Friday, November 23, 2012

Rock Island [ex-D&RGW] GP7 #4206

Just in time for "Black Friday"

I've always been a fan of the “Oddities” and “One-offs” and one fairly easy project that I've wanted to add to my fleet was one of the ten ex-Rio Grande GP7's. The Rock acquired these to help supplement their power when they ran their large fleet of 125 GP7's through their CRP [Capital Rebuilding Program]. 

Two notable features of these units were, as far I can tell, the only units that The Rock ever owned that had Dynamic Brakes. The other thing was that they were not MU capable.

This delegated them to transfer runs and local switcher service. The only thing that Rock Island did was to paint out the logos, hastily apply a few shields and cab numbers and slapped their asses into service. They eventually entered the CRP and had the Dynamics removed and MU ability added.   NOTE:  See addition at the bottom of this post.

Not much work was needed for this loco.  I picked it up second hand at a swap meet since it was already decaled for Rio Grande. 

I swapped out the chassis with a newer DCC ready chassis and installed a TCS ASD4 decoder.  I removed the small logos on the side, painted out the lettering on both ends with a splotch of orange, and applied the Rock Island heralds and cab numbers and number boards. I added a typical 3 chime horn to the top of the short hood, the spark arrestors and cab shades.

I used an oil based light grey for the fade coat and an oil based  burnt umber for a wash.  Finished it off with some Bragdon powders for the soot and rusty areas. 

One thing that didn't turnout like I had hoped it would was on the side sill, Rio Grande added six red [what looks like] round reflectors. I picked up some 1mm red jewels to simulate these, but the indoor lighting doesn't make them stand out more than just black zits.

I plan to keep this stationed at El Dorado for a sweeper loco.

Here is the scoop on the 10 ex D&RGW GP7's  This is taken from the soft cover book: 
ROCK ISLAND Diesel Locomotives 1930-1980  by Louis A. Marre

"The second hand GP7's acquired directly and not via CRP exchange were 
ten decidedly decrepit Denver & Rio Grande units. bought with traded F units
in November of 1972.  Exactly half were later traded to Precision National and the 
roster completely, as detailed in the CRP roster.  While still in their original condition
they were nearly useless, as they would not MU with standard Rock units due to
incompatible brake systems"  

Over the years of collecting photos of The Rock Island, I have come across several pictures showing these Geeps in a lashup with other Rock Island units in action.  So there's always the possibility that a few of them might have been modified if needed, before they entered the CRP.  Here are several shots of the GP's in action.

Grouping of like units were common.

Note in these two shots unit #4602 is in a consist, possibly modified at one time.

Monday, November 19, 2012

First Video!

WooHoo!  My first video.

OK, so it's not the best and the quality is kind of crappy, but you have to start somewhere, right?

A friend gave me a little FlipVideo camera to play with and got me setup on YouTube [another first].  So I thought I would see what I could do with it.

So without further ado:

I know one thing, it won't be up for any nominations...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Resurrected Power

Back when Kato first introduced their F units I grabbed a few and worked them over for Rock Island units.  Nothing says Rock Island like a freight with hood units and a covered wagon thrown into the mix!

These units racked up a lot miles when we had the Bend Track modules set up.  But in 1997 when we switched over to DCC, I never had the nerve to attempt to mill and hardwire any decoders in them.  So they set on the shelf in their cases until last year when I contemplated selling them off.

After reading on one of the forums where someone mentioned something about swapping the shells over to the new KATO F3 chassis......the light went off !  A buddy of mine had once mentioned doing this very thing.  So I did a little research and latched onto several newer Kato F's and proceeded with the project.

There is only two minor modifications needed for this: 

1]  The side glass is what holds the shells on to the chassis, you need to keep the new side glass with the new chassis and the old side glass with the old chassis.  Some folks have reported that after swapping the shells, the older shells are a tad bit loose with some up and down play, so far mine seemed to be nice and snug.

2]  On the A units, you'll need to widen the coupler pocket just enough to accept the MTL 2004 coupler box that comes pre-assembled in the MTL 2000-1 coupler kit.  This coupler conversion on these newer Kato A units are a breeze compared the original A units.  You just un-clip the coupler box and it slides right out.  On the original Kato A unit front coupler, you had to un-clip or un-screw the coupler box and then try to wiggle it out of the Pilot hole before the shell could come off.  A real PIA!

