Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Twin Ports Oddities and More

Well, maybe not all "oddities", but in a few cases, certainly, "things I don't see every day". 

I slipped away this afternoon for a short jaunt around Duluth and Superior, intent on finally taking a few train photos. My first stop was Rice's Point, where I found the CP local power gurgling away on the lead to one of the Port Authority tracks. The most unusual unit for me in this day and age was the SOO.

Just turning around, I spotted this thing in the yard. Now we're getting somewhere on the oddity front. Not sure of the heritage of this former caboose, but it's sure not something I see often, or even ever before. 

TEXX is a logistics outfit that arranges transportation for unique cargoes, according to their website. The unique cargo in this case might be the heavy load shown below, which was spotted in CP's Rices Point yard a couple tracks over from the caboose. 

With those shots in the bag, I headed to Superior, and swung by the BNSF facility. That's where I spotted these freshly painted sno-dozers, waiting patiently for mother nature to provide the conditions that will allow them to strut their stuff. I'm waiting too!

Then it was on to the yard, where I spotted a couple of BN grain hoppers coupled next to each other. The difference in paint condition was enough to get me to stop. These photos will go a long way toward helping me get the weathering right on some models in the future. It is amazing how almost anything I can imagine can be found on the railroad in one way or another. A great example of life imitating art.

Finally, after getting a text from Mrs. L4T recalling me for more mother in law moving duty, I started back for Duluth. As I crossed the yard on the 21st Ave viaduct, I spotted a train that forced me to make a short detour. It's not everyday that you can see a pair of former bluebonnet GP's handling a coal train. OK, it wasn't actually an entire train, but it was a goodly sized cut of coal gons, and while the power was another example of why the Twin Ports might be the world's EMD capital, this specific power set-a GP50 leading a GP40X-is anything but common. It was enough for me to call it an oddity, and a day. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Kickin' the Anthill

Wednesday was the start of a brief vacation break for me, after a hectic couple of weeks. Since I hadn't been to International Falls, where my parents and my sister and her family live, I decided an overnight jaunt was in order. Wednesday morning I headed north under heavy clouds and light rain. 

I stayed on Highway 53 all the way, so the only chances I had for rail action early in the trip were overpasses, which came up empty. However, with the Ash Lake area yet to come I hadn't yet given up hope of shooting a train in the rain. Sure enough, the first signal south of that siding was glowing red as I approached.

In a few moments a train appeared, headed south. I made a quick u-turn and high tailed it back to Cusson in time to get this shot, as the train sped out of the gloaming. Wow, a pair of GE's. 

I quickly resumed my northward journey, and just as quickly aborted it, as a second southbound was right on the blocks of the one I had just captured. One more quick reversal of course yielded this shot. Three GE's this time.

And once again I started north, but made it only as far as the actual Ash Lake when a northbound appeared beside me, accelerating out of the siding. One more stop allowed me get this train, which won the GE championship for the day with 5 big units up front. 

And then I continued north. 18 minutes first shot to last. Not bad work for one kick at the anthill.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

More Operations

A couple of days after last weekend's shakedown op session on my layout, Dan Mackey sent out a text announcing a trial run on his huge, still under-construction WC layout. I snapped up the invite and planned for a fun evening with a group of like-minded model railroaders. 

I showed up last night to join an enthusiastic group looking forward to giving what Dan has built so far a good workout. Although I would estimate that much less than one quarter of the track is laid (probably safe to say less than 10%), there was plenty to keep four or five operators busy. One thing this tells me is that Dan is building a railroad that will accomodate lots of operators once it is complete. 

One of the locations Dan has been working on is the trackage for the Biron paper mill, seen in the photo below. Matt and Don are working the mill with a GP30, lining up a train for me to pick up after I drop another cut for them to sort and deliver.
My power set for the evening, as I lugged cars back and forth between Stevens Point and Wisconsin Rapids, was this stellar set of high-hood SD24's. While in real life, these units were not popular with all those asked to operate them (as I learned in exquisite detail from Kent Rengo-I got the impression they pulled like Yugos and smoked like Alcos), in Dan's model world they are great pullers in the hands of the right engineer (namely, me). At least until you try to bring 28 or so cars up the helix with them, at which point you will stall, end up doubling the hill, and clog up the mainline for an hour or so to the consternation of the Trainmaster. Live and learn, is one of the adages I live by. Although you wouldn't know it by the stupid expression on my face.
 Speaking of the Trainmaster, here he is. Most likely he is dreaming up some near-impossible mission for the haggard crews to carry out. Something like requiring us to swap ends on a long train, while making sure the tank cars meet all hazmat rules, but without providing a runaround track. Whatever the latest "Mission, Impossible" is, it's guaranteed to make your head hurt.
 Kent and I chatted about train length while I ran my final train down the helix. One nice thing about a helix-it gives you a moment to think as the train winds its way up or down. In my limited operations experience, any free time you can devote to thinking and planning on how you will get your work done, safely and efficiently, is precious. I don't do a good enough job using my thinking time, which can result in embarrassing events like when I ran through a switch that was lined wrong and shorted out half the railroad last night. Events like that will earn you a nickname. They should inspire a motto as well, something like "Slow down and double check the switch."
After the work was done, Dan sat us down to pick our brains about the layout and any suggested changes. The session really showed how his construction techniques result in a dependable and smoothly operating layout. Unlike my session last week, derailments were rare as hen's teeth. Everyone had a good time, although there was a moment when the lack of a runaround track did result in raised hackles, but with some professional railroading advice, we managed to work through it. 
I'm looking forward to doing it again. When this layout is done, Dan will have to bus in people to keep it all operating. It's gonna be a sight to see, that's for sure!

