Tag Archives: Design

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.

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.

Matson’s Landing in L-Gauge – A Question of Scale

On the last installment of the Matson’s Landing in L-Gauge series, Mike Pianta asked what scale the locomotive will be if I build it as an 8-wide model. Fortunately, that’s just the topic I had planned to cover in this post.

Generally LEGO® train builders fall into two camps: 6-wide and 8-wide. Traditionally, official LEGO train designs have been built to a “scale” of 6 studs wide. Since the LEGO Group’s trains aren’t really scale models, the width of the design is less important than the playability of the set. Builders wishing to add more realism to their models tend toward the 8-wide “scale” (roughly 1:48) which is a good match to the scale height of a minifig.

For the Matson’s Landing layout, I had originally decided to go with an 8-wide, 1:48 scale. This would allow me to quickly convert real life measurements into studs (real measurement, divided by 1.25, equals number of studs). However, as I began researching logging locomotives to build, I had a realization.

Logging locomotives are really small.

Climax Locomotives
Climax Locomotives

As I wrote in my last post, I’ve settled on building a Climax locomotive. While researching, I found that Climax Manufacturing Company, in their catalog, offered three different models of geared locomotive. The Climax “A” style locomotive is most like the Clishay locomotive that I wrote about before, with an upright or T-style boiler on a basic flat frame. The Climax “B” style is a more traditional looking machine, though the angled side-mounted pistons drive gears beneath the locomotive, instead of directly moving the driving wheels. Their “C” style locomotive is basically a style “B” with an additional tender and more wheels. After reading through the Climax catalog, I really liked the look of the Climax “B”. The gearing is more involved than what I had originally planned, but a challenge while building is always a good thing.

With a definite prototype model picked out, my next step was to research measurements. I took to the Internet in search of articles, photos, and builder’s drawings. I was fortunate to find a mention of scale drawings of a Climax “B” in the February 1985 issue of the magazine Railroad Model Craftsman. I was even more fortunate to find that I had a copy of that issue in my personal magazine collection. I quickly found the issue and read about the Cario & Kanawha Climax No. 5.[1]

(Tip: If a model railroader in his 80s offers to sell you 30 years worth of modeling magazines, especially Model Railroad Craftsman, buy them).

While the article on C&K No. 5 was interesting, what I was really after were the scale line drawings by Ed Gebhart. The basic dimensions shown on the drawings where close to what I had read in the Climax catalog, so I felt fairly certain that any other dimensions would be correct. I scanned the drawings and loaded them into LEGO Model Scaler, an online tool by Paul Kmiec, a.k.a Sariel, of Poland.

LEGO Model Scaler
Prototype drawings in LEGO Model Scaler

LEGO Model Scaler is an awesome tool. Upload an image from the web, draw a known dimension over top of it, enter how many studs that dimension should be, and hit the calculate button. From there on out, any other dimensions you draw over your image will be shown in studs. Incredibly handy for building truly scale models. The other nice thing about the tool is that if you enter your dimensions at a 1:1 scale, you can quickly find dimensions that aren’t listed on the drawings. For instance, on the C&K No. 5 drawing, the narrow gauge track is dimensioned at 3 feet wide. Entering 3 as my base dimension in Scaler, I can quickly see that a Climax “B” locomotive was only 7.5 feet wide. At my target 1:48 scale, this would only be 6 studs wide. While this does fit the scale, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for the PF components (battery box, IR sensor, and motor) needed to run the locomotive.

Climax Rear
Too narrow?

With this in mind, I thought about a few options. I could keep the original scale that I had settled on, and put the PF battery box, and possibly more, in a separate car that would always be attached to the locomotive. Stephen Pakbaz did this very successfully with his Shay Engine. I see the Matson’s Landing layout as a switching layout, however, so I really want the locomotive to be independent of any other cars.

Another option would be to build the locomotive in scale with the track. Climax locomotives were offered in both standard and narrow gauge. Narrow gauge would give me lots of room for electrical components and details, but the model, and therefore the layout, would be huge.

A third option, which I’ve decided to go with, was to base the locomotive scale on the size of the driving wheels. Measuring the standard LEGO train wheel, which I’m planning on using for the drivers, I found them to be about 2.5 studs wide. Looking at the wheel diameter listed in the Climax catalog, I found that the prototype wheels were, on average, 28 to 30 inches. Using these dimensions, and LEGO Model Scaler, I found that I could build my locomotive at roughly 1:33 scale. This should allow me enough space to keep all of the PF parts on board the locomotive, but still be small enough to have a workable layout in the end. Oddly enough, I found that the Climax, at 1:33 scale, turns out to be 8 studs wide. So, while the scale isn’t originally what I had planned, the dimensions are.

In the next post, I’ll go over the start of the locomotive build, and my iterative process for building a (hopefully) functioning model.

[1] Kline, Ben. “The Mystery of Cairo & Kanawha No. 5.” Railroad Model Craftsman, February 1985, 73-76. Drawings by Ed Gebhart.

