News / Blog
By Tony Sava
Thanks to a power outage at our hotel, we were up and at the venue earlier than planned, about 7:30. By 8:00 we were fully unloaded and setting up tables. The layout design we chose was mostly things that took very little time to set up, so by the time the show started at 10 am, we were just finishing putting up trees and people. The layout was a big X. Putting another row of buildings behind the Bluebonnet gave a good sense of depth.
AJ got my new T1 up and running quickly, but when testing his powered boxcar (pushing a dead head steam engine and tender), it kept dying. Maybe pushing two dead weights was too much, so we swapped to a dummy diesel. No luck. We decided to test another set of rechargeable batteries, but they died too. Then a third set of batteries. I began to think my batteries had gone bad.
We moved to a different locomotive; maybe the motors were bad. No, it died too. By this point it was lunch time, so I went out and bought two huge packs of AAA alkaline batteries, thinking my rechargeable batteries were all bad and we'd need something for the show. I also got some lunch and headed back.
By now the T1 had used up what I thought was the only good set of rechargeable batteries left, so AJ installed Alkaline batteries in it. It ran fine. Then he installed the Alkaline batteries in the other locomotive - it died, just like the rechargeable batteries. Finally we decided to swap the battery box, as it was what we kept installing in all the locomotives we were testing- success. The battery box had gone bad.
From then on, the show went smoothly - no accidents, no errant hands, no purses knocking things only. The show attendance was heavier than in years past, maybe 75-100 people. One of the host club members brought a MOD set/MOC train and ran it for a few minutes on our layout. I neglected to get a picture of it.
We were in the same location we've had in previous years, but this time they moved some furniture which allowed our layout to be flanked by two others - a desert HO layout and a G scale Christmas Lionel layout. As always, their big collaborative HO layout took up the other half of the room.
Come 5 o'clock, it was time to tear down. AJ and I got everything packed by 6:00, and thanks to our host club members, we had the truck loaded by 6:20.
It was a good show, and it was good to go back. I think the last time we displayed there was 2018. The folks in Orange were thrilled with the layout, and we we're mentioned in the local paper.
TBRR's display at the Fall 2021 New Braunfels Train Show was smooth and self-organizing. We had "only" an 18' x 21' space; comparatively easy, after some big recent ones. Present were Gareth, Joe and Lisa, Steve, Glenn, Frankie, Doc, Chant, and Michaela. Those sending things to build out the display included Will, Paddington, Tony, Aedan, and Cat.
Setup took about 40 AFOL-hours. Breakdown was less than 2.5 hours after the show closed – and would have been faster if we were not up on the stage.
We used 32 venue tables and had a full double main loop, R120/104, plus a small R40 loop and Joe's 9V R40 within his crane display. There were several lighted buildings and items, though Chant's laundry was the only motion feature other than the trains themselves. We had no bridge this time; Doc has offered to build one and display it at the NB RR museum between shows.
New at the event were Will's modular-style burger joint with Halloweeny displays, Chant's hyper-small "Cobra Kai's Dojo," and two small LED-lit things from Steve: the King of Halloween, and a 4-wide police car with flashing red and blue lights. Gareth and Cat had upgraded the lighting on her townhouses, and Lisa had built her necropolis into a full 3 x 3 square.
There were no dives to the floor or, indeed, track problems of any kind. The public was appreciative and good-mannered. We had fun.
Bricks Killeen was a first-time convention but rarely felt like it. There were about a dozen vendors, a lot of exhibitors, and Lego games after hours. There were no admission or table fees of any kind, not even for vendors, and more than 4,000 of the public showed up to enjoy the Lego. (Late addition: this show will repeat in 2022 and 2023.)
Photos from Tony: https://www.flickr.com/gp/savatheaggie/py9VmU
The Austin Area Train Show was in the Palmer Event Center this year – an even better venue than the fine Taylor facility where it was held in previous years. We had about a dozen active participants and made a great showing. It was probably our second best display ever, with the best still being Brick Rodeo.
The show was well run, the venue staff was friendly, and organizers say attendance was notably up from 2019.
