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Tuesday, 18 November 2014
MAKING A SOUND DECISION

The advent of DCC has simplilfied the addition of on board sound. As a result, sound has rapidly increased in popularity. It seems as if your layout cannot be considered state of the art without trains literally roaring down the rails. A sound equiped locomotive is an attention getter without a doubt. But locomotives with sound decoders do not come cheap. So is sound just an expensive novelty or a significant contributor to our experience of a layout? It appears to me there are at least two questions to be answered before I invest in sound.

First, I find sound in N scale locomoitves vey uninspiring. It does not seem possible to generate sounds with much depth from the tiny speakers which can be fitted inside a N scale shell. Larger scales are at an advantage with more interior space for larger speakers. But resonant base sounds are still missing even in HO locomotives. Sound decoders typically add $100 to the price of a locomotive. I anticipate using up to 30 locomotives on a medium size layout. Even if only half of the locos are equiped sound, that would be a sizeable investment. 

Second, this summer while visiting the Rogue Valley Model Railroad club I had my first experience with a layout on which several sound equipped locomotives were running. With one or two locomotives running around the layout and others parked on sidings or in yards the sounds of the locomotives seemed to me to be something of a distraction, even annoying. This was a large club layout and there were no more than a half dozen locomotives emitting sounds. What might it be like in the smaller spaces of home basement layouts?

 


 

The Soundtraxx Multi-train sound system attempts to solve the issue of too small speakers by dividing a layout into zones each with its' own larger speaker. The system routes the appropriate sound to each speaker as the locomotive is detected in that zone. You do experience a fuller sound. However, the system is limited to layouts with Digitrax DCC and to one train at a time. While sound does follow the train around a layout, people do resport the sound is not sufficently locatized so it is  easy to detect sounds are not coming from the train itself. And the Soundtraxx device may not be as costly as equiping an entire fleet, it is not cheap.

Back in April 2012 Lance Mindheim demonstrated another answer in his blog. He connected wireless high quality headphones to a stationary sound decoder which is consisted with the locomotive being run on his layout. He gets the rich sounds akin to what is experienced in the cab of the locomotive. This system works well enough for a lone wolf operator. But I see problems for any operations involving multiple trains. How do you communicate with a dispatcher or other operators? In the multiple train scenario there must be communications with other persons, something made difficult when wearing noise cancelling headphones. And it does not allow for visitors to participate in the experience. Lance's response is layout owners most frequently operate by themselves anyway. He also suggests in his June 27, 2013 blog entry, the possiblility adding a sound mixer to the system as a way to over come the isolation.

I am not into the X-box, PlayStation, nor the on-line gaming culture, but it appears to me their virtual worlds may offer some solutions for model railroading. Game players have a rich sound experience and can also communicate with other players. Headsets used by gamers have a boom mike to provide communication with other players. Some headsets are stereo with two earpads, but others are monophonic and cover only one ear. This sort of headset might not provide the totally immersing sound Lance cherishes, but it would allow awareness of the larger surroundings. Bluetooth technology is widely used for wireless digital communications. While bluetooth has a limited range of about 30 feet, a centrally located transceiver would be adequate for most home layouts. The complexities of this multi-channel route exceeds my knowledge of the field, but it would seem worth pursing. Randall Morris has been working on a project which he calls Virtual Sound being incorporated into the JMRI software

While headsets can provide something like the experience of being on board the train, it does not replicate the railfan at trackside experience of passing trains. Perhaps some combination of something like the Soundtraxx system and the current on board sound decoder is as close to that experience that present technology can provide. The best solution for sound on the layout might well be a combination of all of these approaches.


 

 


Posted by The Station Master at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 18 November 2014 11:45 AM CST
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Thursday, 13 November 2014
A SECOND OREGON SUMMER

This past summer I found myself returning for another season working at Crater Lake Lodge. My first summer had shown southern Oregon proves the old addage, "You can't see the forest for the trees". It also holds true for seeing trains This presents a real problem for a train watcher who lacks a detailed knowledge of the territory (and possibly a 4-wheel drive). During my first sojourn in the summer of 2012 the little village of Chiloquin was where I most frequently went to watch trains. Located on the boundary between forests of the Cascade mountain range and the high desert of eastern Oregon it has plently of trees to provide a scenic backdrop and open spaces providing unobstructed views of passing trains. It is also a convenient thirty minute drive to the east from Crater Lake National Park.

 

But I like some variety in my railfan photography, so my intention was to find new locations for the summer of 2014. My first venture was northeast to the small town of Chemult where the BNSF peals away from the rails it shares with Union Pacific from Klamath Falls. A visit to Google Earth seemed to show plenty of access roads. Upon arrival, however, UP private property signs were everywhere and warned of dire consquences on any trespassers. The only place which I found to watch the traiins was the Amtrak passenger platform just beyond the junction. It is a very long covered platform which struck me as out of place in such a small town; more something I might expect for a busy communter location. The small station has been built across the street from the tracks. It is quite an experience, however, to be standing on that platform less than ten feet away from the track when a UP frieght train roars past at full speed.

