Friday, November 26, 2010

Dirt and Rock at Steinle

I'm making progress at Steinle adding dirt (actually a mix of powdered tempera and plaster), as well as coloring the rockwalls. 

The rockwalls are hand-carved, painted with flat grey, and then got treated to a wash of dirty grey and brown to bring out the structure. I also dry-brushed some highlights on the rockwalls to emphasize raised areas of the rock, vs. the niches and crevices.

The dirt on the right is a mix of powered Tempera paint and plaster. In the photo it's still somewhat damp, so I'll know only tomorrow morning whether the color comes out the way I planned. Either way it's an improvement over the brown latex paint I used at Hochwald in the corner.

The backdrop will consist of painted and real trees. I hope to evoke the feeling of a dark forest stradling the edges of the layout, particularly around Hochwald. The painted trees on the left are my very first attempt at painting a forest. I'm quite happy with how they came out, though I will likely end up redoing them, since I'm still missing some distant painted mountains on the backdrop.

I'm using several photos I took on a trip to the Schwarzwaldbahn last year as guidance for scenery, and the backdrop.

Once the dirt is down I can finally rip off the masking take from the track and run trains across the whole layout again. Hopefully some time next week.

The next projects on the horizon are finishing the basic scenery around Steinle, particularly the area on the left side in the picture. Next up is building Hochwaldtunnel to close up the hole barely visible on the right hand side of the picture. In parallel I'll build the access road to Talheim station and close the hole at the bottom of the picture. Then I move on to planting grass, bushes, and trees. 

Other work includes fixing up the trackwork in Emsingen, installing switch machines, and the engine service area including turntable. That'll keep me busy well into next year.

Where is everyone?

It's Black Friday. The malls and stores are supposed to be overflowing with shoppers.

Home Depot and Trader Joe's in Morgan Hill were empty. It was *very* quiet, the cashiers were bored. Actively avoiding the Black Friday madness is a good thing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fall is here

Finally, the trees in our street are decked in nice fall colors. They will stay this way for a week or so, and then loose their leaves.

Also, tonight we're having a nice thunderstorm ... WITH HAIL! Yay. Tatjana and I went out on the patio to watch it and pick up some hail corns. Some of them were up to 1/8 inch in diameter. Nice!

Update 11/21/2010:
The local weather radar was knocked out of commission by this storm. "KMUX RADAR HAS EXPERIENCED A WIDEBAND FAILURE. LIKELY DUE TO HEAVY RAINS IN THE SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS". I think what they meant to say was "The phone lines are down".

Monday, November 15, 2010

A small fix

Since I'm revising the track plan in Emsingen, Track 5 needs a bit more space. With the card board strip method of terraforming, that is easy to do.

1) Make a rough cut-out for the space you need

2) Fit a cardboard template. It's much easier to fit cardboard to an irregular shape than doing it to plywood directly.

3) Cut the plywood using the cardboard template as a guide.

4) Clean up the plywood for a reasonably tight fit.

5) Mount a scrap piece of plywood under the benchwork, make sure to leave space for switch motors, and glue the new piece in place.

Done. That wasn't so bad.

That G1 on the left is my wireless throttle (using EngineDriver, WiThrottle/jmri, and a LocoBufferUSB). It works well, but the UI is a little bit fidgety, especially for kids, so I'm going to get a Digitrax UT4 which has a big knob for those that prefer physical knobs instead of virtual sliders.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

More base scenery

I'm building up more and more of the scenery base around Steinle. The name-giving rock wall in the foreground has been done for a couple weeks now. The brown area in the background is this weekend's addition. I'm now using powdered tempera to tint the plaster/vermiculite mix and it works a lot better than regular paint.

There will be a little waterfall and creek coming through the hanging bridge, which is currently represented only by a card board stand-in. I will need to build the bridge from scratch. The original idea of building a valley spanning viaduct was abandoned when I realized how puny the "valley" is. There is another bridge I will need to build at the end of the painted tape section in the foreground.

The water from the waterfall will pass under the other bridge in front of the Steinle rockwall (cardboard stand-in just visible on the right hand side of the second photo). Currently that section is missing a "floor" because I somewhat screwed up here. The track is already glued down, and additionally, there is a double cut in the rails just a few inches up from the bridge. Originally, I planned to lay the track here, adjust the ramp for optimum grade, then build a support structure underneath to lock the grade in place, and replace the plywood track section with the actual bridge span. I'm not sure this is going to work as planned, but maybe I have some glorious idea soon.

