The hobby is changing fast these days and nothing is moving faster than the train control options. In the next couple days Bluerail Trains will begin shipping its first board, the Blue Horse. This is one of the first Bluetooth control boards for Model Trains.
I am happy to say, that I am on the list for some of the first boards to be sent out. I have an E7 with battery power just waiting for this to arrive.
In the UK is another Bluetooth product from blueRailways. This product appears to have been available for some time. It does not appear to be a direct Bluetooth control of a locomotive, but instead communicates with a larger device which then transmits through the rail. This may work well for those who desire Bluetooth control but cannot (or do not want to) add receivers in their locomotives.
It never fails on the Free-mo Yahoo Group. Once, every couple of months, someone asks about best way to construct a module. Most times when the question is asked it either starts with or converts to a debate on Foam vs Plywood. I use both materials and feel that proper use and techniques are key to success.
Since becoming active in Free-mo, I have built a few modules. Each time I built one, I tried different construction techniques. Some worked and some did not. Some failures were because of me and some because the materials chosen was not correct. Most times it was the wrong technique for the given material. it is important to realize that the material was not at fault, how it was used, was at fault.
I have certain objectives when it comes to my modules. I think it is important to list them and keep them in mind when building a module or layout. I do not insist on these for others but I set them for me. Here is my list of objectives for a finished module.
All inclusive means that everything is there, attached to the module when I arrive at a venue. I want simple setup. I do not want to try to figure out what leg goes where or forget something at home (like a leg). One example to achieve this is how I design all my modules with integral folding legs. it requires more during the build but pays big dividends when you arrive at a venue and your module is up and ready in 30 seconds. i cannot tell you how many times I have spent hours assisting attaching legs on other people’s modules.
When I started free-mo, I had no one readily available to call on for help. I will have to pickup and move these myself on a regular basis. This design advocates lightweight materials used in ways to create a stiff structure. Heavy materials are only used where necessary and then I use techniques to lighten those materials without disrupting its strength.
Easy to transport
I will admit, I have always owned a minivan, SUV or a truck. That has allowed me some advantage over others. Even so, I still take into account how to best fit the modules in the vehicle, how to store them and can I negotiate all doors, turns, hallways when I do need to transport my modules. The latter has been a big issue in a few instances.
These modules will be transported long distances and be exposed to extreme temperature and humidity changes. Quality construction materials should be used with attention to quality of joints, glues, screws and nails. Just because you use quality materials does not equate to quality work if poor construction methods are used.
I want to run trains, not waste time setting up modules. My design allows for the quickest setup. Integral legs are 75% of the battle.
I am frugal! the design presented here tries to maximize the yield on sheets of plywood. I also do not see the need to purchase something I can make myself for less money. I shop around for equivalent materials which meet my standards. i will buy the whole sheet of 4×8 plywood if I think I will use the whole sheet in the next six months. I take the time to calculate yield on full sheets so I know exactly how much to by and how to cut it. I get the lumber yard to make the big cuts in the correct places and make the sheets easier to handle.
This design will upset traditionalists who insist on building modules so strong as to support the weight of a person. Building a module to do so just hurts your back when you have to move it.
The overall module length is 49.5 inches. That may seem like an unusual dimension but this is done to save materials and add room for the folding legs. A standard sheet of plywood comes in a width of 48 inches and in Free-mo the end plates must be 3/4 inch birch plywood. Two end plates equals a total of 1.5 inches plus the width of the plywood sheet gives you 49.5 inches. So you have less cutting to do and you take advantage of the standard width of the plywood sheet.
As can be seen in the images, the design has a foam top (a no no to some). What you may not have noticed is that it is what I refer to as a sandwich top. It has foam bonded to a plywood bottom. This provides the best of both worlds. This design will only work if the correct adhesives are used and adequate drying time is observed. Once set, the resulting sandwich is strong and rigid.
You will also notice the large open area on the underside (down the middle) of the module. The width is 16 inches and with the sandwich, defection is not a problem. To make sure the sandwich and the end plates remain at the exact same height, cleats have been added at each end.
