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Final Progress Report for 2020

Year-end holiday and family activities kicked in, infrastructure work in the laundry room, a very aggressive schedule of remote Ops on the Nickel City Lines in November, work on a "real" railroad, and a new home inspection for a friend slowed progress to a crawl through November and December. Although a little disappointing and discouraging along the AL&E, it is still good stuff.

The Christmas Tree clockwork train was rescued and reconditioned last year and worked first time out of the box this year--must be nearly 65 years old! Its only a little oval, but still a train under the tree; Lionels are still a bit too much to ask as I fear a lot of repairs will be needed after years of storage with no use in the harsh salt air of coastal NJ.

On the AL&E some progress has been made since the structures reappeared. All the track at Rolling Rock brewery needed to move 1/2" away from the backdrop due to a different construction technique on the new layout. Although not particularly difficult, it took several days to loosen the glue, pick up the track, wait for the area to dry, move the coal dump grate, relay & re-glue the track, then after the glue set, repair/realign the switch stand, and finally restore all the feeders. As you can see in the photos its looking like it always did. Only a few windows popped out of the walls and required re-gluing; otherwise back as good as original.

The mine was another story. Somehow, the entire area where it sits was reconfigured on the new layout. Although the mountainside scenery was salvaged from the old layout, it simply did not fit. That, along with the fact that the tracks were leveled instead of being on their original grade, resulted in major reconstruction of the scenery. The mine structure had been level even though the ground was not. This was due to the way the foundation piers were various heights just to keep the building level throughout. Once the track was leveled, this meant that the piers had to be leveled as well. This set off a 2-day safari through the scenery material boxes to find the Evergreen styrene square tubing. After the first full day of unpacking a hobby-shop stockroom of scenic materials, a call went out for a friend to try to pick up the needed material on the way to visit from Charlottesville. As expected, after making that call, the Evergreen stash showed up at the end of the second day of unpacking, carefully set aside in a box in the work room away from all other railroad-related items! The excellent news is that there is plenty of material on hand to work on the scenery and many boxes were emptied and placed in storage cabinets instead of hidden under the layout skirt.

More work was done on the NJT push-pull consist to solve a nagging problem of the truck screws shorting on the closure rails of the turnouts as they passed over. Its hard to believe that the addition of a washer for the electrical pickup for detection and lighting caused this problem to be manifest. I'm pretty sure that some form of this problem has existed for the 18 or so years this equipment has been in service but I blamed the wheels instead of the screw. The screws were replaced with nylon and the train now has operated very reliably over the railroad. This has allowed time trials to be made to check against the old schedule for Ops. Looks like things are pretty consistent and comparable to the overall run times on the old layout, just some differences where the tracks are reconfigured.

The NCL Ops have been a great way to stay connected. Bob has done a wonderful job integrating Zoom conferencing with layout cameras and train cams. Along with WiThrottles and Team Viewer for the dispatcher, we are successfully operating nearly 100% remotely for 2-hour sessions running 6-8 trains over the railroad. Bob, along with a part-time yardmaster, are the only people in the train room. We have been doing this since May, and it has evolved into a very smooth operation. Three or four train operators along with a dispatcher are operating the railroad completely virtually with Bob acting as the local brakeman for any trains that have work enroute. It has really become an enjoyable experience. I have been blessed to work with every virtual crew both as operator and dispatcher. Thanks again Bob!

And my friend is building a new house identical to his existing one, just 20 years newer and 650 miles away. He is moving his basement-sized layout and expects to be able to fit it exactly into the new basement. He has asked me to help with his almost-final inspection and to travel with him on the long trip.

I also fit in a work session on the outdoor Burnt Tree Industrial Railway 7 1/2" gauge railroad being built by my friend Chris A. We are still building and laying track, but have nearly finished. It's about 1/2 mile long in the woods on his property near Madison. Chris wants to operate several trains at a time on the single-track line. It is long enough and has curves so that the ends-of-siding are not visible from each other. We have been discussing options for a block control signal system for a while, and his friend came up with a radio-based system being used on some other outdoor railroads. I spent several days reviewing the Arduino sketch being proposed for use in this system.

So although it doesn't look like much, there's been a lot going on with the holidays thrown in for additional excitement.

I hope that you have a wonderful holiday season, and that we can resume our normal hobby activities soon.

Stay Safe.

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1 Comment

Joseph Weisbrod
Joseph Weisbrod
Dec 16, 2020

Hi John. LOOKIN' GOOD. I can tell you've been very busy working on it during the pandemic. Otisville is looking good. And back to doing ops!!!! Interesting about the outdoor railroad doing ops. Better get out the hammer and screw guns and build some life size industries for switching. And decorate with Christmas lights, lol. It's amazing how far the hobby has come. Wish I could get down there to help but can't go anywhere with this pandemic. Hopefully with the vaccines out it will be over by the spring. Have a Merry Christmas and I'll call you by end of year. Joe W.

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