Monday, October 15, 2018

Tonka Tinys: N scale vehicle roulette

N scalers: Want to try a $1.99 gamble? I came across these at Target. They are "Tonka Tiny's" sold blind (you cannot see what's inside until you buy it) for $1.99. There are various trucks and construction vehicles. They come in a stackable plastic "garage" which can probably find a home on your layout also.

I bought one to check it out. I got a little pickup truck which measures 18 feet on my N scale rule, which is right on the money.

18 feet long - perfect for N scale

The little insert inside the box shows the various vehicles available. If your significant other is hinting for Christmas stocking suggestions, this could be the ticket. Could maybe use for distant scenes in HO too.

insert (click pic to enlarge)

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Wood chip hoppers

Railroads extend the height of standard hopper cars to carry a full load of low-density wood chips. A recent loco buy on eBay came with some 40' hoppers and 40' gondolas, so this project will combine them to make some wood chip hoppers.

Gondola + hopper = wood chip hopper!

1. Mix and Match: First remove the trucks and couplers and set them aside. The gondolas were test-fit on the hoppers and lined up well. They required three easy modifications:
  • Remove the gondola's brake wheel (we don't need two, we will rely on the lower one on the hopper)
  • Remove the gondola's four corner stirrup steps
  • Remove the gondola's weight (we don't want weight high up in the car)
2. Adjust Weight: All the individual parts for each car were weighed in a batch. Be sure to include the trucks. The target weight (per NMRA recommendation) is 4 ounces. They were both too light, so weight was added to the floor of the hopper. (The interior of the hopper will not be seen, as the gondola floor will cover it).

3. Glue up: The gondolas were glued to the hoppers. I needed a glue which was rather viscous and gap-filling so I mixed some 5 minute epoxy (the type that comes in a double syringe) and brushed that on. Weights were placed on top and left overnight. This worked perfectly - and permanently. "What epoxy hath joined together, let no man put asunder."

Lantern battery and old flatiron serve as gluing weights.

4. Primer: The cars were taken outside to my "spray booth" which is a stepladder inside my woodshed. Cars were sprayed with grey primer from a rattle can. My holder is made from scraps of 1x4.

Primer is applied

5. Rust the interior: Masking tape is applied and the interior of the gondola is sprayed with red auto primer - which is my universal rust color.

Interior painted with red auto primer

By now you probably realize when we get to adding the wood chip load, we need not fill the hopper at all! (We can't anyway, it is no longer accessible). We will only be adding a thin layer of chips to the gondola. The viewer will never realize there is now a false floor in place.

Interior after painting

6. Exterior paint: Next we mask off the interior and paint the exterior. These are going to be Maine Central cars so a deep green (Rustoleum Panter's Touch ---------) is sprayed on.

7. Decals: I had some leftover MEC decals (Microscale ------ ) so they are used rather than buying new ones.

8. Wood chip load: And now ... the perfect load - cedar cat litter. They are real, but tiny, wood chips. No one can say "it ain't protoype!"

9. Secure the load:

10. Finishing touches: Replace the trucks and couplers. Weather as desired.

This page under construction - check back again! - Oct 14

Friday, August 31, 2018


Sometimes using a locomotive is a bit of overkill when you just need to pull an empty boxcar out of the shop. This little Trackmobile is just the right size for the job. This is a Matchbox bulldozer which has been de-bladed.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Loader carrier for MoW

The Maintenance of Way crew has just come up with a new transport car. #947, for their loader. They cut off most of an old 40' boxcar, trimmed in the opening so a rollup door could be installed for security and protection from the elements. The loading ramps travel flat on the car and can be placed on the end or sides to offload the loader. 

The boxcar is an old Varney. Loader is a Matchbox "Skidster", $1 from Dollar General. The ramps are from an O-scale window assembly from the junk box.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Compressed gas cylinders

Have some LED Christmas light strings? The "bulb" is fake. It is a just a bulb-shaped plastic sleeve which slides on over the LED. Pull some out and you have some HO scale compressed gas cylinders to paint up and place around the layout. Plus you can also remove the nice 3mm LEDs.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Make a Hi-rail truck for $1

Another Dollar General project! These Matchbox pickup trucks caught my eye at $1 each, and looked like they could easily become hi-rail vehicles for the maintenance fleet.

Matchbox vehicles are generally oversize for HO, but this is a Matchbox Datsun mini-truck. My HO scale ruler measured it at 20 feet long. My full size Silverado pickup is 19 feet long. Close enough - the mini Datsun makes a good representation of a full size pickup in HO.

