Tuscarora Railroad

The Tuscarora Railroad is a 1:20.3 garden railroad located in suburban Denver, Colorado. The railroad is based on the East Broad Top RR which still operates today as a tourist line in Orbisonia, PA (south-central PA). Be sure to check out Garden Railway Basics , Kevin's book on building and maintaining garden railroads for information on how the TRR was built.

Location: Denver, CO

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Thoughts on the Season

An unusually warm day (mid-70s) graced us here, so I seized on the opportunity to rid the back yard of its annual covering of leaves. It's so much nicer to do that when it's not 40 and cloudy, threatening to snow (or worse, after it snows, and the leaves are mushed down into every last crack and crevasse). And it being still warm in the evening after the kids went to bed, I decided it a fitting celebration of getting the leaves off the railroad to bring out a locomotive for what will most likely be the last regular operating session of the year.

As I sat and watched TRR #3 pull a short train around the railroad, I naturally got to thinking about what I managed to accomplish over the Summer, what I didn't, and things that are on "the list" for this winter and next year.

To start, let's look at the successes of the year. First and foremost was the transition to Lithium-Ion battery packs. This process began as an experiment last Summer with EBT #1 getting a 14.8 v, 4400 milliamp-hour Li-Ion battery pack in its tender, because there really wasn't room for anything else. This proved quite successful with 6 - 8 hour run times! So this Spring, my dad and I got to talking about batteries, and he was also looking to update his battery technology. We put in an order for some 14.8 v, 2600 mAh packs from all-battery.com. Once they arrived, I set about refitting my loco fleet with these new batteries. Unlike EBT #1, the idea was to make these batteries removable so once one died, I could just swap out for a fresh pack and keep running. Most of my locos were set up for this in one way or the other, so it wasn't too much work; just a matter of gutting the infrastructure for the AA-sized battery clips I had been using and replacing them with wiring for the new packs. (Hint - when wiring the packs, put the female plug on the battery pack and the mail plug on the electronics side. I didn't--because the hobby shop was in short supply of male plugs--and I've got to be darned careful when the packs are unplugged not to short out the ends.)

Suffice to say, the transition to the new battery technology has been really an unparalleled success. They really changed the way I run the railroad. The old batteries (Nickel-metal-hydride--NiMH) didn't hold a charge long-term, so if I wanted to run, I had to charge the batteries right before running. That wasn't a big deal if I knew I was going to be running, but it kinda took the spontaneity out of the equation. I couldn't really just throw something on the tracks on a whim. The Li-Ion batteries hold their charge long term. If I charge the battery and run for an hour or so, I can sit the loco on the shelf, come back two weeks later, and still have a really good charge on the battery. I could come home from work, grab a loco, and relax as it ran around the track. (Fortunately, the neighbors already know (a) I'm a bit eccentric, and (b) I work evenings, so seeing me out in the back yard with trains running at darned near midnight kinda goes with the territory. It proved very relaxing, I must admit. I have three packs in service, so the chances of all three being flat are pretty slim. They charge in just under 2 hours, and I get 3 - 4 hours service out of each pack before needing to recharge. On top of that, they're much smaller and lighter than any other battery technology I've ever used, so they fit in places where otherwise I'd have to get very, very creative.

Combined with the transition to Li-Ion batteries, I finally finished installing sound systems in all my locomotives. Most were old Sierra systems I've acquired from one source or another, but also used sound systems from Phoenix, QSI, Dallee, and MyLocoSound. All are good, and work well with the various control systems I currently use (RCS "Elite," Aristo-Craft "Revolution," and NCE's "G-wire" cab.) Being in a rather compact suburban setting, I keep the volume set quite low, but I prefer that anyway. Hearing the train's sounds fade away as it moves around the railroad makes the railroad seem larger than it really is. Nothing bugs me more than going to a railroad and hearing the train at the same--blaring--volume no matter where it is on the railroad.

Other successes, my slow transition to the Accucraft 1:32 coupler has been going along rather well. The couplers work great, though I've discovered the drawback of working cut levers when it comes to encroaching vegetation. It has the uncanny ability to reach out and grab the cut levers, pulling the pin and separating the train. I've learned this year to be a bit more vigilant in terms of keeping things trimmed. The downside--the pins aren't all that fond of getting wet. They rust and you've got to free them back up to work properly. All in all, though, I like them better than the Kadees, but admittedly not by too much. I suppose that's why I've been so slow to fully convert everything.

