All posts by Elroy Davis

Can I have Instructions?

Lately on Social Media platforms, there has been an uptick in “Can I have building instructions for…” type requests. While some of these requests are very specific, and the answer from other builders is usually “You’ll have to design it yourself,” there are sources available for a number of train related building instructions.

Following other designer’s instructions is a great way to learn different building techniques and trends. While it’s sometimes frustrating to see an amazing build and immediately want to build one yourself, it’s often better to step back, assess your skills, and start small. I’d wager to guess that most of us who currently design our own models started by following official LEGO instructions. After a while, we would modify those builds, adding our own touches (my first “designed” train was a modification of the My Own Train line from back in 2001). After modifying official models for a bit, we’d start experimenting with the techniques we’d learned, and we’d begin designing our own builds.

The following are some sources (other than buying sets) of train related building instructions that may help builders get started. Some of these are older resources, but the techniques displayed are as valid today as they were when they were originally assembled.

First print of BMR’s PS-1 Boxcar Premium Instructions.

First, of course, is our own Brick Model Railroader Premium Instructions. Designed by Cale Leiphart and Glenn Holland, these models are in the 8-wide scale, designed specifically for builders looking for prototype realism in their models. Instructions are printed in book form, and include any custom parts needed for the builds.

Next, The LEGO Group, on their Customer Service website, offer Downloadable Instructions for official sets. Not all sets are available, but this is a great resource if you are looking for just the instructions for current or recently retired sets. Some older sets are also available, but again, not everything is there. Instructions are provided as downloadable PDF files.

Two other sites also offer instructions of official LEGO models. These sites include some of the company’s older sets, which may be of interest to builders wishing to delve into the history of LEGO trains and building techniques. Brick Instructions.com includes downloadable PDF files of instructions, or onscreen image files that a builder can scroll through.

The second site, Peeron.com has scans of instructions from as far back as 1955. Peeron was THE fan-created database of LEGO sets twenty years ago, and still contains a huge amount of information, including set inventories and catalog scans.

On the fan side of things, there are a number of resources for building instructions.

Jake McKee’s Getting Started With LEGO Trains.

Back in 2004, Jake McKee, who used to liaison between the LEGO Group and the fan community, wrote Getting Started with LEGO Trains. Published by No Starch Press, the book included a history of LEGO Trains, as well as building instructions for a diesel locomotive and a number of freight cars. Though out of print, Getting Started with LEGO Trains can still be found at a number of used booksellers.

No Starch Press also publishes a number of other LEGO related books, including the new The LEGO Trains Book by Holger Matthes. Available in both print and PDF form, the book includes tips for different building techniques, as well as some step-by-step instructions. Glenn Holland reviewed the book for Brick Model Railroader back in October.

RAILBRICKS Issue #1

A third publication, this time in magazine form, was started back in 2007 by Jeremy Spurgeon. RAILBRICKS published 6 issues, in PDF and Print On Demand format, through August of 2009. In 2010 the magazine was revived with Jeremy passing editorial duties to Elroy Davis. The volunteer team of authors and content creators that made up the RAILBRICKS team published another 9 issues, ending publication in July of 2014. Each issue of the magazine included building instructions for things like locomotives, rolling stock, or scenery.  An archive of the RAILBRICKS magazines is available here on the BMR website where each issue can be downloaded in PDF format. Print issues of the magazine can also still be purchased from MagCloud.

In addition to publications, a number of builders offer instructions of their designs via their BrickLink shops.

A search for “Custom Instructions” on BrickLink turned up shops selling instructions for locomotives, rolling stock, scenery, and modular buildings.

BrickLink Online Marketplace

One of the largest offerings of instructions is Anthony Sava’s SRW Locomotive Works. His designs includes steam and diesel locomotives, as well as passenger and freight cars. I just recently finished building his Light Mikado, and can recommend his instructions as clear and easy to follow.

Bricks Northwest offers a number of diesel locomotives, including CSX, Canadian National, and Conrail liveries.

For the fans of the Emerald Night set, Zac’s Brick Place sells instruction sets for custom coaches in the Emerald Night color scheme.

