Four Corners News #2: Never Done with a Layout

Standard Gauge Stock Yards Switch, Durango

While some take a lifetime to plan the perfect layout, I tend to think the best layouts are those that don’t wait on a perfect plan, because they tend to actually be projects that run trains, no matter how imperfectly. This week’s projects show how improving unanticipated things that you’ve found irritate you is a part of working towards perfection over a lifetime of work.

First up is a pic of the Stock Yards switch in Durango. Over several years I’ve converted many locations to remote control of turnouts. For Durango, the biggest conversion yet, I used NCE Swicch-8 modules. These provide a easy to use and program user interface, while being economical. However, they allow for groups in increments of 8, which in my case meant a handful of turnouts around the periphery of Durango continued to operate by toggle switches. Such was the case here.

What was worse was that Stock Yards was controlled from a small panel that was tucked out of the way. All other turnouts it controlled were converted to remote operation. For my layout. the Stock Yards control was placed fairly distant, about 2 feet to the left from where the pic above was taken. However, the narrow aisle next to Stock Yards precluded anything protruding. This was my solution to a better, easier to find location.

Recessed control made from plastic snack cup

I used an otherwise recyclable plastic snack cup (like those used for fruit or pudding), which had a nice rim around its lip. I used a suitable size hole saw to cut the opening in the fascia. I used the circular blank cut-out to reinforce the bottom of the cup. You’ll need to safely cut a 1/2″ hole through both the cup and the cut-out disc to have a place to mount your turnout control toggle switch. I mixed up a small batch of 5-minute epoxy and applied it to the lip edge of the plastic cup. You could clamp it, etc but I held it in place until it stayed stuck.

As the top pic shows, the control is now adjacent to the turnout it controls, so is obvious to anyone wanting to use the Stock Yards turnout. It is also protected against the snags and bumps of a narrow aisle.

Next up was “drive time.” I like to move vehicles ar5ound to keep things interesting. I moved the Menards crane into position to do some work at the ASARCO mill complex.

at the ASARCO mill and smelter

Down by the river near Silverton, I reshuffled some of the rafters for a fresh look at having fun in the Rio de las Animas.

A warm day on a cold river

Most of the layout enjoys adequate light now, but a few spots still remain less than optimal, including the short segment at Crater Lake Junction, with its stingy 10″ of overhead clearance. It could be gloomy under there, although this pic doesn’t adequately depict the situation.

Crater lake Junction Before new lighting

I found that Menards has changed their lineup of LED strip lighting. Instead of getting a choice between Warm White and Cool White color temperatures, you get a LED control unit that allows you to select whatever color temp you want. It also allows for a wide variety of other colors, along with sound-activated effects, all of it now possible to control via wifi. All I need is something close to Daylight.

More light for Crater Lake Junction

While iPhone photo magic makes it seem as if the two scenes are similarly lit, in person eyeballing shows the new lighting to be much improved. These new LED strips are easy to hang, as they have industrial strength 3M magic sticky stuff to attach them with.

Besides maintenance and construction, I also did some operational testing. A lot of this was standard gauge, but also working on improving transfers between standard and narrow gaiuges and on intermodal traffic.

The HP Zephyr meets a local freight at Dove Creek.

Durango Lift

That’s this week’s report from the Four Corners Division. Anyone have any news to pass along, post it up or forward it to me to do so.

Four Corners News #1: Cushy New Floor

New Luxury for Operators

Following the lead of one of my fellow local operators, Rick, I added some floor cushioning to make operating sessions a little easier on the feet and legs of operators on my Denver & Rio Grande Western Four Corners Division a couple of years ago. The stuff I used was cheap, perhaps, too cheap. It came in rolls about 4′ wide and needed just a little trimming to follow my aisles. After some use, it started puckering some, creating the possibility of tripping. I’ve been looking for a replacement or additional covering that would be higher quality and not subject to puckering.

Costco opened a store locally last fall and I was there doing some grocery shopping recently when I walked by a pallet of rubbery floor cushioning panels. Nice stuff, it interlocks, is about 3/4″ thick, is reversible to either black or dark grey, and seems quite durable. What really stood out was the price, just $19.99 for six pieces that cover an area that is approximately 4′ x 6′.

