Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Just say No to Google

This is a so good I can't ignore it.

Just Say "No" to Google.

Form your own opinion.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Save Internet Radio

They day of silence is in full swing. Radio Paradise is playing a recording of jungle sounds. Neat. but I'd prefer music. has plenty of information and contact information for your member of congress.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

N scale sites

A vast amount of information about N scale is at One forum post brought me to Aligator Lines which describes in vast detail the construction of a N scale layout.

Uncouplers in scale

In order to make the N layout a bit more interesting than just having a train run around in a circle, I want to allow for basic switching operations, and maybe even come up with switching games (hey, I have to spend my non-existing time somehow :-) For that I preferably need an engine that can uncouple remotely (doesn't seem to exist), or I need to place uncouplers in strategic places of the layout.

I'm used to Maerklin-style HO electro-mechanical uncoupler tracks. An electro-magnet pushes up a plastic bar that in turn pushes up an element of the coupler and reliably uncouples the cars, especially if the couplers have some slack. This is what I'm planning to use in the train room HO layout.

Things are different in N. First off there are multiple kinds of couplers accross manufacturers. The most popular ones are Microtrains style knuckle couplers (mostly US), and Arnold style square couplers (mostly Europe). The Microtrains style couplers come in several variations by various manufacturers, but are generally compatible with each other. They are elegant and look pretty similar to prototypical US style center couplers. The Arnold style couplers are big square brackets and don't look prototypical at all.

The N layout is going to be built with US material, so I'll use knuckle couplers. I was surprised to see no uncoupler tracks in the various track listings. Instead, people seem to rely on permanent magnets placed between the rails. There are many articles on the Internet describing how annoying that is, and how electromagnets are better. Well, duh. Who wants their trains to decouple as they are passing through a station, just because there happens to be a permanent magnet and a momentary slow-down of the train causes the couplers go slack enough, so that the perma-magent can uncouple half of the train? Bah. No permanent magnets for me.

This article describes how to modify cheap HOn3 electro-magnetic uncouplers and knuckle couplers on rolling stock to reliably uncouple on demand.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Changes in Emsingen 6

Some fine-tuning of the Emsingen layout.

Upper levels (PDF)

Lower levels (PDF)

(If you have trouble accessing these PDFs, right click the link, select Save as ... to download them to your computer. Or use a real browser, i.e. not Internet Explorer)

I re-arranged the switches in the main station starting with the east end where I added a cross-over from track 1 to track 3. Now I can reach all destination tracks (freight station loop & tracks 1-3) from either track of the incoming main line. At the west end of the station I replaced the switch with a double-slip crossing and extended track 3 to make up for the length lost at the other end of the station. Unfortunately this clashed with the street connection to the tank storage. Bummer. Might be able to model a stub road depending on space available

The freight station loop got re-aligned so that the tracks line up with the new switch situation. I'm not happy with how the freight tracks are now laid out. I did some experiments and switching cars now requires much more use of track 1, since there is no way for the engine to get to the other end of the set of cars to be switched without going through track 1.

The maintenance facility got realigned as well, and equipped with a water tower and coal facility. I squeezed in a maintenance shed, too. That might not stay. It's really tight.

Finally, the station on the hill got a passing/siding track. The idea is to allow for two way operation on this segment, and/or "Stueckgut" freight to the village. I might think of a small industry that fits in with the theme. I'd love to extend the inner track of the curve to the east, make it a real freight track, but the down ramp to the hidden staging yard is in the way. This is not a problem if I change the orientation of the switches and place the station on the northwest side of the hill. However, in that case it visually becomes part of the main station.

Speaking of which. I lowered all of staging to -14cm. That should leave ~3.5cm clearance for the underpass west of the station, if I squeeze a little bit with headroom in that area, as well as add a little bit headroom for the 5 finger crane in case of problems in the lower level.


We had the popcorn ceiling in the new house tested for asbestos, and the report came back with 1-5% of Chrysotile. Interestingly, the opinions on the Internet differ substantially, whether this is a carcinogenic variant of asbestos or not.