For those who like high speed rail, LT12V in Italy sells instructions for three different passenger trains.

Next, Brick City Depot has a nice offering of rail buildings, trains, and maintenance of way equipment.

The BrickLink shops listed above are by no means the complete list. They are just a few of the instructions available from fans that I found with a little searching.

Brick Instructions Website

Finally, there are a number of fan sites out there that offer instructions as well.

One of my favorites is the L-Guage wiki. Instructions for ballasted track, roads, viaducts and more are available as downloadable PDF files.

A similarly named site, LGauge, offers a large amount of instructions for freight cars, as well as few diesel locomotives and small scenery pieces. The instructions can be followed online in HTML format, or downloaded as PDF files.

Michael Gale, of the L-Guage wiki, also has custom instructions for sale on his Brick Dimensions website. These include both passenger and freight models.

Like BrickLink, this small list of sites was found with just a quick search on Google. I’m sure there are other sites out there with similar offerings

Instructions are awesome, and while there are many available, nothing really beats just sitting down and experimenting. Don’t be discouraged if your initial builds don’t work out they way you think they should, and don’t compare yourself to builders who have a couple of decades of experience. Remember that we all started at the same point. Follow the instructions for a while, then have fun striking out on your own design path!

LDraw Parts Update Released

On December 30th, the team at LDraw.org released the newest parts update, 2017-01.  According to the website, the new release adds 717 new files to the library, which includes 509 new parts and 33 new primitives.  There are also updates to the configuration files for colors.

LDraw

For those not familiar with LDraw, it is an open standard for defining parts used by a number of LEGO CAD programs.  The open nature of the standard allows for numerous parts authors, including those who model 3rd party parts such as Big Ben Bricks wheels.  Parts are reviewed before release to ensure compatibility with the standard and conformance to the actual part.  CAD programs using the LDraw format are used by many modelers to create virtual MOCs and instruction sets.  Having been around for over a decade, the LDraw library contains many parts not found other virtual building platforms, including parts that have been long retired, but that may be available to builders via BrickLink or other 3rd party sources.

Check out the LDraw.org website for more information, and enjoy the New Year!

Expert Rebuilder Contest!

Ready for another contest?

The LEGO company is sponsoring a new contest, BE AN EXPERT REBUILDER.  Each contest participant must create a short 15 to 30 second stop-motion film, featuring an original model built using parts from the Creator Expert Modular, Holiday, or Fairgrounds sets.

How does this appeal to us train fans?  Two of the three Holiday sets have train themes!  Check out the LEGO Creator Expert sets online at the U.S. Shop at Home site: https://shop.lego.com/en-US/Creator-Expert-Sets

For complete rules, see the LEGO Rebrick “Be an Expert Rebuilder” contest website: https://www.lego.com/en-us/rebrick/contest-page/contests/expert-rebuilder

Let’s show the world what train builders can do!

StickyLife – A Review

In the brick-built train hobby, one of the often asked questions revolves around how or where to create custom decals for decorating our models with our favorite railroad liveries. Many options exist, including using traditional O scale decals, printing your own on decal paper using a home ink-jet printer, or, like we do for the BMR Premium Instruction sets, use a 3rd party printer like OKBrickWorks.

One difficulty that I’ve had over the years is finding proper decals with white lettering for the cars that I build. I’m a fan of the fallen-flag Rutland Railroad, which operated in Vermont and New York until the early 1960s. Many of their cars, and almost all of their steam locomotives, were lettered in silver or white paint on black backgrounds. While modeling decals for the locomotives are commercially available in compatible sizes for my LEGO trains, I’ve always had trouble finding decent freight car decals.

A few weeks ago, I came across the website StickyLife.com. StickyLife allows you to create a variety of customized items, including bumper stickers, magnets, and vinyl decals. Originally I had thought to use the site to create lettering for my 1:8 scale Live Steam flatcar, but then I wondered if it would be possible to create decals for my LEGO cars as well.

The following is a walk through of the process, and a review of the final product.

Continue reading StickyLife – A Review

Coming Soon – Winter Village Station!

