Sign Up Blog

Writings on Railways and Railroad Models

27 November 2013: First Train on the Layout!

I know I haven't been keeping this blog up to date like I should. So you probably haven't heard about the massive flood I had in the layout room in May or the incredible collapsing light fixtures. (Note to self: when inviting friends over to wire light fixtures, first show them how to twist a Marette.)

I'll save all that for the book I'm never going to write. In the meantime, I am delighted to let all three of you know that the first train has moved under its own power on my Kingston Sub layout.

First Train on Kingston Sub

The first train on the Kingston Sub, 29 October 2013. Click to enlarge.

It was a most appropriate first train: VIA-CN FP9A 6535 is on the point. The prototype was wrecked in a washout on 15 May 1981 before being painted into VIA colours. It then sat in Montreal, donating parts to its fellows, for ten more years before being scrapped.

This model is straight out of the box and has not yet been subjected to super detailing or weathering. You can imagine that, by December 1980, the paint on the prototype was rather worse for wear... though not as bad as after she was on her side down a ditch in La Mauricie, Quebec. You can see a picture of that here.

The Steam Generator Unit is still in CN colours with the CN logo removed and a VIA added to the number. Many of VIA's SGUs stayed this way until VIA placed its first order for F40PH-2D locomotives in 1985. They had been parked for years at Spadina Yard until being fixed up for service behind the new engines, which lacked internal steam generators. The SGU is followed by a baggage car, club car, and coach. The out-of-era Walthers autoracks are used for testing clearances.

To power this momentous train, I took the NCE Power Cab and the terminal track from my "Jason on tour" box and connected this to the bus wires using alligator clips. Messy, but it worked.

First Train on Kingston Sub

View from above, showing the open-grid benchwork

I am still quite early in the benchwork stage of the layout, but if you look at the track plan you'll notice that the mainline scoots down and below Spadina roundhouse. It is much easier to lay track when they isn't a sheet of plywood four inches above it, so I built the subroadbed and Dan and I spent a day laying track.

As you can see from the photo, I've used open-grid benchwork in this area. Yes, I do have an obsession for Simpson Strong-Ties. These things are just so handy - look how easily that benchwork went together! You can walk on it without any sagging or flexing, and the whole area is supported by one leg.

The subroadbed is cheap and cheerful 11mm, good-one-side plywood screwed directly to the top of the benchwork, with "don't fall of the" edges in 1/8" MDF. This area is the only hidden track on the layout, and as such doesn't require a ballast profile. The "black stuff" is a 1/4" sheet of neoprene to keep the noise down. It is attached to the subroadbed using latex caulk, and the track is attached to it using latex caulk. Using caulk is important as it remains flexible and helps to reduce noise - you don't want an echo chamber under your track.

Wiring on the Kingston Sub

Wire drops from the mainlines to the bus wires

The wiring is straightforward. I haven't yet finalized the wiring plan for the layout, but I know that these four tracks are all in one block off of the same bus, so I ran the bus wires - #10 solid - under the subroadbed and roughly centred between the four tracks.

Just about every model railroad "how-to" article published in Model Railroader in the last ten years has sung the praises of suitcase connectors for wiring. You know what? They are expensive and needless and less than 100% reliable. It only takes a couple of minutes to strip the insulation from 1/4" of your bus wire, wrap your feeder wire around it, add some flux and solder it all together. Spend your money on Simpson Strong-Ties instead of suitcase connectors. You'll thank me in the end... The feeders are 22 gauge solid. If they don't break when installing the track and attaching them to the bus wires, they probably never will. This layout is hardly portable.

The Kingston Sub is actually the third layout I've built. My first layout was a sectional slice of the Kingston Sub in Scarborough and was featured in Canadian Railway Modeller. I used suitcase connectors for that and was constantly having electrical issues. Apparently I did not have the secret knowledge of how to use a pair of pliers correctly.

Wiring on the Kingston Sub

Big Red is probably the best friend for any guy wiring a layout...

The second layout was Rapido's display layout, which I wired in the conventional manner. Guess what? It's almost eight years old and it's been all over North America and we've never had an issue with it. If you choose suitcase connectors because you are afraid of a soldering iron, you have bigger problems. Model trains aren't for you. Try raising iguanas.

The final photo is the result of one of those "A-HA!" moments. To attach the long L-channel to the bottom of the joists under Spadina and to install the risers there, I spent a lot of time dragging my tired, old, out-of-shape body along my basement floor. It was a very, very, VERY painful experience. Maybe it would have been fine when I was 12, but not when I'm approaching 40. Most guys build layouts in their 60s. If I had to do drag my sorry old body under a layout when I'm in my 60s, I would hire some guy named Layout Larry to build the whole darn thing.

I headed to Princess Auto and bought a Big Red creeper. Now I scoot around under the layout making "Weee!" noises instead of grunting in pain. My wiring tools are also visible in the photo: a good quality stripper or two, a pair of needle-nose pliers, solder, rosin-core flux, and a good quality Webber soldering iron. I believe that if you are going to cheap out, it shouldn't be on a tool that you will use thousands of times while building your layout. The Webber iron cost me about $200 but it was money well spent. I went through about six or seven cheapo irons before Dan finally convinced me to buy this one.

That's it for now. Because of all my travelling this fall, I won't have any time on the layout until January. I just got back from the UK and I head to China in just over a week. I should have more updates for you in the new year! Thanks to the one of you left reading this.

Read Other Articles

2013-11-27: First Train on the Layout!
2013-03-06: The Magic of Fred Lagno
2013-01-06: Amtrak is getting in right.


Rapido Trains Inc. ©2013 by Jason Shron. I designed and coded it myself so sorry if your screen blew up.
Uncredited prototype photos are either mine or courtesy Bill Morrison, Brian Schuff and the Kaluza-Mueller Collection.
Thanks for actually reading this small print. Must be a slow day, eh?