Tuesday Tracks

Track for Three Tower Bridge
Approaching Three Tower Bridge above Maple Valley.
Three Tower Bridge
Three Tower Bridge at Maple Valley.
Heading for Maple Valley
Double tracks to Maple Valley.
Trestle over Maple Valley River
Trestle over Maple Valley River.
Iron bridge
Iron two-track bridge over Maple Valley River.
Workers at Interlocking Tower
Busy day at Hightown Interlocking Tower.
People working
There is always something to do on the railroad.
Rail office
Railroad office at Hightown.
Sanding station
Sanding station.
Engine house machine shop
Engine house machine shop.
Old General
The Old General at Hightown.

Building a Control Panel for the Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad

The Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad is operational. I have been running trains on the main lines without any major interruptions or catastrophes. From the moment I first drilled holes in the cement blocks, to securing the last piece of HO scale flex-track, this has been an enjoyable journey. But the journey is far from over.

The simple control center in the photo supplied power to run tests on the layout. Although I have always used Atlas Selectors (four blocks of four switches) in the past, I am building a control panel with DPDT (double-pole, double-throw) three-position toggle switches to direct power to the layout.

I will use indicator LEDs on the control panel. I plan to have a signal LED on each spur as well as a direction indicator on each turnout. Atlas Snap Relays will be used for each turnout to control track signals at the turnout and an indicator LED on the control panel.

My layout control panel base is a thin (3/16″) piece of plywood. I first drew the track plan on the wood with a pencil. (I actually did it twice as the first one wasn’t large enough.) I covered the pencil lines with 1/8″ artist tape which bends easily and sticks securely to the board. The short cross pieces of tape indicate where the rail gaps create blocks. I chose to make the mainline a single block. With the same layout design, you might choose to do otherwise. But with only one way to and from the outside main line, I didn’t think a shorter block was necessary.

I will place an LED on either side of each toggle to indicate if the spur is powered, and which cab is operating it, A or B. Two LEDs at each turnout will indicate direction.

I first had to decide how best to attach support for my control panel to the benchwork. I could have attached support to the layout joists, but chose to use the bracket legs instead.

I cut two pieces of 3/4″ plywood, 5 1/2″ x 49″. The plywood supports extend sixteen inches beyond the outside edge of the layout, allowing plenty of room for the control panel. I secured the supports with three 2 1/4″ screws through each 2 x 2 leg brace. A block of 2 x 4 behind the leg brace supplies plenty of strength to hold the panel support in place.

I made the same mistake on my previous layout. I didn’t think about the control panel as I was building the benchwork. I had a general idea where I wanted it but didn’t plan ahead by adding supports. I am confident the plywood will hold the control panel safely, but it would have been better to design the structure before, not after.

I finally received the three-position, double-pole-double-throw switches I want to use for the control panel. Before I decided how to proceed, I watched a lot of videos by the best modelrailroaders to see what kind of control panels they designed. Some modelers use plexiglass, others prefer aluminum, there are some who use computer aided design, all of which are impressive. I chose to go simple and basic.

I am actually going to use the DPDT switches as two single-pole-double-throw switches. One side will be DC, the other side AC. DC will obviously power the railroad spurs by supplying current from either cab A or B, determined by which way the toggle is thrown. The other side will supply AC power to LEDs to indicate the spur is live, and which cab is supplying power.

For the time being, the space is perfect for the new round of soldering that will soon begin. Even though the Atlas Selectors provide a workable solution for dual-cab operation, for this, my third layout, a better plan is underway. My new panel will have lots of LEDs to light up the controls.

Future posts will include details on wiring and soldering progress on the Maple Valley Short Line.

News to come:

  • Running wires for turnouts
  • Building more signals
  • Placing signals along the layout
  • Attaching Atlas Snap Relays under the layout
  • Scenery progress
  • Ballasting

If you have comments or suggestions, please let me know. Tell me about your experiences with model railroading.

O-Scale Model Railroad Techniques

A visit to the Detroit Model Railroad Club in Holly, Michigan, is always an opportunity to learn something about model railroading. The giant O-scale railroad fills what was once the Holly Theater. I think the most fascinating part about this model railroad is that every inch of the thousands of feet of track is hand-laid.

