Dec 30, 2011

Great layout progress, Goose #3 anniversary, Edna repainted

Just a quick post tonight... I've been off a few days for Christmas and had a chance to make great progress on the layout - all 6 new Tortoise installs are completed, the new panel at Telluride is complete, DCC LocoNet troubleshooting at Ridgway is complete, and a new optical sensor installed near the Ridgeway yard crossover (so I can 'see' when a train is clear during switching moves; key because that crossover is mostly hidden).

On the real RGS side of things, Knotts Berry Farm reported that Goose #3 just celebrated her 80th birthday (in fine, operating shape) and business car Edna has a new exterior paint job.  Details about both at on my Remaining Equipment page, which I finally got around to updating.

That page also has some further details about the RGS #20 rebuild, which continues but needs more funds.

Dec 4, 2011

Tortoises again

Wow, the fall is a busy time for our household... I thought I posted my last update here about 2 weeks ago... actually it's been 6!

So, just a brief update... on the layout side I'm back to installing Tortoise turnout motors, which involves a lot of time twisted under various parts of the layout, working upside down to align rather touchy angles on the underside of the layout.  I'm adding 3 new turnout motors at Telluride as well as a completely new panel, so operators there can switch more efficiently in the narrow aisle.  Here's the panel graphics (which was trimmed somewhat after printing; click if the full image isn't showing):

Panels go to Kinko's and are printed in color on cardstock, then laminated, then glued to the fascia.  Holes are drilled for toggles & LEDs then.

During some test op sessions, I discovered that constantly walking to the far end of the penisula to manually throw the turnouts on the run-around tracks got old pretty quickly.  Also, I figured once the depot is built, it'd be hard (and potentially dangerous to the depot model) to reach over it to manually throw a turnout which will be behind it.  So - another motor there.

I suppose an interesting note my aisle design.  Here's the layout design (click if the full image isn't showing):

The layout was designed so you could follow your train in the same aisle as much as possible.  Wider aisle areas were designed in front of Ridgway, Durango, Rico and Dolores - primary switching areas.  For Telluride, I didn't want to clog up the Dolores, so the wye at Vance and switching at Telluride are intended to be done from the left side - in the Telluride-Ophir aisle.  Thus, my turnout motor additions are being done to allow operators to stay in that aisle, and stay out of other ops' way while switching.  It sounds good on paper... eventually I have more test op sessions w/ multiple people and we'll see if my idea works.

Then in Ridgway, also as the result of some test operating, it was suggested I add motors to all the turnouts in the yard ladder, since when you're using the caboose / runaround track, it's hard to physically see the turnout positions behind those cars... especially given the 51" height of the benchwork there.  So, even for those yard turnouts that can be reached, I'm adding turnout motors and indicators on the panel.  So - another 3 Tortorti will be going in there.  The toggles and wiring are complete, and the linkages on the turnouts complete... just need to add the motors now.

Oct 26, 2011

In Which Steven Discovers Capacitance

So, weather's colder now, and I've still got issues with the newly-installed Digitrax DCC system.

The issue at hand is that my BD8 block detectors (from The Signaling Solution), which I love and which worked flawlessly with the old Keller OnBoard command control system, were now working oddly.  A train would move into a block, the detector LED goes on, and all seems well.  But when the train left the block, the LEDs were stuck 'on'.

Well, after checking for the usual stuff - ground loops, or other sources to cause current to flow through the one of the side of the feeders being used with the detectors, I did the unmanly thing and asked for help.  In this case, the designer of the BD8s.

I received a very quick and thorough return email, which suggested the problem was the DCC signal in one feeder causing a small current to flow, through capacitance, in the other feeder.  The solution was to put some distance between the feeders, physically, as much as possible.

This was a bit discouraging, as only the blocks with the longest wiring runs were experiencing problems, and those were (inevitably) the hidden and least-accessible sections.  You know, the part that runs thru the bathroom walls, thru the basement stairs, behind the furnace, and so on.  To keep wiring neat in these locations, the wiring had been neatly bundled together and carefully routed.  But the bundling was causing the problems - the alternating DCC signal in one wire was inducing a charge in the other wire.

I did color code everything rather religiously, so I crawled under the layout and started tracing the white and gray wires, which is the Rail B side (for me) and being used for detection.

Very long story short, I was able to pull all those wires out and re-route them (still neatly) along new paths that (mostly) kept them a couple inches or so away from the Rail A sides.  After finishing half of the first block (a hidden track beneath Durango), I ran a test train, but no change.  I continued working, got the entire run separated, tentatively ran another test train... and WaaLaa!  Properly functioning signals again!

