Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

Revisiting the Emsingen freight area

When switching trains in Emsingen a few problems became apparent over time, that I didn't really think of when designing the freight tracks:
  • Most of the industries face the yard tracks, so the run-around gets a lot more use than I envisioned when planning the station tracks.
  • The run-around was designed for one or two car operation. This is too short. Yes, I kinda knew that going in, though didn't expect that it would be this annoying.
  • After moving one yard track to Track 3 when building Emsingen, I realized that Track 3 is used much more often for switching moves, than Track 4 and its dedicated pull-out extension, which turns out to be too short. 
  • Due to the way the track arrangement worked out, I had to plan the loading ramp of Track 3a into the triangle between 3a and the pull-out extension. This one always bothered me since there isn't really that much space to model anything interesting around the loading ramp.
  • There's a wicked S-curve when switching cars to Track 4 and 5 (the "yard"), that caused some trouble with a few short-coupled freight cars.
In other words, enough reasons to revisit the track arrangement in Emsingen once more. While I did build out the cork roadbed already, and parts of the approach are already glued down, most of the track is not. 

Here's my latest experiment. First the left hand side, then the right hand side.

Track 1, the house track, is at the top of the picture (with the slim platform), and will be used mainly for passenger operations, and as passing siding. The "switch to nowhere" will eventually connect to the engine service facility.

Track 2 is the mainline track. All through trains and most freight trains will use Track 2.

Track 3 is the arrival/departure track for local freights that begin and end in Emsingen. Freights that pick up or drop cars might stop on Track 2 and block the main while cars are switched out, and dropped on Track 3 (either by the road engine or a switcher. The right hand half of Track 3, including the extension on the right is used as yard lead.

Track 4 at the bottom of the picture serves as round-around in the middle, yard track on the left, and will have the loading ramp on the right (near the green tank car).

Track 5 is the yard track on the bottom left of the lower picture.

The changes compared to the previous arrangement can be seen by looking for empty cork roadbed, and temporarily placed track.
  • On the left-hand side, I will extend the yard track length of  Track 4 and 5 by replacing the two left-hand switches with a double-slip switch. This increases capacity by 30% on those two tracks to about 33 inches total track length (or 7+ cars each), and gets rid of the double S-curve when switching Track 5 from Track 3.
  • A side-effect of that change is that I need to build up a little bit more plywood to support Track 5's curve at the switch. Otherwise, the track hangs in the air...
  • On the right hand side, the changes are even more severe. I dropped the dedicated yard lead completely (empty cork roadbed at the bottom of the picture), flipped the direction of the run-around switch, and installed a double-slip switch replacing the switch on Track 3 towards Track 2.
  • The loading ramp track now runs parallel to the other tracks and becomes an extension of Track 4. The loading ramp itself will now sit at the bottom of the picture (right where the little cardboard sign "Rampe" is located), and I can make use of the freed up space to model some loading scenes (whatever that's going to be...)
I think the revised track arrangement flows a lot better, looks more prototypical, and is even more practical. I will find out if the latter is true by switching a bunch of trains on these new tracks.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Building basic scenery at Steinle

That big hole in the lower right corner of the layout was always meant to be covered by a "mountain". I considered various alternatives, some corny (mountain with castle), some more or less practical (put a street with an off-line industry there), but I finally settled on a Black Forest farm house with a few outbuildings, and a large cow pasture by the tracks. This area is now called "Steinle" for the distinctive rock formation behind the farm house. A small service road crosses the tracks behind the farm house on a bridge and disappears into the forest at the back drop.

To build up the area, I formed a web of cardboard strips glued together with hot glue. In terms of scenic features from left to right, there will be an overgrown rock face, some trees and bushes on top of the hump, then the farm house and the cow pasture in the lower section towards the tracks.

The area in the back corner is now know as Hochwald ("high forest"). The backdrop will be painted to represent forest, and I'll try to build up a forest edge along the ridge. In my infinite wisdom I built the cardboard web over the access hole, so reaching into the far corner for scenery work is now somewhat challenging ... Getting to the track to deal with derailments is unproblematic, though.

