A Bridge Too Far...Viaduct nearly done.

The viaduct is done! Well, some more scenery and other details, but the heavy lifting is complete!  Not a lot to comment on about this project that I haven't already said about the construction technique.  I mentioned in my last post that I was a bit concerned about the the Testors Dark Aircraft Grey being a suitable 'concrete' coloe.  As it turns out, I think the color turned out to be a pretty good choice after all, especially once some weathering was applied.

Something I didn't plan on that turned out pretty well was that when I started to apply my dark grey Sculpt-a-mold (created by adding a small amount of black acrylic paint to the wet Sculpt-a-mold mix) I started to worry about how I was going to apply scenery materials to the virtually 90 degree cliffs!  As the Sculpt-a-mold was still quite wet, I took a few sheets of Busch and Noch foliage and some Woodlands Scenics foliage clumps (aka bushes) and pressed them into the wet Sculpt-a-mold.  Voila!  Heavily vegetated cliff walls!

And for posterity's sake, here's a 'before' photo to remind myself why this 'little' project was worth it!


Viaduct and City Updates

I've been able to spend some nice quality time working on the layout over this Christmas break, and have made some progress on the viaduct (background here), and barely just started with thinking about the new plan for the expanded downtown (background on that, here).  The top photo shows the current progress on the viaduct, below are a couple of more shots from different angles.  At this point I've probably added spackle, sanded, and painted about 4 times over most of the viaduct.

I'm still a bit concerned about the color of the viaduct...I think the longer I look at the color the less convinced I am that its correct (FYI: Its Testors "Dark Aircraft Grey" which I thought made a pretty decent concrete color).   I'm going to stick with it and weather it to see if that helps make it look a bit more 'right' to me.

I'm really excited to start running trains across this bridge with the new Tomix cant track!  There's still a lot of work left to be done on the viaduct beyond just weathering.  I have some Evergreen plastics strips that will be attached to the viaduct and cover up the area where the track and playwood meet, then I will attempt to add 'handrails' around the entire viaduct using some wire and my sodering iron.  And then of course there's adding the scenery to the blank plywood behind the viaduct!

City Progress:
At the same time that I'm working on the viaduct (which is convenient while I'm waiting for spackle or paint to dry), I've got all my layers of 'sintra' down for the city foundation (streets and so forth).  The below photos are crude mock-ups to see how my tram/trolley line will work with some of the key buildings I have.  I need to finalize the tram line plan and then start the tedious process of carefully cutting the sintra so that I can 'sink' my Tomix (and a few other makers) rails into the 'streets'.

My current plan for the tram line is a single end to end line that will loop and double back through the city, and then cross the 'ravine' in the middle of the layout to the little village on the other side.


Fleischmann Lok Boss Manual and other DCC control items

A reader noticed that in one of my older posts that I was using the Fleischmann Lok-Boss 6865 for some operations.  This is a small DCC controller that came with the Fleischmann 89397 digital 'start set of the year' (which also included a Class 64 steam engine that has been nothing but problems, but that is another story....).  I no longer use this controller (I bought and use a second Trix Mobile Station) but I do have the manual, which I scanned and formatted into a pdf file.  As the commenter noted, the information or manual for the 6865 Lok-Boss does not appear to be anywhere online....Google search does not show anything!  So hopefully others who own this controller and don't have the manual can benefit from my sharing of this document as well (and hopefully I'm not breaking any copyright laws in the process!).

The pdf for the English version of this manual is located at this site: Quinntopia Library - Lok-Boss Manual

I'm using "Google Sites" to host / post the .pdf file as Google's Blogger service doesn't allow me to post a .pdf file.  I think I've set up all the settings correctly so that anyone can access the site and download the pdf, if not, please feel free to leave me a comment.

Also, I only scanned the English pages of the Lok-Boss instruction manual, if you need or want the German or French versions, let me know and I can scan those as well.

On the topic of Fleischmann and digital controllers and looking at the end of 2009, it certainly was a turbulent year for nearly all the 'big' German N Scale manufacturers....The Marklin/Trix/Minitrix (and LGB) company is somewhere in their insolvency or bankruptcy process, while both Fleischmann and Roco have 'merged' to apparently address their own financial difficulties.  The future is still uncertain to me as to the future of the Minitrix brand and what products, if any, we will see from this company.  It certainly seems as if we won't see the proposed but not released new and improved Trix Mobile Stations (same appearance as the above Marklin version, but with green instead of red dials and markings).  Key features with this are not only the design, but the wireless radio ability!  Let's also hope that they've streamlined the UI and improved some of read/write abilities over the current mobile station (if this ever gets produced).