The sides are 1/4 inch plywood while the stringers are 1/2 inch birch plywood. The stringers have large holes to lower weight and to provide channels for wiring. Ribs have been added every 16 inches to provide extra strength to the sides. Notice that the ribs have a corner removed. This is to allow space for the legs when folded into the frame. The height of the stringers and the ribs are dependent on the depth of the sandwich, the stringers should be at least 1/2 inch inside the height of the outer frame.
The legs are designed to be bolted to the stringers which act as hinges. You will notice that one set of legs bolts inside the frame while the other bolts outside the frame. In this way one folds in and the second set will lay over the inside set holding them in place. The legs are created by using one piece of 1/2 inch plywood and a piece of 1/4 inch plywood. A 2×2 block is added at the foot to accept a carriage bolt for adjustment. When extended the legs have a built-in stop that meets the end plate.
As I stated above, how modules get transported is a big deal. I usually will design a rack to haul a module set. These can be vertical or horizontal depending on the type of module. heavy scenery and I will haul the flat and stacked. Yard design (minimal scenery) will be placed on edge. The design includes the use of casters on the bottom. I never want to carry a module set more than a few feet. With a cart, I can park far and still move in with ease. HINT: Always get the largest casters you can afford/fit. The larger ones will roll better over uneven ground.
A word of warning when designing a rack for hauling modules. Do not just measure the dimensions in the vehicle, measure ALL doors, halls, corners and anything else along the path out of the house. Take all these measurements into consideration before you finalize your design (ask me how I know this).
Next month I will go step by step on the construction methods for assembling this design.
As I have stated before, I used to be a lone wolf and kept my modeling to myself. Over the past year I have met a few new friends through free-mo and through this blog. One new friend is Jim Isley.
Jim contacted me a few months ago about one of the articles in this blog (Peshekee River Railroad). Jim had visited the old right of way of the Iron Range and Huron Bay Railroad. He decided to investigate the railroad and found this blog. Jim contacted me and was real surprised to find that i lived just 15 minutes from him. it wasn’t long and we got together.
The first time I met Jim he brought a unique piece of railroad history with him. Jim brought a piece of strap iron from the Palmyra and Jacksonburgh Railroad. It seems Jim farms property adjacent to the old right of way and he and his family have been digging up cast away pieces of strap iron for years.
After my first meeting with Jim, Jim introduced me to additional modelers in the area. I never knew so many lived so close. To date I have met several other accomplished modelers and have joined them in operating sessions on a local layout.
To those of you out there who are lone wolf modelers, no matter your skill level and no matter if you do not have a layout yet, get out there and meet people. You never know what interesting people and surprises lurk just down the street.
2015 marked the first time I had ever been to Trainfest in Milwaukee Wisconsin. I took the family and we had a very good time at the show even though some unplanned events kept us from seeing all of the show. The following are some images of the layouts I saw at the show. These are the best photos I was able to get with just an iPhone.
This small layout was tucked away and may have been overlooked by many. I found it very intriguing.
This module from a larger layout featured a nicely detailed harbor scene. The water and bridges set it apart.
I have seen layouts in suit cases before, but this one combined my other hobby with trains.
My family had to point out that I seemed to resemble this affliction.
This garden layout was very large and impressive. this view shows how far across this display was.
And just for fun, there was this Tornado animation.
This week I started a new Free-mo module set called the Boat Yard. The design was a few years in the making. I was inspired by the Norfolk Southern (ex Norfolk & Western, ex Wabash) carfloat operation across the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor Ontario.
A Brief History
It should be pointed out that from the beginning all ferries on the Great Lakes and the Detroit River were referred to as “boats”, even though many were very large. Floating/ferrying railroad cars across the Detroit River goes back over 100 years. In the early days, the railroads used ferries (as opposed to non-powered floats/barges) to transfer railroad cars across the river.
Around 1900 the Grand Trunk Western, Pere Marquette and Michigan Central all had cross river ferries. The Wabash contracted with the GTW to handle its freight across the river. The Michigan Central (with New York Central engineering) opened a tunnel under the river in 1910. Much of its ferry equipment was sold to the other railroads which would continue into the 1990’s. The C&O (Pere Marquette) continued with Car Ferries in Detroit until the 1960’s when it acquired trackage rights through the tunnel. In the 1970’s the GTW lost its yards and ferry slips to make way for the Renaissance Center and downtown development. About that time the GTW acquired traffic rights through the (now Penn Central) tunnel.
