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Good day all:

The following post covers the construction and operation details of the 300 Loft catenary system I have been working on since 2015.

NOTE 1:  Be warned this is a long post.  Hopefully someone will enjoy it and get some new ideas.

NOTE 2: This is a 'living' document of sorts.  As I have time, I will post edits, changes and / or progress here as it happens.

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1.  THE LAYOUT & TRACK PLAN

My 'niche' in this hobby is the design and implementation of robust catenary systems that will power the trains.  The third rail would only be to power coaches.  I suppose this was due in part to growing up by the old Pennsy main and catching AEM7s from time to time during the 90s, as well as the close proximity of the Port Road and old A&S branch, with a rich history of electric operation.

The first such system I built modeled Pennsy catenary, with my designs for the support structure.  That layout began as a single track O27 floor layout, which morphed into a double track electrified 'wall-hugger' system.  The support designs were very robust but were not that elegant or parts-efficient.  Additionally, soldering copper blips between the aux and trolley wire over the whole layout took forever.  Some difficult life circumstances forced me to abandon model railroading for about 3 years.  That system is only a memory.  Sadly, I took no pictures, but I did take a few crude videos, which I posted on my YouTube page.

Today I live in a semi-detached with a loft area.  It is not huge, but was big enough to allow for a decent O scale layout, assuming efficient use of the space.  In November of 2015, the itch to build bit hard.  After some negotiation with my wife, construction began.  I ended up using much of the hardware from the previous layout, which saved me a lot of money, given my tight financial situation.

Below is the loft area prior to construction.  I was in the design phase, and had recently acquired an Atlas O AEM7 (my first O scale piece since 2009), the testing of which contributed to the busyness seen around the desk and workbench.

The benchwork started with a duck-under, (seen below in the foreground), and proceeded around the room.  I used 3/4" common board from Home Depot, and all the benchwork support screws go into the wall studs.  The track plan was completed in March of 2016.



I use Atlas track, which I found inexpensively and in great condition on eBay and from Barry's Trains in Manheim, PA around when he closed.  Note the wall under the layout to the right (behind the TV), is the boundary edge of the loft, over which is a long fall to the first floor.  As such, I installed the 'guardrail' benchwork along the edge of the system.  The ruling curve is O63, which is a compromise.  I desired to use O72 (as the wye turnouts are) or even O81, but that left too much of the system in a 'curved' state.  I settled on O63 as a happy medium.

In the shot below, the wall corner that is closest to the staging track needed to be modified in order to provide appropriate spacing between it and the tracks.  We are looking towards the staging track eastern limit and where it diverges from the mainline.

Below, we are looking toward the staging track southwest limit and where it rejoins the mainline.

The yard below stretches to the staircase, and is roughly 8ft or so long.

I think this is the best track plan I could come up with given my space constraints.  Despite the smaller size, I think it still allows for some some decent operation with one or two operators.  One can run a mainline passenger or freight, while staging something else or moving cars around the yard / staging area.  After some run time, one train can then be yarded, and the other sent on its way.

The other more mundane use of the system is to relax on the couch in the loft area and listen to the trains run for extended periods of time.  After a brutal day at work, it is intensely therapeutic and worth all the effort.

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2.  THE CATENARY SYSTEM

Catenary construction began April of 2016.  My typical method is to model the wire and immediate catenary supports against a prototype, and design the extended catenary support myself.  Materials had to be acquired locally, and all were except for the wire, which I purchased as a 125ft spool of 18g from Small Parts.  I also wanted this system to be a bit more elegant, consistent and parts efficient than the previous Pennsy system was.

Since I wanted to model some European electric operation in addition to Amtrak, I decided on the newer style catenary Amtrak installed above New Haven, which has a Euro feel to it.  It's also a little easier and less time-consuming to fabricate, given there is no aux wire.  The image below is a good shot of the catenary style I am modelling.

Before I erected any cat poles, I had to determine where they would be installed, which obviously was critical to good wire placement and thus pantograph travel.  As the prototype image above shows, this style of catenary uses tensioned straight sections between curves, which is great for even pantograph wear, but more challenging to properly place the cat poles.  This challenge was overcome with sewing thread and some small nails.  The wire had to stay within the gauge, so I installed a nail at every O63 curve joint, which kept the sewing thread inside the gauge.

In the the straight runs, the thread was pulled toward the inside rail.  (Below)

The immediate cat supports were modeled after the prototype above.  After some trial and error, I arrived at the plan below.

I then used a piece of scrap board and dremeled out a jig that would allow me to solder the separate pieces together.  The red line was a rough estimate of how the bottom most piece would be shaped, where it directly supports the trolley wire.

The supports are made from brass rod at Lowe's.  After more trial and error, I got in a good rhythm of bending the brass just right as to fit the jig.  The first prototype cat pole is below.

While this was a good start, there is an obvious weakness inherent in this design, which is where the bottom arm is soldered.  When I installed a test section of wire under full tension, some of these single joints holding the bottom arm began to fail after only a few days.  This necessitated a minor change in the design, shown below, along side a failed first generation support arm.

It was then fitted to a cat pole.

Of course, the the top part needed trimmed to match the bottom, but the double-solder joint of this support has yet to fail anywhere in the system.  The pole is 3/8" threaded rod from Lowe's.  Aluminum grounding lugs and nylon spacers hold the support in place, all available at Lowe's.  There is a lock washer between the nuts, between the aluminum lugs.  This gives me solid support, complete adjustability along any axis for fine adjustments in wire position and height, and most importantly, no cat pole is hot.

There is also a prototypical catenary support that is 'reversed', often found in curves and tight spots.  The following is a good example, toward the top-left corner.

The jig will do either support.

Once I cut and bent the brass to fit, I fastened it down and soldered it up.  This technique was used for both support types.  While a bit busy, this arrangement (or something similar) allowed me to make fine adjustments before soldering, and to get a good joint.  I used a 100w Weller pencil iron.

These also need some trimming, so the top joint matches where the bottom piece ends.  The other end needs trimmed as well, where the support mounts to the cat pole.

While this design was generally effective, a weakness appeared when the reversed support was used on the outside of a curve.

When wire is under tension using this support, the tension force pulls somewhat down and inward.  As can be seen above, this negative force vector defeats the the upper-most joint over time.  (NOTE:  it is quite a startling 'bang' when one of those joints gave way).  Rather than redesigning the entire support, it became easier to simply to use this support on the inside of a curve, such that the force pulls somewhat up and inward.  This positive force vector actually causes the support to compress, adding somewhat to its strength.

Once the cat poles for a given section were up, it was time to hang wire.  The sequence was to hang trolley wire first, then aux wire, and finally the support catenary between the two.  For the mainline loop, there needed to be a way to tension the wire without 'cheating' by using poles at the end of each straight shot and soldering un-tensioned curved wire between them.  That's not prototypical and looks silly.  Naturally, this wasn't a problem in the yard or staging track, as they all end with bumpers, such that a pole could be placed after the bumper and still be reasonably prototypical.  This debacle led to the use of 'pull-off points'.  This was were one section of catenary would 'pull off' to a tensioner pole, and another section would 'pull on ' from a tensioner pole, meet in the middle, and continue to the next section with no gap in the wire.  There were 8 such pull-off points, 2 per section.  See the diagram below.

Wire is tensioned using wall-drillers and beefy #10 screws.  Drill 2 holes in the threaded rod, one for the trolley wire and one for the messenger wire, (roughly 1.5" apart).  Install the screws and wall-driller, leaving about a 1/2" gap between it and the pole to allow me the slack for applying tension.  Dremel a hole in the wall-driller, thread the wire and solder.  To ensure some elegance and efficient use of supplies, tensioner poles doubled as cat support poles for the mainline.  It looks tacky to have poles standing right next to each other for different purposes.  While it was tricky to get everything aligned properly, this arrangement ended up being a very effective design.  See below.

The spot where pulled-off wire sections met and diverged to their respective tensioner poles was in the middle of straight runs, as the diagram above showed.  I expected this to be a lot harder to implement than it was.  I simply dremeled a deeper notch in the cat support, and both wires slipped in.

For the shot below, note the top-right and bottom-left wires are the same, being pulled off out of frame to the left. The top-left and bottom right are the same wire, being pulled off out of frame to the right.

Below is the same wire-section meet from track level looking up.  Naturally, diverging wire was pulled upward toward their respective tensioner poles, such that the pantograph sees a nice smooth transition from one section to the next.

Below, the same wire-section meeting point is in the foreground, while one of it's respective tensioner poles is in the background prior to the curve.  Once tension is applied from both ends of a wire section by tightening the wall-drillers, the wire is soldered to the cat pole supports.

I exert a fairly high amount of tension on the wire.  Hence, I always used safety glasses when tensioning any wire.  Below is an example of a tensioned wire outside the yard.  All poles are bolted to the benchwork, through a metal mending plate at the base of each pole.  Tensioner poles or those at a bumper are re-enforced through a second metal plate below the benchwork.  The image below is also a good view of the screw / wall-driller tensioning assembly.

