’tis the season to be jolly…..or not!

Frankly I can not blame anybody for giving the “jolly feeling” a miss this year. It has been a rough 2020 here in DC and, of course, elsewhere. Personally I can not wait to see the back of this awful year. Between the pandemic and the sad Greek tragedy playing out in the White House, the 20th of January 2021 can not come fast enough. God knows how much more irreparable damage the current occupant of the White House will do during the last remaining 4 weeks of this four year old nightmare. It is indeed scary. It will take this country decades to repair the havoc wrought by Trump. Not to mention the question of how we are going to rebuilt trust with our allies and trading partners.

But enough of that!

Notwithstanding what I just said, we have been doing just fine here at Casa Chesapeake. Of course there are a few things we miss: the subscription concerts of the Baltimore Symphony at Strathmore, attending theater performances and having dinner parties here at the house. We have a wonderful public indoor pool just up the street which Brad visited daily, but, of course, that is now closed for the duration. However all in all we are ok. Certainly my baking skills have improved (probably my weight has “improved” also) and I am not turning down the extra martini either. Brad takes long walks and has gotten into jig-saw puzzles in a big way. I have a nice exercise bike in the basement and, of course, I have my model trains to keep me occupied, among other things.

So, let’s talk about model trains.

Perhaps you will recall that about a year ago I decided to make the change from an HO scale model railroad to an N scale layout. HO is by far the most widely used scale and I would have easily preferred to stay with it. However the attic is just not quite large enough to run prototypical length trains in HO. The front of a long freight train would chase it’s own tail…So I gave N scale a try. Remember that HO scale is 1:87, whereas N scale is 1:160. Very, very roughly HO would be twice the size of N scale.

From left to right: an HO scale model, a TT scale locomotive and an N scale electric. All three are about forty years old and I have no idea who manufactured them. I am not even sure that they are in running condition.

Top to bottom: HO, TT and N scale.

The photograph below shows model train locomotives in various scales. All are of the same class: a German electric class 194/94. They are part of my “scale explanation” collection, showing the different model train scales using the same prototype. Again from the left: G scale, O scale, HO scale, TT scale, N scale and Z scale.

In any case the N scale idea seemed to be working for me. I could run prototypical length trains in the given attic space without it looking silly. Even an N scale KATO 12 car Deutsche Bahn InterCity Express looked ok:


But it was not to be. I just could not deal with the diminutive size of N scale models. Attaching things like brake hoses, windshield wipers or changing the couplers on the locomotives always turned out a mess. I can not begin to count how many pieces I broke or just plain lost. The track work was challenging and the turnouts uniformly proved to be a nightmare, constantly derailing the trains. No matter what remedy I attempted, the trains just never ran well. Trying to deal with N scale figures and scenery just kept frustrating me.

This was no fun anymore. And when a hobby ceases to be interesting, entertaining and fun, it is time to regroup! But what to do. Going back to HO was not something I was really eager to do. Then I had a “Geistesblitz”: what about TT? TT scale is 1:120 (12 millimeter or 0.47 inches between the rails), so it is right between HO and N. The Tillig Modellbahn company calls it the perfect scale. Looking at it one would tend to agree. It is large enough to be easily worked on, but small enough to run long trains in somewhat confined spaces. Problem is that TT scale railroad modeling is not very prevalent here in the US. Which is interesting, because TT scale was thought up right here in the US by a Hal Joyce in 1945. He called it TT scale since he envisioned the model trains to be set up on tables…on table tops! The scale really took off in Europe, but has continued to be very much a niche hobby here in the US. A lot of the TT model train manufacturers have come and gone. Lately though there has been a resurgence and renewed interest in that particular scale. Some major model railroad producers have gotten into the act now. Roco, Piko and Tillig, just to name a few. There are even some small outfits in the US making TT models again. A few specialist model train stores here in the US are also selling TT scale items again, like Reynauld’s, Eurail Hobbies or Eurotrain Hobby. However it is still difficult to get items and very often they have to be ordered, like TT track for example.

Nevertheless, I dove in with a vengeance. All the N scale track and turnout work was ripped out. Though I left the N scale station for now. The N scale track was sold on eBay.

I had ordered some TT scale track, which arrived just a few days after I finished removing the N scale rails. Just enough track pieces to built a short section to experiment and to make sure I was really on the right track (!!!) with this idea:

A Piko BLS 187 electric on the left and a MTB Czech Railways Class 755 diesel on the right.

A Piko TT scale Class 187 electric of the Bern Lötschberg Simplon (BLS)

I am going to keep one HO scale loop (on the left, with a Roco Deutsche Bahn Class 197 electric) since I have a quite large collection of HO rolling stock. I can also continue to use my DCC system. It works with all scales.

The Piko DCC (Digital Command Control system) The wireless, Android based handheld on the top and the base station on the bottom.

Otherwise I am going to take the plunge into the TT scale world.

In the spirit of the season I will leave you with this:

Thanks Wei and Mike!

and this: Schoolbus Light Show

Have a nice holiday everybody!

As always comments are appreciated.

All photos by Ralf Meier, unless otherwise attributed (iPhone 12 Plus and Sony a7c)

Credits for the School Bus light show: James Price (Lighting Engineer, Integration, Sequencing) – Cody Plumhof (Light Sequencing, Video/Editing) Music: Used with permission from the Utah Symphony Orchestra – The Nutcracker, Op. 71a: Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, Utah Symphony Orchestra, Maurice Abravanel System/Parts: Software – xLights, Major Hardware: Enttec DMX USB Pro, 12 Volt 12 Channel DMX Relay Board and the Washington County (Utah) School District.


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