On the other hand, the Roco/Fleischmann merger seems to be bringing us the latest version of the Roco Multimaus system (which has received really positive reviews and testimonials from people who use this system) which is apparently now being released under the Fleischmann brand, so perhaps a reason for the missing documentation on the Lok-Boss itself, and maybe a good thing.

By the way, this post and the replies is a great overview/discussion of various DCC systems, covering some of the less well-known versions.


Locomotive Roster: NS Class 1800; Minitrix 12187

There is something compelling to me about the Nederlands Spoorwagen, or Dutch railways, that I enjoy modeling.  It could be because  I've made several trips to the Netherlands and have always found the Dutch to be a smart and friendly people (that many of them speak English also helps for us language challenged Americans).  

It could be the distinctive paint schemes of the Dutch railway; the massive interurban system of rail transport in the Netherlands, the diversity of its fleet, and the general rarity of these locomotives in N Scale considering the much greater supply of German, Swiss, and Austrian prototypes (or North American or Japanese! But those are different continents, so we'll stick to Europe for this post).

So in addition to being an interesting railway, this is a really interesting looking locomotive.  These locomotives were produced in the early 1980's by Alsthom, and are based on the French SNCF Class BB 7200.  Minitrix also does several versions of what appear to be the same shells for the the French versions as well.  Contemporary locomotives have gotten much sleeker, which makes the distinctive design of this engine something of standard bearer of 1970's industrial (European) design in my view.

Looking at this Minitrx model, I think the detail is a bit of a mixed bag.  While some aspects, like the "Endhoven" heraldry are sharp and crisp, some the yellow paint shows over-spray and is not very sharp.   You can see a bit of this above the cab in the below two photos of you look close enough.

Compared to the prototype, there are also a couple of other things that stand out.  The grab iron (I think that's its purpose) below the windshield is really thick and is too prominent, and apparantly the wrong color (the Fleischmann version of this locomotive appears to be a little better); the number on the front of the cab is actually a raised rectangular area on the prototype but just a stamped box on this model (perhaps a short-cut compromise from the casting of this for both an NS and SNCF versions?).  Finally, the trim around the lights is painted a bright silver, which I cannot see on any prototype photos (it appears to be black on the real thing, although its possible that's just road grime and they come from the shops with these clean silver trimmings which don't last?).  To their credit, Minitrix is doing a pretty good job with the color on this locomotive in terms of its opacity.  Compared to an older Minitrix model of the Class 1200 that I have, the sharpness of the paint on this version is remarkable (of course, any comparison of any model more than 10 years old in N Scale will probably be the same).

On the plus side, converting to DCC was a cinch.  The below photo shows the NEM 651 connection with the decoder installed.  I experienced no problems at all with this conversion and it took me less than 5 minutes from taking the shell off the locomotive to running a newly added DCC loco to the layout. Yeah, I wish I could say that more often!

Operation of this locomotive is a treat.  As with every Minitrix locomotive I own (well, the new ones, not the old 1200 Class from the eighties I mentioned earlier!), it is QUIET and has flawless slow speed movement.  It glides through all my Kato switches (both #4 and #6) with no difficulty and seems to have enough power to pull trains in the 20 to 30 car range.

My enthusiasm for this locomotive is only slightly tampered by some of the cosmetic disappointments.  I wish I had the chance to see the Fleischmann version up close and/or do a side by side comparison.  Fleischmann's reputation (and the 30% higher cost!) would seem to indicate a much higher level of cosmetic detail and potentially a more fulfilling purchase.  I do think I'll ultimately apply some light weathering to this engine to make it look a little less toy-like, which is the only real drawback I have found.  On the other hand, this locomotive is on the low end of the price spectrum for Minitrix (USD $130 ish), so for a 'value' purchase, these are some trade offs I can also live with, or attempt to overlook.  Overall, a 4 out of 5.


