Sunday, July 14, 2024


My initial design had the Atlanta trackwork  mostly focused on the north end and along the aisle. Below is a general view. Backdrops are panels done by Brian Kammerer. The track that traversed the left side of the Car Shed was initially designed as a continuous running for open house visitors. Eventually I removed the bridge to expand the aisle behind Chattanooga beyond the roundhouse.

However, the last panel was pulled in a recent operating session for ease of access. One operator, Andy Estep, suggested connecting that continuous run track as a run around for a loco coming onto that run-around track. Hence, the idea was born! 

Above, the track to far right was the continuous run connection. I laid a switch on existing track to begin planning the new run-around. 
Below, two additional switches are installed. The former continuous run is now the interchange for the Atlanta & West Point RR. The other track you see is marked for the Georgia RR interchange. The operational possibilities have significantly increased including a yard operator position.

Next post will illustrate how I installed Alexander harp switch stands to operate the points.


Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Lessons Applied from May Ops

During the May ops, operators were forthcoming with two excellent suggestions. One was to add two throttle fascia panels to conduct their operating. One was added to Tunnel Hill. This allowed for ease of access as it can be a tight area for 2-3 crews. The other was in Atlanta. This one will provide access to running into and out from the roundhouse. 

The craziness to install Atlanta...

Laying new cable...

But AFTER a whole lotta stuff needed to be moved...

May Operating Session

Our latest and perhaps one of our most enjoyable train runnin sessions.

Left to right, Andy, Heath, DC, Ted, Rob and Jim. Unfortunately Corey had to leave early.

When planning these sessions, there are always one or two operators that may need to cancel last minute. I lost my mind as I had spent more than a week working out the schedules for two member crews. Another lesson learned... KEEP MY COOL! It worked out great. There were four trains and two had solo operators. This helped me realize that one person can do all the jobs. Now I just need to make a few adjustments to minimize all the paraphernalia an operator needs to carry. Easy! 

This view shows the new ops elements I incorporated into different train orders. The car with derrick is the wreck train with two attached cars. These were mentioned in a couple of writings by trainmen who rode the W&A at the time and other lines such as the VA Central, East TN & GA and GA RR.

Bottom left is a telegraph car. This would take new poles and insulators to set along the line or to replace those needed.

The keg is one of whiskey which seemed appropriate to "support" the troops. Next is a grease bucket, the idea coming from Wilber Kurtz notes that one engineer was asked to meet another train to hand of a bucket of grease. 

Last are pole cars. Lever cars were had not arrived on the W&A in 1863. However, these pole cars were on occasion transported to an area where workers would need to travel down a line to either inspect of conduct minor repairs. 

During this session, each of these were added to a crew's train orders. The feedback was ecstatic as it provided a hands-on experience for the operators.


Sunday, March 3, 2024

Harp Stand Build

 Harp stands were the way for switching track mid 1800's. These of course were known as stub switches, the most common turnout configuration until point switches were created.

I had installed a 3 way switch about 10 months ago. My initial throw mechanism was an Arduino. Unfortunately, although it worked, knowing how to program it was WAY outside my wheelhouse!

Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes. And I had more than necessity; I had HIGH need. This is a key area for my operating plans. I decided to use or build my own harp stand. First choice was the PCS hand throw. Al Mueller built one to operate. Unfortunately this stand is good for only a 2 way. I'd need to convert my rail from code 83 to 55 to make that a possibility. That was out of the equation as I had close to 200' of track. Build the harp was the most obvious possibility.

Using the PCS stand as the idea, I did a crude drawing, guessing the size needed. I went with about O scale to give it the length to reach across three rails.


Fabrication of the throw bar positioning cap was a critical build. Overall, my build came with a lot of luck as I measured only the distance the headblock would need to travel to ensure the fly rails reached the outer stock rails.

Initially I used a tri-corner file to start the cut for each of the three slots to hold the throw bar position. 

Next I used a razor saw. With a cross cutting motion I sawed the edges as well as the depth. This gradually created the tree openings large enough to hold the piano wire throw bar.  

Fabricating the legs and frame required 2 sizes of KLM angle brass stock. Angle was chosen for greater stability. The way to bend the angle is to make a notch which reduces an awkward bend and a cleaner angle in the leg.  

A quick touch of solder and the two legs are secured. The other half has been built and secured.

