Saturday, June 27, 2015

Construction of the T&K Railway

Like many kids of the Apollo era, I had a simple model train layout which brought me many hours of entertainment.  Unlike most kids, though, I hung on to mine in a disassembled state with the plan of one day building a track shelf around the top of a room in my own house on which the Lionel could run.

The project languished primarily because all the designs I came up either had some sort of shelf bracket or looked too bulky.  I almost got really serious about completing the dream around 19 years ago when a yard sale provided me with several sections of three-foot track for a great price.  But the bargain was eventually quietly stored away with rest of the train set.

A couple months ago I woke up and for some reason decided to get serious about the project.  After less than an hour on the Internet I found a company marketing a product which had the right visual appeal.  They were quite proud of it too because their online estimator came up with close to $1500 for the parts which I & a helper would have to trim & install.  Then my own track would have to be installed on top of it after painting.  Ka-ching!

But after studying their low-res pictures for a while, I decided to build a version of their product which would look even better than they offered due to the way my idea would be mounted to the wall.  So, after a long time sitting in a box, what was left of my 1952 Lionel train set finally saw the light of day to get measured for its new layout.

I would have chosen MDF for the project even if it did not appear to be what the high-priced guys were milling.  After studying & measuring everything, what appeared to be good proportions were established before drawing up plans.

The curves were the toughest parts to conceptualize because the parts have to be anchored to both the wall & straight sections of track, and look good doing it.

After the meat of the design was done, I took one last look around the shelf’s future home to identify obstacles.  While a wall-mounted smoke detector would be easy enough to relocate, the cuckoo clock really needed to be at the height it is.  Ultimately, a stand-off was constructed to allow the train to run behind the clock.

As with the start of any big project, all the Shop’s cast iron was waxed before verifying all cutting tools were properly aligned to their respective work surfaces.  Funny how you never see this time-consuming part on home improvement shows.

In addition to requiring more design effort, the four curved sections also required a whole lot more construction steps than the straight sections.  Not including sanding, 11 individual machining steps involving five different tools were required just to complete the general shape.

The radial arm saw was used for the bulk of the cuts:

Although the finished curved cuts came from a router on an arm, a giant compass (pencil on the end of a pinned board) was used used to mark the path.

The bandsaw took most of the excess off so that only one pass of the router would be necessary to finish it.

Well, they say that part of the joy of woodworking is recovering from mistakes & accidents.  “They” say that; I don’t.  While routing the the very first arc, I heard the router load up.  Although I immediately stopped, the damage was done.

The work had fed itself into the router bit because it was only constrained from getting away from the router as opposed to drifting into the bit.  Since all forms of trying to aesthetically recover from so much missing wood looked fairly time consuming, I opted to mill out another blank.  The benefit was that I now had a sacrificial curve to verify the remaining milling operation setups.

Fortunately, milling of the remaining curves and all the straight sections went without incident.

The next step was rounding over of exposed sharp edges.

With what I thought was all of the edge treatments done, the roundover bit was swapped out with a straight bit for the lapping the ends which join the curves to the straight pieces.

Now, you might have only been reading till now just to find out the exact secret of how this shelf is supported on only one edge.  Congratulations – you endured ~720 words to get to this point, and I know it was no easy task.  The secret is Plate Joiner with #20 biscuits.

Basically, a furring strip drilled & countersunk on 16-inch centers and slotted for biscuits was mounted to the wall studs.  Although the smoke detector wires follow where the device was relocated, the electrical box itself was left & covered with a blank plate in case I decide to run track wire through it later.

With a plan in place, installation consisted of marking/cutting everything to align with the wall studs.

After cutting the first furring strip, I realized another roundover procedure would be needed on one end each custom-fit  strip to match part of the curved section.  Since the big router table was set up for lap joints, I pulled out my original router table and mounted the router I got in high school in it with the roundover bit.  This is the first project in a while that required three routers.

Since there are ~184 biscuits involved in the T&K Railway and they all fit tightly, only the biscuits on either side of the mounting screws were glued.  The lap joints were also glued and clamped until dry.

It was a two drill press operation – One to drill, and the other to countersink for the screw heads.  I ran out of photogenic work supports on the project.  The table-top drill press’s work support is an oak 2X4 clamped to a Jorgenson clamp tightened on to the door.

On the first Saturday of inside work, the central air conditioner conked out.  Although it was not unreasonably hot outside, with all the lights I had on for the work, the train’s new room started getting hot.  Fortunately, I still had a small window unit left over from when the Airstream’s A/C quit.

