Monday, July 30, 2018

Farewell Electro Motive GP30

July 27, 2018 marked the end of service for the EMD GP30 fleet on the MCIS. Over 43 years of service this fleet was the last survivors of Michigan Interstates rocky start.

M-BADE-30 at Upper Huron with MCIS3080 and MCIS3085 picked up in consist for new owners via NS at Detroit

The Beginning
Back in 1975 things for American railroads were down right rough. One of Penn Centrals subsidiaries known as the St. Clair Western was spun off in the midst of bankruptcy procedings. As part of the spinoff the new shortline inherited an eclectic mix of Alco and EMD diesels. One specific fleet was six EMD GP30s with "Eastern" heritage. This fleet would soldier on as some of the more modern units until the mid 80s used in every service imaginable. 

1985 saw the acquisiton of Grand Trunk Westerns "Mackinac Northern" subsidiary which created what we know as the Michigan Interstate Railroad. During the acquisition, EMD GP38 and GP9s were added to the fleet but the GP30s found plenty of good work hauling rock and locals around the MCIS. 

The winds of change were beginning to blow as the MCIS began to acquire Dash 2 power in the form of EMD SD40-2, EMD GP40-2, and GP38-2s. The six motor fleet however was knocked down to only five units after MCIS 3084 was wrecked beyond repair after a grade crossing collision with farm machinery. The five units soldiered on earning their keep hauling rock and locals. 

Following a mechanical failure MCIS 3083 was sidelined and scraped at MAC Rail Mount Pleasant. This now left four engines in the EMD GP30 fleet. During this same time the only other surviving motors with 567 prime movers were the EMD SD35s. It was decided to convert two motors using Electro Motives ECO program. Around this time the GP30s were put on reserve LUGO status (Laid Up Good Order) and could be brought from storage if necessary. As time wore on it appeared that only two motors MCIS 3080 and 3085 would survive. The other two, 3081 and 3082 were kept as parts sources to keep the last two healthy. While a potential slug conversion had been discussed the arrival of EMD SD70ACe caused a fleet cascade that ultimately never called these motors out of storage. A year ago MCIS 3080 did come out of storage to handle shop switching at MAC Rail. 

Early July of 2018 MCIS began looking for rail carriers interested in acquisition. July 27th a deal was inked with Delmarva Central to acquire MCIS 3080 / MCIS 3085 in operating status and parts stock from MCIS 3081 / MCIS 3082. 

Just for the railfans the motors were brought out to Upper Huron to get a final photo as a pair with their new reporting marks before pickup. 

Like that an it has come to an end. Thank you EMD GP30 for fourty three years of faithful service to Michigan Interstate. 


Sunday, July 22, 2018

July Update

Just like that we are a little over a week from July being over. In my opinion the month of an ops session always seems to go really quick, especially when there is work to do in preparation for the session. Lets take a look at work done on the layout this month along with a quick recap from my Friday operating session. 

In my last post I briefly discussed the work planned to install the backdrop for the Upper Huron Scene which would allow me to begin full foreground scenic work. As tempting as it was, its important to always work from back to front in a scene... trust me I learned the hard way on others. 

Working with Dave at Backdrop Junction I selected his GEN-033H scene which was required for around 16' of wall. In short order it arrived promptly and I wasted no time unrolling and planning work to be done. 

The backdrops are offered in three different materials, I chose the adhesive vinyl which is pretty awesome sticks really well to my Eucaboard backdrop that is painted with latex paint. 

Pre-Install Prep
First thing once out of the box was roll out and take a look at the amazing print. The price in my opinion is well reasonable for the good quality pictures, material, and support from Dave to help deliver what I was looking for. The scene came in two rolls which had overlapping scenes on the end to allow for seamless blending. I prefer no sky, so with sharp scissors I cut it out.

Once the sky was cutout, I then used a sharp hobby knife and hold punch to cut out the leftover sky that is close to the trees and buildings. When I used my knife it is important to have a piece of glass behind to keep a hard surface when making the cuts. I did not do any of this on my couch as the photo shows above... Instead I would unroll about 2' of scene at a time and keep the rest rolled up. 