Norsk floor cushioning from Costco #1900505

I installed the new cushioning right over the old, because it seems heavy enough that it flattens the puckered spots down. I rarely get any water in the basement, but leaving the old cushion down should make it easier to dry things out when it does happen. The one place where the can be a semi-regular trickle is in the utility room side, where I covered that area with a set of panels that do not interlock and can be taken up when it rains hard enough to leak (> 1″/hour.)

Area between shelving and HVAC is removable in case of wetness

I did a bit of custom fitting, which is what’s responsible for the gaps at seams that are visible. A bit more attention to detail in trimming would fix this, but it visual and doesn’t feel at all “gappy” underfoot (unless one happened to operate in high heels, I suppose.) In areas where you fit everything to standard, the seams virtually disappear.

Durango/Silverton Aisle

Unlike some thinner, less robust similar products, the Norsk panels are thic k and stiff enough so that the interlocking and edge pieces work really well. These panels should stay in place and resist being shifted out of place by foot traffic, a very good trait for use underfoot in layout aisles.

For about $250, the cost of a single DCC sound-equipped loco, my operators and I can now work in a much more comfortable and safer environment that will hold up for years. You do have to join Costco as a member to get access to this deal, but we’ve found its modest cost has already saved us plenty, more than its cost on this project alone. Note that Costco has very similar cushioning available online, but it costs $70 for a package of 8 similar sized pieces, so this is an in-store deal only on this Norsk floor cushioning.

I’ll note here that I’m going to try to make this a weekly report on what’s been happening on the Four Corners Division and, from time to time, what’s happening in the wider model railroad community in East Central Illinois. We hope to find some regular readers and welcome the opportunity to pass along any news you think worthy of bringing to the attention of a wider audience.

Probably the biggest news in the area is that the annual Lincoln Square Train Show is again, regrettably, cancelled for 2021. Those on the vendor and display layout contact list should’ve received a postcard with this news shortly after the first of the year. While vaccines give us hope that by early spring the virus will be under control enough to make such an event possible, there is no way to know that with certainty. Given that this is the same period in which the organizing committee must make things certain and commit funds based on certainty, there is simply no way to see this through for 2021. However, 2022 seems pretty certain to getting the big annual show back on track, one way or another. There may be some limited public displays possible before then and we’ll let you know when we can make that possible if it does become possible. We are eager to get some new stuff out for the public to see, the public wants to get out of the house (even if the layout has benefited from “quarantine work”), and vendors and customers need to see each other happy and healthy, all commercial considerations aside, when this terrible thing draws to a close.

Besides a newly comfortable floor, I also have been working on one of my longer term projects, the Purgatory Food Co-op. It started as a kit for a tool room/office annex to a enginehouse kit that I bought off of Bill at the last train show. Bill is a local operator who is also an ops guru for a well known model railroad periodical. I’m privileged to have operated on Bill’s high-intensity mainline Timetable & Train Order-based layout, but Bill’s focus building through Central Illinois led him to dispose of a number of surplus items at very reasonable prices a couple of years back. The tiny structure gave me some ideas, but sat for a couple of months, before I decided how to proceed.

The kit provided a nice loading dock door suitable for RR cars, along with a roof and three walls…

Trackside of the structure

Since it was designed as an addition to a larger building, for the fourth wall I was on my own. Eventually, I decided it would make a great grocery store, so I built a removable storefront. There was little clearance between the storefront and the edge of the layout, so I kind of got stuck there for a time.

Built, but needs more thinking…

I also mocked up a basic interior and lit the inside.

In the last pic, you can see some of the recent work. I had some leftover concrete sidewalk material from the Downtown Deco Atomic Cafe kit I recently built and got to thinking it was just what was needed. After some cutting and backfilling with Sculptamold, along with adding a concrete foundation around the building, things were looking better.

Needs a sign or two

I’ve got more detail to add, plus an interior, signage, and some people. See you next week!