The plan had always been to paint the project after installation.  I hate painting.  Since any smile I have while painting is insincere, here’s a shot of a happy Number 1 son helping me mask off the area.

After caulking, priming, and painting, new & old track was screwed down before running a power bus around the perimeter.  Five different taps were used to supply power to the 58 feet of track.

To my reckoning, it’s been about 40 years since my 63 year-old locomotive developed tractive force.  Although there is a bit of a story involved in getting Lionel 2034 to steam up again, it is a tale for another time.  Suffice to say it did steam up without having to buy anything.

Since the video was made, Kim & the Boyz gifted lighted sleeper and mail service cars to the Railway.  It looks awesome in action.

I’m thinking about other improvements like a backdrop of sky or something.  Feel free to comment with any ideas.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Getting Ready for 2015

In preparation of next week’s Airstream trip to beach, the Overlander was moved out into the open for easier washing & general de-winterizing.

There has been a curb-side, rooftop, interior leak for some time now that seemed to get worse near the end of last camping season.  In an effort to locate it, an electric leaf blower was pointed into the cooktop exhaust vent to pressurize the camper while it was being washed.

After blocking off the refrigerator’s floor & roof vents, the exterior was washed with an extra amount of Ivory dish soap.  Due to it being a drizzly day, no rinsing was done until the very end.  No joy.  The only leaks which blew bubbles were the expected areas like doors where it is not really an issue because there is secondary containment.

Frustratingly, even with the positive pressure, there was a couple tablespoons of water in the bathroom near the window.  The leak must be somewhere in the Bay Breeze A/C.  Disassembly will be required.  But not today.

Since we usually do full-hookups, it has been quite some time since the blue boy has seen action.  It seemed prudent to check its integrity since the Airstream will only have power & water at our Camping Season Opener.

It passed.

Next up was re-hydrating the plumbing.  The cold side went without a hitch.  Hot side not so much.  Five or 10 seconds after the water heater filled up the kitchen faucet went from spitting air & water to just a slow trickle of water.  The aerator had filled with a variety of boogers.

I don’t recall ever seeing boogers on the hot side.  Especially green ones.  Anyhoo, after more flushing, both hot & cold systems were blown out with compressed air, and refilled with a stouter-than-usual Clorox solution from the white tank.

After blowing that out, the systems were refilled from shore water.

Next up were the gas appliances.  All three cooktop burners had perfect flames.

The furnace lit with less trouble than usual and ran beautifully.  Although there are no plans to run it next week, since the 48 year-old device was not used last season I was just curious to see if it was mad about being left out.  Apparently not.

The refrigerator pilot lit easily and had a pleasing, gentle roar to it (no build-up in the burner to clean) and ended up making ice cubes in the freezer.  The fridge was later switched to electric and the ice stayed frozen.  So I went ahead & stocked the bottom with my usual “mineral water”.

The original, Bowen/Atwood water heater fired up & cycled with no complaint.

Both the oven & air conditioner were run through their paces and found to be ready for the upcoming trip.  Last but not least, the radio also checked out fine.

The weather cleared up enough later for me to replace some exterior parts.

A year or two after the Overlander returned to the road after a long hiatus, I had occasion to show it to my uncle the original owner.  Although he was a man of few words, he chose to snicker about how I had not replaced the rusty latches on the rock guard.  The ultimate reason was that I had run out of money for incidentals.  The runner-up reason was that the only place selling replacements at the time still sold them stamped out of rustable steel.

Luckily, Vintage Trailer Supply expanded their inventory, and appeared to appreciate the need to market a better product.  They persuaded the Original Equipment Manufacturer to stamp a run made out of stainless steel.  I wish Uncle Les was still around to see the end result – It was quite an improvement.

Coming around the home stretch, the day was supposed to conclude with the replacement of a fractured door-jamb striker pocket.  But while sizing up the task, I noticed the door knob had stopped actuating the striker from the inside even though the outside knob still worked as normal.

My heart sank.  Years ago while learning the best ways to refurbish my American Classic, I kept reading tales about how expensive ($200 – $300) these locks were to replace since the OEM (Theo. Bargman Co.) was no longer in business.  And that’s IF a replacement, usually a refurbed unit, could be found.  The best case in my situation was that the problem was due to a loose screw like Frank’s Trailer Works blogged about awhile back.

Sadly, after removal & disassembly the problem was revealed to be a broken pot-metal striker.  From experience, I know pot-metal can neither be welded nor glued successfully.  This probably meant a new lock assembly would be necessary because who would be making new parts for a 48 year-old lock?