The backdrop board is actually made up for 3 section of which the middle is removable to access my "East Staging" if necessary. In doing so I was able to install the first 8' of backdrop starting from the sugar beet plant working west at my workbench. Following the online video - align, peel the backing, and apply. I had to make a few slight adjustments but it applied really easy and as I worked right to left removed the air bubbles.... This is a great backdrop product!!  

Off-Layout Transition
From this photo you can see the backdrop is installed all the way past where the legs of the wye go "off-layout". Part of why I chose this backdrop was having the trees where the track left the scene. This allows me to use scenic trees and materials to help blend with a "tree canopy" type transition. 

Town Transition
Since I had leftover material I actually ended up removing some of the Sceniking crop scene I had to the right of the road and replaced with more of the field/tree backdrop from Backdrop Junction. Using Sceniking buildings I had cutout, foam board, and a foam hill I will have a nice blend from woods to the town of Upper Huron. 

The end product turned out great, I am looking forward to my next backdrop project which is a secret, but will no doubt help convey a better sense of location. Stay tuned to Fall posts to see whats in store. 
** Note the opinion of this product is my own as I purchased it and did not receive discount or compensation for this blog entry **


Intermountain - GE ET44
While north of Denver for work I had a few extra hours, so working with my contacts facilitated a meet and greet at Intermountain Railway in Longmont, CO. Needless to say after meeting the great people there, seeing great work, and getting a tour I could not resist buying one of their new GE ET44s decorated for CN. What a great product, and it looks and runs great my Intermountain CN ES44. There are probably plenty of online reviews, but the detail is really well done on this motor along with the lighting. Currently it does not have sound but will be getting a 21 pin Tsunami2 later this fall. 

Folks as why not LokSound.... here is my response: with over 95% of my fleet Sountraxx equipped I am happy with their product offering. The product is plenty for me and I know the nuances of programming with JMRI to get the performance, reliability, sound, and consisting I expect. Competition creates innovation so I welcome and look forward to what Soundtraxx, ESU, and others continue to develop. 

Broadway Limited - DCC Trackmobile
For fathers days - the wife and kids picked me up a DCC equipped trackmobile by Broadway Limited. This is a cool little machine and as a friend of mine who has one noted "Folks either love it or hate it." Yep I concur with that statement. This unit has a home at Michigan Sugar's Upper Huron plant and will become more apart of operating sessions in the future. 

Great modern products offered in the marketplace that are superb. Well done to both manufacturers.

**Note opinion on Intermountain product during visit is my own. No compensation was provided for either product** 

Wow I finally had my first ops session for 2018.... Only seven months in. None the less it was a great session with five operators and fourteen scheduled trains. This session was the first time folks got to see the work done on my Cass River and Upper Huron scenes. As a layout owner I enjoy having new things for my operators to experience so its not just the same ole M-BAPH train. One cool comfort item I added was the fold-down cup holders from Blue Point. Added five on the layout in key locations, and it was nice to see them used to make a session a little more relaxed. 

The whole crew - minus me troubleshooting a minor JMRI Ops issue.. Yes we had 6 guys in a room that is 13x12 essentially. 

Planning.... Planning.....BSing........

R-GEGL-21 switching up cars left by the M-BAPH-20 from day earlier. We didnt have a chance to run this one during the session, so I marked up and worked the customers at Grays Lake and Gerhard today. 

Michigan Sugar Plant at Upper Huron is now in full operation. Took me three years but finally got a good trackplan that gives the essence of big time operations in a selective space. Plant is serviced daily by L-BAUH out of Bay Yard which then spots / pulls in the storage yard. Trackmobile then switches cars into their respective locations for molasses loading, sugar loading, pellet loading, coke unload. We will look at this facility in more depth on another post, but due to space requirements sugar beet loads just stay on the storage track and are unloaded "off-layout" between sessions. 

Needing a refresh - updated my consist cards after seeing different folks and their formats. Consists are divided by YARD, LOCAL, or ROAD power pools. Single motors use full four digit address while two or more use a two digit advanced consist.

Since implementing JMRI Ops earlier this year, this was the first live session where it was used for train movement and switching. I had to say we were about 80% accurate on moves, reporting, and losing cars. Based on folks who use it, they told me - print out the entire online guide, read it once, read it again, and then read it a third time. No doubt complex, but achievable and customizable for your operation no matter how big or small. Between now and my next session will be making tweaks, but I wanted to show some of the paperwork involved.