Replacing and Scratch-building a Viaduct (i.e.: destruction)

In the midst of more projects than I doubt I will be able to get to during my Christmas vacation (which includes re-doing the 'city' end of the layout, finishing up another skyscraper scratch-build, re-wiring all my track power wiring, and hopefully getting to the point where I can lay down the trolley/tram tracks in the 'city area' so I can start installing buildings! Whew!) I'm also in the middle of another major redesign / reconfiguration of my layout.  This concerns the replacement of my single-track Kato Viaduct curve (on the opposite end of the layout from the previously mentioned re-configuration of my 'city') which has been a really uninteresting and boring area of the layout.

When I went to look at all the photos of my layout to for a shot which would demonstrate just how uninteresting this curve was...I couldn't find any!  That just goes to show you....if I don't take pictures of it, its probably a pretty good candidate for replacement!  Well, here's one shot that barely shows how it looked......

This started me thinking.  There is probably some truth to this idea that if you don't take photos (or view your layout from a certain spot, etc....), it indicates a sort of 'black hole' of interest.   My belief now is that there should be specific 'focal points' spread around the layout.  This is harder than it sounds because our grand designs on paper can often turn out less interesting in reality and its only after having 'lived' with something for some time (meaning, my layout), that those things that just don't work become more apparant (and more distracting!).

Additionally, the Kato curve viaducts were a problem from the beginning as my longer (164mm) European coaches would not make it through the curves without the coaches rubbing against the inside side walls (more here).  A brutish solution was to grind down the inside side walls.  It worked, but it didn't look pretty.  I also became less enamored with the appearance of the viaduct itself.  While probably more appropriate for an urban line, this curve is actually on the less metropolitan side of my layout and didn't look very good.  I also was using a combination of 282 and 315mm radius curves with a long straight section in the middle.  Not a very appealing set up.

Two things happened at about the same time that inspired me to solve the problems I was having with what looked like a really interesting solution: the first was the availability of the new Tomix (single track) super-elevated curves, and the second was an article in the Trix club magazine on how to build the Lower Meienreussbrücke viaduct bridge.  Putting them both together seemed like a cool thing to do.

So here's the last shot I took of the Kato viaduct before removing (hey, I knew I was taking it out at this point! Sort of an obituary picture if you will!):

And here is the first step of my 'after'; showing the plywood base of the viaduct with 1x2" 'supports' for the bridge pillars.  I used the Tomix pieces as a template for cutting the plywood and added two 1x2 boards as foundations about 10" apart.  I also had to build a sort of 'extension' onto this end of the layout to accomodate the longer radius of the Tomix curves (391mm):

As I mentioned above, my inspiration was from Trix magazine which promised the link to the plans, but the provided link and other searches resulted in no promised pdf file being found!  Therefore, I had to improvise and eyeball the photos of the bridge and do my best imitation of its dimensions and design  (which was going to be necessary anyway given the curve of my bridget versus the near-straight of the prototype).

Oh yes, I don't own a compass so I had to jury rig and improvise to get my arches looking correct.  My 'sheathing ' material was again my go-to material of 1/8" 'sintra', which I've talked about before.  This material is great for this type of project.  For one, it can be cut and scored with a knife easily (therefore, no band saw needed!); secondly, given its density and material, it can be 'formed' a bit with pressure to add detail and dimension (a bit like adding a pattern to leather in fact); it bends easily (unlike other plastics or acrylics), but won't crack or break like foam core board (and its also a lot stronger and more durable) and can be assembled with CA or a glue gun with ease.

So, below is (yes) a frying pan lid being used as the template for the main arch on the sintra:

For the support arches, I used the 2" radius (which was almost perfect) from a spray can lid:

And then a few scores on the pattern....

And one side of the viaduct is cut out and ready for a test fitting:

After both sides of the bridge were complete, I attached them to the frame with some temporary screws to make sure everything is in the correct alignment....

And then after quick coat of primer the bridge is placed on the layout for a test fitting with the Tomix curves and the surrounding elements:

All in all, this is going really well.  To say I am excited to see my first train run across this structure on the wider, super-elevated curved track is an understatement.  I've still got a lot of finish to do...including the tedious job of installing the styrene between both sides of the facade to give it a 'solid' viaduct look, clean-up, detailing, install hand-rails, and final painting and weathering.....  Yep a lot more to do! More updates as I make some progress!


Layout Destruction Time

Remember the adage "to make an omellete you need to break a few eggs"?  That's where I'm at lately.