The cardboard lattice gets covered with masking tape (Kreppband). I painted the tape with acrylics wall paint so that the plaster in the next step holds better to the underlayment. The depression in the brown hill formation at the backdrop is where the service road bridge will span the track and lead into the forest.

The Hochwaldtunnel on the right will be surrounded by rock face above the tunnel portal and on the right along the wall. I will make a cardboard template and build the wall, tunnel portal and tunnel lining off-layout, so that I can slip the finished piece in place and hopefully just need to touch up and plant the edges where it connects to the surrounding scenery.

To cover the cardboard strips and further build up the scenery I'm using a mixture of 3 parts water, 4 parts Plaster of Paris, and 4 parts Vermiculite, as well as a little bit brown paint. The vermiculite adds volume and a nice texture to the plaster, and the paint tones down the stark white of the plaster.

Of course, working in the train room with plaster is always a bit messy, so I covered the tracks with blue painter's tape. Given the rain and somewhat cold temperatures lately it took almost a week for the plaster to completely cure and dry out.

Five Little Pumpkins

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

ALEKS on Linux - It works.

ALEKS is a math homework and exercises web site, that is used at colleges, high schools, and some middle schools. And Tatjana's teacher is using it, too.

ALEKS uses a Java "plugin", i.e. a jar file that gets loaded into the jre lib/ext directory, in the browser to speed up various pieces of their functionality. And, as is not uncommon for commercial entities, they only support Macintosh and Windows with their software. For Linux they at least provide short instructions on their Web site, "for experts only". Unfortunately, the instructions are plain outdated.

Furthermore, ALEKS only works with the Sun/Oracle Java Environment. Using OpenJDK leads to endless frustration while trying to use the software. Controls don't show up. It's dog slow. Javascript-Java integration doesn't work, etc. etc. etc.
Here's what I ended up doing on an Ubuntu 10.04 LucidLynx system:

- Uninstall OpenJDK:
$ sudo apt-get delete openjdk-6-jre
- Add the Ubuntu partner repository to the configuration (see Lucid release notes):
$ sudo add-apt-repository "deb lucid partner"

$ sudo apt-get update
- Install the Sun Jave Runtime environment
$ sudo apt-get install sun-java6-jre sun-java6-plugin sun-java6-fonts
- Find the location of the extensions directory
$ find / -path '*lib/ext'
This yielded /usr/lib/jvm/java-6-sun- for me.

- Copy the downloaded Aleks jar file to the right extensions directory:
$ sudo cp aleksPack10.jar /usr/lib/jvm/java-6-sun-
- Restart Firefox, go to, login, and voila ... it works.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Another one of these

For those of you who don't enjoy watching track out the front of a railcar, don't even bother clicking on the video above. Go, read some other blog, or check out the latest updates on Facebook.

For the single reader still with me:
Die Aufnahme entstand im Sommer 2009, nach Besuch in der Wilhelma und dem Stop an der Rosensteinbruecke. Wenn ich solche Aufnahmen mache, schauen mich andere Fahrgaeste oft an wie einen bunten Hund, ... oder vielleicht ein armer Spinner. Die Fahrzeugfuehrer scheint es nicht weiter zu stoeren, wenn ich ueber ihre Schulter filme. ... Oder sie halten mich auch fuer einen armen Spinner. ... Damit kann ich leben.

Mir gefaellt es wie die Strecke von Wilhelma bis nach Neckargroeningen aus dem Grau der Stadt, ins Gruen des Umlands fuehrt.

Erst durch die Stadt am Neckar entlang, dann das Kraftwerk Muenster, und Hofen. Am Max-Eyth-See wird es gruener, und auf regulaerem Bahnkoerper geht es zwischen Baeumen entlang. Nach Muehlhausen geht es auf dem neuen begruenten Bahnkoerper am Hornbach und Betriebshof vorbei wieder durch viel Gruen, bis zur Endhaltestelle in Neckargroeningen.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

JFK Airtrain

The JFK airtrain is a fully automated, driverless people mover. No driver means passengers can watch out the front window and film the track with their crappy cell phone cameras. This seems to be a fairly popular thing to do given how many variants of this can be found on Youtube. My version is below.

