After wrapping up the curved turnout build, I haven’t been back to the layout much over the last couple weeks. A few things have happened, so in the interest of momentum, I’ll share them here.
Last Fall I inherited an old Digitrax Super Empire Builder starter set, which is about 15 years old, from an old friend. This allowed me to switch from DCC++ to Digitrax for my main DCC system. (I’ve preserved my DCC++/JMRI/RPi setup for use as a programming and testing platform.) The Digitrax DT300 throttle that came with the set appeared to have been a victim of the capacitor plague and Digitrax had some sort of warranty repair program for repairing it. It will be going back to Digitrax for the repair soon. (they are just now getting back on track after being ravaged by hurricane Michael last year.)
So far, I have been using my backup throttle, an old UT-1 which I purchased about 17 years ago so I could run trains on the old MCMR club layout. The layout was gone shortly after I purchased it and I have never really had much use for it. With my new Digitrax system, I finally do! Since earlier in the Winter when I picked up the Digitrax system, I’ve used the UT-1. It works fine for running stuff around and testing it but I have been plugging it directly into the DB150 which means I can only use the throttle at one end of my long room. So, this weekend I decided to make some LocoNet cables. I have had some old inherited Cat5 cable that was left over from the old club storage area and some 6-pin RJ12 connectors and the proper crimping tools stashed away. I broke everything out and sat on the couch and did some crimping while watching TV with the wife. It went well. I had a bit of a re-learning curve as I figured out the process again. I attempted to use the cutter/stripper on the tool I have, but it would slice too much insulation and into the wires damaging them. I ended up using an X-Acto knife to carefully cut back the insulation. I also realized that my vision requires the use of glasses and an opti-visor to really get the wires correct!
The Digitrax LT1 tester proved to be tricky, as well. I read through the directions but I must have skimmed the part that said you must have a throttle plugged in for it to work correctly. (thank you Tom M. for helping me figure this out!) Anyway, once I got that working, the cables checked out and I hooked them up to a couple of the old Loy’s Toys cab bus fascia panels I have, and voila! I could now plug in my throttle at various spots around the room. Worked fine.
Lastly, I had a little bit of fun with some non-DCC locos I have collected over the years. I decided to put some basic decoders I have laying around into these engines and see if they will run. I fired up the DCC++/JMRI system and got to testing. I managed to get my Athearn Genesis 2-8-2 USRA light mikado and my Life-Like Proto2000 S1 up and running. I couldn’t fit the S1 shell back on and in doing some online research I found that these locos have a critical flaw that needs attention before the decoder can be properly installed. That will be next on my list.
So that’s it for now. Spring is here and thus my time in the layout room is being challenged by chores, yard work and other fun things. I’m hoping that I can continue as I really do have some great momentum right now. I visited my friend Kelly yesterday and saw his Georgetown layout which is really coming along nicely! He is modeling the area of G-town from the Aqueduct bridge to the “new yard” at Wisconsin Ave, with plans for expansion. Very cool!
The bell is tolling for the Rock Creek trestle. The Purple Line has announced that beginning on March 26, demolition will begin as they remove the path across the top and then begin demolishing the trestle itself. Already the wood planking atop the trestle is being removed.
I am hoping to visit the site to witness some of the demolition. It’s heartbreaking to read about. RIP.
As most of you will know, the bridge which crosses the B&O’s Metropolitan Branch and Georgetown Branch lead at Georgetown Junction is slated to be torn down. The sides of the bridge, which once belonged to a turntable, are to be saved and placed along a new stretch of the Capital Crescent Trail, which is nice. The bridge was constructed at some point around 1918 and has seen several refurbishments over the years. Much of the support structure rusted away over the years and as such the bridge has been condemned for the last year or two. Thankfully, it was recently re-opened to pedestrian traffic.
Greg C. and I spent a morning at the bridge documenting it both with a measuring tape and with a camera. All in all, it was a very successful trip and I feel confident that I have enough data to accurately model the bridge in HO scale for my layout. Unfortunately, the model will have to be modified a bit to fit in my space, but I plan on being as accurate as I can. I think once complete, it will be a really neat model. Here are a few a sneak peeks at the drawing I am developing of the bridge structure:
After building my first curved turnout a couple weeks ago I decided to build the next two to complete the track coming into Bethesda. I spent several hours over the weekend putting these together. When all three were done, I set them in place and realized I didn’t like how they worked. The first one was too tight of a radius. Hmmm… the only solution was to build one MORE turnout! This one a #10 LH with a 60″ OR and 46″ IR. It took me a few more hours to complete as I don’t have a FastTracks PointForm jig for a #10 turnout, only #8. So I used that and filed them down further to get the clearance I needed. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome… yeah.
