Locomotive Roster: Kato K2882; DSB Class My NOHAB

An addition from Denmark joins the fleet, courtesy of a Japanese manufacturer of an American based locomotive built in Sweden and purchased by me from a dealer in Germany.   How's that for globalism?
A couple of things I should mention that I didn't cover or realize when I created the above video review.  First, while the locomotive is commonly referred to as a "NOHAB", that is actually the name of the Swedish firm Nydqvist och Holm AB that licensed the GM F-series technology (nice site on this interesting topic here).  Well, if the locomotive is not called a "NOHAB", what is it called?  I believe the proper (though never used) designation is AA16.  I'm pretty sure that if I called this an "AA16" no one would know what I am referring to, but I think that's a pretty interesting bit of trivia.
Another interesting 'error' regarding the "NOHAB", is that the Swedish firm only made this unit for Norway, Denmark, and Hungary.  The similar version of this locomotive created for the SNCB in Belgium (and the CFL in Luxembourg) was actually created under a seperate license by manufacturer Anglo-Franco-Belge (AFB).  So these are not, technically, "NOHABs".

A bit off topic, is that getting a clear understanding of the SNCB "NOHAB" type locomotives is a bit confusing.  They were originally given the class numbers of 202 and 203 and later Class 53 and 52.  But I found investigating these classes in the Belgian fleet fairly confusing as many of the images or locomotives in these classes do not share the distinctive 'bulldog' or F-series faces, but rather the angular (which is sadly, not represented in N Scale) style that is distinctive of a lot of the older Belgian diesels.  It does look like it might just be the faces that are different, but I don't know for sure.

The prototype is interesting as well.  These locomotives are thought of highly with European rail fans, and seem to have similar respect from rail fans as the US F-series locomotives are in the states.  However, many of these locomotives appear to still be in revenue operation, although most of that is from 'second-hand' purchases from Kosovo and other countries.
Back to the Kato model.  Its everything you would expect from Kato.  Smooth running, good details and castings, sharp printing and paint.  Very solid.  Easily converted to DCC with an NEM 651 plug.

One warning however, is that the buffers are in fairly loosely and I've already lost one (something else I failed to mention in the video).

My only 'problem' with it is the black seemed so shiny that I had to do something I've rarely done before and applied a bit of weathering and some matte spray paint.  Below is a photo of the locomotive 'before....
And then 'after':
For my tastes, its a big improvement (although now the bogies are a bit too shiny! LOL! Something to work on at a later point!)!  I'm a big fan of black locomotives, and the sharp black and red colors of this DSB scheme look very industrial and bold!

I rate the locomotive highly on my scorecard in the review; a 4.75 out of 5, which I think is appropriate.  I am very pleased to see Kato produce this locomotive to modern standards.  Minitrix created this locomotive back in the 1970's (and until recently was still marketing them, although they were clearly not up to today's standards) and the old East German firm of Piko also produced the same locomotive back in the 70's or maybe the 60's.


Glædelig jul / Joyeux Noël / Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Quinntopia!  
Warmest wishes for this holiday to all my friends, readers, and their families!

The above photo is my relatively new Kato DSB Nohab on a diorama I quickly built using foamcore, flour, trees plucked from the layout, and some leftover Kato track.  Unlike last year's Christmas photo, I decided to try and brave the outdoors for this mini-diorama rather than attempting to build a fake backdrop, and I have to say, the result is a way more cool!  Of course, I had to wait for a break in the rain to get this done, fortunately, we seem to have gotten a rain reprieve today!

Below is another shot - have to include a passenger train!- of an SNCF Fret locomotive pulling a few Corail coaches.

With that...all I can say is Merry Christmas and I hope that you are blessed with many toys this holiday and that you have an awesome year!


