Category Archives: Building Techniques

Building Techniques and How To

The Wonderfull 7-Wide World of Erik

Erik (Adult_Boy) should not be an unfamiliar name within the Lego Community. However, after having build quite a lot of Space and Sci-Fi themed stuff in the last years, he has now gone on a train-related building spree again. Most of what Erik builds is 7-wide, but he manages to very skillfully merge Lego’s own building style with a high level of details, closely mimicking the prototype he is recreating. However, I think it’s best if the models just speak for themselves:

Pere Marquette 1225 with Modified Troop Sleeper
M53, based on Baltimore & Ohio “wagontop” style boxcars
Make the town theme great again!
CLUB CAR 1OOO2
grain train

Want to know more about how Erik did this? Click!

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Battery Powered vs. Track Powered

Young and new recruits to the LEGO train scene will never have known anything other than the current generation of power functions. Battery packs coupled with infrared receivers and remote controls, each taking up precious space in your build. However, it didn’t used to be this way. The previous generation of trains (ignoring the aborted RC train theme) used metal rails to directly power the motors. Both generations had their own advantages and disadvantages, which I will attempt to shed some light on. In a follow up article, I will go over some advanced applications of each, and hybrids that combine the best of both technologies.

Batteries take up space. In my eye, this is Power Function’s main drawback. Additionally, the current generation Infrared (IR) Receiver is quite large and the sensor on it needs to be visible from outside the locomotive for the signal to reach it.

IR Receiver with the shell removed. Why is this thing so big?

Trying to incorporate the AAA/AA battery pack and the IR Receiver into a model is often very tricky, especially when working with 6 or 7 stud wide models. Additionally, batteries need to be recharged or replaced after several hours, so the battery pack needs to be accessible or removable.  When running for many consecutive hours at a convention, swapping batteries becomes a chore. For home use, it is not such a big deal. The IR receiver also has difficulty reaching more than a few feet when there aren’t any walls or ceiling to reflect the light off of. On the other hand, the IR receiver and battery boxes are still currently in production, which means they’re cheap.

PF track Vs. 9V track

Track power has always been my preference and I’ve iterated through several generations of electrical systems searching for the best configuration. LEGO’s classic 9V train controller is simple, turn the knob and your locomotive starts to move. The biggest limiting factors are being limited to metal equipped track and the original 9V train motor, (meaning no double crossovers). Additionally, laying out certain track geometries will cause short circuits. Also, once your loop gets to a certain length, additional power hookups are required so as to avoid slow downs. Of course, the main drawback is price. Expanding or building a new 9V layout is very costly. 9V straight track hasn’t been manufactured in almost 10 years and averages $3.50 each used and $5.50 new on the aftermarket. Original 9V train motors average $35 each used and $75 new.  Many clubs still use 9V systems, and with ME Models finally shipping their metal track, will continue to do so for years to come.

Things start to get interesting when you get rid of LEGO’s speed controller and start substituting your own electronics. Swap in the third party Bluetooth controlled SBrick in lieu of the IR receiver and not only save space, but also gain control range, gain 2 more channels for a total of 4, and lose the line of sight requirement.

In addition to being gigantic, the output power per channel is low.
2 Channel PF IR Receiver3rd party SBrick, approx 8x available power output in a smaller footprint

 

Get rid of the LEGO 9V train controller and use constant track power to feed a Bluetooth motor controller. No batteries! Or better yet, use batteries and track power together: constant track power feeding a Bluetooth motor controller, with batteries for backup. With such a system, a track powered locomotive can continue through double crossovers, over draw bridges, maintain consistent speeds through spotty connections on dirty track, or possibly even charge itself. With the track providing power most of the time, the batteries will rarely need to be recharged.

Read about my experiments in hybrid systems in depth in my next article.

The Union Pacific Type – Building a Steam Locomotive in LEGO

This will be the first in a series of articles about my process of building a LEGO steam locomotive. I intend to cover a variety of topics in this series including research, the use of custom elements, aftermarket electrical devices, and building techniques. While I will focus on a specific locomotive project I am currently working on, this series will not include a full set of step-by-step instructions to that locomotive. My intention is to share some experiences and techniques that I hope people can apply to any steam locomotive project, and perhaps other types of LEGO models as well. At any rate, my designs are usually pretty fragile and don’t really lend themselves to redistribution via instructions. Instead, I will lay out my approach to building a steam locomotive and why I think it is effective. I hope that this will help people who are struggling with what I think is a particularly difficult type of model to build or, at least, be of some interest to the readers of this site.

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Matson’s Landing in L-Gauge – A Layout From Start to Finish

For several years I’ve wanted to write a set of articles covering the design and building of a LEGO® train layout from start of finish. With the new year and the launch of Brick Model Railroader, I have the opportunity to do so. This post is the kick-off to a series of articles that I’ll write as I design and build a new layout: Matson’s Landing.

The original Matson’s Landing is an HO scale layout designed by modeler Jack Matson. I discovered the layout years ago while scanning through “Micro/Small Layouts” at the Carendt.com blog. While many model railroading publications feature the grand basement-filling layouts of master modelers, Carendt.com focuses on small track plans that fit into a minimum amount of space. The designs on this site perfectly capture what S scale modeler and author Trevor Marshall defines as “Achievable Layouts”. In other words, layouts that are small enough to be worked on in a reasonable amount of time, but large enough to be entertaining. Given our large track scale, Achievable Layouts are perfect for the L-gauge builder.

As can be seen in the original track plan, the Matson’s Landing layout offers lots of opportunities for a LEGO builder. The display contains two scenes, divided down the center of the plan. One side showcases a waterfront logging camp, where logs are off-loaded into the river/lake to be floated to a mill, while the other side of the display features a wooded landing area where logs are pulled out of the forest. While not a lot of space is allowed for train cars, there is plenty of room for switching a few loads of logs with a small steam or diesel locomotive. The setting of Matson’s Landing could also allow for some steep grades with lots of brick-built scenery.

My initial plan is to scale up the HO design to fit L-gauge track size and geometry. For the article series here on Brick Model Railroader, I hope to cover the following topics:

  • Benchwork – The base of the display
  • Layout Design – How the track geometry is planned
  • Landscaping – Everything visible above the base, covering brick-built hills and valleys
  • Locomotive Design – Planning, testing and building of a small steam-driven logging locomotive
  • Car Design – Planning, testing and building of log cars, and possibly others
  • Scenery – Covering trees, water, shrubs and other natural features
  • Building Design – The logging camp area features a couple of small buildings that are perfect for the LEGO medium
  • Operations – How the layout is run, and various options for running it differently

During the process of building this layout, I encourage readers to offer suggestions as we go, making it a community project. I look forward to everyone’s feedback, and welcome the opportunity to learn from other builders.

A Topic of Epic Proportion(ing)

For me, the best way to build is to have an end goal in mind. Putting bricks together is great and all, don’t get me wrong. But if you don’t know where you want to end up, how do you expect to get off on the right foot?

That said, there should be some thought that goes into a model before the building process is begun. I usually start a model with extensive research on the prototype. For the purpose of this article, the example model will be a Pennsylvania Railroad BM70m baggage-mail car.

BM70m car no. 6565, a match to my model, albeit riding on different trucks. http://s83.photobucket.com/user/pcarrell/media/Prototype%20Train%20Photos/8-16-071.jpg.html

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