Trolley Modeling in N Scale

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Fondue-Tram ~ Monday, December 29, 2008

Our friends in Zürich sent us a pack of goodies including a pamphlet for a Fondue-Tram.


"Cheese lovers can rejoice--the Fondue-Tram is running again!"

There are two cars in "Fondue Service". The top two pictures on the right are the exterior and interior of the more modern one; the bottom picture is the interior of the "Oldtimer", which I'm guessing is this car:

that I had the good fortune to see trundling by on a previous trip to Zürich.

Looks like you can walk up and board any time for a traditional cheese fondue, but if you make a party reservation, they offer a few variations, with various cheess, and additions mushrooms, tomatoes, grappa... yum!

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I'm on Facebook ~ Monday, December 15, 2008

Here's my page.

Naturally I'll add anyone interested in N Scale Traction as a friend!

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Streetcars in the Snow--In New Orleans! ~ Friday, December 12, 2008

From the Times Picayune.

Merry Christmas!

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The Lompoc Local ~ Wednesday, December 03, 2008

More new scans from the old photo box.

We used to live in Lompoc, CA, served by a 10 mile branch off of the SP (now UP)'s Coast Line.

The branch's reason for being is to serve a Diatomaceous Earth mine in the hills above town. (My wife worked in their office, arranging shipments, though her territory was the west coast so her customers mostly shipped by truck).

D.E. is highly porous so it's shipped in covered hoppers.

Trains reach the mine with the engine pushing up the grade. There are lots of grade crossings, so the train always used a caboose (pretty rare already by the 90's) on the uphill end of the train, where a crewman could stand on the platform. The caboose seemed to have formerly been in railway police use.

Unfortunately I don't have any shots of the train working up the hill. Here's a train in the Lompoc "yard", a two-ended siding used for run-around moves.

Trains entered (or in the case if this picture, left) town by going down the middle of a street.

Here's a train heading past the edge of town, starting it's ten mile trek through farmland to join up with the Coast Line at Surf.

Other traffic passes through town sometimes too. I assume this US Army critter was headed to nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base.

How often do you see a train on a train?

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Ghost Tracks ~

Rummaging through old photos, I came across this:

It's the intersection of Bath and Junipero, Santa Barbara (next to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, where my daughter was born).

The curving cracks in the pavement trace the rails of Santa Barbara street railway, which was so solidly built that most of its track is still in place, buried under asphalt.

Are there ghost tracks in your town?

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I'm Taking a Break from Modelling ~ Wednesday, November 26, 2008

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NCat Publications Online ~ Saturday, November 22, 2008

In the NScaleTraction Yahoo group's files repositiry (click on NCat Publications)--thanks to Tom Savage.

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Pumpkin Patch--Finished (a Year and) a Few Days Late ~ Thursday, November 06, 2008

I started this mini-scene last Halloween, and just wrapped it up.

The main addition was some ground foam, figures (kids!), a laser-cut picnic table to hold more pumpkins, and gluing down the truck and all those pumpkins.

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Trying a New Camera ~

It's a Casio Exilim EX-FH20.

Mostly we liked it for it's rapid-fire mode, which should be useful for taking pictures of ice skating. But the 9 megapixels are nice for closeups of N scale models, too, like this GHQ railway express truck kit.

Actually, maybe the full resolution images show things a bit too clearly, at least for a brush-painted model!

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1925 San Francisco Street Map ~ Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Can be seen here at Dollar Bin's Flickr photostream where you can see a higher resolution image.

All the red lines are streetcar and cable car lines.

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World's Smallest Layout Challenge ~ Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Take a look at Carl Arendt's Small Layout Scrapbook.

What type of layout is more suited to minimal size than an N scale traction layout?

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Overhead! ~ Sunday, September 21, 2008

Not on the actual layout, yet, but I'm working up to it.

First I built a line-pole jig, and banged out a dozen or so poles, following NCat designs.

This picture shows a pole with the cross-arm attached, but before the hanger/ear thing is attached.

I should come up with a jig for making the hangers, too.

