Adding 5th Wheels to BLMA Trinity Spine Cars

I thought I would add this quick and dirty tutorial on how to build the 5th wheels for these cars.  Small dabs of super glue and good magnifying goggles, tweezers and patience are all you need.  Oh, and a #70 drill bit.

Please forgive the photography, this is all macro work and I don’t have my light diffuser handy :(

The Parts you will need for each stand up hitch you want to do and the orientation of them.  Note the orientation of the parts, please.  The saddle has the “notch” facing away from the tread plates on the car.  That is how the truck bodies are loaded and the 5th wheel keeps them from moving about on the car.  If it was reversed, the trailer could possibly slide out under acceleration… bad thing.

The body of the car itself.  Note that I opened the holes a bit with a #70 drill bit.  Not much, just enough to get the extra paint away.

Install the longer of the two support braces.  The piece fits nicely into the hole with just a dab of super glue, it becomes very solid.  Don’t worry too much about the angle here, just try to get it near what I show.  When you glue it to the other support, the angle will mend itself as this is very soft stuff.

Ok, now for the upright.  Again, it slides nicely down into it’s holes if you have taken the time to open them up a bit with the #70 (or even a sharp knife).  I glued the bottoms in first, then I glued the piece from the previous step to this.  The arms fit nicely into the upright and kind of “lock” into the notches in the upright.

Now comes the saddle of the 5th wheel.  It is tricky, since it just glues to the upright in two very small places.  As you look at the bottom of the 5th wheel, you will just be able to see the notches that the saddle fits into.  They are not in the middle, but rather in the back 1/3rd of the saddle.  The smooth side goes up :)

And there is the completed upright 5th wheel for these amazing cars.

Hope that helps!

Added: 10 July 2011 – Note that when you add the uprights to all your cars, they no longer fit into the original packaging.  You have to cut away some of the flimsy plastic on the package to allow them to lay in the wells.  A strange thing, since one of the cars has a “bubble” for the 5th wheel, the rest don’t.

BLMA Trinity Spine Cars

Wow!  Ok, you heard it here first. These 5 unit Spine Car sets are awesome.  (Ok maybe you heard it elsewhere first, but it’s the first time you heard it from me!)

Here is a quick video I made of them running on my hobby room test track;

As you can see, these are great running even when empty, on a very tight loop of Kato Unitrak and with one of the trucks de-railed by yours truly.  Even with the front truck on the ground, they went through both Kato switches perfectly.  That’s pretty bullet proof.

I’m a veteran of the older con-cor spine cars that were quite the pieces of Shi… pooh.  They didn’t track for crap and they wobbled from side to side so badly that even weighted trailers would go launching in every corner.  The amount of work needed to make them work was not worth the time invested.

As a modern period modeler though, I was quite thrilled when BLMA announced these Trinity Spine Cars.  My friend George at Wig-Wag managed to save me a set even though I hadn’t pre-ordered them.  (Brain dead me! Thank the heavens for George and Debra!)  I got to pick a set up last night and wow, was I impressed.  I even managed to grab another set today as an Anniversary present (27 years… people have served less time for murder…LOL, I’m kidding sheeeesh).

The down side.  Very minor.  On the first set, there was a VERY tight truck, wouldn’t swivel at all.  A few moments with a round file and that process was fixed.  Also, a teeny-tiny detail piece fell off an was laying in the packaging.  No biggy, it was one of the channel pieces around the 5th wheel mount.  A tiny dab of super glue, magnifying glasses and all was well with the world again.  On the second set, a brake wheel had come off.  Again, super glue, specs and no worries in about 2 minutes.

The Up sides.

  • They track brilliantly, even unloaded.  They are cast metal and have some heft to them so they keep the track.
  • The gorgeous new 70 ton trucks from BLMA with profile metal wheelsets.  A joy to behold, need a lot of rust though…
  • MT body mount couplers.  YAY
  • Beautiful detail, all around!

I have heard some folks say that the 5th wheels are a pain to assemble and build.  I did not find them all that hard to do once you look at the pictures on the BLMA site.  Still, they are small and highly detailed, so take your time.

Overall, BLMA gets a solid A+ for this release.  Beautifully done.  A little later I may post a snap or two of putting the 5th wheels together and on the car in case people need a hand.

Handlaid Track – Amazing Fast Tracks products

Fast Tracks Logo

Ok, I have said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Sometimes things are just done right and they need to get mentioned!  That describes the stuff from Fast Tracks.  I’m always quick to criticize a company or put something down, but painfully slow to recognize the truly great things.  Fast Tracks turnout building jigs and related equipment are one of those items that deserve special mention!

While I was in my 18 months of doldrums and not building the layout, one of the things I invested in was a whole set-up from Fast Tracks to hand lay #6 Turnouts in Code 55 track.  All I can say is WOW.

