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.