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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A possible site overhaul soon

In editing data for the continuing series on named steam locomotives, I'm now running into a memory limit on the server. This isn't a bandwidth limit, it's a PHP limit that is preventing me from editing the content of the website. There are a number of possible solutions, but one that I'm looking at pretty seriously is that of a complete overhaul to a different content management system. In other words, I'm looking into completely rebuilding this site with new back-end software. I have a couple test platforms to try out the different systems that are out there, so downtime here should be minimal. If I follow through with this clever plan, then it is exceptionally likely that the links to individual stories will change (so you'll have to update any bookmarks that you've made to any page beyond the home page), and I will likely have a new look for the site at the same time. Since I'd rather not have to retype everything into the site, I'm looking at migration scripts to automatically import the data too. I'll post more on this topic as a decision approaches.
Update (February 24): After reading around a little more and trying a few other possibilities, I've got the settings where they need to be in order to continue here without major changes. That means a whole lot less work for me as author to re-enter everything and a whole lot less work for you as readers to keep your bookmarks to your favorite content here. So with that, it's time to post the next update that I had queued...

Operations update: Wheels of Time 60' baggage cars

The sideframe burr

It wasn't that long ago that I wrote about the new baggage cars from Wheels of Time. Well, over the weekend, I finally had a chance to give them a workout on an NTrak layout. I had mentioned previously that some of the wheelsets didn't roll as easily as others, so I took a closer look at the trucks. The wheelsets that didn't spin as easily all had a little burr (circled in the picture to the right) on the sideframe pushing against the wheel sides, acting like a brake. A quick shave with a sharp hobby knife solved this and did not appear to hamper their operation in any way that I could tell. The cars tracked well around the layout for quite a few laps and looked perfect nestled between the express freight cars and passenger carrying cars of the train that I ran. I coupled all six of the baggage cars in front of a string of about ten standard type Kato and ConCor passenger cars and three of the recent SP articulated passenger cars from Kato; the weight of these cars behind the baggage cars did not seem to give any trouble to the baggage cars. So, these baggage cars are definitely keepers.

Modeler's Moment - Old freight cars often stick around with new jobs

BN 953186

Prototype railroads are sometimes a little hesitant to throw things away when they can easily be repurposed. For example, BN 953186, seen here in Wisconsin last summer, was originally a CB&Q two-bay covered hopper (there were a few small CB&Q markings at the car's B end), probably for carrying loads like powdered cement. Judging by the shape of the discharge bays, this car is now used in ballast service, and features a roof that appears to be now fully removable for easier loading. A car like this would make a wonderful candidate for kitbashing to complete a model for the Master Builder - Cars certificate.

Modeler's Moment - NMRA contests and conformity documentation

CP Rail locomotive contest entry

One question that I hear as my local NMRA division's Achievement Program chairman is what should be included in the paperwork for the conformity section. The answer is to include references or copies of the resources that you used for prototype information when you were building the model. In the case of this CP Rail locomotive that was entered into the contest at the 2004 national convention in Seattle, that meant a copy of a magazine article and a photograph of the exact locomotive that was being modeled. The judges compare your model against the documentation that you supply to see how closely the model represents the item in the photograph. The more details that are on your model that are in the photograph, the more important it is that you include the photograph in the documentation because the judges will see the details on both the model and the prototype and your score for conformity will go up.

Modeler's Moment - Open doors (or windows) and structure interiors

Open doors and detailed interiors

Model railroaders are a weird bunch. We like to see cluttered structures and tons of stuff just lying around inside buildings, at least we do if the clutter and stuff is within a scale model structure. When you build a structure with open doors, you've got to add some kind of detail to the structure's interior. Think about your goals in modeling the structure and what would realistically be inside that structure. If you're modeling an empty building, there should be a "for sale/lease" sign or contractors' trucks and equipment outside to explain why the building is vacant. If the building is occupied, fill it with appropriate details, like in this scene of a small garage on a narrow gauge logging railroad.

Modeler's Moment - Get the kids involved

A young engineer checks his throttle position

As we come upon the annual winter solstice season celebrations, remember to get the kids around you involved in the hobby. Even if it's just setting up a circle of EZ Track and an inexpensive steam locomotive on a table once a year, let the kids play for a while. Sure, set some ground rules such as a maximum speed and specify exactly which rolling stock can be used, but let them play. This will not only help to strengthen your own relationships with them but they will remember the play time that they have and may turn into serious model railroaders when they grow older. More model railroaders means more demand for model railroad products which leads to a greater product selection for all of us. How many of us got our own starts in the hobby with Lionel or American Flyer sets around a Christmas tree when we were younger?

Wisconsin railroad history

Although most students of railroad history might not think of Wisconsin's railroad industry as a significant contributor to rail transport, many events that occurred in Wisconsin have affected railroading on a worldwide scale. Here is a timeline of significant events that have occurred in Wisconsin related to rail transport. This research is not a final document and will be added to (and periodically reposted to the front page) as more information becomes available. Because there is so much data to include in this timeline, it has been broken into sections by century. The first part covers 19th century railroad history in Wisconsin, events occurring between 1801 and 1900 (inclusive). The next part covers the 20th century, events occurring between 1901 and 2000, and the third part includes years that have elapsed so far since then and the present. Finally, the sources used for this research, both for data and for images, have all been listed in the bibliography.

Modeler's Moment - signature rolling stock

B&O wagontop box car in N scale

When it's time to assemble your model railroad's freight car fleet, keep in mind the prototype that you're trying to model. On many prototypes, there are signature pieces of rolling stock that absolutely have to be included for a model roster to be believable. If you're modeling UP or SP in the 1950s, you should include several Pacific Fruit Express refrigerator cars. If you're modeling the Milwaukee Road in the 1980s, like I am, you should include a few horizontally-ribbed boxcars and bay window cabooses. Or, if you're modeling the B&O in the 1940s and 50s, you should include a few wagontop box cars, like the one seen here modeled in N scale. Determine your railroad's signature equipment and model it.

The best snow day model railroading project is...

building structure kits
13% (1 vote)
decaling freight cars
0% (0 votes)
laying track and wiring
0% (0 votes)
practice operating sessions
0% (0 votes)
armchair modeling
0% (0 votes)
anything as long as there's a model train involved
88% (7 votes)
Total votes: 8

Out of the box review: N scale 60-foot Harriman baggage cars from Wheels of Time

The box and two cars

One of the manufacturers that we had a chance to talk to at the national NMRA convention this year was a small company called Wheels of Time. They were showing preproduction samples of 60-foot Harriman style baggage cars in N scale. As I've become more interested in modeling specific passenger trains recently, I was pleased to find someone taking N scale passenger train modeling seriously. I'm working on models of a few Milwaukee Road and Pennsylvania Railroad passenger trains while my wife is now putting together one of Southern Pacific's Daylight trains (well, the Kato GS-4 she bought last year has to pull something!). I was impressed with the preproductions enough that we each ordered a set when reservations opened in September. We saw the manufacturer again at Trainfest in November and we talked a little more about the cars and the company's upcoming city bus models. Our baggage car order arrived yesterday, so let's take a look at the final products...

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