grade wood machining belts at $4 each that you DON"T need because you are going to be more careful sawing, right?  Learn the lesson...the sanding is costing me about $10 and about three hours of time.

Section Four is as smooth as my new daughter's butt...she is due in April!  I'm so excited!

Section One is now up for sanding.  This is the worst of the sections in that I did the poorest cutting job.  This one took me almost 45 minutes to sand correctly.

Look at that!  I almost took the jigsaw to it but it would be hard to cut and I don't want to damage the radius board.  Sand sand sand...

The luan eats these belts up!  This is a good quality sanding belt and I chewed it up in no time.

The dog is quite offended at my foul language.  I apologized to him and gave him a piece of my Christmas Present Old Hickory Farm Summer Sausage.  We are friends again.

Last one! This section is in pretty good shape, so only light sanding is needed.  The edges are nice and sharp!  Glue Bob wood be proud!  In fact, he's probably at home reading this and VERY jealous that he is not over here making sawdust with me.

Note to self.  We need another can of flat black paint.  Marie is not here to remind me.

Done!  All of the sections are sanded flat and ready for foam and backdrop boards!  Yeah!

These silly things are quite interesting.  Everyone loves to look at them.  The Sippin' and Switching guys have told me repeatedly about people looking up under their layout at the benchwork.  Now I know why they paint them.  I should have done it as well.  Shut up Bob, I know you told me too!

That's all for now.  Tomorrow...Foam, Foam on the Range!