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DCC Engine Conversion

Marty asks readers:

“Does anyone know of a reliable company or companies that would convert non-DCC HO engines to DCC? Thank you.”

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DCC Steam Engine on Curved Track

Bill writes:

“I enjoyed Allan’s article on actual dimensions of curved track. I have a figure 8 raised track that my 4 axle locos will navigate, but not my 6 axel. I want to add a DCC steam engine with smoke and synchronized chuff, but do not want to have another unit that costs several hundred dollars that cannot run the track. Does anyone have suggestions?”

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DCC on Older Engines?

Kerry posted this:

“My Grandkids found some 20+ brand new–not out of box high-quality HO engines and full consists for each, that I purchased some 10-20 years ago but never built another layout until now. I am building one now but am not familiar with DCC at all. I have built several layouts before but have no experience with this DCC stuff. How would I know if these engines are convertible to DCC? What is a good guesstimate on the costs of converting them? Can I do this or should I just build it as DC? Thanks.”

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Problem With American Flyer Front Trucks

Daryl models S scale and would like some advice please:

“I have American Flyer from 1947 Steam locomotive. The front trucks continue to jump the tracks. This just started recently. “

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Problem Removing Athearn SD45-2 Coupler Box

Murray would like answers:

“What I thought would be an easy job has become a nightmare. I put my Athearn SD45-2 positioned upside down in my cradle, but can’t get the coupler box and coupler out. I pulled out the first coupler box screw, that that’s all. I even tried a screwdriver and a sharp craft knife blade to pry outwards leveraging on the truck. The whole pilot twists. It won’t come out. No way do I want to break off the whole front of the loco. Am I the only one with this problem?”

Contribute your thoughts below.

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Pre-Made Benchwork

Mark posts:

“Carpentry is not my forte, and wondered if the pre-made fabricated benchwork I’ve seen sold is any good?”

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N Scale Track Radius

Patrick posted:

“I found Allan’s article very interesting thank you. The problem is that I model N scale so wondered if anyone could give me a comparison for his radius dimensions in N scale?”

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Alternatives to Isopropyl Alcohol for Ballasting Wetting Agent

Alistair asks readers:isopropyl alcohol

“I not keen on using solvents like isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). Is there any alternative I could use as a ballasting and scenery wetting agent? I have successfully used Windex glass cleaner in my airbrush to thin water-based paint. Would glass cleaner work as a wetting agent instead of isopropyl alcohol? Has anyone tried it or anything else?”

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Minimum Track Radius Measurements

Online Train Club Member Allan contributed this article.

minimum track radius dimensions measurements model railways

Everyone has limited space for their layout, so compromises need to be made when scaling the size of a real prototype railroad down to fit in the size of the average garage or spare room.

Real railroads need miles of space. The fact is; a real train can be around 90 to 120 cars which can stretch out for 1 to 1 1/4 miles. When the train gets moving it will travel for tens or hundreds of miles. For the engineer to stop the train quickly at 55 miles an hour, would likely require more than a mile of the track using the emergency brakes.

The big challenge for the hobbyist is to condense the track, countryside, mountains, etc into a fraction of the space without making the perspective look forced or too unnatural. In the real world, one mile equates to 5280 ft or 63360 inches which, when converted to HO scale reduces to 60ft or 728 inches. That’s still a huge space to replica just one mile of a real railroad. On N scale a mile is 33ft or 396 inches. This becomes even more problematic when straight track transitions into curved track to allow the train to change direction.

Track types model trains railroads

Turning Trains Takes Space

A person can stop on the spot, rotate, and continue walking in any direction they want. Road vehicles have a reasonably small turning circle in relation to their length and width, but a 90 to 120 car train (real or scale model) needs a considerable distance to change direction without derailing. This is why track radius is so important.

Prototype curves scale down to the following in HO scale:

  • Mainlines – 130 inches
  • Mainlines in mountains – 100 inches
  • Branch lines – 70 inches
  • Sidings and Yards – 50 inches

Working to those measurements will still require a big layout space. That’s where the compromise needs to come into play when replicating a real railroad to a greatly reduced scale. The larger the radii on a layout, the more life-like the layout would look, and the smoother trains will operate.

Keeping with HO scale, a radius of 48 inches or even larger would be optimal. However, this is not a perfect world, so working within a smaller space will necessitate the use of smaller radii curves.

The following benchmark would apply in HO scale:

  • Preferred minimum radius – 32 inches
  • Conventional radius – 24 inches
  • Sharp curve radius – 18 inches

So, even with dreams of creating a perfect miniature replica of a real prototype railroad, reality kicks into play. The distance a train travels, and the radius of curves are just two of the things that will necessitate compromise. The trick is to accomplish this without abandoning the goal of achieving reasonable realism and smooth operation.

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N-gauge 5 Car Hong Kong Kowloon – Canton Railway

Hambal posted this question:

“I own a Hong Kong Kowloon- Canton Railway Kit Double-deck Through Train (Hong Kong – Guangzhou) Precision Motor Train Model N-gauge 5 car set Item No: 99044 Special Limited Edition. It seems that the motor is no longer functioning. I am just wondering if you can suggest a way to solve the issue.”

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Lighting Paper Model Buildings

Jim Brown kindly sent in this informative article and photos to share and would like some feedback from others.

lighting paper model buildings

Jim made this general store building from a plan he downloaded at https://www.modelbuildings.org

“I downloaded your the small general store plan from your website and was very impressed with the results. I wanted to share a modification I made to the model that turned out better than I expected.