There was an area of my layout that contained a very small loop of track on the 'bottom level' that was sort of enclosed by Kato double-track viaduct curves.  At first, this little loop was primarily intended as my (then 9 year old) son's area.  Since I expanded the layout by adding another 'hollow core door' to the other end, this little loop has been pretty much forgotten and seldom used except for a few DC only locomotive tests.  The top photo and the one below are 'before' photos.  Below you'll see the sequence of creative destruction....

Additionally, I've found that this little area was sort of 'hidden'. Despite some of my plans to make this a tranquil, suburban, residential area, my pride in the curving road coming down to this neighborhood I put in, and a start at adding a little pond, this area was never a very interesting one to me.  You can tell by browsing the photos on this blog that there aren't many photos of this area.

At the same time, the standard Kato double-track, curved viaduct pieces that encircle this area also don't get much 'photography' or other attention themselves.  I believe the reason for this is that the high walls (albeit likely prototypical in Japan) of these sections tend to 'hide' the locomotives.  Additionally, with the new super-elevated track, I become very excited about 'loosing' the walls so that locomotives sweeping around the curve at a slight tilt could be seen.

Finally, with my growing expansion of more urban/downtown type structures...well, let's just say the evil developers from downtown finally had their way and have been able to displace the residents of this neighborhood (although they are promising a light rail line....Hmmmmm).

The below photo, we'll it's a start on rebuilding...I am hoping that this gamble pays off....stay tuned.....


Scratch-building Another Skyscraper

This is my second 'high rise' or 'skyscraper' scratch-building attempt in N Scale. I actually started this one about the same time as the 17-Story "Godzilla Corporation" building, but have not yet gotten around to completing it.

The motivation for this building came from the desire to have a modern-looking skyscraper with the common 'mirrored' glass windows so common on modern buildings.

While I used some similar methods for this building as I did with "Godzilla", the materials are significantly different. First, this building started off as fairly standard clear acrylic sheets (about an 1/8" thick), rather than 1/2" thick 'smoked acrylic' as used on the first building.

The second major difference is that I used window film (typically used to darken car windows) with a 'mirror' appearance to get the affect I was looking for.

Again, I used a straight-edge and an Xacto knife to score the acrylic to simulate window and other surface seams. As opposed to my other building, the scoring on this building is vertical.  I also played around with the idea of using very thin strips of painted styrene for the vertical separations. You can see what this looks like compared to a building face without the strips in the below photo.  I wasn't really that taken with the styrene strips versus just the scoring, so I did not use this approach.
To create the impressions of floors in this building, I masked out the actual 'window' areas' and then painted the non-window flooring areas.

My measurements for these areas are:
  • Floor to Ceiling: 18mm or approximately 3/4"
  • Window area: 13mm or approximately 1/2" (which, by fortune, is also the width of the masking tape I used)
  • Floor/non window area: 5mm or about 1/4"
To provide some contrast and hopefully some interest, I seperated the bottom 3 floors from the rest of the structure for the front side (in addition to adding a solid/non-window 'column' to try to add a bit more interest), and started to create a commerical/retail oriented ground floor in addition to an office building entranceway.
I did find a use for the thin strips of styrene on the ground floor, to create the window and door frames for an otherwise plain 'plate glass' street front for the building.

From this point, I started to assemble the four sides, with the large 'vertical column' (which was also 'scored' to have a consistent appearance to the rest of the building design) the progress of which is shown in the photo at right.

Which pretty much leads to the point where I am at right now, which is shown in the photo at the top.  The remaining tasks include some final detailing, particularly on the ground floor, building a roof, adding the lighting and interior details, masking some of the 'windows' on several floors to give off the effect of unoccupied floors, etc... and coming up with a corporate name/logo to emblazon on the top of the building.

I'll post photos of the final product once I've got it completed, but wanted to share this experience as it was a different approach than the first building.

A final comment is that using masking tape to create your window areas actually worked really well.  It is really important to ensure your tape has a good seal as the paint will seep through (and require time consuming clean up!).   I used a good quality grey primer spray paint for thus purpose.  Not the prettiest of colors, but a good neutral color for a building of this era I think.  I expect I will use this spray paint/masking tape technique again in the future for other modern structures, as it doesn't require the tedious task of cutting styrene and is fairly inexpensive.

Building was finally completed several months later...click here!


Super-elevated curves and cant track from Kato and Tomix!

If there ever was a brilliant idea that- once you see it -you think "why didn't they think of this a long time ago?"  Well for me its got to be the new super-elevated curves (or 'cant' track as Tomix calls it) being put out now by both Kato (for Unitrack) and Tomix (for Finetrack).