With all these logistics solved, the cat poles for a given section were planned, distributed and erected.

At times, there were poles and other related support structure all over the place.

Once poles were erected for a given section, I could actually start stringing wire.  As I mentioned above, the sequence was always to hang / tension trolley wire first, then hang / tension messenger wire, then install the support catenary in between.  Any section is considered 'safe' once all three of these components are in place.  That way, any break would be controlled by the surrounding wire it's soldered to.

Once one end of wire for a given section is fastened to a wall-driller...

...it was time to break out the spool and hang wire around the section in question.

Wire height is roughly 4.75" from rail head to trolley wire.  This was a bit higher or lower in places to simulate stations or other areas where wire height varied from the norm.  Heights were measured with a ruler, or the pirated scrap of an end table, cut to size.

The support catenary was easy to fabricate, but the biggest pain in the neck of the entire system.  First, I too a pair of tweezers and stuck a few piece of rubber on the ends, procured from a failed hard drive.  For clamping wire, this was a great way to dampen vibrations and allow me to work with everything moving around.

Pieces of support catenary are the same 18g wire in 1-2" lengths, depending on where in the system you are.  Use pliers to bend a curl in the top, drape it over the messenger wire, and clamp the bottom to the trolley wire.

Solder it up, trim the bottom, and use a dremel with a stone to smooth the bottom for pantograph travel.  Smoothing is critical to wire travel, and also the noisiest, most bothersome task on the system.  I still do some smoothing from time to time, as the pantographs tell me.

Once a wire section was done, it needed to be mechanically certified for height and position with a pantograph.  This was accomplished with a stripped down Atlas AEM7, fitted with a stock pantograph (back), and a scratch-built pantograph (front), and 2 green LEDs for electrical tests.  The section was then electrically certified by checking each pole with a DMM to ensure electrical isolation from the wire.

The yard and staging tracks presented the major challenge of joining wires over turnouts.  The solution was to use some brass i-beams from HO catenary I had in the spare parts collection.

Cut a piece about 3/4" long, and dremel both ends smooth in an upward fashion.

Drill some very small holes and run wire into them.

Hang the whole thing up.  Note the wire in place is behind, the wire to be joined is in front.  Both wires clamped into the joint very nicely.

Finally, solder the assembly and trim any excess.

The yard entrance below was one of the more complicated areas to wire.    There is a "double-duty" pole, where one support is on the staging track (to the left) and one in the yard throat, (to the right)...

...and then the 'cornerstone' pole of the yard.  It needed to be supported by a turnbuckle to keep it straight.  This pole is the endpoint for all wires in the yard.

Below is a full view of the yard area, looking west.  The mainline is the inner-most track and the staging track is adjacent to it.

The final major construction hurdle was to join the turnouts that link the mainline to the staging track, which are on separate electrical circuits.  The solution to that was a bit more parts-intensive than I had hoped, but it lent to a very sturdy structure and complete operational success.  To start, I had to mount a pole in the 'middle of nowhere'.  Given the large structure to come, I used 1/2" threaded rod for the cat pole.

Lay out the hardware, with the pole lined up with the center of the turnout.  This is the basis of the turnout support structure.  Note the beginnings of a wire-section meeting point on the same pole, off the mainline.

Assemble the hardware, with two half poles pointing in opposite directions, such that the wire will overlap, but stay electrically separate.

Install a support brass piece and wall-driller tensioner on each side.

Finish the wiring on the mainline, adjacent to this turnout and branch a wire off the mainline toward the turnout structure.  It took 3 tries to get the spacing correct so the pantograph didn't slip off.

Below, success.

Below is the completed turnout structure, from track level looking up.  The wire pulls off on each side, and stays electrically separate.  It's also a seamless transition for the pantograph.  Ensure the wall-drillers' threading is above the wire plane!

Below is the same, also including the wire-section meet and diverge point, as mentioned previously.  This entire assembly is supported by the single 1/2" pole.  Since everything is bigger on this pole, (1/2" pole, aluminum lugs, bolts, etc), the catenary support didn't quite fit properly.  As can be seen, I had to use some additional elbow grease to make it fit.

Below, a similar design was used at the other mainline-staging track junction, near the southwest limit of the system.

Below is the same junction, as seen from above.

Below is the same junction, from track level, looking southeast.  Sorry for the blown-out image.

The completed catenary system can be seen below.  It's quite a change from the first images with only 'bare' track.

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3.  THE TRAINS, LOCOMOTIVES & PANTOGRAPHS

At long last, it was time to test trains and actually make the system work.

My favorite trains have always been the electric-powered Amtrak trains of the 80s and 90s.  The paint schemes then were much better.  It's nice to see a 'new' phase 3 paint scheme making a comeback today.  Call me backward, but the Amtrak 'Chevron' logo looked the best on the old Amfleet 1s.  The AEM7 is my #1 locomotive, followed by the E60x, of which I am patiently waiting for a decent model to arrive.  The GG1s were rather before my time.  I appreciate them, but don't have a burning desire to run them.

I have one of the new MTH AEM7s, and a string of Phase 1 decorated MTH Amfleets.  I didn't even realize MTH made Amfleets in Phase 1 paint, until I happened upon them while browsing Western Depot's website and promptly grabbed up the only set they had.  They have the simulated aluminum finish that the AEM7 has, with the added bonus of people figures inside.

I am a stickler for details, and I am aware of some deficiencies with this train.  The AEM7s didn't have ditch lights when Phase 1 painted Amfleets were around.  The blue paint on both models is too dark.  MTH Amfleets are not quite to scale. Finally, the AEM7 body numbers are too skinny a font, (the latter of which is the subject of another post).  But, given the overall look of both models, the sounds and functions of the new AEM7, these few deficiencies are forgivable.  This is the coolest engine I have ever owned, hands down.  I will shortly post some videos of this train in action.

MTH pantographs are known to be troublesome, but the ones on the AEM7 are well-sprung and of relatively good detail.  However, the pantograph head isn't right, and in any case, too light-duty for use with catenary.  Therefore, scratch-built pantograph heads were required.

I started by stripping the paint and cutting the ends off the existing pantograph head.  I then made two new pantograph strips, using K&S Engineering brass bars (#81024), just about the width of O gauge track.  I used pliers and the outside curve of a Tupperware container to shape them as seen below.  The strips are not completely straight as the original Faiveley DS-11 pantographs were, but a slightly bowed strip head makes for better travel along the wire, which is more important to me.  Most European locomotives have slightly bowed pantograph strips.

Next, I used a piece of dowel wood and a push-pin to position the new pantograph head pieces.  I used the old head to know how to space the supports.  This is a tricky and time-consuming step, to get a pantograph head to look like this.  Pieces move around very easily.  A good dose of patience and Aleve are required when building these heads.

Solder it up.  I used a 100w Weller to get the job done right, and quickly.

Next, balance the pantograph on the new head, and use another small dowel and 2 push-pins to hold the whole thing still.

Solder the new head to the old one, then dremel the heads to get any residual flux remains off.

With both pantographs done...

...mount them back on the motor.  I had to make some adjustments so they would collapse on the roof a bit more cleanly.

All pantographs were well-lubricated with silver conductive grease on the head and joints.

Test the motor.  Look ma, no rollers.

Finally, I used an MTH Railking MP54 coach as a catenary test / maintenance car.  The pantographs are from a Japanese brass model, and work great as they are without modification.  The interior is lit, and the rollers on the bottom can transfer overhead power to the 3rd rail, making it a 'HEP generator' of sorts for any coaches that might run.  While this isn't really necessary (or practical), I took satisfaction in knowing that all parts of the train were powered by the overhead wire.

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4.  SYSTEM CONTROL & DCS IMPLEMENTATION

The 'final' step is command control.  Referring to the image below, note the back plane where the white cable modem and black WLAN router is, under the curve of the layout.  The DCS TIU and AIU (sitting on the benchwork above), will mount beside them, vertically.  I use a current Revision 'L' TIU, running DCS v5.0.  The black box on the workbench in the foreground is where the power supply, electrical control circuitry and turnout control (via DCS or manually) will be housed.

The control circuitry consists of a few beefy Hammond transformers, (19VAC at 10.5A), a DC power supply (for the LEDs and relay coils), protection devices (MOVs and fuses), other toggle switches and various indication LEDs.  Center-off toggle switches for each turnout allow the user to select which turnouts are controlled by DCS, which turnouts are controlled manually, or which turnouts are off.  I use capacitive discharge circuits and latching relays to actually fire the turnouts.  There is no turnout 'memory' built in, but for a small layout with only 7 turnouts that can easily be eyeballed, I didn't stress over that.  There will be indication of the 'last' turnout status via LEDs.  The user can turn sections of catenary on or off via LED indicated toggle switches.  There is also provision for the insertion of a user-provided transformer for regular 3rd rail operation, DCS or conventional, for visiting locomotives.

The control box is not yet built, as I have been busy testing trains under the wire, but it has been started at least.  The above design for control is still changing some as I test the system and come up with more efficient circuitry.

