Locomotive Roster: Nankai Rap:t 50000; MicroAce A0751

I've had this beautiful set for well over a year, but other projects, and a real lack of time for actually running trains, has prevented me from writing up my thoughts on this train.  The good news is that last year these sets were pretty rare, but MicroAce has recently re-released this, so start shopping now if you want one!

And why wouldn't you want one?  This thing is amazing.  And that amazing-ness is-for me anyway-due to the bold design the creators of this train decided to use.  I think we can all agree there is nothing else like it (even if this isn't your cup of tea)!
I was very fortunate to get the MicroAce A0751 that popped up on eBay in the limited edition wooden box set.  Absolutely beautiful!  Again, the Japanese makers have such an amazing commitment to how they market these sets it makes their products all the more desirable.  And under $200 for a six car set? That's nothing for Kato, Tomix or Microace, as a single locomotive often costs the same, or more, from my European friends.
I found the details to be adequate.  Unfortunately, it comes with Rapido couplers between the cars, which present a fairly wide gap between the cars and are very noticeable with the advances made in 'close couplers' in many sets these days. Notice the super-cool oval windows?  Awesome!
 The MicroAce F0004 'knuckle couplers' are available to replace the as-provided Rapido couplers.

 The Rapido couplers come off easily enough by squeezing two tabs on the bottom side of the bogies/trucks.

The new 'knuckle couplers' snap on easily once the Rapido's are removed.  
One thing to be very careful of are the springs, which provide electrical contact to the cars, as accidentally bending or distorting these springs in any way will lead to the kind of 'tilt train' you don't want! As you can see from the photo below, I had a bit of an accident with these springs, which I was later able to repair successfully, but better to be warned and prevent!
To access the motor car, the shells are removed with the typical gentle prying that us N-Gaugers are so used to.  The tabs to release the seating to access the motor are clearly evident and with gentle pressure come off easily.
Like all Japanese trains, the gears are plastic.  I'm not sure if this makes any difference long term, but I expect its one of the areas where Japanese makers economize a bit (the European brands typically have metal gears).
Given how busy I was at the time (and lately) I decided to 'out source' the installation of the DCC decoder and have new lighting installed for the end control cars. Again, Japanese makers haven't adopted any sort of 'plug and play' DCC ability in their trains (although Kato seems to have changed their approach to this with newer models).  DCC Train did the install for me with about a 4 week turn around.  They did a nice job and I was relieved of having to do this myself!  Alex from DCC Train even posted a nice little video of his work! Here it is:

For the motor car, Alex installed a Zimo MX620 decoder.  Below is a photo showing the smart placement towards the end of the car so its not too visible in the windows!
For the end control cars, TCS FL2 function decoders were installed. Again, a shot showing the placement of these decoders.
While I haven't given this set a lot of running time, what little time I have run it reveals a super-quiet motor! Not sure how much of that is due to the Zimo decoder or the motor, or both, in this train, but is remarkably silent!  The knuckle couplers, as described above, improve the close coupling, but not as much as I'd like.  Also, the F0004 knuckles connect by being pressed together (no springs) and bending the plastic knuckles to snap into place.  I hate 'snapping' plastic as I fear I will break it. Oh Well.

I've also installed the G0004 interior LED lighting kits.  They look good, although maybe a bit too bright! Again, need to something to address the flicker that is a notorious problem for illuminated passenger cars of all makes (another project some day!).  There's more good discussion about this set over on the JNS forum if you'd like to read more *UPDATE: Check out this great overview of the Rap:t and other bold railway design at Sumida Crossing)!


Adding Indicator Lights to Turnouts

One of the things I've wanted is a control panel that will give me an LED indicator on my control panel, and the ability to have an LED-based signal at the actual turnout (particularly for turnouts where you won't be able to see the points).  I'm apparently not alone as this seems like a fairly frequent question from others on the various forums that I visit.