Vintage Trailer Supply would!  By virtue of being milled from an aluminum billet, the new part is naturally stronger than the original part.  Reasonably priced, too – cheaper than I could have made it myself.  The cost to next-day ship it was lower than some vendors’ price to “get it when it gets there” cost.  I really enjoy doing business with VTS.

As expected, the new part fit like a glove.  Reassembly went without incident, and before long the new striker from VTS was interfacing with the new striker pocket from VTS like nothing had ever gone wrong.

Although I was happy to spend so little on the repair, had I have had to spend considerably more there would have been no complaint because my vintage Airstream has been very good to me cost wise.  After the initial refurb 12 years ago, the only money of real consequence spent on maintenance has been on two different air conditioner issues.  I am continually surprised how much mileage we have gotten out of the original appliances.

Camping in 2015 appears to be getting off to a good start.  I can hardly wait until next week’s Florida trip.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

More Hot Water for Less Money

Natural gas is a phenomenal source of energy and does a fantastic job of keeping our house warm.  Surprisingly, even with many 18 degF days this winter, our power bill has been higher than the gas bill.  Granted, with all the fracking going on, natural gas is cheap & readily available.  But for the first time since we have lived here, it has been cheaper to heat our house in cold weather than it was to cool it during summer.

I am usually a big proponent of using natural gas for any kind of heating simply because it typically does a better job.  To that end, in addition to gas heat our house has a gas cooktop, and a gas 40 gallon water heater.  We’ll keep the electric dryer because I heard the gas version yellows clothes.  The only big heat user left is a 40 gallon electric water heater on a timer in series with the gas version installed long ago when we had no children and electricity was cheaper.

That electric water heater is now 19 years old, and has been limping along since the upper thermostat went kaput several years ago.  The timer was bypassed near the end of the Clinton administration because with small children, we seemed to constantly need a lot of hot water.  Marketed by Envir-O-Temp & made by American Water Heaters in Tennessee, it has certainly been the Eveready Bunny of water heaters.

Between trying to lower our power bill and knowing the tank will not last forever, the numbers were run to compare the current gas versus electric water heating costs.  In unsurprising news, around here it now costs roughly half as much money to heat water with gas as it does with electricity.  The added bonus of a gas water heater’s faster recovery time made it clear we were through heating water with electricity.

The next Saturday’s clear, warm weather afforded the perfect opportunity to run an additional Type B vent pipe through the garage’s ceiling & roof.  The original plan had been to pick up a new water heater afterwards and decide whether to install it in what remained of the weekend, or wait till another day.  After arriving at the Store, the plan was quickly modified to, “go home and study-up on the new electronic thermostat (gas valve) now being used by everyone”.

To me, a gas water heater should work while connected to nothing but gas & water.  That way, if the power goes out, like it did for a week a few years ago, we will still have hot water.  Some high-efficiency gas water heaters require 120 VAC to power a blower.  While perusing the selection to make sure a water heater was available without a power cord, all brands were noticed to be using the exact same Honeywell electronified thermostat.  Some even have WiFi capability.  No brand in any store had the old-style thermostat like I kept from the last water heater I replaced.

After further reading, I found that the new style thermostat has a circuit board with a processor & memory chip and is powered by a souped-up thermocouple called a thermal pile.  No additional power is needed.  Sadly the Internet is full of horror stories about this thermostat.  Specifically, if the temperature is set too high, the temperature may exceed some limit known only to the controller, and the entire assembly has to be replaced because a “die & never work again” message is written to memory.

Often blamed on sediment in the tank, this scenario is one of the most common problems with the new-style Honeywell gas valve.  From what I can surmise, the folks at Honeywell must have been trying to emulate the meltable thermal fuse function found in the old-style gas valves.  Further reading revealed the Company has since modified the design by adding an insulating sleeve to the temperature probe to make it less sensitive to sediment.

I started feeling better after reading that the water heater manufacturers are apparently sympathetic to the whole issue, and are quick to send out replacement thermostats.  Johnny down at A-1 Appliance felt the high number of complaints was due to the fact that all water heater manufacturers are now using this controller.  Statistically, with more implementations there will be more issues.  After remembering a similar story about my Goodyear Marathon trailer tires I was at peace with purchasing the new technology.

My 15 year-old drove us in the snow to get the new water heater since he needed the inclement weather driving experience.

A new Whirlpool-brand water heater was purchased because it too is now made by American Water Heaters.

Other than sediment briefly clogging the drain hose, the replacement went without a hitch.

I love working with copper plumbing:

A new feature was added to this installation – a hot/cold water pipe bonding wire where the pipes perforate the wall.

Although not required in Alabama, the potential benefits, from what I read, appeared to out-weigh the small cost of the parts required.

