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Layout Construction Journal

Volume Two - May 2004 through September 2004

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September 12, 2004

WOW!  We had a huge day today.  An infrequent Sunday session brought a huge number of people out to play, when I was only expecting two or three.  We had Neil, Ted, Tom, Wayne, David, And a few new guys -- Jonathan Jones, Ed Majury and Ralph Heiss.  Some of these guys have been on the invitation list for months, but just can't make the weekday sessions we've been having -- based on the turnout today, I'm going to have a lot more Sunday sessions!

We got a ton of work done with all the help.  Neil, as usual, got an amazing amount of work done, filling all the screw holes in the homasote at Wilson Point, drawing the track lines back in after we painted the homasote, helping to locate and plot the turntable and roundhouse tracks.  But he also had a big part in getting the turnback loop at the end of the Georgetown extension framed too, as well as a few other projects.  David and Tom got the new grids secured to the previous benchwork, and raised the new grids up to match the grade profile up the hill from South Norwalk.  Later they also got the turntable hole cut through the tabletop and benchwork.  That was a tough job -- Thanks, guys.  

Jonathan helped out by getting the flextrack laid on the benchwork section, power feeders and all, that goes under the stairs.  It's now ready to mount and screw into place.  Ed Majury, who is an electrician, jumped on the job of getting the power supply panels built so we can eventually get this railroad powered up.  Ted and Ralph helped him out quite a bit, and the two primary power panels are now built and ready to get wired into place.  All in all it was a great day and I'm really grateful to everyone who showed up and pitched in.  Thanks guys, you cleared my to-do list!  Now I have to write another!


September 8, 2004

Another small session tonight, Neil Henning came around.  He and I got a lot of work done, completing the grids for the Georgetown extension.  Now I need to find some time to paint them black before Sunday, when hopefully we'll be having another session.  Hopefully folks with start showing up again soon -- I'm thinking it might have been a mistake to take off August.  We seem to have lost momentum.

September 1, 2004

Jay was over tonight; it was nice having a small get-together with just the two of us working on modeling projects for a change.  Jay continued his work on the transfer shed, and I continued the work on the WP Turntable.  Jay got the water-side wall assembled and cut out, which was good.  I started my first hand-laying project, putting the rails down on the turntable bridge.  Iím not completely thrilled with how it came out, but itís mostly straight and in-gauge and thatís good enough for now.  The next try will be better.


Before I spiked the rails down, I soldered feeder wires to the underside and passed them through the bridge to the bottom.  After the spiking was done, I made up a pair of brass power pickup wipers for the underside of the bridge.  I looped each of the feeder wires around a screw which holds down the wiper, and tightened then down.  The wipers sit between the wheels of the bridge trucks, and slide easily along the pit rail.  When this was done I connected a multi-meter to the leads off the pit rails and shorted the bridge rails, and voila!  It Works! 

So now it is nearly time to install the pit in the railroad.  I just need to install the turning mechanism and cut a hole for the pit to fit into.  But I know that neither task will be as easy as describing it.

August 31, 2004

Since the Wilson Point turntable should be ready for installation soon, I thought it was about time to start thinking about the roundhouse model that will go with it.  A while back Iíd bought some Grandt Line roundhouse doors that were a close match for the ones actually used on the WP roundhouse.  And since I knew Iíd need to work from the doors, a known component I couldnít change the size of, I started working from there.  I carefully measured the doors with a caliper and drew them in Cadrail, and then I designed the rest of the roundhouse around the doors.

CAD is a funny thing; itís very difficult sometimes to get a feel for scale.  Itís all there in black and white but it can be hard to judge just looking at the computer screen.  So when I was done with the drawing, I printed out a copy.  Uh-oh, those doors look pretty small.  Maybe I printed at the wrong scale. Nope, 1:1 all right, that canít be it, but still... Placing the door on the drawing shows the dimensions are right.  So I cut out a doorway and try to pass a locomotive through it -- no way!  Itís Waaaay to small!  ARRRRGH!  I paid out serious bucks to get more than 12 pairs of doors that I CANíT USE!  If I had any hair left Iíd be tearing it out now.  In hindsight they must be for narrow gauge equipment.