The LEGO Group released an announcement today that should please fans of official LEGO train sets.  As an addition to the popular Winter Village series, the Winter Village Station will be available October 1st!The set looks like it will have tons of playability, especially when combined with the Winter Holiday Train (10254).

Winter Village Station Photo Gallery

The official press release:

10259 Winter Village Station
Ages 12+. 902 pieces.

US $79.99 – CA $99.99 – DE 69.99€ – UK £74.99 – DK 649.00 DKK

*Euro pricing varies by country. Please visit shop.LEGO.com for regional pricing.

Head home for the holidays with the Winter Village Station!

Head for home with the festive Winter Village Station holiday set, featuring a snowy railroad station with wreath adorned lampposts and clock tower, platform, mailbox, green trees, snowy grade crossing with twin barriers and lights, and a beautiful, festively decorated bus with opening doors and a luggage rack with removable luggage and gift wrapped packages. This LEGO® Creator Expert model also includes a ticket counter with a timetable and a transaction counter window with room for sliding out tickets to travelers, plus a coffee shop with a serving hatch and a detailed interior with an espresso machine, cups, cash register and a menu. Includes 5 minifigures.

Includes 5 minifigures: a bus driver, barista, grandmother, child and a ticket agent.

The festively adorned Winter Village Station features a snowy train station with a clock tower, platform, coffee shop, ticket counter, grade crossing with twin barriers and lights, lampposts, mailbox and green trees, plus a bus.

Ticket counter features a timetable and a transaction counter window with room for sliding out tickets.

Coffee shop features a serving hatch and a detailed interior with espresso machine, cups, cash register and a menu.

Bus features festive decoration, opening doors, luggage rack with removable luggage and gift wrapped packages, and a removable roof for accessing the detailed interior.

Drive the happy passengers to the station.

Raise the barriers to cross the track.

Grab a newspaper and relax with a warm espresso from the cozy coffee shop.

Man the ticket booth, serve the travelers and slide the tickets under the serving window.

Gather the family for some festive LEGO® building!

Accessories elements include buildable wreaths and wrapped gifts, plus 2 mugs, ticket, newspaper and an envelope.

Special elements include new 1×1 round plate with horizontal shaft, 4×6 roof element in dark blue, gray microphone element, printed ticket element and shield elements with printed clock-faces.

Includes 4 straight track pieces to connect with the LEGO® Creator Expert 10254 Winter Holiday Train.

Winter Village Station measures over 7” (19cm) high, 11” (28cm) wide and 5” (14cm) deep.

Grade Crossing when closed measures over 2” (6cm) high, 5” (13cm) wide and 5” (14cm) deep.

Bus measures over 3” (9cm) high, 5” (15cm) long and 2” (7cm) wide.

Available for sale directly through LEGO® beginning
October 1, 2017 via shop.LEGO.com, LEGO® Stores or via phone:

US Contact Center 1-800-453-4652

CA (English) Contact Center 1-800-453-4652

CA (French) Contact Center 1-877-518-5346

European Contact Center 00-800-5346-1111

LEGO, the LEGO logo and the Minifigure are trademarks of the LEGO Group. ©2017 The LEGO Group. All rights reserved.

Matson’s Landing in L-Gauge – Gearing Up (or Down)

It’s been several weeks since I’ve updated the Matson’s Landing in L-Gauge series. In all openness, there hasn’t been a lot of progress. I find that, from time to time, I need to take a break from a project and come back to it with fresh eyes at a later time. I was running into some design issues with the Matson’s Landing locomotive, so I moved on to other projects. This week I returned to this locomotive, and find myself energized to work on it again.

In my last article on the design, I promised to document the main drive system for the Climax logging locomotive that I’m building. First, though, for the beginners, a quick run-down of the LEGO Power Functions technology that I’m using.

The Power Functions (PF) system was released back in 2007, at about the same time that the LEGO 9v and RC train systems were discontinued. Power Functions elements were designed to be used cross-theme, with elements showing up in both Technic and Train sets. The first official Power Functions compatible train was the Emerald Night (10194), released in 2009.