Yard inventory - I printed this after the session was over and all trains terminated to reconcile cars. As you can see there were a few messed up or missing. 

Linehaul Train Manifest - an example of how I print my linehaul train manifests. Still some customizing and verbiage to change, but it gets the job done on a live paper manifest. 

Local Train Manifest - not wanting to deviate on the formating based on others best practices I have seen, the manifest notes what work is to be done for the R-GEGL.

So busy month, hope you enjoyed the update. Alot of great stuff in the works and will continue to share monthly on the happenings around the MCIS St. Clair Sub. Thanks to my operators and friends in other geographic locations who continually help make my model railroading experience one worth sharing with you. 

Stay cool - its 100+ here in Texas 


Monday, June 18, 2018

April-May-June Update

Well no doubt I am slightly (3 months) behind on update posts. While life around these parts has been no doubt busy there have been plenty of model railroading, just lacking the time to write about it. This post will however catch you up with all the happenings around the MCIS St. Clair Sub since March. 

MCIS 7052.... Is this a new add to the roster? Read on to find out. 

When we left off in March I was chin deep (upper level @ 66" off floor) into creating this scene. This specific setup featured a through truss bridge over the Cass River with deciduous vegetation flanking the banks along the right of way. 

After a few more weeks of work the scene is now 95% complete, the last bit to complete is ballasting the bridge approach. 

On previous layouts I have used Magic Water to create my water features but after seeing alot of good reviews on the Woodland Scenics Deep Pour Water system, I wanted to give it an honest try. Specifically the Cass River from the google street view is pretty murky so the pre-tinted murky water was on point. I ended up using two kits together to get the depth and coverage required. Using the product was as easy as the instructions provide, there are a good videos on the web showing step by step. 

As a base layer I did end up using Quikrete general purpose paver mix screened to get the rock I wanted in the middle of the river with a light blend of Missouri river pebbles provided by a good friend to provide alittle more color along the banks and in shallower water. Of course good scenic cement soaking is key in making this all possible. 

Quick Money Saving Tip: If you have a Hobby Lobby close by, you can get alot of model railroading products there, and even better use their online 40% one item coupon to help bring down the cost of items like the Deep Pour Water, tools, or Just Plug lighting. 

Paver and rock base in place, ready for scenic cement

 Water Pour 24 hours later - great results! 

Google Street View - Cass River 

With the water hard as a rock, it was time to begin adding in foilage on each side of the river. From the photo above, its pretty thick so I really wanted to layer the trees to draw the operator into the scene. 

 West bank of river at UPPE / LACE DTC block boundary

Zooming out a little more from the same shot above

 Canoers gliding town the Cass towards Caro, Michigan

 What is a Michigan river bank without a weeping willow

View west from DTC block boundary looking at the main (left) and east leg of wye (right) 

With Cass River scene just about done, I will be turning my attention towards Upper Huron. This scene encompasses the Michigan Sugar plant, Upper Huron branch wye, and the Town of Upper Huron. From the photos below basic terrain with paint and dirt base layer are in place. The next step before continuing to develop this scene is installation of backdrop. With Sceniking out of business I needed to find another vendor who created scenes to fit Mid-Michigan. After searching I came across Backdrop Junction and in short order working with Dave Burgess a backdrop will be on its way. The mockup looked great, cannot wait to get the finished product installed. 

We will return to Upper Huron later this summer to see how the scene development process is coming along. 

 Bare dirt.... Did I start modeling west Texas?

If getting work done on Cass River wasn't enough, I decided to jump head first on quite a few backshop projects. Lets take a scroll through each of the projects completed and underway.

Contract Projects
The MAC Rail Sales rep has been busy as April saw the completion of three Soundtraxx Soundcars and a UP EMD SD50 with Tsunami sound and ditchlights under for a contract customer. 

Some say the soundcar is too much, done right it does add another level of immersion.

Paint Shop 
In addition to completing contract work, MAC Rail also opened up a paint shop for Michigan Interstate Railroad. Birthdays are always great when you get a portable spray booth. For the amount and scope of work I do, this is perfect with my Paasche H.

Michigan Interstate recently purchase two SD70ACe's from CSX. As part of opening the new paint booth, one of the units MCIS 7052 received a fresh paint job by the MAC Rail.