Putting together the turnouts has been a tremendously rewarding experience and I take a lot of pride in how they turned out. I still have a bit of work to do with them, specifically I need to cut gaps, test continuity, fit them in place on the layout, paint, weather, install ties and wiring. Oh, and switch machines. *phew!* I’ll also need to modify the benchwork for the first siding which branches off at the start of the curve. This will be for the Griffith Consumers Co. coal & oil facility, which you can see here in this 1949 aerial view on NETR Historic Aerials. I will add a bit of a wing of plywood and Homasote subroadbed and then drop down for the coal unloading trestle. Ideally this facility will receive 2-3 40′ cars of fuel oil and coal. Here are some random LoC photos of the facility there. Unfortunately I don’t have a great shot of the trestle.
So all of my modeling life I have wanted to hand lay track. My father was a member of the TSC (Transportation Systems Center (the Volpe Center)) model railroad club back in the late 70s/early 80s. As a kid, I visited innumerable times. A third of the layout ended up in my basement when the club lost their lease. The layout was built with plywood and L-girder benchwork. All of the track was hand laid on lath. (thin strips of wood, kerfed for curves) I marveled at the robust hand-laid stuff, as back then everything was Atlas Snap-Track for me. But the seed was planted. I made a few attempts as a lad to hand lay track but it was usually heavy-handed and ended up with split ties and out-of-gauge rails. Oh well.
Fast forward to last week and my first attempt at hand laying track: a curved turnout, naturally! The impetus for this decision came after much trial and error of fitting turnouts a the northern throat of the Bethesda yard. The prototype arrangement in the 1940s included three turnouts; the first to Griffith Consumers (coal, oil), the second to various warehouses and merchants, and the third would diverge to the passing siding and other industries branching of further.
I wrote about this on the blog a bit earlier. The curve is compound, going from a tighter to a broader radius. Initially I was planning on using a couple curved Micro Engineering #6 turnouts, but put this on hold while I worked on laying track to the area where these turnouts will go. Once I arrived there (to Bethesda) I realized that the ME turnouts just wouldn’t do. The “main” would be passing through the diverging route of these #6 turnouts. This proved to look very wonky and nigh impossible for my Precision Scale B&O Q1c mikado steam loco. It would have none of these sharp curves. There went that idea. I met with Matt R. and we went over a few options. I tested out every commercial curved turnout that I could get my hands on and nothing came close. What I needed was a few custom turnouts, either built in place or custom designed. I started to get nervous about hand building them. I spoke with friends from my model RR club who all encouraged me, offering tools and supplies to get me on my way. (great bunch of guys!) I reached out to a few custom turnout builders who gave me various prices (some very reasonable, some not-so) and I decided that was the way to go. At the same time I realized that I didn’t have the money saved up for this path forward and if I didn’t get these turnouts in it would effectively halt track work on the layout until I did. I did not like this idea. I had to give hand laying a try.
I printed out a few templates from the FastTracks website to play around with. They have templates of all of their turnouts available on their website for free to download. They are excellent for test-fitting turnouts on the layout!
I then played around with fitting them on the layout in the spot where the curves will go.
Once I found three templates that worked well together (remember, this is a tightening compound curve) I decided to give scratch building the turnout a try. I had previously ordered up some FastTracks Copperhead Turnout-lenth ties in preparation for this eventuality. Matt R. generously lent me his FastTracks C70-100 PointForm and C70/83 StockAid tools. (and gave me a demo and the pro tip of using a vise to hold the tools while filing; this worked beautifully) Everything else I had on hand already; rails, ties, solder, flux, tools, etc. I used a spare flat piece of Masonite and taped the template carefully and firmly down with Scotch tape. I gathered every tool I could imagine needing on the workbench and set up.
I had watched several videos on YouTube of folks building curved turnouts, but the most impressive and educational was this one by the late MMR Wolfgang Dudler. He wordlessly illustrates his technique for building the turnout in great detail and precision. I emulated this as I built my own, taking my time and trying my best to think ahead at every step. It paid off.
I first cut the PCB ties to length and notched them per the template and then glued them to the template with a tiny bit of Elmer’s White Glue. I set a board and some weight on top while I spent the next 30-40 min forming and shaping rails. I used the FastTracks tools to form points and realized that they needed much more filing since this was such a broad curved turnout. This was done by hand using sandpaper laying on the table. I also used a smaller file to take off some larger areas. I basically followed along with the FastTracks how-to video and used the paper template as a guide. It came together beautifully.
