Monday, November 23, 2009

Layout updates

I'm getting closer to closing the loop for the second phase of the layout. The middle level tunnel storage track is in, and the S-curve from Abzweig Talheim to the switch at the base of the future incline to Emsingen station is built.

I'm now working on connecting Talheim South to the long ramp along the wall, and then the temporary cross-over to the switch mentioned above. I'll probably need another one or two evenings to piece that together. Then another evening of odds and ends and I should be able to run trains from staging ("Schattenstadt") to Talheim station, via the new loop and Abzweig Talheim back into staging.

Meanwhile track 1 is glued down in Talheim. I'll probably do some very basic scenery around Talheim station, ballast the station tracks and built a simple platform, once the industry tracks to the creek bridge and beyond the street tunnel are installed. I'll skip the signals for now, as I'm very worried I might accidentally break them during the ongoing construction.

Once the loop is closed I'll focus on connecting underfloor, slow-motion switch machines, building a small control table, and going back to try and get computer control working, at least as far as track occupancy detection and basic layout control is concerned. This should keep me busy for a few weeks. All rolling stock needs to be cleaned, and fixed up.

I test-ran all locomotives with an analaog power pack a couple weeks ago. While all need cleaning, several are pretty much ready to be converted to digital operation. A few have mechanical issues that need a closer look (Schweizer Krokodil and BR53), and 2 are completely gummed up. One doesn't move at all, no lights, no nothing (my favorite pair of BR236 aka "Doppeltes Lottchen"), and the other shows light, but doesn't move.
I selected the BR50 with cabin tender as my next "victim". It's a good runner, a nice model, and in excellent condition. It also as a quite finicky lead-truck which will help find problematic sections of track.

In the new year we have a big kitchen renovation coming up, so I don't think I'll have much time for major work. However, once that's done, I'll built out the ramps up to Emsingen station, put in a connecting track, and then move on to building Emsingen station, as well as start the mountain and landscaping at the south end of the layout.

I'm planning to build most of Emsingen station outside the layout room and drop it into place, once all track alignments, wiring and switch machines are installed. It's much easier to work on such a big piece when you can access it freely from all sides. It will likely take up some space in the garage for a couple months...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Continous loud tone on a Sunday morning

"wow, my ears are ringing badly today", I thought while making coffee for breakfast this morning. And it wouldn't get better, so I started to look around whether that very high-pitched continuous sound came from outside. Nope. I looked in the garage. Yep, definitely louder, so it's not my ears. It's not the furnace. It's not in the train room, but it gets louder when I go to my work bench and side door. It's not my neighbor either.

Finally, I tracked it down to the UPS of the communications cabinet, an APC BackUPS ES 450. The power LED was blinking between green and red, and unit was clearly emitting the sound. I pressed the power button to shut it down and the noise stopped. Phew. Turned it back on, and the beep came back immediately. Screw it. I turned it off again, plugged the various transformers into the non-UPS sockets. Everything came back up just fine.

After breakfast and being properly caffinated, I looked at the support pages at and sure enough they have a FAQ entry describing my exact problems. Battery self-check failed.

The Back-UPS ES performs an internal self-test every 14 days, the internal self-test checks the integrity of the battery. If the battery fails the self-test, the Power on LED will flash and the unit will emit a constant tone.
A self test should be performed with the UPS fully charged (charging without interruption or transfer to battery for 5 hours) and normal load attached. To do this, power down all equipment attached to the battery outlets. Then reboot the Back-UPS ES by turning it off then count to 5 and power it back on. If the constant tone clears, then it was a false onbattery condition and the unit has been reset. It now is ready to be used again.

Hmmm, so this unit performs an automatic self-test every 14 days, and it *may* fail the test, even though there is nothing wrong with it. The solution is to turn everything off, reset the unit and turn it back on. How lame.

"Legendary reliability" be damned, I know what I'm not going to buy again.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pearls Before Swine

Pearls Before Swine - Oct 21 2009

I love this.

I had the newspaper cut-out of this strip in my backpack for the last 3 weeks. It's all crumpled up now. Thankfully, things like this stick around in cyberspace for a long time.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Law Abiding Citizen


This movie keeps you on the edge of your seat for its suspense. It also sets you aback for its in stretches very gruesome, bloody violence. You think about the American justice system with its common use of deals between prosecutors and cooperating witnesses even if they committed murder. The need to prove things in court and to convince a jury, versus career attorneys attempting to get and maintain a high conviction rate. And a man who takes justice into his own hands ingeniously fighting the system along the way. It's shocking and fascinating at the same time.

This is one of those movies that make me appreciate what I have, but nothing I would let my children watch.

Another shocker were the several 2,5,6 year-old children in this R-rated film. It escapes me what those parents are thinking, taking their kids into a movie that is so clearly not age-appropriate.

Century Capitol 16 must not be doing well. It was Saturday evening 8pm, when people are flooding the theaters. The parking lot was half-empty. There were barely any lines at the cashier, or concession stand. Very few people in the lobby. The girl checking tickets could leave her post and walk around for lack of visitors. We could walk into the movie 5 minutes before scheduled starting time and still got an excellent seat. What a difference compared to 10-12 years ago when we moved to the area.
Capitol 16 is clearly one of the older theaters nearby and seems to feel the competition from the AMC theatres at Oakridge and Eastridge which are much more modern, and co-located with a large mall.

Since we were a bit early at the theater we watched Michael Jackson's 'This is it' for a little while. It was nice and ok for the 15 minutes, but I don't know whether I would make it awake through the full 2 hours of the movie. And yes, that auditorium had also at most 10% of the seats taken.

Monday, November 02, 2009

What's new around the layout

I've done a couple things around the layout in the last month.

Removed the catenary.

Yup, The catenary that took me a couple weeks to build up is all gone from the layout again. I initially installed it because I wanted the pantographs of my electrics to be guided nicely through the long tunnels on the way to and within staging. There are several tight spots where I felt I need to push the pantographs down to make it through the opening. Turns out that a fully extended pantograph is about as high as the catenary masts. I also realized (and anyone who did this kind of thing before would tell me), that it's a *really* bad idea to have catenary wires in the already tight staging space under Talheim station. They just get horribly in the way whenever one tries to access a derailed train down there.
Instead I will let the engines run with the pantographs fully extended inside the tunnels and provide "catch" devices to gracefully lower the pantographs to normal catenary height at tunnel portals and in the one or two tight spots where I really don't have enough clearance (notably below the street tunnel at Talheim station.

Installed guard rails

With open frame construction and various ramps connecting the various levels, there is always potential that a derailed engine or cars runs off the track and falls all the way down to the floor. Model meets laminate flooring... Usually not a pretty sight once the model lands. I installed protection/guide railings around staging, the ramps, and some curves to protect derailed trains.

Track in Talheim

I glued down more track in Talheim, and am getting ready to install the occupancy detectors. Contrary to staging, which uses current draw sensors, on the rest of the layout I'm using simpler detectors that can detect when wheelsets are in an insulated section of a rail. This will require cutting gaps in the rails and soldering quite a few detection leads. Fun. I'm using the trackage in Talheim to test out the approach, before I do this elsewhere.

Debugging ESU Switchpilot

It looks like my Switchpilots are the first revision and are a bit unstable. They occasionally forget their address, don't turn off voltage to the switch, and/or don't follow their programming. I'm unimpressed. I contacted ESU Support, but haven't heard back yet.

Finally, I fixed a few minor things and relocated a cross-over switch on the ramp from staging that caused several derailments.