Wednesday, February 19, 2020


So, I've delayed writing about the Springfield show because I've been distracted. Yearbook final deadline is March 1, our club is having its first operating session in years and general business with life in general.

The show? Oh yeah -- the show. It was great. I had the good fortune of being able to introduce some of the QCMRA people to the NE Free-mo people and it went very well. As usual, the NEFM people put together an amazing experience. Setup went smoothly, operations kept the layout busy all weekend, and everybody had a great time.

My module has never looked better and thanks to a little (ok, a lot of) track cleaning by Mike McNamara, it even operated fairly well. Almost enough encouragement for me to build a second.

And on that note, the QCMRA people are very interested in building Free-mo modules. Hopefully, we'll have something to show this summer.

What follows are a few photos of my module as well as the video of the entire layout (produced by the afore-mentioned mensch, Mike McNamara.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Status - 3 days to go

This has been a busy couple of weeks; not all of it railroad related.

Finishing up college applications with my daughter, dealing with the aftermath of my dad's passing, semester grades, yearbook. Lots to do; lot's been done.

So far on the module, I've:

  1. Redone the roads and sidewalks using Walther's asphalt road system. It looks a lot better than the foamcore did. I slightly adapted them to fit the space that was there. Not perfect, but a lot better. Still have to add grade crossings.
  2. Chose not to do foundations for the buildings; removed all the old foamcore. 
  3. Made sure every square inch of wood (other than what the buildings will cover) has some sort of ground cover. I used dirt on much of the north side for parking lots. I'll detail it later this week.
  4. Bought and prepared trees. I got a bag of inexpensive bottle brush trees from Amazon. Sprayed them individually with matte clearcoat and covered with ground foam, They look better and I'll install them later this week.
  5. Painted and ballasted the track -- painting went ok, ballasting not so much. See note below :(
  6. Thanks to Dennis at QCMRA, got the Cinch Jones plugs replaced with Powerpoles. Still have to install them but that can happen at the show if I don't get to it before then.
  7. Have done some scenery refreshing; still more to do.
  8. Fixed a couple of structures. 
Still to do:

  1. Weather and detail the roads and sidewalks.
  2. Add grade crossings.
  3. Detail the scenery with bushes, trees and a couple more grass patches.
  4. Paint the areas under the foundations black.
  5. Clean up the track. Ballasting went poorly and I need to use a wirebrush to remove excess ballast to make sure that the track is usable. This could take a full night :( Lessons learned about being more carful when ballasting. I may need to repaint the inside of the rails and the ties. I'll buy Woodland Scenics markers at the show and take care of it there.
  6. If time, repaint the sides of the module. The dessert sand color has gotten dirty over the years. I'm thinking of getting some dark green and redoing it -- at the least, redoing the visible sides.
  7. Pack all the structures, rolling stock and whatever tools I'm bringing.
I'm sure I'm missing a couple of things, but this is fairly comprehensive. I'll post photos later tonight. I'm excited; first show with this module in at least three years.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Start Me Up

Three Years. It's been three years since I looked at my Free-mo module or have done anything to it.
Why? Daughter in high school. Two dogs. Pneumonia a year ago. My model railroad club. Working on the yearbook for school. Other distractions.
However, I'm taking the module to the Amherst show this year but it will need some fixes before we go.

  1. Redo the roads, parking lots, sidewalks and foundations -- I did them with foamcore the first time and they didn't hold up well. I'm using styrene this time.
  2. Finish weathering the rails (dry brush gray paint) and ballast the tracks.
  3. Replace the Cinch Jones connectors with Anderson Powerpoles and add a booster common wire.
  4. Touch up the scenery.
  5. Add UP5 to 'front' side.
  6. Review all the structures, other details and rolling stock.
The show is January 25 and 26. That’ll  gives me 17 days as of today to get that all done. I bought a 2' X 4' sheet of 1/16" styrene from Dick Blick yesterday for $16 so that will take care of all the roads and sidewalks and building foundations. I'll cut the roads using a pair of Cutco scissors that I've used for styrene before. I'll paint the roads with flat black spray paint, the sidewalks with off-white craft paint and the foundations with gray craft paint. I'll mark the road stripes with Woodland Scenics road striping pens. This whole project should only take a few evenings.

The track: gray drybrushing should take one night and ballasting one more.

Another night for the Powerpoles and booster common wire. May be able to add the UP5 the same night.

Another night to touch up the scenery.

One night to review all of the other stuff I'll be taking.

Ten nights out of 17 days. I can do this.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Taking this Thing National

To borrow the phrase the Milwaukee Brewers used when they moved from the American League to the National League...We're Taking this Thing National.

The 'Thing' being my Free-mo module. National, being the Free-mo layout to be built at the National Train Show in Indianapolis this coming July 6-10.

After successfully participating in two NE Free-mo layouts, I'm ready to expand my horizons. I'm so thankful to NE Free-mo for giving me the opportunity and I've learned so much from being able to set up with them. The chance to see modules and talk to Free-mo modelers from the entire country is too good an opportunity to pass up. Not to mention ready access to sales specials from the manufacturers and vendors  :)

The convention falls during my summer break, so no need to ask for time off. A day and a half drive each way to Indianapolis and back by myself is do-able. Work to complete on the module so that it's presentable and standards-compliant at the show; manageable in the four months I have available. That work includes:

  • Create foundations, roads and sidewalks out of tile grout, including road markings
  • Grade crossings
  • Complete scenery on the west side of the module and around the roads/foundations
  • Spray gray paint to age the track and then ballast it
  • Update wiring to new standards
  • Double check wiring and loco net connections
  • General clean up of the module including painting the front and back
  • Second UP5 (loconet connector) on the opposite side from the first
  • Build shelf for 'interior' side of module
  • Adjust location of top brace on legs
  • Build shelf for legs
  • Create signs on foamcore
  • build test/programming track

While there's time to build a second module, I'm being realistic as we're probably going to move between now and the show.

