Friday, January 6, 2017

2016 Recap / 2017 Plan

In my last post we discussed briefly reviewing the goals I had set for 2016. Well I took the time to go back to that first post of January and collect the goals I had set and we are now going to examine each to see where I landed. After discussing 2016 recap, we will walk through my 2016 state of the railroad and turn attention to setting goals for 2017.

EMD SD40-2 #4056 glides past corn fields just west of Gerhard, Michigan.  

Goal: Create scenery 
Actual: Completed scenery in “Farm Fields Curve” scene and refreshed “East Bay Yard” scene 

Goal: Build structures: 
Actual: Did not meet goal of building structures, however did acquire more built buildings for scenes

Goal: Quarterly Ops Sessions
Actual: January 2016, June 2016, October 2016 A, October 2016 B

Goal: Host layout in FWLOD
Actual: Hosted two sessions during DFW Interchange Ops weekend, next FWLOD should be 2017

Goal: 4 to 5 Locomotive sound installs 
Actual: 11 sound installs complete (8 contract / 3 MCIS)

** Bonus **
Actual: Partnered with Azatrax LLC. to plan, install, showcase, and operate a ABS system with 8 blocks and sixteen signal heads between East Bay City and East Staging in less than five months. 

ABS signals guarding the transition between EBAY and EDSE blocks east of Bay City.

Overall I met 4 of 5 goals for 2016 and I am very proud of the accomplishments made and assistance from family and friends along the way. 

MCIS 3816 idles in Bay Yard awaiting its next assignment

Ops Sessions
This year we hosted four operating sessions with 18 total operators attending. Of these sessions one was part of the NMRA Lone Star Region Convention and the last two were part of the DFW Interchange weekend. Over these four sessions, 52 trains were operated with 624 total car movements. 

Railcar Fleet
Active railcar fleet stands at 190 cars (30 cars added, 6 removed for net gain of 24 cars in 2016). I do not see any big changes with the fleet in the next year as the current car mix accurately captures the overhead and local traffic that is common on the St. Clair Sub. 

Locomotive Fleet
Total fleet stands at 67 motors (63 on active roster and 4 stored). Of 67, 29 are actually modelled of which 20 are active. 
Two rebuilt SD40M-2s (former SD45-2) and one GP38-2 were returned to service this December with Soundtraxx Tsunami2 and Tsunami sound decoders. Upon activation and assignment, our mechanical team will review the proposed retirement of the nine oldest GP38-2s which lower their total number for 25 to 16. Of the oldest nine GP38-2s three are modelled with two on the dead line. 

MAC Shop Contract Work
This year Michigan Interstate’s Mt. Pleasant, Michigan MAC “Motivepower & Car” began outside contract decoder install work. This year saw work completed for three different customers culminating in eight sound decoder installs. Overall the MAC shop completed installation of eleven sound decoder systems in 2016. 

Customer Franchise
Looking at the customer base, we had three traffic additions on the St. Clair Sub this year. Starting with Michigan Sugar at Upper Huron we converted a portion of the 4000 cubic open top hoppers from coal to hauling sugar beets during the campaign August thru November converting this short haul move away from trucks. In between beet seasons the cars will find use in aggregate service with a large demand planned for 2017. Additionally two customer facilities were added this year with first being Graystone Cement at Bay City. This facility is a water to rail distribution terminal for cement products moving to the Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and eastern Canadian regions. Secondly Crop Production Services opened a fertilizer facility at Grays Lake to support Michigan’s fertile Thumb region. 
Our bread and butter summed up in this photo at Bay Yard

Engineering / Infrastructure
Trackwork complete in 2016 on the St. Clair Sub consisted of adding run around tracks at Grays Lake and Bay City to better support local service to customers. The largest task handled by our engineering team was the addition of an operational Automatic Block Signal System between Bay City and Port Huron. The modelled portion consists of eight detection blocks driving 16 signal heads installed between June and October in partnership with Azatrax LLC of Longmont, CO. The new system was first used operationally and operated flawlessly during the DFW Interchange session on October 29thwhich consisted of two sessions lasting 6.5 hours handling 25 trains. Be sure to check the blog to walk through the different phases of install. Operating the ABS system alongside Direct Traffic Control dispatching provides an extra layer of safety while being cost effective for Class II regional system.

Social Media
Keeping current the Michigan Interstate St. Clair Subdivision is on the worldwide web with its own blog showcasing monthly updates, layout how-to installs, and other musings in the prototype and model railroading industry. In addition we also have a YouTube Channel showcasing some of the previous operating events, signal system operation, and links to other great channels. This year we reached over 55,600 views with our highest month to date viewership in July at 4,022 views. While we do not have our own page on Facebook we do share in multiple groups the happenings around the St. Clair Sub (Model Rail Radio, Freelance Model Railroads, and Model Railroad Operations). The goal of the blog is to reach, inspire, and showcase the great opportunities within the hobby. 