After much crawling and re-wiring, I've now completed about 5 of the 10 or so affected blocks, and these changes have fixed all of them.  It seems almost crazy that just moving a wire run a little would makde a difference, but with DCC it certainly does!

Oct 14, 2011

RGS #20 restoration continues

Linn Moedinger posted here that work on the restoration of RGS #20 is continuing, with lots of tender issues being addressed. The bottom portion of the tank has been replaced by stainless steel, and will be riveted to the repaired top section. The tender frame has been repaired, as well as the trucks, wheels, bearings, etc. Bearing work is also ongoing with the locomotive, and its wheels still need cracks repaired. The firebox is installed and stay bolts are being put in place; the smokebox is also being installed. The boiler will be installed after the smokebox. In a neat move, the main air reservoir wasn't usable so a new one was fabricated, and placed INSIDE the old one (to maintain the original appearance). Linn also notes that donations continue to be needed to fund the work; those are being handled through the CRRM.

And in other news,  I've finally updated my Links page, and the got the Events section current.  I've only got four shows listed there at the moment, and only 1 is directly-narrow-gauge related.  If you know of other events, let me know and I'll add them.

Oct 10, 2011

Weathering continues while the weather holds

When I'm not fixing things around the house, or trying to keep up w/ life, I've been working on updating the website (STILL replacing links from the Denver Public Library) - it's amazing how many Otto Perry shots I've added to my Rolling Stock page... lots of images of many of the K-27s traversing the railroad in the 40s.  I'm about 1/3 thru the 564 photos of the RGS that Otto has on that site.

I'm also trying to finish up the weathering of my stable of Bachmann steamers, with decals, and then layers of dullcote and weathering powders.  I live in IL, and it's about to get cold, wet, and nasty here for the next (cough) months.  Since I don't have a spray booth, spraying happens only in good weather.  That said, it's been amazing here lately - sunny and low 80s - for over a week!

I've also just pulled out an older Sunset brass steamer, and disassembled and starting the weathering process on him.  This is a gloriously-detailed brass model, but i've never really finished the work to make it operational.  It needs weathering, but also electrical work, more weight, a headlight, and other stuff. 

And finally, as the cold sets in, I'll havae to work on DCC conversions for all of these, including working on or adjusting the phosper wipers on all the Bachmann locos, which (mostly) seem to be slightly out-of-place.  This is kinda scary for me... I've never managed to establish a good working relationship with brass axle or driver wipers.  But, I gotta try - these are great runners but need great pickup as well.

Sep 3, 2011

More weathering!

Well, with the basement FINALLY mopped up and reassembled, and the DCC system finally up and running, it was time to get some weathering and painting done while the weather holds.

That coal load in the tender is actual RGS coal, from the Rico yards.  You can purchase your own from Mike Conder.  I won't post his email here (save the guy some spam!), but his coal-selling information is available under 'Other Resources' on my modeling page, w/ a safe link to his email there.

So - here's a crop of hoppers recently weathered, and my first-ever steam-loco weathering job.

Aug 24, 2011

Goose 4 lives!

Just a quick note... Goose #4, the last Goose which isn't operating, started her motor today for the first time in 58 years.  There's a short video commerating the event on the Ridgway Railroad Museum's site, where the restoration is happening.

Aug 21, 2011

Lots more photo references!

I've spent part of the weekend digging through Otto Perry's photos, online at the Denver Public Library, and updating links.

The link additions to my Rolling Stock page alone resulted in many more photos of RGS locomotives #20, #25, #40, #41 and #42.  There were numerous additions to the route listing pages as well, including a couple of bridges I had no photo links for previously (18-A, 68-A).

Aug 20, 2011

A great resource lost

My website had quite a large number of links to photos and drawings from the John Maxwell Collection, which for a long time was available for purchase from  But the site was run by John's son (I believe) Bruce, who recently passed away.

The website is gone now, and I don't know of whether these fine resources are available any longer.  I just finished updating my pages to remove all those links.  In many cases, his were the only photo references I had.

It's sad, because a lot of manufacturers, as well as modelers and historians, depended on this material for their research.  Perhaps whoever inhertied the estate will donate or sell them to someone who can continue to make them available.

Aug 14, 2011

New photos! And more cleanup -

I've found some time to get back to updating the photo links from the Denver Public Library on my site, and actually finished the 1000+ links to Bob Richardson photos, and started digging through about 500 Otto Perry photos.  In doing that, I discovered a number of locomotive photos that were new to me... all linked now on the Rolling Stock page.