Motor was primed with Tamiya Fine White Primer and painted with Scalecoat II Reefer Yellow and Conrail Blue. 

  • Rail Graphics (MCIS logo, numbers, and lettering)
  • Microscale (SD70ACe data)
  • Highball Graphics (American Flag, Operation Lifesaver, Smart Start)
  • Shellscale (Numberboards and rear numbers)
  • Smokebox Graphics (Side Sill yellow reflective tape)

 Reefer yellow ends complete

 Conrail Blue applied

 Conductors side markings done (7051 as reference)

 Motor equipped with Tsunami2, Currentkeeper, and two fuel tank speakers

Completed motor in active service - nice work MAC Rail

EMD SD60M / SD70ACe Overhaul Project
With MCIS 7052 in service complete with new Tsunami2 sound/control system, MCIS management decided it was time to continue with the momentum and update the other EMD SD70ACe's (7050, 7051, 7053) for fleet commonality and efficency. While under way the two unit fleet of SD60M's which had been on MAC Rail property since last year awaiting updated electronics also received Econami sound/control. Project is on track to bring the three ACe's online by July 01 in time for the late summer demand coming into the 2018 sugar beet campaign. 

Lined up in Building 3A.

This year marked our 10 year wedding anniversary.  Building on a tradition that we started the year we got married, the CFO purchased this fantastic undecorated Proto 2000 Heritage 2-10-2 with QSI sound from the consignment cabinet at DMT. What an amazing present to commemorate and whole lot of fun to operate. Using gold dry transfers, I was able to do a convincing job marking it up for Michigan Interstate #2018. Maybe a call to Matt Welke at Circus City Decals is in order to setup a gold letter package for the excursion fleet. Don't think doing a ton of dry transfer work is for me. 

This engine will be kept along side MCIS #2008 at their Mount Pleasant base and used for passenger excursions throughout the year

Lastly MCIS 4051 (EMD SD40-2) has made an appearance on the Bay City Division. Since purchased used from the MR&T, this motor was assigned up on the North Division working between Sault Ste. Marie, St. Ignace, and Detour. Using floquil acrylics and makeup applicators from a Model Railroader Cody Grivno weathering article sometime ago I was able to give it a touch of the elements.

Pretty lengthy post, but there you have it three months like that. The summer looks to be pretty busy with the installs, ops session preparation, and of course a few other cool adds to the mix. I plan to get a monthly post out around mid month and expect to stay that course the rest of the year. Thanks for stopping by. 


Monday, March 19, 2018

2018 Railcar Analysis "Big Data"

Everywhere you turn in the rail industry you hear about big data and how carriers and car owners use it to manage their fleets. Obviously from a model railroad perspective we dont have this same exact data, however we do have other ways to pull "big data" in regards to our own layout rosters. 


Case in point comparing the August 2017 roster to the March 2018 data is well astonishing and tells a story in itself that we will discuss in just a minute. Being a modern contemporary model railroad I do my best to recreate what I observe trackside or read about. Some of the practices have to do with railroads actually decreasing fleets or going to more versatile cars that can be a one stop shop like the venerable 60' Plate F boxcar. Nowadays it seems this one car type has become the 50' Plate C, 50' Plate F, 60' Plate F, and even the RBL... So the more of a renaissance fleet the better to flex for customer demands. As fleets age out railroads may go towards more towards consolidating fleet types as scene with the boxcar, completing going away from a fleet, leasing a fleet, or customer moving to privately owned and managed equipment. This applies to beyond railroads and can be inferred with airlines and many other types of managed fleets. Its important to have a cost effective fleet that services the customer properly, otherwise it does no one any good because real railroading is a for profit business. 


We are going to look at the changes made to the St. Clair Sub roster over the past seven months first at a high level then going to jump in the car owner / type level to see exactly what transpired. 

Immediate take away from the high level totals - total roster grew by 35 cars in three of four categories. How can this be if MCIS sold and acquired covered hoppers assets in this time frame, what else could be driving the large growth. Lets now look into the owner / car type information to tell us more. 

 - Foreign cars down account age outs and other carriers moving towards TTX cars
 - Private ownership up account TTX picking up the share of age outs with 60' Plate F's
 - MCIS does plan to begin replacing aging 50'  Plate C cars with second hand owned 50' and 60' Plate F cars. 
- Early 2019 will see the end of the MCIS All door boxcar fleet in revenue service. 