At its most basic, a PF system consists of a battery box connected to a motor. The battery box has an on/off switch, which sends or cuts power to the motor. There are a few different types of battery boxes available. For our purposes, we’ll use the box with a 4 x 8 stud footprint.

PF Battery Box with Medium Motor
PF Battery Box with Medium Motor

The next step up from the basic box/motor setup is the Rechargeable Battery Box (8878) (http://brickset.com/sets/8878-1/Rechargeable-Battery-Box), connected to a motor. The rechargeable box, in addition to the lithium polymer battery, has a small speed-control dial built into the top of the box. With this, you can set or change the speed of the motor. This is good for models that stay in one place, but difficult to use for models that will vary their speed and direction often.

Rechargeable Battery Box with Medium Motor
Rechargeable Battery Box with Medium Motor

To gain more control over a model, an Infrared Receiver (8884) (http://brickset.com/sets/8884-1/IR-Receiver) and Remote Control (8885) (http://brickset.com/sets/8885-1/IR-Remote-Control) can be added. The receiver will pick up signals from the controller, then send the information along to one or more motors. The IR Receiver can pick up signals over 4 channels on two ports, allowing up to 8 motors or other outputs to be controlled. The basic controller allows for forward/stop/reverse movement, which must be monitored by the user.

Rechargeable Battery Box, Infrared Receiver, Medium Motor with Remote Control
Rechargeable Battery Box, Infrared Receiver, Medium Motor with Remote Control

Another step up, and what most brick train builders use, is to swap out the IR Remote Control for the IR Speed Remote Control (8879) (http://brickset.com/sets/8879-1/IR-Speed-Remote-Control). The Speed Control remote allows for all the basic functions of the IR Remote, but also adds speed dials to the mix. Each speed dial can be increased or decreased in steps, allowing for smooth control of locomotives and other models. Each speed dial also has a red kill switch, which will immediately send a signal to the IR Receiver to set the power on that port to zero, effectively stopping the motor.

Rechargeable Battery Box, Infrared Receiver, Medium Motor with Speed Control
Rechargeable Battery Box, Infrared Receiver, Medium Motor with Speed Control

For the Matson’s Landing Climax, I’m using a very simple application of the last PF setup. The battery, IR Receiver, and a Medium Motor (8883) (http://brickset.com/sets/8883-1/M-Motor), will ride on the base of the locomotive. An small 8-tooth gear is attached to the output of the motor. This gear meshes with a second 8-tooth gear to transfer power to a larger 24 tooth gear that rides just below the base of the locomotive. The large gear drives the axles that are connected to the universal joints of each truck, thereby driving the locomotive’s wheels. The small to large ratio of the main drive system gears the power down, decreasing the overall speed of the locomotive, but increasing the power. While it doesn’t look as flashy as a speeding locomotive, it is more typical of a logging locomotive on a mountain line.

Climax Locomotive Main Drive System
Climax Locomotive Main Drive System

In the next installment, I’ll talk about track testing, and how the results will drive the design of the Matson’s Landing track plan.

LEGO Contest – Mini Building Madness!

A few days ago, The LEGO Group announced a contest with a pretty amazing prize package.  Since model railroads are as much about scenery as they are about trains, I think many of our readers will be interested in this one.

From the announcement:

Today we’ve launched a new contest on LEGO Rebrick, one we’re only sharing with RLUG/RLFM members. To mark 10 years of Modular Buildings, we invite you to build a mini modular for a chance to win the grand prize of all modular buildings as well as the Mini Modulars! This includes:

• 10230 LEGO Mini Modulars
• 10182 LEGO Café Corner
• 10190 LEGO Market Street
• 10185 LEGO Green Grocer
• 101097 LEGO Fire Brigade
• 10211 LEGO Grand Emporium
• 10218 LEGO Pet Shop
• 10224 LEGO Town Hall
• 10232 Palace Cinema
• 10251 Brick Bank
• 10246 Detective’s Office
• 10243 Parisian Restaurant
• 10255 Assembly SquareWe will also have two runner-ups in this contest, who will win the 10255 Assembly Square.
For more information on how to enter. Including rules and size requirements, please visit:

http://rebrick.it/minimodulars

The contest closes May 12th at 10:00 a.m. EST. Don’t forget to share this contest with your fellow RLUG/RLFM readers/subscribers/readers/subscribers!