These include a whole series of wonderful shots of #20, and a few photos of #3, #6, #17 and the 2nd #22.

On the home front, we're still cleaning mud from under various cabinets, nooks, and assorted crannies, but the end is finally in sight.  And hopefully huge storms are not.

Since I can't easily troubleshoot the remaining DCC conversion issues on the layout, I've also tried to be productive by continuing to convert locos from Keller to DCC, finishing another 3 locomotives in the last week or two.

Aug 7, 2011

Cleanup continues

Just thought I'd post an update... the flood from a couple weeks ago made a muddy mess of the basement floor, and after much work... it's not done yet.  You'd be surprised how many moppings it takes to really get a floor clean!  And, how many little nooks there are under the layout, behind & under cabinets, etc.

I can say I now know how to replace a sump (extractor) pump.  And my wife discovered how you can pull the padding out from under carpeting, w/o completely removing said carpeting.

Anyway, in the meantime I've continued some DCC work, installing a decoder in a second locomotive, and starting work on a third.  And, working through some older (pending) updates to the website.

I could start some weathering projects, but it's been too humid to attempt any spraying work outside.

Jul 23, 2011


Chicago had terrible rain last night, 7" in just 4 hours or so in our area, and 8.2" in the last 24 hrs.

For the layout, it meant flooding the basement, to 2-3" deep mostly.  Our main sump failed while we bailed through the night, and then the backup also failed, but after the rain stopped (for now).  And this after finally tracking down the last of the DCC shorts I've been working on lately!  Oh well.

The layout is ok, but it'll be a huge mess to clean.  I _think_ the drywall (elevated a bit on treated footers) is OK; not sure.

Could be worse, but this is bad enough.

Jul 16, 2011

Struggling with the DCC install

So - we're back from vacation, and the DCC install on the layout is nearly complete, but the PSX breakers are detecting a short - in ALL power districts! - whenever I have both boosters powered up.

It's become very frustrating trying to find the problem.  Each booster feeds 2-4 PSXs, which in turn feed the power districts.  Given the way I've wired each town w/ independent panels, it was pretty easy to rewire such that the towns are now powered by a PSX.

There was some re-wiring to break the old buss which feed all the towns, but that's done.  The problem is that there's a connectio between the old common (rail B now) of two towns, each on different booster.  I'm guessing that's what is causing the 'short' - the boosters are talking to each other.  I already know there's no short in the trackwork itself, so there's a back-door connection between these somehow.

But, it's so frustrating to spend hours trying checking odd connections to try to isolate this.  And in the meantime, no trains of course.


Jun 22, 2011

A new soldering hazard

So - we had really bad storms in the Chicago area last night.  Shortly before they hit, I was under the layout, holding a soldering iron in a kinda tricky position, finishing up a DCC system connection.  The power flickered several times just then, leaving me in the dark, twisted under the layout, w/ a hot iron delicately positioned between other wiring, etc.  It was, er, an interesting moment. 

Thankfully, the flickers stabilized long enough for me to finish the connection and shut everything down.  The whole family was back in the basement soon after, while 80+ gusts and bright green lightning flashed outside.  Lots of huge branches / tree parts down afterward.

Jun 19, 2011

A new photo resource, and cutting umbilical cords

So, a friend has introduced me to yet another wonderful photo resource - Telluride Historical Museum's new photo collection.  Of particular interest is about 1500 RGS photos, all available for viewing (w/ some searching, mind you), and all available for sale.

And - there's a second resource that's coming online (literally) - which is Richard Dorman's massive photo collection.  There were some initial birth pains with bringing this online, but it's a well-cataloged index to hundreds - maybe thousands - of RGS photos.  All of these are also for sale.

I haven't really had time to explore either of these collections deeply yet; I'm very far behind on misc. updates to the website, and still haven't even finished the URL updates for the Denver Public Library's photo collection - but there seems to be a rich treasure-trove of history here.

On another front, I have been making progress on the layout's conversion to DCC, and finally - just this weekend - finished all the detection circuit and other wiring changes I needed to make, and yesterday finally cut the umbilical cord, as it were (ie, the old Keller Onboard power buss).  So now I'm committed, eh?  The layout no longer runs until I finish the new connections.  It shouldn't take that long, as all this prep work has made the old buss ready to switch to the new power districts, etc.  Should be fun!

May 31, 2011

Cedar Point steamers

No RGS news today, except that I've been completely swamped by end-of-school year and work busyness - so updates to the RGS site are lagging.  And the basement suffered more water - but it was less than an inch and did no damage, to the layout or the rest of the basement.  It's been raining a LOT here in the Midwest!