Open Top Hoppers
 - Foreign ownership up due to coke orders originating in CWE pool cars  
 - Private ownership up significantly due to securing DTE coal contract (DETX hoppers)

Covered Hoppers
- Foreign ownership up a few cars due to new service lanes with CN and CSXT
- Home road is no change as retirement of the 4600 fleet was a wash with new 5188s 
- Private ownership up significantly due to Graystone Cement establishing a terminal at Bay City adding their own fleet of WSOX and NRLX marked 3281 cubic cars.

- Large increase due to wind unit train operations and further Essar steel business 

- Increase due to growing LPG and Dow Chemical business


The state of the railroad post described going after new business and leverage grow with more unit train operations. With the coal and wind cars we are growing this business which ironically is a balanced energy plan, and the new 5188s in grain service will support cycling more unit trains to export Michigan crops to market. Boxcars and how they are operated will continue evolve as the fleet gets older. Lastly we will continue to see a heavy reliance on private owned cars to fill the bill on specialized loadings like steel, cement, and chemicals. From a modelers perspective between what manufacturers are offering now and the aftermarket products from decal vendors there is no better time to capture the continued evolution of modern railroading. 

There you have it - 2018 analysis in a nutshell. Have a great rest of March. 


** This post is completely fictional and does not relate to any real railroad or customer **

Friday, March 16, 2018

March Update

Well I cant say this for alot of other places in the country, but here in Texas spring is in full bloom. Alot of folks just wrapped up spring break vacation or will taking it here the next few weeks leading into Easter so lets take a look at happenings around the "Clair". 

M-BACN-12 rolling through East Wye Switch Upper Huron (EWS UPPE)

My February post touched on the ground work that was going into creating the Cass River scene on my upper level. Over the past few week I have been making terrific progress with not only scenery but the actual through truss bridge that spans the river. Lets look closer at the work completed and whats up next to finish the scene. 

- Dirt
The previous post showed the contour work and base layer of latex paint to kill the blue / pink foam tone. Next comes a layer of true Michigan dirt that I bake and sift to get the right consistency. Having family in Michigan the odd request comes around once a year.... "Yea so can you send me a box of dirt".... They always deliver. I first put down full strength white glue with a paint brush and then using a spoon add the dirt. Giving it 10 to 15 minutes I then come back with a vacuum to remove the excess leaving a nice dirt layer. 

 Getting ready to bake the dirt in a aluminum pan - 350 degrees for 30 minutes

Dirt layer in place, needing to come back with the vacuum

- Greenage
After adding the dirt comes a mixture of foams, flocks, and rocks to give the area life. I use some photo for reference but remembering things in nature, just attempt to go with what looks right. Following the tried and true method, wet with isopropyl alcohol and then soak in scenic cement. I have tried a homemade blend of cement, I love Woodland Scenics preblended stuff the best. Can get it a Hobby Lobby with a 40% coupon for around $6. 

On the river and banks will be a sand mixture mixed with small river rock to blend in 

Layering the scenery really does bring this area to life

- Next Steps
With primary scenery in place and secured I will now be completing the riverbed scene with rocks and sand. Once dry and cured the process to pour Magic Water will take place and finish getting the river complete. I expect to do this at the end of March, so I will be sure to show step by step how that process works and the great results it produces. Prior to pouring the water, the bridge and ballast work will be completed. Wrapping up this area will be alot of Scenic Express Super Trees.... alot..... 

Since I have all of the materials out it only makes sense to keep with the momentum and scenic another adjacent scene to the Cass River which is the Upper Huron scene. 

About the scene: Upper Huron is not a fictional tower on the railroad but also a neat operation element as well. Upper Huron or UH as its know is the location of a operation wye that allows trains to traverse from either direction on the St. Clair Sub onto the Port Belle Sub. The Port Belle Sub is represented by staging however this line hosts the switch to enter the Michigan Sugar plant and sees a daily local turn during the session and occasionally a unit rock train from a quarry. The actual scene depicted hosts a grade crossing leading into town modeled by a Sceniking backdrop, the sugar beet plant, and a modern water tower in the middle of the wye. Anyone familiar with Michigan knows about all of the unique water towers, UH will be no different. 