I like to have my models lit, so before I glued down the paper I decided to mark the inside corners of the windows on the cardboard with a straight pin, remove the paper and cut out the opening, and then glue on the paper.

To elaborate, what I did was cut out the cardboard and the picture separately. Then I put the picture over the cardboard and marked each inside corner of the windows with a straight pin. I wanted the holes to be as inconspicuous as possible on the paper copy. It is important that you mark the inside corners of the windows to get the right effect. Next, I removed the paper and connected the window dots that were made by the straight pin and cut out the openings in the cardboard. After all the openings were cut out I glued the paper onto the cardboard cutout, assembled the store, and voila, when I lit the store here is the effect I got. The only difficulty I had was keeping the cutouts registered with the paper’s windows when I folded the store into shape.

When lit up the results were very good. What impressed me was the illusion that the window looked like it was inside the store when lit. This was a fun project. I would really love some feedback on what you think of my modification.

add lights to a paper model building

Jim made this building as a youth in the ’60s. He cut out the windows and used low voltage incandescent lights hooked up to his transformer accessories.

As a youth, back in the mid-60s, I had a small HO train layout. I made this for my grandchildren who are now getting into HO trains. They loved it. I will be using this technique on future projects.

On the topic of electrical safety and heat output from lighting buildings, especially paper ones, I don’t have the expertise to advise anyone.

I don’t personally believe low voltage LED’s can produce enough heat to create a fire hazard, even in an enclosed space like the paper store model I made. I have not found any low voltage LEDs that have gotten more than warm to the touch.

The buildings I made in the ’60s as a youth had all the windows cut out and I used low voltage incandescent lights hooked up to my transformer’s accessories, so there was plenty of ventilation. For the picture I sent you, I set the store over one of the lamps I used back then.

My plan for the grandchildren is to use low voltage, warm white LED’s mounted on a stand or onto their layout board itself and set the buildings over the lamps. I feel comfortable with this decision, but I don’t feel comfortable advising others on the subject. It is something to think about when using this technique with your models.

The photo above is the house we lived in that I made as a youth for my train layout with the lamps I used. I have 5 other homes I made that were all lit up the same way. Considering how young I was at the time and the resources available to me back then it made for a nice looking layout.”

Jim has indicated he would like to hear ideas from others in the hobby, including comments on using LED lights, heat output, etc. If you have an article and photo you would like to share with others, please contact the Blog Moderator with details by using the ASK A QUESTION link below.

A free catalog of 200+ model building plans is available from https://www.modelbuildings.org

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What Scale For New Model Train Layout?

Andy sent in this question:

“I’m in the very early stages of planning a layout which won’t be started for at least 12 months. The absolute max area will 12 x 5 feet. Probably a bit smaller than that. Based on the logging and mining operations on Vancouver Island pre 1950s, I will include, a logging camp, a coal mine, and a small port. I was thinking of using N scale but there aren’t as many detailed accessories as available in HO. Any suggestions, please? Thanks.”

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Tidy Track Roto Wheel Cleaner

Tidy Track Roto Wheel CleanerBob asks:

“I have a Tidy Track Roto Wheel Cleaner N Scale. I have KATO transformers with a KATO track. When I hook up the Tide Track to my track with my clips and put the engine on the Tidy Track it shorts out as I turn up the speed (intended to turn the engine wheels). What am I doing wrong?”

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Impressive Water Scene

Grant sent in this photo to share. It features an ariel view of a water scene on a layout displayed at The National Train Show in Salt Lake City, USA, in 2019. The illusion of different water depths adds to the realism.

model train layouts water scene

If you have a photo to share or a question to ask, send details to the Blog Moderator by using one of the many ASK A QUESTION links on this Blog. If you have a photo or drawing for publication the Blog Moderator will contact you advising how to email it.

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Replacing Existing Track on an Older Layout

Steve sent in this question and diagram:

“I am completing a layout started by my father over 50 years ago. He had used Atlas brass code 80 (black ties) flex track on cork roadbed, all nailed down, soldered connections. My redo will model mid-century passenger trains from California through the Rocky Mountains. I would like to replace it with a nickel silver track. The total run length is about 80′ (not counting yards). I have 34′ of Atlas code 55 & 35′ of Peco code 80, both brown tie flex track. Not enough of either to complete the changeover. I like the look of the Atlas 55, but code 80 is stiffer, but ties are farther apart. Which would have more options for matching turnouts?”

N scale track layoutThe red is lower track, green is transition grade, blue is upper level. N scale, each square is 1’ x 1’.

If you have a question you would like published, then send it in using one of the ASK A QUESTION links. If you want to supply a supporting photo or drawing, then simply mention that when submitting your question. The Blog Moderator will let you know how to email it.

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Magnetic Uncouplers

Rob P asks:

“I’ve done too good a job in burying my uncoupling magnets into the cork roadbed and covering them with ballast! I’m modelling NSWGR prototype circa 1910. How do other modellers indicate where their uncoupling magnets are located on their layouts?”

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Losing Power with DC

Jim needs answers to this question:

“I lose power around my HO layout using DC power with a MRC 280 controller. I have added two lead feeds from the track to the controller to boost power but did not get the desirable results. Any advice would be appreciated.”

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Bachmann EZ Track Question

Dale sent in this question:

“Would the HO Scale Bachmann model trains EZ track, work for a Tyco late 70s early 80s model train HO gauge? I assume since it is all HO, it should work? Do you have a better recommendation for track? I am attempting to get our son’s old train set running for him…. and it is challenging, but hopefully appreciated once complete.”

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