Once all the filing/forming was done, I started by soldering the outer rails in place. I put weights on them as I worked. This held them in place for soldering. With patience, it goes fast. Just be sure that all the curves are where you want them. If you find that you don’t like a joint, hit it with the soldering iron and re-position it. It’s just that simple. Flux is essential. Check the gauge with your NMRA and tripod style track gauges. I also snagged a wheel set to test the flow through the turnout. If things need tweaking along the way, don’t be afraid to stop and work the problem out. Also don’t be afraid to re-cut a piece of rail. Having the turnout flow nicely is crucial for long-term operational quality. Here is a shot of the nearly-finished turnout:
I still need to cut gaps, install wood ties, file some solder that is fouling the points and finesse clearance at the frog a bit more. The truck rolls freely through all the routes and the NMRA gauge indicates that clearances are decent. This project took me a few hours of work. Being that it was my first (ever!) turnout and that I was learning as I went, I think I can cut the time down about 20% in the future. Regardless, I enjoyed the experience and will update the blog once I get the other two completed.
The Bethesda section of my layout should be completed over the next month or two, ideally. Stay tuned!
Well, a lot has happened on the layout since my last update, but some of the work would be difficult to spot unless you saw the before & after. Essentially the entire Georgetown Junction (GJ) area has been completely removed and re-worked. I spent some time talking to Matt R. and visiting the Junction area itself with Kelly R. After a lot of discussion and thought, I realized that my original track alignment worked for the model railroad only marginally; my prized Precision Scale B&O Q1c mikado would barely negotiate the curved turnout I had in place. This would not do. Also, I had used two successive Micro Engineering #6 turnouts; one LH and one RH, to create the team tracks and GB main. Not only was this not prototypical but it created a nasty S-curve on the main that looked wonky. I decided that it all needed to come out and the two ME #6’s would be replaced with two Walthers-Shinohara #8 RH turnouts and the curved turnouts would be replaced with wider counterparts. What I didn’t realize is just how much track would have to come up to achieve this goal. ALL of the track from where the staging enters the room down to the Rock Creek trestle had to be removed! All of it! I had to remove road bed (where I could) and reposition it. I had to cut away at glued-down-and-painted roadbed and add more to allow placement of switches. Track feeders were snipped and valleys filled with concrete patch and plaster of Paris. The outcome is that there are more curves and they are much more easy for the trains to navigate. The turnouts the team track yard at GJ is fantastic and looks a lot more prototypical. Downside- the trains switching the yard will have to utilize some of the staging track to perform moves. This is not a huge problem, as the access is not very limiting, but will require folks to move around a bit to get to their train. The good news is that switching the team track yard is not very complex. These were usually used for setting out large cuts of cars and not lots of elaborate moves. Here are some images showing my progress:
A couple weeks ago Kelly R. & I spent a day hunting the Georgetown Branch. It dawned on me that the Rock Creek trestle was either gone or not long for this world. I knew that with the Purple Line construction plowing ahead (literally) much of the Georgetown Branch right of way is either gone or soon-to-be gone forever, or forever changed. So, we finally nailed down a time and made a day trip of it. (*Note – if you’d like to see all of my photos from the outing, you can visit my Gallery HERE.)
We started at the Junction (naturally) to document what was there. This was one of the more delightful spots, as much of the Junction is untouched and actually opened up due to some recent brush clearing by CSX and MDOT. You can see that they have topped many of the large trees at the Junction along Talbot Ave. The Talbot Ave bridge still stands (yay!) and is open to pedestrian traffic. We managed to locate the old team track switches (wow!) still in place in the original rails. VERY cool. We walked down the Branch and found the switch lead for the E.C. Keys (now T.W. Perry) siding. Too bad they don’t still take deliveries!
We visited several of the Branch crossings between the Junction and Rock Creek, but there just isn’t much to see besides the new Lyttonsville Rd. bridge (which had opened the day before we arrived) as well as the massive brush-clearing they have done. It was neat to see the RoW in a state closest to the original 1890’s appearance for one last time.
But then we arrived at Jones Mill Rd. and got our first taste of sadness:
They have gutted the right of way. For reference, the tracks used to sit atop that concrete abutment and continued to the level I was standing on. All of the dirt you see in this picture is fresh. It’s as if they sliced the top of the fill off. And they’re just getting started. The Rock Creek trestle (in the distance) is not long for this world. It’s already in the process of being demolished when this photo was taken.
