Monday, October 16, 2017

Hello again SJC


Off to Seattle.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Making more car cards


New car cards for the Welztalbahn follow the design I laid out in January. A key part of the new design is a good photo of the car that belongs to the card. I took some of the photos on current cards  with my smart phone camera. While decent, the photos are no match for properly lighted photos taken with a DSLR.

And I'm making progress on the new paperwork for the Welztalbahn. If only I wouldn't get lost in the original paperwork all the time ...


Just for fun, I wrote out the schedule the way you'd find it in DB's Kursbuch. This arrangement looks neat, but isn't particularly practical for operational purposes.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Murrbahn in HO: First draft of upper level

Murrbahn Upper Level. 1box=10x10cm
I continued with the plan I started last week. Gaildorf West is along the bottom edge of the room with the helix down to staging in the lower right corner. The middle of the room has the weg branch line to Untergroeningen on a pensinsula. I very intentionally only included the two end-points of that line to allow for branch line trains to run through some scenery along the way.
The main line from Gaildorf West towards Backnang runs through the Kappelestunnel and on a narrow shelf around the room with the town of Murrhardt modeled in the upper right corner.

The maximum train length I'm shooting for is 180 cm (5x 26.4m passenger carriages + locomotive), so each station should have at least one siding that fits a maximum length train, and there needs to be at least 5m distance between the first turnouts of neighboring stations to leave space for the appropriate entry signals.

I want to run operations on this layout. Passenger trains and freight trains. Through trains and local trains. Switching jobs and transfer runs. Someone has to run the trains. Fremo-style station agents ("Fahrdienstleiter") control the flow of trains through the stations. I need room for all these people, so aisle space is important and I'm trying to maintain 1m (3 ft) aisle width.

I currently have the upper level at 150cm rail-height, and the lower level at 110cm. The room entrance is a duck-under under the Gaildorf West freight yard at 140cm (~55in). That's already a compromise. Fremo modules are set at 130cm rail height and module duck-unders were manageable at module meets I've been to, so I'm hoping that 20cm more headroom works well enough for everybody. The lower level will cross the entrance on a gate or movable bridge.

Overall I'm not happy with the arrangement in this plan.

Contrary to reality, Murrhardt is set in a curve in order to fit between the wall and the helix. Major industries are Lederfabrik Schweitzer and the city gas works. Because of the curved arrangement, I needed to use several Peco and Roco 2-rail turnouts that require conversion to work with Maerklin rolling stock. Quite some effort, but feasible. Just like Gaildorf West, Murrhardt is very compressed, on top of that mirrored and flipped. The track connection to Schweitzer and the gas works is different, too, but it doesn't matter that much. At this point my version is so different, that it's at most "inspired by Murrhardt", and I'm missing several defining features of the station (e.g. the bridge over the Dentelbach and Siegelsberger Strasse).

The helix in the corner works ok for Gaildorf West, but collides badly with Murrhardt. I either need to get rid of the helix or move it somewhere else in the room. Using the peninsula might be an option, but I suspect that will be problematic with Backnang on the lower level.

I realize more and more how hard it is to create prototype-oriented track plans with the space normal model railroaders have, and this room is already a very generous space. Of course, I'm also trying to cram a lot of features into this layout. Three stations (Gaildorf West, Murrhardt, and Backnang), plus staging under the lower level, and I still want some distance between stations. At various points I have also considered including Sulzbach, Fichtenberg, or Backnang-Spinnerei, for operational variety.

Back to the drawing board...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Greenly Northern In the office


The Greenly Northern has moved back to the office and for now occupies an empty desk next to me.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Gaildorf West in HO


At some point in the far future, I might be able to turn one of the larger rooms in the house into a model train empire. While that is still quite some time away, it doesn't stop me from thinking about how to squeeze a prototype-oriented rendition of the Murrbahn into a ~12x16ft room.

I intend to build Gaildorf West in sections. The single track ends might be built to a modular standard (e.g. Fremo Puko, or Minimax), though it is much more likely that I build this in sections tailored to my needs and available space (similar to the ideas of TOMA).

Model railroaders never have enough space. The prototype Gaildorf West station stretches 950 meters from first turnout to last. Even with a slight length compression at 1:100 that's still double the length of available room width, and I need to add the approach tracks too, reducing the available length even more. Selective compression and compressive selection are necessary tools to make this work.

The track plan retains the Kappelesbergtunnel south of the station, as well as the general arrangement of tracks, platforms, and major buildings. Due to space limitations sadly the freight yard is heavily compressed.


Gaildorf West had an unique freight yard track plan, with the former branch line of Wuerttembergische Eisenbahngesellschaft (weg) to Untergroeningen cutting through the yard tracks and past the front of the station building for many years. As much as I wanted to model this arrangement, leaving it out allowed me to dramatically reduce the required length of the station. I tried to retain as many of the other track features as possible. A section boundary could be inserted at the bottom of the two yard ladders and an additional section inserted in case I'd end up with much more room than what I'm planning for.
The track around the front of the station was removed at some point well before the 1970's and instead the branch line merged into track 1 on the south end of the station similar to the model plan.