Anyone interested in trains can immediately see the artwork and skill that has been invested in the trackwork at the Detroit Model Railroad Club. Each of the ties is precisely the same size, stained and glued in place at exactly the same intervals. Each tie has four hand-placed O-scale spikes holding the rail in place, just like the real thing.

There are common techniques for building a model railroad, whether the layout is 4 x 8 feet, or a 24 inch deep shelf-type model, or a huge empire like the Detroit Model Railroad Club. No matter large or small, the delight in the imagination and heart of the model railroader is the same. From the first cut in the timber that will eventually support the benchwork, to the risers, the roadbed, and the ballast, each step is a treasure in the adventure that is model railroading.

In the more than thirty years I have been attending the Detroit Model Railroad open houses, I have only gone into the “basement” one time. Visitors are allowed to go under the layout during open houses, accompanied by a club member, and the view is incredible. As impressive as it is, the benchwork construction that holds the beautiful DMRRC layout in place is much the same as it would be for any open-grid layout in your home. Open-grid simply means the layout is not on a table-top. The benchwork, or the foundation of the layout, is built of girders, joists, and risers that hold the roadbed underlayment in place.

In the case of the DMRRC, the track underlayment is 3/4″ plywood. For a layout in your home, 3/8″ plywood works well. Over the plywood, 1/4 inch homosote is placed following the track plan line. On my own layout, I used cork roadbed, as many model railroaders do, instead of homosote as it is already prepared with beveled edges. On the DMRRC, 3/16 inch basswood is cut into 2 1/4 inch strips for ties. The ties are stained and glued in place. The steel rail is spiked to the ties. Ballast, or “rock,” is placed and glued. The resulting track is amazing. I have never tried hand-laying track, but many skilled model railroaders do it. I choose to use HO-scale “flex track” which makes laying three-feet sections of track at a time quite easy.

On my most recent visit to the DMRRC, I paid particular attention to the brass bell on display just inside the front door. As you can see in the description, the bell came from a steam locomotive that was going to be scrapped. It was donated to the DMRRC by the New York Central Railroad in 1953. It is fascinating to see this bell that once clearly announced the arrival and departure of passenger trains.

As you can see in these photos, the scenery detail on the DMRRC is difficult to describe. I remember several visits many years ago when I noticed a pair of legs lying along the rails, as if some unfortunate bystander had gotten too close to a passing train. I think they’ve been removed. The key to exquisite detail is the resultant impression that a viewer could easily step into the scene. I was particularly impressed with the cabin built on the side of the mountain. I would love to sit on the porch and watch the trains roll by.

Operation of individual trains on the DMRRC is a combination of work between the dispatcher and the engineer, just as it is on a real train. With Digital Command Control, or DCC, each locomotive on the layout receives a signal from the engineer giving movement commands. The power in the rails is constant, as provided by the dispatcher, and the engineer moves his or her trains individually. It’s amazing. While several trains were already moving along the layout, I watched an engineer moving a single locomotive into place on a siding.

Looking at the photos, it’s easy to imagine the scenes are real. Model railroading is constantly evolving with new technology providing opportunities for detail the old-timers, like me, could have only dreamed of when we were getting started with our first “train set.”

I was excited to notice the milk delivery truck from Twin Pines Dairy in Detroit. My uncle, now in his eighties, has always been my inspiration in model railroading. We still talk on the phone about our layouts. When I was six years old, I visited Twin Pines Dairy with my uncle. He was proud to show me where he worked. I think I’m going to hunt for a HO-scale Twin Pines Dairy truck for my Maple Valley Short Line Railroad.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 20: The Bat Suit

Christmas in Maple Valley has come and gone. Intense anticipation in the weeks before Christmas keeps everyone in good moods and actions with lots of “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year” greetings in the streets and shops. Hundreds of visitors came to town on The Old General just to take in the sights and sounds of Christmas in Maple Valley.