Here is the trestle, or what’s left of it for now. The missing section on the right has been removed already and MDOT will be taking the pedestrian bridge off of the top and re-using it elsewhere. Then, the rest of the trestle will be disassembled and removed in preparation for the new Purple Line bridge and pedestrian bridge. So sad to see the end of an era that spans over 130 years in this location. (pun intended) 🙂
We then hopped in the car and visited Connecticut Ave. The carnage here is massive and I didn’t feel like taking photos or getting out due to the hostile construction zone. MDOT has set up cameras and guards in these areas to protect the NEW equipment they bought, no doubt. (wow!) I can report that the old T.W. Perry property has been gutted and is being leveled. The old bridge just South of T.W. Perry has been completely removed and nothing but a dip in the ground remains. Sad!
Our next stop was Bethesda where we drove through town on our way to lunch. Bethesda was very busy and we chose not to stop in the downtown area, as with all the construction it is particularly difficult to get park. There’s not much left to see there, anyway, as it has REALLY become so built up over the last several years. We drove across the Little Falls crossing, then to River Road where we parked and hit McDonalds to refuel. We met a Penn Central hat-wearing railfan there who was dining with family. We shared some stories about the GB and some photos of a PC box car at Conn. Ave. which he enjoyed!
We parked at River Road on the South side of the crossing there. We discovered many old remnants of the branch, which was truly exciting! Probably the neatest find was the old Metropolitan Fuel Co. siding tracks which R. Pearlman had shown me photos of from last Fall. The REALLY neat thing is we discovered the old unloading valves and apparatus which still sits in the dirt by the siding. The siding would take loaded tank cars which would be hooked up to the unloading pipes. Valves would be opened, allowing the fuel to gravity-feed down, under the GB track and down hill to tanks below at the fuel depot. Much of the remains of this operation are still in place, buried in the brush. VERY cool to find and photograph. Who knows how long this relic will be there. I think it’s pretty special!
We departed Bethesda, crossed under the Branch at Mass Ave, hooked a Left and followed the Branch through the neighborhoods that back up to the RoW. We arrived at the Dalecarlia Tunnel and hopped out to hike around the area. What fun! First stop was the “bridge over nothing” at the Reservoir.
We then walked down to the Tunnel, which is always a treat. I will have to figure out how I am going to model those large brick abutments!
Through the tunnel, past the Army Map siding and at the location where the Capital Traction Co. / DC Transit “Cabin John” branch passed beneath the GB we came to the original bridges, still in place, carrying the Capital Crescent Trail up and over a vehicle access road.
The bridge on the left is massive – a good 9-10′ height! The shorter bridge is the one that spanned the DCT trolley line.
We walked back up to the “bridge over nothing” and I remembered that there were some old freight car remains just about a half mile up the line. So we started walking. My “abandoned rails” eyes caught something out of the corner… an old right of way! We’re not sure what this was for, but best we can tell it was an old unloading trestle that spanned a small creek. There were remains of abutments, ties and roadbed. There were some concrete blocks and posts in the ground down below, perhaps for pipes or conveyors of some kind. Remember, the Reservoir project was massive and involved lots of concrete for the various ponds. I’m not entirely sure but that’s my best guess!
Walking a bit further up the Branch we came to the abandoned box car. This carcass appears to be from a wreck and exists in three pieces. The underframe and two ends. Parts of the couplers and much of the frame are all there. Even decking from the floor are still in place. My best guess is that this car was damaged in a flood down near the River at some point in the 40s. (or maybe earlier) The RR cut the car up, loaded it on a flat car and dumped it for some reason. Not sure why they didn’t just transport the entire thing back to the yard, but maybe someone out there knows. Also, we looked for more cars in the weeds but didn’t find any.
We drove a bit further and took a peek at the C&O Canal bridges but did not stop. By then it was getting late, it had started snowing (we ended up getting 14″ up in Brookeville!) and we were tired. But, wow, what a journey. We had a blast. It was bittersweet, though, to see all of the old areas being demolished and changed forever. It’s been a special part of me for the last 20 years, this line. Seeing it destroyed is a bit melancholy for me. But, rest assured, when the Purple Line opens, I will be in line for a ticket to experience the Georgetown Branch as I never was able to; a passenger. It’s the closest I’ll get! 🙂
Happy New Year! I’m catching up on a LOT of updates for this site. I’ve got tons to share and just trying to find the time to get it all online. I had a great work session with Matt R. where we disconnected the DCC system and hooked up a regular power pack to the layout so I could run some of my non-DCC-equipped trains. This served a couple purposes. One, it was cool! Two, it gave me a chance to see how the “biggest” steam engine I have (a B&O Q1c Mikado) did going around the curves of the layout. What did I learn? Well, some of the curves, especially at the Junction are WAY too tight for the Mike. But, I also had some great brainstorming, realizing that I had laid out the track at the Junction in a way that wasn’t prototypical and could be done better to ease the curve and allow for a more prototypical arrangement. I’ve ripped out about 80% of the track I need to remove and am in the process of redoing the roadbed and arranging the tracks. I need to test fit a couple #8 RH turnouts, so that is the next step.