On my Murrbahn, Gaildorf West will be the northernmost point modeled. Trains enter staging after this station via a 10 turn helix from staging under the lower level. Or maybe I keep going up and build a staging yard above the upper level.

Because my model of Gaildorf West is basically a shelf along one of the room walls, the weg line curves to the right "behind" the DB main line, instead of curving left into the Kocher valley as it does on the prototype. I will use this arrangement for the weg branch line to "disappear" behind trees and reemerge across the aisle on its way to Untergroeningen. 

I'm trying to adhere to a minimum radius of 60cm in visible sections (90cm preferred) and 42.5cm (Maerklin Normalkreis II) in hidden sections. While most European rolling stock has no issues navigating curves as tight as 36cm, of course long cars look rather terrible on such curves. The selected minimum radius for visible sections is a compromise between available space and the look of standard DB passenger cars with 26.4 meters length in a curve.

Above plan is drawn with Peco Streamline Code 100 turnouts SL-95 and SL-96 (radius 912mm, 12 degree) for main line turnouts and Maerklin K-Track "slim turnouts" (radius 902,4mm, 14.26 degree) for the freight switching area. The Peco turnouts need to be modified for Maerklin-style power pickup. I'm using Code 100 Peco track for easy mixing and matching with Maerklin K-Track.

On the Coast

At Davenport Beach near Davenport, CA

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Evening Ride Home


I got out of the office a bit later than usual today. Very nice sunset.
On the Bernal Road bridge, I see a light in the distance. It's Caltrain 274, almost on time.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Tdgs-z weathered


I did a first pass to lightly weather the car on the left with PanPastels. I like the subtle weathering effect I get from using PanPastels. It jumps out only in direct comparison to the unweathered car on the right.


These cars are rather new in the 1970's, and that's the look I'm after. There will be other cars on the Welztalbahn that will get to look worn out and patched up close the end of their useful life.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Weathering Maerklin 4694


I picked up this model of Kbs 443 stake car for a couple bucks at a 2nd hand store when I was in Germany the last time. What I didn't notice at the time was that the car deck was buckling because someone must have hit it hard enough that the weight sandwiched between the plastic layers for the deck and the frame had become dislocated. When I took it out of the box and put it on track, it was obvious that the car geometry was off. It took complete disassembly of the car and removal of two bent metal clips to get that straightened out.

While I had it on the workbench I figured it would make a good candidate for a light weathering experiment with PanPastels. I started with the deck, mucked it up a bit with various shades of brown, umbra, and burned sienna, then went around the outside with burned sienna to both tone down the stock color of the car, as well as take off some of the plastic shine. Finally, I applied umbra around the axles, bearings, and springs.

It took me longer to reseat the weight and fix the buckling deck than to get to this state of weathering. This is good enough for my purposes with this car. I'll seal it with a flat clear coat and it's good to go.

Ubiquiti Networks Unify AP-AC-Pro and MacBook Pro (Retina) with OS X El Capitan


My Unifi AP-PRO died last weekend with a whimper (*).

I liked the relative uneventfulness of the AP-PRO deployment, so while my RMA request made it through Ubiquiti's Support department, I ordered a AP-AC-PRO, which arrived today. Plugged in and configured within a couple minutes, it just worked.

... well, except for my MacBook Pro, ... and only in the living room. Despite the MacBook Pro showing strong wireless signal, a ping to the default gateway got 100% packet loss. What the heck? Walking around the house, the Wifi signal as reported by the Mac was consistently strong, but as soon as I walk into the living room I get 100% packet loss, while maintaining that strong Wifi signal.
I had occasional episodes of this behavior with the AP-PRO before. However, with the AP-AC-PRO it's reproducible 100% of the time.

After reading lots and lots of MacBook Pro vs. Unifi AP horror stories from 2 to 5 years ago in various forums, the one advice that helped was to consider 2.4GHz interference,  channel changes, and the MacBook Pro radio backing off too much. I created a 5GHz-only Wifi network on the Unifi controller for the MacBook Pro to use. The result: Strong Wifi on the MacBook Pro with no packet loss anywhere in the house.

Next, I'm planning to experiment with the band steering feature on the AP-AC-PRO. Maybe that will make the second SSID unnecessary.

(*) It turned out that the POE injector is bad, while the AP-PRO is just fine. A replacement POE injector should arrive tomorrow.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Panther Beach


Just before Davenport, north of Santa Cruz, lies Panther Beach. Access to the beach requires climbing down the cliff in what's basically a dry creek bed.


The currents are very strong here, but that doesn't bother the birds.


It was high tide, access to Seven Mile Beach was difficult, and we saw a bunch of people get very wet.


There was some good wave action.


A pretty beach and a nice place to hang out.


