Four Corners News #4: JMRI Back Up, Plus Some Boxes

JMRI is back!

Well, a computer screenshot is not usually very exciting, but after fighting it all weekend, I finally got Apple to let my iMac talk with my NCE Power Pro command station again, allowing visitors to use their phones as radio throttles. I also was able to find my old loco Roster and restore it to use. Both of these events today will facilitate the operating sessions I plan to offer here weekly starting around the end of March.

If you have JMRI and use a serial connection accessed via a USB-to-RS232 adapter to connect to your Power Pro, be cautious if prompted to update to their latest OS, Big Sur. Its security restrictions are so tight it likely won’t work with many older serial device drivers. I finally kludged together something that works, with a thread about it here:

Meanwhile, I added some containers and chassis to the intermodal fleet. For around $13 I found an undecorated 20′ container and chassis that I weathered up to kill the shiny white exterior of the container.

Silverton Lift

The next pic shows another relative bargain, a Herpa tractor trailer double-bottom rig that came with two containers for $25.

I also finished up a build of a 1:24 Land Rover from a Revell kit. Here it is on a late winter inspection run on Tincup & Telluride.

Land Rover fighting snow and altitude on the Tincup & Telluride

Since I model what is now the Durango & Silverton line, I have to anticipate the need to support fire-fighting activities. Here is my new Canadair CL-415 water bomber headed for the fire. It’s N scale, but the forced perspective seems to work pretty effectively over the scenery.

CL-415 banking past Big Arse Mountain

A couple of tentative first dates for reopening with the aid of vaccines now going around. Looks like the first weekly ops session here will be in about a month on Wednesday, March 24. At this month’s ITD meeting, I also raised the possibility of holding the April 10 ITD monthly meeting here. That way we could experiment with a video feed from an ops session, so that those not in attendance can at least observe the action and, perhaps, participate. I’ll have an update on these in the next article in this series.

Four Corners News #3: Light at the End of the Tunnel

Ore about to be loaded to go to the mill at Sheridan on the old Silverton RR, now Silverton Union RR

For years, I’ve had a road that ran down to Sheridan so that miners whose diggings were not on the line could still utilize the transportation it provided. The problem was that there wasn’t a place to really load at. The dock in the picture belongs to the Wilde Mine and they weren’t inclined to share it with others due to insurance reasons.

I didn’t want to make too big a deal of fixing this, in fact wanted to spend about 15 minutes and be done. And that’s pretty much what happened. My scenery is a thin layer of Sculptamold over shaped Styrofoam to which scenic foam and other finishing materials is applied. If you’re careful, you can often slice into the shell and lift the top layer, excavate underneath, then reset to the original shell. This minimizes the rehab work needed to get things looking good again. Here’s a pic of a piece of the shell set on the dock showing this layering.

A chunk of scenery

In this case, I needed a wider flat area near the track to allow trucks a level spot to load and unload from the railroad cars. I sliced under the scenic surface, then peeled it up to access the underlying Sculptamold, which I excavated . I then returned the peeled up surface to its previous location, but now lowered, pressing all down until I got a good flat spot for a team track area. Then I used some recycled ballast to build the area up and connect it to the road that came in to the area now that it has a destination.

Sheridan, Colorado New Team Track

Now we turn from old school freight handling to the very latest, as flatbed container units began appearing on line. Here’s one.

Kibri 20′ folding end flatbed container

There are always small maintenance issues that arise. I operate my layout quite a bit on my own, so can often catch and correct them as they happen. Recently, the Durango diesel centercab yard switcher started derailing on Yard 4. A closer look revealed a bent point end.

Note how rightmost point is keeping it from full closure

CAREFULLY bend the point back to the correct shape to correct. Nickel silver is soft, but the fact that this is soldered nearby means it has been heated and could be more brittle than usually.

Corrected if a little out of focus

While the pic is a little fuzzy, you can see how the corrected point allows a much better transition for the diverging route. Derailment issue at this ‘point’ is solved.

Ending this somewhat belated edition of the 4CN is a somewhat hopeful development. Operating sessions will soon begin again here at the Four Points Division. I get my first shot of the vaccine tomorrow and the second within a month. Add a couple of weeks for full effectiveness to kick in, I am personally going to feeling a lot better about returning to normal life, with a few lingering precautions. That means operating here starting in late March. Coincidentally, that is about the time the Lincoln Square Train Show would normally occur, pointing out the impracticality of trying to hold it this year.

These will be personal non-NMRA sessions, so anyone who is interested is invited. You must wear your mask(s) and I will only be able to host 4 people at a time. They will be weekly and probably on a Wednesday to start. However, I am willing to operate on just about any day of the week, so if Wednesday evening doesn’t work for you, drop me a line anyway and we can probably arrange something. Besides my getting the vaccine, my wife and I are both tested twice weekly in the University of Illinois Shield program. If you are covered by regular testing that’s a good thing (and reassuring to the host) but I am not making this a requirement or vaccination for now, just the mask and social distancing as best we can (keeping in mind the tight aisles here.) Please come if you’re comfortable, but don’t expect more than standard precautions as the expectation. If you’d just like to drop by and talk trains one-to-one, that can also be arranged. The point is to give people an opportunity to relate to others with mutual interests after a very hard year for everyone. I think this hobby can be a big part of getting things normal again.

You can contact me at to arrange to operate here (near downtown Urbana and easy to find.) I accommodate all levels of model railroaders, from those still figuring out how to get around a basic oval to serious operators who like to see the timetable first. This is as much an event to get out and see people as it is an operating session, but we plan to also move some trains. More on this effort to Deadline the Pandemic & Build Hope coming to this space soon.

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!

Allen Challenge

I finished my switch Tower.