 Out of flat blue foam, comes terrain shape via pink foam and sculptamold

 View east looking at the sugar beet plant, and east wye switch. You can see where the scenery currently stops. 

Water tower right in the middle of the wye will have character of its own. AEI reader site as well in Upper Huron. 

Still alot of work to do in this area but wow just getting some terrain shape, paint, and dirt down really helps make the area more appealing. 

Earlier this month Michigan Interstate received the first of a larger covered hopper being added to the agriculture fleet. The 5188 cubic hopper is slightly larger than our most modern being the Trinity 5161 cubic and the two will be mixed in together to provide our customers newer high capacity cars to get their grains to market. In preparation for this add the fleet did cascade seeing the venerable ACF 4600 cubic cars retire and find new life on the Delmarva Central out east. 

Fleet Plan (Effective March 2018)
4600 cubic - retired from fleet
4650 cubic - owned by Mich. Ag. Commodities for single or quad-block  
4700 cubic - sugar beet pulp, sugar beet pellet, agricultural single
4750 cubic - agricultural single, agricultural quad-block
5161 cubic - agricultural single, quad-block, and unit
5188 cubic - agricultural unit 

A quad block on their way to their first loading at M.A.C.

Of course in the process of purchasing the cars, MCIS decided to go with the Scaletrains Operator version since lets be honest the details are good enough and I am rough on the equipment. In short order I had the variety pack of FRA 224 reflectors from Smoke Box Graphics and our mechanical forces proceeded to get them compliant.... Not sure how they got from Sahagun, Mexico to Michigan without reflectors.... 

Great job by Scaletrains and Smokebox Graphics for great new innovative products, they hit these right on the mark! 

Looking pretty sharp - MCIS 5827

Following Tom Patterson's step by step from MRH I used gouache paints to weather my through truss bridge. I dont want to take anything away from the article so recommend if you are interested in doing this, take a look at the November 2011 issue and go from there. All of the paints can be purchased at a craft store and one thing I did discuss with Tom is using distilled water over Microsol is just as good and even better. I ended up doing the first overall wash with Microsol, but the random sponge work was done using water. Enjoy the photos.

Base wash of burnt umber-onyx black gouache paint applied

After a few days - proceeded with the random burnt umber and burnt sienna wash

Bridge complete and dry - wow the washes really made it pop

Closeup of the girder and rivet plates - Michigan elements have taken its toll

Simple technique - amazing results.

Wrapping up this post, we are going to have to get slightly smaller... like n scale small and head on over to Dean Ferris' Oregon Joint Line. Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a double header operations session. For the morning session I was the dispatcher and had a good time pushing around fifteen trains across the railroad in preparation for the afternoon shift. Following a lunch break by the pool I crossed over and went into management as the Assistant Superintendent. This role is to help the layout owner (Superintendent) with getting operators orientated and running. Lets be honest from the management side the railroads operating on the OJL are not making any money with idle trains. If you can tell there was some management adversity built into this session all to have a little fun. Right off the bat I was handed a wire describing the need to run a rotary plow extra account snowfall at Snowline! 

I blew up the photo real big so you can see, there is definitely some friction between the unions and management. Believe the operator may have added more letters to my last name then I thought were there. None the less the railroad cannot operate effectively if the summit grade of the line at Snowline is blocked. Myself and engineer M. Thidemann didn't know what we would find until we got up on the summit and "Oh $#!% thats alot of quicker picker upper snow". After a few runs at it we cleared the siding and ran down to Kinzua to turn the extra on the wye and go back at it from the other direction. Upon returning to the summit at Snowline we found the mainline now blocked due to shifted drifts and snow with almost a paper like consistency.

 Making a run at the drift in the siding at Snowline.. Took us three runs to clear

In the end it was about keeping them moving like we see here with a meet at Fossil. 

Having a morning and afternoon session where everyone from both sessions could get together and have lunch was a great idea. So many times having a session limits you to a certain amount of folks not allowing any networking outside of the session, but in this case folks were able to talk shop, eat, and either wrap up or start their operating day on the OJL. Great job to Dean for planning this and having me help with both sessions. 

That in a nutshell is my March update, still have another two weeks left of the month and plan to keep making good progress on the Cass River and Upper Huron scenes so stayed tuned and safe travels to all out on spring break.