Just as they planned, Shorty and Hannah’s Ya’ll Sit Cafe was constantly crowded with happy shoppers looking for that perfect cup of hot chocolate which they were proud to provide. Christmas carolers walked the streets of town every night singing to visitor and resident hearts’ content. Carrying an accurate tune in Maple Valley, especially at Christmas time is not important. Tempo and tune mean nothing. Joy is everything, so, the range of talent and lack of it is broad and obvious.

The wonderful Christmas season was not without difficulty, however. If something is going to go wrong, it happens in Maple Valley. Everyone looked forward to the Maple Valley Church choir performance of “Hey Now, Hit That Gong,” the musical written entirely by Martha Hilmandy. After months of rehearsals, the time for the special concert finally came. The Maple Valley School cafetorium was rented because Maple Valley Church will only seat seventy-three people. It proved to be a wise decision because ninety-six people attended.

Rumors swept through town that what happened at the concert was planned. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” Martha scolded emphatically. As if on some kind of cosmic cue, when the choir reached the point in the theme song, “…angels sing along, joining a mighty throng, swells the happy song, hey now, hit that gong” a table at the back of the room loaded with plates of cookies collapsed with a huge crash. No one would purposely destroy a whole table of cookies just to make a point. It was a Christmas surprise no one will ever forget.

As expected, Dray and Morella Grimhok won the Christmas decorating competition. Alvin Thrashborn was disappointed, but promises to win the contest next year.

An important milestone for The Old General is the test required by the Railroad Safety Administration. As part of the certification for the Maple Valley Railroad, The Old General must run two complete circuits on the main line, pulling six freight cars. The Old General only pulls three passenger cars at a time. Once the process is complete, the MVRR is approved to run for another year.

Running the main line is exciting for the crew of The Old General. The Maple Valley Railroad line is a fifteen mile segment with a few curves. The train operates between Whistleton and Maple Valley, moving forward to Maple Valley, reverse to Whistleton. Running The Old General on a main line for close to seventy miles is much more challenging, and fun.

Folks know how important it is for the Maple Valley Railroad to complete its annual mainline run, so there is a great celebration when The Old General returns to town.

A great crowd, led by Mayor Alvin Thrashborn, cheers as The Old General rolls back into Maple Valley.

The end of the Christmas season brought a challenge a few people suspected might happen. Indeed, it has. Last Tuesday, a man walked into the Ya’ll Sit Cafe and ordered a cup of coffee. As he waited patiently for a cup to be poured he asked if the manager was available.

“The manager?” Shorty asked.

“Yes, I’m looking for Shorty Cloverton,” the man answered.

“You found him, friend. What’s your name?” Shorty asked, holding out his hand.

“My name doesn’t matter, but this does,” the man said as he pulled an envelope from his pocket and placed it Shorty’s outstretched hand. “You’ve been served,” he said.

Shorty stood with confusion on his face as the man put on his coat and left the cafe. He looked at the envelope and read the return address, “Skellson and Skellson, Attorneys at Law, 1215 Wilingman Street, Moison, Iowa.” It was addressed to him.

Shorty sat down at the table and opened the envelope. Shorty Cloverton, Hannah Cloverton, Alvin Thrashborn, Quintin O’Dillmotte, Able Kafflen, Henry Brimmerton, Stew Hanmin, Harden Sievers, Pete Terkinberry, Anabel Wizzleby, and Wanita Havertons, all members of the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team, are named in a law suit brought by the family of Madeline Overweist. Mrs. Overweist was the victim of a bat landing on her face outside the Ya’ll Sit Cafe. She did not survive the shock. The suit accuses the team of knowing the bat problem existed prior to her visit to Maple Valley and did not protect her from the possibility of a bat attack.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner continues. Months have passed since she was last seen, and not a single piece of solid evidence has led to any knowledge of her whereabouts. But, there is DSL, the letters found scratched into the timbers of Three Tower Bridge. A group hanging Christmas lights on the towers found the letters and reported it to Sheriff Pete. He took photos of the letters, but little more has happened since. That is, until Christmas Eve.

Late on Christmas Eve, plates of cookies were found on the front porch of Pete Terkinberry, Alvin Thashborn, and the Cloverton’s homes. Each plate of cookies appeared to be homemade, and each had a small piece of paper taped to the wrapping with the letters “D-S-L” printed on it. Each spoke with the others, and no one saw anything. The plates of cookies just seemed to appear. No explanation.

