Ilchester, Maryland, Part Three; Building the Model of the B&O Station.

I have recounted the background of the development of the MJB Models kit for Ilchester, now I offer an overview of constructing the model for my era. The blog that recounts the background research is at, The kit was a gift from my friend Don Barnes, so I don’t know the price, but it was not inexpensive and the quality is reflected in the well thought out design by Mark Bandy. This model represents a signature structure on this part of the Old Main Line and instantly recognizable to those that follow this part of the B&O.

The instructions for this kit are pretty straightforward and consist of numbered and lettered parts diagrams for each sheet of laser cut parts and then a series of exploded diagrams of the construction process. They are more than adequate to build a great model. However, the walls are created by layering-on parts to create built up subassemblies of multi-part windows, multi-parts doors, and various sidings so it pays to test fit twice and glue once. I am sure this was done to allow the model to be painted prior to assembly, thus allowing a great rendition of a detailed two color paint scheme. My challenge was to do the kit justice.

Unlocking which color to paint which parts prior to assembly was the most difficult part of the project. And related to that, which paint colors to use to duplicate the colors of a particular era. The early 1960s photo below is a good rendition of the Cream and Black colors I remember seeing on old structures painted in this combination. It also matches favorably the Cream color shown on the 1939 paint chip card I received in an email some years ago. To match it I airbrushed Vallejo Model Air 71.270 White (it is not a pure white) with 10 drops of Vallejo Model Air 71.244 Sand Beige added to the almost full bottle. For the Black trim I used Vallejo Model Air 71.251NATO Black, it is a weathered flat black that has a slight brown hue that matches my recollection of the color. Though somewhat subjective, it is what I have chosen.

Source Unknown
1939 B&O Standard Paint for Storehouse Buildings, Etc. G.S.K. C-239. Source Unknown.

While the literature indicates the primary color of a station in my era is Cream, I often see B&O models painted the darker buff color. I always remember a light color, such as shown in the preceding photo taken sometime after 1950 and before 1970 when the station no longer appears in photos of the area.

The first question to answer in building the kit was on which sheets does one paint which color. The photos below will help someone building thIs kit.

Top shingle and lower siding pieces are all Cream.
The window frames and doors are Cream, except a few door overlays which are black.
Most of these underlaying pieces are black with the exception of the detail on the trackside lattice additions to the roof supports.

The kit’s parts are well cut and it only takes a slight trim with a razor blade to free them for their laser-cut sheets. I refrained from cutting the parts out until I could paint them to help them resist curling from the application of paint. I don’t know if it would have happened, but I thought it was a good precaution. I glued the basic frame together with sparing amounts of yellow wood glue and clear coated them. I did this long before I looked at the rest of the kit as I needed a mock up of the station for layout planning purposes. As seen in the photo below it was a pretty solid foundational structure and a perfect stand-in structure for the finished product.

The basic structure, later to be painted a light concrete color in the lowest 1/8 inch and Cream on the gables. The roof undersides were also painted Cream.

I started building the kit a little out of order from the instruction sheets as I wanted to start on the side hidden from normal viewing on my layout, the trackside. I assembled one door and window on the north side, west end. The window and door attach behind that black painted intermediate piece that is covered by the adhesive shingle sheet on top and the siding piece inset on the lower portion. I added the vinyl glazing supplied with the kit, but cut it to window size and used canopy glue instead of the supplied double sided tape as the space was too small for much tape to bite. The glazing has to no wider than the door or window to fit within the cutout of the basic structure assembled first.

North side (trackside), west end of the structure. (The upper shingles and siding are a little off, but not glued yet)

The pieces fit precisely, so before I glued this piece to the basic structure I started building the other window, door, trim, shingle pieces. I wanted to be sure my building techniques were as precise as the laser cutting. I was close. I left the edge trim pieces unglued where they met the next wall to allow the corners to be glued together. These are black trim pieces and they look better as precisely matched as possible.

The north end pieces and roof aren’t glued yet, the kit is starting to look the part.

I don’t remember ever building a structure kit that went together this well. I took my time with each step and test fitted every piece before letting it set overnight and then I came back to glue it the next day. I set it up on a different table and just did one step a night. It was hard not to rush, but the kit deserved this level of attention.

Progression on the kit went well as you can see it coming together. I repeated the steps for each side and it everything fit as expected. I was sparing with the glue and test fitted parts multiple times. The adhesive-backed, laser-cut parts fit very well, but there was not much dwell time. When you place an overlay part in place it didn’t take long for it to be very strongly adhered.

