Track Plan: Details and Parts

I had a few people ask me recently for a list of parts and a detailed layout plan. This is thrown together and stitched using Photoshop. I’m hoping to do a cleaner version at some point, but hopefully for now this will suffice for anyone who has questions.

Kato Part NumberKato Part Description (Name)Count

Review: LETSCOM Bluetooth Headphones

I really meant to write this review a few months back, but I got sidetracked by more important things and couldn’t get back to it before now. Fortunately, I have the time that I didn’t have before, so I can do this now.

Back in the beginning of September, just as I started to get active again, I realized one of the things that I struggled with when it came to exercising is that I need to distract myself from the fact that I am, in fact, exercising.

I’ll be honest in saying I don’t generally enjoy working out, especially when I am first starting to do so. It’s been even worse since I’m almost 40, and pretty heavy to boot. However, I have discovered that one thing that helps me get through exercise is to have some sort of distraction; especially music and / or videos to watch.

Video is tricky because, while I can use my phone, it only really works for a treadmill or bike, and stationary bikes are annoying to me, so that leaves me with the treadmill. And the problem there is that with such a small screen, you’re bouncing too much to really be able to concentrate on what you are watching, especially once you get above 3 miles an hour.

So that leaves music.

I personally love big headphones for music. Frankly, I prefer the feel of having something over my ears, and not in them. Still, it’s not comfortable or easy to use such headphones when you exercise. They might be OK on a treadmill, but forget it for anything else. They’re big, bulky, and it just really won’t work right.

Most ear buds are a problem, too. Due to the way my ears are shaped, I’ve never really had a set of earbuds that could stay in. One or both of them would drop out, or I have to push them so far in that it’s really uncomfortable. So It’s been a nightmare to find anything that works effectively. Until I got the Letscom IXP7 sports buds. The reason these work so well for me is that they have a very comfortable over-the-ear clasp that really works great for me.

In addition, the buds are wireless, Bluetooth, and come with 4 different size earpiece covers (sorry, I don’t know the official name of these parts) that allow for a snug but VERY comfortable fit, and make the sound absolutely fantastic. The quality of the audio is amazing, especially considering the price tag (as of this writing, you can buy them on Amazon for around $17. They’re apparently waterproof for being out in the rain and coping with sweat. I can’t speak to the rain thing, since I don’t enjoy getting soaked when I’m exercising, but I do sweat like you wouldn’t believe, and nothing more than a quick wipe off with a damp paper towel gets them nice and clean.

No, these are not Apple AirPods Pro, but for the price, they do exactly what I want them to do, and they do it well. So are they going to compare to higher cost units? Maybe… maybe not. If you really want some premium sound, you might look at a higher-end unit. But don’t dismiss these as a poor product. Frankly, I love these things, and I consider this a fantastic purchase that I intend to use a lot.

As a quick side note on that, I walk almost every day at work for 30 – 60 minutes. I typically charge them once a week, and I also use them at other times, too. So the battery life is fantastic, and again, for this price, even if they only last me two years, I feel like I got my money’s worth.

Make sure to check them out on Amazon. Available in a number of colors. I bought green on black.

A Bit of Soldering Goes a Long Way to Causing Insanity

I made a decision when I started the WSVRR to go to a DCC control system, rather than the traditional analog method used by many people for a long time. It’s nothing against analog. I’ve worked with it, it’s fantastic, and it was a great way to learn and be comfortable with DC electrical circuits. But when I started my planning for this railroad, I decided, since I only had some minimal equipment, that I’d go to DCC, and build my little empire that way.

In either case, getting track power to your tracks in N-Scale requires you to do one of two things: either connect to rails directly, or to connect at the joints using your particular tracks rail joiners.

In the larger scales, like O or G, you can get away with directly securing the wire inside of your joiner and against the rail, and not need to do anything more. The pressure from the joiner connecting to the rail providers more than enough force to keep things secured.

But when you get to smaller scales, like HO, N and Z, you can’t brute for things. No, here, you have to put some time into connecting to your rails. The more common method, so far as I can tell, is to connect with the rail joiners. It’s simple, it’s clean, you can burrow directly under the table in between track sections and run to your power source. Going directly to the rails themselves require you to solder the wires to the rails as you wish. The upside to this is that if you have a good connection between the wire and the rail head, chances are you will never have conductivity issues, which is, to say the least, great. The downside is, if you shake a bit much, you might accidentally slip and cause heat damage to your rails, especially if you use a form of fast-track like I do. Kato Unitrack is my favorite track for N-scale. I’ve worked with Atlas SNAP track, a few types of flex track, and Bachmann EZ track. Frankly, I’ve loved how well the Kato product works, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

The only real problem with Unitrack is that it is, in a word, expensive. And the accessories for it are likewise. For example: a 4 pack of 5 inch track sections is anywhere from $6.00 to $9.00. Comparable Atlas SNAP track comes 6 to a pack and is $3.00 – $5.50. So the unit price on the cheap side is $1.50 per piece vs $0.50. And then come the feeder wires.