Scene Development
Closing out the year, two scenes are largely completed with exception for small details. On the lower level the East Bay Scene (Bay Yard East Lead Switch to Helix entrance) was refreshed and completed during the ABS system install. The upper level scene completion consisted of “Corn / Bean Fields” (M-29 Overpass to Gerhard). 
Making the most of planning, the layout has been divided into twelve scenic sections. By dividing the layout into these scenes I can better plan and allocate resources and materials to make progress. Too often we as modelers get pulled to work on many scenes at once that either do not get completed in a timely manner or rack up a lot of costs. My hope is focusing on one area before moving to the next will net finished scene results. Originally I had planned to complete one upper and one lower level, but best to finish work above before moving to lower deck. 
Conductor riding point of shove from Bay Yard out of Lakes Forest Products

Ops Sessions
One session per quarter to include hosting during 2017 Fort Worth Layout Operations Day

Railcar Fleet
Continue with fleet weathering – planned 20 cars. Acquire cars from Scale Trains and Springs Mills Depot. 

Locomotive Fleet
No locomotive acquisitions planned / Activate (2) SD60Ms, (1) GP40-2 and upgrade (2) GP40-2s

MAC Shop Work
Support MCIS planned installs and any contract work sourced

Customer Franchise
Michigan Agricultural Commodities will be begin operating unit train service from their Bay City Terminal for export at Hunter’s Bay, VA. Additionally large MDOT projects have already placed a large demand for aggregates in 2017 which will require unit train service of aggregates off the Port Belle Branch. 

Engineering / Infrastructure
Dump ballast at Grays Lake and continue installing Caboose Industries ground throws 

Social Media
Early and Late Month Update Blog Posts, Posting update links to Facebook groups. 

Scene Development
Complete scenery, trackwork, and structures in “Grays Lake” scene

Shoving platform 31 returning to Bay City on rear of L-PBBA-02 "Sugar Turn"

So here's to 2017 and what we hope it will bring the Michigan Interstate. I hope the best for everyone, your families, and your model railroading hobby!


**(Photos shown were my best of the year similar to what you would see in a stockholder packet)**

Monday, January 2, 2017

Early January Update

It is amazing at how fast the Holiday Season goes by. Seems like yesterday was Thanksgiving and now are here in 2017! Since my last post the St. Clair Sub has seen different types of activity. One great point of our hobby is variety. For example I do not feeling like working on scenery, so I can instead install a decoder, assemble a building, or just run trains. Lets take a look at happenings from the back end of December.

Christmas Acquisitions

I have to give my family credit, they do a great job staying in tune to what I like. It also helps when online retailers like Walthers and Mountain Subdivision Hobbies have wishlists that you can create and folks then reference. At any rate I was very fortunate to receive great model train gifts for Christmas

 From the wife and kids: Blair Line Fertilizer Supply Kit, 2017 Walthers Catalog, and resale DPM buildings from Ebay. 

From parents and grandparents - 30ga wire, Soundtraxx Tsunami2s, Currentkeepers, and Railmaster 28mm speakers.

Very grateful and blessed for fantastic model train items. If your family or significant other doesn't know what you want and especially if it is model train items, use those wishlists to help them find the right gift. Not to mention an easy way to help them dial into what you model.

Both the DPM buildings and Blair Line Kit will be located in Grays Lake, Michigan. The sound decoder items were installed into Athearn Genesis SD45-2s that have been de-rated into SD40M-2s.

New buildings on the corner of Main and Harrison Streets in downtown Grays Lake. 

As I begin to "rough in" the Graystone Cement Terminal at Bay City I wanted to find a way to give the facility a modern expansion look to an existing facility that had been there for some time. Searching Google for Cement storage silos led to alot of different types of facilities. But this one below in Arkansas caught my eye as a great opportunity to model. 

Photo courtesy of Penta Industrial 

Finding my prototype I then setout to find commercially available items to help scratchbuild this storage dome. An quick visit to Hobby Lobby provided discovery of 12" smoothfoam halves. 

 This foam halve should fit the bill nicely. 

Using a bendable straight edge and pencil I traced the center where I would cut the halve. Once traced a sharp foam knife made quick work of the cut. 

 Mocking up the storage dome adjacent to the primary silos of the Graystone Cement terminal.

Planning my next move on the dome will require the top cap of a Kroger Whipped Cream canister, Walthers conveyors, and Pikestuff Walls to build the drive in access noted in the prototype picture. This entire cement terminal should make for a fun scratch-bash. It has been some time since I worked on buildings in detail, looking forward to the work.

In addition to the dome I will be purchasing a Walthers Medusa Cement kit as the base with additional silos added from what I have on hand. A two track load out shed put together from Pikestuff components and a set of those new Alkem Scale Models security fence kits will wrap up the industry nicely. 