The Wabash took over the remaining ferry slips and the best equipment from the GTW which also consisted of ex Michigan Central/NewYork Central ferries/carfloats. In the 1960’s the Wabash was merged into the Norfolk and Western. By this time all three remaining ferries had their engines removed, the decks were rearranged from three tracks to four.
The ferries were now carfloats and used tugs to shuttle the boats across the river. This change allowed the Norfolk Southern to continue the carfloat operation into the 1990s. The day finally came when trackage rights and the enlargement one of the bores of the old tunnel made the carfloats unnecessary.
The “Boat Yard” I am modeling is at the very southern end of what was once a very large and extensive network of yards serving several boat slips and the downtown Fort Street Union Depot. Several railroads converged on this waterfront creating a rail network that stretched for miles along the waterfront. Today all that remains is a small portion of the yard and the old ferry slips. There are still a few industries in the area and the remaining yard is used for storage.
The design is “inspired by circa 1985” of the prototype and is not meant to be an exact replica. Even though the yard is much smaller than it once was, to model it at scale would require a space of 45 feet. I have used selective compression to get the layout down to 25 feet. I have done this by removing one slip, reducing the number (and length) of the yard tracks, moving the lead track for the slip and use a smaller three track carfloat. I have also added locomotive/car service tracks to add to operation. Even with these changes, I believe the Boat Yard should operate very similar to the prototype.
The track plan was designed for operation. Trains arriving from the West enter the yard at the top. A long arrival track allows the engine to escape at one end while a yard engine can take the train apart and immediately begin weighing and sorting cars into the appropriate holding tracks. A primary concern for sorting cars is the weight. Carfloats must have the weight evenly distributed to avoid taking a swim.
A second yard lead at the bottom of the module enables a second operator to load and unload from the ferry. When unloading, the operator may deposit all cars on the outbound tracks. Cars for loading are pulled from the south end of the sorting tracks.
The East end of the module contains a small engine service and rip track. This allows for locomotives to layover while trains are assembled for a return trip. I have also added an industry to the South East slip lead track. This is actually in keeping with the prototype as the Detroit Free Press printing plant was actually serviced by the same track. My divergence from prototype was to extend the switch lead up behind the plant to get enough space to service the tracks without lengthening the module. A little disruption by having to switch the plant will make the operations just a little more interesting.
In order to be a fluid part of a larger Free-mo setup and not just a dead end on the layout, I added a 45 degree single track diverging route on the West end of the module. As in the prototype, this could lead to another industry but with Free-mo, we always need more curves and transitions from double to single track.
I started construction this past weekend and hope to have the new module ready for the National Train Show in Indianapolis, July 2016. That is just 9 short months away and with my schedule so far this year it will be tight. I intend on building all the base modules at once and then finish each from West to East.
The current design requires 29 turnouts. To save cost I will attempt to hand lay as many as possible. I will also be using the Walthers carfloat and bridge kits to save time. I will be posting updates as I have them so stay tuned!
As part of the Rail-Marine theme this month, we present here the model of the Steamer Solano which was present at the 2014 NMRA NCR Division 6 Model Railroad Show & Workshop.
The Model is by Jim Turner and represents the Solano which operated across the Carquinez Strait between Benicia and Port Costa, California in the area of San Francisco Bay. The Solano was a very large railroad ferry built as a sidewheel paddleboat by the Central Pacific Railroad.
The Solano was built in 1878 and operated until 1930. She was 424 feet long and 116 feet wide. She was capable of carrying entire passenger trains or a 48-car freight train and locomotive.
The Southern Pacific Railroad constructed a new bridge in 1930 which made the Solano obsolete. She was later scuttled to create a breakwater in the San Joaquin River near Antioch, California. Her remains can still be seen today.
I must apologize for not getting articles out as often as I would like. My goal is for getting something out at least once a month but sometimes life just gets in the way! This past summer I had a rigorous work schedule with many visits, new product launches and being short staffed. It is a good problem to have but left little time for modeling or writing about modeling.
