New Control Panels

Now that the fascia is all there, it’s time to start mounting control panels. This is one of those things I’ve been agonizing about for some time. My traditional method involves printed track diagrams sandwiched between two pieces of acrylic and bolted into the fascia. I’ve never liked it, because inevitably the acrylic gets scratched or cracks, the print on the paper fades or the paper yellows, and they’re just a pain the butt to actually build because of all the cutting and drilling that must be done precisely.

Michael came up with a novel idea when I was visiting ISE World Headquarters a few weeks back. Basically the whole thing is 3D printed, and the track and lettering is printed using a different filament color. We don’t have a Prusa i3 with the multi-material upgrade yet (it apparently shipped today), so filament changes are currently handled manually. However, the holes are just made as part of manufacturing, and since the track and lettering is literally molded into the panel as part of the print process, it’s almost indestructable.

Here’s the Chokosna lumber reload spur panel…

Right now, we’re printing them using white and “glint grey” PLA on a textured Prusa bed to give it a finished texture. The indicator LEDs (amber for turnout position, white for timelocks, other colors to come…) are 3mm pre-wired LEDs I found on Amazon.

Five Years Ago

My phone and Google reminded me this week that five years ago, I was up in CR&NW country at Kennecott. Alternately seems like ages ago and yesterday all at the same time.

The preserved McCarthy station building, now the local museum.

Fascia Completed!

This thing is actually starting to look like a proper layout rather than just a bunch of track on 3/4″ plywood cookie cutter. At 22:30 Friday night, I joined the upper deck fascia. The lower deck took just a bit longer – 14:00 on Saturday afternoon – because I needed to wait on some brackets to print. With that, the layout fascia is complete and I can move on to cleaning up the room, finishing electrical, and starting to shape in the terrain.

Let There Be Light!

As long-time readers (or others who know me) know, I have a bit of a fascination with layout lighting and making it part of the overall operating day experience. Plus, it’s easier to work on a layout – either from a construction, detailing, or operations standpoint – when there’s excellent lighting. So in today’s post, we’re going to look at what I settled on for lighting the Copper River.

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Attaching Fascia

Since 2020 is officially the year of not leaving the house, I’ve actually made some progress on the CR&NW. More of my time has gone to other projects, like resurrecting a 1940s searchlight signal in my back yard, but the layout is moving forward.

A dual mount point fascia bracket showing how it works

One thing that’s never been quite clear to me is how folks attach fascia board to open grid benchwork in a secure way, such that it’s solid enough to support the weight of an operator who stumbles, yet there’s enough room behind it for the mounting of controls and some modest wiring. If you just screw it straight into the front of the grid, it’s solid but there’s no room for switches and wiring. If you mount it on some standoff wooden blocks, there’s room behind, but has a lot of flex to it. Plus that’s a lot of standoff blocks to cut.

Then I realized I have a 3D printer and this seems like an excellent way to solve the problem – printed standoff brackets.

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Powering the Layout

In addition to track power, which is something most of us have provided by our DC throttles or DCC systems, most of us have a ton of accessories. That can be as basic as things like switch machines or a hodge-podge of building lights, animated features, signals, sound modules, etc. Nearly every single one of those is going to have its own requirements in terms of voltages, currents, etc. Most layouts I’ve ever been on solve this by a maze of power strips, wall warts, battery packs, and old DC power packs repurposed once the owner converted to DCC. It’s a mess.

As an electrical engineer, some things about how people build layouts bug me far more than they should. Messy, disorganized power systems are definitely at the top of the list. I thought I’d give you a look at how power is distributed around my layout to run everything that’s not the track.

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Mainline Completed – Only 2475 Days Later…

So I sketched out the first track plan for my modern day CR&NW on July 31, 2013. On Sunday evening, May 10, 2020 at about 7:45pm, I finished the very last section of main track, connecting the engine facilities and lower yard at Cordova with the outgoing mainline to Eyak and points northeast.

That sounds like an awful progress rate, and it is, but in there I’ve also started a successful side company, managed many of the technical aspects of a $5B merger between two huge global companies (one of which is my day job), dealt with my father’s passing with all the associated estate work and helping my mother to be on her own, and remodeled my entire house. So my personal life hasn’t exactly been slow either.

Fortunately, unlike many of my co-workers, I’m a natural hermit and this “stay at home” stuff has been tremendous for my personal productivity. Not only have I completed the mainline and all of the Cordova yard/dock facilities, but I’ve installed lighting on about half the lower deck and a third of the upper deck, started installing upper fascia, and am now starting to get all the switch machines installed.