When Intermountain came out with their "F" units, they were designed so that you just un-screw the front coupler and it slides right out.  A much nicer design!  So I bought a few of these to replace these older Kato "F" units.  [So now I guess I'll have a few more Covered Wagons to add the fleet in due time].

The rear couplers and the "B" unit couplers make use of the MTL 1128 kit.A fairly simple conversion.

Since I had "welded" some of the side windows over on a couple of the units, I just needed to shave off the little molded protrusions on the glass so they set flush with the inside of the shell.

I picked up two more Digitrax DN163K0B decoders to go along with the one that I had on hand.  Then I got them installed and speed matched.

The last thing I did was to weather the new trucks and fuel tanks to match the shells and Viola!  

Rock Island F7A #120

Rock Island F7B #25

Rock Island F2A #42

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Two weeks ago we had another ops session primarily to test the newly rebuilt yard at El Dorado.

I'm happy to report that the work rebuilding it was well worth time.  The yard seemed to work as planned and the yard crew didn't find much to complain about!  After Quin got the Haskell local [the third and final local] on it's way, he had me come look at the yard, he held out his hands and exclaimed "Empty", and actually had a little free time before the Winnfield local returned to El Dorado.

The main goals were:
1) To add a second Arrival / Departure track.
2) Re-align the entrance to the A/D tracks on the north end so the yard lead and main had their own access to them.
3) Move and re-design the engine house tracks.   

Adding the second A/D track gave the yard crew a place to spot the outbound cars somewhere else other than in the yard, effectively freeing up one yard track.  Now it's like having a fifth yard track.  It also allowed the road crews to do their own set outs and pick ups without having to wait for the yard crew to do it for them.  This meant less down time.

Re-aligning of the yard entrance gave the yard crew the ability to continue with their chores without getting in the way of the road crews.  Again less time spent waiting on each other.  It also had the benefit of seeing two trains moving within El Dorado, something I find fascinating to watch on a model.   

Moving the engine house tracks so they came off the yard lead allowed the local power to slip on and off of their trains easier without having to move through the yard, again interfering with the yard crew and their work and vice versa.  Granted, they still have to share the yard lead to do it, but it's not as much of a hassle as having to run down the yard ladder. 

Here's another before and after shot of the yard from the north end.

In the old yard, the two tracks to the left of the yard were the Pool Tracks.  In the new yard, yard track #4 serves as the Pool Track now.  Four yards tracks seem to enough now that the second A/D track has been installed and the yard tracks were lengthened a bit. 

The Pool Track is where the captive service cars are stored that do not return to the main yard. These would be tank cars and pulpwood flats that originate from the ICG at Ruston and run to Malvern and open hoppers that originate at Malvern and move to A&A Cement at Dubach. It just keeps them separated from the rest of the cars.

The track that comes off the south end of the ladder and caboose track will be the lead to a couple of industries in the upper section of  El Dorado.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Riceland Industies gets their switcher.

After the first couple of operating sessions, it was thought that Riceland Industries should have it's own switcher.  Not that they have a ton of cars to move, but more so to reduce the amount of work for the Haskell local.  This also created a quick and easy job if a crew was standing around waiting for a call or where a newbie could wet their feet if they felt intimidated with any of the other jobs.

This is an Atlas Baldwin VO-1000 that started out as Cotton Belt # 1018.  

I removed the short stock stacks, replaced them with the taller stacks, rubbed off the lettering and printed the Riceland logo.  

The weathering was done using Tamiya's white weathering powered to give it a faded look, then went after it with several coats of artist oils and finished it off with a dusting of bragdon powders.

I installed a TCS VO-1000 DCC chip and set the speed table for a lowered the top end speed.

To answer a recent comment on how I made the Riceland Logo:
Nice job Allen! Tell us more about how you printed and applied the logo. Do you have one of the old ALPS printers that can print white?

Thanks Dave!
Yes I do have an Alps printer but that is not how made this decal. I started out with a sheet of white Inkjet decal paper.  I did a search on Google images for "Riceland Logo", copied it and brought it into CorelDraw.  Created a box and colored it blue.  Then I snooped through my collection of Fonts until I found one that was close and overlaid it on the blue box so when I printed it with my inkjet, the white decal paper showed through.

I then sprayed several light coats of Floquil Crystal Coat to seal the image then trimmed it and applied it like a normal decal.  The cab number was just from a leftover decal sheet that fit my liking.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Train Lengths on The Little Rock Line

Phil asked about the size of the layout and El Dorado and the length of trains that I run.

