Current Research

Model Railroading

Description

I have been interested in model railroading for as far back as I can recall. I remember going on a variety of trips, or just hanging out, with either my father, grandfather, my grandfather's friend Ernie (who, like my grandfather, worked for the railroad) or childhood friend Chad to observe "actual trains". Those trips and hangouts were motivation to model trains on a smaller scale. When I was a child, the only "toys" that I would ask for at Christmastime were model trains. I grew up in a family of modest means; so, I cherished those trains whenever my mom, nana or Santa Claus were fortunate enough to gift me one (or maybe even a whole set if I was a really good boy, I thought)! Having had my first job at 14 years old at a greenhouse also helped with this later on! I recall going to many area yard sales looking for model trains, track and scenery back then that people were looking to get rid of for cheap. 

Also relevant to my interest in modeling railroading and railroads at large (scale) are scanners. I bought my first scanner at about the age of 12 from lawn mowing and snow/debris removal money which enabled me to listen in on railroad operations. The channels on this scanner had to be manually programmed so that each channel mapped to the frequency of a particular railroad's operations. So, for example, a railroad might use one frequency for operations along a section of mainline but a different frequency for yard operations. To figure out what frequency was used for a given type of operation, I used the scanner "seek" function. I used the seek function over the 160-161.99 MegaHertz (MHz) range (Incrementing by .01 MHz.) This incrementing allowed me to listen for clues to figure out what radio chatter mapped to what railroad and railroad operation. This was often quite a challenge and involved a considerable amount of cataloging of trackside features, like mileposts or control points, which were often referenced by train crews over the radio to dispatchers; which was motivation for me to carry around a pocket-sized notebook and writing utensil. Later on, I discovered a manual (I cannot recall the name of the book now, unfortunately) at local library that listed this information, which circumvented the need for this sort of research. Nevertheless, the seek function, and subsequent cataloging early on allowed me to learn a considerable amount about railroad operations (and at least some, electronics) at an age when I probably should have been playing with toys. Interestingly, I was able to do something similar to satisfy some of my aviation and emergency management interests, but that is another story.  

What I like most about model trains is what I refer to as "realism to scale". For me as a child, those trains and trackside scenery just had to be in proportion to what one might actually observe at a grade crossing. If my trains were 160 times (i.e., N scale) smaller than a passing train, everything on my (crude) layout had to be that scale. As my childhood friend Michael and I discovered, one could not simply put a (large) Matchbox semi truck alongside an N (or HO) scale model train and expect it to "match up". How outrageous, we thought; the Matchbox semi truck was out of scale in relation to the train. 

As of late, I have been designing a small modular, N scale model layout with the help of my daughter, Kes.  I have some photos of our activity posted to my "Trains" photo album. This has been a great STEAM related activity for us both. And she has been a lot of help; if not for her use of tools, at least for her enthusiasm as dad works out the various "kinks" in (lead-free) soldering, wiring and woodworking! Bon has also given me a lot of insight, like using Oklahoma's red dirt as scenery. Most of the stuff on my layout is used; it is stuff I have hung on to over the years, or stuff that I have purchased used as of late with the intent of upgrading at my shop. These upgrades include converting electrified track-powered locomotives to rechargeable, battery-powered locomotives (i.e. "dead rail."). Additional activity includes other interesting aspects of model railroading like train car restoration, and (software in Python) car forwarding. We are not a very well-endowed railroad, so we have to work with what we got! 

I am building (since a model railroader is never really "done" building) an N scale (1:160 scale) layout that wraps around benchwork in a room that I built within my living room in New Mexico (this room within a room serves as my home office/study/workshop.) Similar to my former build in Oklahoma, I have occasionally enlisted the help of my daughter and spouse. That said, the diorama for my layout is set in a very mountainous area of Southwest and is based on a hypothetical, modern day Class- II or III freight railroad. Operations are centered around a yard facility operated by a new iteration of the former Rio Grande Railroad.  Here is a sketch of the east end of my yard facility using AnyRail software: Lightning Ridge. The layout includes realistic 43-inch or greater radius curves throughout (574-feet in 1:1 scale, which is what the Federal Railroad Administration recommends for mainline track curve radius.) And the layout is wired for wireless DCC via Digitrax (and eventually, possibly, "dead rail," using S-Cab or something similar that I am developing in my spare time inhouse), but also DC using a Model Rectifier Corporation (MRC) power pack via a toggle switch. The track for my layout is Micro Engineering code 55 flex track; expect for turnouts which are PECO medium radius code 55 unifrog (adjoining the Micro Engineering and PECO code 55 rails require some careful soldering since PECO code 55 rails sit atop another rail within the assembly; effectively making them more like code 80.) I went with Micro Engineering track for their superior conductivity and realism. I went with PECO turnouts (despite their undesirable western European tie spacing in my case; and as I discovered later, effective differences in rail height) for their superior conductivity over frog, and because they snap into position with no need for a switch machine below the layout. Feel free to watch for posts / uploads to my "Trains" album to view some of these efforts as well as my former efforts.  

This brings me to what I might be able to offer those interested in the hobby. Since I have been doing model railroading for quite a while, surely I must have learned a thing or two about model train maintenance, eh? And of course I am STILL learning! Anyways, in my work, I follow NMRA standards and recommended practices when performing maintenance. So, if you have a locomotive or rolling stock and are interested in upgrading and/or repairing it I might be able to help you out for a modest fee. If that is something that might be of interest to you, feel free to send me message or give me a call. I will probably post more content here as time goes on, so stay tuned. 

Links

Amtrak

Amtrak Track a Train Map

AnyRail

Atlas Model Railroad Co., Inc.

Chadwick Model Railway

Chicago Union Station

Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad

DefectDetector.net

Digitrax

DIY & Digital Railroad

James Hilton Custom Model Railways

Late Night Model Railroad

Midwest Model Railroad

Mike N8rbi Radio

Model Rectifier Corporation

National Model Railroad Association

New Mexico Rail Runner Express

PECO

Red Dirt and Rails

Rix Products (includes Pikestuff)

San Francisco Cable Car Museum

Stan Ferris

S-Cab

Steve's Trains

Thom Placier

Tiny Circuits

Yankee Dabbler

Walthers

Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway