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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

I Done It - Another RS1

Fresh from the shop, newly-arrived RS1 #524 joins a sister, long-time Yaeger employee #533, 
working the interchange track at Della St. in St. Amour, W.Va..

Back in late 1950, or maybe it was early '51, the Yaeger Yard Senior Foreman requisitioned an additional RS1 to handle increasing local traffic loads.  As a sign of respect, and to see if he had a sense of humor, the Road Foreman of Engines sent him #463 instead, one of the railway's four BL2s - employees' least-loved engines system-wide.   

While this did help alleviate the motive power shortage in the absolute sense, somewhat, it did not fix one of the nagging problems, which was the RS1s' polishing of their wheels attempting to haul the ever-heavier St. Amour transfers up the Virginia Hill grade.  What was needed was a second engine, in consist.  And since the railway had been converting much of the RS1 fleet to MU capability, the Yaeger Yard Senior Foreman continued his campaigning for an additional engine anyway - specifically, one that would be compatible with the RS1s already on the property.  

Well in answer to the local crews' prayers at last, RS1 #524 arrived in Segway, Va. this week.  It was mated immediately with sister #533 - to handle the St. Amour runs, as well as HS-25/26, the Highlands Shifter, which works truck dumps in the district.  The unloved BL2 #463 will yet be defended as protection power - until a different hapless senior foreman at a different yard can be located. 


RS1 #524 is the first new diesel I've added to the roster since going to DCC in 2012.  And believe it or not, it's also the first decoder I've ever installed.

See, the Master Of All Things Technical, my old friend Darren Williamson (IHB), had lobbied me for 20 years to convert to DCC.  I had steadfastly refused, because I had gotten the DC cab-and-block working like a well-oiled machine, and I was proud of how well the layout ran with Byzantine technology.

"Madame, I am endeavoring to construct a mnemonic memory circuit 
using stone knives and bearskins."
-- Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, Star Trek, "City on the Edge of Forever" (1967)  

Darren always referred to this behavior as "the clang factor" - in other words, me as the Luddite, clanging on my solid bronze boilers and exclaiming gleefully at the bell-like tones.

Anyway, as time wore on I had begun to identify some areas in need of improvement (or advancement) in the DC installation, that even I had to admit were becoming significant:

  1. More road cabs - the DC block system was wired only for 3
  2. Wireless throttles - in the SNR's compressed floor plan, the plugging and unplugging of throttles was a major buzzkill
  3. Sound
It was #3 that did it.  I was operating on Bill Doll's Forest Park Southern one time, and found myself actually disappointed to pick up a train behind one of the few non-sound engines on the layout.  I realized then how important sound had become to me.  And even better, it made me see that DCC would address all three major items in one implementation.

Despite all the evidence presented above however, being me, I still could not quite be convinced to pull the trigger - due to the prodigious cost, amount of effort, and downtime involved.  So Darren had to sweeten the deal with the agreement to do all of the conversions on my engines to DCC and sound for me.  That was like three dozen engines at least.  Call me today's Tom Sawyer, but the guy lives for this stuff.  Plus, he was starting to lose his mind over our being so far into the 21st century, yet with me still exclaiming gleefully at the bell-like tones of the solid bronze antiquity of it all.  Desperation is a powerful motivator.

Wudja look at that, it works!


So doing up another RS1 years later, as a non-sound engine, provided the opportunity to install a decoder myself, for the first time ever.  And I didn't tell Darren what I was up to, just to prove I could do it - and because I knew that otherwise he'd lobby me to just let him do it anyway, so it would be done right.  

I used a Lenz Standard+, which was Darren's spec for non-sound engines that would be consisted with the Tsunamis.  And I'm proud (amazed, really) to say it worked perfectly right off the bench, LEDs and all. I've always felt like I can never thank Darren enough for all the work on the SNR's behalf, so it was time I pulled a little of my own weight.

I have to throw another thank-you, to Tom Patterson (Chesapeake, Wheeling & Erie) for supplying me from his stash, with the goodies I needed minute quantities of for this one lone decoder install - including Tesa tape and microscopic shrink-wrap.  

I think the lady in the blue '51 Chevy has had quite enough 
of RS1s parading back and forth across Della St..

Number 524 is another Atlas yellow-box RS1 that I bought in the early 90's, probably already used, like the rest of the fleet.  It joins three others on the layout, sisters 528, 530, and 533, which are sound engines.  All of them wear the SNR standard delivery scheme, in Polly-S "C&O Enchantment Blue" and Reefer Orange.

Amazingly, despite their differences in decoders and service histories, I was able to get the two consisted engines to play together nicely just by duplicating 533's speed table and motor settings onto 524, with only a cup of coffee's worth of tweaking.

The original three have been running continuously for nigh on 30 years without a problem, which is why I stick with the old Atlas Roco's (clang!).  However, the engine that became #524 has been sitting in the box for almost that long, and still, upon its re-emergence into the light, from the first volt is has been smooth as silk.  You can bet there are several more of these babies still on the shelf, in reserve! 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Coal Is Shiny

Cars full of "black diamonds" wait to be picked up from the Rollwage Bros. truck dump in Three Rocks, W.Va..

"In the beginning,
The coal was without form, and void,
And darkness was upon the face of the fleet."

A while back, after the SNR had been in operation for 15 years or so, I began to notice that the coal loads had accumulated a fair bit of dust, and were more gray than black.  

I use mostly resin loads, with some plastic ones covered with coal or more often, cinders.  All of them are removable, so empties can be loaded at the mines, and unloaded in staging or at the consumer.  So I scrubbed all of them down with Dawn and a toothbrush, and then painted them all (except the real coal ones) with Home Depot's finest one-buck flat black.

The difference was very noticeable.  All the coal was black again, and consistent - and I was deeply proud of my ingenuity and dedication.  A man of action - oh yes, that's me.

At a subsequent operating session, I was describing this to my friend Jim Rollwage (UP/Denver Pacific), who observed that I should try using gloss black, since coal is, for the most part, shiny.

Well, in the first place, since I'd just gone through that effort, flat black would be fine, thank you very much.  And in the second place, I imagined that gloss paint would make the coal loads glisten like golf balls.  I'd very carefully avoided shiny loads - especially plastic, factory loads - so that my coal loads would specifically not glisten like golf balls.

Jim is a good modeler and a wise man, and I have known him for decades.  You would think that I'd have given credence to his advice.  But no.  Remember, I'm a man of action.  Gloss black would have required re-work, and the reversal of a decision!  

So another 10-15 years have gone by now, and the loads are looking a bit gray again.  The other day, Jim and Gerry Albers (Virginian Deepwater District) were discussing ways to clean up their real-coal loads, which had also gotten dusty.  Their ingenious method was to clean the loads using Pledge furniture polish.

I tried this on some on the resin loads.  Results were underwhelming, because the relief is so deep, whereas it worked perfectly for Jim & Gerry on the real-coal loads.  However the conversation had gotten me to thinking about trying gloss black again on the resin loads.  The more I stared at them, the more the SNR's loads looked like peat moss, rather than "fire rock".  

So I did a test run.

"And Jim said, 
Let there be light!
And there was light."

Behold!  The difference, just as in Genesis, was night and day.  

With the flat black, especially with dust, the loads tended to blend in with the cars themselves.  Everything was one of the 50 shades gray, with a uniform matte finish.  Whereas, since the resin loads have a great deal of surface texture, the gloss black highlights individual facets that are spread evenly throughout the car, making the overall pile come alive, just like "black diamonds".  

"Very sparkly."
-- Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, Rainman, 1988

The effect is distinct, but still subtle.  The secret is moderation, especially on loads with less texture - like those I'd made with cinder ground cover.  A lighter overspray did the trick and avoided the "golf ball".

I've completed the entire stock now, and am really happy with the results.

Thanks, Jim.  (Why didn't you tell me sooner? 😉)  


Below are a few before-and-after scenes.  The trains are unmoved in each pair of photos, and the cars and even the loads are exactly the same.  The only difference is the loads were removed and given an overspray of gloss black.  To me it makes the coal "pop", like it didn't with the flat.  Looks a lot more like pictures from the day.  Video is < 30 seconds.

Monday, March 1, 2021

K&LE Gondolas


My friend John Miller (Kanawha & Lake Erie) and I traded cars a while back.  The K&LE is set in 1976, so I did a "modern" 50' box car for him, with the 1968 SNR herald.  

In return I received a "delightfully crappy" K&LE boxcar, backdated for 1952 with that slick, old-school diamond herald. 

After a while, John asked me if I could spare any of the modern SNR heralds, and especially if I had any smaller ones, as he had in mind a number of variants he wanted to play with as SNR cars, including paint-outs.   No problem, since my old friend and Master Of All Things Technical, Darren Williamson (IHB), has hoarded most of the world's remaining supply of ALPS printers and ink.  I just needed to alter the artwork a little, and have him print a fresh sheet.

I gave this new sheet of modern SNR heralds and lettering to John, and seemingly within minutes, he had created a whole fleet of SNR cars for his layout.  Quite an honor, really.  On the right below is the car I initially did for him; all the remainder are his handiwork.  Photo by Tom Patterson.

It's interesting that John did up a bunch of SNR cars, since at the same time I had a hankering for some K&LE gons.  

One of the features of John's layout is a steel mill that literally is 40' long, representing the real Newport Steel, which was once just across the river from Cincinnati, in Newport, Ky..  So when I see "Kanawha & Lake Erie", I think steel, in the same way as when seeing "Pittsburgh & Lake Erie" or "Bessemer & Lake Erie".  Newport Steel would be an ideal customer for coke off of the SNR, and an ideal supplier for the industries in St. Amour that use coiled sheet. 

I asked John if he had any more of the older-style decals he could spare, and he gave me all that he had left - which amounted to a couple sets of roadnames in three sizes, with reporting marks, and one, count 'em, one, surviving pair of the diamond heralds.  There was a second pair of heralds, but they were from a misprint run, so had been marked out with a ballpoint pen. 

Well, I had two gons on hand that I wanted to donate to the cause.  So I determined I was going to have to use the mark-outs anyway, if they could be cleaned up adequately.  I'm not having visiting freelance equipment without heralds and roadnames!


The first gon was a modern issuance of the traditional Model Die Casting/Roundhouse 40' bathtub.  It was black and decorated in the minimalist Erie scheme.  Perfect for making data-only cars by just a little painting-over, as I've done on a couple dozen hoppers.  

This however was a very old scheme, with old-school, pre-AAR-format dimensional data.  So I determined this would be the right car to use the mark-out heralds on - I could keep the all the pretty data stencils, and weather the hell out of it, since painted like that it would be seriously in need of shopping in 1952.  I could then use the heavy weathering to hide the mis-print in the heralds.

So other than the K&LE lettering, paint on the trucks and wheel faces, and a thick mantle of pastels, this one is straight out of the box and into the rotation.  SNR uses a fleet of a dozen of these bathtubs, about half home-road - to serve the coke works in Claymoor, and for other aggregate service such as limestone, gravel, and pig iron.  They are also available for occasional mill and scrap loading.

I did not initially intend to use the teeny roadname, however the intermediate size roadname would only fit two letters per panel.  On a 40' car, that meant I'd run out of panels before I ran out of roadname.  So, since there are other examples out there of gons lettered with teeny roadnames (C&O is one), I figured I'd just use the smallest size here.  It's actually a pretty neat look I think. 


Now, this - this - is what I'd been picturing a K&LE gondola on the SNR looking like:  a mill gon loaded with coils from the rolling mill in Newport, headed for either Field Fabricating or the Combustioneer plant in St. Amour... with that loooooooong roadname playing hopskotch with the ribs all the way down the side.  

It happened that the other gondola I had on hand was a standard Athearn 50' mill gon.  I know, I know, these are foobies because they don't have ribs over the bolsters, and would fold up on themselves.  Yeah yeah, I still love the proportions of them, and, they run great (once you glue a couple tons of skeet shot into the belly), which is the foremost criterion on the SNR.  It'll be OK to use it - there are only a couple others on the layout.

This car was silver and decorated for the Southern, so it was going to need a full paint job and a complete set of decals.  And hooooo, boy, with that many ribs we are talking about a lot of teeny decal pieces.  Below is what happens when a decal sheet is innocently walking along and steps on a land mine:

Even so, I was pleased at how comparatively easy it was to get the decal shards lined up - especially the roadname segments - with minimal eye strain or migraine.  

This car also received a set of new stirrups, Intermountain wheelsets, metal couplers, and Tichy trucks to replace the beautiful-but-unreliable sprung trucks it had been riding on when I bought it.  

With this design I could have picked any build date from the 30s into the 50s.  I settled on 6-49, so it would have only light weathering and could best show off those boss K&LE diamond heralds.  Even in three years though, this one has managed to get a replacement wheel already.  Must have cracked from the heavy service!


These guys hit the rails a week ago, and are already active in the switchlist system.  16003 even got billed already, heading empty to Downey & Moss, for a load of coke to feed the furnaces at Newport.