Like prototype railroads, the business, mechanical, and regulatiory necessity need requires locomotives to be maintained, rebuilt, upgraded, or retired. In the case of the Michigan Interstate our locomotive and car shop are co-located at Mount Pleasant, Michigan. MAC stands for "Motivepower And Car". Our team there was quite busier than Santa's helpers releasing three locomotives back into service before the end of 2017. 

MCIS 4570 and 4571 (EMD SD45-2) derating to (EMD SD40M-2)

Wanting to align fleet similarity for parts and maintenance the mechanical team took the opportunity to de-rate the only two 20-645 units to 16-645s. Both of the units had issues with their original motors and had been sidelined at Mt. Pleasant. With 16-645 motors installed the locomotives have been re-classified as SD40M-2s. At current time the locomotives we keep their original numbers 4570 and 4571, in the future they will be renumbered into the 4050-4069 series. 

Components Installed
Soundtraxx Tsunami2 PNP EMD Diesel (EMD 645 Turbo)
Soundtraxx Currentkeeper
Railmaster Hobbies 28mm round speaker
Soundtraxx Sunny White 3mm LEDs

3825, 4570, and 4571 in "High Bay" at MAC Shop

MCIS 3825 (EMD GP38-2) Electronic Upgrade
With completion of this motor there are now eight modelled GP38-2s of the total twenty five in the fleet. This unit was painted early in 2016 by Fogelsinger Rail into special paint honoring University of Mary Hardin Baylor. The CEO must know someone who graduated from UMHB... 

Components installed:
Soundtraxx TSU-1000 (EMD 645 non-turbo)
Soundtraxx Currentkeeper
Railmaster Hobbies DS1425-8 speaker
TCS Sunny White SME LEDs 

MKT 175 (EMD GP40) Sound Install
In addition to work for Michigan Interstate and its subsidiaries, MAC shops also does contract work. Earlier in December we installed a TCS Wowsound decoder with motherboard discussed in my last post. 

Prior to return customer delivery, locomotive was tested and calibrated in rock train service. This photo could be somewhere in Texas during the "Katy" days.

L.H.T. - Layout How To (Railcar Deck Rebuild & Base Weather)
During a visit to the train store last week I came upon the Laserkit wook deck replacement kits for various railcars. . Selecting kit #325 for Model Die Casting / Athearn RTR 60' Flatcar I knew that the only 60' HTTX flat on my layout could really use this upgrade.

Kit and Athearn RTR HTTX flatcar in need of a better deck...... 

 Chisel blade made quick work of removing the plastic tractor holders. These had been glued on a factory.

Plastic holders removed, use the chisel blade to ensure the clean is clean. 

 Before installing the self adhesive wood deck, I wiped down the plastic deck with alcohol.

Following the kits instructions, use the stake pockets to line up the wood deck and car. Looks great but too new.  

Wash of india ink / alcohol helped tone down the car and deck. 

The india ink wash helped give the car a nice base weathering. Using other techniques I will continue to weather to represent a 30 year old car operating in machinery service out of Midwest factories. This car will allow me to test out the Smokebox Graphics FRA224 reflective stripes. The deck replacement kit from American Model Builders is a great value, simple to install, and helps transform a plastic kit into a flatcar model. 

Quick update for a Quick holiday season. Now that we are in the new year its time to see where we are going in 2017 and where we went in 2016. My next post we will look at the goals I had at the beginning of 2016 and see where I landed in actually completing them. We will also discuss "State Of The Railroad" and how I plan to manage scenery on the layout. 

Thank you for stopping by to read my Early January Update. 

Happy New Year!


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from the Michigan Interstate Railroad.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mid December Update

Well it has been a "few" weeks since my last post. No doubt this time of the year 
is the busiest with the holidays and when you add in a vacation, time speeds up 
very quickly. Getting the layout prepared for the operating weekend can take a toll 
on you, especially when there is a big project in progress that requires completion 
for the session. Case in point the ABS Signal system install which began planning in June and ultimately wrapped up the week prior to the Interchange. It is always good to take a break, step back from your work, celebrate the accomplishments, and refocus for the next project. There is no need to get burned out on something that is a hobby... 

Anyways my break is over and I want to share some inspiring photos from my vacation and show what I have been up to the past few weeks with the St. Clair Sub. 

One of the most enjoyable things about Walt Disney World besides the fantastic 
family time is how the Disney Company has done a great job capturing Walt Disney's love of trains and how it is reflected around the property. Any modeler who needs inspiration should have no trouble getting a jolt from visiting the Parks and Resorts. 