Atlas feeder wires come as a pair of wires for anywhere from $3.80 – $5.00 but if you’re especially sharp at train shows, you can sometimes get them in bulk for less. But Kato Unitrack feeders? They cost about the same, and you almost never can find a discount for buying in bulk.

Now, I realize that even at $5.00 it doesn’t sound so bad. The problem isn’t if you need a couple of them. The problem is that, if you want to ensure a GOOD connection for DCC, you need them every few feet… and when you have nearly 200 feet of track to wire, even doing it every 4 feet means at least 50 sets of these things. Even if you can get that $3.80 per foot price, you’re talking about $175.00 in feeders. GOOD GRIEF!

On the other hand, if you have a soldering iron (I do) and buy your own wire (I did) and you have a few other necessities (right on hand), you can easily drive yourself crazy trying to make your own.

Okay, to be fair, I’ve made exactly two pairs while testing out the wires I want to use. I tried a stranded wire (28 AWG) and a solid wire (22 AWG). While the stranded wire is easier to manipulate and bend, it seems a bit less robust. So the 22 solid will be my choice. Next, I discovered through research and reading the to easily disassemble the Unijoiners for this requires me to use a set of electronics tweezers. So I have anset on order and will have them in on Tuesday of this week.

Once I test my methods a bit further, I will post up my approach to making my own joiners. More to follow.

West Seneca Valley Railroad Timeline Estimate

Yeah, don’t hold me to this – I can’t actually gaurantee the timeline on this, but this is the breakdown of my upcoming layout work. The order of tasks is correct, but beyond that, timing is anyone’s guess.

  • Table construction – completed on 11/10/2019 (minus drop panel for river area)
  • Drop-panel for river area – completed on 11/16/2019
  • Foam base for sub-roadbed – to be completed by 12/01/2019
  • Spackle / fill and smoothing of sub-roadbed – 12/22/2019
  • Wiring terminal blocks – 12/31/2019

Hopefully updates coming again soon.

A Non-train Post

If I seem bit obsessive lately with the whole train thing, lately…. well, you don’t know me very well, do you? At any rate, I figured it was time to talk about something else, even if only for a post. So what’s been going on?

Well, there is a lot as of late. My son is back in scouts again… I think it’s his 5th year, but to be honest, I’ve had a hard time keeping track. I think it was 2 years in Cub Scouts, 2 years in Scouts, so this would be 5. I’m quite proud of that because it demonstrates a commitment I’m happy to see in that young man. He’s worked hard and I believe in him continuing to work hard in the future. Caidi is actually trying to join the program by being one of the first females in his troop. It’s been a bit rocky a start because so far they only have 3 solid members, and they need 5 to officially be commissioned as a girl’s troop.

Now I know there have been a lot of people complaining that they think the Girl Scouts is going to be forgotten, or they’re angry at the Boy Scout’s for doing this. I understand some of the arguments or frustration, and I do get that there are some who have concerns that the “inclusive nature” that is being established isn’t real, and there’s still sexism involved. Perhaps. It might be that at some of the higher levels. I don’t see that in my son’s and daughter’s troop. The other boys have been welcoming to my daughter and the other two female applicants, and a few have even asked how soon they’ll be officially forming the girl’s unit. Soon, we hope. That 5 girl minimum is to make sure they can get a continuous group going and get proper support.

So keep your fingers crossed that they can officially launch by January. And for the record, if you’re out there and have a daughter in Girl Scouts – the troop leader of BSA Troop 60 likes to point out regularly – you can be a member of both Girl Scouts and Scouts BSA and they don’t consider that a problem. This group thinks there are skills to learn in both, and they encourage that girls don’t give up one for the other. They cover some different topics, so staying in both just means more diverse experiences.

Other news: both kids are once again in orchestra or band this year. Caidi is doing her second year of violin, and Eli is in his 4th year with saxophone. It’s been great to see them develop here, too. Frankly, the more these kids do, the more I am excited to brag about how they break the preconceived notion that kids these days don’t do anything except play video games and sit on their phones.

And to make that point even more, Caidence is trying out for the swim team this year at her school. Whether she makes it or not, I don’t care – which is to say, I hope she makes it. But even if not, it’ll be a wonderful effort on her part, and I want her to keep working for things like that; I have faith in these kids doing so much, and the only two things that I feel upset about is that time is going by so fast… and that their biological father isn’t here to see what amazing children he helped bring into this world.

I wish he could. He is missing so much, and I don’t think there will ever be a day when I don’t wish he could know these kids (almost young adults now) the way I do.

Kelly is slowly but surely working on her next art piece, alternating with doing some ghost hunting. We went to Gettysburg, PA for our anniversary this year (it was a week after, but it still counts). I was more of her equipment support than a ghost hunter. She’s the one who’s better at this and tends to pick up on stuff more than I do. Hopefully in the near future she’ll be able to process some of the audio she captured and perhaps be sharing it on-line.

As for the art, when she has the energy and time, she’s been working on another great piece, and I am looking forward to her getting it completed before the holidays this year. I’m trying to push her gently to get at least a piece done every two months; she has too much talent to waste, but given how much she has to do with the kids, with her health and to manage this household, it’s understandable why she has to go at a slower pace.