A few things that helped the soldering work better:

  • File a flat edge on the soldering iron tip, use that surface to get good contact to whatever you're soldering.
  • When soldering the cross-arm wire to the pole, put the iron on the wire just a teeny bit from the pole, and put the solder one the joint itself--this gets the solder to flow around and make a good joint.

After I had a pile of poles, I put some track onto some scrap lumber, and drilled some pole holes, and strung up some wire.

I switched over the Arnold tram to run from overhead. You do this by turning the screw on the roof.

It works! And with two power packs, one for overhead to one rail, and the other for two rail equipment, I was able to run two cars independently (though not very far without a head-on collision!)

Tangent track is one thing. Curves, especially tight ones like you'd find over street corners, are another challenge. I built another test track and gave it a try. I used a pretty simple design with single pull-off wires between the poles.

I was mostly paying attention to where the contact wire went, trying to keep it over the track, as I soldered, pushed and pulled, and bent the poles. From above it all looked kind of reasonable. Then when I looked at it from a normal viewing angle, I realized things had ended up kind of crazy.

But it works!

For building curves on the actual layout, I think I'll have to make some jigs.

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Still More SF on YouTube ~ Friday, September 12, 2008

This film's from 1940, and in color!

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Tomytec Steeplecabs ~ Monday, September 08, 2008

These were available briefly before, and I missed my window. Not this time!

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Improving and Zurichifying a Kato Tram ~ Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Kato single truck tram (if you can find one) is a nice little model, but like anything, can be improved on.

Its main deficiency is that it is very light, which makes for poor electrical pickup. It's small enough that adding weight is tricky--to give mine a little more heft, I added some square A-Line lead weights, and the best way I could find to fit them in was to attach them to the bottom of the roof and cut holes in the top of the main body piece for them to stick down into (this seemed better than glueing them to the mechanism itself!).

Even with extra weight, the car still annoyingly stalled over turnouts--and sometimes even just plain straight track. Helpful members of the NScaleTraction listgroup suggested complete disassembly and cleaning of crud from crucial areas such as the wheel tread, backs of the wheels, and brass pickups. I did so and this really helped. I also added just a smidgeon of goopy lubricant into the worm gear areas.

Another thing that would help is switching from two-rail pickup to live overhead. The pantograph that comes on the car has plastic shoes and limited range, but I discovered that an old Sommerfeldt pantograph that I've had on hand for about 20 years (I ordered a pair of them through this place) fit exactly. The car roof evan has two little pegs that fit into two little holes into the base of the pan. It's as though Kato planned to use Sommerfeldt pans and changed their mind.

I trimmed off the outside edges of the original Kato pantograph, and glued them to the roof alongside the Sommerfeldt one, to give the effect springs and electrical stuff and general "detail".

I haven't yet wired up the pantograph, but when I have a layout with working overhead, I will.

Inspired by our trip to Zürich last fall, I decided to repaint the tram's body in a snappy blue and white livery (my first attempt at masking), with a metallic roof.

Rather than leave the windows clear so that you can see the motor inside, I blackened them, by scribbling on the inside edges with a Sharpie pen.

The model does not exactly reproduce any class of tram that ever ran in Zürich, but is vaguely like a lot some of the single-truck cars that once ran there. The Tram association Aktion Pro Sächsitram (fans of the 6-line) has a picture gallery of vintage Zürich tramcars.

I just wish Kato would make these cars again, because if I could get ahold of a couple, it'd be fun to kitbash a modern articulated car.

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Overhead for Street Curves--Prototype Photos ~ Sunday, July 13, 2008

These are from San Jose's light rail system:

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TGV Speed Record Video ~ Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Watch it here.

574.8 KPH = 367.16 MPH!

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Another Kind of Micro Layout ~ Saturday, June 07, 2008

This one's not for trolleys of even trains--it's for cheetahs!

My daughter made this diorama for a school project.

The whole class, in fact, made dioramas for different animals, all in matching bakery boxes. Cool!

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Two of my Early Influences ~ Sunday, May 18, 2008

Peter Ehrlich, noted motorman/scholar/transit-photographer/sfmunihistory-listowner, recently posted this picture

to the NYCSubway.Org transit site.