Magic Kingdom:

Main Street USA Station @ The Magic Kingdom in full Christmas decor

Roger E. Broggie @ Fantasyland Station (Daytime)

Roger E. Broggie @ Fantasyland Station (Nighttime)

Roy O. Disney @ Fantasyland Station (Nighttime)

Absolutely the best themed bathrooms on property are in Fantasyland adjacent to the Station. They are themed like a three stall roundhouse in reference to the Casey Jr. train from Dumbo. 


My little boy absolutely loves the G scale garden railroad at the Germany Pavilion. 

I have posted many photos of this setup before, but it never gets old as there is 
always change / updates happening to the trains running, scenery, and structures. 

Hollywood Studios:
While there is not alot of railroad or train related items at Hollywood Studios I did want to focus on inspiration and ways to help immerse our visitors and operators more into the scenes we strive so hard to create. Case in point this photo of a large soundstage at this years Jingle Bell - Jingle Bam celebration. 

What I want you to notice is projections being cast onto the building.... It is falling snow that occasionally will blow around when the wind blows in live person. Additionally you can see the snow is beginning to pile up on building ledges. Remember this is a projection, but Disney does a great job immersing us and tricks our senses to think it is snowing in Central Florida. Obviously they have a large budget and cutting edge technology but this makes me think about the new Lightning / Thunder effect system released by Broadway Limited. Another example was while we rode "Living With The Land" boat ride at Epcot's The Land Pavilion. During the ride there is a scene with lighting and thunder. I told my wife - "yea we can do that on the layout" and it really peaked her interest. Immersing our guests / operators even deeper in the scene whether it be night operations with blue rope lights or lightning/thunder effects is another layer to our story. I believe we have just dipped our toe into deeper scene immersion. Not to mention the projector technology used for Christmas lights on homes and the show at Hollywood Studios could usher in really neat concepts like stars, fireworks, or weather effects on our backdrops and even trees / buildings in the scene. 

Just some thoughts from a guy re-inspired..... Anyone with me on this?

Working with Kevin Klettke (Washington Northern Railroad - and Dean Ferris we resurrected the logo of Graystone Cement out of Grays Harbor, WA. In doing so a new backstory was created for the company. Long story short Kevin did a fantastic job creating the logo and printing on adhesive film for use on buildings, equipment, and railcars. While it is not water slide decal thin, the setup is perfect for intended uses. 

Graystone recently established a terminal at Bay City for water/rail/truck operations. This terminal will allow the company to expand their footprint in the Great Lakes region. For this growth, new Trinity 3281 cubic hoppers were setup on lease from GE Capital. MAC Rail Services recently installed the newly printed logo plates onsite at Bay City. Decals for the NRLX marks are still on order at time of press.  

Over the weekend I completed install of a TCS WOW121 kit in a friends Atlas GP40.

Replacing the factory board with the motherboard and soldering all wires to it really makes sound install a snap. If only all of the manufacturers created their 21 pin decoders and boards to allow interchangeability.... Along with using all TCS sound products I also gave their SME LED's a try with good success

Photo above shows the motherboard installed in place of the factory board. Once the 
power pickup, motor, speaker, and lights are soldered to this board it is a matter or re-assembly and testing. TCS has a very well done website with install photos step by step and information/support for their products. Not to mention that for $129.95 MSRP getting a motherboard/keep-alive, decoder, and speaker as a kit is a very good deal. One vendor I use often for DCC supplies (Mountain SubdivisonHobbies), offered the kit fior $98.95, so even more savings for you the modeler. Shop around with competition in the sound market we have great choices and competitive prices.

Had a railfan send me photos of MCIS ortner and greenville hoppers on the Virginia Midland Railroad. 

This set of cars had been shopped at VMS for the upcoming aggregate season. We expect 2017 to be a big year for rock trains on the MCIS and we are preparing the fleet to meet our customers demand. Not only will webe handling rock for construction projects, but also handling rock for new power plant emission scrubbers. The cars got new doors, grab irons, FRA reflectors, and re-patched markings as necessary. Great work by the VMS team! The cars should be on home rails to make a nice homecoming in the Late December Update. 

The ortner fleet (100 cars) is mostly second hand with just a small fraction of the 
fleet actually in MCIS paint. Most of the cars are patched up from their 
former owners Wisconsin Central, CSXT, and Florida East Coast. 

Our greenville fleet (50 cars) is roughly half new builds in MCIS grey and half 
secondhand purchased from Wisconsin Central.

So as you can see a little vacation from the layout was needed and now back in the 
modeling groove.  On my list to Santa I had asked for the Tsunami2 PNP EMD Diesel 
decoder for my SD45-2 repower to SD40-3 installs. We will have to see if I get my wish or a lump of coal.... But even if its coal, I can crush it up for hopper loads.

I hope everyone has the opportunity to spend time with family and friends this holiday season. Don't forget to spend some time at the workbench or on the layout. 

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!