Building the Hitop Part 4….

Today’s article covers the addition of the handy panel to complete the last piece of base and track work at the end of the branch over the two tunnels, plus wiring the layout. Also we’ll talk a bit about painting the track. To start off, the handy panel is simply a small piece of plywood per the size and dimensions listed in MR’s series that attaches to the rest of the cut-out plywood track base that covers the two tunnels on the left side of the layout. This piece supports the end of the branch, with it’s two tracks, plus supports part of the hill covering the tunnels, and also supports the two structures at the end of track. Forgive me, as I don’t readily have the issues of MR in front of me that covers the handy panel dimensions.

At this point, Tom Carnahan and I had all the risers in place, except the supports for the handy panel. It was time for myself to finish this last piece of woodwork. I went to the local Home Depot to have this piece cut again per the dimensions in MR. After bringing it home, I fitted it into place and eye balled it to make sure everything was exact. Everything fit as planned. I then measured the support pieces (6 pieces total ) that would support the panel. These pieces also gave me a base and support to butt the tunnel portals up against. Some photos below:

In the left photo above, you may be able to make out the extra brace I had to attach the panel to the rest of the layout with, which wound up being a T-shaped brace. Of course, after the panel and supports were attached, I laid the remaining cork and track work on top Btw, the supports were attached to the plywood table with wood glue, to the panel with wood screws. While laying the remaining cork, track, and switches, I would still test fit everything to insure everything was to plan, and to eliminate problems later. Again, in the right hand photo above you can see the grade separation I mentioned earlier, to get the grade up the branch within reason.

A few more photos here showing track and cork progress:

The right hand photo above shows the last bit of cork and track work on top of the handy panel at the end of track. With all the cork and track in place, it was time to wire up everything, plus bring out the solder for the joints. As I’m not electrically inclined, I called Tom Carnahan in, who was a huge help with soldering and wiring everything up.

We ran feeder wires down for the yard and mine tracks, then dropped feeder wires down along the rest of the trackage about every 4 feet. These we connected to both sides of course to the main bus wires, which we ran in an oval pattern around the perimeter of the layout. The main panel from NCE was of course then tied into this. We cut round holes in some of the table supports to run these wires through, and all connections were covered with black “liquid tape”, also available at Home Depot. Here are photos of the wiring:

The right hand photo above shows the NCE main bus panel attached and wired up. I decided to go with the PowerCab system from NCE, as I had used this system at the Greeley Freight Station Museum layout, now called the Colorado Model Railroad Museum, and had liked the system for its control layout and simplicity. The PowerCab system has the command station incorporated in the throttle. We attached another bus panel on the back of the layout near the end of track so as to use an NCE Cab 06 throttle.

I also had intended to incorporate a weigh scale from Boulder Creek Engineering, as MR did, and place it flush into the plywood to the right of the main bus panel, but something as I recall at the time delayed purchase of this item ( I believe they were backordered), so being on a roll so to speak, I didn’t wait for this to become available, so I moved forward. In hindsight, I now wish I had waited, and had incorporated this into the layout.

With everything soldered in place, and all wiring done, the moment of truth came! Here is the first train ever ran over the Hitop:


Not a good quality video, but I was tickled to death to have my first train running on my own layout since the age of 14! Next up was painting the track. As mentioned earlier, I used Micro Engineering’s weathered track. However, I did not like how dark the weathered track was, so I decided to still paint the track. Tom again came to the rescue bringing a compressor and airbrush to do the job. As I recall, we used roof brown for the color, and I was pleased with the results. We didn’t as I recall cover the switch points before painting, we simply went back over and carefully cleaned these up afterwards. Bear with me as well, as when I state “as I recall”, I’m relying on memory and photos from 5 years ago. Next step was to install all the switch stands. For these I used Caboose Industries manual stands. Again, in hindsight, I wished I would have used Tortoise machines, with scale switch stands, as the Caboose stands work great, but are oversize. I would have used the new Rapido switch motors and stands, if they had been available. I have since replaced some of the Caboose stands with those shown below:

For my planned extension, I probably would use the new motors and stands from Rapido. With the switch stands installed, I could then take over again and work on the next step: ballasting the layout. I used ballast from Arizona Rock & Mineral, an excellent product, as they use real rock, plus they had actual NYC limestone available. This ballast plus their Yard Mix was used. The yard mix was put down on all the yard tracks and branch proper, plus sidings, except for the chemical plant siding on the left front of the layout, as this was always intended to be an expansion point, so I used the limestone mainline ballast. Ballast shown here:

What I like about this product as well, is it goes down easily, stays put when gluing, and looks prototypical. I would always highly recommend this product. The ballast project actually took longer than expected, as I had to wait a bit for the winter weather to clear up with the cold temps, as my garage is unheated except for a space heater. Plus, I had to go back and “groom” a few areas of track shoulders to tidy the look up a bit. In fact, I’ve had several comments made that my track looks too nice to represent Penn Central/ NYC track! Perhaps it does, but I wanted no problems! In other words, I took extra precautions while laying and gluing the ballast around all my switches, to not foul the frogs, or points, or switch stand throws.

That’s about it for today. Next time I’ll cover one of my favorite parts: scenery. Stay tuned!




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