The body was painted white to be a utility body, with the addition of some tool boxes and gas cylinders. The hi-rail axles are beads glued onto wire. The roof light is a 3mm amber LED with the leads cut off.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Memorial Day baseball!

Memorial Day little baseball underway at Mudgett Field. Note the dugout enclosures donated by the railroad.

Monday, May 21, 2018

People painting on a picnic table

Camping season has arrived! Over the winter I like to save up little portable projects to take to the picnic table at the campground. This weekend was painting little people. They come pretty cheap from China via eBay ($1.29 per 100, free shipping). The catch is you get to do the painting. Once set up assembly line style, it goes pretty fast. There are 500 people being prepped for the layout. My goal is to have the layout “fully populated” by the September 8 Maine Model Railroad Tour.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A new combine arrives

Here is a Tyco old-time combine modernized for service on my mixed train. First I popped off the clerestory roof and was surprised to find the body had a full roof already. Then the silhouettes and truss rods were removed. The roof was painted aluminum and a couple ventilators added. Weighted up to spec, glazed windows, added a view block inside. Grab bars highlighted with a silver Sharpie pen. Now it’s ready for service in a Cape Ann mixed, picking up fishermen and hikers from those remote flag stops! 

Combine on the tail end of a local mixed train.

Remote flag stop at Cascade serves fishermen and hikers.

Before. Pic from eBay seller mikecdog.

Pop off the clerestory roof to reveal a full domed roof.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Solar Panels

Do your remote lineside buildings and signals need a power source? Make your own solar panels! Here we see a panel installation on a section maintenance shed.

These are made by layering the following materials:
1. thin styrene base 
2. vinyl electrical tape (for black color)
3. clear packing tape (for a shiny surface)
4. fiberglass mesh drywall tape (for individual panels)

Stick the layers onto the styrene then cut around the desired size panels. That's all there is to it. Light 'em up!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Lineside relay enclosures

New HDMI cables come with protective plastic dust caps over the ends. These make handy HO scale lineside relay enclosures. These are painted off-white or aluminum, and the doors are drawn on with a fine-point Sharpie pen. They rest on a couple of small nails poked into the layout, so they stand up a bit off the ground, like the prototype. 

Passenger car before and after

I primarily use rebuilt Tyco passenger cars. They are rugged, and shorter than prototype so they fit and look better on the layout. Here is the before and after the rebuild: Stock Tyco car on the right. A rebuild is on the left. Rebuild includes removal of the man-with-pipe-reading-newspaper silhouettes, replacing old light bulbs with constant intensity LED lighting, new diffusers, new paint, and decals. Note the advantage of the new lighting: this train is standing still. The bulbs on right car are off. The LEDs on the left car are at full brilliance. This is a DC layout, no decoders needed. Pickups are wired through a bridge rectifier so the LEDs see consistent polarity independent of direction of travel, and a keep-alive capacitor keeps them immune to dropouts. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Hole for Mr. Dremel

Who knew a 1.5" hole could improve life so much? Anyone who ever uses a Dremel tool knows there is no easy way to just set it on the workbench, it wants to roll away, fall on the floor, and bust up the cutting wheel. Today I got a bit fed up with it and cut a 1.5" hole in the edge of the bench. Now I can just plug that baby down in the hole, attachment and all.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Spray Paint Cosy

The Model Railroad Luddite does not have an airbrush. All painting of rolling stock is done outdoors using spray cans, in an area sheltered from wind. Spray paint can be used successfully if the paint is warmed up first. This thins it for a more even application,  increases the available internal pressure needed to propel the paint, and makes the nozzle less prone to clogging. The can is placed in an old baby wipes container, then the container is filled up with hot tap water. After 15 minutes or so the paint is nicely warmed up and thinned. After some shaking it is ready to use.

I only use Rustoleum brand "Painter's Touch" line which is marked as safe for plastics. Be careful, the regular Rustoleum is not! I also write on the can which roads that color is used for.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Blog split!

This blog has evolved into a catch-all, so it will likely be an improvement to split it into two. This blog (The Model Railroad Luddite) will focus on ideas for low-cost or no-cost model railroading, and keeping the hobby simple and non-technical. The new companion blog, Railfanning the Cape Ann Rail System, will be more a tourist feel, and will focus on "railfan photos" of locomotives, rolling stock, and railroad operations. Hope you will follow both and enjoy! - Rick

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

How to search for blogs by topic!