"Chrysotile, a mineral used for asbestos, is not a human carcinogen and no etiology link has been found for chrysotile exposure[1]. Every human and animal study showing asbestos etiology is associated with amphibole fiber asbestos, and there is evidence showing pure chrysotile etiology. However, some chrysolite ore deposits do contain amphibole fiber asbestos such as tremolite, crocidolite and actinolite. Amphibole asbestos minerals have hard, needle-like fibers that penetrate into the lung tissue by piercing the walls of the alveoli. Since the body cannot dissolve or dispose of the amphibole fibers they cause a scarring of the lungs, called asbestosis, or cause a cancer of the lining (pleura) of the lung, called mesothelioma. Chrysotile fibers, on the other hand, are dissolved or otherwise expelled by the body."

That's encouraging.

However, another site says:

"Intensive inhalation of long and thin asbestos fibers over a considerable time period can induce pulmonary deseases such as asbestosis and lung cancers, as well as pleural diseases such as plaques, fibrosis, and mesothelioma. Such health hazards have drastically reduced the use of chrysotile, which is strictly regulated by law in western countries. See also Respiratory system disorders." (

Here is a comment from the harmless faction of the spectrum:

"Chrysotile is the dominant form of asbestos by far, and in the home it is generally harmless although asbestos workers must beware of lung disease due to chronic overexposure to the fine airborne fibers of powdered asbestos."

I.e. unless you are a worker exposed to Chrysotile, you are ok.

Finally, I found the URL of the Mesothelioma & Asbestos Awareness Center. This article illustrates some of the background, politics, lobbying and industrial influence behind the scenes. Excellent article.

Removing ceilings with asbestos is seriously expensive.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Emsingen 2

This is an improvement on the alternative layout I posted a few days ago. I named this layout Emsingen (since the trains are so "emsig" busy running around).

Here are the plans:

Upper levels (PDF)

Lower level (PDF)

Changes from the previous incarnation:

I added landscaping. All green sections indicate graded grass (e.g. along the road bed, hills, separation between grades, etc.). I put those generally in areas where I have sufficient room to model a nice grass slope. All brown sections indicate rock formations (e.g. around some tunnel portals). I added rock walls in the north-east corner to provide an explanation for the tight curves, and in the south-east corner to hide the track inside the hill without having to resort to retaining walls. The landscaping also hopefully illustrates better how the northwest track is going to disappear down towards the hidden station.

Along the north side of the freight yard I added a brick retaining wall to support the upper level track.

I also added streets around the station and the freight yard. Note how the access road to the station crosses under the tracks. The village on the mountain is modelled out and has a small station.

To have more purpose for track 3, I added a small oil storage facility off track 3.

Trackwise, I eliminated the helix and replaced it with a generous loop. This was possible by moving the cross-over switch that was originally in the east tunnel to the west-end of the station. Not having the helix will make this much easier to build and actually substantially smoothes out the grades. Throughout the layout grades are <= 1:30, with exception of the upramp on the north side of the freight area which runs at a grade of 1:35. Still not too bad.

In order to keep enough room for the underpass, the tracks on the lower layer are sloping down from the hidden station to the front and then back up again. There is a short side track on the lower level that is accessible just above the controls to easily add cars and locomotives to the operation.

I also rearranged the tracks of the hidden station for maximum length.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Layout Design SIG

There actually exists a "Layout Design Special Interest Group". Some in-depth critique of one rather big layout, there are much more critiques of layouts in the Critiques category. Some of them with insane amount of detail.

They also have an excellent primer on how to plan, build, and run model train layouts. Nice.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Original

I just noticed that I didn't include the actual layout when I was blabbering about how small the train room is going to be.

Here it is:

visible track: This includes the main station, the spur line into the mountains, freight and maintenance, some hidden ramps, as well as the double-track main line on the south side

hidden track: This is mostly the hidden station and ramps to get there.

The layout is dominated by the main station, it's freight yard and small maintenance facility. Tracks number 1 and 2 are the through tracks on the double-track main line. Track 3 is where trains to the rural mountain station arrive and leave. There are extension sides on either end of track 3 to allow for more interesting yard operation. The main line loops in the big curve on the west side of the station area around some short tracks for the maintenance facility on a 1:30 downgrade to tunnels under the hill in the south-east corner. Between the station and this main line track is light industry with a freight service track. A road bridges over the main line in the south and connects to the freight yard, too.

The spur line travels from track 3 on a step 1:50 grade across a bridge to another tunnel in the south-east mountain and makes its way along the eastern edge to a small rural station in the North.