Failures--The loop at Neelyton. The end of it gets pretty constant sun, and is constantly working its way up and out of the ballast, despite my best efforts. I think next summer, I'm going to rip out the PVC pipe sub-roadbed and replace it with something a bit more substantial; something that won't constantly work its way out of the ballast. (The round cross-section of the PVC pipe makes it ripe for rising up.) I'd love to add another 12" or so to the radius of that loop, as at 10' it causes noticeable drag on the the train as it goes around. At first I thought it was a slight grade, but the train slows in both directions and the level shows it to be fairly even. That would require something of a significant rebuild of Neelyton, though, so unless I want to cut into the window well (don't think I haven't considered it) I'm unlikely to change that.

I'm also still a bit worried about the Blacklog depot. The interior walls have pretty much disintegrated, and at this point the only thing holding it up is the plastic veneer sheets. I'm going to leave it out this winter to see how it does. It can't get any worse...

Speaking of warping, I'm still at a loss to find a suitable roofing material for my structures. The masonite panels I used last year I knew were not a long-term solution. I replaced them this year with corrugated plastic--the stuff used for yard-sale and political signs. Others have reported a great deal of success with them. Not here. The stuff still wants to warp. My next solution next summer will be a product called "Gator-Plast," which I used for a small barn kit I did. It seems to be holding up rather well in terms of not warping, so I'll give that a go. I'm also going to use that to rebuild Blacklog depot if I need to. I'm pretty certain I can rebuild it without having to re-cut the veneer sheet.

So far as absolute flops, that's pretty much it for this year. I lost some plants, and my program of watering every night seemed to hit something of a snag when I found it just as much fun to actually run trains at night. Next year, I'll make sure I keep things at something of a balance.

In terms of next year, I'm already thinking of some ideas...

Neelyton will get something of an urban renewal makeover. I lost two rather large plants this year, opening up the center of the loop more than it ever has been before. This gave me a nice sense of depth that I think the loop needs. So on my "to do" list is to build a few generic buildings to occupy the space. I've got a few buildings that were product reviews that will give the town something of a start. The back edge of the loop will be lined with copious amounts of dwarf Alberta spruces, since they seem to thrive there, and I want to bring in a few tons of rock to try to hide the window wells and give some height to the loop to try better hide the fact that it is a loop.

Shade Gap is going to get some work, too, though not anything major. I want to yank some of the Turkish Veronica that's e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e, and see about getting some more thyme for some variety. Also, I want to rebuild the freight platform area so it looks a bit more tied into the depot as opposed to randomly sitting across the tracks.

Blacklog is actually in good shape (aside from the depot). I need to refurbish the Beers & Green woodworking shop because the wood platform base I built has warped, but that shouldn't be too bad. My biggest project there will be to re-hash the "garden" area of the loop. The Butterfly bush behind the bench just looks awful, so I want to get something bigger and more permanent in there, perhaps another lilac, as the one by the patio seems to be thriving. I've also got to do something with the scallions, as they're just getting too darned unruly. My "volunteer" mums this year were less than spectacular, so I think I'll pull them in favor of something a bit more bushier, too. Not sure yet, but I've got the winter to think on it.

In terms of the equipment on the railroad, it's in pretty good shape. I really need to get back going on my passenger car projects to finish the interiors of my coach and business car. I've also got a few other bits of rolling stock that I'm working on here and there; always something "in progress" on the workbench. Never a boring place, at least.

This winter--funds permitting--I'm going to replace all of my RCS controls with either Aristo's Revolution receivers or Airwire's "G2" receivers. Which ones depends on what sound system it would be controlling. The Revolution works well with the old Sierra systems, as well as Dallee and MyLocoSound, but the Phoenix really shines with the Airwire receiver. It's not that the RCS stuff hasn't served me well over the years, but the new systems have a much nicer user interface and some additional functionality the RCS stuff doesn't have.

That should keep me busy...