Most exciting about this prize package, other than the sheer size of it, is the chance to win some pretty incredible retired sets.

– Brick Model Railroader is a Recognized LEGO Fan Media (RLFM) outlet.

Matson’s Landing in L-Gauge – Truckin’ Along

If you’ve been following the Matson’s Landing in L-Gauge series here on BMR, you’ll recall that I’ve settled on both a prototype, a Series B Climax locomotive, and a scale of 1:33, which works out to roughly 8 studs wide. With the initial high-level requirements defined, it’s time to start working on the actual brick design of the motive power.

When I studied architectural design back in college, one of my favorite professors had a saying: “Form follows function.” What he meant by this was that a pretty design isn’t useful if it doesn’t work. This is especially true when it comes to designing things that move, such as locomotives. If I built a gorgeously detailed locomotive that can’t run on a track, it’s not very effective for a working layout. With this in mind, my first task is to build a functional drive system. Once I know that I have something that performs reliably, I can then work on making it look nice.

The drive system of the real-life Climax locomotive actually lends itself very well to being replicated in LEGO form. A main axle below the locomotive turns gears that drive gears connected to each axle of the locomotive’s trucks, or bogies. Power is therefore transferred from the engine to each of the four wheel sets. For my first attempt at a bogie design, I set out to replicate this setup.

LEGO Scalar measurments of Climax truck
View of truck gearing from the Climax Locomotive Catalog

My first step was to take measurements and notes of details of the Climax trucks using the plans that I had found in Model Railroad Craftsman. The side frames of the trucks measured about 7 studs along the top edge, and 5 along the bottom edge. The trucks are assembled from iron bars, angled from bottom to top, with springs on the bolster and both journal boxes. Looking back at the Climax Locomotive Catalog, I found an image of the interior of the truck. It shows bevel gears on each axle, rotated opposite each other, driven by smaller bevel gears along a center axle. With this information, I sat down and started building. Some people work better building virtually at first, then translating to brick. I tend to work in the opposite direction, especially for pieces that have to move. I build first, then document what I’ve built using MLCad.

When I build, I use a process that the website development industry calls “iterative design”. Basically, you create a design, test it, refine it, test it again, and so on, until you come up with a finished product. For this project, I tried to document each iteration for you. This process took a few days, with each new design being slightly better than the last.

Version 1 – Basic Design

For the first iteration, I focused on replicating the prototype truck as closely as possible. I thought the overall design came out well. It was a bit over sized, but it had the basic look of the iron bar trucks with springs, and the gearing also matched the prototype. Testing, however, showed a huge issue very quickly. At 1:33 scale, the locomotive’s base would be about 28 studs long. With a truck on each end, there would not be enough room between the two to fit the axles and universal joints needed to drive the axles, and still allow the trucks to pivot.

Version 2 – Space for U-joints

For the second iteration, I kept the look of the outer frame, but redesigned the interior of the truck to remove one set of gears. This means that the locomotive would be driven more like a Heisler locomotive, with power to only one axle per truck, but allowing for much more room for the universal joints. During testing, these trucks worked well on straight trucks, but caught on switch points or uneven track. The bottom of the side frame needed to be raised by one plate to allow for more clearance.

Version 3 – More clearance

Version three of the Climax trucks turned into an almost complete redesign. This version uses a Studs-Not-On-Top (SNOT) approach, which allowed me more clearance at the track level. The change of design also allowed me to shorten the side frames to be closer to the prototype measurement, but still keep the spring detail. This version was also more solid, with no parts falling off while running. It does lose some of the iron bar look, but the overall angled shape remains. I found it to be a good compromise between function and form (remember: Form follows function). Track testing found this design to run well on straights, curves, s-curves and through switches.

Version 4 – Less clearance

Climax truck Version four was a slight redesign of the bolster section, purely for cosmetic reasons. Version three left just a bit too much space between the bottom of the locomotive base and the top of the truck frame. While functionally it worked, I wanted to lessen the space to make it look better. I was able to remove a single plate of height, which brought the measurement between the base and trucks closer to the scaled prototype.