Even so, I managed to coalesce my plans for the “Boat Yard”. This Free-mo module plan was years in the making. I finally have a plan that I feel I have the skill and time to complete. If all goes well, it will find it way to the 2016 National Train Show in Indianapolis.
Other future plans that may or may not come to life include: Detroit Salt Company and the Smelter. both were considerations for my next project but the boat yard won out.
After a (sometimes fierce) debate about available systems for DeadRail on the Yahoo DeadRail Group, I decided to look and compare them for myself. This review only looks at systems that can be used for On30 and smaller scales. There are several Garden Railroading systems that use radio control and batteries but I am limiting this review to just systems that pertain to smaller scales.
Unfortunately, I could not afford to purchase and test each system (as should and needs to be done). The following is a comparison of costs and features as listed on the manufacturer web sites. Some additional information has been gathered from personal observations at trade shows, feedback from the Yahoo DeadRail Group and the manufacturers themselves.
I have tried to make this a completely unbiased look at the available systems. I welcome feedback and counter views. I also welcome any manufacturer that wishes to make their products available. I will conduct an unbiased review of any product I receive and make it available.
The following contains a brief description with highlights of each system. At the end of the article is a table showing the list of systems with basic pricing information and technologies used. NOTE: The order of these products is completely random and does not reflect any kind of rating.
Most of the DelTang products are designed and built by David Theunissen in England. David has making receivers since 2009 and is also known for his Radio Controlled model aircraft and products. David provided some personal insight on radio technology for this article. DelTang uses the same technology used in Radio Controlled Model Aircraft to create a system for radio controlled train operation. The end result is a robust system that is low cost and gets the job done.
This is the most economical system I found but as such it lacks some advanced features like sound. The only required components are the throttle/transmitter and the receiver that fits within the locomotive. The low cost of the throttle can be lowered further by purchasing the kit and building it yourself.
When it comes to battery size, volts determine speed, and choosing the number of cells can be a challenge when space is tight. All receivers operate down to 3V (typical single cell lipo) and some up to 18V. The Rx60 illustrated is a common choice. With most of the Rx6x receivers have been deliberately designed to have a wide range of voltages so that people don’t have to commit to a voltage/speed decision. Batteries are usually inexpensive so it’s an easy change if you get it wrong. Fewer cells also allow larger capacity and therefore longer run time between charging. Optimizing these factors helps make DeadRail more practical.
Some setup needs to occur to run multiple locomotives. From the DelTang website: The receiver in the loco can only be controlled by a compatible transmitter. Many transmitters can be used simultaneously without frequency control or crystals. For this to work, every receiver needs to be paired with one transmitter in a process called binding. During binding, the transmitter’s unique ID (Guid) is given to the receiver. The receiver then only obeys that transmitter. The transmitter can share its Guid with any number of receivers. So one transmitter can control any number of trains. But they all receive the same signals so you normally only have one loco switched on at a time. However, the DelTang Tx22 also has the Selecta ‘loco selector switch’. If used with Rx6x receivers, the receiver also learns the position of the Selecta switch during binding. This allows up to 12 locos (per Tx) to be switched on together and the Selecta switch controls which loco is currently active. The Selecta feature is available on all receivers with ’22’ in their name along with the Rx41d and Rx45.
DelTang products use 2.4 Ghz for communication. Older generation radios can have issues with simultaneous transmitters and poor interference rejection. These issues can be relevant for club meetings and shows but sometimes at occur at home too. 2.4 GHz radios are a big step forward in addressing these issues. Objective assessment of what is best in the products shown here is beyond the scope of this article but these issues have been compelling enough for 2.4 to become the standard for plane/car/boat hobbyists.
I have been told that DelTang can be made sound capable with external sound units and a customized throttle. It’s not on by default, and it will require some work, but it can be done.
The system does not have the capacity for sound and is proprietary but as a low cost and robust system, it gets the job done.
The Tam Valley DRS1 transmitters and receivers are designed to work with existing DCC systems. It allows you to keep your existing throttle, base unit and infrastructure and eliminate getting the power from the rails and use batteries instead.
