Valentine's Issue ❤️
Tracks-02-21 -- Model Railroading Newsletter
Articles in This Issue:
WELCOME to the February, 2021 issue of Tracks - a monthly newsletter published by Building Your Model Railroad, devoted to providing breaking news and tips to model railroaders of all ages and all gauges in a quick and easy-to-read format. Resources are always credited where appropriate.
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The vaccine is rolling out gradually, though not as fast as we would like. Nevertheless, there is hope for the future, assuming the vaccine can control the mutant strains that are now arising. Despite the vaccine, it still seems like the best way to avoid the thing is to stay inside and keep physical socialization to a minimum. Having something to do other than watch the news, is paramount to maintaining mental health, so I'm glad I have lots to do at home with regard to working on my layout and writing about it. In fact, I think I'll plead my case to the IRS that my model railroad is "medically necessary", so I can write it off on my income tax. Somehow, I doubt that will fly.
This issue is a little late because I've had my hands full with my other jobs recently. But I'm catching up so watch out for more articles.
I've been wanting to redo my backdrop for quite some time, so I finally gave in to my own demands. I started looking around for a nice photographed backdrop with a Fall scene in the Appalachian Mountains, which is the locale for my fictitious freelanced layout. On the Internet, I found the perfect scenery that I wanted - Fall colors with a mountainous background and blue sky with scattered white clouds. There were several options for sizes and types. I chose the heavy paper type first because it was cheaper (my first mistake), with instructions to use double-sided tape and spray-on Krylon adhesive. The size was 72" x 18" (my second mistake - too long and not high enough). It arrived in the mail and the colors were beautiful, bright and vivid (third mistake, too bright). The instructions clearly said that you should have a helper during installation. I was excited to get it installed, so on the next weekend, I put it up myself without a helper (fourth mistake).
So I took each sheet, put on the double-sided tape around the edges (on the top and sides), sprayed the adhesive onto the back of the sheet and also on the wall and attached the 72" sheets onto the wall, while reaching over 2-3' of layout surface (4' in the corners) and destroying a lot of scenery in the process (Oh well, I can fix that later, I thought to myself). When I looked at the finished product, the air went out of my balloon, and I quickly became very disappointed. There were too many bubbles that I couldn't get out, and even worse, the top edges were not straight. Repositioning the paper was impossible without tearing it. Also the height was too short. It need to be 30" high, rather than 18". I had previously thought I could just put a border of some kind on the top of the backdrop, but when I tried that, it just didn't look right.
I tried to fix the bubbles and straighten it out, but the paper became torn in several places. So then I cut out the sky from the paper and tried to just paint the sky above the mountains. I wasn't really happy with that effect either. The white edges of the paper were evident and the blue paint was too dark. My attempt to dry-brush the top edges of the mountains didn't work well either.
So, after a month or so of looking at this mess on the wall, I finally decided that life was too short to have to live with this. So, I purchased a different photographed backdrop in the form of 72" x 36" vinyl sheets with a more muted, distant, Fall-colored mountain scene. I then arranged for a helper and scheduled the installation for a weekend when we could both be there. I purchased a special glue that was made for attaching a vinyl wall covering that didn't dry immediately when you put it on, so that if you had to reposition the vinyl, you could do that. Using wallpapering tools, we were able to get most of the bubbles out. In one or two places where the edges didn't match up well, I was able to dry brush it so that those places were no longer visible. I wasn't quite finished with that when these pictures were taken.
I am now much happier with my backdrop. It looks great on the layout and in pictures, and since the colors are muted, it doesn't take away from the trains. I think the backdrop matches my layout scenery fairly well, which is also an important factor to consider when purchasing a photographic backdrop. It wasn't easy, but I was determined to get it done right. In the paragraphs above, I pointed out several of the mistakes I made so others may be able to avoid them.
Next, I need to redo a lot of the scenery that was destroyed in the process of installing the backdrop. Several feet of track were also destroyed in the worst possible place - in the corner of the layout. It will take some effort to fix this, but I needed to replace the scenery, track and a couple of turnouts in that area anyway.
Here are a few pictures with the new backdrop...
After reading this, you may be inclined to consider watching a series of videos on creating your own backdrop.
Add these to your notebook of favorite model railroading tips:
Here are a couple of videos focusing on painting, ballasting and weathering track that might be helpful...
Marrying DC and DCC together on the same layout is not difficult despite what you may have heard. I've done it on my layout for years. There are a few different ways to do this.
First you could have two mainlines on your layout - one for DC and one for DCC. Control the DC track with a regular DC transformer and control the DCC track with a separate DCC transformer (or, command control station, as it's called). You can even connect the two mainlines using a crossover section of track using rail gaps for electrical isolation.
Second, you can use a new type of transformer made by Model Rectifier Corporation (MRC) to run both your DC and DCC equipment, although not at the same time. The Tech 6 transformer has two modes of operation. If it is set for Standard Mode, you can operate DC trains just like you would with a regular transformer. If you push the button for Dual Mode, then you can operate your DCC trains just like you would with a DCC command control station. You can even program decoders with it.
There is another method that is not recommended any longer by most manufacturers. If you use Digitrax for your DCC command station, you can run DC trains using the address code 00 at the same time as running DCC locomotives using their specific address codes. I have done this for years without having any trouble, but it runs the risk of burning out some of your DC analog engines. The reason for this is that DCC works on alternating current (AC). If you try to run AC current through an engine that was designed to run on DC current, the engine may overheat and burn out, which would be an expensive repair if it happens. So only do this at your own peril.
A fourth consideration, and perhaps the best one, is to use a double-pole-double-throw switch (DPDT), such that when the switch is thrown in one direction, the layout is running on DC power. When the switch is thrown in the opposite direction the track is powered by DCC. Here is a video that shows you how to wire this up (soldering tips included)...
Basics of DC and DCC for beginners are outlined here...
I recently purchased a Digitrax LNWI, which now allows me to wirelessly run trains using the WiThrottle App without requiring a computer or JMRI. The set up for this took less than five minutes. I was amazed at my new ability to run trains easily while walking around the layout , with no wires attached, using my iPhone. You could also use a mini-ipad for a bigger screen. If you have other devices set up with decoder control, you can operate those as well.
Here is a detailed video showing how it works...
And here is the NEXT biggest thing to use to operate your entire DCC layout wirelessly...
Don't forget to check out our new Questions & Answers Page. If you have a burning question about model railroading, let us help. If we can't answer it, we'll find someone who can. See some examples here...
Hope you enjoyed this issue of Tracks. Feel free to pass it on to your friends, family and other model railroaders. If you have a great tip or article that you would like to publish on the website, please let me know - The more, the better. Any comments or suggestions are always welcome. You can either go to the Comments/Contact Page and enter your suggestions there or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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