Sunday, January 10, 2010

Swat. Swat. Cough. Oh! Hey there! Don’t mind me, I’m just dusting a little and sweeping away the cobwebs.

I see my last post was in June? Huh. Well, anyone that knows me at all shouldn’t really be surprised by this. I have too many hobbies, and my interests tend to ebb and flow like the tides. I lost interest in trains for a while—partly because I just wasn’t sure where to go next. Partly because Roswell reared its head and I got into VWs again for a bit. And partly because that’s just the way it is.

Anyway, in December, Baylor’s Mayborn Museum hosted their annual layout setup (mainly composed of Temple’s excellent “Centra-Mod” modular group). On one of the last weekends before Christmas, I made the trek out—camera in tow—and I’ll be damned if the bug didn’t bite me again.

(You can see my pictures from that event here. )

Reading over my older blog posts, I see that the last challenge I was concerned with was legs for the layout. That problem was solved thanks to my parents, who brought down the last remaining piece of my Dad’s old bedroom furniture, a triple dresser (solid maple). So now the layout rests on that, and I have storage in the drawers below for modeling junk and other assorted odds and ends.

So now that problem is solved, and I find myself wondering where to go next. All I have right now is a basic loop of track—the roundiest of “roundy-rounds.” I’ve debated for several months what I want the inside of the track plan to look like (track-planning in advance is certainly not my forte).

I’ve decided that I really want the ability to run two trains at one time, so there will have be an inner oval. I’ll likely have to use almost all 11 inch radius curves here—maybe a 19 in here or there. I think I have worked out that there will be an industry on the left side of the layout, and a city (possibly with a small yard) on the right. I don’t want to get too much going on in the middle to avoid the “spaghetti bowl” effect of having track everywhere.

So what’s next then? Saving money until I can afford to buy more turnouts. I think I’ll need another four for the inner loop, so that’s $60 right there. This is an expensive hobby.

In the meantime, I can work on structure kits that have been festering over the years. I’ve gotten half-way on a number of buildings, but I still don’t have any that I would call “complete.” Time to change that.

Finally, I went to the Waco Winter Wonderland trainshow this weekend. This show is always something of a crap-shoot. Sometimes they have tons of stuff. Other times, nothing. One year I didn’t make it back in town until Sunday, and the vendors had already packed up and gone!

This year I am happy to report that there was a good selection of vendors (for a Waco show, anyhow), and an excellent N scale modular setup all the way from Houston. Please visit Flickr to see my pictures.

I was really happy that the vendors were there. As I have recounted before on this blog, Waco’s model railroading selection just plain sucks. So very rarely do I get a chance to look at things in person. I was hoping to spend no more than $40. In particular, I was looking for laser-cut wood building kits. Unfortunately, no one had any of these. So I began looking at the other items available and walked away with some rolling stock and a locomotive for about $60.


First up: Micro-Trains 33’ Peaked-end hoppers, lettered for N&W. N&W had thousands upon thousands of these, and they are essential for anyone modeling the area/era. Unfortunately, not many manufacturers are making them. I bought a three-pack of Micro-Trains cars for $35, which I think is a very fair price (didn’t I tell you this was an expensive hobby?). I do wish the hoppers had coal loads, but what can you do? I’ll just have a string of empties.

I wish I could find a source for these that wasn’t so expensive. I’d like to have at least 20 on the roster. That’s $240. Go take a look at some of the coal trains running on the modular layouts at the train show. That probably represents $1000 or more. Crazy, isn’t it?

My second purchase was a Life-Like GP-18 for the low, low price of $27 after tax.

Life-Like GP18


Some background here: I’ve wanted a small diesel for a number of years. I love steam, but it’s nice to have some variety. The N&W was the last Class One railroad to diselize, in 1960. They used mainly Alco RS-11s and EMD GP7s and GP9s. (the family of which the GP18 is a slightly later model).

So I’ve been looking for some time for GP9 or GP7. The models I found were too expensive (that money could go to turnouts!), or in a much later paint scheme than what I was looking for. So I was elated when I found the little GP18 sitting at the dealer’s booth for only $24.95, in black liverly. I was skeptical, of course. $24 for a locomotive? Loco’s in N Scale are usually in the $70-$120 range. Still, I thought I remembered reading posts on the Atlas forum praising this cheap locomotive. So I bit the bullet.

Arriving home, I sat the loco on the track and slowly turned up the juice. Nothing. So I cranked up the power a little more, and suddenly she started forward. I think part of the problem is that this is a fairly old unit—likely made in 1993 or 1994, and thus it might have been sitting in the box for a long, long time. After several hours of break-in (both forward and reverse) I am very impressed by how she runs. For $27, it sure is a winner. There is a slight wobble at times, but slow speed performance is pretty good (good enough for me, anyway), and it goes around the track very smoothly. If this is what a cheap diesel will do, I can’t imagine a nicer Atlas or Kato unit. As a steam guy who is used to finicky steam locomotives, you diesel guys sure do have it nice!

One final little note on these: N&W used “High-Nose” GP-x models, which means the nose in front of the cab (the short side) extends all the way to the roof. Engineers often complained about visibility, so most railroads got the short nose versions. However, the N&W, being “different” as they always were, ran these locos with the long hood in the front! That’s right, the cab would be at the very back of the locomotive, with the extremely long hood sticking out towards the oncoming track. Supposedly, the reason this was done was that the N&W brass thought it would offer more protection in a crash. Personally, I think it was just another case of being stubbornly stuck on steam. With the long hood forward, the locomotive almost looks like some futuristic steamer, with a long boiler in front.

Anyhow, that’s where things stand today. I don’t make any promise of regular updates (I’m too smart to promise that!) but I will try to not let it go another 6 months!

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