Spacers were inserted to ensure clearances for the headblock and throw bar movement as the reinforcing side panels were secured. 

Here is the Arduino servo that my friend Ray Russell built and helped me install. Unfortunately, however, the programming was too technical for me which led me to build the harp. 

The image below shows the harp installed and I am shiming the base, made from flat brass stock.

Monday, January 29, 2024

OP Session January 28, 2024

Another fun ride on the W&A, north branch! Operators included members from our ACW RRs group, Corey, Bill and DC, Another person, Glyn is a fellow board member in our NMRA Division, and Ed who is a member from our local model RR club, Garden State Central

I had three train schedules prepared. However, a couple of folks couldn't make it last minute  And, I didnt even think about removing the one train. This, however, made for an interesting movement for the crew that encountered this train as it blocked their route. 

One of the compelling aspects of modeling this era is the consistent randomness of situations which were very prototypical then given the demands for both civilian and military needs and requirements.

Below, Bill is Yardmaster in Chattanooga while Ed and Glynn are preparing to depart for points south.

DC, brakeman, and Corey throttling through the Kennesaw Cut with a mixed freight of empties pulled by the W&A 4-4-0 Georgia. All names for the locomotives, as well as businesses and particular land features are consistent with the W&A line in 1863. 

Glynn and Ed taking out the Catoosa for its first run of the day, also a mixed freight with a few passenger stops scheduled along the way.


Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Mantua General 4-4-0 Rebuild Part 1

I have rebuilt about 10 of these Mantua Generals. But since Soundtraxx came out with the TS2 1100, I have converted a few to include these beauties. The sound varieties are are superior to their Economi and Micro sound decoders, which I had in several of my locos. Photo below is the General as Mantua manufactured it. I believe the former owner colored the stack and pilot as these were originally black, or if from a kit it would be bare metal. Note the drive shaft. This too was modified as I needed to change the motor to fit the tender along with a speaker, "super" capcitor and the sound decoder.

The most mindful aspect for a rebuild is determining what parts to paint while adding the electrical parts and the new details. 

Where to start?1?1?1 - Contemplate your sequence of moves. It is a bit of a chess match. And as with chess, there are multiple moves. For this build I first chose all the detail parts I wanted to add. Here are two photos showing these. 

Top photo, row left to right: tender steps, water valves, water tank hatch, stack. 

Bottom row left to right: tender brake beams, firewood split from local shrub, short and long handrail stanchions. Later I'll show how these were configured.

Top row, left to right: valve steam rocker arms, whistle, bell, horizontal pilot. 
Bottom row left to right: boiler stanchions, steam chest lubricators, double link coupler pocket, long tool box for rear  of tender.  

Lastly, tender tool boxes that rest on tender top near cab, flag stanchions, pilot draw bar. 

I made notes, both mental and written, as to what I wanted to build. First was the cab roof. Through our civil war railroads, we learned that  cab roofs were not all peaked as with the Mantua model. There were arched as well.  My good friend Lebron made one and I adapted his approach. First, file off the peak, then using a thin sheet of brass, it is shaped into an arch. Shims were inserted to support the new roof.  

Now to assemble the electrical components. Most difficult to find these days is a strong motor that fits and can accommodate other parts. Here I have a Swiss Micron motor, 13mm x 20mm. The sound decoder, cube speaker and current keeper are by Soundtraxx. Respectfully TS2 1100, 810154 cube and 810140 "super capacitor". I also use TCS KA2 Keep Alives in some locos. Both of these have worked fabulously! Rarely is there a stall or stop over a switch. 

This next image shows the above components installed into the tender. The pointer is indicating the mini plug connecting the hot wire from the decoder to right side drivers. The ground wire is not visible but it's been attached to a screw that was tapped into the tender from. This connects the left side of the tender trucks which also have brass wire wipers soldered to the truck and bent slightly to touch the tender wheels on the left side. The white wire is connected to another mini plug for the hot wire coming from the headlamp. 

Here you can see how the headlamp wires are connected. The ground wire is held in place with the screw that holds the steam dome in place. Duck tape keeps the wires secured to avoid floating into the drive mechanism. 