One of the happy 'discoveries' I made is that there is a really easy way to add turnout indication to switches that have powered frogs.  As both my new Minitrix switches (for the yards) and my Kato Unitracks (mainline) both feature powered frogs, I was saved from doing a lot of extra wiring that would have turned out to be somewhat unnecessary.

Credit really goes to several folks on the NScale.net forum where there is a whole forum on this topic of turnouts and signals.  I was inspired to test this out as several users of Peco switches (with powered frogs) mentioned this method.

The good news it that it works great if you're using DCC!  The constant voltage to the track from DCC, the changing polarity of the frog, and the low power consumption of the LED's is a great combination for adding switch indicators that I wanted in a fairly easy manner.

First, the indicators or LED's that I am using are pre-wired red and green light indicators which feature 3 wires; a common, and a wire each for the 'red' and 'green' lights.  I expect that this wiring method will work with any 3 pole LED as long as the proper resistor is installed to the common wire (or 'lead').   And, it goes without saying, pretty much any LED you put on track power will need a resistor!

The biggest challenge was where to solder the wire to the frog.  Its imperative that you don't solder the wire anywhere the wheels or cars will run, and unfortunately the unique design of the frog leaves few options.  You might be able to solder onto the end of the inside 'rerailer' rail which shouldn't impact the performance of the cars rolling across the switch, but that still doesn't seem great (although see below).  Isn't there a better place?
In fact, there is a better place to wire to the frog with Kato's #4 switches!  The secret is to solder your common lead to the 'frog power' screw on the bottom of the switch!  Yes, this does mean you won't be able to unscrew it because all this solder will gunk up the screw, but I figure this is not something I've ever going to change anyway.
Attach the 'red' and 'green' leads to the outside rails of the switch. Add track power and...VIOLA! Switch lined for through...'green' indicator!
Flip the switch to the diverging direction and the 'red' indicator shows!
By the way, the above indicators are from a company called "Berko" which are made in England and which I picked up on my recent trip to the UK at Gaugemaster.

As mentioned above, I'm also using Minitrix switches in my yards, where I also want to have turnout indicator lights at or near the switch.  I'm also using the versions with the powered frogs (14938; 14939) otherwise this wouldn't work.

The Minitrix switches, unfortunately, don't have a convenient 'secret compartment' like the Unitrack versions, so I was reduced to good old fashioned craftiness.

The best possible choice seemed to be to solder the common lead to the very end of the inside of the 'rerailer rail' (I'm sure it has a proper name) which I accessed by drilling a very tiny hole (only large enough for 30 gauge wire).
This was a bit nerve-wracking as I wasn't entirely sure where or if this location wouldn't interfere or contact some of the other conducting surfaces of the switch.  Fortunately, its a good spot.  Although I was careful to keep as much insulation on the wire for fear of any exposed wire coming into contact with the big metal plate on the bottom of this switch.   Yeah, that wouldn't be good I imagine.
 Again, soldering leads to the outsides of both of the outside rails....
 And...switch lined for 'straight ahead'....green indicator!
 Switch lined for diverging route....red indicator!
The indicators used in the above photos with the Minitrix switches are from NJ International, and like the Berko indicators above, they are 3 wire red/green indicators.  They are meant to be inserted into the layout and sit nearly on the ground near the turnout.

This project was a huge 'victory' for me.  Again, maybe I'm just dense, but this whole scenario never really occurred to me.  Additionally, in all of my Googling for 'led switch indicators' etc.... I have never seen a solution as elegant as this (except specifically for Peco switches), although I'm sure thousands of folks are already using this technique (and there are probably dozens of brilliant people who've blogged or written about this before!) it somehow escaped me (well, not quite, as mentioned above, what little I know came from the folks who share on the various forums around the net)!  So please....I apologize if I'm overly enthusiastic about the 'discovery of the obvious'!  Of course, this method requires 'powered' frogs and DCC, but that seems to be quite common these days.