I did, however, just return from a very fun weekend chaperoning our high school's music dept trip to Cedar Point amusement park, in Sandusky OH.  I - and the kids - went mostly to ride the many awesome roller coasters in the park, but there is a narrow-gauge connection there.

If you weren't aware, the park has a wonderful narrow gauge steam railroad, with no less than FIVE steamers running on it.  All are very small industrial loocos, mostly rebuilt from 0-4-0Ts, but it's still nice to smell the coal smoke and hear steam whistles while waiting in lines.

May 24, 2011

RGS Goose 4 rebuild progress

If you haven't been aware, Telluride's Galloping Goose - the last of the remaining original 6 that's not yet been restored - is being restored.  There details and photos about the rebuild effort on the Ridgway Museum's site.

There's some photos and discussion of the engine in this goose on the NG Disc List lately, which is a GMC 361 from WWII vintage (surplus, and delivered new to the RGS).  Some thought these were built for WWII half-tracks, but that's not true.

May 23, 2011

DigiTrax install coming along

I've been slowly finding time to continue w/ the DigiTrax DCC installation on the layout.  I know have all the UP5 panels wired - each with a feed to a 12v power supply, and the track indicator LED wired into the track for that town.

Each town is supplied by a DCC Specialities PSX or (for Telluride) a PSX-AR unit.  There's just a little bit of work left to finish the PSX wiring, break the Keller system, and tie the PSX's into the wiring for each town.  Soon... in the meantime I'm still running a train w/ the Keller system, just to the track sorta clean.

And, both command station and aux booster are wired into transformers left over from the Keller OnBoard system.  The transformers are putting out 20v AC, which is at the top of the range for the DigiTrax boosters, but hopefully they'll work ok.  They're in spec per the manuals.

And - I've FINALLY programmed my first loco.  I installed a DH123 in a Bachmann 2-8-0, and connected the PR3 to my Mac, and programmed it w/ JMRI's Decoder Pro.  A little bit of a learning curve on both the software (free) and the decoder settings, but it seemed to go well.

But, because the Keller system isn't completely disconnected yet, I haven't actually powered up the DCC system yet, and also haven't tested yonder newly-programmed steamer.  I think I can run a throttle w/ JRMI and test it on the workbench that way - haven't tried that yet.

It's a fun time - learning lots of new stuff.

Apr 26, 2011

Ridgway dry at last; 4-wire Loconet?

Well, the last repair to the water supply line about Ridgway seemed to have worked, when I replaced the entire hose on the dishwasher input line.  This had been leaking at the connection in the basement, and no amount of tightening, thread sealant, or washers was working.  So - the new hose worked fine.

Except - the attachment at the other end (behind the dishwasher, upstairs) then stared leaking a day after I finished the work.  So that came off, more sealant, much tighter fastening, and it seems ok now.  I even replaced the drop ceiling tile that's about the yard.

So, on to other things, perhaps?  I haven't had a chance to return to updating Denver library photo links on the website (soon, probably), but I did start wiring the LocoNet for the new Digitrax system.  After a bit of research, I think I can use some of the thru-the-ceiling runs of my old control network for the LocoNet.  The old cabling is a 4-wire 2-twisted-pair cable, w/ the pairs individually shielded and then the overall cable wrapped in another mesh shield.  And LocoNet can be dropped to only 4-wires I guess (combining pins 2-5 and 3-4), so I'm going to try that for most of the control runs.

The run between the two boosters I'll keep to a normal 6-wire flat cable, just to be sure.

Another thought, is whether to tie the grounds on the booster together w/ the ground terminal, and drop pins 2-5 in the LocoNet cable.  I'm not sure if I need to do that - anybody know?

Apr 16, 2011

Take four on the plumbing

Well, hopefully 4th time's the charm... I ended up replacing the entire dishwasher hose of Ridgway this afternoon.  It's time for the season to return!

I got a little more work done on the Digitrax DCC install.  The track wiring won't be a big change, as I designed that for DCC from the start.  But, the control network is different, and requires it's own power supply to run out to each of the UP5 panels, in addition to the control signal.  Sigh.  I'm sure I will love DCC, but after so many months of working on wiring (mostly detection and hidden-track signalling of late, and Tortisi), I'm kinda tired of it.

Apr 11, 2011

Raining in Ridgway

OK, so the Lionel trains have all been sold, and the new Digitrax DCC is in place.  You know - the place were I put things, like, um, sitting in a box where Durango will hopefully exist one day.

