Friday, January 20, 2017


Running the flanger last weekend proved a fortunate choice of activity to dispel the disappointment of needing to cancel the first operating session of the new year.  Not only was it appropriate for the snow and ice conditions outside, but my selection of equipment helped me identify the cause of the occasional derailments my crews have experienced at turnouts on the mountain grade.  Each time the Broadway Limited Imports (BLI) SD9 derailed, I took note.  A pattern of derailment at the turnout frogs emerged. 

Armed with my trusty NMRA gauge, I finally turned it over to use the flangeway tabs on the top of the gauge rather than the track gauge prongs on the bottom of the gauge.  The problem became quite clear.  Although the running rails were in gauge, the back-to-back distance across the guardrails was too wide.  The BLI SD9 had wheels set at the minimum back-to-back distance.  They were in gauge, but right at the minimum.  This combined with the three axle truck configuration to “find” every place flangeway back-to-back distance was wider than needed for the minimum gauge wheelsets. 

NMRA track gauge measuring turnout frog flangeways.

The too-broad flangeway settings was a systemic issue for my construction of FastTracks turnouts.  Checking with local fellow FastTracks users, I found they, too, had found the need for extra care and tuning of this dimension.

The cure was straightforward.  I spent a couple of days with a point file and other needle files (pictured) opening up the flangeways.  My flangeway widths cleared the minimum standard, so my choice was to file the guardrail in the frog assembly to provide the needed clearance.  This ensures the guardrail on the stock rail side will pull the wheels toward the stock rail and away from the frog.  Although the solution was “straight-forward,” my fingers and fingernails suffered through all of this.  I reworked some twenty turnouts over a couple of days.  Ouch!

While I was working on issues highlighted by my flanger operation, I finally tackled a modest project at Cascade Summit by installing the throw rods and knobs for the BluePoint switch machines at the base of the summit wye.  With modern diesel operations, we had not needed to use the wye.  Helper sets had controlling locomotive units facing both directions.  The flanger needed to be turned, though—the reason wyes still exist on the prototype Cascade Line.  This was a simple task that finally rose into my action list.

Flanger set backing onto the base of the summit turning wye.  The black knob is on the switch throw rod for the switch the flanger set is passing through.

Another track maintenance item tackled during this winter down time was eliminating several “sun kinks” that had developed.  Although we jokingly refer to the bowed or warped track as a “sun kink,” the cause is quite the opposite.  Prototype railroads can experience rail expanding with high amounts of sun heating, causing track to bow out of alignment. 

Though our model track might bow in a similar fashion, the cause is not rail expansion.  Quite the contrary, the rail is nearly constant in length.  My basement temperature stays within ten degrees between winter and summer—not much thermal expansion in nickle silver rail with that.  The issue is the shrinkage of the benchwork as the humidity level drops.  Such is the case with low (for this area) outside temperatures.  That low temperature air gets heated up indoors and in the process dries out.  The relative humidity drops and with it, the moisture content of the wood benchwork and roadbed drops. 

I had several track kinks to maintain.  The solution was to cut a little bit off of the rail and then move and secure the rail and track back into place.  In most cases, this simply involved reapplying the caulk I use to secure track.  In one case, the rail had popped out of the plastic spikes holding it to the ties.  There, I had to hand spike the rail back into position. 

Over time, each of these maintenance issues is resolved, leading to more reliable operations.  I look forward to my full crew arriving in early February to test my handiwork.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


This winter is shaping up to be one impacted by snow in the Willamette Valley.  Western Oregon is a mild climate, albeit wet, but every few years produces a winter with several snowfalls.  Such is this year, with two snows locally in December and another one this first weekend of January.  I already can hear the derision from other parts of the country.  Fair enough if one plans for snow as a routine.  Such is not the case in the populous regions of Oregon, although the Columbia River Gorge weather effect is well known to residents of the Portland metro area.  Suffice to say our modest snowfall on top of frozen ground this weekend was enough to cause significant transportation difficulties. 

Anticipating bad road conditions, I had to cancel my regularly scheduled formal operating session set for Saturday, January 7, 2017.  I had twenty folk scheduled to operate coming from as far away as Eugene and Oakridge and Kalama, WA.  I owed to my crew to not force them into what would be a nasty return trip after the session.  The forecast proved correct, with snow beginning here in McMinnville in late morning.  Crewmembers from further south in the Willamette Valley reported “ice rink” conditions early in the morning.  By the time we normally would have completed the session in mid-late afternoon, a couple of inches of snow had fallen here and chain controls were posted for Interstate 5 through much of the Valley.  This was a good weekend to stay home and off the roads.

Snow comes to McMinnville in early January, 2017.

The snow cancellation was unfortunate, as earlier in the week I had a group of four regulars come out to help re-stage the railroad and clean track.  The railroad got a good cleaning as did all of the locomotive wheels.  I was beginning the re-stage process when my snow cancellation wiped out my enthusiasm for that effort.  Sigh.

Today, I responded just as the big railroad would—I called out the flanger!  The flanger in question was the one regularly assigned to Oakridge, SPMW 329.  A fine model of this flanger was imported by Albrae Models a couple of years ago.
I noted my acquisition of this model in a previous blog post:
It was time for me to pull the flanger off the plow track at the end of the Oakridge wye and take it up hill.

Gathering the flanger at Oakridge.

Taking the flanger out for a run up hill proved quite useful.  First, I found the flanger trucks needed adjustment to the spring force.  This is a common issue with brass models.  The spring force as built and delivered often is too stiff.  The solution—properly done by the owner/modeler-- is to clip rings of the spring until it just barely applies pressure to the truck bolster.  This permits the truck to rotate more easily.  I am still working on this for this model, as backing through switches still leads to some derailments.

Flanger train climbing out of Oakridge.

The second positive effect of my run up the hill was to find several track sections needing maintenance.  Some of these would have shown themselves—quite negatively—if the scheduled operation had taken place.  This is a challenge for owners of large layouts—getting a chance to operate one’s own railroad.  Often, I have to trust my operating crews to leave notes where they encounter problems—as they are asked to do.  Still, there is nothing quite like experiencing an issue oneself to draw immediate attention!

Flanger passes AMTRAK Number 14 at McCredioe Springs.  Yes, even AMTRAK can be put in the hole for snow equipment!

The low interior humidity accompanying cold weather had an impact on my benchwork.  At least one spot of rail now needs to be trimmed and spiked.  The contraction of the wood benchwork was more than the minimal rail shrinkage with slightly lower interior temperatures.  Sigh.  The maintenance must continue.

Flanger being turned on the Cascade Summit Wye.  Now would be a great time to finish installation of the switch controls to make the wye fully functional!

I hope the start of February is kinder with schedule issues and weather so I can get my railroad back into routine operation.