Finally, and totally by accident, I have found how to search for blogs of a given topic, and how to collate new posts from them onto one page for easy reading.

It turns out that terms you add to your profile become LINKS, and you can click on them to search for bloggers using the same terms in the same boxes - whether it be interests, location, books, movies, industry, occupation. You are really searching for bloggers (not blogs about a given topic), but the result is essentially the same.

To search for a blog about a topic:

So just add your desired search term to your own profile as an INTEREST, then click on it. Or click on anyone else’s listed interest.

To collate new posts from followed blogs:
  1. Follow blogs of interest.
  2. If the blog you like does not have a FOLLOW button, copy the blog's URL to your clipboard
  3. Go to Dashboard (from some pages, the link says DESIGN)
  4. Go to Reading List (in left column)
  5. At BLOGS I FOLLOW click the pencil,
  6. Click ADD
  7. Paste in the URL
  8. On your DASHBOARD (also called DESIGN on some pages), click READING LIST.
  9. There they are!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Oasis

The Oasis is a little bar across from the Amtrak station in Shelby, Montana. It is quite photogenic, especially for its sign offering casino, bar, dancing, and live bait; apparently all at the same time.

photo by Jim Roth

So of course, Kenton has to have one. I picked up a similar little building at our local NMRA meeting's swap table. After some mods and a coat of paint, and some signs cropped from the prototype photo, we give you the The Oasis of Kenton:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Section work car 992

The Cape Ann has two section work cars in MoW service. Each is assigned to one end of the layout. These are used for day-to-day routine work that does not require a full work train. This Tyco 50' flatcar has a caboose body to provide a place to ride and shelter, and the 20’ intermodal container provides secure storage for tools and supplies. They do require special handling - the locomotive must always couple to the caboose end, so there is unrestricted access to the doors of the container. Like all non-revenue equipment, it carries a 9XX road number.

Nick Cook found this similar prototype!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Blue flags at Bolton

Bolton Shops now has blue flag lanterns in place for use when servicing equipment. The shops has five "parking spaces" for equipment - two inside, three outside. A pair of blue LEDs has been installed between the ties at the end of each space, wired to a panel switch. The top of the LED has a cap of black paint to give it a lantern-like appearance. Now when a loco or car is being serviced, the blue flag lanterns can be switched on to alert workers.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Video runby of the intermodal train

Video runby of the intermodal train. Two modified AHM GP-18's lead a string of Tyco 40 footers with intermodal containers.

More containers on Tyco flats

The start of the project. Probably can't get 4 well cars from Walthers for $14.49.

This uses good old Tyco 40' flats which normally hold 3 pipe sections. First the divider tabs which separate the pipe loads are ground off with a Dremel tool. Then the flats are painted (here I used red auto primer) and decaled. Closed stirrups are painted open with flat black paint. Pay no attention to the "48" behind the curtain - the length designation, common on well cars, is just part of the illusion that the cars are 48 feet long. An Athearn blue box cover is handy to hold them on edge for this work.

For scale size containers I use 1" x 1" SFS (Sanded Four Sides) wood molding, sold by the foot at Home Depot. An 8' piece will yield about 24 containers for less than $10. Now to simulate sitting down in a well car, I am going to trick the eye with a shorter container. I had a friend with a table saw rip the molding down to 1" x 3/4". The length is a fudge also, they have to be 34' long (not 40) to fit inside the molded in tray on the flat.

The container sides are prepped for the wood blocks, and the blocks painted to match. Details on this technique, and links to container side images, are found here >>

How the illusion is done. Normal height container on the right. Shorter container on the left. When the short one is set in the flatcar tray, it will appear to be sitting down recessed within the car. HA HA HA! So much easier than cutting out the floor of the car!

Normal height container on left. Shorty container on right, appears to sit down inside the tray of the car. Can be double stacked with a normal container on top too.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Opening car hoods

Opening the hoods on HO scale cars on the used car lot by optical illusion ... the hoods are painted flat black. A second hood is cut from styrene, painted to match the car, then propped and glued on top of the SALE signs, lettered with leftover decals.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Lifting 20' containers at Kenton

The crane operator at Kenton Freight Forwarders has just placed a 20' intermodal container on a flat for delivery. This Tyco 40' flat has had its center dividing tabs ground off so the container rests within the molded tray. The lift rig is made from scraps of brass rail soldered together.

Containers are scratchbuilt from 1x1 wood molding. Details