Locomotive Roster: Minitrix 12560; DB BR 701

Another review of a part of my fleet that has received scant attention.  This is a review of the Minitrix 12560 Duetsche Bundesbahn BR 701!
As form generally follows function for most of our train-related interests (regardless of country of origin) it seemed obvious that this little railcar was a cantenary maintenance vehicle, and that its similarity to the DB's VT 98 'rail bus' was not coincidental as it was based on that model. 
It is however one of those locomotives with a pantograph that you can run without wires overhead as it is powered by two diesel motors! So the Prototype Police can't get me on this one! 
I also discovered (thanks to Wikipedia) is that there appears to be a comfortable area for crews to relax and clean up inside the locomotive (which makes sense since there is clearly no need for passenger seating!).
The max speed of the prototype is 90 kmh, or about 55 mph.  So not a high speed train by any means, and the model also reflects this same desire at keeping its speed to a low limit.
The model itself is a limited addition that was produced by Minitrix as a limited edition in 2009 or 2010.  I've actually had it for a couple of years.  It runs well, looks good (except for the damage to the running boards on the top - painfully evident to me in every photo!) but I tend to prefer to run longer trains when I'm running stuff, so this little maintenance loco gets very little action (as well it should, since I have zero cantenary on Quinntopia --- just what exactly do these folks think is going on!).
I have to admit I do love the nice, wooden box it came in, but I also suspect that the rather tight packaging may have something to do with the damage to the running boards along the roof.  I take full responsibility that it was likely my own clumsiness that may have forced the loco in the wrong way at one point, creating the damage, as I'm certain I did not receive it this way.
In operation, it runs as you expect any locomotive with only two axles to receive track current;  which is to say, make sure your track is clean!  Its a nice smooth runner, but the lack of activity this locomotive gets did require me to do a bit of 'running in' to get it to operate smoothly again.  In general, typical smooth running Minitrix motors.   Details are quite nice.  I go into more detail in my video, but its really a great looking locomotive as I hope these photos illustrate.
A colorful and interesting looking addition to the fleet, but one which I clearly need to figure out a good plan to fix the running boards and take better care in packing away in the future!  Well, the one thing you can always be sure of here in Quinntopia is that we are quite transparent about our mistakes and failures! 

That's it for this one, more reviews on the way (I hope)!  As always, thanks for reading and for the amazing patience and tenacity of those brave enough to take on the 'capcha' challenge and write a comment!


Vollmer Buildings

After the long process of building the Luetke Office Tower, I've since taken on a few smaller projects.  Vollmer makes some of the nicest, traditional buildings and (like many of us) I've had a few that have been sitting unopened in their boxes for some time.  So it seemed like a fun project to take these on. 

The first structure I built was the Vollmer 7650 "Coffee House", which I built pretty much exactly as designed in the kit, with the usual exceptions of adding lighting and custom painting all of the pieces to make them a bit more unique than usual.
The second structure is the 7654 "Public Records Office".   With this building I decided to take advantage of the fact that there are 4 really nicely done walls and yet only one side (maybe two) will ever be visible on the layout.
Below you can see the three sections (in the kit, this would be the front and two sides) that will make up the 'front', with the 'back wall' making up a side wall.   Since I'm using all four of the provided walls to make up just two of the new walls, I had to create a new side and back wall sections, which you can see to the right and above the four kit walls in the below.
Their are a couple of challenges. A relatively easy one is getting the walls to line up in such a way so that it looks like a real building front and not like the 'sides' that they really are.  This was pretty simple.  The harder task was to re-create the roof-line, which has several different angles and gables that were a challenge to get correct.  I used the original roof section to create templates for the roof angles (you can see this above on the side wall styrene section I created), but cut the roof section into separate pieces to get the gables.
Given that this building will be lit with LED strips, the interior walls were giving the customary coat of black paint to eliminate all the translucency of the plastic, and some balsa wood strips were used to provide structural support as well as a mounting base for the LED strips.
A few ground floor details (which includes a new styrene ground floor to match the new buildings foot print) were added.  Faily minimal; some patterned paper for background walls, some Kibri picnic benches for tables/chairs, and some cheap Chinese N scale figures to add a bit of dimension.
Obviously, if you look close enough, it will be apparent that I used the side walls to make the front of the building a lot longer, but if you didn't know better, this trick is convincing enough! The below photo shows the 'extended' Public Records office building and the traditional coffee house.
Another view of the structures from the opposite end. 
Not evident in the photo is what I ended up doing with the roof.  As you can tell from the above photos, the roof structure was created with styrene, but this is far too smooth and lacks texture even if painted to work well.  I decided to try my hand at using the relatively cheap, downloadable roof tile patterns from Scalescenes.  When I first applied the paper roof tiles (making several prints and many cuts to try and match the odd angles of the gables and roof!) it did appear a bit too 'papery' for me, but I weathered them up a bit with some weathering powder and matte spray which seemed to improve the appearance to acceptable levels.  I am probably still more of a plastic guy, but I think this technique works well enough for me now (NOTE: One of the challenges I have with any paper structure is that my layout is in a garage, so humidity is more of a challenge than it would be in a normal house.  Time will tell how this will impact the paper).