Matson’s Landing in L-Gauge – Choosing Motive Power

This is the second in a series of articles documenting the creation of brick-built layout, from start to finish. For part one, see Matson’s Landing in L-Gauge – A Layout From Start to Finish.

Before starting on the layout proper, I first want to define and build my motive power and rolling stock. The actual design of the track plan, including grades, number of cars spotted, and so on, will depend upon the equipment running over it. There are a few things to consider before beginning:

  • Scale – Six-wide or Eight-wide? I used to build six-wide trains, but I’ve come to enjoy the detail that can be added to the larger eight-wide trains. Six-wide would make for a smaller, more portable layout, but eight-wide allows for more space for batteries and motors.
  • Era – Most logging operations that are modeled seem to fall into the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Choosing a specific year, or year range, will help narrow down what kind of equipment to build.
  • Location – What part of the world should I aim for? Eastern or western United States? Maybe another part of the world?

Here’s what I first selected:

  • Scale – Eight-wide. I really want to be able to add detail. This will make for a larger layout, but I think it will be worth it in the end.
  • Era – I’m aiming for the turn of the 20th century. This seems to be the height of logging by rail type operations, and research material for this time period is plentiful.
  • Location – I live in northern New England in the United States, and logging operations were plentiful around here back in the day. This also opens up research material, as I can literally step outside of my door and look at scenery that was logged by rail at one time. One of my favorite hiking trails, in fact, runs along a portion of what used to be the Lye Brook Railroad, a small logging operation run from 1914 to 1919 by the Rich Lumber Company of Manchester, Vermont.[1]
Lye Brook Railroad
Lye Brook Railroad as pictured in Volume 14 of the Walloomsack Review. Now a popular hiking trail.

With my basics defined, I started researching equipment. Generally, when one thinks about logging railroads, they think about small wood-fired geared steamers slowly crawling up steep grades, pulling strings of weather-worn log cars. The big three that immediately came to my mind where Shay, Climax, and Heisler.

Building the Clishay
“Building the Clishay” by Bob Maynard

A lot of builders put together Shay locomotives, with good reason. They look great while running! The exterior gear shafts provide some movement not seen on rod driven machines. I don’t consider myself to be a steam builder, or a Technic builder, though, so the gearing was a little off-putting for me. A Heisler, with its gear shaft underneath, might be workable, but, due to another of my other hobbies, I had Climax locomotives on my mind. In my Live Steam life, I’m working on a 1/8th scale “Clishay” locomotive. Billed as a cross between a Shay and a Climax, the Clishay[2] screams “small logging operation”. I love the hand-built look of it, and since the gearing is pretty simple, I thought it would lend itself well to a LEGO® design. The basic layout is similar to a Class A Climax with a vertical boiler. This, then, was where I began my prototype research.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll talk about the Climax designs that I looked at, and where I am currently with the build.

[1] Bristow, Preston. “Vermont’s Long Trail and Logging Railroads.” Walloomsack Review 14:31. Accessed January 6, 2017. http://benningtonmuseum.org/library/walloomsack/volume-14/vermonts-long-trail-and-logging-railroads.pdf.

[2] For a great overview of a Live Steam scale Clishay, visit https://youtu.be/hBkAVHcHCJk.

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.

The Importance of an A/D Track

A common trend when designing an L-gauge layout is to attempt to pack as much track as possible into a space. We all like to show our trains, and, unlike buildings or scenery, we need track space to do so. Often we set up our railway yards as display areas, where visitors to our layouts can see the scope and variety of our creations. This works well until we get to our favorite part, moving the trains.

A standard ladder yard design works great as a display case. Trains are lined up in long even rows, waiting for their turn to run out onto the mainline. A problem arises, however, when you want to build up a new train consist from cars parked in the yard, especially if they are not already in the order needed. In order to shuffle cars around, it’s usually necessary to pull something out onto the mainline, where it could obstruct, or “foul”, the train that is running on that track.

Enter the A/D track. By adding a single Arrival/Departure track to our yards, we can eliminate fouling the main. The A/D track is a simple siding that sits between the mainline and the yard. This track can be used as an area to build up and then stage trains until they are ready to go. Cars can be shuffled around without interfering with any trains that are running around the layout. When it’s time to swap trains, the switches on both ends of the siding are thrown. The train on the mainline comes into the siding (the Arrival) while the train in the siding goes out onto the main (the Departure). The arriving train can then be broken down, if necessary, and shuffled back into the yard.

For small layouts with only one or two trains, an Arrival/Departure track may not be necessary. For larger layouts with busy mainlines, however, an A/D track can really help improve operations, keeping the mainline running while work is being done in the yard. For visitors to the layout, there is no break in the action, and for operators, there is more fun and less “Hand of God” shuffling of cars. Adding an A/D track is one small step in moving from “LEGO Display” to “Model Railroad”.

AD Track Example
Arrival and Departure Track Example