Life in Maple Valley really is great. Some times are greater than others, but Maple Valley folks always seem to find their way through. Hopefully, this will be no different.

Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 19: Preparations for Christmas

The Christmas Season is a very special time in Maple Valley, as it is in most places, I suppose. Folks are busily decorating their homes and work places, if they have one. The Ya’ll Sit Cafe is usually a centerpiece of Christmas joy, and this year will be no exception. Shorty and Hannah have been working together, so far without too much arguing as in recent years, to be sure the cafe is the place where everyone wants to be, all through the weeks before Christmas.

The Ya’ll Sit Christmas menu features holiday offerings like, Mistletoe Pancakes, Tinsel Tacos, Egg Nog Soup, Bethlehem Burgers, Christmas Star Waffles, and Pinecone Coffee. Hannah makes delicious Christmas cookies she gives to anyone who visits the cafe, whether they order from the menu or not.

The Reverend Shermer of Maple Valley Church has been working on his annual Christmas sermon. He decided to release the title of his homily to the puplic so the excitement will be palpable as the day approaches. He has chosen the title, “Fire the Innkeeper!” which, I assume, has to do with Mary and Joseph not having reservations when they arrived at the hotel where the baby Jesus was to be born.

The Maple Valley Church choir will perform a Christmas musical written entirely by Maple Valley’s own Martha Hilmandy, who has been the church choir director for fifty-two years. The musical is called, “Hey Now, Hit That Gong!” which promises to be delightful. This is Martha’s first composition. All fourteen of the choir members are thrilled to be singing the new music.

The piece begins with the lively theme song. The second song is, “The Sheep Are Out of the Pen,” then, “An Angel is Here,” and next, “Angels Can’t Lie.” The characters Elizabeth and Mary join together and sing, “You’re What?” Then the man playing Joseph sings, “What Do I Do Now?” The entire choir sings, “Things Are Gonna Change,” then, “Hey, Shepherds, Listen!” and the audience will join the choir to sing, “Blessing in a Manger” with all the children standing nearby. The final song is, “There’s Nothing Like Holy Presence.” The musical ends with the reprise of the theme song, “Hey Now, Hit That Gong!” Mayor Alvin Thrashborn was asked to act as the narrator, a task he gladly accepted. At the close of the concert, small candles will be given to everyone, the lights will be turned off, and everyone will again sing “Blessing in a Manger,” to end the evening.

Maple Valley School will present the annual children’s Christmas program. This year, a tuba solo will be played by Gwenneth Wilster, her first public performance. Harry Pristin, the school music teacher, says Gwenneth is doing quite well on the tuba in spite of only playing the instrument for a few months. The students have written their own play called, “I Didn’t Want That For Christmas.” It’s a cute story about three children in a family who all received clothes for Christmas instead of toys.

As with so many things in Maple Valley, Christmas decorations are a source of competition and the contest is well underway. Mayor Thrashborn believes his lofty position in the community requires him to have the most outstanding Christmas light display. He and his wife begin hanging lights around their house in September for Halloween. Instead of re-decorating for Christmas, they add holiday lights to the Halloween lights so there are many more than there would be if the orange lights were removed. Some folks say that’s cheating but Alvin doesn’t care.

Dray and Morella Grimhok are the Christmas display champs of Maple Valley, in spite of everything the mayor believes. People come from miles around to see their house. The small lot is covered with lights and moving characters. On the roof is Santa in his sleigh following leaping reindeer. Hidden loudspeakers let everyone within three miles hear, “HO-HO-HO!!! Merrrrry Chriiistmaaas!!!” non-stop, again and again, from 6 pm until 3 am. Sheriff Terkinberry’s office takes a dozen calls every night from sleepless neighbors. The Grimhoks don’t invite everyone into the house, but friends say every square inch is a Christmas delight.