All that needs to be done is to install a DRS1 to the same wire that goes to your rail then install a DRS1 receiver with a battery and DCC decoder of your choice in your locomotive (do not forget to disconnect the rail pickups in the locomotive). Once this is complete you will be able to control your locomotives from your same DCC throttle on battery with all the same functionality that DCC provides plus the exceptional smooth operation batteries provide.
Since the Tam Valley DRS1 works with DCC systems it allows complete flexibility in decoder selection and does not require learning a new system. The drawback to the system is that you must find room for two decoders within the locomotive. This drawback is quickly being overcome as decoder manufacturers are beginning to release new DCC decoders with the radio receiver built in such as the NEC D13DRJ – Dead Rail Decoder.
According to the Tam Valley Web Site, a DRS1 Receiver can also be controlled with a CVP T5000 handheld transmitter.
CVP got their feet wet in large scale radio control products and have been producing products and Model Railroad Control Systems for 42 years. CVP is well know in the Model Railroading Industry having published many articles in Model Railroader Magazine.
The AIRWIRE900 system is a remote control system for garden railroads as well as smaller scales like HO, S and O. You control trains with a small handheld controller.
A system consists of a handheld throttle, and a locomotive mounted motion-decoder powered by a high-capacity battery. Each decoder equipped locomotive has a unique address. There are 10,000 possible addresses. Multiple trains can be controlled from a single
The manufacturer promotes the throttles as simple to learn and easy to use. Locomotives are selected by entering the locomotive’s cab number. Speed control is with a standard and familiar knob. Direction control changed by a push down on the speed knob.
The T5000 throttle has a built-In DCC Decoder Programmer. Any NMRA-DCC compatible decoder can be programmed when connected to the DCC outputs on the G3 motion decoder or the CONVRTR. The CONVRTR is a small receiver made for smaller scales like HO. The CONVRTR is protected against overloads, thermal runaway and short circuits. When paired with a sound decoder, the CONVRTR provides a unique feature that eliminates stuck horns. If the locomotive goes out of range of the throttle while the horn or whistle is blowing, the CONVRTR will automatically command the decoder to turn off the horn or whistle. Another version is available for brass locomotives called the CONVRTRX. It has a radio module with a miniature whip antenna. Program all NMRA-DCC CVs from any of the 17 frequencies available from the throttle. The NEC D13DRJ – Dead Rail Decoder is listed as compatible with CVP products.
CVP Products has a great wealth of information and data on their website. I recommend a review of all they have to offer.
Stanton Radio CAB (S-CAB)
The Stanton Radio CAB (S-CAB Throttle) is a hand-held wireless controller for operating locomotives equipped with an S-CAB radio receiver and DCC decoder. No other DCC equipment is required. An S-CAB throttle sends DCC commands directly to a loco’s S-CAB radio receiver.
The use of DCC from the receiver allows for great flexibility in the choice of decoder, but requires extra room in the locomotive for both the receiver and the the DCC decoder. The NEC D13DRJ – Dead Rail Decoder includes a radio receiver that works with S-CAB. The S-CAB website offers both NCE and Tsunami sound decoders with integrated radio receivers to save space. If you have a particular decoder you need, S-CAB may be able to integrate the receiver for your. Some decoders (like the QSI Titan-U) are already available on a special orders basis.
A Starter Kit is available which includes: S-CAB Throttle, a USB cable (for battery charging), and an S-CAB receiver with choice of sound or non-sound decoder. The S-Cab starter set is very affordable and includes everything (even a decoder) to get you started right away.
The S-CAB throttle can control up to 15 locomotives with decoder addresses from 1 to 99. It’s designed for one-handed use with slide throttle and direction switch arranged so a user can watch the layout while operating with the controller held, relaxed at arm’s length, by his/her side. There are no batteries to replace. S-CAB throttle includes a rechargeable battery, which can be recharged from any USB socket.
S-CAB has done a very good job of providing detailed information and solutions for any foreseen drawbacks. They also offer battery solutions on the web site.