But, the big thing is that I’ve laid track all the way to Bethesda! (yay!) The bad news, I hit a snag. The curve coming into Bethesda is a broad compound curve. On the prototype there were three turnouts. From right to left, a turnout that served Griffith Fuel & Oil and included a long coal trestle. Next is another siding. I’m not certain what this served. The third turnout is the lead for the passing siding, which also led to more sidings serving Maloney Concrete, Frito-Lay and some team tracks among others.
I had originally planned on using some modified Micro Engineering and Walthers #6 turnouts (webbing removed to allow minor “curving” of the turnouts). See here, from last Feb:
But, upon closer inspection, and now that I actually have a lead into Bethesda, I realized these just do not work for me. The #6’s are way too abrupt. The “main” would become the “diverging” route on the turnouts. This looks way too wonky to me. The curve of the #6 is very sharp and it doesn’t flow well, even with bending. I tried some of the broadest curved turnouts that Walthers/Shinohara offers and they are too tight. So what’s left? Are you hearing that? It’s the call of the old-school model railroader… that’s right; Hand laying track!
FastTracks is a modern supplier of tools, jigs, and supplies for hand laying track. They have just about anything you could imagine in this realm. I have seen their stuff before and it’s very nice, but also very pricey. I can’t afford to buy a few of the CNC-cut jigs, but I will use their free templates as guides to get my turnouts close to what I need. I printed out about every template that was close to what I am looking for and test-fitted them on the layout. A few of them come close to what I need. Matt and I used a piece of spline to draw a nice curve from the existing track on into Bethesda. This gives me a baseline for the curve of the turnout I need to build. To give you an idea, here is the overall ROUGH arrangement of the tracks in Bethesda:
Next steps: Now that I’ve got the curve drawn on the roadbed, I’m going to cut and remove the roadbed section where the curves are and mount it to a small piece of plywood. This will allow me to take it to the workbench and work there versus on the layout itself. I then need to start test fitting ties and figure out the layout of the turnouts themselves. Alternatively, I may just build three turnouts of the same size and then place them together like sectional track. This will also allow for simplicity, but I won’t be able to achieve the nice compound curve I am following. Either way, I have my work cut out for me this weekend.
As a final note, next weekend (Feb 2-3) will be the Great Scale Model Train Show at Timonium, MD. I will be there and will have some table space to sell some old equipment. If you are going, drop me a line so we can meet up and say hello!
I spent all day Saturday visiting the Georgetown Branch to see some of the construction changes. It was a glorious day. Kelly R. and I found some amazing things. I took hundreds of photos. I’m planning many future blog posts.
The impetus for the journey was that I remembered that the Rock Creek trestle was going to be demolished to make way for a new grade for the purple line. I had no idea if it was already down, but Kelly and I headed over to the site. Much to my joy, it is still partially standing, although about 8 of the trestle bents are gone from the East end.
The venerable structure is not long for this world. Massive mobile cranes are staging nearby to remove the pedestrian path atop the trestle and on the west end, well, the original right of way has been completely decimated. It’s heartbreaking for me to see. This trestle has stood the test of time. Survived fire, flood, hurricane and countless storms and seasons. Since it’s original incarnation as a long wood trestle to what it is today, a bridge has spanned this valley since the early 1890s. It’s a beautiful structure and is showing its age, with rot starting to really take its toll.
I visited today after work to take some final measurements and as many photos as I could snag with the limited sunlight I had. It’s a special bridge for me. Something of wonder. If it’s of any consolation, it will live on in model form on my layout as best as I can manage.
This neat video showing various railfan excursions from the 1950s to 1970s in the DC area shows a wide variety of subjects, including a brief, rare color film shot of the trolley approaching its crossing of the B&O’s Georgetown Branch, which crossed the trolley tracks on a deck girder bridge. The trolley last ran to Glen Echo on Jan 3, 1960 and the area beneath the bridge would be filled in later that year. (I walked the line back in 1991 and witnessed this deck girder bridge sitting only a few feet off the ground. It was a strange sight.)
Video begins at the 5:54 mark and is only a few seconds long, but it’s neat to see. In the background you can see the GB bridge crossing over the tracks. There was a second deck girder bridge to the left which extended the crossing.