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For now, I am at the point of building the control system, and doing shakedown runs of trains at speed under the wire.  While this is 'only' a model system, I can attest to the fact that it has all the problems of the real system.  Alignment frustrations, contemptible pantographs, the occasional busted support and numerous lacerations, abrasions and stains.  However, I have had no accidents or lost pantographs as yet.  In any case, I immensely enjoy building systems like this, as well as conquering the challenges in design and repair as they arise.

If you've read this far, THANK YOU! I hope someone found it an enjoyable read and perhaps provoked some new ideas.  Any comments, criticism, questions or whatever are welcome.

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Last edited by Pantenary
Original Post

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 I agree, great writing, design and Photos! " Dan said ; Most impressive !   You have certainly put alot of engineering skill and practical skills into your system.  Are you sure you didn't design the real thing ???  You should be very proud and pleased with your work.  Just for old timers sake, get at least one GG1.....LOL'

>>>raises a glass with sir Mitch! (ill bring over my GG1 oldie but goodie!)

 

I have designed several cat. systems.  They're hard to build because the scale sized metals are too weak so you resort to larger unscaled metal that looks too clunky.  Using my 3D printer I revised my Pitt-Mark system with additional parts to make it look better. 

Your system is very close to the look and feel of an actual cat. system but it's big and the metal rods are over-scaled.  Honestly it may be the only way to do it.

 

 

Gentlemen:

Thank you for the comments.  For all of you GG1 fans, I can do the shortened versions! 

Alan:  You are correct in the scaling issue.  The wire and immediate cat supports are close to scale, but the rest of it clearly isn't.  That is a compromise I make, based on the purpose of the system.  I'm more interested in mimicking the design, implementation of the real thing than getting the scaling details spot-on.  Still, you are correct, and especially the structure over the electrically-isolated turnouts came out bigger than I had hoped.  Even though it's 'complete', I still make upgrades and changes as I think of new methods.   Do you have any pictures of yours online anywhere?  I'm always interested in seeing other ways of doing this.

I do enjoy writing, but my downfall is endless edits.  I added a few pictures of the support wiring and re-worded a few things.  My OCD doesn't permit me to ignore mistakes that I find!

Thanks again.

Great post!  The ingenuity of your system is quite impressive as is the workmanship.  A Williams scale GG1 will operate on as little as 0-42 curves so you may consider getting road number 4935 and installing DCC in it.  With replaced pantographs, it would be a much better model.  4935 in PRR DGLE was among the last of the GG1s to operate for Amtrak and saw some service for New Jersey transit in 1982 on lease after Amtrak stopped running theirs.

Off course the choice to avoid the GG1 based on your modeling period is completely understandable.  I have an Atlas AEM7 and a NJT ALP44 and they are both wonderful models even if my AEM7 needs a run through the Wilmington Shops for a major overhaul. 

With your modeling skills, you could do justice to a new 3D printed O scale E60.  I don't remember the site, but there are available for $85.00 and are designed to run on a MTH U30C chassis.  Lot of prep and assembly is required, but with your skills it wouldn't be a difficult project.

 

Sometimes the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the members here amazes me.  This is one of those times.  Very nice indeed.  

As far as actual scale, well there are always compromises.  My favorite scale to think about is weight.  For example the PRR S2 weighed in at nearly 1,000,000 lbs.  At 1/48 scale that is still in excess of 20,000 lbs.

Beautiful work!!!

Tony

The reason for the scale is that the primary view I think should be the trains. Then as you look further you see the Cat. system as a background structure like the track. The Cat. is a secondary feature.

It's hard to do because the cat. materials at scale are too slender to withstand the upward pressure from a pantograph while being tensioned laterally. Then the vertical rods need to stayed to maintain their verticality ( not really a word). 

So to minimize the forces a Marklin cat. wire truss is use for the carrier and power wire truss and a Pittman pole with crossbuck is used for the vertical support of the wire truss.

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Last edited by AlanRail

Good afternoon all:

Thank you all for the compliments.  I do this stuff because I greatly enjoy it, but it's even more fun to share it with others.

Jonathan -- As I read your post, I remembered that the Williams Gs would do tighter curves, and in fact I had eyed up the 4800 in Conrail blue some time ago.  I probably wouldn't get one for myself, but I'd try to run one if someone had it.  My only concern would be likelihood of the pantograph sliding out from under the wire as as the nose swings through a curve.  It might be OK with the O63 curves, but I think I'd be surprised.  Also, you see Amtrak and Swiss SBB Cargo together above, so I'm never opposed to running anything that has a pantograph and would fit, even if the eras (or locations in this case) don't match.  The E60 sounds like a great idea.  I seem to remember seeing that shell on eBay at one point.  I think I have to get some other things done before I jump into a totally new project!    And what is wrong with your AEM7 that it needs such an overhaul?

Alan -- Interesting pictures.  Did you do that in a CAD program?  I understand your point about the trains being of primary focus.  In my case, I would say that the trains and the catenary share said focus, and that's the way I designed it.  Many folks run trains, but not many power them with overhead wire.  It's an oddity of sorts, kind of unique, and an interesting talking point.  Now, if I had to actually model catenary to scale, I'd probably use Sommerfeldt, maybe with some Marklin components.  But, as you correctly state, its not near robust enough to handle the kind of traffic I would throw at it.  It's hard enough to maintain this system, much less the delicate scale stuff.

I actually made a number of repairs today as a result of trying to make some videos last night.  Wire was too high over the staging track bumpers.  I eliminated 3 insulated joints, which resulted in having to redo a tensioner because the wall-driller ran out of 'tensioning' room, and the wire still needed more tightening.  Now the rear automatic pantograph on the TRAXX F140 doesn't raise all the way for some reason.  There were also a few spots that needed more dremel smoothing, as they partially flipped the AEM7 pantograph at low speed.  A tensioning pole was missing 2 base plate screws.  (???) 

It's an odd dichotomy of fun and frustration.  Rarely can I make a repair on the line without having to fix something related to it.

Last edited by Pantenary
Pantenary posted:

Dan -- Check this video out from my old layout.  I had the old Lionel GG1, the Penn Central with the goofball number.  Dumb as I was then, I mounted the pantograph in the middle of the engine so it would work under the O27 catenary.  I'm ashamed, forgive my sin! 

I figured someone would lease me one at some point.  *hint hint* 

I didn't notice the pantograph being center mounted until you pointed it out.  Just the fact that you got it to work on such tight curves is worth noting.  Your center mounted pantograph is not nearly the sin as was Tyco's GG1 with two outward mounted six wheels power trucks !!!  Now THAT was a sin !

gg1tyco

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Nate,

In the time between me posting my original post and your response, I bought one of the shells.  eBay has them for $65.00 and here is a link to the manufacturer's website.  It will be a long term project for me and I have to decide whether or not to go New Jersey Transit or Amtrak.  Ideally I'd like one of each.  I have an SD60 Chassis which also works even if the trucks have the wrong side frames that I was going to sell anyway.

https://www.bigdawgoriginals.c...shell-o-scale-trains

One item to note is that this is the E60MA, which represents the remanufactured version post 1986-1988.  I've always wanted a scale version and have a kitbashed nearly scale Williams version I found for about $25 a number of years ago, but this one is more accurate and much less work to complete than the shell I have. 

As for the GG1 - You may be correct, I have issues on 0-72 curves with the pantograph nearly slipping off the trolley wire and I simply have the less than ideal RailKing system.  That will be replaced when my 2 rail layout becomes a reality perhaps sometime in my lifetime.

My AEM7 just has been run nearly to death.  The screw fell out for the front coupler which I'll convert to a Kadee anyway to start.  I also believe I have a broken linkage in the mechanism, but like you with so many projects it's not high on the priority list.  I have lots of Amtrak engines, however not many electrics in O scale beyond my fleet of GG1s.

Last edited by GG1 4877
Dan Padova posted:
Pantenary posted:

Dan -- Check this video out from my old layout.  I had the old Lionel GG1, the Penn Central with the goofball number.  Dumb as I was then, I mounted the pantograph in the middle of the engine so it would work under the O27 catenary.  I'm ashamed, forgive my sin! 

I figured someone would lease me one at some point.  *hint hint* 

I didn't notice the pantograph being center mounted until you pointed it out.  Just the fact that you got it to work on such tight curves is worth noting.  Your center mounted pantograph is not nearly the sin as was Tyco's GG1 with two outward mounted six wheels power trucks !!!  Now THAT was a sin !

gg1tyco

Dan -- Holy crow, that thing is hideous.  Someone either didn't do their homework, hated their job, or was just a 'troll'. 

GG1 4877 posted:

Nate,

In the time between me posting my original post and your response, I bought one of the shells.  eBay has them for $65.00 and here is a link to the manufacturer's website.  It will be a long term project for me and I have to decide whether or not to go New Jersey Transit or Amtrak.  Ideally I'd like one of each.  I have an SD60 Chassis which also works even if the trucks have the wrong side frames that I was going to sell anyway.

https://www.bigdawgoriginals.c...shell-o-scale-trains

One item to note is that this is the E60MA, which represents the remanufactured version post 1986-1988.  I've always wanted a scale version and have a kitbashed nearly scale Williams version I found for about $25 a number of years ago, but this one is more accurate and much less work to complete than the shell I have. 

