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    The Puget Sound Model Railroad in photos


    2015 - 12.04

    Some major model railroad inspiration here from the Puget Sound Model Railroad at the Washington State History Museum, in Tacoma, WA.  I took these photos when I was visiting Seattle this summer.  Unfortunately the glass keeps you pretty far back from a lot of the cool action but I think I got some decent shots.  For a guy who models the Milwaukee Road and Northern Pacific, this layout is like a fantasyland.  Check it out:

    Puget Sound Model Railroad

    Photographing the Milwaukee Road right-of-way in Washington state


    2015 - 07.12

    On June 17th 2015, a nearly cloudless day, I set out for a bike ride of the former Milwaukee Road railway between Easton and Cedar Falls in Washington state.  It is now the Iron Horse state park AKA the John Wayne trail.  This album shows the best of the many photos I took along the way, documenting the area for the purposes of reconstructing it via model railroading.  Hence there is a heavy emphasis on tunnels and bridges, rocks, and small details that may only be of interest to railroad fans.  There are also several large panoramas which you’ll need to download to view full size.  I may use these to build a photo backdrop.  There are 217 photos and I highly recommend viewing them on flickr if you want to enlarge anything.  There’s a slideshow below which gives a preview but here is the full link:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/microcosmologist/sets/72157655363495878/

    Photographs of the model contest from the Milwaukee Road Historical Association 2015 conference in Yakima


    2015 - 07.09

    As the title suggests, I recently attended the Milwaukee Road Historical Association 2015 conference in Yakima Washington.  I’m really glad I did this, since it was centered on the region where my model railroad is located and there were lots of former railroad employees, historians, and fellow modelers in attendance.

    As part of the conference, the MRHA held a model contest to which anyone could submit as many entries as they liked.  I brought along several models and there were lots of excellent submissions.  Naturally I had my camera along so I took lots of photos of all the models that were there.

    The winner of the contest was Mr. Noel Holley, author of the book “The Milwaukee Electrics” which is widely regarded as the authoritative volume on the railroad’s electrified operations.  He brought a superbly impressive model of the Hyak substation modeled in HO scale.  To accompany the substation he had brought along a 2-3 foot section of track with his custom built catenary wire above it.  We had an excellent conversation about how he had built his catenary (since I will be following in his footsteps to build my own) and he was kind enough to let me pose the two Creek series observation sleepers on the electrified track for some photos.  He had brought along a 1952 maroon-stripe bipolar which is posed with the Coffee Creek and I had brought my E-1 in the experimental Olympian Hiawatha scheme, which is posed with the Gold Creek.  I saved the best photos until the end in this slideshow.  Click the title of the image if you want to go to flickr and view it in full resolution.  Enjoy!:

    More models from the MRHA conference


    2015 - 06.27

    Okay, I’ve got a few more photos worth sharing that show the models that I had been working on to take along to the 2015 Milwaukee Road Historical Association 2015 conference in Yakima.  As seen previously, here is Bipolar E1 in the experimental Olympian Hiawatha paint scheme, this time from a different angle:

    Bipolar E1 in the experimental 1948 Olympian Hiawatha scheme

    And here’s his buddy, the Skytop sleeper/observation car #16 “Gold Creek” in the 1948 paint scheme with gold lettering, additional maroon band and gray roof.  I did a lot of work on this car: decals, dull coats, gloss coats, added stainless fluting to the rear, etched stainless lettering for “Olympian Hiawatha”, painted grabirons, interior partition, window glazing with Lee Filters #730 Liberty Green, and lightly weathered the trucks, which I swapped in from a Walthers car for better looks.

    IMG_7458 v2

    When running around Seattle’s Union Station on the unelectrified tracks, the fellow below would do the pulling: an NW2 switcher.  It’s a custom painted (not by me) Kato shell on a Broadway Limited SW2 frame which has sound and DCC.

    IMG_7426 v2

    Below we have some trailers for TOFC service (Trailer on Flat Car), as they would have looked in 1980, right at the end of the Milwaukee.  I did all decaling with Microscale decals, dull coat, light dirt weathering, and black diesel exhaust.

    IMG_7415 v2

    And one more close-up of Gold Creek.  Check out that stainless lettering.  Sharp!
    IMG_7465 v2

    All aboard for Yakima


    2015 - 06.15

    This week I’m heading to Yakima Washington to take part in the 2015 Milwaukee Road Historical Association conference, which will be focused on the very area where my model railroad is set!  As part of the convention there is a modeling competition, so I decided to polish up a few models and be a part of it.  Here is probably my favorite, Bipolar E1 in the experimental Olympian Hiawatha scheme.  Weathered the trucks with Tamiya desert yellow, black weathering chalk to fill in surface details then wiped off, floquil hi-gloss over the whole body, added wires to the bells, white flags to denote a passenger extra.  I’ll have more photos down the line…..