The overall layout is 25' x 12-1/2'.
The size of El Dorado is 9' long x 28" at the north end and 37" at the south end,  between the edge of the layout and the backdrop.   

Train lengths:

The through trains [Staged]:
These range from 30 cars, three locos max and a caboose on the coal train, to 12 cars, three locos max on Amtrak.
They are the superior trains while they are on the mainline.  The passenger siding at El Dorado is the only siding that they can fit in and meet another through train. 

Work trains:
LRMP's and the MPLR's have a max of 18 cars, three locos max and caboose.
The work trains may have more than 18 cars once they leave El Dorado depending on how many cars they've picked up.

The Locals:
The Winnfield & Haskell turns and the W&OV's Razorback have a max of 15 cars, two locos max and a caboose.
The Locals will fit in all the sidings throughout the layout and are required to take the hole if a superior train approaches.

A caboose is required for any train movements on the line with the exception of movements within the yard limits at El Dorado.

These are the base rules so far, and may change if conditions and operations change.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Action in the new yard.

Finely, a few action shots! 
These were taken on the first day of operations in the new yard.

The NB MPLR-W is setting out his cut of cars on the north end of A/D track #1  
RI SD40-2 #4799 is doing the honors today.

A few hours later I caught #4300 on the point of the SB LRMP-H as he was grabbing a cut of outbound cars from the south end of A/D #2

These goats are pulling a cut of cars from yard track #1 and will spot them on the A/D tracks for pickup by the NB MPLR-H which should be arriving shortly.
These SLSF MP15DC's are on loan from the BN for evaluation with the option to buy.

As they are seen shoving the cut back onto the A/D tracks, Amtrak's NB "Cajun" eases to a stop on the passing siding for a quick 15 min layover.

This new yard is probably some of the best looking rails that the Rock Island crews have seen in years!

The re-construction of El Dorado yard.

The last big hurdle has been crossed!

Not knowing exactly how the yard would work or the how it would interact with train schedules, I laid out the yard to how I though it should work.

After the first few ops sessions it was apparent that some changes would be needed.  The first of the changes was to the actual trains themselves.  The LRMP and MPLR was broken down into four trains:  

At first the LRMP and the MPLR carried all the cars that were needed for the two locals and the W&OV interchange. Since they needed to run first so that the locals could be built, they left the El Dorado yard jam packed and the yard crew sweating bullets!  They had to get the inbound cars off the LRMP and into the yard,  get the outbound cars out of the yard and back on the LRMP before the MPLR arrived and then had to repeat the process and very little yard space to work with.  After both trains had left town, the yard was so jammed up with cars there was no place to shuffle anything while they trying to build the first local.  Once the locals were made, the yard crew basically had nothing to do till the locals all returned.

The decision was made to break them into the four trains that carried half the amount of cars.  Now the first two trains that ran were the LRMP-W and the MPLR-W.  They delivered the cars that were needed for the Winnfield local and the cars bound for Malvern via the W&OV train, hence the "W" designation.  The "H" designation on the LRMP-H and the MPLR-H would then bring the cars to town for the Haskell local about half the way through the session.  

This gave the El Dorado crew more time and space to get things tucked away before the next batch of cars arrived.  It still kept the yard crew busy as they were also in charge of cutting off the inbound cars and tying the outbound cars back onto the trains while they sat in the single A/D track.   While this work was going on the crews of the manifests had nothing to do so they would help the yard crew out to keep things moving.

Old yard

Looking South

Looking North

This was a vast improvement, but more changes were still needed.  After many hours of discussion the decision was made to rip out the yard and add the second A/D track, something that should have been installed during the original phase of construction but I was worried about space.

So after I got the basement floor and the walls finished, the re-construction began.  One thing I wanted to do was to move the engine house tracks so the local power would not have to make several reverse moves through the yard to get to the house tracks.  I wanted them to come off the yard lead so they could back right onto or off of the A/D tracks but there wasn't enough room due the curvature on the north end of the yard.  

One night while standing there trying to envision how to lay things out and where to begin, the light bulb went off and I seen how the local power could leave the A/D tracks and pull down the yard lead and then back into the house tracks.  This also allowed the engine house to be placed closer to the yard throat and still leave me enough room for scenery on the north end of El Dorado. 