Christmas shopping is a big deal in Maple Valley. Since everyone already knows everything available in all the shops in town, most folks take the Christmas train to Whistleton to do their shopping. Visitors to Maple Valley trade places with residents to do their shopping. Since they are so excited to be in Maple Valley at Christmas, it’s easy for them to find gifts they believe friends and family will cherish forever. Most of the shops carry souvenir items with pictures of The Old General or drawings of Three Tower Bridge, and mugs with Maple Valley Railroad printed on them. Kwindel’s Antiques started selling Maple Valley Christmas sweaters and sold out the first week.

A Christmas season favorite for everyone in Maple Valley is the Christmas Eve candle walk and carol singing. Everyone gathers around the Christmas tree in the center of town at 8:00 on Christmas Eve. We all carry lighted candles and walk through the streets of Maple Valley singing Christmas carols. Of all the events surrounding Christmas, this one is the most loved. When the singing has ended, everyone goes to the Ya’ll Sit Cafe for Hannah’s hot chocolate.

Christmas is a lovely time in Maple Valley, but this year we are all wondering what happened to Sylvia Meisner. It’s hard to believe we are just days away from Christmas and Sylvia is still not home. Something strange was discovered when volunteers were putting lights on Three Tower Bridge. On the middle tower, about half way up, the letters DSL were found scratched, or gouged, into a wood plank. It’s evident the letters were placed there recently. The sheriff was asked to take a look because it’s near the spot where Sylvia’s car was discovered several months ago. He wrote the letters down. DSL.

The Detroit Model Railroad Club

For many years we had a tradition that took us to Holly, Michigan the day after Thanksgiving. We met with other family members from the Detroit area to visit all the shops along Main Street and Battle Alley. I was always especially excited to visit the Detroit Model Railroad Club in the old Holly Theater. The club owns an incredible O-gauge layout of unbelievable size.

The Detroit Model Railroad Club, or DMRRC, as it is commonly referred to, was organized in 1935. After dismantling and moving layouts several times, the club finally landed in the old theater in 1974. Club members have been working on the layout ever since. As everyone in model railroading knows, a layout is never finished. The DMRRC layout is a great example.

I remember when we first visited the club over thirty years ago, the dispatcher, who ultimately controls where and when the trains are allowed to move, sat in the middle of the layout on a raised platform. The layout control area is now in the balcony, overseeing the entire layout.

The railroad is called The Detroit Union Railroad and includes many towns and villages through which the trains move. The mountainous terrain provides an amazing variation of views as the trains wind along the more the 6,000 feet of track. All of the track has been hand-laid by club members. Each tie is glued in place, each rail is spiked to the ties by hand. Below the layout, in the basement there are miles of wire carrying power to the track and fully operational signals above.

The individual trains are operated remotely by “engineers” carrying radio transmitters. Decoders in the locomotives allow the engineers to control the trains as they move along the rails. The dispatcher speaks to the engineers by radio and the engineers follow orders from the control center to move their trains. Visitors are able to walk along the side of the layout and watch as several trains of varying lengths roll along.

The Detroit Model Railroad Club is an amazing source of inspiration for those of us who have model railroads of our own. Club members patiently working on this beautiful layout for nearly fifty years have provided enjoyment to thousands of people, young and old.

When visitors first enter the club, they are greeted warmly by a member who offers information about the layout and its operations. The first view of the layout is a fascinating view of the city of Dorrance. Trains regularly roll through the city, so it is a great place to get a close-up view of the locomotives and rolling stock.

Many years have passed since our first visit to the Detroit Model Railroad Club. It will continue to be a favorite spot for this old model railroader.

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?

Wiring The Maple Valley Short Line Model Railroad

The Maple Valley Short Line is the largest HO scale model railroad I have ever built. My first was a free standing reverse-dogleg L-shaped layout. It was a learning experience, as all layouts are. I took it apart and moved it twice before finally cutting it apart for the last time.

My second model railroad was a shelf-style layout that was sixteen feet long, three feet deep at the ends, two feet deep in the middle. I didn’t use cork roadbed so the 3/8 inch plywood base doubled as a soundboard for the rolling trains. I used common-rail wiring with Atlas Selector Switches so I was able to run two trains simultaneously. I prefer a loop design so trains can run constantly rather than point-to-point.