Well, I immediately broke out my modeling tools and built up a proper door, 17 scale feet high and about 6í-8" scale feet wide using strip and sheet styrene.  Itís great to be able to just reach into your toolbox and have the proper sized materials at your fingertips.  And this one is an exact match for what was on the WP Roundhouse.  I built it without right or left-handed details, because Iíll make a quick mold of it and cast a few copies, detail up a proper right and left, mold them again and make 8 sets of castings that will work fine.

August 29, 2004

It's been a busy week.  Lots of railroading activity -- Tuesday I went with Henry Freeman to the Dodd Center in Storrs, CT (Part of the UCONN library system) to go through their archives looking for pictures and data on the Housatonic.  It was a really good trip, I still need to go through a lot of what we collected.  

This weekend I was able to work on the turntable again.  I carved slots in the side of the wood form to pass the bridge track wires to, then glued the sides of the bridge to the wood form with epoxy.  I clamped it with rubber bands and put it aside.  Then I got to work putting in the pit rail.  I soldered wires to the undersides of the rail and drilled holes through a tie to feed them through.  Then I formed the rails into circles with a pliers and spiked them down to the ties in the pit.  So far so good.

When that was done the bridge was solid, so I sanded the top of the bridge smooth and glued ties on the deck.  I took a break while that dried and came back to attach the bogies to the ends of the bridge.  Fortunately these are adjustable after you attach them!  I was able to get the turntable together finally with the bridge bogies riding on the pit rail.  Looks pretty good but I'm going to have to make the pit wall a little taller.

Finally, as I was closing up tonight I found this:

Guess it's my wife telling me the waters' gotten a bit dusty...

August 21, 2004

Making great progress on the turntable.  I re-painted the pit with a lighter gray color with some dull yellow -- much better for concrete.  Sanded off the tops of the pit rail ties and stained them with diluted brown leather dye, that looked good too.  Finally I carefully poured fine cinders in between the ties and set it with diluted matte medium.  I plan to either paint the pit floor with my standard 'dirt' color or line it with cinders too, though I think the latter would be a bit much.

Got a good start on the mechanical drive too.  Bored out the ring gear to accept a 1/4" shaft, and bored out the worm gear to accept a 1/8" shaft.  I got some 1" corner brackets from Home Depot, and drilled out one of the holes to accept the 1/8" sleeve bearing (1/4" Outside Diameter) and bent them to place one side of the worm gear's teeth on the vertical.  Threaded the worm gear onto a 1/8" steel shaft and through both of the bearings, then screwed the brackets down to a base.  One side of the base has a 1/4" pad to hold the worm shaft on an angle.  A pair of shaft collars to hold the worm shaft in place and that part is done!

August 20, 2004

Earlier this week I needed surgery on my arm to carve out a Melanoma -- Skin Cancer -- the doctor found a few weeks ago. (I apologize here and now to my wife who nagged me without mercy until I agreed to go to the doctor, she saved my life.)  Anyway, my arm is out of commission for the next week or two while it heals, so it has been a good excuse to do some modeling, which is easier on the arm than power tools.

I started by building the Diamond Scale bridge trucks (bogies) that ride on the pit rail, easily done.  After that I tested the fit and found my pit's raised ledge for the pit rail wasn't wide enough.  I added some 1/8" square stripwood to the edge and that helped a lot.  Then I tried several methods to add the pit rail.  Flex track cut up didn't work, and the Central Valley tie strips I bought looked way too large.  I decided to handlay the pit rail using the same ties I'm using for the rest of my trackwork, and they look pretty good.

But the spikes to hold the track down won't drive into the MDF the pit ring is made from.  So I spent about 90 minutes drilling every third tie to hold spikes.  Annoying.  I painted the entire pit gray, which was probably a mistake.  I hope to sand off the tops of the ties, dye them and then ballast around them with cinders  to improve the look.

The next night I started work on the bridge.  I made the main support from a chunk of maple hardwood, and decided its size and shape by several methods, including the ME bridge girders I was building it from, the height it had to be at the ends to work on the pit rail, and a photo of the actual bridge.  Cutting up the bridge girders was fun, I'm very happy with how they came out.  I finished off tonight by epoxying in the driveshaft of the bridge, taking a lot of care to get it perpendicular to the surface of the bridge.  I hope I got it right.