As the package arrived, the first thing that hits you is the excellent quality of all the parts.  Nothing is pared to make this hand laying experience easy and useful.  The jig for the turnout is a solid hunk of aluminum that seems durable as hell.  The PointForm tool and the StockAid are also incredibly beefy.  Their heavy enough to use as weights to hold everything on the jig during the build.  Very handy.  What really sets rig apart is the instructions.  Hours of video and hundreds of pages of PDF text, with great photos takes you step by step through the entire process.  Even I couldn’t screw it up.

They have videos and information on soldering for those who haven’t done that before.  I went through it and I’m a graduate of the USAF High-Reliability Soldering school.  I can solder gnats wings together in a pinch, and I still enjoyed the video with all it’s tips and tricks.  The videos, combined with the text will have you building amazingly smooth running turnouts in a few hours.  And that’s just for the first one.  After you have the hang of it, they become easier and easier.

The PointForm and StockAid tools are ingeniously crafted to allow you to file the points and frogs in a way that makes the align perfectly.  As you may guess, this is the most critical part of turnout building and has been the problem with all the other solutions out there.  The guys at Fast Tracks have conquered that problem with gusto and perfection.  If you follow the video/text/pictures, you WILL make perfect points and stock rails.  Just go slow the first time and read it over twice.

They also have a number of “cool tools” that you can buy, and are worth it too.  The Tie-Breaker is an ingenious device made of laser cut wood (beefy stuff too, not balsa) that does nothing more than help you cut the PCB ties to the correct length. Is it required, Nope.  Is it quite possible the coolest tool since the bread slicer?  Yep!  The Frog Helper is another hunk of aluminum that does one thing, hold the frog points in perfect alignment for soldering.  Again, not required, you can do a FINE job on the jig.  Does it make life a little better/easier – you betcha!  All their stuff is like that, they take model railroad problems and engineer contemporary solutions that just plain work.

Do they save money?  Well, yes, I suppose.  Building  turnout does lower the cost, but that is not why bought it.  I have a dream of one day being an MMR and I thought this might help in the future.  I also knew I was going to need a ton of switches in the yard and these will fit that need quite well.  Once they are painted up and tacked down, they look fabulous, and they run smooth as glass.

Overall.  I would have to say, Run, don’t walk to your computer and order the kits from the guys.  Figuring out how the shipping works can be a little strange (they’re Canadiens, eh?) but they do a great job of getting you what you want as soon as they can.

Happy turnout building!  I know you’ll enjoy, because if I can do it, anyone can!

Analysis Paralysis

My Yard

Playing in the yard...

Well, I had the epiphany I was waiting for.  That sounds kind of high-brow, doesn’t it?  Ok, so I finally got off my fat arse and worked on the layout.  After many fits and starts, I have finally said to heck with it and laid down the beginnings of the yard on the layout.  It’s been a long time, roughly 18 months since the benchwork was completed.  What took so long?  Analysis Paralysis is the culprit, or part of it.  Let me Explain;

Over-thinking – Yes, I admit it.  I must have read every book on track planning twice, all of Tony Koester’s books twice and 10 years worth of Model Railroader issues.   All because I wanted to “do it right this time”. I must have mulled over 50 track plans during this time trying to figure out which one was best.  I was bound and determined that this one would be right, no matter what.  Of course, I nitpicked every plan to death until I convinced myself it sucked. In truth, the more I studied, the more I could put off the doing…

Inability to learn 3rd Planit, CADRail etc. – Another time waster, trying to learn to use to a computer program to make the master plan.  Now, I work in IT, so computers are not foreign to me.  I am currently surrounded by 8 computers in the house, 2 iPads and 2 iPhones, all networked happily and running my life.  Learning 3rd Planit and the other programs should have been second nature.  Not so.  It was much easier to hit a snag, give up and come back to it a month later.  Just another way to delay and have something else to blame.

Procrastination – This always creeps in.  When I had the time, I invested it somewhere else, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes not.

Fear of failing – And last but not least, the biggy!  Abject fear of failure.  I’m afraid I’ll do it wrong and it will suck and everyone will laugh at me and say “I told you so”.  Sound childish?  Yeah, it does, but it is there.  To not admit it would be to try to fool myself, and I don’t like doing that.

So, I just wrenched up the nerves, went into the Training Room and said “To Hell with it!”  I’m going to do this my way, my style and make my mistakes.  If it’s wrong, I’ll learn from it and go on.  The great guys at the N-Scale Forum have critiqued my yard plan and after a few tweaks, I’m ready to start nailing it down so that I can move on with the mainline.

Wish me luck!

Oh yeah, I learned 3rd planit’s tricks and foibles.  I’m a planning fool now ;)