Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How to convert your HO passenger car to Knuckle-Kadee type-Couplers


Many of us love the Passenger cars made by brands like AHM, Riverossi, Concor and a few others. They all have truck mounted couplers which allow for tighter turning clearances. Their price point for what you get is perfect. Some of these guys are not in production anymore but can be found all over ebay and at train shows.  You are going to pay about 20 bucks a car vs 80+ for new age Walthers passenger cars. Mind you the new stuff has a lot of bells and whisltes but to run a 5-10 passenger car consist is more than my car payment.

These older style passenger cars come with the truck mounted dreaded horn hook sytle couplers. That wont do. Even for beginners or children the Kadee type knuckle couplers are easier and well lets face it just look 1000% better.  Kadee makes a number 508 coupler that comes with a conversion shank     
that you can use to convert the horn hook to their coupler. However the conversion is very very time consuming and difficult. I have done it with moderate success. it always takes a lot of fussing and sanding of car bodies for clearance and you must cut sections of the truck apart..use small screws to mount their shank to the truck and dont forget about the glue when you make a mistake and crack the truck....its a mess. I love the all metal Kadee couplers but their process is just not for me.

I am not sure what hole I was in but my only excuse was that it has been many, many years since I had to worry about this conversion of a horn hook to a knuckle coupler but I came across a fantastic solution. 
McHenry Couplers. They have a long shank and snap right in where the horn hook does and has an operating knuckle coupler at the business end.  They make different lengths depending on which truck you have. For a 4 wheel truck on most concor or other cars you need the longest MCH 52 for the shorter 6 wheel trucks or the RPO cars that have trucks closer to the end of the car body the MCH 53 will do.

Right now they are tough to find but I did find a source for the Mchenry #52 on ebay.  This is by far the easiest way to convert a passenger car to a Knuckle type or what many just call a Kadee coupler.  They are compatible with Kadee and other Knuckle couplers.

Enjoy those passenger cars...I love that older stuff!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Status of Model Train Layout & quick product review

I have completed laying the track for stage one and most of the track for stage 2 of my HO model train layout.

Stage one was the main lines around the room basically on a shelf. stage two is the yard and turntable in the middle. The "parking lot" with 5 long staging areas on the top side of the yard through to the turntable is laid and the switch machines are installed. The bottom half of the yard where the real work can be done with rolling stock is not laid because Atlas once again has virtually no product in the country...we hear January 2014. This design was my 9th rendition using the AnyRail software that I truly Loved!  It allows the most amount of free space in the room while still getting in what I want in the layout. The door into the room is the greyed out area bottom left and the door to the mechanical room is in the top right greyed area which also shaped my design. Stage 3 will be the upper section located in the blank area top left.  You can see the feeder incline wrapping around the bottom left of the yard. This section will have what ever industry I can work in, should be a few nice sidings.


Control Panel starting to take shape
Since I only use Atlas custom line switch tracks and there are none available I have put down my track laying hammer and picked up my soldering iron. I have begun working on the control panel, mounting and wiring the power blocks and switch machine control toggles .  I have installed Circuitron's Tortoise switch machines and they were a breeze to install. I priced a few items out and they are a decent deal. Although you have to search for the best price on the internet and go with a 12 pack.  They have 2 features that make them the best I have ever used.  First is they are a self contained unit mount and all. that's right you do not purchase a separate mount which helps on the budget and ease of install. Second is the adjustable fulcrum built into the unit.  It allows an easier install because you can adjust away slight miss alignments with the fulcrum. 

I will  check back in when a bit more progress has been made.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Atlas Deluxe Under the Table Switch Machine # 66

I have completed Stage 1 of my HO Model Train Layout. (See my previous post on my Layout Design for more details.) Trains are running while I work out the kinks in my track work and the room in general. For the switch tracks in this stage I used the Atlas #66 Deluxe under the table switch machine here is my review.