Although not marketed as a DeadRail control system, the Freedom One Wireless control system can be powered by any DC source. Freedom One Wireless Sound for DC trains enables you to wirelessly control the throttle, direction, and sounds on a locomotive.
The throttle includes an FM remote transmitter and a receiver/sound decoder with standard NMRA 8 pin plug and JST 9 pin socket. If using DC track power, you would set your power pack to top speed and run your locomotives with the supplied remote.
The receiver measures 50mm x 17.6mm x 7mm. The operating range is approximately 12 feet. You can operate up to three DC sound & control module equipped trains on the same track at the same time. The supplied receiver (0001026 HO Diesel) includes 6 prime mover sounds (ALCO 244, 539T, EMD567, 645, 645E, 710), 22 horns and 8 bells. The Freedom One is pre-wired to 8 pin plug and comes with an enclosed speaker. Diesel sound is available now with steam in the near future. The receiver will accept a DCC signal from but not while using a DC or battery source.
Several transmitters are available from MRC. Each remote is tied to each receiver on a separate frequency. Check the frequency type when purchasing to avoid issues. The receiver is not sold separately.
Blue Rail Trains
Although Blue Rail Trains is not released at this time, the technology is much anticipated. The Bachmann version is designed for DC pickup from the rail. It is obvious that a person can substitute the rail pickup for battery. For that reason, the following is a quick update on Blue Rail Trains and some much anticipated images of the products.
Blue Rail Trains is the first model train control that is based on direct control from any Bluetooth smart device (phone or tablet). Bachmann is currently building this technology into their E-Z App™ trains available in early September. Concurrently Blue Rail is developing Bluetooth Smart plug-in boards that can be added to any 8 or 9 pin DCC-Ready loco (or any other loco, as long as you are willing to snip a few wires).
The Blue Rail plugin boards contain connection points to hook up a battery and allow for the operation of unlimited locos simultaneously from over 100 feet (the signal strength also also suitable for brass). The firmware in the boards and the software control app are both fully updateable wirelessly, and the boards contain an expansion port intended for an eventual sound module (or other future add-ons). The battery connection points will not currently recharge batteries from track current (but that could potentially be supported). Blue Rail has a background in game development, and intend the system as a platform to develop apps that offer game-play, operating session simulation, and virtual layout interactivity.
The first plug-in boards are scheduled to be released in September (concurrent with the Bachmann release) and will eventually be available in most scales. Pricing and board dimensions will be available soon (on the BlueRail website and facebook page), but the intent is to make the board pricing competitive with existing solutions. To use these boards you will need to own a Bluetooth Smart phone, ipod or tablet from the list on this page: http://www.bluetooth.com/Pages/Bluetooth-Smart-Devices-List.aspx.
Each year the Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad holds Railfan Weekend. This year I was able to attend and be part of the SE Michigan Free-mo layout display. The Railfan Weekend includes train shop tours, historical rail interpretations, tuneful train whistle blows throughout the weekend,
and a special photo run. One layout which i found very well done and full of detail was the Great Lakes HOn30 Modular Group layout. The layout presented featured lots of eastern scenes both prototypical and fictional based on the main 2 footers. The group has done a wonderful job of modeling and putting on a first rate display.
I enjoy modeling but since I stopped being a lone wolf, I have begun to enjoy the hobby more than ever before. Since joining the SE Michigan Free-mo group I have attended a number of shows. Each show is fun with new people and new friends at each event.
Action on a module from the SE Michigan Free-mo Setup at Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad Railfan Weekend
This year I am starting to give clinics on some of the items I have shared or experimented with. I find that the interaction has enhanced my awareness of the broad spectrum of ideas, personalities and modeling styles. The internet and hobby magazines are great source, but talking to those who take a direct interest in what you present and the interaction it brings is another dimension.
I highly recommend that others get involved and join in the interaction. One added bonus when you volunteer, is sometimes you get access to some areas not normally available to the public like I did at the Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad Railfan Weekend.
A tour of the back shops revealed the remains of Quincy & Torch Lake 2-6-0 #3 built by Brooks in 1894. Unfortunately the frame is so badly worn from its years of service that it will never run again. Plans are to do a cosmetic restoration for display only.