Nice to have an excuse to do some modeling again, I've been away from it for too long.

August 16, 2004

Even though we're not having regular sessions this month, work continues on the layout.  I've been trying to clean up the basement for a while and I found at the end of July I was OUT of storage space.  Every horizontal surface is piled high with 2-3 layers of stuff.  It's really hard to clean up when you have nowhere to put anything.  You just end up moving piles of stuff from one place to another.

If you've looked at the construction journal pictures you've seen these red roll-around open-faced plywood cabinets I keep under the layout for storage.  Anyway, I have about 7 of them, all filled up.   I built them a few years ago and always knew I'd need more someday.  Well, someday is now today.  I figured I'd build another 12 cabinets and be done with the storage problem.  That's fine, but after shelling out for the materials needed to make these cabinets I had a rude shock.

Just on this cabinet project this month, I've spent $280 on plywood (7 sheets 3/4" BC ply @ $40/sheet), About $50-60 on 4 sheets of 1/8" Masonite for the cabinet backs, about $170 on casters and another $50 on paint and screws to hold on the casters. and none of that includes the cost of the nails used to assemble it, plus about $5-10 in glue, the paint trays and roller covers, etc., etc.

So that's about $550 or so I've spent this month -- just on materials for *storage* just so I can clean up that basement! And I've only managed to build and paint two of 'em so far!

Gagh.  I knew model railroading was an expensive hobby but I never expected this!

August 8, 2004

Our first weekend session.  It was great to have a pair of old friends from Long Island stop by, Nic Platas and Charlie Tobin.  We all used to belong to the same railroad club years ago and have stayed good friends over the years.  I've visited them several times over the years to see what's happening on Nic's Santa Fe layout, and finally it was my turn -- my pleasure -- to host them out in New Jersey.  They have been waiting a LONG time for this.

They jumped right in and started on benchwork.  They picked up on the method quickly and mounted the two grids I'd built the week earlier, and built three more by the end of the session.  What a great help.  Thanks guys, hope to see you out here again soon!

Neil came by too, and boy was I glad because he took on another thankless project that really needed to be done.  He took a pile of 12" x 12" x 1/8" thick plywood squares and pieced together a jigsaw puzzle of parts to completely cover the Wilson Point pier.  It took most of the day and I'm sure it was quite tedious, but he plugged away at it and got it done -- and he even dyed the parts after that.  Neil has been great at taking on these ornery projects and turning them out quicker than I ever imagine it can be done -- and I really appreciate it.  I guess it isn't completely thankless then, is it?

Jay and Tom were over too.  Tom and I worked on getting the benchwork under the stairs finished, and we finally got there today -- now it is up to me to get the track laid down on that section (it will be the first of the railroad) so we can finally fix it in place permanently.  I think Tom will be very glad to be done with this project so he can come out from under the stairs.

Jay continued his work on the freight transfer station, which is coming along well.  He's an excellent modeler and I find I'm learning a lot from him (and I thought I was pretty good).  I just wish I had more time to sit with him and watch over his shoulder.


Oh, and I broke my first piling on the Wilson Point pier today.  I can't believe it took that long!

July 28, 2004

We made some progress this week.  David, Tom and Jay were over.  Jay, who is an excellent model builder, offered some time ago to tackle some of the structures Iíll need.  After an order for scribed styrene and strips finally came in earlier this week, Jay was able to start working on the marine Transfer Shed that will go on the side of the Wilson Point pier.  He expects to wrap it up pretty quickly; itís a large but simple structure.

Tom and I continued to work on getting the tracks through the stairs.  We used a large hole saw to cut through the stair riser, and then squared off the hole using a sawzall.  The 3Ē x 4Ē hole should allow us to pass two tracks through the stairs.  We also got a layer of homasote down on the curved section of benchwork that will be mounted under the stairs.