And, in a feat of amazing productivity (for me), I finished the 18 new hoppers I've been working on over the winter.  These are all custom-lettered for the RGS or a few other Colorado roads, and all have unique numbers.  But you know... finding, cutting out, and applying unique numbers (4 per car, mind you) is time consuming.  But, all 18 are done and running on the layout now, new 'chess pieces' for eventual operations.

Actually, they're also waiting for weathering, but that'll have to wait for warm weather for outdoor spraying.

Anyway, I was then able to start a little work on adjusting the wiring for the DCC system, when I noticed some discoloration on the ceiling tile over the (fully occupied) Ridgway yard.  This is the ceilng tile that's right below the dishwasher hook-up for the kitchen.  Turns out the supply hose was leaking a little.  I thought it'd be a quick fix, but after several tries involving washers, thread tape, and pliers, it refuses to stay completely dry.  So, now there's a completely new hose hanging on the bannister into the basement, waiting for my next attempt.

And in the meantime, I'm working on taxes and still updating links on the website.  I've got 677 of the 1011 Bob Richardson photo links updated so far, which is probably 1200 actual individual links. And of course they're many more photo links besides Bob's.

And btw, I also was laid off - AGAIN!  My new position has been an ideal fit in many ways, but corporate decided it's profits were threatened for this year and chopped the headcount.  And being one of the newest employees, in a newly-created position that's remote from the corporate office... well, it didn't go so well.  I'm interviewing now, hopefully this will be over soon.  It's not fun.

Mar 7, 2011

More link updates, and DCC purchase

Well, I've finally made up my mind and turned the funs from my old Lionel trains into a new
DigiTrax DCC system.

This will include radio throttles, and also a number of PSX circuit breakers.  I've got a bit of work to do to install it, although about 90% of the wiring from the Keller OnBoard system will be usable without changes (which was my intent from the beginning). 

And... decoder installs.  I purchased 10-pack of Digitrax DH123 of these, simple but (as I understand it) reliable.

And on the photo links... I'm still updating.  I think I've done about 300-400 links, but there's a still a lot to do.  It's not bad work, but it will take time.

Feb 21, 2011

Links gettin' done

OK, I've gotten thru the first 80 links, and updated them (of, oh, at least a thousand or two!).  This just might take a while....

Check out my site at Rio Grande Southern info.

Updating links

If you haven't noticed by now, MANY of my photo links at to the PhotosWest collection at the Denver Public Library, which is a wonderful collection.  In the last couple of weeks, they've updated their digital collection and added some great new features.

However, they've also changed the way public URLs are created, in a way that I can't easiliy convert.  So, I've started the process of working thru the several thousand links I have, find the new photos, and updating the URLs.  This will not be a short project, but I will get it done eventually.

Thanks for your patience.

Jan 25, 2011

On to fund-raising for DigiTrax

OK, after a lot of research and hearing from numerous friends, I've made my decision to go w/
DigiTrax for my DCC system.  Yes, I know all about the benefits of NCE, and at the end of the day they're both excellent systems.  For my particular situation, I decided DigiTrax's architecture and design was a slightly better fit.

Next step - raising some funds to pay for it!  I've decided to sell most of my old Lionel trains - they're all on eBay now.  Hopefully they'll raise enough to at least get started.  It's a little bittersweet, as there's a lot of memories here, but - as we usually say when we're cleaning - we'll hang on the memories but get rid of (most of) the stuff.

On to DCC!

Jan 9, 2011

In a decaling mood -

So, after lots of research, I sort of decide DigiTrax is probably the way to go for a DCC system, but then a bunch of other friends weigh in for NCE.  I'm going to have to dig out all my O-27 Lionel stuff and put them up on eBay to raise funds, so there's no rush I suppose.  More researching...

In the meantime, I decided to work on decaling a number of hoppers I've had sitting around.  I managed to get them all painted before the cold weather set in, and this week found myself in a mood to start decaling them.  Modeling a freelance (proto-lance?) version of the RGS is fun, but it does lead to lots of custom decaling of std-gauge equipment.  But it'll be a nice hopper fleet when I'm done. 

This week - a set of 10 Accurail 55-ton composite hoppers lettered for the RGS, another 4 34' steel hoppers lettered for the D&RGW, and 4 more 34' steel lettered for the SP.  They'll join a couple steel RGS hoppers, and some C&S steel hoppers I finished earlier.

I also got some minor updates posted on the website; there's more updates waiting than I have time for, and w/ my new job I don't have the ability to work on that during breaks in the early morning anymore.  And at home... somehow spending time on the computer usually doesn't appeal so much.  But, the updates are coming, just more slowly these days.