Sunday, August 11, 2019

BZZZZ! Harvest Time!

Amy&Chris&Nate keep bees. It was time to harvest honey and I was invited to the festivities.

The hive in it's bear-resistant enclosure.
That is electric fence and the hive is
strapped to a pile of concrete blocks.
Notice that the sheet metal lid is buckled.
Bear did that.

Busy bees.

The first thing is to get dressed and fire up the smoker. Bees are distracted by smoke and (it is thought) imagine the hive is in danger from fire so they move deeper into the hive when they sense smoke. This leaves the Keepers free to plunder some honey.

Ready to Rock!

With the top off this is what a Super looks like.

A little smoke to encourage the bees
to leave the honey combs and go down
lower in the hive.

Removing a comb. It is loaded
with honey. The bees cap each cell
with wax.


Notice the honey dripping from the bottom of this comb.

Next the honey needs to be somehow removed from the comb
without harming the comb (once empty it will be returned to the hive so the bees will fill it with more honey). To this end a machine called an Extractor is employed.

Combs ready to be extracted.

First the beeswax caps must be removed from the comb.

Then the combs are inserted in the Extractor.

Then the extractor is operated by turning a hand-crank.


And there you have it.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Control Panel

The car-stoppers I recently invented require toggle switches to control them. Adding to what was already there, the various remote controls have come to look like this:

In short, a rat's nest.

Many model railroaders consolidate their various controls onto/into a control panel and that is what I chose to do. This is what it looks like now:

The toggles marked "U" control the various remote electromagnetic uncouplers.
The toggles marked "S" control the various track switches.
The indicator lights show the position of the various track switches.
The unmarked toggles control the car-stoppers.

Neat and tidy.
It works quite well, feels natural and is intuitive.
Serendipitously, I find that it enhances operations on the Plywood Empire Route. 

Monday, June 24, 2019


Model railroading for me is a work in progress. As I learn I make changes that reflect my perception of how real-life railroading works. Watching a train run is a fine thing but for me continuing interest relies on operating in such a way as to mimic in my mind's eye a real railroad. To that end there have been several tweaks to the track plan and operations as described in the first post.

Don't forget to click an image twice to enlarge for detail.

The East-end industrial area has been expanded to increase switching activity there.

The way it was.

How it is now.

There are now 4 industries there: a granary, a tipple, a [virtual] tank car unloading facility and a scrapyard. The scrapyard features an operating postwar Lionel 282 Gantry Crane. That is, using remote control the Crane picks up steel scrap with it's electromagnet and loads it into a gondola for shipment out.

The controls can be seen under the switch tower.

Making room for the expanded industrial area required moving Oil Creek northward (towards the photographer):

The way it was.

How it is now.

The West end industrial area has been tweaked as well. 

The way it was.

How it is now. 
One less stub siding and the runaround track (was at extreme right) is now beside the main stem for a more prototypically proper passing siding. The refinery stub siding now runs through the tank farm.

A change was also made in the trackwork between the East and West industrial areas.

The way it was.

How it is now. 
Two track switches were thus eliminated resulting in simpler smoother more prototypical track work.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Improved Operations on the Plywood Empire Route

Jan's brother Jack died recently and I wanted to remember him. I used to frequently go for a morning walk at Upper St Clair Mayview Park and then go to Jack's apartment and take him shopping. So I would be thinking about him while I walked. A railroad runs along one edge of the park and I would sometimes see a local switching job passing by. The Pittsburgh&Ohio Central  shortline railroad runs from Carnegie to Canonsburg. I bought this O scale model of one of their engines and yes, I do think of Jack every time I run that engine:

An MTH model of the EMD SW1500 switch engine.
808 units were built between June, 1966 and late 1974.

This model is fully electronic (engine sounds as well as bell and whistle) and has precision can motors with electronic governors (speed control). What this means is that even at very slow speeds motion is as smooth as silk, right down to a slow [scale] walk. Thus switching moves (pulling and setting out cars on sidings) is much more realistic than with the old Lionel postwar engines which are basically very rugged toys. There is a problem though. Lionel type couplers, although patterned after real knuckle couplers, require a lot of force to couple. So one basically has to ram two cars together for them to couple, not a very realistic operation. What I needed for slow speed coupling was brakes to hold one car in place while another car is backed against it. So I assembled several of these devices:

The basic bit is a Circuitron Tortoise slow-motion switch machine usually seen on HO pikes. It actuates a brass tube which is fitted inside a larger piece of tubing.  Installed in the roadbed adjacent to an electromagnetic uncoupler it looks like this:

In the lowered position.

