Thursday, June 25, 2015

Realignment No.1

As always planned, I am going to refine the track alignment in many sections of the layout. My overall plan was to get it down as faithfully as I could to the information I had on hand and get operating as soon as possible. This allows me to learn how the layout works, what could be brought out more in a session, see if any foci present themselves, and do more careful research on relationship of track to buildings and any prototype operational practices.
Original alignment
I have found multiple sources for track alignment of the railroad, so I can now cross-reference and verify what it was at what time. The below are for the Maxwell House/American Can complex in particular.

Left half of Maxwell House and American Can complex. (Hoboken Historical Museum)

Right half of the plant with piers into the Hudson River. (Hoboken Historical Museum)
I am nominally modeling 1959 at the moment, but that is mainly because of the Erie's situation of being at the end of it's solo career. It would be a hoot to model the HBS starting at the beginning in the 1800s, and making changes over the course of a few years evolving as the railroad did. That would be amazing, actually. Maybe I will model backwards since I have locomotive roster for that and I have to scratch build the earlier stuff. Hmmm. I like this idea. Makes scenery more of a challenge, but reworking track is easy.

Pulling up the track was easy, I use clear adhesive caulk that allows for quick removal. The only problem is if too much uplift is used, the rails will pop out of the ties, so some care is required.
Realigning was a quick exercise because of the adhesive caulk laying method: I used adhesive caulk on bare plywood. That simple. There are several areas I have eyed for realignment.

The 14th street industries might want to move back or forward so that I can model the buildings better (more on this in a later post). In particular, the US Testing building has an interesting 90 degree access track that cuts across yard tracks that make sit fun and unique. Similar for the Engine House. I would essentially need to eliminate the 14th street tracks to have enough room for this.

Also of interest is modeling the Seatrain operations that would be stunning with the crane lifts that move rail cars on and off the ship. A pier with a ship on it would be a crowd pleaser for sure. At the moment, the Seatrain tracks are about a foot long...

Rough new arrangement is not glued down, yet. I'm going to keep it unglued as I work on the American Can and Maxwell buildings so I can make adjustments. 
In the meantime, I have started on the Maxwell/American Can site with the goal to have more accuracy and more room for buildings. I've got a short film about the Maxwell House factory on order, and several great photographs. I will be scratch building/printing this large industry. I have the exact placement of the elements on a fire map, but there will need to be a little compression (of course). That is the price for being a track-centric modeler. If I were more rigorous in my prototype modeling, I would only model a portion of the railroad at true HO scale. Maybe someday I will be disciplined enough to create that type of layout.

Until then, compromises will keep the emphasis on the operations and dystopic setting on the waterfront instead of exact reproduction at scale of the physical elements. It's just one of the many challenging dichotomies model railroaders bravely face on a daily basis.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Batteries in Boxcars

A proof of concept trial has started to see if the batteries and CNVRTR chips can be tucked away in trailing cars. A small path had to be cut in the chassis of each boxcar for the two wires from the locomotive. The trick is to test the ease of accessibility of popping off the body to load the battery and connect it to the locomotives each session. It's not real convenient with these boxcars, but doable for the near future until the more permanent plan is in place.

The plan is to model and 3D print the maintenance of way cars the HBS actually used on a regular basis. There was a flat car/transfer caboose looking thing and street sweepers that were regularly run to keep the flangeways clear of debris at street trackage.

Edit: I should have mentioned that there is no problem with radio communications to the receiver in a plastic box car. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Film Friday - Dock and Transport Services 1960s

Dock and transport services in New York in the 1960's - Film 3139

From the Huntley Film Archives. At the about 6 minute mark, there is an aerial view of Manhattan with the HBS in the foreground. It's a good long shot look at the southern end of the railroad and how the HBS relates to the Hudson and Manhattan.

The rest of the film is a great tour of the Port of New York in living red-shift color. The description from the video:

Dock and transport services in New York in the 1960's

Port of New York Authority - investment in New York docks. Aerial view of the Statue of Liberty. Port Newark, aerial shots of docks. Hoboken docks. Liners, tanks, warehouses, Norton Lily - cargo sheds. Trucks. Loading onto ships. (Lots of aerial shots). Rail - Pennsylvania trains with cargoes. Pan-Atlantic ships. Container boarding. Loading cars. Elizabeth Dock. Cutting deep water channels - N.Y. skyline, unloading bananas in warehouse directly on to train. Tropicana Orange Juice terminal. Rail cars being loaded. More trains. Huge truck terminals - U.S. highways. New highways, freeways and roads, fifties looking cars on roads. New Jersey turnpike. Brooklyn tunnel. Lincoln tunnel from the air. Very early heli-port (double blade helicopter). Newark Airport - aerial shots and warehouses etc, airport buildings and car parks. Animal 'hotel' in airport. Airport lounges and passenger terminal. Pan Am jet.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Rivet progress

I finished the rivets on one side of the HBS Boxcab No.500 project this evening. Go ahead... count'm. I have no idea if they are going to print well or not.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Op Session No.3

Op session No.3 on the PoNY is in the books. Tom Pearson drove down from Fort Worth, and George Zapalac and Steve Jackobs (part of the South Austin cartel) attended. George and Steve handled the line jobs out in the Docks, the Float Yard, Bethlehem Steel Shipyard and Maxwell House. The session started with a brief introduction for the rookies.

In my briefing, I try to do three things: set the mies en scene using maps, images and descriptions of intent, provide practical information about taking care of crew necessities (where's the restroom, drinks and chairs), and set operating expectations. I explain my 'thesis' for the layout, which is the central organizing element for everything on the layout.