1964, B&ORRHS Collection
The adhesive backed tarpaper roofing has the right look and adheres well.

Interior walls seem to be front to back (north to south) as one can see through from the trackside out the backside windows in period photos. Speculation would put the passenger waiting room on the west end with a door for in and out on the trackside. Passenger trains had been discontinued on the OML in 1949. There are no doors on the south side away from the track. The center portion of the station would probably be occupied by the station agent’s office and the east end a small freight storage area. This was apparently supplemented by the separate freight house to the east (a future blog post).

The south side windows are visible through the station in this period photo. A pendant light fixture without a shade is visible in the center of the photo. I modeled it with a shade matching the ones at the east and west ends of the station.

The interior walls were constructed from scrap styrene as the interior is not detailed, but I wanted someone looking very close to see the separation and I wanted to add some lighting to the center freight agent’s office. Looking at lighting in photos in a previous blog I noticed three shaded exterior lights on the trackside of the building. I turned to Woodland Scenics products as I have success with them lighting the Point of Rocks station. The HO scale lamps seemed a little oversized so I used the N scale JP5658 Gooseneck Wall Mount Lights for the exterior pendant lights and one JP5740 Warm White LED Stick-On Light for the freight agent’s office overhead light. These were all connected to a Woodland Scenics JP5701 Light Hub under the layout. The next photo shows my less than neat wiring, my goal was to make sure the wires were secure and out of sight inside the structure and could be installed without drilling holes in the model.

This simple styrene base allows me to blend the model into the scenery. The raised portion fits the opening in the passenger waiting room floor of the structure and allows me to align the model on the base. The hole allows the lighting wires to connect to power source below the layout.

Before the roof sections are installed, I added one final detail to the interior, the windows in period photos show window blinds. Take a look at the prototype photos in the previous blog referenced earlier. I added these with trimmed pieces of manila folder, cut slightly wider than the windows to give them a slight offset and not appear glued to the window “glass”.

Interior walls are visible (white styrene) along with wiring for exterior lights.
The location of the three exterior lights are visible here and their appropriate size is apparent. This is a test fit of the roof and supports.

The roof intersections have some unusual angles that I would have trouble creating in 1:1 scale, so slight trims and test fits helped me get them very close and then use the roofing material to close the gaps. The tarpaper roofing material supplied is excellent and guidelines for installation are lightly laser-cut into the roof sections. A slight overhang of the tarpaper was needed to cover the facia boards that are added near the end of construction.

The final facia trim work adds the finishing touch. There are some precut pieces that are too short, but this is easy correct by trimming some extra boards from the sheet the trim is cut from and blending them in with canopy glue and NATO black paint.

Gluing the last and most difficult roof section.

Currently MJB Models is not producing kits and Mark’s website is dormant. But if you ever want to build an excellent kit, please try one of his products. As I built it, my only trepidation was putting in as good an effort into building it as he had put into engineering and producing the kit. This is not a slight to anyone and I love building Al Westerfield’s older kits, this is on par or might even exceed that level of design and detail, though in a structure.

Completed, but still on the workbench.
On the layout looking from the west.
Another view from the west.
Looking back at the station from the east on the hill across the Patapsco River.

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Powering My Trains: The Start of My Journey Learning about Digital Command Control (DCC)

Having not used Digital Command Control (DCC) in the past and owning only a few factory equipped sound and DCC locomotives, I started with a fairly blank canvas. This led to a lot of reading on the internet to gather as many opinions as possible and see which things are most important to me and my layout.

My original concept did not involve operations and slight changes have made that a little more important, but my path chosen did not make the adjustment difficult. One thing that seemed universal was the advice to choose a command and power system supported by a local hobby shop or a local club. Not belonging to a club, I chose the former and sought the advice of Raymond Stern at Pro-Custom Hobbies in Eldersburg, MD. He recommended Digitrax and as it was unlikely I would be running more than five trains at a time, I purchased the Digitrax Zephyr Xtra DCS51 All-in-one Command Station/Booster/Throttle (recently replaced by the Digitrax Zephyr Express). It fits the size and scope of my planned layout, offers programming, 3 amp power, and throttle all in one unit. It looks and feels similar to the DC Power Packs I was used to, so that held some charm.

The little stand is just clamped to a leg as a temporary location.

For convenience in wiring the layout I purchased an NCE LWK25 – DCC main bus wiring kit designed to handle 25 feet of double mainline track. I later purchased additional wire and connectors, and a high-quality wire stripping tool to make life a little easier. Important lesson learned in the process is to not tin the wires to be inserted into crimped connectors. It’s a thing, ask someone experienced in electrical circuits.