    Bipolar E1 in the experimental Olympian Hiawatha paint scheme, circa 1948

    Electric Trumpet pedalboard snapshot: 5/22/15


    2015 - 05.31

    Here’s a few more photos to document the transitory pedalboard setup of the month. I’ve continued borrowing pedals from the fantastic service PedalGenie.com and this month I’m enjoying three new ones: 1. The SolidGold FX Apollo Phaser 2. The SolidGold FX Funkzilla envelope filter and 3. The Electro Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo. Here’s an overall shot of the board as she appeared for the 5/15/15 and 5/22/15 sessions:

    The board: 5-22-15 edition
    A few observations about each:

    1. The SolidGold FX Apollo Phaser is a decent-to-good phaser packed with some totally amazing features. What I mean by that is, purely as a phaser, I still prefer the 1970s Maestro Phaser also seen in the overall photo, BUT the Apollo has some super creative ways of applying the phase that I’ve never seen on another phaser. First off, you can connect an expression pedal and use it to control the position of the phase combination. They describe it as an interesting take on the wah, but since a phaser is totally different than an envelope I’m going to say that the similarity ends with the fact that both are controlled by your foot. This was the feature that drew me to the pedal and I will say that it delivered, conceptually, on what I envisioned when I read the description. In use, the expression control seems to be subtle in the context of a full band. Turning up the resonance of the filter makes it cut a bit harder, and it is quite captivating to mess around with. Matter of fact I have held onto this one from PedalGenie for two months to give myself more time to see what plays out with this expression pedal control.

    SolidGoldFX Apollo Phaser

    It took me a while to figure it out, but the expression pedal control is best used slowly, to create a textural metamorphosis rather than quickly, like you’d “waka-chicka” on a wah.  With that approach a ‘bigger’ sound is yielded, one which allows more subtlety to come out.  Surprisingly, in the context of improvisation the feature I find myself reaching for more than the expression pedal control is the randomizer function, which bounces the phase position all over whimsically. This, combined with the tap tempo control allows you to create a rhythmic texture that sounds similar to a step filter. I really like that effect.  The randomizer and the expression control both do a lot to make this pedal something special. I know I am going to miss this one a lot when it’s gone.

    2. The SolidGold FX Funkzilla Envelope Filter–with a name like that, how could it be bad?! It might be the coolest looking pedal I’ve ever seen with the Godzilla graphic and the sparkly purple paint job. It also has expression pedal input although I couldn’t seem to make it do much that felt interesting. Last month I had tried the Voodoo Labs Wahzoo pedal which is a wah, step filter, and autowah all in one. Regretfully the attack range of the autowah on that pedal was simply out of range for what my trumpet produces, and it literally did nothing. So the Funkzilla is the autowah sound I was wishing for! When you play a very fast phrase you can feel it getting slightly behind on its attack but for the most part it keeps up well even through brisk phrases. This sound is a lot of fun.

    The first session I Funkzilla’d (YES!) I had the ‘Zil after the wah pedal which I think was a mistake. On the second one I used it before the wah, which allows me to slowly sculpt the tone without losing the Funkzilla filter attack. So this guy belongs early in the signal chain I think.

    The SolidGoldFX FUNKZILLA.

    One thing I despise about both of these SolidGold FX pedals is the footswitches they use are hard as a rock and click very loudly when you engage them. Even if I was a guitarist and these were on the floor, I think I’d still dislike that. In our recordings you can hear them click on and off loud and clear. Why anyone would prefer this type of a switch, I do not understand. I’m very biased since most of my pedals reside at waist height and I actuate them with my hands, but were I to buy either of these pedals, I think I would open them up and rip out these awful switches to replace them with soft ones.

    3. The Electro Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo is the most complicated tremolo I’ve ever seen. Complexity is a double edged sword of course, and I feel like I’m stumbling through hallways in the vast mansion of what it can truly do. Right away the coolest feature seems to be the fact that this tremolo offers a few rhythmic patterns besides a constant on/off cycle. Those patterns can also be adjusted to have a different attack with the waveform style knob, swapping from a hard-edged square wave to a smoother triangle wave, to the smoothest sine wave setting. There is a ton of variety in here. I’m blown away by the possibilities that it offers but I’m also left wondering how many people ever touch the bottom on this thing. One dangerous aspect of a very complicated pedal is when you’re in the heat of a cool moment and you reach for it, expecting, you know, a tremolo–but instead it’s still set to that weird-ass setting from earlier in the jam that you were playing around with and was cool at the time but is totally out of place now. The Eventide Pitch Factor has burned me a few times in the same way. Awesome pedals, and they do so much, but they demand your attention to really control them.