In the raised position.

Here it is seen in position to stop a car from moving while a car comes from the left and pushes the coupler slowly closed until it locks. No more crashing cars together! Switching is now much more like the real thing on the Plywood Empire Route.

Video of the gadget:

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Train!

I've had my eye on this Lionel set for some time and this year Santa's Elf (Jan) bought it on eBay and put it under the tree for me. Manufactured in 2000 and sold now as new-old-stock, it represents the D&RGW Royal Gorge which ran from Denver to Salt Lake City by way of Royal Gorge and Tennessee Pass (rather than traveling the more direct Moffat Tunnel route). The train left Denver in the early morning and arrived in SLC the following morning and what a beautiful ride it was for us in 1960, '61, '62, '63 and '64. The consist was typically two EMD F7 engines, a baggage car, an RPO, a lounge-diner, a coach and a coach-observation-dome. A shop crew added a rear door to the observation end so a Pullman brought up the rear of the train. Each Summer I found the train crews to be friendly and informal, so much so that Dad and I would spend much of the trip in a vestibule with the top half of the dutch-door open to our scenic passage through the Rockies. It is a joy to now put an O scale model of this train on my tracks and watch it roll as it always has in my mind's eye.

The colors strike me as true-to-life.

Two A units whereas the 
real train was usually drawn
by an A and a B (no cab end).

Except for being shortened this is
a pretty close model of the actual
coach-observation-dome car.
The coach section was in front of the dome
and the observation section occupied the
rounded car end. Restrooms were under the dome.
Instead of a lounge-diner and a coach the
the model has two coaches
and no RPO (Railway Post Office).

Click to start a video of it making a brave scene
and taking me right back to 1964.

Here is a photo of the Royal Gorge
high in the Rockies approaching
Tennessee Pass to the west.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


 With our move to the Berkshires the second floor of our Cape Cod is entirely devoted to toys: Jan's sewing room and my train room.  I have been a Railfan all my life and have always been interested in model railroads and now we finally have a space where I can pursue my interest.

I am what is known in the biz as a "high railer", using O scale Lionel-style track and scale or near-scale rolling stock in a semi-realistic scenic setting. Rather than a layout with concentric loops of track with several trains madly screaming about my track plan and operating scheme mimics an actual railroad, with the purpose being to transport goods.

O scale is ¼" to the foot or 1/48 scale so it takes up a lot of space. Most modelers use HO scale which is 1/87 proportion but that stuff is too small for my Senior eyes so O scale it is. What this means is that in a 13'X14' room the track plan is necessarily quite simple: a loop around the perimeter of the room with sidings for 5 industries. An interchange track, (a connection with the outside railroad world), is through a tunnel in a corner of Jan's sewing room. The operating scheme is the delivery of loads and empties to the on-layout industries with the pickup of loads and empties from those industries being delivered back to Interchange where they are picked up by virtual trains to be delivered into the virtual outside world. This is the essence of any model railroad operating scheme.

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words so here are some pics :~)

Don't forget that clicking twice on a pic enlarges it greatly.

A bit about construction:

 First is Benchwork. I used a tried&true
method: ¼" plywood decking resting on
1X2 joists which rest in turn on
beams made of screwed&glued
1X3 with 1X2 flanges. Strong, lightweight
and easy to modify. 

 These unrealistically sharp toy-train
90deg corner curves were hidden by
That was the first day of operations.

Another tried&true technique:
hot glued cardboard strips

Covered with plaster cloth
(the stuff Docs use to make casts)  

covered in turn with a modeling product
called "Sculptamold".

As it all looks today:

The pic third from extreme left is of the Grand Canyon train.
I once rode in the locomotive from GC to
Williams Junction and return. The pic second from left is
of a Santa Fe GP9, the engine I rode.