As for the GG1 - You may be correct, I have issues on 0-72 curves with the pantograph nearly slipping off the trolley wire and I simply have the less than ideal RailKing system.  That will be replaced when my 2 rail layout becomes a reality perhaps sometime in my lifetime.

My AEM7 just has been run nearly to death.  The screw fell out for the front coupler which I'll convert to a Kadee anyway to start.  I also believe I have a broken linkage in the mechanism, but like you with so many projects it's not high on the priority list.  I have lots of Amtrak engines, however not many electrics in O scale beyond my fleet of GG1s.

Hi Jonathan:

That shell is what I saw.  Now you got me thinking.  The pantograph from an MTH E44 is a reasonable match...and most of the other details shouldn't be hard to find.  I'd need to find some decent decals; there aren't that many good ones in Amtrak.  

Have you run your AEM7 off the catenary?  I have plenty of spare parts for Atlas AEM7s.  If you need something, let me know.

Dan Padova posted:
Pantenary posted:

Dan -- Check this video out from my old layout.  I had the old Lionel GG1, the Penn Central with the goofball number.  Dumb as I was then, I mounted the pantograph in the middle of the engine so it would work under the O27 catenary.  I'm ashamed, forgive my sin! 

I figured someone would lease me one at some point.  *hint hint* 

I didn't notice the pantograph being center mounted until you pointed it out.  Just the fact that you got it to work on such tight curves is worth noting.  Your center mounted pantograph is not nearly the sin as was Tyco's GG1 with two outward mounted six wheels power trucks !!!  Now THAT was a sin !

gg1tyco

I have this GG1 purely for collectors purposes.  This was towards the end of Tyco production and they used the same trucks for their C636, E7 and GG1.  It's one of my over 40 in HO scale.  Kind of the Pokeman thing my kids are into, "Have to catch them all."

Pantenary posted:

Hi Jonathan:

That shell is what I saw.  Now you got me thinking.  The pantograph from an MTH E44 is a reasonable match...and most of the other details shouldn't be hard to find.  I'd need to find some decent decals; there aren't that many good ones in Amtrak.  

Have you run your AEM7 off the catenary?  I have plenty of spare parts for Atlas AEM7s.  If you need something, let me know.

The E44 Pantograph is a good match.  I'd like to see if MTH has any in parts.  The rest could be fabricated.  I have some reasonably good photos to work with.  As for decals, I would likely make my own as difficult as they are to apply.  I used Testors decal paper in both a clear background and a white one.  This is how I got my 40th Anniversary Phase Heritage Genesis a few years before Bachmann came out with theirs.  A fun little project:

IMGP4903IMGP4904

As for the AEM7 - I'll have to dig it out and let you know what I need.  Need to get it apart first.  Thanks for the offer!

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GG1 4877 posted:
Pantenary posted:

Hi Jonathan:

That shell is what I saw.  Now you got me thinking.  The pantograph from an MTH E44 is a reasonable match...and most of the other details shouldn't be hard to find.  I'd need to find some decent decals; there aren't that many good ones in Amtrak.  

Have you run your AEM7 off the catenary?  I have plenty of spare parts for Atlas AEM7s.  If you need something, let me know.

The E44 Pantograph is a good match.  I'd like to see if MTH has any in parts.  The rest could be fabricated.  I have some reasonably good photos to work with.  As for decals, I would likely make my own as difficult as they are to apply.  I used Testors decal paper in both a clear background and a white one.  This is how I got my 40th Anniversary Phase Heritage Genesis a few years before Bachmann came out with theirs.  A fun little project:

IMGP4903IMGP4904

As for the AEM7 - I'll have to dig it out and let you know what I need.  Need to get it apart first.  Thanks for the offer!

Hi Jonathan:

Those decals came out great.  Where did you get the 'Amtrak' font?  I might be tempted to make my own, but I have not looked into all the details to do them, and in any case, the font has to be perfect or its worthless to me.  You got a very nice finish on that model as well.

Yes, the E60 would need a lot of detailing .  I don't think it would be too hard to find.  I actually got a decent roof shot a long time ago.

brwebster posted:

Wonderful documentation on your methods of execution, Nate.  I hear you about the editing.  I think my head would have exploded composing such an indepth review.   Those custom made pans are absolutely fantastic.

As for this....well.........EVERYONE knows a real GG1 is numbered 48XX or 49XX.

Bruce

Hi Bruce:

Thanks, I appreciate the complement from a detailed modeler such as yourself.  It's good to see the catenary modellers represented here!

I'm rather embarrassed to admit it took me a day or two to write it, and a week and a half to edit it.  Writing, like many things technical, sneers at me..."bet you can't find all my spelling mistakes...you missed a grammatical error...you should organize me better..."    This past Friday I finally had enough and just posted it.  Then proceeded to edit it repeatedly since.  

I agree on the GG1 numbering.  That's why I didn't keep the one Lionel non-scale Gs I had a long time ago...goofball numbers that reflect the item SKU as I recall.  But even as a collectors item... *shudder*

Last edited by Pantenary

Nate,

That's a great photo and I just saved it.

I have done graphics work and model consulting for 3rd Rail for 7 years.  I have built a library of graphics for that company as well for myself.  Amtrak is the "Helvetica" font. The other graphics I developed off of photos in 2010.  I work in AutoCAD and Photoshop.

Home made water slide decals are really hard to work with.  I ruined quite a few in the process. 

For the E60 project I may purchase an HO version and copy details in O.

This is my NJT version made out of Williams shells. Not entirely accurate but passable with some work.

tmp_25691-20151028_201650588453143

It's just sitting on MTH C30-7 trucks for the photo.

 

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GG1 4877 posted:

Nate,

That's a great photo and I just saved it.

I have done graphics work and model consulting for 3rd Rail for 7 years.  I have built a library of graphics for that company as well for myself.  Amtrak is the "Helvetica" font. The other graphics I developed off of photos in 2010.  I work in AutoCAD and Photoshop.

Home made water slide decals are really hard to work with.  I ruined quite a few in the process. 

For the E60 project I may purchase an HO version and copy details in O.

This is my NJT version made out of Williams shells. Not entirely accurate but passable with some work.

tmp_25691-20151028_201650588453143

It's just sitting on MTH C30-7 trucks for the photo.

 

Hi Jonathan:

That is excellent work.  Paint the trucks black and get your roof detail and you are set.  I might be asking for some more advice regarding the decaling at some point.  That sort of work drives me berserk.  I remember using good Microscale decals and Solvaset in HO scale and nearly tossed the model out the window.

Here is what I want for my system, exactly as it is:

 I shot this in the early 2000s, when it was still 'sort of' OK to take pictures off the parking garage roof.  The sounds that thing made were delightful.

GG1 4877 posted:

Nate,

My NJT decals are Microscale.  I've been custom painting since age 12.  I finally got good at it around 29 :-)  It takes patience and practice.  My N scale 1990 era Broadway Limited was an act of extreme patience.  I don't have the eyes for the smaller scale these days though.

I love th E60MA you posted.  That is how I will paint my Amtrak one.

It sounds like you have the patience for paint that I do for pantographs.  Maybe its the fumes.  I've never had a knack for decorating locomotives.  I use a magnifying desk lamp.  My eyes aren't the greatest either, but are still usable.

I would take an operating E60 in any form.  I hope someday I can go out west and see the Desert Power Railroad E60s before they go the way of the rest of them.  That said, I do prefer the Phase 3 paint over the Phase 2.

So, here are a few oddities for your consideration.  First, a Phase 3 painted E60, with a 900 series number AND Brecknell-Willis pantographs, which a couple of them had at times.

Next, we have another Phase 3 with Brecknell pans.

 AMTK E-60-CP # 602 is having some difficulties at Frankford Junction

According to the caption I found on the lower image, 602 was experiencing some kind of problem.  Note the conductor next to the engine, and its apparent uncoupled condition.

Any of those would be great to see scale modeled.  Guess I need to get busy at some point. 

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Tinplate Tom posted:

Two thoughts on your overhead system

 

1:  use silver solder as it has higher strength.  Downside is you need fire bricks and 1200 degrees to melt it.

2:  Sommerfeldt of Germany now makes O scale catenary systems

Well, I'll keep the first point in mind if I ever get that kiln built next to my son's room. 

I have seen the Sommerfeldt system, and its an excellent representation.  I think I'd go a little batty trying to make it work with my trains.

brwebster posted:

Nate says ;  I had the old Lionel GG1, the Penn Central with the goofball number

In case you're feeling nostalgic, I could be persuaded to let one go

Or maybe, one of the other goofball numbered G's?

Bruce

 

Hi Bruce:

Don't tempt me.    In all seriousness, the old Lionels tracked well under the wire.

If I was serious about getting a GG1, I'd go after this one.

