Giving Thanks – Day 13

I’m thankful for hobbies. Anyone who follows “A Coffee State of Mind” knows my main hobby is model railroading. I’ve written about it many times. I started with HO trains when I was fifteen. For Christmas that year I received a small “HO train set” that included an engine that didn’t run right, five cars, and a circle of 18″ radius track. I was as excited as any kid getting a train set could be. I was determined to build a railroad empire, which I did, at least in my own mind. In the early days, my layout was on top of a ping-pong table. At a local hobby shop, I traded my ill-running Santa Fe F7 engine for a metal 2-6-0 switch engine. My first steam locomotive! It was small but I loved it. I bought more track until I finally had a large oval. I added a few turnouts and soon had a “layout” that included a twice-around to complete the circuit.

The next year, I purchased a Baldwin Class Berkshire 2-8-4 locomotive. This is the same type of locomotive depicted in “The Polar Express” movie. By the way, if you’ve never been to the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan, you really owe it to yourself to go see the beautiful, operating Berkshire 1225. There is just no way to adequately describe the experience of watching this incredible locomotive thunder past with smoke and steam exploding into the sky! This amazing locomotive saw many years of operation throughout Michigan as part of the Pere Marquette Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad before diesel engines took the place of steam across the country.

A lucky break for the retired 1225 took place when it became part of the steam restoration project at Michigan State University. After many years of stop-and-start activity on the engine, it finally found a home at the institute in Owosso. For many years, the mighty engine has been pulling restored passenger cars full of steam railroading fans on The Polar Express Train, as well as steaming across the state on various excursions. We have ridden the Christmas train a couple of times, it’s a wonderful experience. Arguably, the biggest break for the 1225 came when Warner Brothers made audio recordings of the locomotive under full steam for the sound track of the movie, “The Polar Express.”

I’ve had other hobbies, a few didn’t last longer than a few weeks. For example, my grandmother taught me how to knit and crochet. I had my own knitting bag with yarn, needles, and a jar of crochet hooks. I never made anything but long ropes.

Baking could be described as a hobby, I guess. I’ve been baking since I was ten years old.

Is writing a hobby? I don’t think of it that way. I’ve been writing seriously for almost thirty years. I have actually made money writing. For two years, I had a weekly column in a newspaper with a circulation of 50,000. That was fun. For several years, I wrote curricula for church publications distributed throughout the country. I’ve written four books, “The Good, The Bad, and The Funny,” “Camp’s Over, Now What?” “One Plus One Equals Three,” and my first middle-grade novel, “Smivvy Stepward In Love and Other Misery.” Nope, none of them are available on Amazon…yet.

Another hobby I have, or had, was flying radio-controlled airplanes. I really enjoyed that! I have one plane that crashed three times (twice by me, once by someone else) and I rebuilt it each time. It looks a little rough but still flies great. The problem now is my hands. A condition called Essential Tremors has made it almost impossible for me to fly. RC airplanes don’t respond well to shaking hands. Bummer.

What are your hobbies? How often do you work on your hobby?

I’m sure there is lots of research about hobbies somewhere. I think we naturally drift toward things that work for us. I’ve always liked trains and planes.

I think maybe I’ll write a post about why those of us who write write. It’s probably the same kind of thing as building a model railroad layout. Why would anyone do that?

Whatever your hobby is, or hobbies are, whether painting, sewing, building, growing flowers, planting shrubs, feeding birds, watching animals, taking pictures, traveling, restoring old cars, driving new cars, quilting, clipping coupons, spending money, riding the rails, flying, playing video games, designing video games, watching others play video games, wondering how to play video games, playing solitaire, playing poker, watching soap operas, amateur radio, dressing up, antiquing, wondering why people like antiques, writing, drawing, doodling, wine tasting, exterior illumination, beer sampling, beer brewing, interior illumination, reading, listening to audio books because you don’t like reading, Legos, Lincoln Logs, watching cartoons, singing, writing music, playing instruments you don’t know how to play, imagining playing an instrument well, pretending, acting, walking, running, standing, sitting, watching TV, binge-watching Netflix, watching and re-watching every episode of Friends, shopping and returning what you bought, or playing trains, if you love it, do it with all your heart and let your hobby be to you what it’s meant to be.

Wiring the Maple Valley Short Line – Part 2

The Maple Valley Short Line RR is now operational. I can successfully run two trains simultaneously on two long lines. The outer loop rises to four inches at 2% starting at the Maple Valley River Bridge. The inner line completes a circuit by passing through two tunnels, crossing the Maple Valley River, and winding through the village.

As every model railroader knows, operational does not mean finished. The outer line has been running for several months. Last week I finished wiring the inner line and all the sidings. I decided to use Atlas Selector Switches rather than soldering DPDT toggle switches. I may yet change my mind about that. I plan to wire LED turnout and block signals on my control panel. The panel in the photo is temporary.

Last week family members came just to see the layout, so I had to finish the track wiring and make sure it all worked. I discovered my small furniture dolly with a piece of plywood works great as a cart allowing me to move around under the layout without kneeling and bumping my head. Wiring was a much simpler task as I avoided stops at the first-aid closet to bandage cuts on my head.

To you expert electricians, this is nothing new. But the slickest help I found on YouTube is using “heat-sinks” to keep my plastic ties and wiring insulation from melting. Two little alligator clips worked perfectly! This is the first time I used buss feeders on both rails, so I did a lot of soldering.

I staggered the feeders on the track. I used black wire for the common feed, red wire for the block feed. I put a number sticker on each block feed to correspond with the Atlas Selector Switch. (Now that the track is wired, it’s time to complete ballasting.)

I took a lot of time thinking about how best to run the wiring underneath the layout. I was not careful with the underside of previous layouts so I had different colors and wires running in every direction. It was a real mess when something stopped working and I had to figure out why.

I used 14 AWG solid wire for the buss feeds from the power supply. I used 20 AWG solid wire as the feed soldered to the rails. As you can see, my 14 gauge power feed is green, the 20 gauge feed to the rail is red. At this point, instead of soldering each feed connection, I used wire nuts. I plan to go back and solder later. (You’re right, unless I start having problems, that probably won’t happen.)

Assisting me in the project, not only so I can see, but also working the magic of battling SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) I struggle with every year, is the sunlight lamp our daughter purchased for me. It works! Instead of feeling like crap when it’s twenty degrees, dark, and snowing, I feel like jumping, running around and laughing. Not really, but it does help.

All the while tough work is going on under the layout as I scoot around taking care not to cut my head, these guys paddle down Maple Valley River like they don’t have a care in the world. (Current ripples on the surface will be added some time down the road.)

It was an exciting moment when I was able to sit back against the wall on my little cart under the layout and admire the terminal strip complete with buss feeds in place. The black wires on the right are the common feed and I used jumpers between the three terminals. The rest of the terminals are numbered from left to right, with number tape on all the wires. Turned out nice. Troubleshooting will be much easier.

I still have the big but fun job of wiring all of the turnouts, signals, and buildings. I plan to find some street lights for Maple Valley.

The Maple Valley Short Line Railroad has been a long and satisfying project that is no where near completion. But that is the fun of model railroading. There is always something more to do. Whether it’s small weeds along the river and around buildings, kids playing in a back yard, townsfolk going about their business, neighbors arguing over lot lines, or a train load of tourists stepping off The Old General into the wonder of Maple Valley. Which is still stirring over the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner. It has been months since anyone has seen her. There are still no clues to her whereabouts…or are there?