After nine years in that home we moved again so it was time to dismantle another layout. I thought this would be my last model railroad and it was time to hang up my engineer hat. (Yes, I really do have one.) Rather than removing all the benchwork, I left it in place with a bunch extra model railroad gear for the young boys who would soon move into our house.

Much to my surprise, the new home we decided to purchase had a long rectangular room in the basement just like our previous house, only bigger. After almost a year in our new house I decided to build another layout, the Maple Valley Short Line. I was then surprised to learn the new owners of our old house decided to remove the benchwork I left and offered to give it to me. That meant I had most of the leg brackets and plywood I needed for a new layout, free!

I started construction on the Maple Valley Short Line three years ago. I started with the difficult task of drilling holes in cement blocks requiring a new masonry bit after just three holes. I fastened leg brackets to the wall, attached plywood and extruded foam for the layout base. Through all the other steps of creating a model railroad, the MVSL is looking great!

I encourage readers to catch up by reading other posts covering my progress on the Maple Valley Short Line. Wiring any layout is a very important step regardless of size, and I have studied detailed schematics to make sure I get it right. The great thing about wiring is if I do make a mistake, fixing it is much easier than moving a plaster mountain or a stretch of track.

I battled with the decision between using Double-Pole-Double-Throw (DPDT) toggle switches or my standby Atlas Selector Switches which I have always used before. DPDT toggle switches have six posts which require attaching wires with solder. Multiply six posts by fourteen switches and that’s eighty-four solder points just for block power. Atlas Selector Switches contain four center-off DPDTs. (Blocks are electrically isolated sections of the layout wired separately with a choice between power supplied from Cab A or Cab B. I will actually have three cabs (power supplies), two for mainlines and one dedicated to the Maple Valley Passenger Line which is point-to-point.)

Why use blocks, you may ask? Experts advise blocks should be as long as the longest train operated. Blocks allow engineers to move trains on the same track simultaneously under separate control. The DPDTs have a center-off option that shuts off power to the block so, for example, cars can be positioned by a smaller switch locomotive running outside the “power-off” block. The operator has the choice of using Cab A or Cab B for each block.

Before starting the wiring project, I checked to be sure I had everything I needed. My work tray in the photo is a wheeled two-shelf tool cart I keep nearby for each phase of the project. As you can see, it’s now filled with electrical supplies.

There is an important difference between common-rail wiring and totally isolated block wiring. Common-rail means one rail of the track has continuous connection throughout the layout. There are no breaks in contact since nickel-silver rail joiners are used to join each rail section. The tricky thing is making sure the rail you choose is the same for the entire layout. That can get confusing if you have a lot of turnouts. Since the rail is continuous, only one connection to the power source is needed. If you are using two cabs, the common rail will be connected to both cabs so the cabs are connected to each other.

After deciding where the blocks will be, gaps in the rail or plastic rail joiners are used at each end of the blocks. The remaining DC outputs on the two cabs are connected to the Atlas Connector Switch, side A or B. Then from each of the four posts on the Atlas Connector Switch, wires are run to each of the blocks and soldered to the rail opposite the common rail. Each connector switch can control four blocks. Additional switches can connected to each other. Fewer wires, easier job.

On the Maple Valley Short Line, I chose to use completely isolated blocks which means both rails are either gapped or separated by plastic rail joiners. I use plastic joiners.

I will be using two-light signals at the turnouts which will indicate which direction the rails are set. I made the signals by replacing the stock lenses with operating green and red bulbs. I soldered a resistor to one wire and will attach each signal to the turnout and Snap-Relay, powered by the AC side of the cabs. I am also going to include red and green indicator lights on my control panel.

In Wiring the Maple Valley Short Line, Part 2, I will include photos of the underside of the layout with power routing to blocks and signals.

Happy Model Railroading!

How to Easily Make Trees for Your Model Railroad

I want to be clear that any links or referrals I include to experts in model railroading are an effort to be helpful and not a result of having any kind of sales affiliation with them.

Many helpful skills in model railroading can be learned by watching YouTube videos. Just about any question you have or any project you want to complete on your railroad can be found on YouTube. Such is the case with making trees for your model railroad.