Not my best work, but with multiple turnouts and track connections in one location it was needed. I will relocate, twist-tie common leads. and retest when I complete this module.

Programming pre-equipped locomotives proved a little challenging and I had to add a Soundtraxx 829002 PTB-100 Programming Track Booster to boost power to my programming track. It worked, but the steps in changing CVs with the Digitrax multi-function unit for anything more than changing the locomotive’s address were long and tedious (multiple button pushes in specific orders). This led me to using JMRI Decoder Pro (freeware), something that I had considered as a worthy investment from the beginning. This was confirmed after programming a few locomotives and then having them reset or lose a CV change. I am very supportive of a product that would keep the stored values somewhere other than the locomotive for ease of reprogramming when something goes wrong. It also eliminates the button pushing and uses a more familiar Windows interface. I purchased the Digitrax PR4 USB to LocoNet Interface with Decoder Programmer and connected it to my Windows 10 machine on the desk near my layout. This is the piece required to connect the Decoder Pro running on the Windows machine to the programming track (other brands are available). It also allows the Windows machine to act as a throttle and I can later connect my layout control system to my computer, if desired. I am still experimenting with these products, but after playing around with programming types and rebooting the machine several times, it has been able to program all of my older Broadway Limited and Bachmann factory sound equipped locomotives, as well as one experimental set of non-factory equipped P2K locomotives that I am adding Soundtraxx DCC and sound units to over time. The changes to operating the Bachmann EM-1 (it’s a must have for a B&O Modeler) have made it worth it already.

Digitrax PR4 connected and running.

Adding sound decoders and speakers is the subject of a few more blogs in the future, as I am equipping the ABA set of P2K Alco units first (along with some prototypical detailing) before I tackle my Kato F-3 ABA set and the OML Peddler’s brass Q-7f Mikado. All in good time.

One operating session on John King’s B&O layout led me to want walk-around throttle control, as it puts you literally in the engineer’s seat as you follow the train on the layout, the old single control point from the power pack days had to be updated. I found a simple, effective solution with WiThrottle, an app for my iPhone and iPad. Game changer. It’s a $10 app (free trial version available) and required the purchase of the Digitrax LNWI LocoNet WiFi Interface that connected to my Command Station with the supplied LocoNet cord. Up and running in ten minutes. If I need more throttles for visitors without iPhones, used iPods are available pretty cheap.

WiThrottle in action controlling the Q-3 Mike right behind it.
WiThrottle locomotive selection screen.

I am pleased with my ability to add pieces to the system that I find I need over time, while keeping a low initial investment. Some may prefer to buy a system that does it from the beginning with a larger initial investment, I believe that is a matter of preference.

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Some Tank Cars for Through Freights on the B&O Old Main Line. Kadee and Tangent Scale Models.

As I work on track and scenery I am always on the lookout for new freight cars that could appear on through freights on my 1950 version of the Old Main Line. And of course I am looking for specific cars that appeared on the local, the OML Freight Peddler. These are the cars that take the most research and stretch my modeling skill, but it is fun to locate photos and evidence of the through freights and the cars they carried or could have carried.

Recently, I found Kadee #9015 Mathieson Chemicals SHPX #2570 models for only $30 each, which is a pretty good deal for a car with excellent detail and ready to run in my era after some minor decaling and weathering. These models originally listed for $45. I bought a pair of these Mathieson Leased cars with the same number and experimented with removing the “zero” at the end of the car number and replacing it with a ”one”. The cars were built in 1947, decorated in their as-built paint, and fit in with my layout era. With Mathieson plants at either end of the OML they could realistly have been in service between the two points hauling anhydrous ammonia from production plants to sister plants making fertilizer or out to a final designation customer elsewhere.

Removing the number from a Kadee car was much easier than expected. I used Walthers SolvaSet as either a solvent or a lubricant, not sure which, and it made it very easy to lightly scrape the number off with a dull Exacto no. 11 blade. The number on the sill that appears to be on unpainted plastic came off very easy. I dapped on a little “Pledge” to give a gloss decaling surface and as the photo below shows and the tank car is ready for a “one” to be added and then a spray of DullCote.

I added a little dark gray Tamiya pin wash TAM87199 to the white dome cover to highlight the edges/seams and the tiny handle used to open the cover. What a nice detail to highlight and the contrast brings the viewer’s eye toward this area.

