It’s been eighteen months since The Deluge, the plumbing accident that created a virtual monsoon in our basement. As bad as it looked then, and it looked REALLY BAD, quite a lot of our possessions escaped The Deluge unharmed. We had hundreds of books down there, for instance, and almost every one of them survived without water damage.

I started to build the model train layout of my dreams in the basement many years ago.  There’s no more to it than the bench and track; I never got to the point where I landscaped it, or built any tiny train stations or other buildings, and a good thing, too.  All of that would have been washed away by The Deluge.  The track wasn’t affected by the water; it’s still all firmly in place and shows no signs of corrosion.  The bench is made of scraps of lumber that doesn’t appear to have warped at all in spite of all the water that washed over it.  So essentially the layout is unchanged from the day before The Deluge, presumably in working order.

The room the layout’s in, though, has been a mess ever since.

Two of the overhead light fixtures fell from the ceiling when the water-soaked overhead wallboard panels began to buckle under their own weight and the anchors that held the light fixtures up lost their grip in the sodden panels.  Same with the electrical conduit and outlets I screwed to the ceiling to plug the lights into, so there’s been no electrical light in that back corner since The Deluge.

The floor was a scattered mess of scraps of drywall and all kinds of jetsam that got washed off the bench by the floodwaters.  Cleanup was such a daunting task I never quite mustered the motivation to get in there with a broom and a vacuum cleaner. It was too depressing to look at, much less think about cleaning up, until last weekend.

It began when I swept a path through the debris wide enough for me to walk in.  Then I ran a couple extension cords to the two overhead lights that remained hanging from the ceiling.  I crossed my fingers and yanked on the pull chains, not knowing if they still worked.  They did.  That gave me enough light to keep going.

I pieced together the electrical conduit and outlets that fell from the ceiling.  Wouldn’t do any good to hang the lights if I couldn’t connect them to power.  Putting the outlets back up was easier than I thought it would be and took less time; I dreaded the idea I might be at it all weekend, but they went up in just a couple hours.  I even did it right the first time: The lights came on when I flipped the switch, same as if I knew what I was doing. Always pleasantly surprised when that happens.

LoCo Railway

With the lights taken care of, I had to get down into the dirt.  Literally.  There was so much dirt and dust and many, many dead spiders. Lots of broken glass. Bits of wallboard and insulation everywhere. More dirt.  It was an unholy mess, and there was nothing to do for it but get down on my hands & knees with the business end of a vacuum cleaner.  Kept me busy for the rest of the afternoon.

The next step is to close off the room so the cats won’t be able to get in there.  No use wiring the track up again if they’re just going to swipe at the wiring like it’s their favorite new toy.  That’s a project for next weekend.

praise Baldwin

Gah! The new motor I bought for this Bowser locomotive was supposed to be a plug-and-play installation: Unscrew the old motor, screw in the new motor, solder a few wires to complete the electrical connection, done! But no, that’s not going to happen with this particular locomotive because the holes where the screws go don’t line up. I’ll have to drill at least one new hole and hope that Baldwin, the patron saint of steam locomotion, smiles down upon us modelers, too, and will keep the gears on the motor tightly meshed together with the gears on the wheels. Yah, I don’t think they will, either.

model steam locomotive

side rods

I spent a couple hours yesterday afternoon picking teensy-tiny little pieces of a model train engine out of the dust and dirt on the floor under the work bench, and when I say “teensy-tiny,” I’m talking about pieces as small or smaller than fingernail clippings. And just to complicate things, the dust and dirt was littered with little splashes of solder that froze when they hit the floor into odd shapes that looked a lot like pieces of a model train engine, so just to be safe I picked up all those up, too, and sorted through them after arranging them under the light on the work bench. This is how I relax.

The bad news is that I discovered one of the side rods broke when it hit the floor. Side rods are the long iron arms that connect the driving wheels of steam locomotives together. If you’re a Buster Keaton fan and have seen The General (and if you haven’t, HOW CAN YOU CALL YOURSELF A BUSTER KEATON FAN?), he sat down on the side rod and rode it up and down, up and down as the locomotive began to roll away in the first reel. Love that scene.

The good news is that I managed to find a shop on the internet that sold me a new set of side rods. They didn’t, however, sell valve gear (can’t explain, too nerdy), so I’ll have to figure out how to cobble those together myself, probably many years from now in retirement when I have oodles of free time and a lathe.


The Lost Continent Railway had its first visitors last Saturday, my cousin Carrie’s three boys, who are possibly into trains more than I am. Every one of them was wearing a train-themed t-shirt, and the oldest boy had an engineer’s cap (gotta get me one of those, no matter how dorky it makes me look). 

Their visit was the most fun I’ve had so far with the LoCo. I get a great big smile each time I can make the trains do what I want them to do, but this was the first time I’ve gotten a belly laugh making the trains go when someone else wanted. “Make the yellow one go!” “Now make the Polar Express go!” 