Meanwhile, we all soldier on. For me, the hardest thing this year was my own health. Most of you probably know I have my own health challenges to deal with, but in spite of that (or maybe because of it) I am trying to make some big changes in my lifestyle. It hasn’t been easy, and there’s still a long way to go; but I have had a LOT of support from the family in doing it and I can’t express my thanks enough at how much they help.

At any rate, this is the update for the time being. There will probably be more to report soon, and I imagine you’ll keep seeing the train posts, but I also have a LOT of work I need to wrap up before year’s end with consulting. So check back regularly to see what’s happening.

West Seneca Valley Railroad Photos

What a morning it was. In between some other work I have to do, I manage to spend a bit of time putting in the foam on the second table. I’d estimate that I’m somewhere around 35% – 40% complete with the sub-roadbed work. Now comes the long, draw-out process of doing the two tables that make up the West Seneca Valley area.

Incidentally, I feel compelled to explain briefly… the name of the railroad is the West Seneca Valley Railroad. I don’t have a whole back-story for this, and it’s obviously all fictitious. I grew up and currently reside in the down of West Seneca, NY. Hence the name of the layout. Most of the places I’ve mentioned in other posts are based on a tradition of my dad and mine; we typically name towns, cities, stations, businesses and major landscape features after family members.

  • Mary Ann junction is named for my Aunt Mary
  • Caidence Drive Station for my daughter
  • Barbara Lane Station for my mom
  • The Jim Lexa (or Lexa) yards for my future brother-in-law
  • Harry’s Tool and Die for my dad
  • Greg’s Fine Woodworking is mine (duh)
  • Eli’s Liquid Gas Transfer is for my son (when I told him that, he laughed hysterically)
  • Charlottesville is named for my sister
  • The Cody River Canyon and the Cody River are named for my nephew
  • Martha’s Animal Feed & Supply for my wife’s Aunt Martha

I still am working on plans for my wife, my mother- and father-in-law, the pets and a few other people. A lot of the remaining names will probably encompass businesses and buildings in the layout. But I digress from the original point of this post.

I’ve completed all of that track work, but I have a bunch more to do, and I imagine it’ll take me the better part of the next week to get it all done. So for now I’ll share the newest pictures and video, and I’ll update you all (y’all) very soon.

West Seneca Valley Railroad Photos

Today saw the beginning of layout the sub-roadbed area out on the layout.

First, I put in that bottom panel I’d talked about , then I began the sub-roadbed.

I’m starting from the center section (Mary Ann Junction) and working my way out from there. I picked up a piece of 2 inch insulating foam today (Owen’s Corning, the Pink Panther brand). I’m cutting it up using a Woodland Scenics hot wire foam cutter and started laying out the area where the waterfall will be. I explained a bit of my reasoning and approach in the video below.

After I made the video, I spent a few brief sessions of time working on cutting out and laying the foam, piece-by-piece. Now bear in mind that the foam I’m using isn’t as straight-forward to work with as the stuff from Woodland Scenics is. I’ve used their product and it is definitely the way to go if you have the money to spend on the product. But the best estimate for cost for my layout would have been in excess of $200 just to support my track work, and frankly that is just too much for me to justify spending. The pieces are smoother and allow for cleaner layout, but hey, the people who built the railroads of the late 1800s and early 1900s didn’t always get to pick their terrain, either. Once I am done with this, I intend to use some of the foam smoothing materials from Woodland Scenics to fill in those gaps and smooth the terrain out more, before moving onto the second phase of this, and doing the plaster cloth for the terrain.

Net result, I have all but completed the sub-roadbed area for the central table today, and while it’s not perfect, it’s a worthy start, and the process is straight-forward, if a bit time consuming. More to follow!

Track Laying Completion (Sort of)

If you didn’t know it, I actually have an issue that is called psycho-physiological insomnia. I’m not sure if that’s actually the proper name for the issue, but it’s the one I’ve heard, and it makes a reasonable degree of sense to call it that when you hear the description. The general result of this disorder is that you can’t fall asleep because your brain won’t stop worrying about how you need to fall asleep, but still have to make sure you get up when you need to.

It’s hits in phases and bouts, and the unfortunate thing is that there’s really not much in the way of treatment for it. Melatonin often just breaks down too fast, and other sleep aides might have no effect or too strong an effect.

The plus side of it is that, at times, it can let you finish a project that has otherwise been a struggle to get through. Case in point, I kept thinking it would be a week or two to get the track laid out on my layout. Instead, a few days of stress from projects at work and a few nights of struggling to fall asleep for the same reason left me able to get through the initial process of laying all of the track from my plan. Here are the photos of that progress.

The next part will be laying out and planning for the wiring of blocks and the bus line to power everything. This will probably be one of the trickier parts for the foreseeable future, as getting all of this right will be the foundation to doing the next step: scenery. So there is progress. There will be more. But for now, this is a big accomplishment for me, and will probably help me to sleep a bit, since my hobby can bleed of stress at times (sometimes it causes me stress, but mostly because I get so into it, so setbacks are frustrating). At any rate, here are the shots of the progress I’ve made; the completion of my initial track plan.