Last edited by Pantenary

Note to Nate Murray:  You don't need a kiln for silver soldering.  A small pinpoint butane torch available from Micro Mark would do the trick.  I build live steamers in 3 1/2 inch gauge and O gauge and have an oxy-acetylene rig for boiler making and soldering brass check valves, injectors, axle pumps, etc. together.  You would only need one fire brick for small items like your supports.  Use iron wire to tie them together as the silver solder won't adhere to the iron wire.  Silver solder is available in rods and in sheet form for small items like your project.

Pantenary posted:
GG1 4877 posted:

Nate,

That's a great photo and I just saved it.

I have done graphics work and model consulting for 3rd Rail for 7 years.  I have built a library of graphics for that company as well for myself.  Amtrak is the "Helvetica" font. The other graphics I developed off of photos in 2010.  I work in AutoCAD and Photoshop.

Home made water slide decals are really hard to work with.  I ruined quite a few in the process. 

For the E60 project I may purchase an HO version and copy details in O.

This is my NJT version made out of Williams shells. Not entirely accurate but passable with some work.

tmp_25691-20151028_201650588453143

It's just sitting on MTH C30-7 trucks for the photo.

 

Hi Jonathan:

That is excellent work.  Paint the trucks black and get your roof detail and you are set.  I might be asking for some more advice regarding the decaling at some point.  That sort of work drives me berserk.  I remember using good Microscale decals and Solvaset in HO scale and nearly tossed the model out the window.

Here is what I want for my system, exactly as it is:

 I shot this in the early 2000s, when it was still 'sort of' OK to take pictures off the parking garage roof.  The sounds that thing made were delightful.

I used to take pictures from the parking lot back in the late seventies/early eighties.  I didn't know there were restrictions placed on photography since then.  I have a friend from the UK visit with us a in 2012.  He came up by train from business trip in Washington to stay with us a few days.  As part of our "Train weekend", I took him first to the tracks near Zoo Tower.  He was amazed that we could just walk onto railroad property without anyone approaching us.  

Dan:

In the mid to late 2000s (I think) they built some huge parking add on, or other building for something.  The vantage point from the above image doesn't exist any more as far as I know, or you are so far up that it would freak me out.  I am quite the acrophobiac.

If I can say so respectfully, you could do a lot of neat things in the 70s/80s that will get you shot today.  My last 'real' railfan trip was in 2003 or 2004...went to Perryville, MD at the STATION and set up my tripod.  Some knothead in the adjacent trailer park call the police for 'suspicious activity'.  A MD state trooper proceeded to park me in for about 35 minutes while we discussed 'my business' there. I haven't railfanned to any great extent since; its not worth the hassle to me.  With GG1s, E44s, E60s and now AEM7s all gone, there is hardly anything that really holds my interest.  I'm not a big fan of the ACS64...yet. I guess a whole bunch of folks said that about AEM7s when they came out.

Tinplate Tom posted:

Note to Nate Murray:  You don't need a kiln for silver soldering.  A small pinpoint butane torch available from Micro Mark would do the trick.  I build live steamers in 3 1/2 inch gauge and O gauge and have an oxy-acetylene rig for boiler making and soldering brass check valves, injectors, axle pumps, etc. together.  You would only need one fire brick for small items like your supports.  Use iron wire to tie them together as the silver solder won't adhere to the iron wire.  Silver solder is available in rods and in sheet form for small items like your project.

Hi Tom:

I was mearly pulling your leg.  

From what little I know a bit about silver soldering, seems like overkill for my work.  Live steam is another I'm not a steam junkie, but it is very cool to seem model steam locomotives that are actually steam powered.  It seems fraught with joy and frustration depending on the day and the weather, (much like a model catenary system!).  I have great respect and admiration for you live-steam modellers. 

Actually, silver soldering is easier than soft soldering.  When the metal is hot enough, the solder runs into the joint with no blobs like you get with lead solder.  Silver soldered boilers on live steamers are pressure tested to one and a half times working pressure, generally 150-200psi test.  It is basically the same process as they use in jewelry making.

Good morning all:

I'll try to get an update posted this week; there has been some progress made.

The possibility exists of acquiring an MTH E44 PS3 locomotive for the 300 Loft system.  I was researching pantographs again, and came across these 2 oddities:

#1:  E44s in passenger service.

#2:  A GG1 with an E44 Pantograph.  I've never seen such a thing.

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If I get the time, I hope to repaint any E44 I may get a hold of in Amtrak colors.

 

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I've read through this post and all I can say is "WOW" that's impressive! I like what you've done with the layout in the small loft space you have. I have a loft about the same dimensions probably and the layout you have come up with would definitely satisfy me! Now the cantenary system, that is great, but sorry to say I just don't have the patience anymore to do that myself.  Although I didn't "grow up" in this generation, I guess I've morphed into what you would call one of those "instant gratification" people, of course I'm sure my ADD also plays a role in that too! LOL. But nevertheless absolutely outstanding in all regards!

Pantenary posted:

Dan:

In the mid to late 2000s (I think) they built some huge parking add on, or other building for something.  The vantage point from the above image doesn't exist any more as far as I know, or you are so far up that it would freak me out.  I am quite the acrophobiac.

If I can say so respectfully, you could do a lot of neat things in the 70s/80s that will get you shot today.  My last 'real' railfan trip was in 2003 or 2004...went to Perryville, MD at the STATION and set up my tripod.  Some knothead in the adjacent trailer park call the police for 'suspicious activity'.  A MD state trooper proceeded to park me in for about 35 minutes while we discussed 'my business' there. I haven't railfanned to any great extent since; its not worth the hassle to me.  With GG1s, E44s, E60s and now AEM7s all gone, there is hardly anything that really holds my interest.  I'm not a big fan of the ACS64...yet. I guess a whole bunch of folks said that about AEM7s when they came out.

Sad, isn't it.  The big blueish building Amtrak built at 30th Street station is not on my most admired architectural building list.  

I get what you're saying about modern equipment.  As I recently read somewhere, watching trains today is like watching a conveyer belt.  

GG1 4877 posted:

Great post!  The ingenuity of your system is quite impressive as is the workmanship.  A Williams scale GG1 will operate on as little as 0-42 curves so you may consider getting road number 4935 and installing DCC in it.  With replaced pantographs, it would be a much better model.  4935 in PRR DGLE was among the last of the GG1s to operate for Amtrak and saw some service for New Jersey transit in 1982 on lease after Amtrak stopped running theirs.

Off course the choice to avoid the GG1 based on your modeling period is completely understandable.  I have an Atlas AEM7 and a NJT ALP44 and they are both wonderful models even if my AEM7 needs a run through the Wilmington Shops for a major overhaul. 

With your modeling skills, you could do justice to a new 3D printed O scale E60.  I don't remember the site, but there are available for $85.00 and are designed to run on a MTH U30C chassis.  Lot of prep and assembly is required, but with your skills it wouldn't be a difficult project.

 

I bought one of those E60 shells on eBay. It's very nicely done. I don't have the time to start working on it yet but hopefully I will soon. 

For those of us not into the intricacies of scratch-building, I thought I'd mention a terrific modular catenary system I ran across at York this past April from East Coast Eneterprises based in Dover, NJ.  This is Rich Roman's company that builds custom layouts as well as lots of fancy bridges and elevated track superstructures.  Very impressive stuff, and the new catenary system is world-class as well.  Definitely worth a look before you seriously consider building your own.

David

Last edited by Rocky Mountaineer
Rocky Mountaineer posted:

For those of us not into the intricacies of scratch-building, I thought I'd mention a terrific modular catenary system I ran across at York this past April from East Coast Eneterprises based in Dover, NJ.  This is Rich Roman's company that builds custom layouts as well as lots of fancy bridges and elevated track superstructures.  Very impressive stuff, and the new catenary system is world-class as well.  Definitely worth a look before you seriously consider building your own.

David

I did a Google search. East Coast Enterprises does not seem tho have a web site related to model trains.

So I have been looking at this thread since it started. I have been thinking of a way to 3D Print the hangers with one lead as a tube that contains the power wire. As to the catenary wire that could be done with varying length verticals that have a C-shaped piece at each end to hold and separate the longitudinal wires.  The end insulators would be no problem.  My resolution is 0.1 to .05 mm.

The issue is the upper stress from the pantographs against the continuous lower wire. To minimize that stress instead of the fixed wire as in this threads system, the resin hangers would be much more flexible as the pantographs  move along the system. This is a similar flexibility as is found in the HO Marklin system.

Stay tuned.

 

 

Good morning Marty:

Thank you very much for the complements.  Coming from you, that means something to me and I appreciate it.

I also cannot see building an overhead system that will not be energized.  I find the engineering challenges very appealing, as well as duplicating the operation of a 1:1 electrified railroad near exactly.  Additionally, as you have said previously, if such a system is designed and built properly, it will work well.  I rarely see any pantograph arcs.  I have yet to lose a pantograph at speed or experience a significant electrical / structural failure.