My purpose in watching all kinds of model railroading videos was saving money, which I have been able to do. I do not consider myself an expert in the hobby, but I have been able to complete some pretty impressive scenes on the Maple Valley Short Line Railroad by getting help from other modelers. From placing foam risers, to making plaster rocks, to scratch building an incredible trestle and tower bridge, to building printable houses, to painting backdrops, and finally, to building wire trees, there are videos for all of it!

One of the best examples of expert advice, in my opinion, can be found on Luke Towan’s videos of the Boulder Creek Railroad. This guy is amazing! I followed his examples for building my bridges and digging out the Maple Valley River on my layout.

If you have a large layout, you’re going to need a lot of trees. You can purchase tree kits at your local hobby shop but they’re pretty expensive. I purchased a 250 ft. coil of 22 gauge floral wire at the store for less than $5.00. So far, I’ve made twenty trees and used about half the wire. That’s a huge savings!

I apologize for the dark background of these photos. You can find Luke Towan’s tutorial on making wire trees at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FNQTxX_jT4 but I finish my trees a little differently than Luke does in his video.

I have the most success using a smaller gauge wire. Be careful while you are making your trees, the ends of the wire are sharp and will draw blood! A lighter gauge wire is not so dangerous.

  1. Start by cutting 7 12-14 inch lengths of wire.

2. After cutting the wire lengths, fold them in half. Holding the folded end of the wires, twist the wires tightly 7-8 turns while keeping the two sections of wire apart. (Use more twists if you want a taller trunk.) Also, the number of wire strands you use will determine the thickness of your tree trunks. You will quickly discover the smaller gauge wire is much easier to twist.

3. Practice will make perfect as you learn to make wire trees. I suggest dividing each of the two bundles of wire in half. Combine the two inner bundles and tightly twist them together 4-5 times. Then tightly twist each of the remaining bundles 4-5 times.

4. Divide each of the bundles in half again and twist 3-4 times. Fold each of the bundles in half and twist them 3-4 times. The result will be a loop of 2-3 wires at the end of each bundle as you see in the photo.

5. This is where I finish the process differently than Luke Towan demonstrates. I clip off the top of the bundle loops so that the remaining “branches” each have 2-3 wires. To me, this is much simpler and provides a nice looking tree.

6. I am not going to set the trees in plaster and detail the roots. Rather than separating the loop at the bottom of the tree, I use pliers and twist the loop, then flatten the end. I use a piece of foam to hold the trees for the final steps.

7. Paint the entire tree with latex and allow it to dry. Put another coat of latex on the main trunk and large branches as necessary.

8. When you are happy with the trunk and branch latex covering, paint the entire tree with a brown acrylic paint. (Use a matte finish so you don’t have a glossy finish like this. I will rub a brown turf mixture on the trees to get rid of the shine.)

The final step is spraying the branches with adhesive, then rolling the tree in foliage mixture and pressing the material onto the branches. Shake the excess away. Luke Towan suggests sprinkling some turf mixture over the tree.

There you have it. This is the easiest way, in my opinion, to add as many trees as you want to your layout with very little expense.

I would love to read about your layout. Let me know what kind of techniques you’re using. I still have a lot to learn. Happy model railroading!

Scandal At Maple Valley – Episode 16

Stories are swirling in Maple Valley. This isn’t new to anyone who lives here. News in Maple Valley means people are talking about things that other people wouldn’t consider to be news at all. But because Maple Valley is such an important tourist destination for thousands every year, we tend to think things that happen in Maple Valley are more note-worthy than they actually are.

Such is the case with the Ladies Who Mean Well club that meets every Tuesday night in the basement of Maple Valley Church. The ladies held their annual election of officers last Tuesday. There was quite a bit of campaigning going on in the weeks before the vote. Wanita Havertons has been president and vice-president of Ladies Who Mean Well for nineteen years. In fact, Wanita started the club in her living room so she felt it was only right she should be the president and vice-president, positions she was honored to accept and continued to thank club members throughout the years even though she was essentially self-appointed.

