Roco dining car conversion

Anton Dyak wrote on the weekend to let me know about his progress with re-wheeling ready-to-run stock. He writes:

Overall I have this idea to produce ready-to-run models out of the box equipped with P87 compatible wheels. Since making model trains is an expensive investment I start with replacement parts such as compatible-length wise axles with slightly wider center to maintain “in-gauge” position for wheels compatible with mostly European model train brands. As typically European trains use larger wheels I need to make sure wheels get mounted perpendicular to an axle as any angle away from 90 degrees will present a big wobble problem. These are common European rolling stock sizes. 900mm or 35.5″ are for autoracks, while most trains use 950mm or 37.4″ and some high ride comfort cars use 1000mm or 39.4″. Attached are images of conversion of my German dining car. For now only one truck test-converted and shows significant wobbling as wheels I used (NorthWest ShortLine come either convex or concave). I am thinking of jigs to flatten them into true-run wobble free wheels.
Original Roco passenger car uses 950mm or 37.4″ wheels mounted on 24.75mm or 0.974″ axle. This axle tends to be somewhat wobbly.My (Masterist Scale Railroad Models) trial axle is 0.975″ or 24.765mm. Works perfectly, no wobble. Wheels are Northwest Shortline 38″, they match size-wise but like I mentioned are concave and thus instead of 0.064″ caliper reading shows 0.073″…finally I found out what causes problem that drove me nuts for a long time: not faulty tools or axles, wheels aren’t perfectly flat. Now designing jigs to flatten concave wheels into flat ones using arbor press.

So Long Ed


Last week, I heard that Ed McCamey passed away, and I confess that it rather took the wind out of my sails.

Ed was one of the first Proto:87 contacts I made, way back in 1994.  He sat behind me at Jim Harper’s clinic on detailing track; when the discussion turned from 1:48 scale to 1:87, he distinguished himself with his knowledge and his outrageous moustache.  By the end of the clinic, I had a handful of names of folks who were interested in pushing the frontier to Proto:87, but not Ed’s.  I sought that moustache out, and we met in the bar where I convinced him to join me.

That was his first mistake.  Over the ensuing two decades, Ed proved to be a leading light of the Proto:87 movement.  It was he who designed, financed and distributed the gauge that I use to this day.  When the NMRA…

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Site renewal

Well, this site went quiet for a while, didn’t it?  I moved most of my modelling thoughts over to, for reasons that I don’t quite recall.  Probably it was because managing the Drupal site was more work than I wanted to continue to do.  It wasn’t that it was particularly hard; it’s just that managing a website is not how I want to spend my hobby time.  Wordpress, especially where someone else worries about the running and securing of the site, is a much better solution for me.

So, I’ve now moved most of the old content to this new WordPress site.  I think I will continue to blog about the layout over on Pembroke87, but cover Proto:87-specific content here.  Expect a lower update frequency, but hopefully not as slow as it’s been for the past four years!

I’m happy to make your acquaintance if you’re modelling in Proto:87.  So, please do drop me a line!

The tie jig

This week, the posse consisted of just Jim and myself; Julian being stuck down a hole somewhere, and Andrew being off chasing the ghost of the Northern Pacific. Between this and a previous session with Andrew, we have most of the ties laid. The trick to placing ties quickly and accurately is a tie jig, which my daughter helped me build a couple of months ago. It could hardly be simpler, but it saves a lot of faffing with glue and individual sticks of wood.


A couple of construction notes:

  • My jig is about two feet long because that was the length of the plywood scrap I made it from. You could probably handle a three-footer (1 metre), but beyond that the strips of masking tape with ties on them will appear to become self-aware, and try to confound you by getting tangled.
  • The Kappler ties I’m using are at least a decade old, and there is tremendous variation in the width. I understand that you don’t see that nowadays. I wish I’d built my jig with a wider tie in mind, as I had to discard quite a few ties that didn’t fit in the jig and that upsets the Scottish side of my nature.
  • Andrew reminded me that you don’t want the jig too tight as that makes it difficult to get the tie strips out later.

Because some of the ties are a bit tight in the jig, the tie strips don’t fall out easily. I wind up prying them up with a ruler so only the ends of the ties are still in the jig. Then the strip comes out without further resistance.


Note that the ties are laid on top of the masking tape, rather than the other way around. I don’t know if this is important or not, but when Tom Hood showed me how to use a similar jig when I was a teenager, this is what he did. I think if you put the masking tape on top of the ties, it’s likely to sag between ties, and the resulting spacing will be inaccurate.

I mark the middle of the occasional tie before I place them on the masking tape (mark down); these marks help to place the strip on the centre lines we laid out before.

I also used the jig to lay out the ties through the leads of my turnouts. The frogs and points will get special treatment, but the lead is basically plain track that happens to overlap. To make this easier, I wrote the tie lengths on the jig; then it was simply a matter of controlling the piles of ties and plunking them in the appropriate slots.


When all is said and done, we need a little less imagination to see where the tracks are going to go. You can see now that there is not much space at the end of the ties before the embankment drops down into the river. Indeed, Jim pointed out that they’re under-cut for a short ways. That is accurate for Pembroke, and we will have the head-block ties of a couple of turnouts sticking out in thin air.


One final note: make sure the glue is dry before taking the masking tape off!