That’s not to say all trackwork is done. I have some work left to go on the yard tracks at Chitina and I need to install the enginehouse track at McCarthy. But that’s all pretty minor. It’s just that it’s waiting on a few more turnouts to show up, given the current scarcity of Atlas #7 rights.

In honor of the main line being completed, here’s a shot from my collection of the real CR&NW’s main line back in the early days of the railroad. My guess on era would be 1916-1920 based on other photos in the same group. As to location? Somwhere between Miles Glacier and (probably) Tiekel.

The Miles Glacier Bridge

One of the photos I’ve recently acquired is this view of a train approaching the Miles Glacier bridge from the east. It would appear to be a work train that’s returning from carrying ballast, given it consists entirely of the railroad’s Western side-dump gravel cars and a spreader on the back just ahead of the caboose.

Another thing to note is the trestle wye at the east end of the bridge. Most people don’t realize there was a wye here, completely up on trestlework. I also find it interesting that I can’t see the Miles Glacier station at the west end of the bridge, but it may be just out of the photographer’s field view.

What appears to be a ballast train – given all the side-dump cars and the spreader just ahead of the caboose – heads toward Cordova on the east approach to the Miles Glacier Bridge.


Believe it or not, I’ve actually made progress again. I have a near-final design for the Cordova main yard and have started actually putting down track.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a picture! The barge slip will be to the left, the front half of the engine shop is represented by the eSun plastic box, and the main classification yard will be in the lower right. At the rear will be four storage tracks for ore trains and passenger equipment between runs.

See – progress in tracklaying!

As usual, nothing’s easy. I just ordered every left-hand turnout I need from MB Klein, but there seems to be a bit of a shortage of Atlas #7 right turnouts at the moment. Going to call some of my usual sources tomorrow and see if I can’t scare up about a dozen of them.

Regardless, I should be able to prioritize use of the few RH turnouts I have and at least get the mainline plumbed through. At long last, more than half a decade after I started this project, I’ll finally have a finished mainline. Then I can move along to fascia and scenery.

Kennicott Through the Years

I haven’t posted much in the last year, largely because I haven’t done much.  The day job, working on the ProtoThrottle, finishing up my father’s estate and trying to get my mother comfortable with being on her own have consumed much of my life.  I have finished up the smelter complex yard and made some other minor progress elsewhere, but I’ll post separately about that.

As a warning, all of the images linked here are quite large, so that you can blow them up and get down to the finest detail.

A recent acquisition off eBay was this old slide of the Kennecott Mill, taken by an unknown visitor on July 7, 1957.  Overall, the site looks very much like it did when the last train pulled nearly 19 years earlier.  The mill building is all there, including the long ore chute trestles from the upper reaches of the mill straight to the sacking house (where the rail cars were loaded).  The electrical shop is also still there (the building between the sacking house and the little depot hiding in the trees).  The tracks are in (including the 3ft gauge service tram line), the window glass is still there, and the upper floor of the mill, where the ore was received from the tramways, is all intact.  I’ve also included the 1935-1936 site plan from the Historic American Engineering Record files on Kennicott, so that you can use the map to identify the various structures visible and get your bearings.

From the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service

The Kennecott Mill site on 7 Jul 1957, photographer unknown, Nathan Holmes collection

The next available photo I have from roughly the right angle dates from 2004, when my grandfather Harold Bryant visited Kennicott.   By this time, the tracks and power lines are gone and National Creek Trestle is looking a bit rough.  The roof on the leaching plant (the building in the foreground on the left side) is in rough shape, and the electrical shop is gone.  The ore chutes are looking a bit rough, but there’s scaffolding so it appears they’re working on the issue.  In addition, the vegetation is a bit out of control on the right where the shop would have been.

The Kennecott Mill site in 2004, taken by Harold Bryant (my grandfather).

And finally, here’s a look during my visit back in September 2015.   The National Creek trestle as seen in my grandfather’s shot was washed away in a flood in 2006, and was subsequently replaced with a modern but reasonably accurate facsimile.  Honestly getting at least 70 years of service out of a trestle isn’t bad.  On the plus side, the general office building has been restored (seen under the blue tarp over the trees in 2004), and the chute from the mill to the leaching plant seems to be in better shape.  The depot also has a fresh coat of paint.  The leaching plant itself, however, is in just as bad of shape, and the ore chutes from the upper parts of the mill have been truncated strangely.

The Kennecott Mill site, as seen during my last visit in early September 2015.

I realize the park service has limited resources, and they do a pretty good job for a large government bureaucracy with a relatively small budget, but looking back 60 years makes me realize how much of a different feel the site has today as opposed to sixty years ago.