I do rather envy the elaborate 'layout elements' that you and many others have, (buildings, lights, landscape, effects, etc).  However, building the operational catenary was my primary motivation, and given the limited space along with the likelihood of moving in the next couple years, I'm content with what I have have.  I am adding some more DCS automation and a few buildings as I have the time and resources.

I feed the third rail with DCS so I could run visiting locomotives if any ever came along, (none yet).  Since I have no intention of running locomotives without pantographs, I may end up migrating to a standalone AC supply for the third rail, since only the coaches use it at this point.

I hope to post some videos of the E44-powered coal drags before Christmas, when I finally acquire the E44s.  I use real coal, and those trains require some horsepower.

Thank you again.  A tip o' the hat to you and your system as well.  I would love to see it in person some day and view your 'wall of fame'.

Thanks Nate.  I run trains from the catenary and can throw a switch to power the center rail to run any DCS or Legacy locomotive from one of my ROW transformers.  I also have DCS also in the catenary.  I grew up in Pennsylvania in the 50's and watched the mighty GG-1 and others every day.  A fun day would be getting the Reading MU train in Hatboro and heading to the Reading Terminal in Philly.   With my Uncle, we would head cross town to the 30th st station and watch the GG-1 locomotives and others pull in and depart.  Great days, great trains.  My Uncle and the GG-1 have gone into history but as long as I am above ground, the memories will live on.

Last edited by Marty Fitzhenry

Marty:

I did the same thing, only with different locomotives some years later.  I grew up near Muddy Run and heard / watched Conrail on the Port Road, which would have been shortly after the overhead came down.  I just missed the electrified freight days, but did catch some A&S action in Quarryville when we went to town.  My dad worked 2nd shift at High Steel, and we would bring him dinner once or twice a week, where I took in the F40PHs and the occasional AEM7 on the old Pennsy main.  I think that is where I acquired the 'electrified bug'.  For 'career day' in 8th grade, I got a cab ride in an AEM7, (Newark, NJ and the Pit at Penn Station) and an E60, and they remain my favorite motors.  When I could drive, I would take trips to 30th St and Perryville and watch them roll in and out for hours.  Today I hang out with them at Strasburg every so often.  The ACS64 is neat (I'd probably get a model if MTH did one) but I miss the older electrics.  So, I relive it in the layouts I build and the occasional perusal through the old printed photographs.

Good evening (morning) all:

The MTH AEM7 is a delightful model, and the backbone of my passenger operations for the 300 Loft Catenary System.  However, while the sounds/lighting effects are excellent, the shell simply does not pass muster with me.  I tried to ignore the deficiencies, but my idealist OCD won out.  The number font is way too thin, the blue paint is too dark, and the shell has the chrome finish that the older MTH Amfleets used to have.  This chrome finish is excellent for Amfleets, not so much for the AEM7.  Finally, I hate ditch lights in AEM7s.  The effect is fun to watch, but Amtrak butchered the nose to install them, and they are out of my modelling time frame, (the very early 80s when AEM7s were new, and Phase 1-painted Amfleets were common).

The first generation MTH AEM7 got it all right except the blue paint is still too dark, which is the least offensive shortcoming as far as I am concerned.  A case could be made for prototypical accuracy of this darker paint based on the picture below, but I suspect that is more the photo processing than its actual color.

So I decided to transfer the PS3 innards of the current model (#928) to a shell of a first-gen model (#924).  I was told this was not practical or easy, but I found both statements to be unfounded.  It was a fun project, and not really that hard at all.

First, we crack open the newer PS3 unit.  It is stock except for the pans.

I had already acquired a shell from #924 (first-gen) and pulled the PS1 innards out, bulbs and all.

Next, we pull the PS3 innards from #928.  This is a delicate operation, but with some patience and dull tweezers, it was not hard.

Now that we have all the PS3 stuff out of the old inaccurate shell, it is time to install everything in the 'new' #924 shell.

I left all the roof detail the same, EXCEPT for pulling the white Carrier AC units off the newer shell, and installing them on the #924 shell.  There is plenty is precedent for this change, one of which is below.

I also installed the red insulators for some contrast.  There is precedent for that as well, one of which is a slide from my collection.  So we now have the finished #924 shell, with new ACs and PS3 goodies.

Next we connect the PS3 board to the shell, re-install the shell and mount the pans.

Finally, we have the finished product being tested with the Phase 1 Amfleets, and now we have a more prototypical train.  The new PS3 lighting really looks good in the older shell.

Plans are in place to do this procedure to another AEM7, as the train is now 9 cars long, (8 Amfleets, and one baggage / lounge).  The baggage/lounge is a recent addition, and makes for a nice prototypical consist.

It is amusing to note that at one point, there were 3 AEM7s in pieces on my desk.  Thankfully, it all ended well.

Thanks for reading.  The next update will be in the next few weeks, as the Conrail E44s have arrived!

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Last edited by Pantenary

Hi Mitch:

I got the 2-pack un-powered set of the Railking SEPTA MUs a few years ago, with the intention of running them plus the PS3 4-car set under the wire.  Regretfully, that project died, as it was deemed more grief that it was worth to change out all the MTH pans (with hideous rounded pan shoes) for proper brass ones, on top of the cost for the set.  Since MUs are secondary in my desired operation scheme, I ditched the idea.  However, I was without a catenary test / alignment vehicle at the time, so I installed a set of Japanese brass pans (with their own insulators) on one of them and use it to align any overhead that may need replaced or touched up.

This idea was modeled from an older SEPTA wire train that used to run.

I know that the SEPTA MUs or the cat maintenance vehicles that were made from them never had two pans, but it was convenient for the type of testing an alignment I do to have pans at both ends.

There is also a toggle switch in the undercarriage that can utilize the 3rd rail if need be, or short the 3rd rail to the overhead in a pinch.

 

--NMM

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Last edited by Pantenary

Hi Shurlock:

My apologies for the tardy reply.  Those wipers are standard on the MTH AEM7s.  The old ones are black, the newer ones are silver, the latter of which appears more often in photos from that time period.  I still have to switch some of the detail parts from the 'old' #928 shell to the 'new' #924 shell, the wipers being one of them.

Good evening (morning) all:

This update details an addition I have been waiting quite a while for, which is the arrival of the MTH E44.

The 'era' I am aiming to model is the early to mid-80s on the Amtrak Keystone, some PA parts of the Northeast Corridor, Enola branch, Port Road, and the A&S branch, most of which were reasonably local to me growing up.  The AEM7s were new and becoming frequent, the Amfleet 1 coaches shimmered in Phase 1 paint, and heavy electrics still handled a sizable portion of the freight.  After the AEM7, my next favorite locomotive was the GE E44.  I never saw them in action personally, but for some reason the boxy, practical aesthetics combined with awesome tractive effort and loud fans are very appealing to me.  I think they looked best in Conrail blue.  I am sure I can hear some GG1 Pennsy fan sobbing somewhere.   

MTH has released an excellent treatment of the E44, particularly the PS3 version.  I have had two of them on reserve for the better part of a year, and only recently was able to bring them home; the 4407 and 4413.  They are well-detailed and the sound file is excellent.  Lighting effects are minimal, as was the case on the prototype.

There were two modifications that I wanted to make.  The first was to be the replacement of the blind wheelsets with flanged versions.  Sadly however, the trucks will not track around an O63 curve with all-flanged wheels.  Its very close, but not quite.  An O72 ruling curve or greater is required.

The second modification was the pantographs, (as always).  Anyone who reads these posts knows I am a bit of snob concerning how pans look and function on the locomotives I run.  The MTH model renders the single-stage Faiveley pan surprisingly well, except for the contact shoe, which is the same as other MTH models.

The stock contact shoe doesn't work that well with my catenary installation, and doesn't really look right.  Additionally, while the pans are sprung reasonably well, I feel they can be improved upon.

As far as the contact shoe goes, the prototype is a fairly simple, dual-surface design.

I started with the contact shoes on a brass two-stage pan.

My new E44 pan design calls for one shoe per pan, so a single brass pan is required per E44.

After the shoe assembly is pulled off the brass pan, separate the shoes and straighten the end-horn tips.

Next, remove the brass flashes, and copper contact strip from the top.  Lightly tin both sides.

The contact shoe is ready to be installed.  Now, the MTH pan must be prepared.

First, cut the ends off the MTH pan so they are flush with the mount.  Dremmel ALL of the blackening off so we have a nice surface to solder to.  It is also critical to smooth the ends off to a nice round finish.  This models the dual-surface of the prototype.

Next, flatten a contact shoe completely, and place on the pan assembly.  Center it up nicely, using the holes in the horn as a guide.

Solder it up, and round off the corners next to the pan horns for a nice smooth contact surface.

Round the horns and bend the extreme points downward...

...just like the real thing.  It is not a perfect match, but reasonably close enough for me.

We are now ready to add some improved upward spring.  I had some Atlas AEM7 pans handy, so I took the base springs from them.  They are the best sprung pans I have seen.

Now, using both Atlas springs is too much.  The pans won't stay collapsed.