Saturday, January 24, 2015


There are a great many enjoyable aspects to model railroading. As you know if you are a long time reader of look4trains, creating new things from scraps has always been one of my favorites. Another thing I've always enjoyed is imagining how the minature world I'm constructing would fit into the larger transportation system. 

There comes a time, though, when making new things and watching trains run make you hungry for more. In my case, I've long wanted to see if what I imagine would work. The only way to test this case is to put the railroad through its paces, which requires people. I've had a taste of operations, as it's known, on Phil Keppers large NP layout here in Duluth. And I liked it. Quite a lot. So much, in fact, that I wanted to do it on my layout as well. So it came to pass that I invited a group of modelers over this Saturday afternoon. Here's half the group that attended, mostly engaged in observing professional railroader Kent Rengo as his train heads back to the yard after working the cement plant, paper mill, and lumber siding. 
Here's a shot of the power on Kent's train as it approacheds the helix that will take it down to the staging level.
Across the room, it appears a job briefing is underway as Scott Carney and Dan Mackey confer over the safe way to the get the work done. Now Dan isn't sitting down on the job, rather, his Soo Line transfer job is dropping cars at the lower level staging yard and the office chair gives a better view of the work.
Finally, in a scene that might be common to all model railroad operating sessions, at one time or another there is a traffic jam. This time it's Kent in the hot seat, as he switches out the cars his train just brought down the helix. Scott is working the paper mill switch job, while Dan's Soo power is running light back to the Soo yard in the other room. Henry Carney is just visible behind his dad, and waits for Dan to pass so he can use the main to run around his grain train before shoving it into the Rengo Storage tracks. It's a busy spot, working as designed. Luckily I left some room for people when I designed the layout. Probably one of the only things I did right.
In all, we ran 5 trains, including the Paper Mill turn, Soo Line Elevator Job, Soo Transfer, Grain Unit Train to Rengo Storage, and the Paper Mill switch job. It was enough to keep us entertained, if not continuously busy, for a couple of hours. Just right.

The morning was a madhouse as I ran around trying to make last minute changes to switchlists, yard trackage, worked at cleaning track, arranging cars, etc. One of my takeaways is that good preparation will be rewarded with smoother operation. A second learning is that operating sessions will test your track work and rolling stock. Murphy's Law is in full force, and if you think something may cause a derailment, you pretty much bet it will. More than likely, you will come away from the session with a punchlist of required repairs as long as your arm. But that's OK. Continuous improvement is how we get better.

So even with some hiccups, it was great fun. As someone said in the post-session discussion, the cars got where they belong, and no one got hurt. That's a success. Thanks to all who participated. Hope to get some of the glitches fixed and try it again soon. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Creating things with my own two hands is one of my favorite parts of model railroading. Not only is it fulfilling, it can be the only viable way to model certain items. Plus, it is often cheaper than buying a kit or ready to use item. Win-win-win.

In order to create, your own two hands work better when augmented with the proper tools. I learned about one of these tools recently, when I stumbled across this thread discussing the use of what is called a Silhouette Camea craft cutter in the making of components of models. There is some fantastic work illustrated on that page. It inspired me enough to want one of these machines.

Fast forward to the day after Christmas, when Mrs. L4T thought it a good idea to check for Christmas merchandise markdowns at the local Hobby Lobby. Turns out one of the great deals was a Cameo for $160, which is the cheapest I found it anywhere. Result: an impulse purchase. Yours truly became the owner of one of these machines.

The immediate question became what to try making with it. I've always admired the spindly towers that are often found in industrial settings, supporting things like pipe racks, conveyors, or other machinery transporting material to and fro around the plant. I know Walthers has marketed an etched brass version of these towers (I think I even have a kit around here somewhere) but this seemed a good candidate for testing the capability of the Cameo. I fired up the included software and quickly drew what I thought such a tower should look like for the machine to cut the parts.

I posted a photo of my first attempt on Facebook, reposted below.

It was pretty crude, but a worthy first try I thought. Before I forget, I thought I would also share an "under the hood" photo of the device as well.

Anyway, today I decided to try and improve on my first try. I cut a finer set of sides, an example of which is shown below. This is cut from .010" styrene sheet. Note that there is a fair amount of work with the xacto knife to free the "hanging chads" from the triangular spaces in the part. And yes, that is a dime in the photo to illustrate scale. Those cross pieces are really, really fine.

The resulting framework is extremely lacy and airy. It is quite amazing the level of precision this simple machine can acheive. I am sure that as I learn to operate it the results will only get better.

With four of these sides cut out, I rummaged around in my styrene box and found some angle. For this attempt, I glued the framework sides to the inside of the angles with MEK. The resulting structure is surprisingly robust yet still retains the fragile look that I am going for.

So far I am quite happy with the machine. I am sure it will be useful for producing a wide range of model railroad related items, limited only by my imagination. Visions of steam and pulp lines criss-crossing my paper mill are already dancing in my head. I can also see that it will be useful for producing a custom-designed conveyor support when I expand the storage capacity of my grain elevator and need to provide access to both sides of the tracks.

Wish me luck as I experiment with the Cameo. I will need it.