Turnout Ties

This week, after a short hiatus to visit my family, I’m doing more figuring on how a Canada Atlantic turnout must have looked. “What, can’t we just pull some standard drawings from the AREA and use those?” I hear you asking. Well, no, we can’t and for that reason, we also can’t use the excellent kits from the Proto:87 Stores either.

Figuring the ties for a turnout

Of course, we know relatively little about the track in Pembroke. We know that the tie spacing was 24.75 inches. This typically would be the spacing through the lead of the turnout. If we tighten the ties up to 20″ or less, it’s going to look like someone plunked a more modern turnout into the yard. So, we’d better have that spacing.

We also know that every Canada Atlantic joint bar in the photographs is centered over a tie, rather than spanning two ties, as is typical today. Assuming the frog was not built on site, we can guess that the toe and the heel of the frog would have been supported by ties, as the frog point would be too.

At the other end, I don’t know how the heel of the switch works. On the one hand, it could be supported by a tie as with the other joints. On the other, it could be in the space between ties, which is how you’d build it today. I’m going to go with the former.

I started trying to figure out all the leads and spacing on paper, and finally decided I should just cut some ties and lay it out on one of the Proto:87 Stores templates (thanks again Andy). Seeing it mocked up on the template enabled me to affirm that it’s going to look okay.

I started by placing the ties for the heel of the switch and the toe, heel and point of the frog. Through the frog, I simply spaced the ties by eye. There are two between the toe and the frog point, and three between frog point and the heel. They are about 20″ on center.

The lead is all regular spacing until three ties from the heel of the point. There they get closer again. Looking at drawings for other turnouts, this seems to be a common location for tighter tie spacing. Possibly there is some extra force near the heel of the switch, or perhaps the designers work like I do, and simply find a place to accommodate the desired lead length and the tie spacing.

I didn’t bother with the switch itself. I am considering printing these complete with rail braces. But more to point, I was out of ties, and it’s time for bed!

Printed Turnout Parts?

Working with Julian Watson on his Victorian Railways modules ( we came across the problem of how to represent VR switches. His branch had a delightful lack of tie plates, and so, the first problem was how to reduce the thickness of the ties to allow for the slide plates. The second was how to represent the peculiar VR rail braces.

Victorian Rys Points PoC

The Proto:87 Stores ( sells some very nice museum-quality rail braces and etched slide chairs, but the rail braces won’t match the VR, and we would still be left with the problem of accurately reducing the tie thickness.

I had been thinking for some time about 3D printing the ties for a switch complete with rail braces and slide plates. So we decided to give it a whirl on Julian’s layout. We started with official VR drawings, along with some good detailed black and white photographs, which Julian had. In an evening, with Julian and Andrew watching, I worked up a SketchUp drawing of the ties and rail braces.

We then uploaded the drawing to Shapeways and a couple of weeks later had the casting shown in the photo above made out of their White Strong Flexible sintered nylon material. Unfortunately, the WSF didn’t quite resolve the rail braces, and so, most of them have disappeared. Their White Detail material will probably give a better balance between detail and cost, and so, we will try that next time.

For the proof of concept shown above, we glued the rail in place with Pliobond. The switch rod is PC board, and the points were hand-filed on three planes to a rather dodgy, but workable profile (the pukka ones from Proto:87 Stores would be better).

Notice that the prototype’s diverging stock rail bends near the tie before the points. This is a critical detail, and provided it is replicated, the points sit tight enough to the stock rails to work nicely. Overall, we declared the experiment to be an interim success, and with a little further refinement of the model, we will go ahead and print all of them for Julian’s model.

I also worked up a standard gauge version based on a CPR drawing. This one has a printed switch rod, which is meant to slide beneath the head blocks. Unfortunately, the tolerances are too tight, and so, it doesn’t really slide. It also incorporates a detente to hold the points over firmly, but I made the switch rod too well, and that doesn’t work either. It shows promise, though, and is pictured below.

Standard gauge switch

Pembroke II Benchwork Nearing Completion

Starting in January, the Proto:87 Posse has upped its activity level here in Vancouver. Julian Watson had been hosting us about once a month through the fall of 2012. We increased this to bi-weekly in the new year because, well, we weren’t making sufficient progress. Then in March, we started cutting out the pieces for my layout, Pembroke II. The sketch below shows the plan.

Pembroke II Plan

Frankly, I’m amazed at how quickly we’ve gone. The first evening was a little disappointing, but since then, we’ve started each visit with a job list, and we’ve rarely had an idle hand. Consequently, the benchwork is all but finished. We’ll be doing a lot of the work in my garage because once this layout is installed, it’s going to be hard to get in and work on the track.

The benchwork is entirely plywood, either left over from renovating the basement, or recovered from the demolition of the old basement. Indeed, apart from two boxes of screws, and a little bit of beer and chips, I’ve not spent any money on the layout so far. There are two sections, one twelve feet long, and the other six (north and south, respectively. The depth of the benchwork is at most 24″, but it is designed to overlap the ledge at the top of my foundation, and so, the full depth of the layout will be as much as 30″. It’s open-frame construction, with two layers of 1/2″ ply for the roadbed.

By the end of the evening, we were missing only one section of the second layer.  Actually, we cut it, but for some reason (probably haste), it turned out wrong, so I’ll have to find another scrap.  Below you can see Julian surveying the state of affairs before heading home.

Test fitting the sections together