The home of The Rip Track podcast, disseminating information about model railroading and worldwide railroad history.

I'm working on an update to the site; check out the public beta at

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Modeler's Moment - Quick structure building

A construction site office

Large construction projects will usually have temporary on-site offices to coordinate the work that is involved at the site. Often these offices consist of a single trailer based on a mobile home design, but for larger construction projects, larger offices may be needed. The office structure pictured here is currently up in Madison, Wisconsin, to coordinate several construction projects on the University of Wisconsin campus. The offices are made up of four 20-foot containers on the lower level and two containers that appear to be at least 48 feet long. A structure of this type would be rather simple to build in model form, especially considering the number of container models available in almost every scale. The hardest part would probably be the stairs to the upper level entry, but a quick search through your spare parts bin may reveal ready-built stair runs from another kitbashing project.

Modeler's Moment - One reason to switch to DCC

A complex control panel

There are many reasons to choose one control system over another, but this picture shows one of the primary reasons that I'm building my own model railroad with DCC. The control panel shown here has one DPST switch for each 10-inch segment of track in the layout's engine facility. Just moving a single engine out of the engine house on this layout could require the operator to turn on as many as ten separate power blocks as well as aligning four or five track turnouts. Using DCC removes the need for the separate power blocks as you simply select the locomotive (or multiple unit lashup) that you want to control; and if you've got stationary decoders on the turnouts, you can also align the route automatically with your controller by selecting just the route.

Athearn product recall

Just over the email wire today comes a notice of a product recall from Athearn. The recall centers around the new Genesis SD60M model factory painted for Norfolk Southern. The problem, as Athearn puts it, is "paint errors on the body." The affected Athearn part numbers are: ATHG67268, ATHG67269, ATHG67270, ATHG67368, ATHG67369 and ATHG67370. The email that I got (which Athearn put out on its email mailing list yesterday) says to take the models back to the location where you purchased them before May 8, 2009, for a refund and then to, hopefully, place an order for the corrected model. The corrected models are expected to ship in about 4 months.

I don't see anything about the recall on Athearn's website yet, so check with your local dealer for further information.

Modeler's Moment - Encoding routes on ground throws

Ground throws with code paint applied

When you're building a layout for prototypical operations, you have to make it easy for your operators to see where the trains will go as they traverse the switches in your track. This can be done on a control panel through colored lights, but what if you don't use control panels or want to keep the operators' eyes on the layout? You could install the colored lights between the rails (like we did on the Wisconsin Central project layout for Model Railroader a decade ago), but to keep things simple, why not make a marking on the ground throws? A quick dab of green paint for the "normal" mainline route and red paint for the diverging route quickly conveys the turnout position. If you use bright colors for the indicator paint, yard operators can sight down the yard ladders to quickly see which track the ladder is lined to.


Modeler's Moment - What's supporting the pier?

A floating HO scale pier

Water features always make interesting scenes on model railroads, whether they're models of lakes, rivers, harbors or just puddles. When they're at the fascia edge of a layout, the modeler can make the water a little deeper and embed things in the water material to make it look even more realistic. However, this can also work against the modeler if something doesn't extend below the surface of the water when it should. The HO scale fishing pier shown here is a prime example. Is the pier really as light as an insect that it doesn't break the surface tension of the water? Plan your details before you start pouring the water material.

A couple of quick (for now) site notes...

So, I've been looking around at what could be the next thing for The Rip Track and wondering what kinds of projects I would want to work on for the site. First, the easy bit... As I mentioned in a previous post, I was looking at other content management systems after running into an error updating some of the history projects here. The error has been fixed, and I'll be sticking with the current system for a while longer. I was dreading the data conversion project and since I don't need to do that, I can concentrate on further improvements here. But that leads to the harder question: what content needs to be added next? Read on...

Named steam locomotives of the United Kingdom

The practice of naming steam locomotives was continued in the United Kingdom much farther than in other parts of the world. British Rail even continued the practice onto diesel and electric locomotives.

This work will list solely steam locomotives much like the associated lists for named steam locomotives of North America. Like those pages, this work will also be updated and republished as new information becomes available. When I can get my hands on data for named diesel and electric locomotives, I plan to upload the data as soon as I can.

Modeler's Moment - Use details to set the era

Era-specific details

With careful planning, your layout can be built in a way that you can model several different eras by just changing a few details. For example, the scene pictured here shows a layout set in the 1930s, but it could easily be changed to show a layout set in the 1950s by simply changing the vehicles on the road. With newer vehicle models, it could also represent an even later era, perhaps the 1980s by also changing the sign on the structure and adding a stop sign at the grade crossing. If you build your layout with removable structures, you can replace Victorian architecture with Art Deco architecture to further enhance the era change.

A photo project I want to work on...

A Maintenance of Way worker at Dolton crossing.

I need your help. I've submitted an entry in the "name your dream assignment" photography contest. The winner will get a stipend and laptop to pursue the assignment, but in order to be considered, the assignment idea needs to be voted up. The project that I want to work on is to publish a book of photographs that show the hard work involved in keeping the trains rolling across North America. Please take a moment to visit my assignment idea and vote for me. Thanks!

Modeler's Moment - Tank car unloading at small industries

An unloading hose for tank cars

Ever wonder how tank cars are unloaded when they are delivered to industries and how to model such an unloading facility? It can be quite simple, really, as we see in this photo of a siding at a local styrofoam manufacturing company. The receiving industry attaches a hose to a drain valve on the tank car and pumps the liquid out. In this photo we can see the hose the industry attaches to the tank car, and the outer edge of the pump is visible in the lower left corner of the picture. The track is far enough away from the industry that a person can walk between the building and the car in order to attach the hose. Also notice, that when the industry is not actively unloading the car, the hose is detached from the car and out of the way so the railroad can perform switching without damaging the unloading equipment. At some industries, the pump is completely inside the building to deter vandalism or to keep it out of the weather, so sometimes the only visible item is the hose; of course, there are other industries that bring the hose inside also when it's not in use.


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