Having once attempted to create this effect with traditional snap track (and quickly giving up in failure), I am so excited to see a good, easy to add system being produced!

So how do they look?  First, some comparisons:  From left to right below is the Kato 414/381 radius double-track, super-elevated curve (item 20-181); to the right of that (the second Thalys) is a traditional Kato 381 radius, to the right of that is the Tomix 391 radius, 'canted' (i.e. 'super-elevated), 'wide rail', single-track section of Finetrack (item # 1744); and just to the right of that (out of the picture) is another Relay Tsubame on another plain jane 381 radius):

I am super excited about how great they look!  Not sure how well it comes across in the photo, but even standing still it appears like the locomotives on the super-elevated track are actually moving compared to the traditional curves!

Here's another photo with a close up comparison of two Relay Tsubame's on curved track.  As above, the track on the left is the Tomix 'super-elevated' with a radius of 391, next to it is traditional Kato 381 radius:

Nothing I can say can do a better job than that photo!  So how does each system compare?

Here's a close up profile of the Unitrack Super-elevated curve:

As you can see, pretty apparent super-elevation!  As of this writing, Kato only produces a super-elevated curve in a double track version, which is a kind of bummer.  There is some news that they do plan on producing a single track version in the near future (no doubt prompted to do so by arch-rival Tomix!).

Below is a profile shot of the Tomix 'cant' track (or 'wide rail' or whatever....). 

Again, pretty cool super-elevation on this!  Of course, if you're not using Tomix Finetrack, you'll notice that they have this unusual and proprietary 'connector' thing on one rail.  The Kato Unitrack adapters sections are actually made just for these Tomix track sections (Side note: a lot of folks, myself included, were under the impression that the Kato Unitrack 'adapter section' was for all non-Unitrack connections, but that's not true.  Kato Unitrack is pretty straight forward code 80 and you can easily connect Atlas code 80, Minitrix, and Fleischmann and probably others that I don't have).

Some observations on these curved tracks:
  • YOU WILL NEED THE EASEMENT SECTIONS for both the Unitrack and Finetrack super-elevated curves. The 'easement' sections are just what they sound like....traditional 'flat' on one end of the curve, which then 'eases' into the 'super-elevated'elevation on the other end.  Obviously, you connect your straight, non-super-elevated track to one end, and the super-elevated section to the other.  
  • "Short" easements and "long" super-elevated curves.  In other words, the 'easement' sections for both lines are 22.5 degrees, whereas the super-elevated curves are 45 degrees.  This limits some of the flexibility you might otherwise want if your actual radius is greater than the 381/391 or 414 that are offered. More on this below.
  • For whatever reason, both the Kato and Tomix versions are molded and painted to resemble concrete ties.  This is disappointing as it will 'stick out' when connected to traditional 'wood tie' track.  I have it in my mind to try and paint the ties, but that's something down the road when I've run out of interesting things to do.
  • And yes, the Tomix Finetrack curve is unusually wide.  Not really sure what they're planning...perhaps it has something to do with increasing stability, or maybe its just an asthetic requirement to be consistent with other pieces they are producing. The Kato double track version is consistent with their other double track pieces.
Below is a photo showing pieces from both systems which will better illustrate why your radius options are a little challenged with both company's products.  The track on the top is the Kato double track, and the track below that is the Tomix single track version:

The smaller sections on the bottom right of both company's super-elevated curve systems is the 'easement' track (or what Tomix calls the 'approach track') and is 22.5 degrees. The longer pieces are the fully super-elevated curves, which are 45 degrees- and do not get any smaller unless you take a hacksaw to them!  Obviously, if you JUST want a 90 degree radius curve, you'll have to make a compromise and use two easements on each side one 45 degree curve section.  This will reduce the impact of large sweeping (and super-elevated!) curves unfortunately.

You could do what I tried, which is to put two easements on the leading edge of the curves, add in the super-elevated pieces, and then plug some traditional straight pieces between the two super-elevated curves.  Not sure if I'll stick with this arrangement, but it is possible and I haven't had any problems, but I also don't think I'm gaining anything over what I proposed in the above paragraph.