Kurt Baty displayed a big new MOC, a multiple treehouse, which got a lot of attention. He also brought his iCorp Tower and A-frame Whataburger, which drew comments, respectively, for their great height and accurate Whataburgerness. Cat displayed a new row of four lighted townhouses riffing on the theme of the one that comes with the Book Store. Derik displayed his refinery, and some big beautiful rolling stock we had not seen before. Aedan brought the Powered Up passenger train. Conrad joined us for the first time, with some MOC rolling stock including a special car that will be revealed later. We also met Edward from El Paso, who has been building an impressive home layout. We hope Conrad and Edward can join us on a regular basis!
We had an exterior double-track loop, good for long trains. There were also a small R40 loop and two back-and-forth trolley setups. Gareth brought his moving fairground equipment. Lighted items included Gareth's ferris wheel and several buildings; Steve's Deli is now on the "lighted" list.
Some areas were MILS and some were not. Ed worked wonders in blending the standards.
CK Brick Collection, one of the vendors, gave us a mini steam engine name badge. We turned it into a quasi-relief art piece for the side of Tim's Library.
Lessons learned: Lasso's Scout camp is a perfect "top layer" for Gareth's 6 x 6 lake. A carnival is an excellent last-minute filler when members have to drop out due to possible COVID exposure (they didn't actually catch it, though). The Powered Up sensor is just not reliable enough – Arduino may be the answer for the trolleys. And coming from Houston can easily take a whole day, and this should be allowed for.
There were no major Bad Things. A lot of tables and track were unavoidably delayed, but we got set up by opening on Saturday, and thanks to lots of help, on Sunday we were broken down in about 90 minutes!
Photos from Tony Sava here.
Busy times ahead as we come off Brick Rodeo. Preparations are on track for the Austin Area Train Show at the end of this month. It looks as though we will have more than a dozen members, and most of them will bring structures or rolling stock or both. We're going to make a good showing.
Next month is Bricks Killeen. This is the show that is giving us all the space we want.
On October 23 is the one-day Texas City show.
And we have just been invited to the New Braunfels RR Museum fall show at the end of October. Dust off your spooky displays!
At Brick Rodeo, TBRR members judged a dozen entries for the Funny Freight contest (and one more showed up after the judging, and ran on the railroad). We were very happy with the turnout and the quality of entries – some of them really made us laugh out loud!
The winner was "The Crocodile" by TerribleMOCs. Based on the recent LEGO Crocodile engine, it roars down the track chomping its teeth. Nom mom nom. And its eyes glow red! TerribleMOCs gets a copy of our TBRR club car and some other tchotchkes.
Second place was "Looney Tunes" by Nathaen Koski. As this car moves down the track, a chain drive moves Sylvester and Tweety around and around. This one appeard "in person" at the show, took the at-show bonus award, and captivated everyone who saw it. (For another build, Nathan was also the Best In Show winner for Brick Rodeo!) Nathaen wins an animated Metroliner billboard donated by Ed Chang.
Third place went to Rob Hendricks for the "Rivet Counter Detector," to smoke out those pesky rivet counters that plague your layout. Its radar dish spins when the car moves. He wins a Charles Dickens set.
An honorable mention went to the "Nameless Thing Cargo" by Teazza in Italy. (Note the use of inside-out tires to build icky tentacles!)
Honorable mention also went to Hod Carrier (Andy Mitchell) for a car we called "Destructo." This one got the loudest laughter of all during the judging, and only lost points for the technical detail that it couuld not actually run on the tracks. Watch the video . . .
And a shout-out to our youngest entrant, Aidan E., aged 8.
All our entrants will get lovely lavender engraved badge bricks for participating. Thanks to brickengraver.com for making these.
Our display at the first Brick Rodeo, held in Houston last weekend, was an unqualified success. The show was sold out. Our layout was huge and beautiful – the biggest one ever, and probably the best. Contributors and helpers included Ed, Tony, Steve, Tim Howell, Tim Hutchings, Derik, James, Dove, Chloe, Jeff, Matt, Nathaen . . . Who else?