    The Electro-Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo

    4. The TC Electronic Flashback Delay–I got this pedal as a loaner from PedalGenie and I liked it so much that I had to actually buy one to keep full time. This now makes 3 (yes, three) delay pedals on the board, which is getting a little bit ridiculous, but wow, it has such a tremendously big soundstage when used in stereo that I was instantly hooked to it. Vince (our guitarist) commented on a portion of our jam “that’s quite a trumpetscape”… any pedal that can coin a new word deserves consideration as a permanent member, I think.  Besides it’s giant stereo field which immediately makes it presence known, the Flashback also has a host of varied sounds which each have their own appeal.  I’ve been digging the LoFi mode and the Ping Pong most of all, but the mod has quite a pleasing modulation sound as well.  And the Tone Print setting lets you add in pretty much anything else you can think of using the very comprehensive editor which runs on your PC and transfers new settings over via USB.  That’s a brilliant idea.

    So full-time TrumpetScape™ Technology is now on hand and life is good. Having these extra pedals around is a lot of fun and stimulating.

    TC Electronic Flashback stereo delay modeler.  With my gaffer tape snake proudly carrying all signals in the background.

    Legit 70’s Firepower: The Marantz HD-770s


    2015 - 04.17

    Marantz HD-770 top-end drivers and L-pad array

    As posted about previously, I had encouraged my drummer to get the Marantz HD-440 speakers, since I have very much enjoyed owning a pair of their big brothers, the HD-770s. The “High Definition Series” speakers have walnut veneer cabinets and were built sometime in the 70s. In the Marantz 25th anniversary catalog (dated 1978) they are for sale as the medium tier product underneath the “Design Series”. For a mid-tier product though, these are extremely nice. And as an aside, that 25th anniversary catalog is a feast for the eyes if you’re into this kind of thing… here is a link to it at HiFiEngine.  You’ll need an account to view it but it is easy to create one… it’s worth the effort to check out that super sweet catalog.

    It’s clear they put some thought into the design of these units. The most attention-grabbing feature for me was the 1″ dome driver, which is labeled as a tweeter. I’d call that a misnomer though, since the overall frequency response is given as 33-22kHz +/- 3dB @ 125W of “program material”. Crossover Frequencies are 750, 2300, 5000Hz so that 1-inch “tweeter” is handling 2.3k-5kHz.  I have always been a big fan of dome midranges for their lifelike sound, especially on anything of an earthy, organic variety like acoustic guitar, piano, or exposed vocals. Dome mids do a great job of putting those things “in the room” with you. Interestingly the HD-770 has a stated efficiency of 90dB which is very high for a speaker depending on a 12″ woofer to handle the low end, since the woofer is almost always the limiting factor on efficiency and high efficiency woofers are relatively rare in larger sizes.

    marantz HD series lineup... HD-770s are 2nd from the left

    From the factory HD series units were supplied with a “Vari-Q damping acoustical plug” which you could insert to tune the port if you wanted to change the bass response. The trade-off was more definition in the 50-75Hz range, at the expense of anything below. My speakers were bought secondhand off Craigslist and did not come with this accessory. I see some on ebay with the mention that the original foam is long gone… a running theme. Like the HD-440s, the woofer foam on the HD-770s also crumbles away with time. In my case the previous owner swapped out the original woofer for a replacement driver instead of re-foaming it. This can easily be spotted by the convex woofer dustcap; the original was concave. Given the apparent attention that the Marantz engineers paid to driver selection, I wish he had re-foamed the original. If an opportunity ever presents itself, I would like to acquire the original driver and restore these to their intended stock configuration, although the replacement is doing just fine for the time being.  After searching a while on eBay that seems like a pipe dream though, since a pair in need of re-foaming recently sold for $227.50.  That says something though–one, the original drivers were good and two, the market of people out there enthusiastic about keeping theirs in prime condition remains hot.  My set is also missing the metal ring which mounts around the largest woofer, which is too bad because it does look cool.

    The HD-770s have a three-section resistor (aka L-pad) control panel on the front which allows you to individually adjust the volume of the super tweeter, dome midrange and cone mid-bass drivers. When I built the green speakers for my brother I definitely learned that L-pads are a tremendous asset to any speaker design. They really allow you to tweak the “voicing” of the sound to whatever suits your liking. It can’t be over-emphasized just how much of an impact this has on the sound. Put it this way: never again would I built another set of speakers without L-pads.

    These units have a really funky grille, which has brown fabric which comes outward at the center. I can’t decide if they look cooler with out without the grille on, so I keep the one closer to the door equipped with the grille to protect it from passing foot traffic and the one near the window exposed so I can enjoy the neat appearance of the drivers. Hopefully these units will last me a long time. They are certainly ready to pump out some serious dB’s but still have a soft touch for nuance at the same time. That’s a real nice combination.

    no grille... ... or yes grille?