Even with the horror stories about overheating being fresh on my mind, I still wanted the kitchen dishwasher to get water with a temperature of at least 120 degF.  With the aid of a temperature probe on my multi-meter each water heater’s thermostat was adjusted for a tank outlet temperature of ~140 degF.

The preferred temperature was achieved with each thermostat set just above the corresponding scales’ midpoint.  I’m comfortable with that.

Here’s a face-off of new & old thermostats.  The new Honeywell is at the left connected to the yellow gas line.

So far, so good.  I think my oldest boy tried to run out all the hot water the other morning.  The only thing he succeeded at was doing a good imitation of a steamed lobster.

Hopefully, the next winter-time power bill will finally be lower than the gas bill!


Monday, January 19, 2015

Trombone: One Year Later

It has been a little over a year since I started learning how to play the trombone, and although fun, the learning curve has been steeper than anticipated.  Since I played trumpet in high school, I thought mastering this low-brass instrument would involve little more than learning slide positions.  Wrong!  After trying to play a Sousa March, I found that I had forgotten some of the musical nomenclature.

Plus, what little embouchure I had for the trumpet did not map over to the trombone’s bigger mouthpiece.  But I stuck with it, and between learning the rudiments from Rubank’s Elementary Method for Trombone, and re-learning to sight read by playing hymns, progress was steadily made.

After a couple months of practice proved to me this was not a passing fancy, an extra-tall, band-room quality music stand was purchased for the effort.  That was money well spent as it simultaneously made keeping up with several music books easier and cleaned up the look of my practice room.

By the end of the year, between birthday & Christmas gifts, two other stands and several more music books were added to the effort.

Although the free tuning fork software provided by the Internet was perfect for matching slide positions with the correct audio frequencies, everyone’s metronome software didn’t click with me for various reasons.  I tried going without a beat reference but after a while, the timing of most of my musical selections seemed to be corresponding to some variation of the room’s cuckoo clock beat period.

Acting on the premise that a mechanical metronome might appeal to my “do it the hard way” nature, we got Amazon Prime to send me a wind-up version.

The metronome is on the left.  Rebellion is an outstanding locally brewed red ale.  Not a good practice beer, though, because it’s high alcohol content makes the slide move a bit too freely; better to stick with Natty Lite if I ever plan to get good at triple-tonguing fast passages of music.

I occasionally share my trombone adventure with friends, and the ones with musical backgrounds often ask if I am taking private lessons.  Although “no” is the short answer, YouTube has been a wonderful resource for this effort. in particular has many helpful videos available for anyone wanting to learn a band instrument.  The musician at is nothing but amazing with both his virtuosity, and ability to adapt the trombone to pop music.

After a year’s worth of near daily effort, I have finished my Rubank’s book, and have practiced 450 hymns at least one time each.

At this point, I would rank me as either a first-chair Junior High School trombonist or third-chair High School.  So there is no worry about me giving up my day job.

But if I am ever able to keep up with Christopher Bill on pop, Harry Watters on jazz or Bob McChesney on anything, I would think strongly about a second career!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Making Lemonade From Maple

This year at my in-law’s Thanksgiving dinner Kim’s mom asked me to make her another wide cutting board because the size of the last one I custom-made for her was handy for keeping hot stuff from damaging her countertop.

So a few weeks ago, a maple, rough-cut board that appeared to fit the material list was dug out the wood crib.

The 1-inch thick board was then cut into three pieces which were then planed to remove most of the roughness, then edge jointed for flat glue surfaces.

Just as I have done countless times in the past, the boards were then bonded with polyurethane glue, clamped, weighted, and left alone overnight.

The next day, the glue-up was ripped to size, and repeatedly run through the planer with the intent of producing an end-product with a thickness of no less than ¾-inch.

But it eventually became evident that I had screwed up the boards’ arrangement at glue-up because at 11/16-inch thickness the project was still not flat.

So the uncompleted effort was tossed back into the wood crib before commencing round two with a different board.

After paying attention this time, I was rewarded with an end product which turned out like I wanted.  Plus, Kim’s mom was thrilled with it.

The story would have ended there if my youngest son had not asked me to fix the keyboard tray attached to his computer desk a few days later.  One look told me the repair would not just be a simple adjustment.

Repairing the stripped out screw holes looked like a problem until I remembered the failed cutting board blank.  Bingo!  It had the perfect starting size.

It finished out well in very little time.  I skipped applying a protective finish because no one cared about one nor did they want to wait out the drying time.

Everyone was pleased with the final product.

Waste not, want not!