We had three operating loops, all with wide curves, plus Ed's new PU "bouncing" trolley line. We were actually able to conduct some operations without using the Big Hand! There were at least four motion features, and more lights than I could count. New structures included Ed's Imperial Sugar Mill - which won Best Trains award! - Tony's huge Galveston Santa Fe Station, new member Derik's refinery, and Steve's sparkly purple Evil HQ. Significantly revamped were Tim Howell's roundhouse . . . its turntable can now be kid-powered via a crank on the side of the table . . . Tony's mini-trains, now motorized, and Tim Hutchings' Avengers Tower.
We had 12 entries, plus one late one, in the Funny Freight contest, and some of them were hilarious. That contest will get its own post soon, with pictures and videos.
Tony's pictures on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/gp/savatheaggie/ji72kx
Beyond the Brick covers the layout: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSxmIymISAw
Whether or not you are going to Brick Rodeo in mid-July, you can still enter the TBRR Funny Freight contest!
Page down to Feb. 17 for details.
If, and only if, COVID things go well in Texas, then TBRR has no less than four appearances queued up, about a month apart, starting with Brick Rodeo!
Brick Rodeo – Sugar Land, TX (near Houston) – July 22-25
The annual Texas AFOL show, now with a new name. We are currently allotted a huge 20' x 40' space. Talk to Ed Chang if you want to participate. You will need a membership – if you don't have one, visit brickrodeo.com. TBRR is sponsoring the Funny Freight Contest at this show.
Austin Area Train Show – Austin, TX – August 28-29
We have been attending for the past few years. For 2021, the show moves to the Palmer Event Center in Austin proper. Our space will be a 24' x 21' island. Admission for exhibitors will be free; so will parking if you get there early enough to grab a space. Talk to Steve Jackson if you want to participate.
Bricks Killeen – Killeen, TX – September 18-19
This new event will be held in the Killeen Civic & Conference Center. It is sponsored by the City of Killeen and will have at least 10,000 square feet for Lego! It will be free to the public. There will also be cash compensation to TexLUG Austin, the hosting club, and the possibility of free or at least discounted lodging for exhibitors. Kudos to Deanna Frazee for putting it together. Read the web page, talk to Deanna, or read the TexLUG-Austin Google group for further info.
Texas City Museum Train Show – Texas City, TX – October 23
A one-day event, with setup Friday and public admission Saturday. Please support if you can! Tony Sava is the contact.
The second building in the "Book Shop" modular set (10270) is a little teal-colored townhouse. The front is pretty, and the inside is very detailed. The sides do not matter – they are not meant to be seen. But the back looks like it was phoned in, with big flat areas of color and a lot of bare baseplate. In a public display, that won't do.
Still, it can be improved without any major rebuilding at all. This is not an article about building technique; none of this was "hard" at all. It was just a matter of doing it.
By David Tapia
This is my first actual build using the Circuit Cubes Bluetooth kit. I used one of the motors from Studly Trains for the string, mostly because I didn't have a third motor from Circuit Cubes for that. It seems to work great and is strong enough for the need. I had to change the size of the log bundles so that it could work, but I was going to make that change anyway since I don't have enough reddish brown 2x2 round bricks.
This was basically built before the Circuit Cubes kit reached me. I had ordered a set of Studly Trains control/motor systems as well. They actually arrived first so I tried to use them to power the various parts of the cranes. I found that the motor coasting feature of that system didn't allow for good control of the crane, so I had to shelve the build until the Circuit Cubes kit came.
I am planning on using the Studly Trains setups for something else. I will say that the Studly Trains system should be used for a trainlike build because of that. Also the fact that it works with the PF IR remote is awesome! The instructions for setup are well written and easy to understand. Two drawbacks: one, the battery is a LiPo battery which can be dangerous. Two: because the system is so small and open it is easy for the wires to break off at the connection points. I was able to resolder the wires back without issues, but if you don't know how/can't do that it might be a deal breaker.
The Circuit Cubes Bluetooth system is pretty good and straightforward to use. I would recommend it for this type of build. The app works well and is easy to use, though I did have trouble with it dropping the connection to the device when using it on an older device. Also, using more than one Cube on separate devices in the same room caused the same issue. So there is space for improvement.
