Train Table Sleuthing: In Progress

Apparently, playing with model trains is a cold weather pastime. The cold came swooping in at exactly the same time as our layout from heaven appeared, and has inspired in me (and Olin) a renewed interest in the model trains lurking in our basement.

Thursday, I went to True Value (The one in Decorah is incredibly helpful with EVERYTHING  and seriously deserves a letter to Corporate about how wonderful they are.) seeking screen to match the scenery foundation that was already in place on the TTFH (Train Table from Heaven? Maybe I’ll find a better name. For now, that’s it.), as well as some Real Life(TM) wintering supplies for the full-scale house, and the outside chance that they had spray primer that would match my paints. A whirlwind of unexpected helpfulness ended in me showing off my mystery train table photos (via iPad) to my conscripted ‘helpful employee’ (his name was Don, I think), and I found out VERY usefully that there was not only spray primer that would bind to plastic (a fact that YouTube videos had yet to point out to me) but the perfect aluminum screen ‘fabric’ to complete the ‘hills’ of the layout in kind, tacks to put it in place, and incredibly useful information about what parts were missing to make it work, based on personal experience.

I contacted The Depot and asked them if they knew who had donated the table, both so I could write them a ‘thank you’ letter and so I could figure out precisely what was going on with all the switches. They didn’t actually know who donated it (and if they did, I imagine they wouldn’t be allowed to give out that information), but I gave them my contact information so that if someone asked them about it, they could get me in touch with the right person. I hope. Like, seriously.

I recruited Tim with his electrical education and extensive equipment to help me do some circuit testing and other troubleshooting on Thursday night, and then did some testing with my own seriously amateur equipment and willingness to ‘see what happens’… Tim managed to find out that “A had a circuit”, and then retreated upstairs in boredom or annoyance, and I connected the track wire ends I found to the newly-discovered accessory holes in our Bachmann EZ-track controller. I got the engine to move (sometimes) a millimeter, but then it seemed to lose power.

I decided that perhaps the interruption was due to dirt/contaminants and the track needed a major cleanup. And an appropriate power source. I put all of this, as well as several photos including both front and back photos of the table’s wiring setup in an e-mail to my closest ‘hobby shop’ in LaCrosse, WI, hoping that they could advise me as to what to do next. Several business days later, I called the shop to follow up on my e-mail questions and re-ask them, and discovered that the shop had closed and sold off all its inventory the week previous.

I called the next-closest place, Everything Hobby in Rochester, MN, and discovered through a bit of chat that they had bought the LaCrosse, WI store and were moving it to Austin, MN. In any case, they had a few answers to my questions, and suggestions for intervention.

The first thing I did (on advice from that shop) was to set up a simple circle ‘test track’ of my Bachmann EZ-Track to ensure that the locomotives I had were working properly. They seem to be willing to cooperate on the EZ-Track, so I have to assume system problems on the other track.

When I talked to the fella at Everything Hobby, I asked for a used controller pack, and the thing he sent me looks like it came directly from the fifties, but… When I connected it to my TTFN,it worked! (At least, Cab A?…) I didn’t have to scrub anything initially, just try to  ensure where power comes from and that the switches on the table side were in the right place.

One of the serious operation problems I though I might encounter was dirty track. I knew that this layout was operational before I bought it ( because “the girls at The Depot” told me that “he” said it was “in working condition” when he brought it in), though I didn’t know anything about the time frame that the previous owner considered “operational” otherwise. It may have worked ten years ago when he last turned it on. I don’t know. And it’s pretty clear that I don’t fully understand the switches that came connected to the machine, but I’m excited to learn – and teach the kids so they can play in a way that respects the ‘model’ aspect but fulfills the joy. Figuring out what each switch  means could be entertainment unto itself. We shall see. Or, we won’t. Which is similarly useful. (Sentence fragments; omg.)

Tim suggested that I call and ask about a used controller, so I did (as you know). The items that I ordered on my lunch break Wednesday arrived on Friday, and I was able to fully operate the TTFH without even opening the cleaning kit. I connected my ‘used’ controller to the naked wires I had available, and was instantly rewarded with action in “certain parts” of the layout. Sleuthing out how to operate “both cabs” (apparently it’s set up for two cabs?) is going to take some more research, because most of the internet thinks I know more than I actually do about the situation.

I had also ordered Woodland Scenic’s track-cleaning kit (which while not the best value, seemed the best option for a total newbie) and some ‘extra wiring’ because the bits under the table were looking pretty worn, and the nearest splice broke while I was investigating. The extra wiring was useless (for now, on this layout) because he sent me EZ-Track wiring, but I think I may be able to use it on the other set, so I haven’t sent it back as of yet.

Since the TTFH has an extremely similar but eminently superior layout but really too much track for the space, I’ve decided to make that an “urban” scene with the focus being the turntable/switching yard, a few buildings and a “subway” where there is perfect space to put one in the tunnel. That way, the abrupt changes in elevation won’t look so artificial, because they ARE totally artificial. I could even make the northern side a retaining wall, and put a ‘road’ tunnel through it, so the layout doesn’t look so claustrophobic. Just thought, I suppose. Urban layouts are much more expensive than rural ones. Although I suppose more trees is just about as expensive as more buildings – if cheaper in overall time.

With that decision in mind, I tore apart most of the foam layout in the train room, and turned it in to a relatively simple circle with a branch that disappears behind a hill, and will keep it mostly rural so Olin can have his trains and tractors, too. My grain elevator (another post) will fit on this layout, as will the feed & seed store (also will be another post, eventually) and the fun little station my mom got him for Christmas. I need one EZ-Track left turnout and one EZ-Track right turnout to complete the train portion of the layout, but for now it has a complete loop and two spurs. (One for the grain bin, one for the feed/seed store and passenger station. There is a nice expanse to put a ‘field’ to make him happy, and maybe even a dealership.

So many plans. 😛

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