 

As time slipped by an unusally stressful work environment absorbed much of my energy. And the pricey Oregon hotel market proved to be a barrier for over night travel. Consequently, I found my railfanning did not extend much beyond the nearby locales I had previously frequented. So I started exploring new angles from which to shoot photos in Chiloquin. North of Klamath Falls the rails hug the shoreline of North Klamath Lake. While this might seem to offer opportunities for highly scenic shots, a busy two lane highway follows right along side the tracks. Even slowing down can put your safety at risk. Access points which did exist always seemed to require shooting into the sun. I finally found one point at which I could photograph southbound trains in the morning or early afternoon.


 

I did make a couple trips west in the direction of Medford, Oregon. The railroad route through this area is modeled by Model Railroad Hobbyist magazine publisher, Joe Fugate, on his Siskiyou layout. After visiting this area I can see how he is able to model this mountainous route with narrow shelves on a mushroom style layout. The thick forest means you cannot see much beyond the tracks so space for sweeping mountain vistas is not needed. Union Pacific decided to avoid this more difficult crossing at Siskiyou Summit south of Medford in favor of the more easterly route through Klamath Falls with the less challenging grade over Willamette Pass to gain access to Portland. The Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad now operates the former Siskiyou route. Today trains seldom travel south of Medford and traffic to the north is usually limited to one local turn a day. I was able to find a few locations for railfan photography, but given the infrequent activity on the rails finding a train to shoot requires a lot of time. I did manage to photograph a train in Gold Hill which is between Medford and Grants Pass. This train is about to cross a photogenic bridge. A train crossing from the other direction could be a great picture. However, that would require being there sometime in the early morning. Not easy for me living a two hour drive away.

I stopped by the Rogue Valley Model Railroad club layout on one of my trips to Medford. This large HO layout has some parts double decked. They had a few trains with sound running during my visit. Only one train was in operation most of the time I was there, but other locomotives with engines running were sitting in a couple yards. Over time I found the noise generated by those several HO models distracting or even  a little annoying. I cannot imagine how noisy it must become during an operating session when several trains are running at the same time. This experience set me thinking about sound on a layout. Equiping your trains with sound is very popular, but do I want it on my layout? This is a complex question and probably is better left for another entry in the Journal.


Posted by The Station Master at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Saturday, 15 November 2014 2:42 PM CST
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Tuesday, 20 May 2014
READY FOR THE DAY


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purchasing new motive power is carefully considered by every railroad. It is a major expenditure with a long term impact on operations. Executives are looking to get many years, even decades of service from the locomotives. Their purchases must match current and anticipated traffic and the environment in which the power will be used. Thye devote serious attention to developing a long term purchasing plan. A model railroader will be well advised to exercise similar care when buying power for his pike.

When I left Augusta Station in 2007 I was uncertain what if any model railroading there might be in my future. During my second year working for a concessionaire in National Parks I succumbed to the attraction of a Union Pacific Rio Grande heritage loco. There was no plan for any future pike or even a module. I had seen the prototype and I just wanted a model of it. But I had been bitten by the bug. My next purchases were a Kato California Zephyr set and appropriate DRGW locomotives. N scale models are so small. Even with the limited availability of space required by my gypsy lifestyle I had enough room to pack in a few models. Still no plan, however.

A year later, two or three more locomotives, and another ride on San Luis & Rio Grande steam train an idea did emerge. If given an opportunity, I would build a layout patterned after the SLRG, a shortline with a tourist train. It would interchange with the BNSF. Because I like modeling large industrial complexes and the SLRG has none, an industrial area would be part of the BNSF. I reasoned availability of loco models is more sporadic than other rolling stock, so I would continue my purchases of locomotives while foregoing those of freight cars which would be widely available at any later time.

I already had in storage rolling stock from Augusta Station which would support an SLRG style tourist operation. The locomotive roster of the SLRG is quite small and by the end of the summer of 2012 I had aquired enough locos for freight service similar to the San Luis. I also had in hand a BNSF GP15 and a GP30 for switching industries. Since then I have been acquiring BNSF mainline service locomotives. I am currently considering what for me is a large purchase of four ES44C4 GEVO locos offered by Fox Valley Models. This would bring my collection of BNSF to twenty five, enough to support the mainline operations. Of course a model railroader can never have too many locomotives. I would like to add a SD40-2 whenever they become available again in the BNSF scheme. There will be others no doubt.