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Standalone Timesaver puzzle using Raspberry Pi3 + JMRI + Engine Driver


The Timesaver module forms the heart of the Greenly Northern, my office layout. Today I pulled it from storage where it had been since a desk move left me with no space to set up the trains to much sadness in the team. My current desk location has sufficient space along the window sill to do something with trains again. I cleaned the tracks, rearranged electrical hook-ups a bit, and a short while later the little GE 70-toner was up and running again.

For the puzzle web page to work, I need a computer nearby. Everyone has a smart phone, but I can't guarantee Internet connectivity to my server at home. Also, many switching moves take time, so the screen saver turns on while we run the train and having to unlock the phone all the time to plan the next move is annoying.

What if I used the phone to operate the train? Been there, done that. JMRI  and Engine Driver are well-known solutions for that. I already have the NCE USB adapter for use with my NCE PowerCab. Connect that to a computer and Wifi, and we're done. However, I can't just connect anything I want to the office network at work.

So, the whole thing needs to be stand-alone. The Raspberry Pi 3 with built-in Wifi came out last year and fills that gap nicely.


Here's a quick overview of what I did. If you are unsure how to do any of the steps: I generally followed instructions I found on the Web as needed.

I started with the Raspberry Pi 3, installed Raspian and ran through the usual system upgrades. Next I installed the hostapd and dnsmasq packages. I switched wlan0 to static configuration, and configured hostapd to use wlan0 for the Access Point and serve up the SSID "GreenlyNorthern". I configured dnsmasq to serve DHCP on wlan0. It's a good idea to use a private IP range, e.g. 192.168.0.0/24 for wlan0. After a reboot I had my own private Wifi network hosted on the Raspberry Pi 3.

Moving on to JMRI. I downloaded the lastest production version of JMRI, ran PanelPro and configured it to use the NCE USB interface, as well as start both the Web Server and WiThrottle Server automatically. I added the switcher engine to the JMRI engine roster, taking care to make the function button assignments reflect reality. I added JMRI/PanelPro to the program list in /home/pi/.config/lxsession/autostart, so that JMRI starts as soon as the user pi logs in after boot, which is the default behavior for a Raspberry Pi setup.

On the next reboot I could take my smart phone, connect to the GreenlyNorthern wifi network, start Engine Driver, select the Greenly Northern layout, select the switcher engine from the roster, and control the switcher from the smart phone.

The last piece of the puzzle was adding the Timesaver puzzle web page to the Engine Driver Web pane. I installed lighttpd on the Raspberry Pi 3 and configured it to run the little Python script that produces the puzzle Web page. That required adding a scriptalias entry to map /cgi-bin/ to /usr/lib/cgi-bin where I copied my script, and assign /usr/bin/python to run .py scripts. You can enable the debian documentation config snippet in lighttpd to get the settings, or just add them to the cgi config snippet under /etc/lighttpd/.

Finally, I added a link to the puzzle script (e.g. http://192.168.0.1/cgi-bin/puzzle.py , there's no DNS in this wifi network) to the main web page served up by the JMRI Web Server.

Next I changed the preferences for Engine Driver on my phone to show the Web pane on the throttle window and only use one throttle. Engine Driver loads the JMRI web page by default, so a tap on the puzzle link is all that's needed to get the puzzle shown on the lower half of the Engine Driver screen. The upper half has the throttle.


I'm using an old Android phone as throttle in this picture. I don't know whether a similar trick can be done with the WiThrottle app on the iPhone.
The general approach works just as well with JMRI's web throttle from any Web-capable device, by embedding the puzzle on a web throttle page. Use e.g. an iframe, but pretty much anything goes, including creating the puzzle generator in Javascript.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Coyote Creek


The summer is over. Coyote Creek is back to its normal flow for this time of year.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Taking the train


After a team dinner tonight, I took Caltrain home for a change.
Still the same. Can't wait for electrification.

Contrary to most American passenger trains Caltrain is usually on time (unless it's not), and while old, the trains are well maintained and clean.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Kitchen Faucet


Our old kitchen faucet wasn't that terrible, but it had a few problems. Today I replaced it with a Moen Arbor with Motionsense. The whole thing is pretty easy to install, with control unit mounting under the sink. Franziska helped with the installation.


It looks really nice and feels solid (despite various plastic parts).


Of course, the real fun part are the motion sensors:

Fun at Silicon Valley Lines

Bayshore Harbor. The water is green and the bridge is back.
Murf in Nowheres
Climbers at Mt. Nicholls
The main line near the foot of the water falls at Mt. Nicholls. 
AC-12 4275 cab-forward in Victoria
The Bakersfield staging "Mega-Drawer"

Saturday, September 16, 2017

TSG multimedia at Silicon Valley Lines today


TSG multimedia was at Silicon Valley Lines today to film the layout. This was a very productive, yet tiring, day and I'm very much looking forward to the finished video. Stay tuned!