I used Youtube's video editor to compile the video from 5 segments, added transitions and a soundtrack.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Model train stores in Manhattan

When traveling I like to visit hobby shops that carry Maerklin simply because there are no decent such shops around where I live. Yes, the sticker prices tend to be a bit higher than for the same item on the Internet, but nothing beats looking at the actual thing before buying it.

Case in point: The Red Caboose and Gotham Model Trains. The stores are located between Rockefeller Center and Penn Station, so easy to stop by while playing tourist.

The Red Caboose is a New York institution, and quite an experience. The store is located in a basement. The shelves and display cabinets are stuffed to the brim with material. Locomotives, cars, landscaping, accessories, track, books, ... At first glance there doesn't appear to be any logic in how items are organized, but after spending a little time it becomes apparent that "like" items are located near each other. E.g. all Maerklin inventory (and there's quite a selection), is within a 5 feet section of shelves, and displays. I use the term "Display" loosely here, since some of the shelves hold models stacked on top of models -- no boxes! Some fell down from a higher level in the display, and stayed where they landed.

Did I mention dusty and cramped? The fascination of this store comes from the fact that this is a collectors dream. Lots of old (sometimes very old) items, very narrow aisles (in some areas I wasn't able to turn around with a backpack on my back), lots of stuff to sift through, ... but boy, this store is dusty and messy. There was dust on boxes, wood shavings on shelves (probably from installing additional shelves), landscaping material stacked on the floor, boxes hanging from hooks in drywall, or wood frames. Obviously, this is not about presenting model trains, but to have a *huge* inventory of vaguely hobby-related stuff.

I did find a model of BR212 (a locomotive I coveted for a while now, since it nicely fits in with the theme of my layout). It's a good looking model, though unfortunately, it was from Maerklin's Hobby series, analog, and had the old style 3 rotor LCF motor. That kind of motor already gave me lots of trouble when digitizing other locomotives. The amount of dust on the box indicated that this locomotive had been in the store for a while. There was no price on the box, so I low-balled an offer (given the amount of trouble I will need to go through to make this run on my layout). The otherwise very nice owner, was almost offended, and after looking up the dealer price in a price list from 2002 (!), suggested that this model wouldn't be right for me. Actually, he was right.

In contrast, Gotham Model Trains is a very nice, small, and clean store on the 13th floor of an office building. There's a small operating layout in the store, display cases, that show the models. Shelves with neatly stacked boxes of cars, organized by manufacturer, car type, system type, and scale. While they didn't keep nearly as much inventory, most of it consisted of recent models at a fair price, where I knew they hadn't been sitting on a shelf somewhere for 10+ years. They don't seem to have a lot of foot business (no wonder, given the lack of advertisements on the side-walk), so the store was mostly empty when I visited. Had I not googled for [model trains] on I would have missed it.

The staff and the owner were super-friendly, and when I left, my backpack was full. I got a set of 6 tank cars, that looks very good behind my BR50, as well as 2 "Schuerzenwagen" passenger cars. No BR212, but I'll keep looking...

Update 2015/12/01:

Looks like The Red Caboose is still around, but Gotham Model Trains is no more. 

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Return from Top of the Rock

Looking up into the elevator shaft while returning from the top of the Rockefeller Center.

Top of the Rock

Today I walked the streets some more, and ended up at Times Square. NBC/Universal has studios with large windows to the side walk there, and I wanted to watch how they film stuff. Turns out that they pulled the curtains. Oh, well. And here I was again next Rockefeller Center. I bit the bullet, and paid my $21 to get to the observation deck. The view is truly impressive. The pictures don't do it justice.

Looking south over Manhattan, and New York harbor . I really like the commanding presence of the Empire State Building in the sky line.

Me and Central Park. ... Sorry, I'm in the way ...