I do have to admit that building this Vollmer structures is really enjoyable...the scale of these projects is not so large that it can seem overwhelming, but the detail and character of these kits are a lot of fun to put together!


The sad tale of the Ille de France on Quinntopia

This is a post that I've been thinking about writing for a while, but have hesitating for reasons which will become a bit more clear.  While I have diverse modelling interests, its no surprise that the SNCF and France are one of my favorites.   Its been a good couple of years for modellers of N Gauge and French railways, so Piko's announcement a while back of the BB25600 in the Ille de Fance region livery was exciting news to me as this was another new livery not yet produced would be available.  The Ille de France region is (to the best of my knowledge) a regional division of the French network with the red, white and blue livery.  If you've ever travelled to Paris, this livery is ubiquitous and cannot be missed! 

The biggest challenge with this locomotive choice was the lack of appropriate rolling stock to accompany it.  Sometime around the announcement of the BB25600 from Piko, a small artisan out of Italy announced production of VB2N coaches in various liveries (apparantely this coaching stock not only runs in France, but in Italy as well).  This is obviously the kind of news us modellers like to hear!

So far, so good, right?

Initially Eurotrains SL released only the 'standard coaches' which I purchased through eBay and paid through PayPal.  I received my two coaches (which are on the expensive side at about 80 Euro's each!) last May and eagerly awaited the release of the announced driving trailer coach as well as a 'transition' coach that sits next to the locomotive. More on that in a minute.

A Quick Review of the Coaches:
The coaches from Eurotrains SL came in a nice box, well packaged, with a certificate allegedly identifying which numbered models in the limited run that I recieved.

Detail is not great - particularly considering the cost.  Its probably satisfactory, but as you can tell (particularly in larger photos) the decals and small printing is not up to standards we get from the main manufacturers today.  I can live with this as my expectations were for a model that looked right, not necessarily a model to view in photos at 10x their original size!
More problematic is the couplers.  I haven't worked out how to optimize the installed couplers, but they don't maintain their connection with the Piko lok and don's seem to be the right height and/or aligned correctly.  The coupler housing is welded to the brass/metal chassis, so its not something that is a quick fox, but can be solved.

The Scam:
But here's the bigger problem.  As you can see in the above photo, this train without its driving trailer doesn't look right at all.  In communication with Eurotrains SL last May, I was told that the driving trailers were complete (along with the accompany 'transition' coaches) and happily sent off $300+ via PayPal (235 Euro) in anticipation of getting these two coaches and having something that resembles a complete train.

June passed: Nothing.  Okay, the Italian post office isn't noted for their efficiency and, having experience with ordering from Europe, 4-6 weeks is not uncommon.

July arrived: I received an email informing me that an Earthquake in Italy had apparently disrupted everything - particularly the postal service.  Okay, a bit strange, but hey, its Italy.  Maybe those Mayans were right.

August arrived: I receive a strange email informing me that the proprietor of Eurotrains SL was going to be on holiday for the month. "Be patient" his email explained.  Okay. Weird.  But I can chalk this up to a medieval interpretation of customer service and wait another month to get my items.

By September, believing the promises I've received, I expected to see a package from Italy arrive.  I also haven been monitoring mes amis français over on the French N scale forum who were also increasingly skeptical of the delay and questionable explanations and seemingly empty promises of their Eurotrains SL delivery.