The “one” came from my very small collection of spare decals. I decaled a modern boxcar for a friend years ago, making up a fictitious line for his company which has a siding in North Carolina to ship sweet potatoes. The left over set MicroScale 87-70-1 seems to be a good match. A good act years ago seems to have paid off for me in the present. Carma?

The “one” added to the road number after removing the “zero” looks like a good match.

Basic weathering includes spraying the wheelsets with Vallejo NATO Black. Following some advice from Bill Welch I used my newly acquired baking soda blaster (9 oz. Abrasive Blast Gun to reduce the shine on the Kadee side frames and prepare them for painting. I used 90 psi and some Arm and Hammer from the kitchen and the results were great. The texture and dull black finish tempted me to stop weathering them at that point. After this first attempt at soda blasting, I sprayed them with Vallejo NATO Black adding a little thinned Vallejo Hull Red overspray to the mix to achieve a grimy, black-brown color. Then some grime and dirt mixes on the underbody followed by another thin coat of Testors DullCote from a spray can. I have had good luck with the spray can and while the cans are little expensive, they provide the convenience of not having to spray solvents through my airbrush and the cleaning that follows. The last detail is the Dangerous placards, they were included with the Kadee model, I secured them with a drop of canopy glue. A light dusting of Pan Pastels is added to simulate steam era cinders and soot, with a slight hint a rusting dirt, as these are both relatively new cars in 1950.

I wasn’t sure if SHPX 2571 actually existed when I started this project and some input from Steve Hoxie of Pensacola, FL offered me the answer I wanted. The links are below:

Weathering allows the altered road number to blend right in.

At about the same time I got a bargain on the Kadee cars I got another bargain when Tangent Scale Model Products released a General American 1948-Design 8000 Gallon Welded General Service Tank Car. I bought a pair at full price, still a bargain, with different numbers in the GATX Black Lease “Original 1948+” paint scheme. These cars in their general leased paint scheme could be headed to many locations to or from the port of Baltimore and points west beyond Brunswick.

A little more detail about my experiment with soda blasting. The health hazards of this technique are minimal, the media (baking soda) is pretty inert, and at 90 psi it was barely strong enough to remove over-sprayed paint my high tech truck painting stand. I was able to put the trucks on my stand in the yard, blast them with 90 psi and they didn’t fly away. Hitting my nitrile gloved hand with the soda blast didn’t have an affect on the glove, no penetration was evident. My truck painting stand, pictured below, is just skewers stuck in a block of foam with rubber bands wrapped around some of the skewers for trucks with larger screw holes which tend to slide down. The frames stay in place while soda blasting, then I rinse them with water and after dry, airbrush with some Vallejo paints.

High tech truck painting stand.

Again basic light weathering as described for the Kadee cars and these excellent models are ready for service. Great models at a great price. The challenge of tank car resin kit still awaits, but I am happy with the lower cost per model and now have enough for my through freights.

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Ilchester, Maryland; The Big Picture(s) as the Module Progresses, Part One

A quick photo tour of the development of the Ilchester, MD 2’x4’ “module” is a good way to see the progression from idea to model. It is also cathartic for me to see the progress of the past several months.

The goal is to have this scene/module completed with additional photos of the overall progress in a part two and as well as complete some specific blogs about structures and track work over the summer.

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Getting the New Tangent Models O-59A Gondolas Layout Ready

I just bought two Tangent Models B&O O-59 Gondolas and they look fantastic. They are a very nice compromise for a layout model as opposed to an RPM model with full underbody detail. At $38.95 retail they have a lot of great features and B&O specific details. The coupler bodies are extended from the ends to replicate a Duryea underframe and it is roughly represented under the car. The underbody details are hidden from the side view, so the rough representation is a good compromise as it allows space for adequate weight, there are two. This was an intentional compromise by the manufacturer to insure the floor height was accurate to the prototype. Weight is always a problem for empty gons and flat cars and in this case I prefer their approach to making it look correct from the top and side, rather underneath. The carbody has separate grab irons, great hand brake detail, coupler lift bars, and a Tatum slack adjuster. I wonder if they would sell those Tatum slack adjuster castings for detailing other B&O freight cars? I’ll check. I have gotten a kind reply and the parts sprue is out of stock. I will edit when it is in stock. Tangent offers most of there parts sprues for only $3. it does appear the underbody details aren’t aligned with the slack adjuster, the underbody detail is at the other end of the car but on the same side.

O-59A Builder Photo, BORRHS Collection.

