Saturday, February 27, 2016

"Annoying tasks... and life's little victories."

There were a number of projects that I had been putting off, but absolutely had to address prior to laying track. The time had come to man-up. I wasn't looking forward to any of these because they were either frustratingly redundant, annoyingly messy or inevitably tricky... with the real chance of real damage.

The entire backdrop had taken a beating from the installation and removal of the upper deck. Patched screw holes and various marks and gouges were touched up and the result was a blotched backdrop. Attempts to feather the discolorations into a varied sky only exacerbated the issue. A new coat of the entire backdrop was required, and completed. Job one, annoying, but easy and done.

But the bigger tasks awaited. Because the bench work was built at a uniform 20" depth, it ultimately did not provide the necessary space required for one of my Layout Design Elements. But simply extending the bench work wasn't the issue. The lighting system  had to follow the edge of the bench work. So despite my earlier claims that I was never, ever again going to address the lighting assembly, there was no avoiding it. I did have a plan. In theory, it should work. Let's see.

With the freshly painted backdrop complete, the repositioning of a 12' length of lighting was taken on. Two sections of valence were carefully removed and short lengths of wiring were unclipped in each corner to create some slack.

The 12' length of 1" x 3" was disconnected at the corners from its counterparts, the ceiling clips were loosened and the entire unit was slid forward by about 5" until the clips hit a cross-member of the grid system. The now-excess  frame and rear reflective valence had to be cut in place using a circular saw, held upside down without damaging the ceiling grid.

The 1" x 3" frames were reconnected in each corner, the reflective rear valences were reinstalled, the corner light bulb was repositioned and excess wire was looped. No way was I pulling the cable tight by repositioning more than two dozen sockets. Good ee-nuff!

The bench work below was then extended by 7" along the 12' length with two identical 6' long 1" x 3" grid frames fabricated from my disassembled helix frame. They were generously screwed together to create a 27" deep foundation for the Ellicott City area.

Because there was slight deflection at the joint of the grid sections, additional 27" long 1" x 2" lengths were 'sistered' under each cross member creating a more rigid arrangement. Alas, there is no shortage of 1" x 2" lumber on hand  from the former second deck. Even with the 7" extension, the aisle is still a comfortable 32" wide opposite the end of the peninsula.
To untrained eyes, like those of my wife and daughter's, it may appear that no progress has occurred. But I can readily attest that seldom has the appearance that nothing has changed been so rewarding. As annoying as everything was, the tasks got done with no real complicating issues. No damage, no injuries and a minimal amount of cussing. The valence was trimmed and reinstalled with no need to touch it up. Victory!... but seriously, I really am so sick of sawdust.
The crew did lend moral support... while awaiting their puppy chow.

Friday, February 19, 2016

"Friendly Fridays... Hello again, old friend!"

I guess I have a love-hate relationship with Model Railroader magazine. On the one hand, we go way back to my formative years in the hobby when I was gleaning everything I possibly could and was attracted to every era, every geographic locale and every road name. But things evolve and readers like me begin to define our likes and dislikes and move from novice to something beyond.

I have subscribed on and off for years and just signed up after going MR-free in 2015. I do not envy editors and publishers of print media in this day and age of online overload where every yahoo (pun intended) can allegedly disseminate expert information, helpful advice or entertaining anecdotes to anyone who will listen via blogs, websites, YouTube, Facebook, etc. (Yes, I do see the irony here!)

But Model Railroader marches on, trying to appeal to newcomers while holding on to established hobbyists. It can't be easy. And losing a beloved icon like Andy Sperandeo recently doesn't help. But a new columnist has been named to carry on the monthly operations feature and he's a real good, knowledgeable guy!

It was good to hold the magazine in my hands again, but immediately based on the cover and bonus insert, I wondered if my interests had passed it by... or was MR trying to tell me something? But there was neat news inside. A buddy was becoming a regular columnist.

New operations columnist Jerry Dziedzic (center) joined our road trip a few years back. Here Jim Dalberg appears to be selling something at Kip Grant's D&H Sonnyvale Branch that Jerry just isn't buying. But Jerry's true entertainment value on that trip was seeing him wind up Tony Koester over each night's dining arrangements... just for the fun of it.

Jerry's own basement empire is the multi-deck HO scale New York, Susquehanna & Western that fully occupies the approximate 25' x 40' space. His three staging areas are in a separate room that is about the size of my entire layout! It is fully operational and awaiting scenery. The design and fabrication of his unique pivot-lift-gates using drawer glides mounted vertically was featured in the May 2014 issue of Model Railroader.

I haven't known Jerry too long and haven't spent that much time with him. But the time we have had together has always been very enjoyable, whether it's that road trip, or operating on the Susquehanna or just having craft beers and Jersey cheese steaks at the historic inn down the road from his home.
He is currently helping me with some roadbed decisions I need to make which I expect to cover in a future post. But for now, I wish my newer friend the best in his exciting endeavor. Jerry's column will debut in the April 2016 issue of that older friend. Check it out.
Jerry is a retired chemical engineer who winters in Colorado with his wife Laura. They serve as guides with the Breckenridge Ski School and are very active in the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. He thoughtfully sent along a photo of "the view from my office"...  Nice!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

"Like the man said... It's deja vu all over again."

I am not in the habit of quoting the late New York Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra. But as I embarked on installing 150 risers, it was not lost on me that I had done this once before for the original single deck, then removed them all, before re-installing taller risers to cantilever my ill-fated second deck. That sentiment seemed so perfectly descriptive, even for a New York Mets fan.

So let's see. One hundred and fifty risers at two screws per riser... installed, removed, installed, removed, installed. That's 1,500 tweaks of the drill in all of the same locations. If that ain't "deja vu all over again," I don't know what is.

The very original single deck sat on benchwork that rested on a ledger strip about 44" above the floor. Five inch risers, plus the 1" Gatorboard brought the track height to 50" and nicely met the styrene backdrop in corners and along the peninsula.

The benchwork had been dropped about 5" to accommodate the ill-advised second deck, so new risers had to be used to make up the difference. Seventy five  17" risers from that second deck were reused, cut in half and mounted using jigs, so that they'd be plumb and level.

By using a block clamped in my table saw to assure that all cuts were 8-1/2" and by using jigs that aligned those risers with the bottom of the 1" x 3" benchwork, I theoretically should have risers that extend 6" and are even with one another. My level confirmed that, for once, theory and practice were in harmony... AKA "even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes!"

The new risers still leave the deck about 4" below the styrene backdrops in corners and along the peninsula, but land forms should be able to hide the issue. Of course an added bonus to my venture into multi-deck land is that I now have twice as many lengths of Gator Board that are all two narrow to 'cover' the full depth of the single deck. But again, the issue should be minimized with varying land forms and all of the hacking and stacking to come.

So the long, strange journey from single deck to multi-deck and back again, has cost me more than a year and has left me with a track height of 46" instead of the originally planned 50". Not the end of the world, but frustrating as all get out.

Friends and visitors often tease about my benchwork being "too nice to cover up"... apparently I have taken their comments too literally!