East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicles of an On30 quarry railroad

Good News - Bad News

I currently have four locomotives in running condition on my model railroad

From front to back: The steam locomotive, No. 3, is a Bachmann HO scale 0-6-0 saddle tank with a Backwoods Miniature detailing kit to convert it to an O scale 2-6-0. The boxy black loco, No. 12, is a Bachmann model of a Davenport gas mechanical. Next in line is yellow No. 12, an AMS model of an old Pymouth HLC diesel. And last is big No. 25, a Rich Yoder model of a GE 25 tonner.

I have divided the work on the railroad into three jobs, so four locomotives is about the minimum number necessary to keep everything running at once. Old number 3 is a spare that only runs occasionally. The smallest internal combustion locomotive, number 12, normally works the Mill Job. The middle sized Number 18 usually works the Quarry Job, and big number 25 is the regular power on the Winwood Turn.

I put a Lenz Gold+ Superpak decoder and stay-alive capacitor in the AMS Plymouth. Reassembled and placed on the track, she immediately ran slow and reliably, and was ready for service.

I also put the same decoder/power unit combination in the Yoder 25 tonner.

I had dreaded opening up this, my first brass locomotive, but the decoder installation was relatively easy. There is plenty of room in the carbody for both the decoder and capacitor, leaving the enormous cab open for square-dances or sit-down dinners.

The easy decoder installation was definitely good news. I reassembled the locomotive and it ran slow and silent. More good news! Then the bad news began.

The locomotive would not travel more than a few feet on my layout before derailing. It derailed everywhere, on curves, straight track, and turnouts. The power unit kept the locomotive running even when derailed. I found the sight of it bumping along on the crossties particularly disconcerting.

The wheels were slightly out of gauge, but I was not sure I could adjust them, or if that was the cause of all the problems. A fellow modeler suggested I email Southwest Narrow Gauge with news of my dilemma, since they are well known for their custom work on locomotives for modelers all over the world. SNG responded to my email quickly, making a few simple suggestions. That was enough for me correct the wheel gauge myself, but that did not solve the tracking problem. I also added a little weight, but the locomotive seemed to be adequately heavy already.

Starting on the locomotive service track, I ran the 25 tonner along until it derailed, then carefully studied the track to find the cause.

Two tools that came in very helpful in this investigation were a small wooden block and a flashlight. The wooden block was just wide enough to span the gauge of the rails, and the same length as the wheelbase of the locomotive. The flashlight was a compact LED hiking light that was small enough to sit on the track and illuminate under the locomotive.

The flashlight made it easy to see when one of the locomotive’s wheels lifted off the track. The block could be slid along the track to find places where two corners were high and two low, allowing the block to rock. Common problem spots were rail joiners, joints in the Homosote roadbed, and points of turnouts.

The 25 tonner was soon slowly making its way along the line, with a trail of track laying tools behind it. Uneven rail height was the cause of the majority of problems. I always lowered the high rail, and never tried to shim up a low rail. One turnout had to be lifted and taken back to the bench for adjustment. The curved route through a few other turnouts posed problems with relentless picking of the points. I had to file a slight notch in the stockrail in order for the point to be absolutely flush before this beast would stop picking the point.

The silver lining to this dark cloud of frustration and tedious investigation is that all this track tuning is transferable, in that all other locomotives and rolling stock are tracking better as a result.