Light and cat added into a module I can plug into my layout (once I get around to the rebuild). The levers are actually operational, except I made one mistake, I sized them for HO scale, before I decided to make them operational. When I installed them from under the floor, they only come up to the HO operators knees! Oh well, lesson learned for next time.

Mike’s Atomic Cafe

Building Downtown Deco’s The Atomic Cafe (with a few tweaks)

When the ITD decided to conduct the 6″x8″ Challenge, I had just the thing to build. I’d recently acquired Downtown Deco’s The  Atomic Cafe kit after waiting a while for it to be produced again. I’m not sure there’s a prototype for this structure or if it’s just a riff off the 1982 documentary movie of the same name ( It fits in with one of the themes of my layout, reflecting my dissertation research, as a sometimes humorous look at the perils of nuclear weapons. It’s got a prime location just outside the gates of the semi-fictitious Dove Creek Atomic Energy Commission Plant. Those hungry workers have to eat somewhere, even at 2 am.

Rear view of the Cafe

The kit largely consists of excellent plaster castings that come well-protected by bubble wrap, supplemented by printed signage and some plastic stock. I supplied some additional details, like the electric service, interior details, and lighting. The kit instructions are thoroughly detailed, including finishing, paint, and light weathering, and are well-illustrated. While I have a bit of experience, the comprehensive guidance provided should allow a careful beginner to get good results.

Atomic Night View

The iconic signage consists of a casting that is painted and then covered by a printed paper applique. It just begged for lighting, so I did. I built a lamp bucket for an LED on each side, nothing fancy to give them a home-built look.

Being on a budget, the interior is built of small bits from the scrap bin, mostly, with a few seated prospectors and their families being the theme. There is a bar with a mirror and some swinging doors to the kitchen, It houses the battery pack and wiring harness, along with a push button to control things. It needs a bartender, a waitress, and a small folk combo playing in the corner with the green-striped stage backdrop, along with some bottles of boozeahol to stock the bar.

Ebay LEDs CA-ed to the ceiling

Somehow, the whole thing comes together in a style a lot like Edward Hopper’s iconic 1942 Nighthawks painting in this night time pic.

Looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with on Dec. 12.

December Challenge

I have had a switch or signal tower on my layout from the beginning. It has been held together with rubber bands, waiting to be finished, painted but nothing else. I have decided to finish it and set it into a diorama that can then be dropped into place on my layout.

The parts

I will be adding levers, once I determine how.


Blue Rail Hobbies – New Shop [sorta] Open in Farmer City

I was reading the latest issue of The Cowcatcher and came across an ad for a new, local train store. Rob Brown has opened a shop recently in Farmer City, on I-74 halfway between Bloomington and Champaign-Urbana. Blue Rail Hobbies serves model railroaders working in scales from G to Z.

Or should I say, Blue Rail Hobbies is ready to take your mail- or curbside delivery order. With the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be a little while longer before walk-in customers can visit.

Rob works the show circuit and has been at recent Lincoln Square Village Train Shows here in Urbana. He the fellow who has brought along the big NMRA banner we’ve had at our divisional booth the last couple of years.

You can find contact info for Blue Rail Hobbies, along with an online catalog, by pointing your browser to:

Assessing Assets: Part 3

This is the third in the series about managing our donated assets. This follows up on Part 1, expanding the focus on the Miller donation to cover things other than modules. There’s lots of rail-laying jigs and materials, plus other useful things.

Styrofoam Cases for Modules

There’s four of these neatly constructed cases for various modules. They protect the track and allow the modules to be stacked. They take up a lot of space and I’m not sure how useful they could be for us.

Jigs and Test Patterns

Most of these are HOn3, but also some HO standard gauge and others. They could be useful when demonstrating laying track or to build custom-fitted turnouts.

HO/HOn3 Test or Display Track

A handlaid test or display track that is dual gauge, HO/HOn3.

Some WS Dark Cinder Ballast

About half a dozen bags of Woodland Scenics dark Cinder Ballast. I think this matches what covers Module #1.

Vinyl Roadbed

A whole bunch of VinylBed roadbed. Includes a few sheets in large format for yards and to cut turnout shapes from. There’s more of different types roadbed that I still need to take pics of. There is enough here to do the basics if we choose tio build out the modules #2 to #8.

Soldered Points/Frogs plus N-Scale Track

I’m not sure what gauge the point/frog assemblys are and there is more N scale track plus turnouts I still need to get pics of. I’m guessing there’s plenty of N scale track to finish the N Timesaver module.

Treemaking Material

Bob didn’t make much scenery, but he was prepared to make trees the old fashioned way. These are rather dry, but the stems could still make good armatures to build trees on.

Roanoke Electronics Super Horn

Unfortunately, the Super Horn is less than super on this relic from the pre-DCC era, as I can get that to sound only once at a time by shorting it internally. The SH was apparently hacked on a bit before I got my hands on it, so still trying to figure what’s wrong. The bell works great. Appears to be Steam only (no diesel) as there is nothing hooked up to the Diesel side of the selection switch. If I can get the horn working, it would be great for shows as kids would love making the horn and bell sounds.

Buildings and Platforms

This is only a partial documentation of the many structures Bob built and passed on to us. These are all HO scale, but there are a few TT ones, too.

There is more that I still need to document, which I will do here soon in future posts.

These also sum up the task for the disposition committee to sort out. The Module #1 and associated modules should get a representative group to preserve and illustrate Bob’s skills. After that, some form of disposition tio the membership and even sale to the public should be considered. For instance, we probably have enough buildings, etc that once the preservation collection is selected, we could give every member of the division an example to be used to both memorialize Bob and to serve as a example to be emulated as best we can in our own modeling. Thus, I would sum up the three goals for them to determine as preservation, disposition, and income.