Update Coming

I only have a few minutes to spare, but I did want to post an update; the kids and I managed to get wiring for the West Seneca Valley Railroad’s main bus completed for two of the four tables. We have power feeds installed in the lead-up to Mary Ann Junction, and the entirety of the yard and engine facilities now is fully powered.

The Atlas MP-15 locomotive is still functioning well after the initial lubrication job. I’ll probably do one last dab of the 106 grease this upcoming week, but I want to let it have a bit more break-in time before I determine whether or not to do any more.

Eli has gotten a good handle on soldering, and Caidi is up for more work this week; I’m putting together footage I’ve recorded on how we’re wiring the power bus. That should be up after next weekend when I’m on vacation. I’m a bit behind on what I wanted to do, but I think with a bit of time coming up, I can be through all of that, and then start handling the plastering work, finally. Possibly we’ll also build the turnout control panel for Charlottesville.

Keep an eye out for updates after December 26th. Until then, Happy Holidays!

Oiled and lubed up!

You can rest easy, knowing that this will NOT be a gross article. It’s a (surprise) model train post. It’s also NOT a marketing ploy, a sales pitch or anything else of that nature. It is, instead, just a basic review of a product that I put to use for the first time. I am so impressed with what it accomplished that I feel compelled to write an article on it. I will follow up in 90 days and let everyone know how things are working out, but based on my experiences, and reading other reviews and discussions, I’m fairly certain I will be another advocate for these products.

I am writing about Labelle Lubricants. These products are available from many hobby shops and on-line retailers; they’re actually meant for many hobbies – model airplanes, cars; essentially anything that makes use of small motors and gears can benefit from these products. And the selection of products is very large; some are general purpose, some are meant for specific applications.

I purchased 3 different lubricants that are made specifically (more or less) for model trains. I can speak to the 2 I’ve used so far, though I’m sure the 3rd would also be an excellent product. If I put it to use at some point, I’ll make mention of it as well.

This all started about 4 months ago. I purchased an Atlas MP-15 locomotive (N-Scale, of course) in the Conrail colors; road number is 9625 (model number 40003833 in their catalog). Now I’ll start out by saying this little engine is a beautiful model. I’m no rivet counter, but I’ll gladly say that I was looking forward to having this gem on my layout, and when it arrived, I was very excited. I have the DCC unit, and the decoder was already installed; I programmed the road number and put it on my test track (this was before i had my layout built up to a semi-running condition). The lights came on, and I set the throttle to 10… nothing happened. I bumped it to 20 and it started moving and screeched like a banshee. It was a horribly unpleasant sound, and I immediately stopped the locomotive. I double checked the manual; there were no real instructions except how to disassemble the engine, should the need arise. It was supposed to be lubricated already.

I tried again, double checking to make sure it was fully on the rails. It was. And once again, it screeched and shook down the rails. And I mean it really shook. Like it was lurching to move every step of the way.

So now I was not happy. This was a locomotive I wanted for my collection for a while; my son wanted to see an actual switcher on the layout, and neither of us was happy to see this beautiful looking machine struggle. I took the locomotive apart and tested it all the way down to the motor. The motor ran fine. The bearing blocks were running well, and individually, I could roll the trucks back and forth on a track with no indication of binding or struggle. In fact, i could nudge them and they rolled smoothly on a piece of track until they lost momentum.

That left the worm gear that transfers the power to the trucks. And I could see, they looked dry as a bone in the desert. So now I was pretty sure that whatever lubricants had been put on were a source of the problem; at least in part.

Some reading on-line had led me to understand that, sometimes, Atlas locomotives will arrive requiring re-lubrication, either on the bearing blocks or the work gear attached to the motor drive shaft. It’s nothing wrong with the product as a whole, but it does happen. Also, though, sometimes it was a matter that the locomotive needed a break-in period. I gave it about two hours of running time over the next month or so, and at lower speeds, the screeching wasn’t so bad, but the halting, jerky motions did NOT really improve.

I put the locomotive aside and promised I’d get back to it as soon as I could; after doing a bit of research and discussing the issue on a few forums, I decided I’d get a Labelle lubricant package as soon as my budget would permit and see if that helped any.

Fast forward to about a week ago. I had a coupon for $20 at Model Train Stuff (http://www.modeltrainstuff.com) and I figured, now was as good a time as any to get the stuff and see if I could get this desired but under-performing locomotive to work better. Besides, I also wanted some track cleaning supplies, and you never know if you might not need the oils or lubricants at some other point.

I purchased one each of Labelle 102 (Medium viscosity gear oil), 106 (Plastic-compatible grease) and 108 (Multi-purpose oil, light). When they came in, I immediately took them downstairs and sat down with the little locomotive, hoping this would do the truck. I disassembled the trucks (since the bearing blocks seemed fine, I didn’t worry about those for now) and made sure I could see the work gears inside of the frame.

I cleaned the gears that were exposed on the truck (I didn’t take it all the way apart; I didn’t want to go nuts right away) using a small piece of paper towel, then proceeded to apply a few drops of the 102 gear oil to the exposed gears on each truck. I rolled them back and forth on a segment of track, wiped the track down with some Isopropyl alcohol (to make sure nothing in excess ended up on the rails) and reassembled the locomotive.

I double checked everything and put it on the rails; she fired up and started moving. It was smoother, but there was still a bit of that annoying screech. OK, well, the oil seemed to help the gears on the trucks a bit more. They were OK when I got it, but it seemed a bit smoother. Maybe that worm gear needed something as well.