As you can tell from the above photo, I have the Unitrack super-elevated curves/easements on my layout.  I haven't had a lot of running time the past several months, but when I have run trains across these curves, I have not noticed any problems at all.  So far, so good!   I have yet to install or run trains on the Tomix curves.  These will be used to replace some standard Kato viaduct pieces (single track) to create a much more interesting, sweeping, SUPER-ELEVATED bridge that will replace the somewhat boring set-up I have now (check back on this blog in several months and hopefully I'll have an update on that).

Yes, I'm 'sold' on super-elevated curves!  I'm hoping that these products are successful and we can begin to see more variations in the sizes that are offered in the future so I can 'upgrade' all those traditional curves!

Here's the breakdown on the part numbers from each company:

Tomix "Wide Rail" 'canted' Finetrack:

Easements: Tomix Item 1754 "Wide PC Approach Track"  CR(L)C391-22.5-WP(F)  - This package includes two 22.5 degree easement curves. 
Super-Elevated Curves:  Tomix Item 1744 "Wide PC Curved Track C391-45-WP(F) - Includes 2x 45 degree sections.

To complete a 'half circle' or 180 degree curve, you'll need the  'easement' or 'approach' package (2 x 22.5 = 45 degrees), plus 2 packages of the Curved track (you'll end up with an extra piece unfortunately since you only need three of these [ 3 x 45 = 135, + the 2 easements/approach tracks which add another 45 degrees; so 135+45  = 180]. degrees). If you want a fill circle of track, then you'll just add another package of Easements and one more package of curves - and no extras!

Also, I just noticed that if the 391 radius is too large for you,  Hobbysearch Japan also has a 354 mm radius version out now! 

Kato Unitrack 

Easements: Kato Item 20-182 "Concrete Tie Double-Track Superelevated Easement Curve Let, Right 414/381-22.5" Similar to Tomix, you get 2 22.5 degree pieces in this package.
Super-Elevated Curves:  Item 20-181 "Concrete Tie Double-Track Superelevated Curve 414/318-45".  The options for Kato are the same as Tomix above regarding how many packages of each you'll need.

Also, Kato has the same curves in a double track viaduct configuration as well.  I've also heard that there's a smaller radius version of the double-track super-elevated  curves, but I haven't seen it.


Quinntopia....1 Year Anniversary!

Thanks to all my new 'internet' N Scale Friends:

December 1st of last year was the first post on this blog.   As I look back over the past year on this little blog I started, I thought I would share some of my thoughts -and thanks!-for the journey that this first year has been.

When I started this blog, I thought that it would be primarily a Minitrix focused blog.  The main reason is that I really love the brand for both its marketing, their product quality, and for sentimental childhood reasons.  There is also very little content on the internet for English language readers (especially for their more modern, Continental output).  However an interesting thing happened in that time as I got to meet more people through this blog and other forums, and I started to see that my knowledge of other N Gauge areas grew along with my evolving and expanding interest in them.

So its been a fantastic journey, and I am truly thankful for the new friends I have found through this blog.  A couple of folks I really want to mention are Don who also goes by "Captain Oblivious" and runs a blog  (Akihabara Station) that was, and is, a huge inspiration to me.  Don also contributes a lot of time and energy to running what is one of the best N Gauge forums around over at the Japanese Rail Forum.   He's been a faithful visitor to this blog, and has always been swift to offer thoughtful and meaningful advice and information, and needed encouragement! Even though his interests are Japanese, he was open-minded enough to link to my blog even though its very clear I stray far from pure Japanese models!  Thanks Don!

I've also been - what's the right word?- honored to get all the positive feedback from those that have commented, and then returned to read other rants or comments I post, but whose names I don't know.  I hope that what I've been able to post has been entertaining, informative, and encouraging for all of you in this fascinating hobby.

I was very flattered by Ken B., who I shared emails with over the summer, who used my track plan as the basis for his own layout.  Thanks Ken! Looking for an update on your progress soon!

I also should thank all the forums and blogs that have kindly allowed me to list my blog on their sites.  From the Japanese Rail Forum, NScale.net, NScale.org, NScaleLimited forum, and, of course, the Yahoo! Groups Unitrack Forum.  