The road leads under the spur line bridge and the main tracks to the station building. An interesting feature of this layout is the round pond that actually is a hidden hatch to access remote corners in the North-East.

The switch in the north-west corner leads to a loop track hidden in the northern mountain that connects to the western extension of track 2 (the loop track is shown on the page with hidden trackage).

In order to avoid steep grades on the ramps and allow clearances the tracks in the hidden station are set at a grade of 1:35 rising about 3 cm from north to south. The north-east corner of the hidden station is 17 cm below the main station. The curve in the west rises with the same grade as the respective visible curve of the main line.

An alternative layout

I can't sleep... so I spent more time with an alternative layout.

Here is the layout:

The visible parts: The main station, mountain track, freight and servicing area

The hidden parts: Mainly the ramps and the hidden station

The theme is a station at the end of a dual-track main line coming from East. At the south-west end of the station, the two single track lines split: One line takes a gentle slope down and escapes out of sight to the hidden station. The track is hidden behind the dam of the other line climbing a 1:40 grade along the north side (to get over the station tracks on the east side), swings around a mountain on a gentle 1:30 downgrade and disappears in a tunnel to reappear again as part of the two-track main line (I had to cheat somewhere to close the loop).

Note the track loop built into the freight area north of the station building. The freight area has a depot and loading ramp, as well as a judicious amount of uncouplers. Nearby is the main station building with platforms for travellers. There will be a few additional buildings, and a road that crosses under the tracks to the south. There might be enough clearance between the tracks on the north side to let the road continue, but there is a lot of track in the way, so I'd likely just let the road end at the station. The city that belongs to the station is not included in the layout and located to the south-west where we (sadly) need to leave space for the operator.

At the south-east side of the station a small locomotive maintainance and service area is ready to refuel engines with coal, sand, and whatever else is needed. This is also the home of the yard engine. In order to get from the maintenance area to the freight facility the yard engine needs to zig-zag accross the main line.

On the mountain in the south-east is the scene of a small village in southern Germany, complete with church and houses. In general, the landscaping and style of the buildings would be as found in the North Black Forest in southern Germany. The village has a small stop with station building on the mountain line that is served by the occasional "Schienenbus".

The inside of the mountain houses a helix that brings one track of the main line down to the hidden station. Because of clearance requirements and how the track ended up, the lower level is 19cm below the station level. In general I'm working with 11cm clearance between track levels. The track in the helix has a grade of 1:40, more than I wanted but there is just not enough space. Even though it's not consistently marked this way the lower level is of course completely invisible from the top.

The hidden station is accessed via the helix, as well as the single-track line mentioned earlier which gently slopes down mostly hidden from sight along the edge of the layout. The hidden station is built around another loop of track that works opposite from the surface one, so depending on the direction they are traveling, trains can change direction using the loops without the need to back up. The hidden station can hold 4 trains of moderate length.

The area in the lower left corner (south-east) is for the operator and guests. It measures roughly 120 by 60 centimeters. Just enough space for the controls and a stool.

The one thing I really like about this layout is that a lot of track is visible (contrary to my crazy digging action mentioned earlier), there's good opportunity for landscaping and watching trains as they go by. This is also a good play layout with the two reversing loops, the station, maintenance and freight facilities.

Friday, June 01, 2007

title company

We signed all the papers for the new house today. 90 minutes of initials, and signing your name. After 30 minutes, my signatures looked like a wild jungle of crooked lines.
The final stack of paperwork is 1 inch thick. All that's left to do is deposit a cashiers check with our down payment and out of pocket expenses by next Wednesday 3pm and escrow will close Friday.

Curiously, I'm not that excited. The whole morning has been quite anti-climactic. Loan docs arrived late and were revised again halfway through the sitting for clerical errors. I was a bit tired and annoyed.

I think it will be different by the time we move in. I'm really looking forward to taking over the house, painting (ok, not as much), moving in, unpacking, decorating, deciding what goes where, doing small repairs, ... and living there.

But first I'm taking off for a week in Seattle again. The next week the new roof will be installed. This will be fun. The HOA architecture committee conditionally approved the reroof, but I need to provide a sample of the material, and they are holding the approval until we legally own the house. Yay. More red tape...