David got started on the new benchwork grids, and earlier this week he came over to help cut up several sheets of plywood Iíll be using to make more roll-around cabinets.  Jay helped out this past Sunday by coming with me to Home Depot and loading the plywood in my van, and then unloading it at my home.  Thanks guys, it would have been a lot tougher without you.  Now I have to make time to build the things!

July 21, 2004

Remembering what a pain in the arse is was last time to paint all the benchwork, I hired a local teenager to prime and paint all the bare wood this past week. It cost me a few bucks, but it was worth it -- all the new benchwork is now painted and my weekly modeling crew was able to concentrate on more important things. The kid is a friend of the family and needs money for college, so it was a good thing for everyone.

It was a small session tonight, just me, Tom and Neil. The three of us worked on a number of projects, including one that has been holding us back Ė the curved section underneath the stairs that will connect Wilson Point and South Norwalk. Tom used several cardboard boxes to piece together a template of the space under the stairs, and from there we were able to plot the curved line of the track on it. Then we cut out the desired shape, and transferred it to a chunk of plywood we had and cut that out. Soon weíll lay some track on it and get it mounted so we can connect up the two towns.

Neil put the first coat of dirt-colored paint down on the Wilson Point homasote, but first he marked all the track lines we had originally marked by driving nails along the track lines and turnout frog positions. Hopefully weíll be able to re-construct the track lines once the second coat of paint is down. Or weíll just have to re-plot them later, which is no big deal. The scene looks better dirt-colored. The plan is to paint the second coat on thickly and sift some real dirt into it to get the right texture.

Towards the end of the session when the black paint was mostly dry, we moved the two new benchwork bridges into place and joined them together. One now has to take a long walk all the way around the benchwork to get to the other side of the room. After many years of having a wide-open space to work in, it feels very restrictive. Guess Iíll have to get used to that.

July 14, 2004

Big night tonight!  We had a good sized crew over and got a good portion of the new benchwork up!  The guys worked really hard and much of the basement is now filled with beams and legs.  I guess this really means we are expanding the layout beyond Wilson Point.  It's very exciting.  What you see being put up is the new dog-leg peninsula that Georgetown will be built upon.  Eventually this will be double-decked and Danbury will be modeled atop it.  

One thing is for sure, I have to spend a couple of nights down there cleaning up!  Seems like every horizontal surface has crap piled on it, and most of it either needs to get thrown out or find a new home.  I'm also going to need some new roll-around cabinets soon to store all that stuff. Gotta get busy...

The gloss medium I ordered to repair the water came in yesterday.  On the advice of another modeler, I'm going to try mixing Liquitex Gel and Liquid mediums in a 1:1 ratio to get a workable but soft coating that can be shaped without flowing out and going flat.  A test bed will be made later this week to try a few techniques and see if I can come up with something I like.

I had a new guest tonight, Kevin Olsen.  Kevin is a modeler who lives nearby who also models early period -- the 1840's!  And I thought I was losing my mind.  I guess he has as many issues as I do, maybe more.  Hopefully he'll be back to help again, he seemed to have a good time.

June 30, 2004

A quiet night tonight, just me, Ted and Tom worked on a couple of simple projects.  Ted and I got the last 16 foot I-beam constructed, and Tom went and caulked the gap between the seawall and the homasote/land, as well as a couple of other seams.  We now have dirt-colored paint (I glued some dirt from my backyard to a square of foamcore and had Home Depot color-match it) so that can all get painted now, in preparation for laying track.  Next session we'll be putting up new benchwork.

We also discussed how we will support the second level over the first, and we agreed that additional supports tied into the I-beams will work well.  We may need to use threaded-rod drops from the ceiling above to stabilize the second deck, but that's OK.  We'll give it some more thought and have some time to make any critical decisions.

There will be no session on July 7th as my wife and I have a previous engagement.

June 23, 2004

Good session tonight, we had a lot of help -- David, Ted and Wayne, Jim and Tom came down.  We decided to get to work on expanding the benchwork.  I've been wanting to open up a 'second front' so we aren't all working on the sane thing, this way we can have two or more crews working on different projects when we have a lot of people down.  