The next night I ripped out all of the tracks except the mainline and passing siding.  I then started laying things out and got the A/D tracks installed.  The second night the yard ladder and caboose track was laid in place along with a few of the yard tracks.  By the third night, all the tracks were back in place with the exception of the house tracks, but by then I was able to see how I could fit them in.  I was going to use a #6 curved left hand Shinohara turnout that I had bought years ago, but the left hand turnout was actually a right hand, gggrrrrrr!  For the next couple of nights I tried to decide what combination of turnouts I should use for the house tracks.  

Remembering that there was a seller on eBay who custom builds turnouts, and while looking for this seller, I actually found a curved left hand Shinohara for sale!  But the price was about the same cost as to have one built.
More pondering.....

The next night I found myself fiddling with some leftover, left hand curved PECO turnouts.  I could use one to come off the yard lead and with the help of some temporary sectional track I managed to get the house tracks where I needed them without looking like I crammed them into place.  It wasn't the best solution but it seemed to work, at least for now.

With this arrangement, I was able to go from three short house tracks in the old yard to two longer tracks that would hold up to eight locos if needed. This location also allowed me to park the yard goats on the yard ladder next to the engine house where they could be fueled without the need to run to the house.

The way the yard is laid out now, the yard crew can work the yard and the A/D tracks without ever having to run out onto the mainline.  The only drawback, I think, is although now that I have two A/D tracks, they may be too short to hold the entire manifest consist.  So now the yard crew will set the outbound cars on one of the A/D tracks and the manifests can leave their cars on the other A/D track.

The current plan now is to have the LRMP's and MPLR's make their cuts, slip their cars onto and off of the A/D tracks while they leave the rest of the their train setting on the mainline.  Since they will not have to wait for the yard crew to do the work for them, they can easily swap the cars out themselves, tie back onto their train and leave town in half the time as they did before.  If, while they have the mainline tied up, any through train that rolls through town can use the passing siding to sneak around them as long as Amtrak is not in town.

Other changes that were made was the removal of the two short POOL tracks that was in the rear of the old yard and a larger caboose track was installed that also doubles as a run around track.  The POOL tracks hold the captive service cars becuase they never go back to the main yard.  Most of these run between the ICG interchange at Ruston and Malvern via the W&OV.  These are now stored on the rear track or yard track 4.

With this new scheduling and yard arrangement, it essentially gives the yard crew two more tracks to play with and greatly reduces the amount of stress and strain while shuffling the cars.

The Wrap Track [the loop of track seen in the south end of the El Dorado] will eventually run up to the elevated business district in El Dorado via a 3% to 4% grade.  It could also be used as a spare track to move cars onto if needed, of course the air brakes had better be set.

New yard

Here's a view of the north end of El Dorado yard looking south.  In the first picture the tracks from right to left:  Passenger siding, mainline and the yard lead with the lead for the house tracks. 

The same area looking north towards Calion, AR.

Had I been able to gaze into my crystal ball before the original construction began, this is most likely what I would have designed in the first place.  But, live and learn.

Now, let the operations begin...  

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I recently received a box of goodies from the Postman!

I ordered four Digitrax UT4r simplex throttles for the two locals and the manifests trains.  So as to make better use of these throttles and my wireless system, I also ordered some re-chargeable batteries from an on-line company that carries the MaHa Imedion brand batteries.

I was told by a friend of mine [who I have relied heavily on for my Digitrax DCC products and info] that his club has started using the batteries and have been very happy with their performance.
They are 9.6v 230 Amp low discharge battery that are said to hold 85% of their charge for a year.  He has told me that there modular club has used them non stop for a two day and they have held a charge through the show.

I got the four UT4r's set up and running and let me tell you they are nice and easy to use.  So much so that I am thinking about ordering 1-3 more eventually.  Everything can be done with the hand that is holding them without the need to use your other hand to turn the throttle knob or push a button like I do on my DT400's.  This leaves the other hand completely free to work the couplers or turnouts!

Can't wait to put them into action with the next operation session!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Basement remoldeing complete.

The final phase in the train room is complete.