Would love any suggestions for preparation that my readers might have.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Going Modern

One of the things that I looked at during the show in West Springfield was the rolling stock other people were using on the layout. The vast majority of rolling stock in use was from the modern era. Aside from Stuart's NYC Passenger set, I saw no other rolling stock of my vintage (mid 50s). Pretty much everything was late 60s on up to today. 

So, I started thinking, maybe I should acquire some modern rolling stock so that when I interchange with others (at the National Train Show?) I'll be more in line with what other people are using.

My plan, long-term is to acquire 32 specific freight cars, in eight categories for very specific industry service, eventually building a small layout/modules with these industries.

The industries/car categories: 
  1. Food processing plant/warehouse (box cars, vegetable oil tank cars, corn syrup tank cars, reefers)
  2. Propane Distributor (propane tank cars)
  3. Plastic Factory (covered hoppers)
  4. Shipping Company (well cars)
  5. Scrap yard (gondolas)

I bought a few pieces of rolling stock at the West Springfield show. Another couple of pieces came from eBay and Trainworld. Rather than doing what I've always done (just buying whatever was marked for the New Haven and was the correct vintage), I have specific plans for which cars to look for and I'm constantly looking for sales and underpriced cars on eBay to keep costs down. Tim Moran was a huge help in narrowing down what to focus on. I don't plan on having all 32 cars by the National Train Show (or even afterwards, as I'll buy a few there) but it's kind of fun to review some of the better car makers modern offerings. I can spend a little more on quality-per-car as I won't need quantity.

And of course, there's one more thing. My locomotives are all mid-50s era New Haven. That won't do for trains running in 2016 (and 2017 and 2018...) so I thought about which modern locomotives made sense. I want to do some switching and Lance Mindheim has covered that topic pretty well with his "Downtown Spur" layout. I'd love to build an industrial park layout set somewhere in the tri-state (NY, NJ, & CT) area. A four-axle EMD loco makes a lot of sense. The road? Well, CSX is the current successor to much of the New Haven's territory and there are a lot of affordable choices in that road's colors. A GP-38-2 or GP-40-2 seem ideal. Atlas makes the former and Athearn makes the latter, so that makes that easy. A single GP38-2 or GP-40-2 with DCC (and sound, if I can scrape together the extra cash) will be all that I need to run something modern at the N.T.S.

More as plans (and purchases) come together.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Happy Recap

The late Bob Murphy, one of the original voices of the Mets' broadcast team, used to say "we'll be back with the happy recap" after a Mets win. That's kind of what I feel like writing after the Amherst Railway Society show, January 29-31, 2016. A very happy recap.

First of all, I can't thank NE Free-mo enough for organizing the setup. A main line over 250 feet long (about four HO scale miles), a branch of over 75 feet. Extensive operations on both Saturday and Sunday. Plenty of free time (and space) to run trains. What an amazing event and what an amazing group of people. See the .pdf of the layout.

Setup on Friday took about eight hours. That didn't include a couple of wiring issues, but when you're building a layout that size, you have to expect a couple of glitches. The postmortem after the show highlighted a few things that they're going to do differently next year. Break down on Sunday took about two hours. I was packed in about half an hour, but stayed to help out; there was a lot to do and everybody pitched in.
Overview of the layout - photo credit Mike McNamara
A great panoramic shot of the layout - photo credit Mike McNamara
There were modules (and owners) at the setup from Canada; Albany and Westchester New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut; nearly 30 people in all. And every single person was more than willing to share information. As much as I learned from my two previous trips to this show, I learned so much more this weekend.

My module was by no means complete, but was in much better shape than the previous year and in addition, I gained plenty of knowledge to give me confidence that I can complete it before the National Train Show in Indianapolis in early July (yes, I'm planning on going). I still have to put down real foundations, sidewalks and roads, as well as finish scenicing the western half of the module. I also have to do a little wiring to bring the module up to the new standard.

Overview of Naugatuck North - my photo

Two nicer shots of Naugatuck North - photo credits Mike McNamara
I was on the branch, somewhere between Cedar Hill and Yardville. The branch saw a lot of action as Yardville and Woodstown Junction initiated a lot of traffic.

With respect to operations, I ran several trains including the New England Fast flyer; a passenger train that covered the entire layout twice.

The New England Fast Flyer; my power, not my equipment :)

Here's a video (taken by Art Brearton of Albany Free-mo) that gives a good feeling of the size of the layout.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Two Days to Judgement

Not nervous. Not nervous. I'm not nervous. I have one of the most talented scenery artists helping me. The fact that I've known Roger since junior high doesn't hurt either.

So - huge amount done over the last couple of evenings; all in the middle of Roger campaigning for somebody named Bernie Sanders.
Foam and putty pre-paint and ground foam

Take a look at the photos, one more night and there should even be roads :)
Overall view of the module after Wednesday night
An interesting comparison between completed scenery and that still to be finished.

A few more things to do, but the module should be mostly done ((save ballasting) tomorrow night.