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Sunday, July 9, 2017

July 2017 Railroad Update

Well, I haven't blogged anything since December 2016!  I keep meaning to but I simply use all the time working on the RR and not blogging!  So here is an update...

First...I've hosted a couple of operating session since and all have gone really well.  It seems the more ya operate, the more feedback you get, the more "updates" or repairs get made, the better the layout becomes.  It's a good cycle and the input from others is very valuable!  My favorite part of the hobby is the operating sessions.  Not only do we get to run trains, we get together and that's worth all the work that goes into putting all this together!

The next session will be during the Southern California Layout Tour in the South Bay August 19th, 2017!  Hope you can stop by or join in the op session.

Most of the open area will be an orange grove
First project...There has always been a track laying error in Famoso.  The SJVR track that veers off from the UP had a small kink at the connection to the turnout.  It operated with no issues, but visually it always bugged me!  You can see it in the photo to the right on the track that veers to the left.  So I ripped it out and started over!  The curve is much smoother now.  By the way, most of the blank space you see in the next several photos are going to be an orange grove.  Over the 4th of July I laid out a grid (thank Mark Lestico for the idea) and will be drilling holes to plant the trees, after the ground cover of course.  Yesterday I went to the train show in Pomona to get more trees, however, they changed the color of the oranges to a florescent orange (which doesn't work for me) so they are going to try to get a lighter color of orange, like the trees I already have.  I need 429 trees in this area!

More orange grove area with a small farm building in front
Most space will be an orange grove

Tearing out the offending track

Replacing the cork

Track replacement finished

You can barely see the tree grid

Orange trees for my grove

Next up was adding power to the rear industry turnouts in Bakersfield.  Joel has always been complaining about this for so long and I was a pain in the ass.  But you know how excited I was to pull everything out from under the railroad and put my body through contortions just to hook up the turnout motors!  Gee my two favorite things...installing tortoise motors and electrical and both at the same time!  Yippee!

Testing the circuit

Completed install.  This switch is recessed into the fascia and a different switch used because this particular turnout is under dispatcher control as well.

One of the local control turnouts installed.  Labeling yet to be formalized.

Here is the hook-up arrangement.  I made several of these prior to installation.

Testing the circuit and LED

Testing the power to the frog before final installation

Example of the installation

Testing the circuit

Next, Joel Morse has been prodding me for a couple years now to install a swing gate at the entrance to the Traffic Center.  Personally, I thought the benefit was not worth the effort since it's not a high traffic area.  I finally agreed so he and Chris Armstrong got together and built a swing bridge.  Not an easy task given the railroad structure and wiring were already installed.  As of this writing, it's been installed for a little over a month and I'm still installing the track and have yet to start the electrical.  The tracks must line up across the gaps perfectly to avoid derailments and that has been a difficult task.  The wiring has to be re-routed around the other side of the room to make all the proper connections.  In the end, I'm glad they built the gate as it really does make it easier to access the Traffic Center.

Before the gate being installed

Chris (left) and Joel (right) building the swing gate to the Traffic Center

Adding stiffening to the structure to hold the gate
Are they boxing?

Getting closer to being finished!

It actually opens

Almost there!


Next project...way back about 100 years ago Joe Warner installed rotary switches to control the Bakersfield Yard throats.  They work great, however, they are a little complicated for operators.  Since late 2016 Dave Waterstreet has been wanting to update the yard throat controls for Bakersfield Yard to make things easier for the operators.  Our schedules finally aligned in May 2017.  The new push button panels will replace the original rotary switches and the panels look great.  Unfortunately, they are electrically complicated with computer chips!  Should one of them die, there isn't anything I can do about it and I would lose control of the yard!  Not something I really want to entertain.  A story...When I was a kid I asked my grandpa why he didn't have automatic windows in his car.  He said it was because it was just one more thing that could break.  We all now have automatic windows but the concern is the same.  The new panels would not be fixable and they are not commercially made so I'm dead in the water should they break!  Needless to say, I'm having second thoughts about the panels.  That said, upon installation of the first one, it didn't operate.  Is that a sign?  Dave was beside himself.  I was glad it didn't operate while he was still here and didn't die after he left.  He lives in Portland so fixing things would not be easy.

Original yard throat panels installed by Joe Warner...way back when!

The North End panel.  The black dots are small pushbuttons.

Frustration!  Don't worry Dave...I can't figure it out either!

I'm gonna get this to work even if I have to sit here all day!
Attempting the install

Yet another project...the new JMRI dispatcher panel.  While I've had a JMRI panel for many years, it had so many bandaids (updates) on it, it was difficult to operate, especially for a newbie.  Not only that, but the original computer it was created on was failing and the panel needed to be installed on a new computer.  The original panel was created using custom icons and those didn't transfer well to the new computer.  Needless to say, things were a mess.  Mark graciously offers to rebuild the new panel.  Below is the old panel.

The master, Mark Lestico, at work on the new JMRI ops panel

Another broken turnout!

Always something!  Overall I've replaced 20+ Atlas turnouts over the years because of this.  Most of them have been right-hand turnouts.  This just happens out of the blue and I usually don't know about it until a train traverses the turnout of course.  No clue why this happens and Atlas doesn't either.  It's not a glue thing because I've used various types of glue for the turnouts and it's happened on all of the glue I've used.  This turnout happened to be in a high-traffic location in the Traffic Center yard throat so needed to be replaced immediately!  Fortunately, a dreaded project only took 5 minutes.  I was lucky this time!