I recently saw on a chat group someone state that an old Athearn Blue Box kit would be around $25 today, when adjusted for inflation. It gives some perspective on what a deal I believe these cars represent.

Getting them ready for my 1950 era layout starts with some basic steps, the first thing I do with every car is paint and install metal wheels. These models have great wheelsets included so a quick trip to the paint booth, a spray with Vallejo NATO Black, and they are ready for service. You can see in the photo how shiny they are compared to the paint mask that has been sprayed many times. This hasn’t happened to me before with other wheelsets, I would recommend washing the them with a degreaser as I got an unsatisfactory finish on several wheels and it appeared to be the result of some type of oil on the wheel face. Lesson learned. The trucks get a quick weathering paint job with a mix of Vallejo NATO Black and Hull Red.

While I have the trucks removed, I was hoping to burnish the coupler box interiors and add some Kadee 231 “Greas-Em” Dry Graphite Lubricant. The end detail makes it difficult to remove the couplers, so I will shoot some lubricant into the coupler boxes and exercise the coupler shafts to make it as smooth as possible. The cars are already equipped with scale couplers, bonus. I lightly brush painted them with some rust paint. Late note, I was using one of the gons on the layout to test track placement and a derailment caused a coupler box to come loose. They are actually glued in place and the screw only holds the cover to the box, not the car. I was a little disappointed with the two small spots of glue that secure the coupler box without a mechanical attachment, like a screw. I will use some styrene cement to reattach the coupler box using the original two pin connections and supplement it with some epoxy in other locations under the box to add some durability. I hope the flexibility of an epoxy held joint will help improve longevity as the styrene pin joint is small and rigid.

One of the preinstalled air hoses took at beating in the derailment so before painting with some rust and light grey on the “metal” parts, I installed some Hi-Tech HO Scale AAR Air Hoses 22″, part #6038. After drilling a #76 hole in the end sill I used canopy glue to secure the hose from behind to the sill. It took some careful trimming to remove the valve from the diagonal support that came with the kit. I secured the support to the body with styrene cement and CA. The joint with the rubber hose was secured with canopy glue. I use Formula 560 Canopy Glue from Zap as recommended by others. It’s durability will depend on me limiting derailments.

Next I weathered the body with a combination of thinned NATO Black overspray, Pan Pastels, and artist pastels. The very light overspray of Vallejo NATO Black lightens the basic black body color and dulls the stark white lettering to represent nine years in service behind steam engines and near steel mills. The interior gets attention with Pan Pastels, especially rust and brown tones. I also have a set of artist pastels and a very stiff, wide brush I use to add lighter colors. I will repeat this after DullCote overspray to make sure the car has an appropriate “in-service for a decade” look.

Final touches include creating some stencil updates to the reweigh and repack information with black decal patches and 1950 dates and B&O locations. I added a few chalk marks from Speedwitch Media’s Decal 135 – Freight Car Chalk Marks. I want these to appear less weathered as if they were written within the last year.

Finally I overspray with Testors dullcote and add some scrap donnage and other things found in gondolas constantly in service.

In addition to the B&O cars, I purchased a Lehigh Valley gondola with similar features. The LV car was a treated similarly to the others and I got to weather the wood decking using time honored techniques of gray, tan, and black washes. This car does not have Duryea underframe. For the body, the lighter red color allowed me to use some Tamiya 87131 Panel Line Accent Color – Black to weather the seams, structural members, and to highlight the details. I enjoyed using the accent color using the pin wash technique and will write further about it in a future blog.

A couple of nights worth of work and these cars are ready for service. Nice models at a fair price.

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A Modeling Bench; Part Two, Adding a Cutting Surface.

As I relayed in an earlier blog, I have repurposed a used jeweler’s bench as a “modeler’s bench”. It has some ergonomic features not readily apparent but probably developed over time. My experience over time has taught me to keep my glues and other liquid bottles to the left, out of the way of my dominant and sometimes clumsy right hand. This makes them much harder to knock over. Tweezers and cutting blades are to the right for easy access by my right hand. Other tools are arranged to so that those most often used are closer to the right.

The wood slat sticking out to the right of center of the work area is an elbow rest to keep your right arm steady and supported. The center anvil is a solid work surface for a jeweler’s soldering, filing, and cutting. This is the part I modified.

I don’t do a lot of filing and soldering up close like a jeweler, but I do cut and trim small plastic parts with an X-acto knife and prefer them close to my body for precision and control. So I converted the anvil to a cutting surface with a small piece of oak and a cutting mat. It has slight angle to put my hand in a more natural and ergonomic position when cutting.