As far as the Bluetooth Cube goes: it's pretty good and was easy enough to build around. You can see in the video that I was able to build an easily removable cover over the switch to make it easy to turn off and on, and a cover over the charging port as well. The positioning of the two might be better if they were both on the same face of the cube.
The motors are reasonably powerful and seem to have a fair amount of torque. The speed isn't much but it seems fast enough for the size and possible applications. The fact that they can be connected on three sides gives a lot of flexibility. They have eight studs on top and eight anti-studs on the bottom in a 2x4 brick shape. There are also three anti-studs / Technic pinholes on the long sides that match up with a 1x4 Technic brick's pinholes. A Technic half pin will fit and makes a strong connection point for the motor. I used this method to turn the motor vertically to turn the crane's body. I would say that the various connection points make this a better part than the Studly Trains motor.
I may decide to extend the length of the flat car body of the crane to make it more stable on the track. It is a bit unbalanced with the body of the crane being a pretty solid mass of plates and bricks to counteract the boom and claw. Hopefully lengthening it will help.
Here's the video on Facebook.
For more pictures, and pictures of the Circuit Cubes set, see my Flickr.
By Steve Jackson
Here is an almost-finished skinny table. It is 6 baseplates long but only 1.5 wide, and is very light . . . it's an easy one-hand carry.
We are excited about the potential of these tables for layouts that connect two (or more!) town centers or other areas. Maybe Derik's petroleum refinery . . .
Lots more are in progress. The next building session will be announced on the Google group.
By Steve Jackson
Tim, Ed, and I just wrapped up our "Introduction to Lego Trains" Zoom presentation for the Women's Brick Initiative. We had about 15 participants, and there were some good questions. And we learned more about how to do this kind of virtual event; the next one will be better!
By Derik Melton
A unique addition to the display!
When I joined TBRR last year we were in the height of COVID-19. I have yet to meet anyone in person or attend any shows, but one thing is for sure – I have had a lot of fun visiting with the members, seeing their designs, and rekindling my love for building with LEGO.
I started off building some trains and rolling stock with my son but wanted to contribute more to the club's display. I thought for a few weeks about what I would like to create, watched videos from past shows and gathered different youtubers' ideas.
One thing I noticed was that I had not seen a lot of oil and gas infrastructure integrated into the builds online. I quickly noticed Ed's Octan petroleum tanks and refueling racks and drew some inspiration from that. I am a Pipeline Engineer and have been around facilities for most of my career so I thought this would be a good starting point and something that really hit home for me to attempt to create.
I began creating a large storage tank out of 1x2 bricks. I was not sure how many it would take to form a full circle but soon found out the minimum is 66 bricks. I wanted to create another tank with a different design, so I found another method for creating a round structure. This one was much more parts intensive. I wanted to also create a natural gas cryogenic facility. From there I just drew inspiration from facilities I had seen in person, pictures online, industrial looking builds on Flickr and freelanced the rest of the 96x192 stud layout. I asked Ed what he thought, and he liked the idea. He gave me tips and opinions on different looks along the way that proved very helpful. I hope everyone likes my work.
For more pictures, see my Flickr.
We have arranged to hold a joint Zoom meeting/event with the Women's Brick Initiative to talk about LEGO trains and other topics related to trains and train layouts.
The idea originated following a discussion on the WBI Facebook group, when one of the coordinators of the Brick Train Awards noted that 95% of interactions with the contest's IG profile was from male users. Many WBI members related poor experiences with trying to get involved in their own LUG's train builders, feeling intimidated and/or just turned off by the way people can get about LEGO trains.
The event will be held Saturday, April 17, 2021 at 4 PM Central. The link will be provided later.
We are going to discuss topics including:
LEGO train basics
Planning and coordinating joint layouts
Building the community
The goal is for this to help beginners get into building more MOC trains and train layouts, to help lower the barriers to entry into this aspect of the LEGO hobby, and to increase the diversity of builders and participants within the train community. Maybe it will be a way to spark new collaborations at future conventions.
Everyone is welcome to attend. If you would like to present or lead discussion on a topic, please let Ed Chang know.
By Timothy Howell
Not only are the exterior walls not load-bearing, but they are constructed with studs facing sideways. This was necessary to get the appearance of steel ribs on the outside, by using 1x2 and 1x8 plates with rails, installed vertically.
