“I’ve been working on the railroad…

…all the live-long day!”

Well, not really. Most certainly I did not have it as bad as the railroad workers about whom the song was written around 1894. During those early days of American railroad construction, working conditions were not ideal, to say it mildly. It was backbreaking, all manual labor to lay down railroad track. Pay was low. A Chinese worker on a track laying gang in the late 1860’s, building the Central Pacific Railroad‘s part of the Transcontinental Railroad, made about $28 for working 27 days per month. That comes out to about $550 per month in 2020. Even in today’s world, working on the railroad is still a dangerous and perilless job.

Working on my N scale railroad I just have to worry about hitting my fingers with the track nail hammer while putting down track! Or burning out my Digital Command Control Unit by connecting it incorrectly: after all, real men do not read instructions! Things are coming along though. Most of the track has been laid and trains are running. Signals are up and lit, but not yet connected to DCC.

The signal aspects are lit, but no DCC connection yet. Right now it is just working on infrared.

The turnouts are also not yet connected to DCC and must be thrown manually for now. Once the signals and turnouts are programmed into the main Digital Command Control I can operate the whole shebang through my I-Pad.

A Digitrax control unit for up to four turnouts. This still needs to be programmed to receive commands from the main Digital Command Control unit.
The Digital Command Control Unit on the left with the handheld controllers on the right. The far right handheld is wireless.

All my locomotives have decoders installed ex-factory. It is just easier buying them that way. The N scale decoders are tiny and I find them just too difficult to install with my fat fingers.

Generally scenery has not been a priority up to this point. Most of the attention in this regard has been given to the area around the train station. The building itself is a product of the German company Faller, modeled after the main train station in Bonn, Germany.

The box cover of the HO version of the Bonn Hauptbahnhof. I have both, the N scale and the HO scale version.

The platforms are from KATO. This Japanese company specializes in N scale railroad models and accessories. Of course, this being a Japanese company, most of the models are of Japanese prototypes. Including the station platforms. With a little work German train station buildings and Japanese station platforms get along quite nicely. Like they say: “it’s my railroad and I can do what I want!”

The KATO platforms have built in lighting. A nice touch. There are a lot of little, fiddly bits to this kit. Unfortunately and not surprisingly, the instructions are in Japanese, so good luck figuring out what goes where sometimes.
Another lesson learned: use the correct glue when affixing little plastic people to the station platform! Otherwise they all look they wet themselves.
Two views of the station area. I have finally managed to hook up the street lights. The head and tail lights on the vehicles are also now operational.

There is catenary over the tracks in the station. Whatever possessed me to do this I do not know. Overhead wiring is hard enough to install in HO scale, but it is neigh impossible in N scale. The catenary looks nice, but I just have not got the patience to do any more. Famous last words, of course…

A short note about track. Stay away from Bachmann N scale E-Z track and turnouts. I had tried their E-Z track in HO scale and it was a nightmare. Maybe their N scale E-Z track is better, I thought. Well, what’s the definition of idiocy? Trying the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result. The E-Z track stuff is just not worth the aggravation. So I ended up with KATO Unitrack for long, straight stretches. KATO manufactures straight double track pieces which a great for mainlines. Curved, double track pieces are also available, but the radii are not large enough for my purposes, so I used Atlas and Peco flextrack for those sections. Most turnouts are from Atlas.

An Atlas Model Trains New Jersey Transit Cab Car on KATO double track “Unitrack”.
A TRIX Deutsche Bahn Class 110 Electric on Peco flex track, on top of Woodland Scenics foam bed.

Since it is my railroad after all and I am not a “rivet counter” I pretty much run anything under the sun on my pike. A German Railways ICE 4 is just as home on my railway as are Union Pacific Railroad GE AC6000 diesel-electric locomotives. New Jersey Transit will share the track with the Rhätische Bahn “Glacier Express”, while an Amtrak ACS-64 lead train sits in the station. You get the idea…The quality of the rolling stock really varies. Broadway Limited puts out some amazingly well running locomotives. Like he aforementioned GE AC6000. KATO’s “Glacier Express” is not so great. The coaches will derail by just looking at them! They are much too light weight. The locomotive’s snowplows were installed too low, so they would catch on turnout joints. A little filing down of the plows solved that problem. The Deutsche Bahn ICE 4, also made by KATO, sounds like a swarm of angry bees at speed, while my Atlas Model Train New Jersey Transit ALP-45 cannot even get up to speed. It just trundles along the track. According to Atlas it has something to do with the motor armature and they recommend “running in” the locomotive. OK, it’s been “running in” for months now, but still can’t get up to speed. Looks like a manufacturing issue to me. Particularly since other owners are having the same issue. TRIX and Piko make good models, which generally run well. I have not had any problems with them. Hobbytrain/Lemke are also nice. The only quibble there is the fact that the head and tail lights are way too dim.

Here is a link to a video: N scale layout progress.

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All photos by Ralf Meier (I-Phone X)

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