In the last post I mention finishing the white areas of the basement where the shelving use to be.  I finished it off this past week

 I was given many options for the West and South wall:

Add an extended storage yard, a separate switching layout, even a continuation of the layout along these walls for a branch line and using the Electrical meter that is behind the curtain as a destination for coal trains [what's actually behind the curtain is a Gas meter, so the idea was changed to a huge LPG distributor!  LOL ]

Keeping in touch with getting by as cheap as possible like most modelers do, the idea that went with was to simply cover the wall with a false wooden wall, similar to a fence.  Several years ago after I got my cabinet shop opened up, one of my old bosses stopped by to see if I had any use for some free lumber that he stored away after he had closed his shop.  About a 1000 bdft of red oak lumber.

It wasn't the best, but I  used the biggest share of the material up for making raised panel kitchen doors for customers.  What was left was basically good for nothing more than fire wood!   I did manage to rummaged through it a couple more times over the years for several jobs where the customers wanted that RUSTIC look.  I also made some pallets from time to time but it still left me with several hundred board foot.

I started out by covering the metal "I" beam that supports the bowing wall with a false column, then added stringers to the wall so that I could simply attach the "Slating"

Before & After shots:

Total cost:
$5.49 for a box of "Tapcon" screws [masonry screws] used to hold the stringers to the wall.
$8.49 for the curtain.
$150.00 for the 3 gallons of Sherwin Williams Porch and Floor paint.
$4.99 for the gallon of the blue Lucite paint for the walls [ $14.99 less a $10.00 rebate]
$143.18 for the 18 packs of the interlocking anti-fatigue floor mats.
Total - $312.15

As for the floor mats from the previous post, I had one comment from a follower who told me to be careful about getting Static Electrical charges from these mats and possible damage to the electronic equipment like the DCC system and chips.
After posting a question on TrainBoard, doing a bunch of research on the net and asking some friends, I have still not come up with any solid answers for ways to prevent any possible damage from the Static Electricity.

Here is a list of possible answers and preventative measures that I did get:

  • Spray a Anti Static spray on the mats before each Ops session.
  • Have everyone wear a Anti-Static cord on their wrists that can be plugged into a grounded plug in the fascia.
  • Use a copper wire and bolt or tape it the mats in several areas and have the other end attached to an earth ground such as a grounded outlet box or water pipe.
  • Place a wire mesh UNDER the mats which are then grounded to an earth ground.
  • Buy a portable humidifier or have one installed in the furnace.
  • Watch what type of clothing we wear that has wool.
  • Don't wear just socks.
  • Wear shoes that have rubber soles.

The best thing that I will be able to do is once the humidity goes away this fall, is to try a couple of different things and see what builds up any static and how much.  I'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Another milestone...

Well I finally got the floor finished.  After three weeks of moving, cleaning and covering the flooring with the Thin Set I got it painted.
Then a friend sent me an email that gave me an idea that I couldn't pass up:

The floor looks great!  Now consider covering the aisle space with the 2' x 2' 1/2" thick interlocking foam tiles that you can get from Costco or Sam's Club.  The tiles are easy to cut to fit odd spaces and they clean up remarkably well.  Our operators love walking on the foam floor.  It saves their feet from hours of pain on the concrete.

Thanks Dave!

I started to look around to see what was available.  The cheapest ones I ran across a 4pc set of these at [Bottom Of the] Harbor Freight.  $9.99 [$7.99 online price]  So I stopped by the local store to check them out first hand and grabbed a set which was on sale for $7.99.  I got home and laid them out and was impressed.  Two days later I got a sale flyer which had a coupon for $6.99 each.  The next day I grabbed enough to cover the entire floor!

Over the course of the last weekend I got the floor covered.  Dave was right, they were easy as hell to lay out and trim to fit the odd corners.  All I used was a tape measure, marker, straight edge and utility knife.
I was worried about the narrow ends sliding about but since the Thin Set wound up with a slightly rough surface, even after painting it, they seem to stay put very nicely.

Looking down from the top of the stairs

Looking towards Calion

Looking back towards Haskell

El Dorado and the south wall

In front of  Dubach

Looking towards Winnfield & the head of the yard

Again, Dave was right, they make it easy on your feet and should help keep your tootsies warm in the winter!
All in all, the floor project cost me about $300.

To resurface the floor it ran me about $150 for the Thin Set and paint, then another $150 for the anti-fatigue mats.
Well worth the time & money!

After getting the floor finished I thought I should put a fresh coat of paint on the walls as well.



I used the same color of paint that I used on the backdrop, as you can see the backdrop almost blends into the wall.

The final phase of this project will be to cover this white section of walls where the shelves use to set.
But that is for the next post!