What about the shorter, angled part? It's there because it added variety and allowed for an entry plaza and sculpture, for more interest. This is also what eventually gave the building its name – one day a TBRR member said something about "that angle-y building."
Feast your eyes on the winners of the 2021 Brick Train Awards! Amazing builds in all kinds of train categories. Props to the sponsors and judges for making this effort possible.
The Texas Brick Railroad is sponsoring a "Funny Freight" contest. You have nearly six months to design and build your entries – judging will take place at Brick Rodeo (Houston, TX) on Friday, July 23, and all 12 winners will be announced Saturday night.
We did another distanced building session Wednesday night. Gareth finished his Crocodile and found that the finished piece fits very precisely into the box. Steve completed the frame in his test-assembly of the club tank car.
On Tuesday the 12th, the Western Division of TBRR held a masked and carefully distanced building event at Steve Jackson's house. Also present were Will Heron, Glenn Copeland, Joe Herbert, and Gareth Ellis. We worked in Steve's three-car garage; the car was parked outside, giving plenty of room for everyone to have their own table and work on their own project. And lo, many mighty bricks were stuck together. We will probably do this again sometime! (We are still waiting on the spinners to arrive from PV-Productions so we can build their ball-pit variant of 42100, the Liebherr excavator.)
by Ed Chang
Virtual meeting - Brian Lasseter hosting.
Participated in the meeting:
1. MOC updates:
Steve showed some nearly-complete GP40s based on Benn Coifman's design, in Conrail blue livery.
Matti showed a new modular building in Studio, work in progress.
Tim showed his new dark orange modular building, also a work in progress. We considered some possible names/purposes for the building.
Tony posted a video of his motorized mini trains.
2. Club car update:
First draft of the instructions are done. Ed will be making some revision moving forward.
We considered making a Playbill font variant of the Texas flag design. We may be able to have variants with each type of font.
When the instructions are complete, LUG members can email Ed for link/password to the online hosted files (Dropbox/Google Drive or something)
3. TBRR Blog:
Steve is always taking submissions for blog posts. This is meant to be a LUG blog, not a solo Steve blog.
4. New items in the community:
Matt received a KeyBrick One prototype rechargeable battery insert for the PUp Hub. We expect he will report back once he's had a chance to try it out.
We discussed the new LEGO official road system, and speculated on how they might do curved roads. It seems to have some potential for use in the club layout.
Tony showed a preproduction sample of the BrickTracks R104 switch. They look very promising and have some neat features including modularity to make a ladder yard, and a removable rotary switch stand that can be place on either side of the track. Several LUG members have placed preorders, expected in Feb. 2021.
5. Brick Rodeo:
We didn't make many specific plans for this.
We would like to come up with a good way to incorporate Tony's Galveston terminal station into the layout.
It sounds like there will be some new tables built in Austin "soon." 3x3 tables, including dropped tables would be useful. Tim's new turntable will need a new 3x3 dropped table.
The next virtual club meeting is tentatively set for Saturday, January 23, 2021 at 4 PM.
If there are people who regularly cannot make Saturdays, please let us know and we can alternate Saturday/Sunday meetings.
We have an online meeting coming up Saturday the 19th. Visit the TBRR Google group for details! We hope you can join us.
by Steve Jackson
A question we get once in a while: What are the TBRR club standards?
There is no WRONG in Lego, except Mega Bloks and Krazy Glue, but a collaboration needs to agree on a few points ahead of time. These are ours.
•• The big standard, the meta-standard, is Plan In Advance. With enough communication, anything is possible, even if it breaks the rules. We coordinate our displays using our Google group. Please read it.
•• Play well together! We are all ambassadors for the hobby.
What We Bring
• We use plastic track ballasted to the PennLUG standard, with black ties. That way the track is uniform throughout the layout, which really ties it all together. So to speak. An end view is to the right. Match this profile and you're golden.
• Track positioning is vital if things are to link together. The PennLUG standard calls for double track on mainlines. The outer rails occupy the 6th stud in from each edge (see the image). Varying from this takes a lot of planning.