When considering where to go next with my purchasing program I have decided structure kits will be the best choice. Currently, I do not have the facilities for building the kits, but so long as I leave them in boxes kits will take up little space.And there is minimal chance of damaging them during my frequent moves between National Parks. My other consideration is that structure kits have a way of ceasing to be available. They are often produced in small quantities never to be made again. Indeed, the producers can often go out of business. So it makes sense to purchase a kit while you can. I will concentrate on structures appropriate for the Colorado Rockies region, especially the San Luis Valley and surrounding moutains.

My hope is a freelanced Rio Grande Northern layout is in the not too distant future for me. I intend to be ready for the day whenever it comes. My situation is a bit unique. My purchasing plan, therefore, likely will not be a good design for yours. But it is advisable for every modeler to develop their own purchasing plan for the best use of funds.


 

 


Posted by The Station Master at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 20 May 2014 1:30 PM CDT
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Saturday, 17 May 2014
GOODBYE DEATH VALLEY

Past the large trestle the tracks entered the village of Shoshone. Visitors to Death Valley are familiar with this tiny town sitting at the south entrance to the Valley. Although several buildings in the town date back to the era of the railroad with the exception of one tiny building hidden behind the rest of the town there is nothing remaining of the T&T itself. Shoshone is set up against the mountain ridge which separates it from Death Valley. So the next scenery was to extend the mountain from the trestle area on behind Shoshone. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My latest project on the T&T layout was to add another mountain. This had not been in my original plan, but after completing the mountain ridge behind the village of Shoshone I noticed there was something of a blank space in the backdrop. There would also be quite a distance as the track crosses a salt flat before entering the next town of Tecopa. A mountain would fill in the blank with an exclamation point marking the end of Shoshone and the beginning of the next scene.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first attempt seemed too tall and more of an exclamation than I wanted. I removed the foam pylons, lowered the mountain, and broadened the base. To make the mountain appear less massive, rather than a single tall peak I created several gulches and prominences. Even though the mountain probably has an equal or even greater volume it appears less dominating because of the convoluted profile.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my absence this summer, John is going to build more bench work to extend the T&T to it's origin in Ludlow, California. At Ludlow there was a baloon track and interchange with the Santa Fe Railroad. John is anxious to get the baloon track laid so trains can be turned thus eliminating a long backup move. My time was running out forcing me to leave plastering the new mountain to John.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death Valley enters into history when a party of 49'ers headed for the California gold fields became stranded in the valley. According to legend Death Valley got it's name after their rescue when leaving one of the women in the group looked back and said, "Goodbye Death Valley." Last week it was my turn to say, goodbye Death Valley. I have moved on to Crater Lake Lodge in Oregon where I will be working this summer. But unlike the 49'ers I plan on returning to Death Valley in the autumn and resume work on the T&T.


Posted by The Station Master at 11:28 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 20 May 2014 12:16 PM CDT
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Friday, 21 March 2014
ADAPTIVE LAYOUT DESIGN
Topic: Ramblings

One of the articles in the 2014 edition of Model Railroad Planning published by Kalmbach describes how Ryan Moats used an old Atlas layout plan as the starting point for designing his layout. The Atlas plan was an "L" shaped standard guage switching layout. Rather than retaining a switching concept the redesigned layout was transformed into a freelanced Colorado narrow gauge. The new layout is significantly expanded from the original and differs in several respects. It seems to me the Atlas layout largely was no more than an inspiration for Ryan's layout.

Changing the scale, era, location, or re-arranging sections of a plan is more clearly an adaptation of a design. Four HO layout plans are presented in the January 2013 issue of Model Railroader and would be good candidates for adaptation. These 4x8 plans could be converted  to N scale in two different ways. The easiest would be to change only the spacing between parallel  tracks. Curve radii which the author describes as "tight" for HO scale would be generous for N scale rolling stock. Buildings occupying the same foot print would be larger and more imposing in N scale. Distances between locations would appear to increase. Curve radii which the author describes as "tight" for HO scale would be generous for N scale rolling stock. Because limited space is a common reason for choosing N scale the more frequently suggested adaptation is to shrink overall size by 40%. Another adaptation for the "Omaha Road" and the "Williams & Colorado River RR" plans in either scale would be to cut the track in the single track end of the oval, split them down the center, and then unfold the plan for a shelf style layout.

It would be simple to extend such shelf layouts into larger around the walls layout. For a peninsula on the Augusta Station N scale layout I adapted a Chicago & Illlinois Midland HO track plan published in the October 1986 issue of Model Railroader.  I unfolded the loop around Manito and routed the MK&P mainline through the base of this L-shaped layout plan. I hope you have the back issue in your collection because the plan is not available in Model Railroader's trackplan database (too old I guess).The location was changed from the Illionois River to the Missouri River valley. Industries were replaced with appropriate ones for the new locale. Also, a town and yard were introduced on the MK&P mainline occupying the area where Manito had been.. The original C&IM track plan is still clearly recognizable, however.


 


 


Posted by The Station Master at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, 21 March 2014 11:18 PM CDT
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