The alternative...well, it usually involves a lot of wiring with diodes, capacitors and other stuff that, while I'm quite happy to attempt, can also be more work!

I'm going to continue to experiment with this method and try some other things with these LED's (e.g. adding more distant signals with yellow indicators...or 'flashing yellow'! Whoohoo!).  Hope this post could at least help a few other folks struggling with the same problem I was!


Urban Planning at 1:160

Work continues on Quinntopia, although it often feels like one step forward, two steps back!  Case in point are my city blocks/sidewalks.  My first (and only) finished city block (shown above) was dismantled and removed. The reason for this is that this city block was done well over a year ago and now that I've got more buildings and my building skills are improving, I just wasn't happy with how this 'block' turned out.  So down it came.

I'm also trying to get at least one line of track fully operational...meaning track weathered, ballasted, wired and ready to run trains, and the best candidate is the inner loop that goes around the city (what I call the "green line").   Which meant finishing up, as much as possible, the tram line and most of the city buildings/scenery. As I started working on this, I realized that it would be impossible to do all the street markings with buildings installed, so I had to clear everything down to the streets.

While I was on that project, I realized that I didn't like my 'sidewalk color' and decided I wanted something a bit more gray instead of the yellow-ish gray I originally chose.  I also need to add new sidewalks and couldn't get a good match of the colors and I really wanted the sidewalks to not be noticeable, but just add to the attempted realism of an urban environment ( and having city blocks in different colors didn't fit this plan!).
The original sidewalk color...which looks better in the photo than it does in 'real life', but went under the spray can with Tamiya AS-11 Medium Sea Gray as the new 'sidewalk' color.
Street markings are starting to go down.  I'm going to use quite a bit of the Faller 272451 rub-on decals for most of the markings, although for dashes and solid lines I'm using Chartpak 1/32 Matte White tape.  Rub-on decals are not my favorite thing to do and I'm glad I have a few extra as I've made a few mistakes with this stuff.  The Chartpak tape is a lot easier to deal with, although it doesn't have the strongest bond, but a coat of dull-coat over the markings when I'm finished should seal everything in nicely.
Other stuff I'm working on is pretty boring...wiring, re-wiring, and figuring out the track plan into the passenger terminal.  None of which is very interesting to share!


London* Hobby Shops

Once again, I had the great pleasure to visit the UK (on business this time) and found myself with some extra time.  Of course extra time without the family means I can try to find a hobby shop!  On my past visits to London, I'd been somewhat frustrated in this regard, as their doesn't appear to be much in the way of N Gauge specialist shops in the central area of the city.

I used the ever handy internet to attempt to find a shop that at least would be a short train ride away, and I'm glad to say I found success!  I originally found a link to a shop called Bahnhof-Europa, which I discovered is part of hobby shop called the Engine Shed, which is a 'railway hobby superstore' run by a firm I'd heard of before, Gaugemaster!

However, this store is not in London, but is rather a 90 minute train ride south of London in the West Sussex area near the town of Arundal.  Conveniently, the shop is right next to a quaint little station called Ford! 