I glued a small piece of oak trim to the bottom of the oak board to keep the cutting mat in place. I sanded the edges of the oak to give a smooth surface.

Then I screwed the oak board to the anvil with countersunk wood screws. Next time I am spraying some gloss clear coat I will put the boards in the paint booth and give them a protective finish.

Finished, an ergonomic cutting surface close to my body with an arm rest to the right to steady my cutting arm with a catch tray below that I can pull it out close to my knees to catch scraps or the occasional dropped part. Not an earth changing improvement but an incremental one that makes my modeling easier and more precise.

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My Techniques for Laying Track, Part One. Ilchester Mainline and Siding.

For me, model tracklaying is something I am truly afraid to do, afraid to get wrong. I know the consequences of doing it poorly and thus my fear. I have read many articles, watched many videos, and I know if the track isn’t smooth it will forever dampen my modeling experience. For me to be afraid of a physical task is very unusual. I have taken apart automobiles and put them back to together with less concern. I have drilled and tapped an engine block in my only transportation over a weekend and not thought twice. Part of my concern is how soft the parts involved are and the lack of precision. I am used to hard, straight lines, objects that react with precision to precise movements.

I suspect few model railroaders have ever get to lay track on an actual railroad, so I should share that experience. Though I don’t think the two are related. While working on a tie unit (a mechanized workforce that replaces cross ties at a pace of 500 a day) we were diverted one very, very hot day in 1982. I suspect there was fear that our unit would disturb the mainline between Baltimore and Washington so we were diverted. Disturbing the mainline for a Trackman is easy overtime, but for a railroad it is a very bad thing. The disturbance that the B&O was afraid was commonly called a “heat kink” and no one really wanted it. On hot days if the roadbed and ties were moved too much the welded rail would kink. By that I mean a twenty foot or so long section would pop out laterally in one direction or the other. For modelers it is the same expansion we see in our rails, but on a bigger scale. Many times this movement in the rails occurs near bridges but when you move the ties and roadbed, it can happen anywhere. The remedy was overtime, a welding crew to cut out a few feet of rail, a track gang to move the rail back into place (lining bars and a lot of push), hand ballasting and tamping, and then adding joint bars to rejoin the track. The fear of all that overtime probably put my tie unit on this special assignment.

“Cajon, California. Group of Indian workers who were employed on a section gang working on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad track, 1943,” Jack Delano Photograph. 

Our task for the day was to add a new siding in the Jessup, MD area. The older Trackman that were machine operators barely got off the bus. While it was a union job no one seemed to care and I was personally happy that some of the old guys laid out in the shade. The switch (turnout) for the siding had been laid and our job was to add a couple of hundred feet of straight siding to reach a warehouse. Sidings are light rail, right? Well a 117 pound rail at a 39 foot section weighs in a little over 1500 pounds. It is not like in the movies, moving it with a four guys with rail dogs. It starts with laying out the ties on a graded roadbed. Ties aren’t too light either, four guys with tie tongs can move a cross tie. Well you get the picture, it was a long day and I am probably better at laying 1:1 track than 1:87 track.

Back to modeling, laying cork roadbed, and flex-track at 1:87 isn’t so precise. Add turnout machines that require relatively precise adjustment, but are attached to plywood with wood screws and thus less precise and it is outside of my comfort zone. My goal is to lay the first four feet of track on the first module, Ilchester, with its bridges, slight curve, and two turnouts. Taking the consensus advice from the, I am going to glue down the cork with adhesive caulk, sand, and then glue the track onto the cork. Some sage advice on deciding on the type of caulk from Tony Koester on the listserve, “Be sure the word ADHESIVE comes between “clear” and “caulk.” And avoid problems by ensuring the letters “DAP” precede the other words.” Got it!

Securing the roadbed with thumb tacks while the caulk adhesive sets.

Laying out the track was discussed in a previous blog. I was able to start with black Sharpie line down the middle of each track. The cork was laid along this line with the ends of the cork staggered to help the sections blend. I laid one side at a time by applying a thin layer of adhesive caulk and using thumb tacks every few inches. I used a small tack hammer to make sure the tacks were set down into the plywood subroadbed.

After the caulk adhesive set overnight, I ran a sanding block over the cork to make it as smooth as possible. Well truthfully, I have ran the sanding block over it many times and am trying to lay a turnout that transitions to a siding at a lower rail height with much less ballast. The backdrop in these photos is just some foam core I had lying around to give me a sense of the depth of the scene. It has helped tremendously. It is resting on the aluminum L-girder I intend to anchor Masonite (or maybe Gatorboard) to for the permanent backdrop.