The solution to that was to one Atlas spring, and one MTH spring.  This makes for satisfactory tension on the wire, and you really have to look close to see the spring mismatch from above.  I also used this trick on the MTH AEM7 pans.

Now we have a complete assembly, ready for installation.

Install the assembly back onto the E44 roof, and add a generous helping to silver conductive grease to the contact shoe and stage joints.

After doing likewise to the other unit, we are ready for individual and lash-up tests.  All tests and break-in was performed with both pans up.  Normal operation will always see the central-stage angle joint pointing forward, as the E44s were typically run, regardless of how the locomotive was otherwise oriented.

I have some videos of the tests and initial revenue service on coal drags, but I have not had a chance to upload them to YouTube yet; perhaps yet this weekend.

Thank you for reading.

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Last edited by Pantenary

This is definitely one of those "WOW" posts.   What an amazing job of engineering and implementation.   Just curious about how much time it took to build the catenary system.    Really impressive fabrication of the parts.

i am currently beginning to build a catenary system and am very excited about doing it.  Excited that is until I hear all about the trials, tribulations, cuts, and frustrations many more talented folks than I experience.   My friends are always telling me that I am not the brightest light on the string so I think that may help me in building mine in that I can blissfully ignore all the troublesome aspects of the build I keep reading about.

Thanks for the terrific details and photos.  

Ed

Hi Ed:

Thank you for posting.  As much fun as it is for me to build, it is even more fun to share.  I started construction of the track plan in November of 2015, and the catenary installation commenced in early April of 2016.  The first overhead-powered train ran on 2/17/17, around 8:45p according to my camera.  Remember that my current system uses 'simple' Euro style catenary, not the more complex Pennsy compound catenary.  When I built a system using that style in the mid-2000s, it took me almost 4 years.  I took almost no photos of that install, but I did get 1 or 2.

I am glad to hear you are building your own system; the world can always use more 'live-wire guys', as Marty Fitzhenry puts it.  I would enjoy additional details on how you are doing it, prototypes (if any), etc.

For me, a large part of the fun includes the trials, tribulations, etc., that you mention.  I am trying to model / replicate the operation of an overhead electrified railroad, similar to that which could be seen in the Pennsy era and onward.  The engineering challenges and maintenance issues are part of that operation, and I embrace it all fully.  Don't forget that the pantographs and underside of the wire often have more than enough silver conductive grease to make a mess on anything if you aren't careful!  I do try (within reason) not to get that stuff smeared all over the locomotives, but it is of no consequence if it does.  Real heavy electric locomotives were filthy.  The system can be 'troublesome' at times.  However, it is all worthwhile and very rewarding when it works, especially at speed, (see the YouTube links above).

It is a labor of love, but if you take the time to do it right from the start, and design effectively, then the problems you experience will be fewer and easier to remedy.  I have yet to experience an operational derailment or pantograph damage of any kind.  I have had two support structures fail, (as I detailed in the main post), but the wire remained intact due to the collective effort of the nearby support structure.  Sometimes things have to fail in order to learn what works.

You may or may not need help, but I would encourage you to try to do as much of your own work as possible.  I might also respectfully suggest that if your friends are always commenting on the 'brightness of your lights' (or the lack thereof), then perhaps you just need to be plugged into a different outlet, or acquire new friends. 

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Nate,

It was as a result of visiting Marty Fitzhenry last year that inspired me to move forward.  His layout is nothing short of a wonderland with catenary.

My father was an engineer for the Penn working out of Sunnyside Yard driving GG-1's.   Back in the early 50’S every now and again he would take me or one of my brothers with him to work.  I can still vividly remember the 1st time I sat on his lap in the engineer seat with him as he moved the throttle.   I thought the engine was going to fall over sideways as it seemed there was so much sway going down the track.    

So needless to say I am a big fan of the PRR and GG1’s.   My father would have loved to see this being built now.

As for my perceived dimness by my friends, they would say its not that I need to be plugged into a different outlet but that I just need to be unplugged.   I would get new friends but I've had many of them for 50+ years and I am too old to find new ones.

i will post some photos, hopefully in a couple of weeks,  when I have enough completed to make a short run.  Really good advice about taking the time to do it right which is actually the same advice I got from  Marty.  

Thanks for all the tips and such. 

Ed

Hi Ed:

Well, I am rather jealous of the rich railroading history you have in your family, especially with the Pennsy.  I hope you got some pictures somewhere along the line.

You will have to pardon me, if your friends have been giving you that sort of friendly grief for that long, I must say that is rather special.  Friendships of that sort are rare, and I cannot say that I really have any right now, much to my chagrin.

I have seen Marty's layout in detail here, but not in person.  'Amazing' is an insufficient adjective for his system, even the pictures.  You are extremely well-advised if you are getting tips and / or tricks from him.  I hope someday I can see it and perhaps even sign a corner of his wall.

Please do post some pictures of your progress when you can.  I enjoy seeing how others install catenary on their layouts.

Hi Shurlock:

Forgive me, I thought you were referring to the 'windshield wipers'.

The pantograph shoes on my AEM7s are scratch-built.  That process and the parts I used is detailed in the first post in this thread.  The rest of the pan is MTH standard.

The pantograph shoes for my E44s are 'scratch-fabricated' from the stock MTH pan shoe with a Japanese brass pan shoe applied inside of it.  The Japanese pans are excellent to use with overhead wire and just as good for parts, as they are well-built and have no paint to deal with.

Thanks. I do like the older MTH proto 2 GG1"s and the later p5's because the wipers on the pantographs looks so much better. I was thinking about getting another pant wiper and metal cast using pewter or some metal with low melting temp. I started casting using silicone molds and think this would be a better and a easier way of making pantograph wipers.

I made mine with K&S Metals #815024 and 815025, a 35W solder iron, a toothpick, 2 push-pins and several Aleve.  It's precision work to be sure, but I was pleased with the result, and it works very nicely with the overhead.  The MTH shoes are a good effort (on AEM7s anyway), but custom pans look and function so much better.  You are correct that some of the MTH GG1s and the P5/P5a models have excellent pans from top to bottom.  I have found the TRAXX F140 to be the same way, although they are a bit more fragile.

Good day all:

I posted the first videos of the new E44s powered up on their shakedown runs around the system.  I am running both pantographs up to clean any fabrication residue from the shoes.  This is also mitigated by silver conductive grease applied to the shoes, (and arm joints as well for good conductivity).

There is significant upward pressure exerted on the wire by the extended pantograph, which is noted by the wire-flexing action. This is noteworthy considering the wire is tensioned at several pounds per square-inch. The pantograph design calls for springs from Atlas pantographs to guarantee reliable pantograph/catenary interaction at higher current flow when pulling heavy coal trains.

WESTBOUND PAST THE COACH YARD THROAT

EASTBOUND PAST THE COACH YARD THROAT

There is a 19-car train of scale empties waiting for the shakedowns to complete.  I hope to post some videos of those runs in the next few weeks.  Thanks for watching.

AGHRMatt posted:

That's some great work. They did some catenary out here in Southern California for the Metro lines and I noticed that the wire was copper, then blackened with (I presume) grease. Are you planning to coat the wires with NeoLube down the road?

Good evening Matt:

Thank you for the comment.  I use reasonable amounts of MG Chemicals Silver Conductive Grease on the pantograph shoes and stage joints.  MTH pantographs are generally decent conductors, but I prefer to be on the safe side.  Some lube helps conductivity, and also prevents any high-current pockets in the stage joints that may develop.  Of course it also helps smooth any rough spots there may be on the wire as the pan travels.

Even though I do not lube that often, the underside of the wire is noticeably  blackened with the conductive grease, and it tends to collect some at wire joints.  When I have to reach for things, make adjustments or perform minor repairs under the wire, the grease gets all over the place, even with gloves.  That is OK though; the stuff works great.

It's always worth returning here to see what's new under Nate's world of wires.  Although he and I model different eras, I could almost believably squeeze in an E44....just not a blue one.  All it would take is for one of those MTH's to show up locally in Brunswick green.....not that the P5a is anywhere near retirement on my layout.

Bruce

brwebster posted:

It's always worth returning here to see what's new under Nate's world of wires.  Although he and I model different eras, I could almost believably squeeze in an E44....just not a blue one.  All it would take is for one of those MTH's to show up locally in Brunswick green.....not that the P5a is anywhere near retirement on my layout.

Bruce

Good evening Bruce:

Good to hear from you, thanks for the virtual visit!  You would be pleased to know that I seriously considered a P5a (modified) recently...as well as a BB1 pair.  There is a shop in York that is closing soon, and he has one of each.  It is not in my era, nor can I afford it...  But it would have been cool to run off the overhead here!  Also, I think the P5a Mods are 072 minimum, which doesn't quite work.

I saw you have made some progress as well.  Have you powered up your overhead?  Feel free to post some pics here, or re-direct me to where you may have some.  Take care, my friend.

(PS -- Those PRR E44s are around...I expect to see one on your system soon...)

Last edited by Pantenary

Hi Nate,

You could be correct in being concerned over the P5 not handling anything lesser than 072, although  G motors seem even less tolerant and expose my poor track laying skills every time.