Also, this blog is a collaboration from folks which I always try to link or attribute credit to.  I've gained a lot of valuable information and learned exciting new things to do - ranging from wiring Kato Unitrack switches with LED's, modeling and painting buildings, and the always challenging DCC installation and programming questions, from such great gentlemen and teachers as GR Stilwell on the Yahoo Unitrack Groups (I'll be sharing the work using his BCD circuit in a future post), Martin, Bernard, Cteno, westfalen, nik-n-dad, serenityFan, and dozens of others for various inspiration for modeling, DCC, and Japanese manufacturers, from the aforementioned Japanese forum; Bob/Scaper, for his inspirational 'urban modeling' work on Flickr;  MooseID, Jimmi, MisterMahony, Gary60s, Frank, DigitalDremz, Perth45, Ghill and a host of others from the NScale.net, NScale.org and NScaleLimited forums.

Wow.  That's quite a list!  There's even more of course... there are folks on some of the non-English N Gauge forums who have also provided inspiration, however, I tend to be something of troll if I'm using Google translate to read the content. What I can say about these-and a lot of other folks-I've 'met' over the past year while working on this blog or learning more about N Scale, is that they are all pretty cool guys.  This is not something most people would say about 'model train' geeks, but in my view, 'most people' are wrong!  And I'm pretty honored to have learned or been inspired by all of them.  Thank you gentlemen!

A Year of Numbers:

So some 'fun facts' about this blog.  Its grown in ways that are pretty flattering.  Here's a chart from Google Analytics showing the number of visits since February 7th (I didn't get the tracking code from Google installed until then, so I missed the first month).

Pretty amazing! Hopefully this means I'm doing something valuable!  The blue line above shows visits per day, while the red line is a trendline 'averaging' out the visits to get a sense of trajectory.  Bottom line: visits have grown from about 10 per day back in February to over 30 in the past couple of months.  Wow.  Thank you!

How do people get here?  This was interesting to me, take a look:

Obviously, Google is a HUGE driver of visits to this page (and below are the top keywords that bring up this blog in the search results).  Somewhat flattering are the number of 'direct' traffic sources (e.g. bookmarked or typed in), which means people are returning.  The third one is interesting, and its from Google Images. More on that below in 'things I've learned'. Finally, lots of traffic from my friends at the Japanese forum! :-)   Surprisingly to me is the volume that Yahoo!'s search has driven.

Keywords tell a story of how people got here, and some sort of indication of what's most interesting to them I think:

What's not too surprising to me, is that there are a lot of folks (like myself) looking for help and/or information on the Trix Mobile Station.  This is an area where I wish I had a better grasp of it myself so that I could offer some better insight than I've been able to thus far.  Again, somewhat flattering, is the number of specific searches for this blog. At the bottom is the Kato Thalys.  This is really interesting as you'll see from the traffic on my most visited posts....

The above is a list of the total number of pageviews to various posts on my blog.  I've exluded the 'homepage', so these typically represent specific clicks on posts, which seems to indicate interest, no? Its no surprise that Unitrack oriented posts are huge given the number of users of this track system-and the number of questions! Hopefully I've been able to help those visitors to this blog who've come here for that reason.  The Kato Thalys' traffic is just amazing.  This is apparently a very popular train!  The next most visited post after the Unitrack, layout planning, and Thalys topics, is a Minitrix French diesel (BB 67300), which was a bit of a surprise to me! In truth, its a beautiful engine with outstanding lines and design, but not really as well known, perhaps, outside of France, so pretty cool.  The Dutch RAM Tee also gets a surprising amount of traffic, which I think indicates a higher level of interest in trainsets generally more so than just stand-alone locomotives for a lot of folks doing online research.  Of course, the Dutch are great N-Scalers too!

So, where are my visitors coming from? No surprise, that language is the biggest determinant of who comes to Quinntopia as indicated by 3 of the top 4 counties:

I'm very gratified to see high visits from Germany since I recieved virtually no visits from Germany for the first several months of this blog.  I'm not too surprised by Netherlands, France, and Japan (although I hope to see more visits from Japan, but I also understand that the translation issue is big given my own experiences trying to read translated Japanese sites!) since I've profiled locomotives or manufacturers and products from each of those countries more than once, but Italy and Spain do surprise me!  Welcome Italy and Spain!  One of the things that I have noticed about this N Gauge hobby is the level of interest by country.  A pleasant surprise to me was the popularity in Spain (I kind of knew about Italy given the history of Rivaross, and have only recently discovered several N Scale producers in  Spain).

What's really fun about checking these numbers is the 'internationality' of this hobby.   Besides those in the top 10, and other "Western" countries (Belgium, Sweden, etc...) which can be somewhat expected, there's also decent amount of traffic from Singapore, Brazil, Indonesia, Chile, and Turkey!  How cool is that?!