For the big finish, I crashed the train. Not on purpose, although if I’d known a crash would be as well-received as it was, I would have prepared for one in advance.


track switch controlsThe awesome power in these little wooden knobs is hard to overstate. Honestly. I wouldn’t bullshit you about something as serious as that. Or about the fact that I wouldn’t bullshit you. Which is bullshit, and I’m sure you know it.

Hmmm. Kind of wandered just a little bit. Didn’t take long, either, did it?

Back to the photo and the little wooden knobs. Each knob is connected to a track switch on the train tracks of the Lost Continent Railway. Until I installed these babies, I had to run from the throttle to the farthest corners of the layout, throwing those switches by hand, which is a huge pain in the ass on a layout that’s twelve feet long and six feet wide.

I have to bend and duck under a lot of the tracks, too, because the layout is butted up against the walls in a cramped corner of the basement. When I started to build the Lost Continent, I didn’t think duck-unders were going to be a problem, but after my fiftieth birthday came and went, I changed my tune real quick. I really should have paid attention to all those geezers whose very first rule of model railroad building is: “1. No Duckunders!

So if I can stand at the throttle and control everything on the layout, that’s a big plus. I always intended to install track switch controls but never made a firm decision on the kind I would eventually use, even though I have used Blue Point switch machines from the very start. The first one I bought as a test worked so well that I immediately bought five more and installed them at the most-used track switches where they very satisfyingly click-clacked left and right, holding the points of the track switches solidly open or closed.

Then about two weeks ago, after I finally figured out how to wire the crossover and could move trains freely around the layout without having to work out a detour around the gaping hole that the crossover filled, I broke down and bought a five-pack of the knobs and red tubes and connectors so I wouldn’t have to do all that running around and ducking and banging my head on the underside of the thick, unmoving wooden crossbeams of the track bench. I spent the last week or so installing them, and I’m happy to report that they work so well I’m giddily writing 500 words of drivel about them. Doesn’t take much to make me giddy, does it?


crossover at Overcoat JunctionIt’s been a good day here on the Lost Continent Railway. The track gang has put in a solid two days of work this weekend, finishing up the crossover at Overcoat Junction ahead of schedule. Honestly, the chief engineer was sure this was going to take all week to complete, but he was poking around through the inventory and found a prefabricated crossover that, with a little jiggering of the original track plan, he could fit into the spot where it was needed. When he discovered it could solve a problem that had been plaguing him all winter, the poor guy didn’t know whether to shit or go blind. He had Dominic Book, boss of the track gang, round up the boys, load the crossover onto a flat car and haul it out to the junction where they’ve been working on it since Friday. When the boys finished up early Sunday morning, the chief was so well chuffed that he put a ten-dollar gold coin in the till at The Draw Bar and told the boys to come get him if they could drink that all up before the sun set. They went pounding on the door of Round The Bend, the chief’s business car, with a couple hours to spare, so he tossed them another ten dollars and sent them on their way.

setting up shop

What I did with my Sunday:

Well, first I made a big, steaming pot o’ joe, same as I always do. Always. The day doesn’t start without a pot o’ joe. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that. If you have, and you’ve been wondering why your day didn’t start as early as every other day, it was because I got up late. Now you know.

Then, I ate some oatmeal and drank my coffee while I read the morning news. Took me hours. Because Sunday.

At about ten o’clock, My Darling B reminded me that we had a date for eleven o’clock at a restaurant on Park Street called Inka Heritage, our first meal to kick off Madison Restaurant Week, one of our very favoritest festivals. I may be remembering this wrong, but I think Inka was the first restaurant we visited when we started going to Restaurant Week many moons ago, and I think we’ve been starting the winter version of Restaurant Week every year by going to Inka. Even if I’m not remembering that right, I’m pretty sure this is the third time we’ve been there and I know I haven’t been disappointed by the food yet. I don’t know why we don’t go more often. Probably because it’s not in the neighborhoods we usually visit. We should get out more.

We both had the fish, by the way. Scrumptious.

Then I spent all afternoon in the basement throwing crap out, putting away the stuff I couldn’t make myself throw out, and finally knocking together a work bench where I could work on choo-choo trains. I used to make a temporary work bench by throwing a board across an open stretch of the layout, but there aren’t any open stretches any more, and I still needed a place to solder track together or whatever.

I had an old pine shelf that came out of one of our closets, and a dozen or so sawn-off ends of two-by-fours I could knock together into brackets. Took me a little longer than I thought it would to knock them together, but then it always does. Once the braces were up, all I had to do was cut the pine shelf to length and screw it down. The shelf was too long to cut it with the table saw, so I clamped it down to my Black & Decker WorkMate 200, with a board across the top to act as a guide, grabbed my circular saw and got ready to make some serious noise.