On September 19th, it seemed like the wait was over when I recieved an email with an apparant tracking number from Eurotrains SL indicating that the package was on its way.

The problem is this tracking number didn't seem to work on the Italian postal site.  And it wasn't just me as it turns out, as the so-called 'tracking numbers' were not working for any of the other customers who received one on the French forum (similar issues reported by other modellers on Italian forums).

At this point, communication ceased.  And with each passing day, hope declines that I'll ever see my money or a complete Ille de France rake of coaches behind my little electric locomotive.

The only comfort in all of this is that misery loves company and my frustration and anger at this rip-off is something I share with my fellow modellers in Europe and elsewhere.   Writing up this experience is essentially my acknowledgement that its over.  I was also inspired and encouraged by a post by Marco on Scala eNne on this very same topic, which has apparently been removed.

There's a mystery here too...Eurotrains SL had been producing and delivery products for some time.  But then this summer, after the 'earthquake' and the the 'holiday' this artisan who apparently has spent a lot of time and effort in creating his models all of sudden decides to deceive his customers and run off with the cash.  Very strange.  It makes me wonder what the real story is.

So, what I have left is a two-coach IDF (Ille de France) train.  Not very impressive, but until some real manufacturer (hopefully) sees the market and produces appropriate coaches, I'm a bit frustrated with my options (recent price drops on this particular model also indicate that the law of supply and demand is in place).  The reason I delayed writing about this experience is that I am perhaps too nice and wanted to give Eurotrains a chance to fulfill their responsibilities before saying anything 'publicly' that could harm their business. Well, the time limit is up on that, so here's my story!
Thus ends the sad story of the Ille de France banlieue expresse that was once planned for Quinntopia.
Is there a moral to this story? Maybe.  Sadly, this will probably be the last time I deal with an artisan directly (through a reputable dealer is possible).  But I won't give up, and hope one day to find meaningful employment for my little electric and its, unfortunately, shortened train.


Update on Quinntopia

Okay, I've been absent from posting for awhile!  As I mentioned on my last post back in early November, I was having some hard drive issues with my iMac, so it was time to do some maintenance and replacement work to get things back in order!

I've also been very busy with personal activities and work, so time for working on the layout - much less blogging about it! - has not been available!  I have some time off for Christmas that I hope to catch up on a few projects...but....

I'm also hitting a bit of a creative wall.  Perhaps its the fact that cold weather makes the garage (and therefore the modelling hobby) less attractive than usual, although this was not a barrier in years past.  I've also been less satisfied lately with my track plan. Anyone familiar with my layout will know that its been basically additions and extensions onto the original single hollow-core door layout (which was essentially a couple of loops), thus "Quinntopia V1" and "V2" etc...

Unfortunately, I find I'm not particularly thrilled with what I have now.  This seemingly common phenomenon that once a layout gets close to completion there's a tendancy to want to 'start over'!  What's with that? For me, it might be that part of the joy of the hobby is in the creation process....the 'hunt is greater than the kill' or whatever that expression is.

So I've been at a stand still with the layout and need to think about what to do.  I hope to spend some time over the holidays not only getting up to speed on other modelling activitiies on this blog (and getting caught up on some of my friends blogs and various forums) but also coming up with an idea for a potentially new layout!


Video Montage #2 for 2012

As I try to optimize my hard drive to help my aging iMac out, I found I had a lot of video not yet used or shown, so I decided to create another 'montage' video of the layout.

Very hard to find any sort of theme in this video, mostly just some favorite layout shots.   Some of the shots go back several months before the station area or various areas of scenery were complete.

Also, have to give a huge plug for the excellent music from a band called "Methodic Doubt Music".  The track title is "Hero's Blood".  They seem to specialize in a genre of music called 'trailer music' which - not surprisingly - works very well for short little train videos!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy!