    New Infrared Shooting, March 2015


    2015 - 04.12

    Happy to report that I’ve finally gotten out and done some more shooting on my Infrared-converted Canon XTi.  I don’t use this camera near enough so when we planned a camping trip, I knew this was my chance to get some great captures out in nature, where the IR SLR really shines.  Here’s a gallery of my favorites.  Some are color-shifted to appear blue instead of red, a few I left red and one is black’n’white.  Enjoy:

     

    Subtle Improvements to the Home Studio


    2015 - 04.10

    I’ve got a cheap set of MXL 990 and 991 microphones that I’ve been using as room mics and overhead drum mics for all my sessions and they’ve been doing well considering how cheap they are.  A while back I saw on the web that there’s a community of people who are into modifying these mics to punch above their weight.  The simplest mod is a capacitor replacement; three ceramic caps which are part of the audio signal path are swapped out for film caps.  I know my way around a soldering iron so this was a slam dunk for $7 a mic.  A few before and after pics are below with audio results on the way later….

    IMG_7197 BLOGIFIED

    Shown above is the PCB with the three new caps sitting beside it, and there they are installed in the image below, noted by the green arrows.  Not the world’s most beautiful solder joints but they’ll get the job done.

    IMG_7200 BLOGIFIED

    Pacifc Coast Extension: Progress Pics Pt.4


    2015 - 02.18

    Time for an update on the Pacific Coast Extension model railroad progress! When last we left off, I had just completed the upper deck benchwork and subroadbed (i.e. flat plywood) over the staging. As you can see in the photos, I’ve now completed the entire upper deck benchwork and subroadbed, which, like many things in this hobby, is a simple sentence to say but a huge amount of work to actually do.

    I’ve also completed the inclined subroadbed which leads from the lower deck to the upper, although all the track is not yet in place there. A small section remains where three tracks of singled ended staging branch off. I added this area since I do enjoy running very long trains–long enough that some of them need to be broken up to fit in the double ended staging below. The wiring is installed for all new track mentioned in here as well. I did miss my self-imposed deadline of completing all mainline trackwork by the end of 2014 although since I only missed it by a couple weeks, I’m going to call that a win. Such deadlines are created to motivate oneself, and in that regard it was a success.

    the mountain loop (furthest "right" in these images)

    An autoreverser has been installed on the newly-completed mountain loop (shown above), although I’ve been struggling to get it to work correctly with the snap-coil switch motors which will allow a train to automatically run endless loops on the upper deck. Right now I’m thinking something just isn’t wired correctly and I need to spend the time to figure that out.

    The incline between decks never exceeded 4.5% as measured with my Micro Mark precision level, an invaluable tool. However it does appear quite steep visually and I know certain trains are definitely going to require helpers or multiple trips to make it up the grade between levels. That’s alright though, I’m okay with that. Real life worked the same way. Now if only MTH would hurry up and make some Boxcab motors.  Shown below is the large curve which will eventually be built into the Mine Creek trestle, and the incline between decks.  The plexiglass is there because that ledge is open to the living room, probably like 20 feet below!  This photo is looking just to the right of the one above.

    Mine Creek and deck connection

    To continue looking to the left of the photo above, here is another view, showing how the laypout wraps around the desk with a window behind it:

    IMG_7131 v2

    Speaking of the trains themselves, there are a few great new additions to the railroad. Foremost of these would be a Milwaukee Road creek series observation car, something available only in brass although fortunately it has been produced several times by different makers in the last several decades. I believe mine comes from the 1980s although I’m not sure. It has already been sent off for a custom paint job to match the Walthers cars, and I intended to further customize it by building an interior and adding lighting.

    Another beaut I’m delighted to have around is an MTH Little Joe in the orange and black freight scheme. Although my railroad is set in Washington state, there is a large amount of scenic overlap between Milwaukee’s Coast Division where the Bipolars ruled, and their Rocky Mountain division where the Joes ruled electric operations. That’s as far as I intend to ‘bend the rules’ at least at this point. Besides, any self-resepecting Milwaukee electrics modeler has got to have a Joe or three around; they’re debatably the most iconic of all Milwaukee Electrics, lasting from the 50s right up to the end.  You can see E73 in the picture below, which shows the staging area:

    IMG_7151 v2

    A few interesting things I’ve learned: Micro Engineering flextrack is great, especially if you use Peco track fixing pins along the edges of the ties, as opposed to large Atlas spikes on the center of the ties. This hides the spikes quite well and makes the track look more realistic. However it does hide the spikes so well you may accidentally do some damage trying to reposition the track later, by overlooking that hidden extra spike you put on the far side of the rail which is nearly impossible to see. ME flextrack also has a very annoying way of shortening the far end when bent even slightly–always check BOTH ends of the track before you cut any rail. And I do mean always.

    I’ve also ordered the supplies to commence with rock building on a large scale, which is a stage of construction I’ve LONG been itching to reach. I will have more details on that stage later this year.