Here you can see the electrical components, in particular the motor. These unfortunately have significantly increased in price, only available direct from Switzerland. At $90 plus a $16 shipping chang made these impractical to continue using. I am now on the hunt for a successor. Also in this photo you see a few other aspects of the install. One is how the ground wire from decoder is screwed into the tender frame. ANother is the mini plugs. You just cut away the black plastic with cutters. They are then soldered to their respective wire. Lastly is the use of scotch tape to hold it all together, seen also in a previous photo.

The painting of course started earlier. I primed with a Rustoleum paint. The Russia Iron color I found in my collection of Model Power paints. Russia Iron can be a variety of colors. However, this version, from my research, is pretty spot on.
Next was the walkway. These could be a mahogany or other hard wood color. I used Vajello a different wood color but after seeing such a difference from the mahogany (photo below), I repainted the walkway to match the cab. 

I predrill all the holes for the detail parts either prior to painting and most certainly prior to adding decals. Here's two photos of cab grab irons. 

The decals are by the master, John Ott. He is a medical illustrator by trade. He also creates remarkable lithographs of 19th century locomotives.

Here are the decals he recently did for me for this build. Impressive no?

I first cut the curved end. The other cuts being square are made after as the hold the decal in place for the free form cut of the curve.

The area to apply decals must be painted white for the decals to show up. I use Vajello white. I tried the gloss white but it was too clumpy. ALthough you can see small ridges in the paint, these are unnoticeable after decal is applied. Micro Scale decal products are quite reliable. 



Once applied, I wick most of the water away in some cases. right photo. But the water helps to loosen the decal to position it, left photo. 

In some cases the decal is a little short. Color matching is ket to cover the white area at tender bottom. Two Polly S colors worked!

Main components are painted and ready to be assembled. Weight is a most important element for these locos. Cabs come with a full weight. However, I like to add the engineer. Using a very slow process of cutting out that corner with a hack saw allows for the figure.
This shows the drive shaft mechanism. You see two shafts. The longer one has NWSL parts because I wanted to narrow the ugly large shaft that comes with the General. I cut one of the large, white balls and drill a hole for the narrow piano wire.

Next time I will show installation of the other detail parts and other nuances to rebuild a Mantua 4-4-0.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Operations November 26, 2022

A few crew members ventured back from the November 12 session. We had another 6 people for 3 crews. Here we have Dan making a move at Allatoona Pass as Ed and Jim await to proceed. 

Bill and a new operator Andy on a break.

We had many more mishaps on this run. 4 turnouts decided not to throw completely. YOI! However, immediately after the session, repairs and adjustments were made. And once again, most folks had a good time. I realize that my connection to the period can absorb frustrations. This was confirmed from a few others who shared mishaps and instances that were plausible, anchored in this time frame's circumstances. Derailments, for example, we very common among a host of other unforeseen incidents. As a result, the mishaps they experience are absorbable.

Continuing discoveries include seeing that rules of the 1860's were quite different than those as close as the 1870's. There are a few simple ones I can include in the next session.

A huge part of the game of operating in this era is how to operate as prototypical as possible, i.e., link & pin couplers and some acceptable  mechanical breakdowns (electrical issues are not an option, 'FIX IT!' I say to myself). 

Interesting outcome was the conversations we had after lunch. We shared knowledge and perceptions of many aspects of prototype operating. Like, what did brakemen do with an extra link or pin? The history is the juice for me. Learning and then applying what is reasonable. 

Operations 11.12.2022

For many model railroaders, running trains in a similar fashion to how they operated in real life is an objective to building a layout. Prototype, prototype freelance or freelance, makes no difference. I worked with period information on way bills and schedules to create an experience for friends to visit and work in crews of two. 

Here's the crews from Nov 12...

Dave and Ed changing out cars in Kingston. Dave and I go back to high school. Ed is a member of our local Garden State Central Model RR club in Wall NJ.

Dan and Bill are picking up empties from Camp McDonald at Big Shanty. Both are members of our American Civil War RR's Historical Society. Historians to modelers participate in our monthly zoom meets.
Aside from the occasional, and in many cases prototypical mishaps and breakdowns, there were issues with derailments and decoder learning. Derailments were found at one turnout which has been rectified. But this is something that does occur. It's 1863. Trackage was rough to begin with. The key is not doing anything about the mishap and excusing oneself with "well, that's prototype". Repairs and fixes are part of the equation.    

Ed and Dave come to the end of their run. Truly, a good time was had by all.