Rough design, the bridge and supports are secured yet.

To create the illusion of a significant drop in rail height I am both dropping the rail height slightly and building up the landform around the siding tracks so it appears to be “on the ground.” It is necessary in modeling to shrink length much of the time, thus shorter turnouts, shorter sidings, and less distance to create the prototypical drop in rail height for my siding. With the sanding block I thinned the glued down HO scale cork roadbed and transitioned to N scale roadbed. That along with slightly building up the ground around the siding track will hopefully create the illusion of a greater drop.

At the same time I am added rough cut 2″ insulating foam to create the basic landforms and places for structures. I am not sure how far to go with each process before one interferes too much with the other. This experimentation is the advantage of working on one module at a time. Or so I hope, maybe I should have started with a simpler module. In the photo below, the mock-up structure to the right is the Bartgis Brothers power plant and the basic structure of the MJB Models Ilchester Station kit is to the left. The Lees Coaling Tower mock-up in the distance in the center. Exciting blogs to follow for each.

Landforms in place, cork glued, time to layout some flextrack.

Time to cut some full length pieces of flex track sections to use as few pieces as possible between the bridge and the turnouts on each track. This required some shaping of the track detailed later. Each rail gets its own feeder wire, I am using red wire for the south rails and black for the north. I’ve seem it done two ways, one soldered to the web on the side away from typical viewing underneath the base of the rail. Both methods have proponents and I chose to solder to the bottom of the rail. I am not bad at soldering but this allows for some error and keeps the hot iron away from the visible plastic tie surface and the relatively small spike detail on the ME track that keeps it together. I actually used a light touch with Dremel tool with a wheel to scare the bottom of the rail and create a clean surface. I am using a Weller WLC100 40 Watt Soldering Station on its high setting with a Weller ST7 Conical Solder Tip, 0.31″. The idea is high heat in a small space to melt the solder quickly and get it back away from the plastic ties. The ground and dressed rail bottom is flushed with some liquid electronic soldering flux and tinned (adding a thin layer of solder to the surface). The a tinned feeder wire bent in an “L” shape get a touch of flux and is touched to the rail with the hot iron and held until cool. There are plenty of videos online to assist in this technique, but watch several and learn from them all to get a consensus of what works. No one knows everything and by watching them all you can pick up tips from each and develop your own “best practice” for soldering rail. I am relying on these feeders to the bus wire for power to the rail, so I am not soldering the physical rail joints. Only final word at this stage. Test every soldered connection for continuity with a multi-meter, it will payoff later if there is a problem.

I try to do as much soldering as possible at the workbench. The Soldering Station gets moved into place when it’s time to solder.

For some additional detail, I decided add “scale” joint bars from HE6AGON that I found on Shapeways. They are called ME83 Joint Bars, Four Bolts. I added them at 39′ intervals with CA. I used an Atlas Super Track Saw to cut joints about 1/4 of the way through the top of the rail. I am not sure CA was the right choice as the dissimilar materials will expand and contract differently and may cause the glue joint to fail. Future scale joint bars will be added with more flexible Pliobond and GOO adhesive. The installed joint bars do tend to disappear when viewed from the side. They are a more apparent looking down the track longitudinally and therefore with the effort to me. I consider it like underbody brake detail on a freight car, it is only partially visible but enjoyable and worth the time spent.

Scale joint bars painted on their sprue and ready to install.

The joiners that physically hold sections of flex track and turnouts together are Micro Engineering HO 26-083 Code 83 Nickel Silver Rail Joiners that have been cut in half to help hide them in the ballast. To cut them I took a short length of scrap rail, slid on a rail joiner and cut it in “half” with a Dremal cutoff wheel. Afterwards, I slide the cut joiner down the rail to open up the end that was cut (see photo). The result is one half-length joiner, the other side is too short so each full rail joiner yields only one because of the cutoff wheel width. Not a big sacrifice, they are cheap and this process is quick. A touch of rail brown paint and they disappear and about half will get trimmed scale joint bars above them for further camouflage.

Cutting rail joiners in half.

When laying the track, I first laid it in place and bent it into shape. Some dislike ME track because it tends to hold its shape when bent. I use the Fast-Track Sweepsticks straight and curved pieces I used in planning (see previous blog on Layout) to set the track to the shape I want and take advantage of this feature. Final trimming to length is done at this point. On occasion, I have added a drop of CA to the tie plate/rail joint to keep the shape if it starts to flex back to straight. With everything where I want it and rail joiners in place, I run my most finicky steam locomotive over the line multiple times.