Why? I used this item because I wanted something simple and cheap. You can't get simpler or cheaper for an under table switch machine. Since I also used the nicer custom Atlas switch tracks that have metal non powered frogs I would have needed their snap relay #200 along with their standard switch machine to power the frogs and/or signals when the track is switched from one position to the other. This Deluxe machine incorporates a double pole double throw relay like the #200.  Simple.

The instructions that come with the unit are a bit vague, but do have a few wiring diagrams that cover a few scenarios. So if you can read a diagram you are covered on how to wire it. However, It doesn't go over how to physically install the unit well enough. I found this troubling especially for anyone who was a first timer. I however, have done this a few times and went right at it.

Instillation. This is where the unit falls short. It doesn't work at all if you install it with the throw bar directly centered below the hole in the switch track. (as is the only advice in the instructions) The vertical section of the throw bar is a piece of stiff metal wire. As you can see in the picture above the horizontal arm of the throw bar is plastic. I have a 7/8" thick wood sub road bed then the standard 1/4" cork road bed below the track. That distance is within the units specs. However, the plastic horizontal arm bends under pressure (under the pressure of the air around it it seems) and never moves the points far enough. After some testing if the unit was directly below the track (no roadbed whatsoever- which is not a situation that would ever happen in real life this was just a test) it would work fine.

I did come up with a fix.

Atlas #66 Throw bar & unit off center
Instead of installing the unit with the throw bar directly centered under the connection in the points, I off centered it just a bit and cocked the unit to the side.  I stuck the vertical throw up through the hole in the points then moved the machine around (all the while flipping the switch by hand trying to find a spot where it did work) until i felt that plastic arm flex because of the nature of being off centered.  This created a fulcrum point between the track and the horizontal arm.  The plastic arm flexed or had a load on it. The vertical section of the throw bar actually rubs against the side of the hole in the sub road bed (fulcrum point). To the eye it looked weird but I found a sweet spot where thanks to my fulcrum it had enough power to move the points back and forth.  This was a ton of trial and error, but works perfectly.  Notice in the picture the black plastic horizontal throw bar flexed.  Again when you look at this thing honestly it doesn't look like it should work...but it does every time. Also of note the machine was not centered below the rails it was cocked off center. That's just where the sweet spot was move it an 1/16" either way and it doesn't work.
Atlas #66 plastic throw bar flexed

I repeated this procedure 5 more times and was done. The first one took a while the rest were quick. I will admit you almost needed 4 hands to do it cause once you found that sweet spot holding the unit in place while trying to get some small screws in the mounting holes without having it move on you was a challenge.

Once I figured out the fix, she works great.  My situation with 7/8" sub road bed is not unique.  What was Atlas thinking? Use this product only if you are willing to use my "secret" instillation technique.

*****************quick update**************
avoid using this product if at all possible (clearance issues) go with Circuitron's Tortoise switch machine they are so easy to install and only a few bucks more if you are a savy shopper and by them by the dozen.  They dont "snap" when switched but move quite fast enough)

Monday, November 26, 2012

HO Flextrack Shortage

Are you looking for HO Flextrack? The most popular is manufactured by Atlas and short of a 5 pack here and there I bet you can't find any. Back in april 2012 on the Atlas website forums the notion was spread that there would be a disruption in supply. That disruption has turned into an outright shortage.

I was told by a local supplier that the story on the track shortage has to do with moving product lines from one mfg plant in china to another. I know from experience in my industry that such a thing takes a lot of time. The new china plant will make run after run of bad product before getting it right. I am not sure if the track has hit the water yet on its way to us but Atlas tells my supplier that they will have it before the years end. Their website says they were do in a container the begging of November 2012.

I find it interesting that right after the mention of the track shortage Atlas decided to put an end to their Forums on their website.  They are there in archive mode only, you can't add anymore posts. Yes forums are expensive to run but did they just want to avoid all the negative messages about their own products not being available? 