 We built a bunch of my 'new' design I-beams that I've been wanting to make for a couple of years now.  After a false start with the slots in the flange boards being too narrow (widened them up quickly on the tablesaw) we started constructing them.  It all went very well, I thought.  We got 2 16' beams, one 13' and one 8' completed.  We need to make one more 16' and we're ready to put up South Norwalk and the lower level of the dog-leg peninsula (Georgetown).

Note that this time when we built the beams we staggered the joints of the flange boards, hopefully we won't experience the buckling we did on the first set of beams because of that design flaw.

Jim was kind enough to go through my grid plans and change the measurements from incomprehensible decimal values to fractions of inches that we could understand.  If I have time this weekend I'll get started on these -- but everyone wants me to spend modeling time on getting the turntable and float bridges built and installed.  So I'll probably work on that instead.

Regarding my disappointment with the water pour, the overwhelming opinion of my crew is to not tear out the pour, but to try a few things like Gloss Medium to break up the view of the surface, and possibly tinting the gloss medium with a dye to make it more opaque.  I agreed to give this a try.

June 22, 2004

Working on some odds and ends to get together for tomorrow's session tonight.  Hopefully before bed I'll finish a new tie jig, and do some cleaning in the basement.

I keep looking at the first pour and the more I do the more disappointed I am with it.  I'm currently thinking of ways I might be able to strip off the plastic and re-pour it.  Even if it means damaging the pier structure and rebuilding parts of it, it might be worth it.  I'll talk it over with my crew tomorrow night and see what they think.

June 16, 2004

We did part two of the water pour tonight.  A smaller crew this time, just me, David, Jay and Neil, but it was just the right amount of helpers.  This time we were much more careful about not whipping up the Envirotex, and the difference is amazing.  When we poured it, the epoxy flowed nicely, the few trapped air bubbles were easily released by the blowtorch and all that was left was a glass-smooth, clear and flat surface.  I had two gallons of epoxy on hand this time but we only used one gallon and had about 12 ounces of epoxy left over at the end.  We'll use the extra gallon of epoxy later on some river scenes, or one of my friends will need it to do a water scene I'm sure.

It looks so nice it makes the first pour look even worse by comparison.  If only it were possible to rip out the first pour without destroying the pier I'd do it in a minute.  I only hope that a coating of gloss medium can hide the worst of the problems.  

In the picture to the left you can see the dividing line between the first and second pours.  We will have to park a boat across this to hide the joint because the difference is so dramatic.  The lesson is clear, don't over-mix Envirotex.

So this weekend it will be time to start dyeing and painting the 1/8" plywood for the decking, and we will start getting the pilings covered and planked.  Things are going to be moving quickly again and soon.  Hurrah!

Tom Callan was able to send me a few of the pictures he took last week during the pouring operation, see it to the right.  This picture of the foamy Envirotex has to be seen to be believed.  That's NOT how it is supposed to look, folks.  If you get this when mixing yours, take my word for it -- throw it away and try again.  It isn't worth the trouble to try and fix it.  I wish I had.

June 9, 2004

Well, tonight was the big night -- the water pour!  At least, half of it was -- we ran out of Envirotex halfway through the operation.  Word of advice, when they tell you a gallon will cover 32 square feet -- DON'T YOU BELIEVE IT!  It only covered about 16 square feet, or just less than half the area we hoped it would.  Make sure you buy at least twice what they tell you is the right amount.


I had a good crowd for the occasion -- Henry Freeman, Ted and Wayne, Tom, Neil and Jay all came out for the big pour.  We were all done in about 45 minutes.  Henry had said to get a whisk to mix the epoxy,  but I couldn't find one -- I bought a paint mixer paddle for the power drill instead.  That worked really well, too well I think -- it mixed the stuff up into a frothy foam!  As we were pouring it, many jokes about the white tide were made.  Once we'd poured it all I went after it with a propane torch, which knocked down about 98% of the froth and the epoxy settled down to look like water, like it is supposed to.  In some areas there were really fine bubbles that wouldn't come out, leaving a gentle swirl down inside the epoxy.  Actually it looks pretty nice, like sediment under the water.  Clear would have been best but this isn't bad at all.