I want the operators to get a feel for the everydayness of this particular place. It is not about solving puzzles (although there are plenty of switching puzzles throughout), it is not about stress from timetables (we essentially have a 1:1 clock), external expectations or conflicting movement, it is not about finishing first. In fact, I state tongue in cheek that the first person to finish their assignments 'loses'. In other words, slow down and become intimate with what is happening on the layout, your locomotive, and your fellow operators.

It is a game, but we are not moving abstract pieces around a two-dimensional game board, we are re-enacting / recreating the people who actually lived and worked here and their activities that actually happened in order to understand them both better. The culmination of these three goals of the briefing is to offer several ways of playing the game to best fit the skill level and interests of the participants.

Each locomotive is set up to have momentum and braking, and we use switch lists (no car cards anywhere), which becomes a baseline of playing. Beyond that, the individual can choose how prototypically they play they wish to play the game. The next level up from the base line is to use horn and bell properly. Then employing brakemen like wargaming miniatures to further immerse the operator into the people and pace of the place we are simulating. There are certain rules being developed for this part.

To start with, all switch and coupler actions must occur with a brakeman on the ground at that location. A brakeman may ride on cars or locomotive, and they can perform tasks within the radius of a long bamboo skewer uncoupling tool. They may also walk, but their movement is decidedly slow, and they get grumpy if continually asked to do this. I leave it up to the individual and their conscience on how to treat their crew. At this time, we use yellow wire nuts, but later these will be scale figures with accommodating bases and handles to be able to move them around easily.

The next level up on the operating realism scale includes pauses for brake hose connections, interactions with customers, etc. At this point, ,whatever the crew decides, but later a more detailed and explained menu of items will be provided. Another layer will be layout-provided as I get around to implementing ideas. These will include gate locks, perhaps customer interactions, loading and unloading timing, the car float movement, weighing cars at the scale, refueling locomotives, etc.

Employing an entire prix fix menu of all of these items would increase 'play density' by at least double in my projection. At this point it becomes clear that there are more things modeled about the railway operations beyond moving the cars than the actual movement of the cars themselves. Again, the point of all of this is to feel what it was like to be a railroader at this particular place - not just to complete a puzzle as fast as possible. And time plus the 'play density' equation should yield much more satisfaction of quality of experience over a quantified satisfaction of moving "x" number of cars and finishing fast. I understand that this is tantamount to a treasonous, un-American way of thinking these days, but it is all about 'how' the railway is operated, not about the amount of cars moved.

The line jobs took about 45 minutes each making 5-6 drops and 5-6 car pick ups. That's spending about 4.5 minutes moving each car and moving 20 cars a session. The reason for the extended play time with so few car movements is the braking and momentum settings on the locomotives at this point, but will be considerable extended when more menu items are added. If memory serves, Tommy Holt and David Barrow have talked about an operator moving 4 times as many cars in one of their sessions. I'll need to double check this figure. David is slowly introducing momentum and braking to his locomotives with varying degrees of acceptance by crew, but the effect will be to lengthen an operating session while moving the same amount of traffic.

In the yard, Tom serviced the 14th Street industries first, then fiddled the Erie and interchange yards. He employed the line engineers on occasion in the yard to help make moves before sending them back out on their way. On the HBS, I am encouraging this amongst the assigned jobs, so it is not about the jobs, but it is about the cooperation and the teamwork involved in keeping a busy short line moving their customers' goods quickly and efficiently. This approach is informed by how the railroad actually operated as told by employees.

From interviews by others, I have learned that there were some pretty interesting moves made in the yards with two switchers working together. Known as Broadway Yard (the HBS tracks) and Delaware Yard (the Erie tracks), the interchange between the two railroads involved some interesting moves made possible by the interstitial double slip spring switch ladder found in the HBS yard. There are also descriptions of pole switching in tight quarters on some short run around sections. I have yet to dig into it to figure out where this occurred. I wonder how one would model pole switching. Surely someone has done this already. Let me know who!

In the de-briefing session, I asked for anything that annoyed or disrupted the quality of the experience. Aside from a shockingly small number of technical issues, there were no complaints. It was noted that the slower pace was decidedly different than other local operating session styles, and that this was welcomed. The locomotives performed amazingly well, and at one point Steve asked how I kept my track so clean since he had experienced no stalls. He actually caught himself before saying this out loud realizing that the locomotives were battery powered, but he asked it anyway for a good laugh line.

The trailing battery car did not bother anyone, and all agreed that when they become enclosed and prototypical cars, it won't be any issue at all. Even now, everyone says they stop seeing the exposed wires and battery in very short order.

I deem this session a success. Lots more on the horizon, but I am totally comfortable and
satisfied at this point. I'll discuss more about the actual jobs and train movements in a future post. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Tsunami Braking Settings

Around here, we have been getting into using the braking function of our decoders. This is mainly a result of our operating session experience in Kansas City with Chuck Hitchcock and Kevin Lyerle who, along with Keith Robinson, have been playing around with this for a while now. 

My first locomotive to use braking functions was HBS 701, which I input CV values in manually using my CVP AirWire throttle. Consequently, I have poor records of that set up, but I like it. Since then, I purchased a booster board from SoundTraxx so I can read the settings off of the Micro Tsunami going through a Digitrax Zephyr command station.

In the meantime, I have spent a couple of hours dialing the HBS 601 (an HH660 by Atlas) using the greatest gift to DCC since, well, DCC was invented, the JMRI programming application. I've now got no. 601 dialed in with a not-too-annoying momentum and braking setup that shouldn't bug operators who are not used to it. I've posted the settings below in case anyone is interested. I still have some tweaking to do once the locomotive gets broken in, and we operate with it some to get a real feel for how it responds under actual operating conditions.

Let me know what you like - I'm interested in the range of likes and dislikes having to do with braking, momentum and the accompanying sounds.