The scoop I heard was that when the plants in china were being realigned Atlas got left out. Someone was not paying attention to what was happening. This is what disrupted their supply chain. Hopefully they have everything worked out...Cause I love using their track!

ps as of the end of Dec 2012 I hear they got in some track...but that most of it sold right out...good luck..I got mine!

Monday, November 19, 2012

How to Lay Cork Roadbed on a Model Train Layout

Once you have decided your track plan and have built your model layout's structure (sub roadbed) it's time to lay some roadbed.  Do not lay your track right down on the wood. This is a big no no. I know you want to run some trains but this hobby requires some patients.  It doesn't matter what scale you are modeling in you need roadbed below your rails.

Roadbed simulates ballast that every real railroad track has in the real world. It elevates the track just a bit from the surrounding area just like in real life. It also provides a bit of sound proofing during operation. This soundproofing can go a long way especially if you are modeling in O scale or your typical Lionel set up.

There are a few different items out there for roadbed these days. Some come on a roll and are self adhesive, others are made of vinyl and come in strips. I find the traditional cork roadbed made by Midwest Products to be the best.

The cork is easily shaped & cut and conforms to your model train layout's curves perfectly. Each 3' strip comes with a perforation down the middle. You need to split each piece apart and flip the sections over so that the bevel side is to the outside of the rails like this /--\ . If you do not do this then it will be harder to lay your roadbed around curves and it will leave a square edge to each side of your rails which will not look realistic at all. You can leave the roadbed square if you are laying it in a yard or siding where you want to butt a few pieces together, otherwise lay the bevel edges to the outside.

You need to draw the center line for your rail lines in the area where you are laying your roadbed. This center line will act as your guide for where to place your cork sections. Use your favorite carpenters wood glue and run a small bead about a 1/4" to each side of your center line. Do this in 3' sections at a time.  Take 1 piece of the roadbed and lay it down one side of the center line along the furthest side from you.  Make sure the bevel end is furthest from you or to the outside of the rails and that the square end is right along the center line mark. If you are conforming this to a curve you will have to pin your cork down as you go or use some small track nails or tacks along the way to keep the curve true to your center line.  If your center line is straight you will notice you need very little pinning or tacking.

Once you have the furthest half of the road bed in place do the same with the closest side. You will notice that as the carpenters glue is still wet you can slide the roadbed around a bit (unless you tack it). this is good and bad. It helps you line everything up but also allows you to in inadvertently lean on the roadbed and shift it out of place...take care not to lean on wet roadbed!

Repeat for the rest of your layout.  It is a little time consuming but the finished product looks so much better with roadbed then without. You will really be happy with the results. After you lay 2 or 3 pieces you will figure out a few tricks to laying it straight and get a handle on how much glue to use and where you need to tack it in place till it dries.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ho Train layout Design

Here is the latest version of my Ho Train Layout. It's a 2 main line, shelf layout around in a 11'x16' room. The yard (at the top) is below the main lines and the loop in the center of the room is used to gain the height needed to get up and down from the main lines. It is a tough room to navigate. The entrance door is the grey area bottom left of the diagram. The mechanical room is the grey area near the top right of the drawing both will have lift out sections. I also need enough room to replace items in the mechanical room if needed so there needs to be a clear path from entrance door to mechanical room.

I have started stage 1 which is building the shelf around the room. The idea is to get both main lines running first then finish prepping the room, lighting, power etc.  I need to be able to run some trains man! Stage 2 will be the yard and center loop, stage 3 will be the turntable and branch line (inside the loop). Once stage 3 is running I will develop some sort of scenery plan that will buffer the center loop from the back side of the room.  This will give the layout some depth and make you walk around back to see everything.  Where as this design is not complicated, it's nothing fancy it gets me the access I need in the room and will serve the need to run some trains.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How to Build a Tamiya Clodbuster or Bullhead

Well its official the re release of the bullhead is underway as I type this and its it soon to be followed by the clodbuster. These new kits are going to be the same great kit as the vintage 1990ish versions with one major exception.  They will be coming from Tamiya with an ESC (electronic speed control).  That is a major upgrade from the manual speed control of the past. Good work Tamiya.