As I mentioned above, not long after we started it quickly became obvious that we were not going to have enough epoxy to cover the whole water surface.  So we went as far as we could and got about half the water done.   I ordered another two gallons of the stuff after the session, we'll finish the pour next week.  It's really worth it, the 'water' looks great.  Now I keep my fingers crossed and hope we got the mix right and it hardens like it is supposed to.  It would be a tragedy if we made a mistake and some of it doesn't set up right.  I think We'll be good, though.

May 26, 2004

First session in two weeks - have a lot of honey-dos to catch up on that I've been ducking for the last six months while working on the railroad.  Just myself and David tonight, we concentrated on getting Wilson Point ready for the epoxy pour.

Seems like every time I think we're done with the pilings and braces and such we remember one more thing we have to do before we pour the epoxy.  Tonight we put extra pilings around the ends of the ferry slips to protect them, placed extra pilings around the corners of the long pier, and a few extra lines that will support the float bridge next to the dock.  There are still a couple more I have to drop in next to the bridge floats.  Then it's time to really clean up the basement and the layout, we hope to pour next Wednesday.  

The epoxy came in last week, a gallon of the stuff (and I hope it will cover everything...)  Here's a hint, shop around on the internet for the stuff at art stores, you can get it pretty cheap.  Mine was $56 shipping included from some Art-A-Rama place, most other places it was over $80 before shipping.

I finally got a better picture of the stone wall / photo backdrop transition around the edge of the pier, and it also nicely shows the piling, pile cap and bracing detail, don't you think?

I now have in almost all the parts for my turntable, except the bearings...  Argh!  I realized tonight I have a lot of models to build in the next month or so...  Where to find the time...

May 12, 2004

We had a decent session last night, unfortunately it didn't go too smoothly because I was feeling under the weather and didn't really plan the activities well. Neil Henning showed up and graciously consented to paint the raw wood on the new benchwork around the roundhouse addition, which was a big help. He also started laying the groundwork for the South Norwalk extension. Jay Held was over and put in a good night's work on the bracing for the pilings, and between what he did tonight and what David and I did over the weekend, there's only a little left to go. Tom Callan was over too, and he and I worked on getting the fascia panels cut up and mounted on the parts of the railroad that touch the water. Each of us made a couple of funny mistakes ("Hey, was that 47" or 74?") but it all turned out fine in the end with just a little bit of waste and a couple of extra seams.

All I need to do in the next couple of days is finish the pier bracing, get a few more screws into the fascia and clean the layout and basement well (so there's no dust to kick up) and we are ready to pour the water! I'm hoping to make it happen before Memorial day, which will give me enough time to finish up the details and get the layout and basement really cleaned up.  I ordered the Envirotex today, I don't think it will get here before the middle of next week anyway. 

Jay surprised me at the end of the night, saying he wants to make his piers for his rail-marine railroad the same way I did mine. As far as I can see there is no greater compliment. Thanks, Jay.

May 5, 2004

Small but good session tonight.  Scott Dunlap, an old friend and a modeler with a good eye for scenery came by at my request, and we spoke for about an hour on how to approach the scenery for Wilson Point and South Norwalk.  He helped me go through the Scenic Express catalog and figure out what basic supplies to lay in for the work ahead.  This was very important for me as I'm somewhat color blind and don't really trust myself with these choices.  Now I have a shopping list and an idea of how to approach the artistic tasks in the future.  I even took notes!

David also was here, and finally got done with all the pilings.  He's really happy -- "That's It! I never want to see another piling again!", I believe he said.  Unfortunate since he's modeling the New York City waterfront at his house...  I believe we will be keeping the sharp instruments away from him for a few weeks...  We wouldn't be nearly as far along as we are now if not for his heroic effort in installing all these piles.  "It's not hard", he said tonight, "Especially when you can convince someone else to do it."  

After our scenery conversation Scott jumped right in, helping with placing pile caps on some of the newly-laid pilings.  David, fresh off his victory over the piles, got started on the diagonal bracing across the pilings.  I believe it's now a matter of pride for him, like a marathon.  He's gonna get this done if it kills him.  Me, I went around with a cupful of stain and a paintbrush, touching up all the cut lumber ends.  Before quitting for the night I got the float bridge floats assembled, I'll glue them down later this week.  We're so close now I can taste it.

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