By doing this I discovered an actual “low joint”. I must have bent the rail slightly on the vertical axis while cutting the joint bar locations. This may be a wanted effect on a well worn branch in the 60s but not welcome on my mainline. A track gang was dispatched to dig out the ties, add some stone, tamp up, and respike the ties. That only works on the real thing, for my model I used a some gentle hand pressure to straighten the rail. Maybe in another blog I will describe how a track gang fixes a low joint with a tamping fork, it’s a two man operation.

The shortened rail joiners actually provide decent electrical continuity between rail sections, as terminating the rail feeder ends to the bus wire is my last step. To make life a little easier for the first module I purchased the NCE Layout Wiring Kit NCE 5240268. It includes enough red and black bus wire for my layout, several short rail drops, termination spade clips, and suitcase connectors that connect to the bus to spade terminations. The hope was to make the whole wiring process go a little smoother. It’s a beginner kit and maybe a little expensive, but I’m a beginner and I am hoping this reduces the likelihood of an electrical fault. As stated at the beginning of this blog, this exercise is outside my comfort zone and I realize it is very important if I am to enjoy my layout for a long time.

Final sighting of the track to make sure it is straight where it is supposed to be and the curves transition smoothly is a visual exercise. I am fortunate with this section to be able to view the track longitudinally and spot minor kinks that are not apparent from the side view. One trick that worked for me was to add a thumb tack to give me a reference point as to where the kink is located. A bit of back and forth and the pin is located at the kink and then the track is aligned to match the overall profile. It is a depth perception aid. It is a hand exercise after the scale joint bars are added as the Fast Tracks Sweepsticks don’t fit into the track due to interference from the bars. Not a problem at this point, everything is pretty close to the design.

Track feeders in place, layout correct, and kinks removed on Track #1.

Gluing the track in place is the moment of truth, so I am doing it first thing in the evening when I get home and am fresh. All the prep work really paid off as I was able lift the rail out of the way with the feeder wires still through the roadbed and add a thin bead of adhesive caulk. Flattening the bead with a plastic putty knife leaves me with a thin layer of adhesive caulk. I tried to get a consistently thin layer so it would not squeeze up between the ties, just enough to make contact. Again, prep work pays, the sanding and sighting kept me from last minute emergencies with wet adhesive in place.

I used several methods to hold the track in place while the adhesive set depending on the situation. One method was thumb tacks tapped lightly into place over the rail head, making sure to put some pressure on the track but not enough to bend the rail or distort the ties. For flat, level sections I use some marble floor tile transition pieces from a home improvement project. Cheap, flat, and they have some mass. They also make nice display bases for models if you use the narrow ones. When I needed a more dense weight I used the old crankshaft dampener/pulley from my Mini Cooper S (I said I don’t mind pulling apart a car and the used parts have other uses).

Flat weight provided by piece of marble threshold and a Mini Cooper S crankshaft dampener/pulley.

I held my iPad on the rail and snapped a few pictures before adding the tacks and weight to be sure things looked smooth from track level. An easy way to get a track foreman’s view of the work. A day later I was happy with my results. I only did one section a day and left the turnouts for later (and a later blog). Connect the track feeder drops to the bus wires and I’m ready to test the track gang’s work.

Track Foreman’s view of the work in progress.

One final operational check is to test the continuity of every wire and joint. It only takes minutes but should make it easier to find future issues if I know I started with everything working as planned. It’s a good baseline and if a change in performance occurs after a future modification, you can be a little more certain that the recent modification caused the glitch and it wasn’t from previous work. With all power off and the DCC power unit disconnected from the bus wire I connect one lead of my multi-meter to one side of the bus and then test each piece of rail that is supposed to be connected to that side. I did find two loose spade to suitcase connections, but my solder joints remained solid and everything is now connected to the main bus wires. Reconnect the bus line to the DCC power unit and run some trains, again checking for low or high spots, bad joints, etc.

Time to deliver a full hopper to the coal trestle. The power plant up the hill was running low.
Track #1 secured through Ilchester, time to climb Buzzard’s Rock and take another in-progress photo.

The next step will be ballasting the mainline and popular wisdom suggests this be a later step after more scenery and ground cover are in place. Anyway, this blog is long enough, I will add some more as I add further detail and ballast. Next track work issue is the turnouts. Thanks for following along.

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