The biggest problem we all had back in the early 90's still holds true for the new re releases. How do you build one of these huge trucks?  Well if you have never built one of these kits the answer is simple. You don't. You pay someone to put it together. Otherwise you are looking at about 14 hours of head scratching frustrating work.

I have the perfect person for you to contact to get the job done....Me. I have decided to sell Kit Assembly service through eBay. Click here to view or purchase my service.  You have to purchase your kit somewhere or already have one then ship it out to me. I will build it, test it, and ship it back. I explain in detail the process on my eBay page. 

Even if you don't use my service please get a professional to build your Clodbuster or Bullhead Kit. A professional has the right tools and knowledge of R/C cars/trucks to get this kit built right the first time. I can't count the amount of Tamiya kits I built in the past. I had a job as a hobby shop's r/c car guy and would repair and build kits for their customers. 

If you are wondering about tune up or hop up parts I make one suggestion to everyone buying a new kit. Purchase the ball bearing upgrade kit. You can find them all over eBay or you can buy them from the place you are getting your truck kit.  Without the ball bearings your truck will be built with plastic bushings. That is a no no. I am still running my Bullhead 20 some odd years later and yes it has the ball bearing upgrade installed.



Monday, June 18, 2012


Tamiya BullHead R/c Truck
 So this past week I decided to dust off my R/C car & truck and get them back to operational. A good cleaning, a few bolts tightened and they were ready. Actually I needed a few new body mounts for my car so that remained on the shelf. I did get the BullHead out in the yard for a few spins. Since my Batteries have been laying for a few years the run times were pretty low. I am hoping that with a few more charge discharge cycles they get back to normal otherwise new batteries end up setting you back quite a few bucks.

As I was looking around for some tune up/spruce up parts for my truck I found out something very interesting. I am apparently a trend setter!  I built this truck 20 years ago. its been discontinued for 10-15 years. Well Tamiya is re releasing the BullHead (and clod buster) this summer and it should be available late august.

For those of you not familiar with the BullHead it is a clod buster with a different body. This is fantastic news. First off it is a top notch truck. The parts are very well made. (It only comes as a kit, I consider it an advanced build. 20 years ago it took me 12 hours and I would bet it would be the same today.) Secondly I could use a few replacement body parts. Mostly the chrome items you see in the picture. When I used to race the truck in a mixed class race I ran over a few smaller off road buggies which often resulted in a flip over situation so the roll bar and exhaust stacks have some wear. Searching for those parts right now yeilded little results and those that I did find were expensive. The re-release should fix that.

I long ago made up a battery cable that allowed me to use 2, 6 cell Battery packs at once for longer run times. This is a must do remember this thing has 2 motors where most cars only have 1.  I am also going to upgrade the manual speed control to an electronic version. Which by the way Tamiya's new BullHead kit has the electronic speed control standard.

Now go out and get an R/C car or truck and have some fun!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How to make Model Train Layout Rocks and Cliffs


I have covered how to make mountains and valleys in previous article. You now have to start working on your rock outcroppings and vertical cliffs. You should have built their basic location into your mountain/terrain design-Nooks for rock outcroppings and the structure for vertical cliffs. If you didn’t there is nothing stopping you from adding them now you just need to be more creative. You can add some more plaster cloth on top of what you have in a way to create more vertical surfaces or to create a natural nook for a rock outcropping.