So I made it over to Victoria Station (shown above & below) and boarded a Southern Railway EMU for my 90 minute train ride south....
Not only did this little diversion give me the chance to check out some of the London area's massive rail network, but I was able to enjoy some terrific English countryside..... 
About 70 minutes into the trip, I was even able to enjoy the site of the village of Arundal where a castle gave the scenery some extra drama!
Finally, arriving at the small station of Ford,  where the two white-trimmed platforms and brick buildings evoke memories of times past for most places, but still seemingly quite relevant in this area of the UK....
While the website advertises the fact that they are 'adjacent to Ford Station', one gets to be a bit jaded about these sort of statements....how many hobby shops have you had to look really hard for, or take some out of the way turn to locate?  The great news is that there was none of this on my trek to The Engine Shed/Gaugemaster/Banhof Europa as it really is right off the station platform!  In the below photo you can see the Gaugemaster building and the hobby shop with the station just to the left....
So, how is this shop?  An excellent diversion I must say! Clean, neat, well lit and very orderly - with plenty of N Scale from the UK, the continent, and even a smattering of North American and Japanese.  Whoohoo!
The friendly staff were happy to let me snap a few shots for my blog, which of course speaks volumes about the good folks who work here!  The below shot shows the display cases of UK N Gauge items.  This was a treat for me as its an area of modeling that I've avoided given my concerns over their 1:148 N scale proportions.
The below shot is looking towards the left once you enter-with the above display cases to your back-where the "Bahnhof Europa" area of the store is located.  A nice stock of Minitrix, Fleischmann, Faller, Noch items (among others) is represented. On the right side is the expected stock of Hornby products which seems quite extensive....
A closer look at the "Bahnhof Europa" section, with racks of Preiser figures, Viessmann lights and electronics and other good things! 
After several hours of shopping (and a bit lighter in the wallet-Including my first N Gauge UK item, a Central Trains Class 150 2 car DMU!)  it was time to head back to Victoria Station!  A final shot of the Southern Railway train pulling up to Ford Station below....
The train ride back to London was more full than the one coming down (mid-morning, against the commute) but the 90 minute trip was still enjoyable!  If you have some extra time in the London area and want to find a great shop with UK and Continental N Gauge, I highly recommend this trip!  I will definitely return someday! 

*I must apologize for the title of this post as the shop is a not in any sense 'in' London.  However, if I titled this "Arundal Hobby Shops" or "Ford Hobby Shops" I would expect that most occasional travelers planning a trip to the London area won't know anything about Arundal or Ford!  Plus, since its accessible by many trains each day, I think a bit of license is okay!


TomyTec Showa Office Building

Tomytec has once again done urban N Scale modelers justice with the release of three "Showa" era buildings; a hotel, apartment, and an office building.   I ordered two of the 'office buildings' with the typical plan to combine the two for an extra-height structure.
As you can see from the above photos, combining two of the structures increases the height from 5 stories to 8 stories.  Below are photos of most of the components of the two building kits.
The below is a close up of the main section that is used to give the stock building its extra 3 floors. You will need to cut some plastic to get the bottom 3 floors of the donating building to fit cleanly on top of the receiving structures, but this is not difficult and all the cutting would be in non-visible areas.  In my photos I've yet to do this.

Also apparant in the below photo is my biggest surprise and disappointment with this structure: the painted-on windows.  Every other TomyTec building I have uses clear plastic for windows, so my expectation was that this building would follow the same formula.
Below is another close up of the 'painted' windows.  I am expecting to mill out the painted windows, at least in a few places, to give the building the interior lighting it needs! 
The below photo also shows the extra generous sidewalk height....for those folks who use the Kato/Tomix buildings together, this large sidewalk is going to present an annoying inconsistency.  Again, compared with past TomyTec or Tomix structures, this is really unusual.  Something else that doesn't look right to me is the different heights of the doors for the main lobby and the elevator section.  This may be prototypical, but it just doesn't look that great to me.  I may add a canopy or something over the shorter door to hide some of this.
Another close-up....
The box:
So my last couple of comments were a little negative and I want to make sure I offset that with some positives....its a really neat looking building that, honestly, looking at the top photos in context of other structures, really stands out nicely!  The 'silver metal' sides of the buildings look pretty convincing to me and the general modern style is always desirable!  Other than some minor issues, the painted windows are the only real drawback, however, for those folks who don't light their buildings, I understand this may even be a benefit!   Also, the price on this (ignoring the shipping costs from Japan) is really good.  Your not paying for the level of quality you'd expect from the new Kato structures, so you shouldn't expect it.  Overall, these are a good value and I'm looking forward one day to getting these lit up and detailed for permanent installation on the layout!