The clamp was in the way. It usually is. I don’t use the circular saw very often, so I usually make this mistake. As I was repositioning the clamp it seemed there was something about the way I’d set up the cut that wasn’t quite right, but I couldn’t quite figure out what was bothering me about it until I was just about to pull the trigger on the saw, and then I saw it: The line I’d planned to cut was laying right across the middle of my WorkMate. If I’d gone and made the cut, I would’ve sawn the WorkMate in half.

It wouldn’t have been the first time I’ve abused it that way. One end of the WorkMate’s front jaw has been shorter than the back jaw (the top opens like a vise) ever since I sawed it off the same year I got it as a Christmas present, and the tops of the jaws are pockmarked with holes where I’ve drilled through work that I was sure was too thick for the drill bit to get all the way through. I’ve known for years that I’m probably going to saw it in half eventually; it’s pretty surprising, really, that I haven’t done it already. And yet somehow I avoided doing it yesterday.

With the shelf cut to length, all that was left to do was screw it down and cover it with a whole bunch of crap. And done.


From high atop the tallest stepstool I own, I took this aerial view snapshot of the Lost Continent Railway:

aerial view of the Lost Continent Rwy

My phone camera can also do panoramas. Nifty keen neato, right?

The latest addition to the LoCo is the benchwork along the backside of the layout. The eastern terminal, yet to be named (although it’s rumored that “Gertrude” is still holding tight to first place), will be erected near the upper right corner, with five tracks and attending passenger platforms running underneath it. The five tracks will combine in a kind of spaghetti-bowl tangle through a series of switches to be laid on the narrowing strip of plywood in the center of the photo, until they connect to the three tracks in the horseshoe curve to the left. Two more tracks where great big chuffing steam engines will wait for their cue to join with the passenger trains will branch off toward the control panel.

So far, this is all in my mind. Oh, wait, no it’s not. It’s all been carefully drawn out by John Armstrong, master track planner extraordinaire!

Even though there’s still a shocking amount of hammering and sawing to do, it’s starting to feel a lot like I’m nearing the home stretch. The track to the station will be the last of the mainline track to be laid on the Lost Continent. There are a couple of short line tracks that curl outward from the crossing in the center of the layout, but I won’t be fiddling around with them much until I get the mainline done. The major challenge of this layout has always been piecing together the switches that make up the approach to the station so that cars can move through them smoothly, and there will be a lot of switches. It’s not going to happen this month, or even next month, but it’s just possible that trains could be pulling into the station before the winter’s over.


motive power on the LoCo RwyMotive power on the Lost Continent Railway is a hash of electric, diesel and steam. Until I started building the layout in its current incarnation I wasn’t sure what era I wanted my railroad to look like, so for the longest time I collected just about anything that came along at the right price. Later I realized that the locomotives I most loved watching were steam engines and the passenger cars that were most interesting were the old heavyweights, and that’s what I’ve gravitated towards these past years. Yet I still have all sorts of motive power in the engine shed and so far haven’t been able to bring myself to part with any of it.

The steam locomotive in this photo is one of a pair I bought on sale almost fifteen years ago. Dressed in the colors of the New York Central, it’s meant to represent a Niagra class 4-8-4. I haven’t painted it in the livery of the Lost Continent yet. A smooth runner, it’s way too large for the Lost Continent, a railroad that I have always envisioned as a regional line that spanned no more than a couple states, but this steamer looks so good that I know I won’t be able to leave it out of the regularly scheduled lineup. It’ll always be one of the two flagship locos in the fleet. In case you’re wondering, the second one’s still in the box, although I’ve brought it out once or twice to let it get some air and stretch its legs, just to make sure it’s still working.

I bought the electric just five years ago when I was planning a shelf layout that was going to be nothing more than a passenger station in the modern era. I’ve always been just as fascinated by electric locos asI have with steam engines, and this AEM-7, a small electric, felt just right for a small layout. I kept it even after my shelf layout metamorphosed into J-shaped round-the-room layout because it’s such a smooth, strong runner and is easy to set down on the rails with just one hand. I use it all the time to try out newly-laid stretches of track.

The diesel, an E-8, has been on the Lost Continent’s roster less than two years, I think. I bought it at the same time I snatched up the rake of sleek streamline cars behind it. Streamlined passenger cars didn’t come along until the 40s and the E-8s were built in the early 50s, so it doesn’t fit the late-20s era of the Lost Continent, but I love streamline passenger cars, especially the ones with domes, and when I saw a stack of them on sale at a cut-rate price I couldn’t keep walking. After narrowing my choices down to a half-dozen I thought, Now what I really need is an engine to pull these, and that’s how I ended up with a train that really doesn’t fit my railroad but which I love just as much as the big steamer pulling the old heavyweight passenger cars.