My catenary install has been delayed somewhat as I rework said track laying and build/ integrate a train shed much like the design at Harrisburg.  This is a change from the initial idea of an open platform style station like at Lancaster.  Truth be told, lately, I fire up the ZW's and put in more running than building time.  Other house reno's on the go sort of dampen the layout construction ambition too.

Powering the Cat wasn't in the plans but there is always that possibility.  Getting the wires even enough for the pantographs to follow them smoothly is first priority here.  Because of the layout size and multiple elevations, the Cat serves as an excellent TMCC signal ground plain when hooked up to household ground.....a real noticeable degradation where no overhead wires exist.   Fortunately, the Cat already installed has proved resilient enough to withstand my clumsy moves.  Just need to get back to the bench and solder up more sections of it to continue.

Off topic a bit...  A recent video stunt showed a young man dangerously riding outside on the rear of a Toronto subway.  As a comparison, the news ran another video showing some dope surfing the top of a motor, hanging on to the Faively pantograph!

Bruce

Last edited by brwebster

Good evening Bruce:

I am not sure if I missed your pictures, or am forgetful or what.  What a neat system you have going there.  Somehow I failed to notice your multi-level madness, which is even more remarkable considering your apparent tight space.  I thought I had a tight space in my loft, you appear even more cramped in the attic!  The multi-level design prevents the eye from taking in the entire system, which makes it seem bigger and more pleasant to look at.  Do you have a track plan posted up here somewhere?  Forgive me for being too lazy to search right now.

In other news, I had to totally re-design the pan shoes on the E44s.  I had a slight snag last week, and subsequent tests revealed the shoe is a bit too short. after some minimal wear.  A new design is afoot however. 

You should also post some videos at some point.  Perhaps you have and I missed them.  Forgive me again if so.  Take care, and happy building.

(PS -- You coming to York?  I live about 20 minutes away from the Fairgrounds).

Hi Nate!

Sorry for the tardy response.  The attic is a bit cramped but there's just enough head room at the peak for my 6' frame.  I kept the basic layout height lower than usual to take advantage of the maximum room dimensions....roughly 3' off the floor.  Attic access via stairs opens into the middle of the room, so considering all the limitations it dictated an around the wall style layout design.  Square footage wasn't so much a concern as was making sure things would fit height wise.  There never was any great compromises involved in getting the main up and running although some changes where made on the fly.

I sat down tonight and began drawing the current track plan as completed.  When I finish I'll be sure to post it.  An initial plan that was drawn over 10 years ago has a distinct similarity to what has been completed, although very few,if any, measurements were made before construction. The freestyle form of construction involved assembling a section of bench work frame then completing the roadbed  and move on.  Running changes to compensate for excessive grades or sharp curves just seemed easier for me using this method.   Once around the room and pray that both ends meet.  There is still loads of track laying to do, with features such as an engine facility and hidden staging yard yet to come.  Finishing the mainline catenary is first and foremost so that the outer reaches are scenicked before the inner features are begun.

Sorry, no videos as of yet......it's another of those new fangled things that confounds me.  Never have had the pleasure of attending York...still on the bucket list.

Re the P5a....any tighter than 072 would probably cause issues.  The long wheel base on 3 sets of flanged drivers being the main culprit.

Bruce

Tony_V posted:

Sometimes the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the members here amazes me.  This is one of those times.  Very nice indeed.  

As far as actual scale, well there are always compromises.  My favorite scale to think about is weight.  For example the PRR S2 weighed in at nearly 1,000,000 lbs.  At 1/48 scale that is still in excess of 20,000 lbs.

Beautiful work!!!

Tony

Just have to correct you - when scaling the weight, you have to do 'cube root', so divide by 48  3 times. So actdually about 9 pounds.

Jim

As promised, here's the attic layout as of today. 

Although not strictly to scale, the drawing details the use of easements and curves.  If there's a curve in the drawing, even the slightest one, then it's on the actual layout.  only the chimney and stairs ( at center ) interferes with the floor space.  Although one reverse loop is obvious, a second is incorporated so that trains can switch directions continuously.  I currently use the second one ( single track over curved bridge ) as a staging track, holding 3 or 4 trains off the mainline.  I tucked an old oak desk under the triple track section that will eventually become Harrisburg.  The desk houses my transformers inside a compartment once used for typewriters.  The spur coming off the track below the curved bridge will eventually connect to a programing track on top of the desk, roughly at the same level as hidden track A.   To the left of the chimney is where my sound system and record storage reside.  When the sound of trains become monotonous I crank up the tunes. Track B disappears to a staging yard ( not shown ) that I plan to redesign in the future.  For now, it holds the overflow of an out of control spending addiction in engines and rolling stock.  the spur behind the chimney will become the lead track into the engine facility, pretty much covering the entire reverse loop beneath.  That section of reverse loop that bisects the room will be hinged to drop down when access to the track deeper underneath is needed.  That's it in a nutshell.

Bruce

Good afternoon all:

I apologize for the lack of updates since April of 2018, (yikes).  Quite a bit has happened since then, both in life and on the railroad.  I am not able to do a proper update right now, but I did create a SmugMug album of the power around the system and yard.  I hope that will suffice for now.  I will post some details as soon as I am able.

Last edited by Pantenary

@Pantenary

Nate:

Thanks for the link to your plans. Yours is a most impressive post. Your detail and photos are most helpful. The post must have taken you a huge amount of time.

I have several questions for you.

  • Are your solder joint done with high temperature silver solder or regular tin/lead soft solder?
  • The brass rods from Lowes, are they brazing rods?
  • Did you anneal the rods to facilitate the intricate bends required?

Bravo on a great piece of work and thank you for your generosity in sharing your technique in such great and informative detail.

Hi Randy:

Thank you for your comments.  I have done a terrible job at posting updates over the last few years; too much happening outside the railroad.  I've made several changes since I last posted on it.  The original post did take some time, but it was worth it to me in order to share the system.  I find it very satisfying to share with others, albeit online.  Sadly, not a single person in my vicinity is into model railroading, or appreciates the work behind something like this as the forum members do.

So, as far as your questions go:

1.  Regular Kesters '44' and a 100w Weller.  I've only had one joint fail (which was noted in the original post) and that was not primarily attributed to the solder joint, but bad mechanical design that I ended up modifying.

2.  Nope, just the regular brass rod found with all the threaded rod and metal shapes.  Nothing special about it.

3.  No annealing, just carefully applied elbow grease and the jigs that I outlined in the post.  No special processes.

See,. that was one of the project parameters for myself:  easy to acquire materials, and no 'special' processes to do things.  Generally speaking, the system is faithful to KISS methods.  While I greatly enjoy this niche if the hobby, it can be tedious and harder to maintain then a conventional 3R system.  I didn't want any odd materials or methods to make it more difficult than it was.

NOTE, I'll try to get some new pictures and videos up soon.  It's been too long.  The system has undergone some good updates and additions, but also has gone long stretches (months even) with no activity or runs.  Such is life, I suppose.

Last edited by Pantenary

@Pantenary

Nate:

Thanks for your quick reply. Your work is great. Also, this forum is good place to find fellow hobbyists like yourself who share their layouts with the rest of us and are so generous with detailing their projects with others.

Another question. Is the first photo showing the prototype catenary you are modeling taken at the New London, CT Amtrak Station after the electrification of the balance of the northeast corridor to Boston?

Hi Gerry -- Thank you, I appreciate the compliment.

Hi Randy -- The short answer is yes, my catenary is based on the Euro-style Amtrak catenary above New Haven.  I hope you will find a close resemblance between their's and mine.  However, that is not the catenary I wanted to build.

My preference is Pennsy catenary, ala the Port Road, A&S and Old Pennsy main.  I had a layout years ago with that style of catenary.  As it was my first stab at O scale catenary, my build techniques were much rougher then (which should be painfully obvious), and it was an O27 layout, (ugh, I broke so many rules...don't ask).  However, the catenary WIRE's Pennsy flavor was obvious, (not the supports).  I soldered every single joint, and those are little pieces of copper wire (blipps I called them) between the trolley and messenger wire, which were all soldered by hand.  That system was a double-track main, and took over 5 years to build.  It then took me just over 5 hours to tear down after I had to move, and it's all history.  I was (and still am) quite pleased with the wiring technique.  However, the catenary support system is appalling to look at over O27 track, hideously over-engineered, and rather embarrassing to share.  I only took a few pictures and video, just enough to show how NOT to do catenary support.



These days I have a challenging home life with a special needs little boy, and my wife has some medical issues of her own.  From the drawing board I knew that my new catenary scheme would have to be much more elegant and less time-consuming for me to be able to do.  I wanted to run trains, not spend years building catenary; my build time was limited as it was.  So, I decided to go the simple Euro-style route.

When I move somewhere bigger, I will try the Pennsy catenary again, as that is what I really want.  However, for this layout, in this season of my life, the Euro catenary is a good compromise, and I am very pleased with the results.  The trains roll with hardly a hiccup ever.

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