• Wide (third-party) curves are strongly preferred because they allow for bigger engines and longer trains.
• Monorail positioning will be the subject of a separate post.
• We do our best to keep city streets consistent, but which street style we use depends on whose collection of streets is used. We do expect all sidewalk surfaces to be tiled.
• Our basic grid is the 32 x 32 baseplate. We use features as small as 8 x 16, but they take more planning! Everything is built on either a baseplate or a plate. Some of our members are enthusiastic about basing systems like MILS, but some of us are less so. There is no consensus, and we don't do things without consensus. If you bring something cool that is built on a raised base, we will find a way to work with it.
• Our display is train/town themed (except for little vignettes, which can be just about anything), and generally urban unless we have so much space that we can do some countryside. If you want to work in pirates or Minecraft or Hogwarts or something, look for a way to give them a Town context. Discuss it on the Google group!
• No vignettes past PG; we have lots of kids in the audience.
• For AFOL shows, MOC buildings and trains are preferred, followed by modified sets. Unmodified sets are filler at best. At train shows, Maker Faires, and so on, most of the audience doesn't know which sets are which and there is no reason not to use the good official ones.
• Please don't bring unauthorized clones!
• Lighting is awesome. Motion is awesome. Humor is awesome.
How We Display
• We use black plastic skirting around the tables, and store as much as we can underneath.
• No bare tabletop! At a minimum, every space must have a baseplate, preferably with landscape . . . unless it is being used for literature display.
• Our standard club tables are 3 x 6 baseplates (30 x 60 inches). They are 30" high. (Table design by David Hawkins, with later refinement by Joe Herbert and Gareth Ellis – plans are elsewhere on this site.)
• Rather than assigning each member a zone, we plan the whole layout in advance, mixing up the contributions to create the most interesting and liveable town plan that we can.
• We have stanchions. Sometimes we use them. Often we don't. We do put up Please Do Not Touch signs, and they mostly work.
• Everybody who brings a train will get the chance to run it at some point, and at AFOL shows we welcome visiting trains. We have never needed a formal schedule; everyone always plays nice.
• We are as kid-friendly as we can possibly be.
• If it's dusty, wash it!
• No "stuff," and especially no food, on the display tables. We set up separate places for these.
These are not rules, but they seem to be good ideas.
• Landscape! Visitors like it. We do not have a standard for trees, any more than Nature does. Build trees that you like.
• If a layout stops at least an inch from each table edge, then kids have a place to lean while they look. Most kids will not abuse this privilege!
• Trees or other features on the outside of curves will help slow down a runaway train and may avoid a death plunge.
• It is a very good idea to put your name on both your property and your boxes.
• Building sidewalks, like those on the modulars, look best at 4 to 7 tiles wide.
• We have a lot of fun with our Seek and Find slips.
• Most trains are 8 studs wide (though 6 is okay). Most trucks are 6 wide. Most cars are 4 wide.
• Wear your nametag!
Up To You
• Whether you use batteries, PF, or Powered Up is up to you.
Finally, I will get to enjoy some of my Lego in between shows. My living room is now host to four club-sized tables, plus the original living room table with a green-painted sheet of builder Styrofoam to protect it and bring it up to height. Not quite six tables' worth of area. So tiny by the standards of what we do at shows, but as a home layout it will be nice. The goal is to use as many of my buildings as possible.
The next step was one of my favorite parts: excessive landscaping! I didn't quite use up the whole tree collection, but it came close. And I put plastic skirting on the tables.
As originally constructed the curves were R40/40. Using BrickTracks curves, I upgraded the whole loop to R56/40, and the trains like it. Replacing the first outer curve with the R56 track was very time-consuming, with several false starts. The second went better. At that point I had a system, and the last four were done at the same time. The only catch is that the "inside" curve puts an R40 radius in what is otherwise an R56 loop, so speed is still limited. But the tables are nice and smooth. I can run long trains, even pulling through two R40 curves at once. I am very pleased with the BrickTracks curves.
The Trans-Blue Tower stays lit all the time. It is a great living room night light. There will be more lighted features as time goes on.
Thanks to Kira for writing the code to make this happen!
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