In this 1971 scene you can see two of the early influences that got me into this hobby: Muni's Car #1 (way before there was the F line, I rode it during Muni's occasonal "Trolley Festivals"--though not quite in 1971, since I was just 2 then!), and over on the right, "Bill's Terminal Hobby Shop" (the building with the arrow-shaped sign). I bought a lot of material that went into my first attempt at an N scale trolley layout there. The proprietors (I presume it was Bill and his wife?) were very nice. They special-ordered some Sommerfeldt pantographs for me from Germany. I still have them, and someday I will build some traction models to go under them!

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Deutsch lernen durch Stra├čenbahnen ~ Friday, May 16, 2008

Having studied German for a bit, and having wrestled with the classics in College (ok with Goethe, but always found Thomas Mann a bit daunting!), but reverted pretty much to the level I achieved in high school, I'm always on the lookout for material to practice with that's simple enough that I can understand it, but interesting enough that I'll actually want to read it. (And that's a sentence which would be very interesting to translate into German).

A Zürich tram driver named Thomas Schenk has an online column that fits the bill for me pretty well. He also has a website and has published some of his columns in a book, Im Tram, which I think I'll eventually try to get a copy of (shipping books from Europe seems to be a lot more expensive than shipping N scale models from Japan!).

A recent column described the travails of mothers getting strollers onto (traditional, pre-low-floor) trams, and was forwarded to me by a friend who has frequently dealt with this predicament!

If you don't know German (or if you do, but you want to cheat), you can read it via Google Translation. It seems to work pretty well (and I say this as someone who works in the field of speech engineering, at a company that considers Google our cross-town rival), but still poorly enough to be somewhat amusing.

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Ft Collins Birney Comes Home ~ Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Ft Collins Municipal Railway runs a vintage streetcar operation using a restored Ft Collins Birney car. They have just (re)acquired a second Ft Collins Birney, brought it home, and plan to get it up and running.

From the Ft Collins Coloradoan

Read the full story in the Ft Collins Coloradoan.

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Perhaps This is a Detail Too Small to Model ~ Saturday, May 10, 2008

Seen growing by the VTA light rail tracks in Mountain View:

That's no weed, that's our state flower (California Poppy)!

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End-Door Boxcar ~ Friday, May 09, 2008

I've built a couple of MDC boxcar and refer kits over the years. Here's the results of a standard, following-the-directions effort.

I decided to try a little variety. Years ago, I bought a B&O boxcar kit, and stripped it (mostly using 99% rubbing alcohol). I added an end-door; it's made with an extra ice hatch (you get these even in the boxcar kits) and some styrene. I also added coupler lift bars, a detail we don't model much in N (not hard though, just bend up some wire and glue it on).

I wanted to model an early-period SP car, with the large tracks-into-the-sunset logo. Republic Locomotive Works, manufacturer of N and Nn3 products, has appropriate decals (I suppose intended for SP's narrow gauge subsidiaries).

I arranged the logo and lettering following a few pictures from books and some of the 3' gauge cars restored by the Society for the Preservation of Carter Railroad Resources, at Ardenwood Historic Farm, in Fremont, CA.

I weathered the car. It ended up being a fairly light weathering job, but even if the car still looks perhaps unrealistically clean, light weathering job still helps make models look a lot less like models.

There were several passes of weathering. First I sprayed on Dullcote. Then I applied artists charcoal and brown pastels, dry-brushed it in, and sprayed on more Dullcote. Then I brush painted on a wash of thinned flat black (water-based) paint.

In the past when I've tried washes like this, I've had trouble with surface tension making paint ball up into drops, which leave lines at their edges when they dry up. I tried a technique I've seen described for scenery painting: mix in a few drops of laundry detergent to help break down surface tension, and get the paint to flow more evenly. It seemed to help, and I was able to spread a thin wash of paint over entire sides of the model.

Someday this car will look nice bouncing along behind a steeplecab.

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Happy National Train Day! ~ Wednesday, May 07, 2008

AmTrak has declared May 10th National Train Day.

Events and open houses will be held at stations around the country. Here's schedules and information.

Nothing really big is going on in my neck of the woods, but maybe I'll try and get some freebies.