I always liked making plaster casts of large rocks and placing them around the layout as I needed. Nowadays you can buy them ready made. I have done it the old fashioned way and made rubber molds from some cool rock features out in the garden. Each mold around 6-8 inches in diameter. You buy the mold making material and follow the directions by applying a bunch of coats to the surface you are molding. My rubber molds are a bit more flexible than the store bought type which is good and bad. I use 2 techniques for rocks. Pour the plaster in the mold and let it set. Then plaster or glue them into place around the layout in different combinations and orientations. The second is to only let the plaster set half way so that it is still flexible in the mold. Then quickly invert the mold onto the mountain surface you wish the rock detail to appear. If you ever put a 5 gallon water bottle on top of a water cooler you replicate that exact concept here. Once inverted, press the mold down and around the contours of the mountain. Do not squish out all the plaster you want it to be in the mold taking on the mold’s “look”. Once hard but not completely set you can peel the mold off. What you did was leave all the rock “look” from the mold but contoured it to the mountain you made. So now you can have a limitless amount of different rock/cliff shapes with only a few molds. For large rock faces just overlap each mold. There will be a seam however you can either carve the plaster to make it look like to rocks fracturing together or hide the seam with vegetation/vines/weeds. By the way it’s always easier to carve the plaster before it’s completely set.

When all your rock work is done and dry a few days you can then stain the plaster to the color of your liking. Get yourself some acrylic tubes of paint. Some greens, some browns, and a black. Squirt a dime sized drop into a plastic cup of water and mix well. Then cut a sponge to fit the cup. Please practice on some plaster that you will be painting or covering with ground foam first. Sponge on the darker colors then right on top of them while still wet the lighter colors. The plaster soaks in only so much stain so you have to get a feel for it. Use some real life examples and try to replicate the colors. Darker in the crevices lighter in the weather exposed surfaces. It actually is easier than it sounds.

You can purchase all sorts of readymade rocks and rock sheets. Depending on your layout and the look you are going for some of these products will be perfect for you, none of them are cheap if you need a lot of them. You will have to figure out how to blend them into your layout so they don’t look store bought and out of place and the plaster technique I describe above is a great way to blend them in.

When all your rocks are stained you can move onto making your mountains and terrain come alive by adding grass and bushes.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

How to add grass and bushes to your train layout

In a previous article I explained how to make mountains and valleys. Click here to view that article. Once you have them you need to make them come alive. You will have to add ground cover, grass and brush or bushes. Otherwise all you have is a big white plaster mountain!  Unless you have rolling hills you need to start thinking about clifs, boulders, & rocks. We will cover rock outcroppings in another article but they should be dealt with before adding your base ground foam to the area.


First realize that grass grows on flat or near flat surfaces. So leave it off of verticle clifs. Weeds or vines like to grow up vertical surfaces. Bushes tend to cluster at the bottom of rocks or trees or around other bushes or berms. I strictly use woodland scenics “ground cover” products for all my landscaping needs. That is not a commercial trust me they aren’t sending me any checks. They just make some great stuff.

Start with the finest turf material. You will need some grass, weeds, dirt. They have different shades of grass for instance; I would get them all and then use what you need where you need it or blend it for a custom look. Also get yourself a shaker bottle. You are going to want to mix the ground cover together like a painter does on his pallet to make the colors you want and then you can simply shake it out over the area you are working on.

I like to layer the darkest colors on first which is usually dirt and then work in the lighter colors on top this way the dark bleeds through where you want it to if you only go over it lightly with a top coat. Once you have your grass/weeds down you have to start thinking texture. They have medium and rough grades of the turf ground cover so you can shake on some texture, don’t forget to use different colors to contrast the base coat.  All the same color is boring.

Use bits and pieces of their Foliage clusters to make the basic shape of your bushes. Cluster them together or around other objects for realism. Then you can shake on some fine or medium turf to give them some depth and or color.

Use their straight foliage to create viney bushes or vertical hanging weeds or even underbrush. This stuff comes in a mat form that you can pull and stretch how you like. I Use this stuff a lot for various applications.

Once you have this stuff in front of you and work with it for a while you will be able to mix and match the products to get all sorts of different feels and looks to your scenery. Remember the world isn’t perfect and contains lots of colors and textures.

You are going to glue all of it down with a typical carpenter’s wood glue. Dilute the glue enough to be able to brush it on thick for your base coat. You can use it straight to glue on your bush clusters. Then dilute it to the consistency of milk to put it in a spray bottle to go over the entire area to lock things in place.