In the layout room, nobody can hear you scream


Approaching Perfection Asymptotically

I once heard a live-aboard sailboat owner lament, "With ownership comes maintenance". Truer words have never been spoken.

Having a layout is fun(ish), but keeping a layout in good running shape is a non-ending endeavor. Non-layout owners, by and large, don't get this. They seem to think that you open up the doors of your layout room on operating night and "VOILA!", it is all magically pristine, with superbly clean track, and mirror-bright clean wheels.

Not so.

Maintenance is an on-going task, particularly on a DCC N-scale layout. Our locos don't (yet) benefit from the "keep-alive" capacitor unit that the HO fellows have. (But I'm not bitter!)

After each session, I generate a list of maintenance items that must be completed before I'll schedule the next session. Most are minor (low coupler, dirty track, etc.), but some require that the experts be brought int.

Such is the case of the misbehaving turnout at Boonville. I have an original (non-Kasper MKVII, rev2 - GASP!) turnout at west Boonville that often did not throw completely back to straight track after being thrown for the siding. The throw bar was just a tiny bit short and would catch on the rail, keeping the points from throwing all the way. No amount of filing or tweaking (not twerking, eww) would resolve the problem. In desperation, I implored my friend, Joe, expert turnout maker-betterer, to come have a look.

His diagnosis confirmed my worst fears - my entire layout sucks.

But specifically, that throwbar at west Boonville sucks more than acceptable, and must be replaced. So out comes the suck reduction tools and Joe gets to work.

An hour later, Joe looks up from the patient and says, "I call the time of death at 6:52 pm". No, he actually says, "Boom! Done!" (or something like that). And now the west Boonville turnout works perfectly. Many thanks to Joe!!!
Throw bar
Thanks to my buddy, Joe, the official Grand Poobah of track maintenance on the Mighty MKT, a new mo' betta' throw bar gets installed at the West Boonville turnout. As Joe likes to point out, retrofitting parts into a scenicked and signaled layout is a "special kind of Hell".

Another great work night

Wow! What a fun and productive work night we had tonight!

Joe came over to install some sweet Kasper MKVII, rev 2 turnouts at East Rhineland, and Steve, with his out-of-town friend, Matt, helped with scenery and LED lighting.

Pat Lana had previously presented me with a pill bottle full of silica sand from the actual Tavern Rock Quarry area, and Steve used the material to make the layout's Tavern Rock industry look like a dusty, sandy place that it probably was when it was active. The silica sand is very fine - I'm sure that every building, piece of machinery, and rail car was covered with it!


Joe spent the night installing two turnouts at the east end of Rhineland. With the addition of these turnouts, all of Rhineland will benefit from the coveted Kasper MKVI, Rev 2's! Then it's on to Mokane!

The result of Joe's work tonight at east Rhineland. We still need to add ties, cut the ties to length, add tortoises and wire the track and frog. The locals will really enjoy the silky smooth operation of the Kasper MKVII, Rev 2 turnouts!

While Joe and Steve were busy with their projects, Matt helped me with a project that has been on my list for a while: adding LED lights to the backdrops at St. Charles. We installed a few tonight, but I didn't really have the correct size wire, so we abandoned that project until I get the proper materials.

I switched over to installing LEDs at Yuasa Battery, a small industry in west Rhineland. Using my copper foil bus technique, I quickly installed five LEDs around the building. I really like using the copper foil - it makes wiring so much easier.

Closeup of the copper foil bus, showing the resistors needed for the LEDs.

Rhineland lights
The Yuasa lights are really bright! I may need to increase the value of the in-line resistors to dim them down a bit (especially the roof-mounted security light). Note that the buildings are not in their final locations. I need to adjust the resistor values, then I will plant the buildings.

By now, I know the question that you are dying to ask, "Did you serve Fiddle Faddle, the official snack of the Mighty MKT work nights?" The answer: OF COURSE! It wouldn't be a work session without Fiddle Faddle. We even had Mountain Dew (or, as my daughter says it, Mountain Dude) for Stevie.

Thanks for all your help, guys!

What they don't tell you when you start building a layout


If you are the owner of a layout intended for operations, I don't have to tell you what this is.

New turnouts for Bunge-holio

Joe attempts some layout magic by passing the "Wand-o-suck-reduction" over the turnouts at West Rhineland

Soon, the Bunge Elevator and other West Rhineland industries will benefit from the sweet nirvana know as a Kasper MKVII, Rev 2 turnout retrofit!

I originally installed Peco turnouts at this location (and many others around the layout), and for years they worked fine, particularly during the DC-powered Chubb-o-matic era (Computer Cab Control using Bruce Chubb's great Computer/Model Railroad Interface).

But, since the conversion to DCC, I wasn't happy with the performance of the turnouts - too often, the locomotives died on the unpowered frog. Plus, the turnouts were hand thrown, and my personal preference is for turnout operation using a fascia-mounted toggle or a diode matrix rotary knob.

Joe has come to my rescue with some sweet Kasper MKVII, Rev 2 #6 turnouts! And he has graciously offered to help me install them. And by "help me", I mean that he kicks me out of the layout room while he installs them himself. He say's that my "help" just slows him down (it's true…).

So, the next time your run on the Mighty MKT, do yourself a favor and take the St. Charles local. Then you will get to experience the silky operation over the West Rhineland track and turnouts!

Turtle Envy

box of Tortoises
The awesome sight of 12 brand spanking new tortoise switch machines!

The postman was my best friend today - he dropped of a box containing a dozen shiny new Tortoise switch machines! Christmas in May!

So I promptly did what EVERY Elite Operator™ does when he gets a new tortimus - crack then all open and increase the pressure on the springy electrical contact thingy!

Spring contacts on tortoise

Tavern Rock gets the Kasper Treatment!

Sweet Tavern Rock ladder
I am pleased to announce that all the local St. Charles industries are now fully retro-fitted with Kasper MK VII, Rev 2 turnouts, complete with tortimusses, diode matrix selection and rotary knob control panels.

Just another step in the gradual improvement of the layout. The St, Charles local should be a real treat to run from now on.

As usual, special thanks go out to Joe for his dogged installation in the face of nearly inaccessible locations and subpar working conditons. Joe, I owe you several more Long Island Iced Teas!

Tavern Rock Matrix