Lastly, no matter how hard I work on the railroad, the boss is always micromanaging!
Happy Railroading!
Frank Kenny, Central Pacific Railway, Inc., CPRX
Contact me if you'd like to be involved!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Lots of Progress and an Op Session

I've managed to spend a considerable amount of time on the railroad.  I first started a list in Evernote, listing all the items I wanted to work on.  A sort of wish list of action items.  That worked out well and has allowed me to focus on specific projects.  In the past, I'd just stare at the railroad, wondering what I should work on now in the given time frame.  That wasn't too successful.

In addition to the wish list, once an activity is completed, I move it to the completed section of the list along with an estimated time it too to complete the project.  Now I can see progress!  Love it!

Recently I added a derailment guard on all six levels of the helix.  At the last op session, a couple of cars took a tumble and broke a coupler on each.  This doesn't happen often so I haven't bothered to install this.  The guard will prevent future damages but cleaning track in the helix will be more difficult.

On November 15th I had a client holiday party and a large number of people here so I had the railroad room open for viewing only.  Everyone had a great time, especially the kids.

The last op session was November 19th and it went really well.  There were 12 of us for the session and everyone seemed to have a good time so I'm happy for that.  Everything ran well, with a couple exceptions.  A few of the turnouts either decided to swap positions (thrown vs closed) or the dispatcher never noticed this in the past.  I also had a few locos that don't like to keep their speed match programming, and choose to have a max speed of about 5 mph.  More work on those to figure what that issue is.  In addition, we two turnouts in Bakersfield that needed work.  SW88 was a lose wire and SW102 needed emergency repairs during the session due to points becoming unsoldered.  All work well now.

I need to make a number of updates to the dispatcher's panel.  There has been some discussion about creating a new panel.  But the more I think about it, it may make sense to simply update the old one.  Nothing has been decided yet.  In any case, the old panel needs to be put onto the new computer and work properly.  It's not transferring to the new computer very easily, which was the reason a new panel was being considered...just start over.

I added 8 slide switches in the Bakersfield engine facility to activate the turnouts there.  I like that the turnouts work.  I just don't like the look of the slide switches.  Operation takes precedence over esthetics.

Dave Waterstreet is working on new panels for the Bakersfield yard throats.  The current control is via rotary switches.  We have a need to move about 6 turnouts in the yard, 3 on each end, to better facilitate switching the AD tracks, as suggested by Joel Morse.  We'll also add several turnouts to the panels for control so Dave volunteered to build the panel.  Installation was scheduled for the end of this month, however, due to everyone having a cold, we decided to put installation back a month or two.  Everything under the railroad in Bakersfield has been removed for that operation and placed in my bedroom!  I guess I just gotta live with boxes of trains in my room for a little longer.  And along with that, I'll be connecting several industry turnouts to be operable too.  So there is a lot of upgrades going on in Bakersfield!  More on the panels in future posts.  Below is the board for the north end of Bakersfield.  There will be a similar one for the south end too.  Lookin' good!

I fixed the locomotive sanding facility as it was falling apart.  Well, I thought I fixed it and it decided to come apart again.  I'll have to try that again!

Also in Bakersfield I installed the engine facility for the San Joaquin Valley Railroad and it looks pretty good.  Just need to start ballasting and getting scenery in there but that's waiting on the turnout redesign, and that is waiting on the yard panels to be finished.  Everything is tied to everything else!  And while I'm working I get a little supervision too!  Must have been break time.

Of course with all this work going on the Bakersfield area was a disaster area!  But in a good way.

Right next door to the engine facility, Mammoth Brewery was in the process of being installed.  Well, at least the foot prints were being planned. And not only that, I glued and wired the track here and just to the right at the Kern Oil facility! Now, this area is just waiting for the new Bakersfield Yard panels for control.

We used to use homemade track warrants.  Early in November I redesigned them and had my printer print them in a pad format.  Much easier to work with and more professional looking.  The key is they fit in a smaller footprint than the homemade ones.

 Oh and I installed several plastic boxes at key areas around the layout for the lumber and pipe loads that go on and off the various cars.  Now we don't have to just leave them on the layout!

Hard to see in the photo to the right, but at Bakersfield there are two throat panels, one on each end.  They had been "temporary" for a couple of years so I managed to tuck the power cords behind the back drop in both areas, hiding the power cord from view.

And the gremlins never cease to show up.  Suddenly there was a short on the Traffic Center loop and after a while trying to find it, discovered there was a loose wire on one of the tortoises.  This has been installed for years with no trouble.  Why now?  Crazy stuff.  To hide these Tortoises from view there is a fascia that has been removed to perform the work. (sorry for the messy desk in the background)

More crazy stuff.  I had another short in the Traffic Center loop and could not figure it out.  About to tear everything out, I started moving trains with my hands and that revealed the issue.  In the photo below you'll notice a white thumb tack in front of the UP loco.  Well that's the marker for the rail gap, which the loco was straddling to wait for the BNSF train that was trying to cross over, but due to the short could not.  Anyway, backing the UP loco past the thumb tack solved the problem!  Big frustrating problem, but fortunately a simple fix!  And just the other day, near this same location, I think I have a failed Tortoise!  First one ever!

Well, off to do more work on the railroad.  Next op session is January 21.  If you want to join, please contact me at

Frank Kenny CPRX Railway