Locomotive Roster: Arnold 2471; SNCF BB 25201

Last Christmas I was happy to receive this dashing looking locomotive from the SNCF; an Arnold 2471  class BB 25200 number 25201.   I had spotted one of these a while back and there were three things that I really liked about it:

  • Despite the fact that its an older production model, details and graphics are very nice
  • I liked the white/orange/black paint scheme
  • I love the curved cab window styling on these French electrics!

The Arnold Model:
The Arnold model I have (#2471) was cataloged sometime between 1989 and 1994 and according to the database at Spurweite-N.  Given the time frame, this is obviously an analog model and will require conversion to operate on a DCC layout like mine!  Spurweite-N also lists a another version of this model (#82471) that allegedly was sold with a digital decoder installed. I find this fairly surprising (the available data for this supposedly digital version are the sames as my analog version.  While I don't dispute there was something like DCC around during the early 1990's I am a bit skeptical that Arnold would have sold an already digitized version.  It might be that the catalog dates for the digital version are incorrect and they reflect the early 2000's and not the '90's, which would be more believable).

The below photo shows the fairly impressive detail (in my opinion) for a model produced in the early '90's!
Don't confuse Arnold's model of the BB 25200 with their much earlier model of another and slightly similar BB 9200, which comes from the 1970's era and represents what I think would be considered rather crude detail, low quality graphics, and rudimentary mechanisms.  I'm basing this off of photographic comparisons which make the visual comparison fairly obvious, and I would expect the mechanical mechanisms to be fairly crude and representative of the first generation of N Scale models.

The Prototype:
The BB 25200 class was, and is, a bi-current locomotive able to operate on France's two main standards for electrical locomotives (1.5kv DC and 24kv AC - which is a legacy of France's pre-nationlization private railway standards before 1938).

These locomotives were produced for the SNCF between 1965 and 1975 and, from what I can tell, would pull both passenger and freight trains as necessary.

This electric locomotive, which I tend to think of as a 'box cab' given my American orientation, has some of the distinctive styling that I love about the SNCF - mainly those super-cool, styling curved window elements.  It reminds me of the sort of decorative flourishes' that were applied to cars, buildings, and all sorts of other engineered elements back in the 'old days'.
I'm also intrigued by the livery (another reason I enjoy the SNCF so much....despite being a state-run railway, the diversity of different liveries is pretty amazing, and most of them are pretty amazing and attractive!) which is described as the "Le Mans" livery.  I can't tell if Arnold did a good job or replicating this livery, the few photos I've found of prototypes in this scheme seem close, but something is not quite right.  I'm not too crazy about the precise shade, and being somewhat ignorant of the prototype helps to appreciate the model for what it is.  It is interesting, I can't tell if the base color is white, or more of a light grey? If it's light grey, then its very reminiscent of the current 'concrete' scheme that is frequently seen (grey with organge stripes).  So perhaps this livery was something of a predeccesor?

According to Wikipedia, many of these locomotives operated (and still do?) in the Rhone-Alpes region of France, which borders Switzerland and Italy, where the largest city is Lyon.
Perhaps not surprisingly, these locomotives have put in their time and many of them are being replaced by newer EMU's, Prima's and so forth.  Amazingly to me is that the last production of these was in 1975 and here, 35 years later, even a few are still in operation!

Converting to DCC:
As I mentioned above, despite the good quality of the casting and printing, this locomotive was produced before the idea of digital really took hold, so converting to DCC is somthing you'll have to do yourself (or pay someone, or find a friend!).

I was able to accomplish this using a tutorial on the French N Scale Forum, but as the original instructions are in French, I decide I would pass on the good knowledge I learned from this site and member "Oliv CTR" (Merci!) and contribute my own photos of the process.