Yeah, that's better.

The lower level of the Observation deck. Notice the interesting variations in roof architecture with the buildings below.

6th Avenue was closed for traffic today, in favor of a long street fair with arts & crafts, and pretty good food.

More exploring at night

After dinner we walked the streets some more, and ended up at the Rockefeller Center. There was nothing going on at Radio City Music Hall, but the neon lights are always a nice in the darkness.

The Rockefeller Center main tower with the "Top of the Rock" Observation Deck on the roof top.

Another fun example of neon light effects. This is an office building lobby... 

Grand Central Station Main Hall. A very nice hall. Fits the name of the station well.

However, going through a door to the station platforms, you basically enter the basement. Yes, station platforms tend to be somewhat ugly, but here the difference is so sudden and rough, that it hurts.

Friday, October 08, 2010


What is it with New York drivers? My room is on the 8th floor, with windows to 7th Avenue. All night long, and day, too, there is some idiot down there on the street blaring their horn. Wherever you go in this city, the sound of honking horns is with you. It's a constant background noise, sometimes pushing itself into the foreground because some bonehead is particularly impatient about the driver in front of him, a truck making a turn, a construction worker holding up a stop sign, or they are standing just at a red light.

It's a mystery to me why people would honk at a red light. Seems to happen all the time here.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Exploring New York

Thanks to our tour guide Tristan, we got to see a few unusual sights.

These big wheels where powered by a steam engine in the basement of a house near Broome & Mulberry Streets and drove printing presses. It must have been quite an experience when they were still in operation.

These three guys are at home in Rockefeller Park on the Hudson River. The monkey is easy to spot in the park. However, the cricket and worm are actually a mere 2 inches tall.

View from Rockefeller Park across the Hudson River to Hoboken, New Jersey.

Apparently I'm not the only one admiring the sunset. This is the best photo I have of the Statue of Liberty. While we did take the Staten Island Ferry over to ... you guessed it ... Staten Island, the movement of the boat, and fading light made taking pictures from  the ferry quite pointless.

I do love this picture of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal after our return to Manhattan, though.

High Line Park

The Manhattan Highline is a former rail line that ran along the west side of Manhattan. It's a typical switching and delivery line, with the distinction that it ran three stories up from street level.

Today, sections of the High Line are becoming a city park. The bridges have been restored, and planted. There's a trail that runs along the former right of way.

What looks like nature taking over, is actually carefully arranged plantings. The Northern Spur bridge is a good example of a spur that leads directly into the 3rd level of a warehouse. Railroad cars used to be spotted inside the building through doors in the wall at the end of the bridge.

Tracks and trains often ran through buildings. The main High Line tracks lead through the red brick building on the right. The Northern Spur is set somewhat lower to the left, but going through the same building and then across the street.

During restauration, all tracks where removed. Later, they re-used the old rails, but installed new ties.

I like the radiant green of this grass here. The colors in the photo match the actual grass very closely.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Wednesday greeted us with blue skies and sunshine that stuck around for most of the day. Above is the view from the 8th floor of the office towards the North.

Every time I'm here it's a bit surprising how many residential buildings exist in downtown Manhattan. There are even fairly pretty tree lined residential streets, like this one just off 7th Avenue.

I'm not quite sure what's up with garbage collection in Manhattan, but it seems there are always garbage bags on the side walks, next to overflowing garbage bins. They do seem to get taken away over night, though.

Oh look, there's the Apple Store

9th Ave & 14th St

Sunday, October 03, 2010

New York

After my flight landed, flight tracking claimed we were in the middle of Queens.

Nevertheless, I did leave the plane at JFK, and made it to Manhattan via Lightrail and Long Island Railroad to Penn Station. Definitely beats getting a cab in terms of money spent, and fun along the way. The signage at the Airtrain is impressively bad: Track 1 and Track 2 with no indication where a train is going. There are only 3 different lines to choose from...

It rained for most of the first half of the week, so I didn't take many photos, but one evening we did go to Times Square.

Friday, October 01, 2010