Version 5 – Final?

Finally, we have the last iteration, Version five. While testing Version four, I found that the inverted plates on the trucks, when running through curves, were catching on the edges of the locomotive base that I’ve been using. I tried using inverted tiles on the ends of the bolsters, but found that these caught as well. The final solution was to use part 2654, Slide Shoe Round 2×2, to act as slides, keeping the space between the truck and the locomotive base, but allowing the trucks to pivot without catching.

Next up, I’ll start working on the locomotive’s main drive system.

Research – Where does he get those wonderful toys?

Over on our Facebook page, reader Martijn van der Linden asked a great question about where, exactly, some of us find our research material while building.

My short answer was, everywhere.

For a longer answer, here are a few of the places that I look for information and inspiration.

  • Online: The Internet has, literally, the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. The difficult part can be sorting out useful information from not-so-useful information. I tend to follow some of the scale-modelers websites, some modeling blogs, and a lot of Facebook forums that include information on the railroads or scales that I am interested in.
  • My Personal Collection: I’ve been collecting information on trains for a number of years, so I have a decent collection of books, magazines, and photographs that I’ve picked up along the way. Much of this was second-hand, either from modelers who were leaving the hobby, or from train show vendors with good deals.
  • Libraries: Everything I have in my personal collection can be found in libraries. Here in rural Vermont, libraries tend to be small, so I may need to look in more than a few for the information that I need, but it’s usually worth it. Many libraries, especially the small local ones, haven’t had their collections digitized, so you’ll often find information that you can’t find online.
  • Historical Societies: A number different organizations have historical societies who collect and sometimes publish information about the past. In my case, The Rutland Railroad Historical Society publishes a quarterly journal that contains photos, drawings, and sometimes interviews with past railroad employees. This gives me a wealth of information about that particular railroad. Outside of the Rutland, I also like to visit town historical societies. A lot of times these small places will have photos and documents that, like small libraries, can’t be found online. Some will even have museums with artifacts from the railroad that you’re trying to model.
Rutland Flatcar
Rutland 2762 with its real-life inspiration at the Danbury Railway Museum
  • Museums: Museums are amazing places, ranging from the small town ones mentioned above, to the big railroad oriented ones like those in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. Several years ago I had a train display at the Danbury Railway Museum with a couple of friends. As it turned out, their collection of rolling stock included two Rutland cars that were being saved for preservation. I was able to get detailed photos of the cars, and chat with a couple of the guys who helped moved them originally.
  • Train Shows: Train shows are my version of the best holidays. Surrounded by hundreds or thousands of other train fans, browsing through tables of products ranging from brand new to decades old, I always find inspiration. A couple of the large shows that I attend include collections of photographs, where I can sometimes find photos or drawings that have never been published before. I generally can find a book or magazine to add to my personal collection as well. A lot of the attendees go there to buy models. I go to attain information.
  • Other Modelers: Many of my friends are modelers, and most don’t focus on the same things. For instance, while I tend to collect information about the Rutland Railroad, I know that if I ever need information about the Ma & Pa, Cale would be a good source. My friends also model in different scales, so I can, for instance, ask my Live Steam friends how a particular boiler arrangement might work, or an HO modeler where to find information about older diesel locomotives. Some of these friends have, or do, work for the railroad, so they can sometimes give me information based on experience.

For a few specific places that I like to look online, here are some links. Keep in mind that I’m a northeastern United State modeler. Other countries may have other sites worth looking into.

  • Steam Locomotive Dot Com – Includes builder’s photos, specifications, and locations of existing equipment.
  • Fallen Flags and Other Railroad Photos – Photographs and manuals, organized by road name.
  • Railpictures.net – User-submitted photos from all over the United States, searchable by road name, locomotive type, and location.
  • Google Books – Digitized books going back to as far as the 1700s. A couple of my favorites are the Car Builder’s Cyclopedia’s, and some of the Railroad Structures books. You can also sometimes find railroad timetables, and industry information from the time-period.