This is where I got out the second product, the 106 gear grease. The instructions say to put a small dab of it (they said pea sized, but I used a bit less since I have n-scale) and to move the gears so that it coats them evenly. Then I put a dab on the worm gear. There’s no real way for me to turn it, but I figured that running might help it work into the gear a bit. I reassembled the locomotive again (really just putting the trucks back on) and took it back over to the layout.

WOW! The screech was still a tiny bit there, but it was dramatically reduced. I only heard a touch of it as I went over 65% on my throttle. I had read the instructions, and it said after running it a bit, apply one more small dab to the gears that seemed to be the issue, and run it again.

So I took it apart one more time, put another small dab on the work drive, reattached it, and went back to the table. Smooth. No screech. The locomotive was gliding along with almost no sound whatsoever. HOLY COW, THIS WORKED!

Now understand, folks; I am a novice to a lot of this stuff. I made it my goal to learn how to operate my models effectively and efficiently. I knew about cleaning the track, and the wheels whenever possible. On small scales like N, this is especially important because the contact areas are tiny. That being said, I had never done a lubricant job on a locomotive before. Well, not effectively, anyway. I had one other engine that I’d tried to do this with about 4 years back, but the dust that built up in that apartment so often never helped the situation much.

But to get this locomotive and cringe about the noise made me fearful that it was about to happen again. Nope! I know now, the first thing to try if I have issues in the future is to clean the wheels, clean the gears and apply the lubricants I have. And chances are this will resolve everything. I’m not saying that there aren’t other things that can contribute to an engine having issues, but if you get halting, jerky motion accompanied by undesired sound, you may be suffering from inadequate lubricant on the moving parts. Check that first.

Now the 108 light oil I didn’t put to use, but if I understand it correctly, this is the stuff I’d use for axle issues and for the bearing blocks inside of the locomotive (the ones that the drive shaft from the motor spin in). Since I didn’t try that as of yet, I’m not going to say anything one way or the other. But again, I’ve read that the product is brilliant and having seen the quality and effect of the 102 and 106 product, I’m inclined to trust it should the need arise.

Now folks, I’m going to repeat this here. I am not being paid to review a product; I didn’t get any offers for a free product if I write up a review. I went on advice from a few people and put out the money to buy these products. Well, sort of. That $20 coupon made the cost about just the shipping and nothing else. I would consider it a great buy even without that coupon though. $20 worth of product and a locomotive is running super smooth. You can buy these products individually, or as a pack; when I went shopping for them, the packs were all sold out, but the difference in price was pretty much nil. I will tell you this; you can search all you want, but I will use this product from now on whenever maintenance is needed.

In a few days, I will follow up on the engine and see if I have to apply a bit more of the grease. One person said it might be a good idea since it takes time to work it’s way in everywhere, but he also said to make sure I don’t over-grease it. So I’ll check it, apply a bit more if needed, and run it as much as I can. In about 3 months, I’ll post an update on this about my further experience.

However, if you are experiencing issues with running, especially small scale locomotives, do not hesitate to check this stuff out. Again, the products are listed below, and I bought mine from M.B. Klein on http://www.modeltrainstuff.com

  • Labelle 102 – Gear Lubricant
  • Labelle 106 – Grease with PFTE
  • Labelle 108 – Light Oil

The price for each is normally $9.69, though it’s less on the M.B. Klein site. If you get the kit pack, it’s $29.07 (again, less on M.B. Klein) but even if you can’t find the kit, it’s a difference of about $0.08. Not really a concern.

A bit of clean-up

Unfortunately, this wasn’t a weekend with time for me to get much done. I’m not complaining, just staying fact. There was a lot to do, so this weekend didn’t see any big progress on the wiring. Still, though, I didn’t want to go without doing anything, so I took a break for about two hours and just did a quick project to tidy up a bit on the layout.

I’ve installed one of the two Digitrax UP5 panels into the front board of a table. No longer do I have my power supply and command station perched on the edge of the layout with cables dangling everywhere. Now I have that stuff sitting under Mary Ann Junction, where I will eventually build a self in; in time I will also add in my other UP5 on the other end of the layout, and a UR92 radio transceiver so I can make use of wireless controllers.

It’s not much, but for the moment, it cleans up a bit around the layout, so it was beneficial, and still counts as progress for me.

Some wiring work done

I managed to squeeze in some time this weekend, working on the West Seneca Valley Railroad. In the process, I managed to get one entire table almost entirely wired up. I might add a few more feeders in sections, but I can say that the yard table is done. The next section will be where the engine service facility and yard lead / consist track are will be starting. I’m hoping I’ll get to this by week’s end, but a large collection of work projects means it’ll be a bit of time to get to that – it might not be until next weekend that I can work on this more. But for now, here is some footage of the updates.

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
20‑000S24896
20‑010S18624
20‑020S12417
20‑030S6412
20‑032U649
20‑040S6211
20‑048B50C24
20‑070S461
20‑071S294
20‑100R249‑454
20‑101R249‑152
20‑110R282‑4514
20‑120R315‑458
20‑150R718‑154
20‑160R481‑1516
20‑202EP718‑15L7
20‑203EP718‑15R6
20‑210WX3101
20‑220EP481‑15L14
20‑221EP481‑15R8
20‑222EP481‑15Y1
20‑434S248B/black1
20‑438DS248B/black1
20‑464S124B/black1
s60lS60L12
s60rS60R10

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.

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!