February 2015

Op Session This Week?

Yeah, right.

My long range schedule for working on the layout this year called for hosting an op session this week.

I sent out an invitation email to the usual suspects, then sent a follow-up email out the very next day to postpone the op session for another month due to the unusually cold weather.


While this report from
WeatherUnderground indicates that it feels like 17˚ degrees, it actually WAS 17˚ at about the time my cancelled op session would have started.

The small space heater in my shop, plus the incandescent track lighting, can usually warm things up nicely, but not this week. Dressing more like I was going skiing than to work on a layout, I continued the track cleaning I had started after ballasting the turnouts a few weeks ago.


I had already put in a few hours on the track with a dental pick, freeing up the points and clearing ballast away from the flangeways.


I removed the bucket from a V-bottom side dump car, and pushed it through both routes of every turnout, watching to see where the wheels hopped over an obstruction, and listening for clicks.


I got right down on the roadbed with a flashlight and did all I could to assure that the turnouts were freed up and sufficiently clean. I assumed that a thorough cleaning of the track would bring about a full recovery of the trackwork back to operational status.


The day before my postponed op session, it was about 20˚ when I bundled up and headed to the shop to clean track. After going over all the track with
varsol, with special emphasis on the turnouts, I tried to run a train over the line.

It was as if I had not done a thing to clean or tune the track. The trains crunched over grit going through the turnouts, the locomotives stalled, the points would not throw completely. The bad situation was compounded by the cold temperatures, which caused my Homasote roadbed to shrink slightly. This in turn caused some of the electrical gaps in the rails to close up. Mysterious electrical issues abounded.

I had no trouble imagining all this happening with an audience of frustrated operators on hand to offer conciliatory comments. A more aggressive means was adopted to clean the track; fine grit emory cloth was wrapped around a wood block and the track was scrubbed to a high shine. Out came the dental pick and the soldering iron. Keeping in mind that the cold and unusually low humidity might be causing some of the alignment problems, I decided to wait until the temperature climbed to above freezing before regauging all my closure points.

Hopefully a month will be enough time to get the layout running reliably again. Situations like this remind me that a model railroad is a precision mechanical system with relatively tight tolerances. Smooth, slow operation is such a joy that it is well worth the effort it requires.

Returned Ballast

It has taken a long time for me to get tired of looking at my incomplete trackwork.


Most of my turnouts have been waiting a long time to have the copper clad crossties and throwbars painted.


My first few attempts at painting copper were unsuccessful due to the paint not sticking. A thorough search of my paint supplies turned up these Floquil paint markers. They came in a set called “structure weathering.” Colors included Weathered Concrete, Roof Brown, and Weathered Black.


The Floquil markers did an excellent job of coloring the copper. Since the markers are no longer available and I wasn’t sure it they would last once primed, I went ahead and painted all the copper crossties and throwbars on the layout. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to use them again before they dry up.


After the paint dried on the copper crossties, I ballasted the turnouts. This limestone ballast was crushed and screened for me by Gene Browning. Years ago I gave the ballast away after getting all my track laid, completely forgetting that I still had all the turnouts yet to do. I felt like an idiot having to go back and ask for my ballast back. It had been given away a few more times, but it miraculously found its way back to me. I mixed some sand and HO scale cinders in the limestone ballast and spread it very thin, sprayed it with a mixture of water and rubbing alcohol, then a mixture of water and matte medium.