One of the first things I learned from the French forum, is that there is not a lot of room for the decoder, so the thinnest decoder you can find is advised.  I used an Ulenbrock 73400 which is only 2.4mm thick and will fit nicely within the enclosure.
Removing the body is a little unusual, as you have to remove a screw from the bottom of the chassis, which releases the two plastic tank sections which then allow you to remove the shell.  Trying the remove the shell without remove the screw will probably wreck your locomotive.
Once the shell is off, you will see the PCB board, which is where most of soldering and digitizing operation will take place.  Remove the two screws which hold the PCB board to the chassis to work on the decoder install.  Once those two screws are removed, you can slide the PCB board off the motor contacts and metal base.
 Again, space is tight, so in order to add the decoder, something must be removed.  Following the instructions from "Oliv CTR" on the N Forum, I chose the same relatively 'blank' area as he did.  I don't really know if there are other options, but this location works well.  In the below photo, you can see some pencil lines where I planned my cuts.
A razor saw is a really nice tool for making sharp cuts in the PCB board.  I scored the bottom area of the cut-out area with a knife and was able to snap away the unneeded section of PCB.
One thing I've never done before (at least in the very few DCC conversions I've done myself) is to shorten up the wires prior to install.  My typical inclination is to assume that there will be enough room to hide excess wires away after everything is installed, plus I want the safety margin of extra wire...just in case!   Well with this loco there is no extra space, so I decided to shorten my wires before installation to get as little slack in the final install as possible!
The below photo shows the PCB board with the cut-out section for the decoder, as well as the PCB copper strip connection you will need to severe to the light and the diodes and capacitors that need to be removed.
With everything  but the white wire soldered, below is where the various wires get soldered.  While it may seem somewhat complex, being able to do all your wiring right on the PCB itself make this a fairly easy decoder install.
I chose not to replace the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs with LED's.  If you wanted to do that you would also need to find space for the resistors as well.

Putting the loco on the track, I'm always a little relieved that anything works that I have put a soldering iron to!  She runs nicely, if a bit noisely, which I attribute to a 20+ year old mechanism!

On the down side, the bulbs are extremely dim and the connections could probably use some cleaning as the light doesn't stay on consistently when in DCC mode.  The lights only work in one direction as well...hmmm....something to consider.


Luetke Office City Tower Build Step # 10


Wrapping everything up in this final post on the office tower!  As I mentioned in the last post, everything was ready to add the upper 11 story section to the bottom 15 story section.  A couple of things need to happen in this step:
  • Do several test fits to ensure that the top section will sit vertical on the bottom section (indeed; I needed to add a bit of shimming material to address a small 'tilt')
  • Solder connections from the brass rods between each section (insulate, etc...)
  • Ensure that the windows are aligned between the two sections.
And below is the first look of the 99% complete structure on my workbench!
 I was anxious to get this structure onto the layout and fill this long awaited spot:
A 'daytime view shows the surrounding area a bit better: 

But I think it looks much better at 'nighttime':
There's a small open space next to the Office Tower that I filled with one of my very first building modification attempts.  This little Tomytec structure has been sitting in storage waiting to find an opportunity to get back onto the layout for a while now, and I just sort of felt a small, older structure might fit the area well.
 While I'm somewhat unhappy with how some of the windows/exterior wall sections turned out.  They are not too noticeably, so I have to look past what are obvious flaws to me and try to appreciate the building overall, which I think turned out okay. 

The interior lighting and accessorizing turned out really well.  The LED strips I used have the perfect luminosity and they feel like real office lights.  The desks and others pieces I added to the lit floors seem convincing enough from a distance.
The rooftop lounge is something I took some liberties with.  The original instructions indicate that this top of the building glass section actually contains two floors, but I decided to skip the additional floor and just go with really high ceilings in this lounge. 

I had another error with the small columns that go around the glass walls just on the inside of the lounge as one of them developed a lean after the roof and other pieces were already applied.  Its too much work (and might cause more damage) to try and fix it, so it'll be yet another flaw I'll have to try and ignore.
For the lounge interior, I did a couple of things.  I created some scratch-built lounge tables and chairs from styrene, painted and installed these, and added some customers.  I also attached some yellow (is there any other kind?) capton tape over the LED's to better distinguish the lounge from the office areas below.  And as you can see in the below photo, some art work for the walls:
And finally, for the surrounding area, the original base piece got cut back even more as it was still too large and wasn't working with the design of the block where I installed it.  I also added some foliage to add a touch of landscaping around the building.
That's it! 

Here is the complete list of the posts/steps for this building:
Step 0 (Preparations)