Final Thoughts:

One of the things I wanted to do with this blog, was not be an 'expert'.   There are a lot of experts who have a lot to contribute, but it can be intimidating and discouraging to realize that your knowledge (e.g. electricity/DCC), skill (building, modeling, soldering), and resources are not as good as others.  The folks I mentioned above have all been inspirations and encouragement and each have given of their time with humility and patience and good material on the web or forums.   It is their example they have set that I hope to share, and will try to continue to share, with this blog.  As I explain on my 'about me' blurb, I do this N Scale stuff becuase its fun, interesting, and inspiring....not just the trains...but the connections I can make with others on a forum, through email, or this blog.  If you're not sure if you should comment or post or ask a question on a forum or on this blog, do not be!  All are welcome, and ignore the grumpy 'bad apples' (who really should consider moving out of N Scale to O Gauge or something).

What I've Learned So Far:
  • If you want to start a blog, or already have a blog, let me - and others - know!  You've got to self-promote, as 'self-serving' as that may sound, there really is no other way for people to know 'you are there' (of course, it helps if your focus is similar to the blog or forum or whatever site where you want to 'promote' yourself!) 
  • List your blog wherever you can - particularly where its most relevant
  • In light of the above, BE CAREFUL about self-promoting your blog in forum postings! It comes off as very self-serving and...tacky.  But I always feel its okay IF the information your are linking is relevant to the thread.  But DO add your url to your signature so that folks like myself can choose to find out more about you.
  • Provide an accurate and exciting description of your blog!
  • Be consistent with blogging.  I've had to discipline myself to think up and be creative about what to post (which is acutally fun for me), even during 'slow times'....I think if you don't maintain some activity on your blog, people will assume you've shut down.  The reality is, the past 6 months has been about creating a lot of buildings for my layout (and I'm sort of surprised that my site traffic has grown...perhaps there is more interest in this area than I think, but certainly not as much interest compared to locomotive reviews, layout pictures and plans, or Unitrack).  This sort of 'urban modeling' stuff only appeals to a very small segment of fellow hobbyists, which is okay, but posting about another building, etc.. can get sort of boring.  So what else can you share?  The post I wrote on "N Scale Cars" was just something I thought would be interesting and break up a series of 'building' oriented posts.   The inspiration came from a post on the Japanese forum, and it was an interesting topic for a lot of folks, and I could use my blog to share some photos and observations of my own "N Scale Cars".  
  • Use pictures...and add meaningful titles to those pictures!  Why?  First, look at the number of visitors who have come to my website through a Google Image Search....you can help Google image search by changing the 'meaningless' default coding / naming that your camera creates for your photos, with a relevant description...which could be the name of the train, the manufacturers model numbers, etc...  this really helps for people who look for pictures of things they want to learn more about!
  • Distribute your 'content'.   While not a big source of traffic for me, if you have videos, post them on YouTube, DailyMotion, and other video sites, and provide a link and description of your blog for folks who come across your video.
  • Build your own 'brand'.  Yes, you can do it.  Its all about developing a style, an easy to remember name, and being consistent with it.  It really does help!
  • Use tools like "Google Analytics" to help discover what works...in other words, what people like and want more of!  I think I made a mistake with a clever/stupid German name for my post talking about my Unitrack experience! What a dumb idea! Most people don't know what "Unitrack Obersten" means if they don't speak German! Yet, it still gets a decent amount of traffic.
  • Remember...for most of us, this is a hobby, not politics. :-)  There really aren't 'right' and 'wrongs'.  There are 'more prototypical' and 'more detailed' etc... but that is not always the goal of everyone else into N Gauge!
  • I also think its better to keep it uncluttered.  Previous or long time visitors may recall that I used to have several 'webring' ads or promotional gadgets in my sidebars.  They're all gone now.  First they really didn't bring in any users, and second, they make the website ugly, and most webrings aren't really well managed, so the next 'site' in a webring could be totally off topic.  Better to focus your energy on creating good content that search engines can 'pick up' for people really looking for it.  And yes, I don't, and won't, have ads.  Google is always pushing their 'AdSense' product on Blogger users. That's just my personal thing.
That's it! No more blogs about blogs (at least until next year!).   Finally, thanks to my wonderful wife and her encouragement, support, and patience with me through all of this!