Well, some members of the club, with a roster of eleven ladies, said it’s time for leadership change. Wanita heard of it and immediately started telling folks in town how important it is to have qualified and experienced officers in the club. The fact Wanita was talking to everyone including visitors to Maple Valley who came in on the train didn’t seem to bother her even though, according to the club bylaws she wrote, only club members can vote to elect officers. Wanita Havertons is no longer president and vice-president of Ladies Who Mean Well. An almost audible sigh of relief rose from the members after the election.

Everyone in Maple Valley is still basking in the glow of the amazing Founder’s Day Celebration. Buck Wills and the Wagoneers put on a great show and we’ll be talking about it for years to come. Folks could be heard singing, “Mama Drinks Whiskey From a Coffee Cup” for several days after the show. In fact, there is a rumor a young singer in Maple Valley wants to record it! How exciting for the home town folks to listen to one of their own on a real record! Nothing like this has ever happened in Maple Valley before!

Members of the Maple Valley Railroad Trustee Committee met on the spur to talk about needed repairs. A great deal of money was paid to reapply ballast to the track and committee members are not happy with the work. They plan to force the company to return and complete the task to their satisfaction.

Members of the Maple Valley Railroad Trustee Committee are probably like a lot of other groups. There are a few who really work, and others who like being on the committee. In the photo you can see Don Shibberly using a shovel. Clint Blassiton leaning on his shovel. Barney Hergels with his hands in his pockets. Greyson Newrey reading a paper. Thankfully, Jefferson Glosterick showed up with coffee for everyone.

The railroad trustees really do important work. It’s not easy running a live steam railroad, even if it’s only twenty miles from one end of the line to the other. Many visitors ride the rails behind the Old General every year and Maple Valley folks are thrilled to be known for the railroad.

Certainly the biggest news of the week is Sheriff Pete Terkinberry decided to use a psychic to see if any clues to the whereabouts of Sylvia Meisner might be uncovered. The news met with varied response. Some folks were happy, others confused, some angry. Reverend Shermer of the Maple Valley Church felt obliged to say something negative about the decision, so he did. The truth is, a few members of the church told the Reverend he would be replaced if he didn’t object.

The evening Miss Wonderment (no kidding, that’s really the psychic lady’s name) came to Maple Valley, the scene was perfect. A storm was brewing behind dark clouds. Crows were seen circling over Maple Valley, which for the moment people said was strange even though crows fly over town every day. Lightening flashed as thunder rolled in the distance. Only the sheriff and two council members accompanied Miss Wonderment into Sylvia Meisner’s house.

The group stepped into the house carefully and Miss Wonderment tripped over the rug lying in front of the door. The men helped her up and she quickly regained her composure. “That is surely a sign,” she said.

They watched as Miss Wonderment moved slowly through the living room and into the kitchen. “I feel a strong sense of hunger,” she said softly. “Hunger and thirst, rising from the depths of my being. Yessss! Yesssss! I feel it very strongly!”

“Should I get her something to eat?” whispered Frank Klipton to Merv Wersher.

“No, you idiot! She’s not really hungry! She’s sensing something in the air! Just shut up and listen!” Merv yelled quietly.

Miss Wonderment climbed the stairs with the sheriff, Frank, and Merv following closely.

“Yesssss! Oh, yessss!” she screeched. All three men were ready to leave.

When the psychic entered the bathroom she screamed, “There it is!! There it is!! There it is!!” She didn’t offer an explanation.

Miss Wonderment led the group back downstairs and she insisted they all sit at the kitchen table and hold hands. Frank and Merv refused, but the sheriff convinced them they should, as representatives of the town council.

“Oh! Ohh! Ohhhhhh!!” Miss Wonderment howled in a kind of melodic chant. “Ohhhh, yessssssss!! No!!! No!!! No!!!”

At that moment, Miss Wonderment broke wind so loud it would have made an elephant proud.

The three men did everything they could to keep from laughing, but it was useless. First, Merv spewed through tightly pursed lips. Then Frank hooted with laughter. And finally, even Sheriff Terkinberry couldn’t take it anymore. Then trying not to laugh only made them laugh harder. The three men were crying before it was over.

Finally, they settled down. Miss Wonderment stared at them.

“You know,” she said, “I really don’t have anything. Nothing. Sheriff, that will be eighty-seven dollars.”

“Frank, write her a check and let’s get out of here.”