There was a.22 rifle above the Fireman-side
front-facing door. I learned what it was for when
a bull walked onto the track and the engineer had to bring
us nearly to a stop (open range so cattle everywhere). Blowing the whistle did no good. The fireman took down the gun, opened the
door in front of him and shot that bull several times.
The bull then ambled off the track, unhurt because
the ammo was, of course, birdshot and all it did was sting him. That particular bull
loved to bother the train.

 Grain elevator, Tipple and
[virtual] tank car unloading
facility. For years a tank car
was periodically delivered to
a team track siding in Somerset, Pa
where it's cargo would be offloaded
into tank trucks. I need an O
scale tank truck to complete
the scene.

Oil refinery and paint factory.
The refinery produces loads of
petroleum products. Loads of
solvents, resins and pigments
come in to the paint factory and
loads of paint leave in boxcars. 

 Track is Lionel Fastrack.
Scale size ties and tie spacing
with built-in "ballast".
Hard to not see that
unrealistic third rail
(the purpose of which is to
bring electric power to
the train, as a trolly-wire
would do) but that is what third-railers


Ground cover is fleece
from Joanne :~)

The left pic is near Bennington Curve
close to the top of the Hill above
Horseshoe Curve.
The right pic is starting the climb
to Moffat Tunnel
West of Denver .

Riverside Geyser in the pic.
To the left a Pennsy freight after descending
the Hill to Altoona. Wreathed in brake smoke.

Now about those photos wallpapering the walls. Scenery on this pike is simple and largely symbolic/schematic and the photos are an important scenic element. They were taken over my childhood by my Dad and processed in his darkroom. Many of them I developed as I often helped in the darkroom.

Left center Mom and I in the Dining Car 
Christmas morning 1964.
Immediate right 4y old me at a train wreck!
Right of that Horseshoe Curve.
Bottom left a B&O Maple Sugar excursion
bound probably for Meyersdale, Pa, c. 1958
Top left two pics same excursion train
with an open gondola.

Bottom left is passing through
Island Park, Id a few miles from
West Yellowstone. 1960, the
last year the UP Park Special
ran to West. The other pic is of
the train standing in front of the dining
hall in West. We all got off the train
and walked in where breakfast was
laid out. The Conductor had come
through the train and taken our orders
The railroad lantern belonged to either
my Grandad or his brother. They were both
Telegraphers on the PRR. 

 Center is a train climbing the Hill
above Horseshoe Curve. Pic to the right is in Cajon Pass
on the Santa Fe.
Bottom left is me filming a passing
UP Dome from another UP Dome.

Top right is the 2100 and 2124 doubleheading
on a Reading Ramble c. 1959.
Left center is a D&RGW Narrow Gauge
train 1954.Bottom left is the California Zephyr
along the Colorado River near it's headwaters.
Next is the D&RGW Royal Gorge....
in Royal Gorge. A 10min photo stop.
Next rightward is the Royal Gorge
somewhere near Tennessee Pass,
which until mothballing was the highest
mainline railroad pass in America.
Bottom right is me dangling my feet
over the rim of the Grand Canyon.
The PRR passenger train is stopped in Driftwood, Pa c.1955.
Top just left of center is a B&O excursion train
pulled by an EM1, their heaviest articulated
freight engine. Pic taken from an open gondola car c 1956.
You can see one person's goggles, a necessity
to keep coal fly ash out of one's eyes.

Dad's railroad clock at left.
Looking at San Fransisco Peaks
(Flagstaff, Az)
A tour train sitting at Grand Canyon.
Train schedule posted on the CG station wall.

Center is the UP 844,
a super-power 4-8-4 Mountain
class engine on a photo-run-by.
National Railway Historical Society 
convention excursion train
on Sherman Hill
(West of Cheyenne, Wy)
To the right, 4y old me holding a miniature
lantern in Royal Gorge.
Left is Riverside Geyser.
Bottom center (small pic)
is us at the graves of
Stot, Scott and Wilson,
lynched in the Pleasant Valley
range war. Probably hung from
the trees in the background.

To the left of the tank car, Green River, Wy
with brace of E9s in front of the station, c. 1964
Immediate right taken on the PRR across the 
Allegheny River from the Woods.
Further right me looking out an open
vestibule door (top half of the door open).
My favorite way to ride a train.