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I Missed the Party ~ Sunday, May 04, 2008

20 Minutes/20 Minuten, a Swiss newspaper (I think the name means it's supposed to take 20 minutes to read, but with my German, it's more like an afternoon project) reports that Zürich teenagers are taking over late night trams for wild parties.

Click here for the article, with video.

They put up color filters on the lights, play boom boxes, smoke, drink, graffiti, and generally get unruly.

The Swiss police don't put up with this, and according to the article, break things up with rubber bullets and tear gas.

A spokesperson for the VBZ (Zürich transit) says "We are not very enthusiastic about such parties, although we find the idea creative in principle"; though 20 Minuten notes, the youths have taken the agency's slogan "Where we are, Zürich lives" very literally.

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Thinking About Overhead ~ Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Actually I've been thinking about it for a long time. But now I'm thinking about actually doing it (running out of excuses--I mean things I have to do first)!

I've been reading up on the subject in the Kalmbach Traction Handbook and the NCat Book, and getting some good advice from the NScaleTraction group.

One thing that's going to make this layout interesting to hang cat for is the sharp turns it has over street trackage. There's going to be no getting around the need for span wires, pull-offs, backbones, hangers, etc.

Here's a design I came up with for one corner (on my work laptop, sitting in the back of a dull meeting--is there another kind?).

One compromise I'm willing to make is that the first installation of overhead will be for pantographs only. Or perhaps I can make the basic track loop a continuous wire, so that pole-equipped cars can run around it, but I'm going to put off trying to take on trolley frogs for later.

Or I could cheat and equip my "pole" cars with bows, like the Portland Streetcar has done with their vintage cars.

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Online Pictures from Public Libraries ~ Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A lot of big city and university libraries have impressive photo collections online, that are a gold mine for streetcar researches.

A few notable ones I'm aware of:

And smaller libraries are getting into the act; check out:

I particularly like this picture of a quintessential country trolley (somewhere on the way to Capitola):

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Another Traction Page in the Scrapbook ~ Sunday, March 02, 2008

Take a look at Carl's latest update to his site.

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Fill'er Up! ~ Sunday, February 24, 2008

Years ago I made this Micro Engineering gas station kit.

I had a different layout in mind originally, but I trimmed down the base to my standard 20x30' lot size, and it fits in to the town OK (if I'd though ahead I would have made curb cuts).

Also note, I painted the streets. I used "pewter gray" craft paint, and it was a reasonable match to asphalt in both color and texture.

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Speaking of Wikis ~ Friday, February 15, 2008

I learned from Wikipedia, where I seeded the article on the Petaluma and Santa Rosa a ways back, that the P&SR's powerhouse building in Sebastopol survives today, as a restaurant, where my family and I ate lunch on a trip to the area last summer, unaware of its history.

Back then it was the Sebastopol Brewing Co; now it's Hopmonk Tavern.

It's right by the P&SR depot building, now the West Somona County Historical Museum.

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Micro Layout Wiki ~

Carl Arendt has added a useful new feature to his Small Layout site: a wiki where modelers can collaboratively create a repository of knowledge on the subject of small layout building.

The official front page is
http://carendt.us/wiki/index.php, but a more useful place to jump in is the search page, at http://carendt.us/wiki/index.php?FindPage.

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The Oldest Streetcar Tracks in San Francisco, and an Even Older Train Station ~ Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Muni's L Taraval line originally ran straight down Taraval all the way to the beach. Later on, the route was changed, so that it turns south a few blocks short of the beach, to a turnaround loop by the zoo. This left a two block stub of non-revenue track, which is occasionally used for car storage, but little enough usage that it's never merited rebuilding.

So the original, cobblestone-lined rails from the early 20's remain, a curiously preserved relic of the Muni's original construction.

I snapped a few pictures on a trip to the beach last weekend (weather's warming up--yes!).

Every stub track in San Francisco has flange grooves past end of the rails, ground in by the occasional car that wasn't stopped in time.

We also visited Golden Gate Park, where there's an even older bit of transportation history.

This was once the terminal of a steam dummy line, a subsidiary of a cable car company. The railway has been gone for a century now, leaving this station as an obscure victorian gateway to the park.

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