The left hand side of the second photo shows the reworked loading ramp area of Emsingen station (and a couple of my primitive car cards). I already removed the roadbed of the former yard lead and ramp tracks. The access road to the freight area will cross the tracks between the curved switch and the semaphores protecting track 1 and 2. There is (yet another) cardboard stand-in for the road in the back between the tracks and the wall. I'm planning to hide the seam between road and wall by placing a truck on the road as view block.

Vegetation-wise I'm thinking of bushes and trees along the edge and wall, as well as dense trees overhanging the creek bed above the hanging bridge. To the right the trees and bushes will become denser as they join the forest of Hochwald in the far right corner of the room.

The whole arrangement is a little bit tight clearance-wise because there is a track running in tunnel along the wall under the hills. There is yet another pantograph catcher hidden in the hills to ensure pantographs of electric locomotives don't catch on the scenery from below.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Despicable Me

Yes, this is not exactly a new movie (it was released in July), but Tatjana and I had a great time.

Villain Gru fights for being the biggest villain of all, and 3 orphaned kids are key to accomplishing his master plan.

I loved the characters. Gru is a grumpy with a soft streak. Very nicely done. The minions supporting Gru in his underground shop are hilarious. And the kids, ... well, they are just too cute :-) I won't tell the story, go watch the movie yourself. This is great movie for kids, not too scary, quite some action, and very funny. The DVD will be out by the end of the month.

We saw it at BlueLight Cinemas 5 in Cupertino, which appears to be the only theatre in the South Bay still playing this delightful movie. BlueLight is in a somewhat run-down shopping area right next to DeAnza College on Stevens Creek. It's a really small complex, simple, and friendly. I like that a lot better than the big megaplex at e.g. Oakridge. The seats were comfy, the theatre clean, the floor not (!) sticky, and the sound volume was reasonable. I guess, no crowds also means that this theatre is probably just barely getting by. Too bad.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Now that's some seriously crooked track

Here's a blog entry that shows what effect earthquake surface waves can have on rail infrastructure. Fascinating.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Caltrain at Night

Caltrain is the busiest passenger service in San Jose. I think all others (Amtrak Capitol Corridor, ACE, and Amtrak Coast Starlight) together don't even have a quarter as many runs daily as Caltrain. Nevertheless, as popular as Caltrain is, the railroad is on the brink of bankruptcy, so we'll see how much longer it stays in operation in its current form.

Train #266 has just arrived in San Jose Track 4. In the distance is the signal bridge at the Alameda. Interestingly, the northbound signal is already showing green for train #383, even though #372 is still arriving on Track 3. Do those signals just show that the block ahead is not occupied? I think the dwarf signal for #383 at Track 2 was still showing red when I took this photo.

South-bound Train #266 becomes north-bound #189 in an hour. The engineer checked the controls and made sure everything is in working order, ... and then he took off and got dinner.

Train #383 on Track 2 is still showing the red tail lights from its earlier arrival, even though it will depart in 10 minutes. #372 just arrived on Track 3 and will become #287 soon, while #189 on the right will be here for another half hour. Amusingly, it's the only one already set and ready to go.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

I hate hard drives

This time the drive in the layout computer died. And the last backup has been a while ago. *sigh*

On the positive front, I build the fascia in the somewhat unusual place smack in the middle of the layout. Adding edges to the scenery nicely frames the three-dimensional picture we're building.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A primitive car routing system

Now that I placed the Welztalbahn into context, I can move on to send freight cars around. For the basic job of testing the track arrangements in Emsingen, and most of the layout inaccessible from Emsingen, a simple routing system is more than sufficient.

For each freight car in this rotation, I defined a spot on the layout (e.g. loading ramp Emsingen), and an off-layout destination. I wrote these on a small scrap of paper and placed it either next to the car, or in a stack of such papers representing yard tracks in Emsingen. Then I went to work with a switcher and collected cars in Emsingen, going north to be picked up by the Ng from Freiburg. Once ready the Ng enters Emsingen, the switcher pulls cars off from the end, and replaces them with cars going north. The Ng pulls out of the station, and the switcher prepares for the Ueb to Talheim, and goes on its way.

Now it's time to fiddle cars. Replace the cars on the Ueb with cars from Talheim, and on the Ng with cars coming from Hausach to Emsingen.

The Ueb returns from Talheim, the cars get sorted, and the switcher prepares for the Ng going south, replaces the respective cars, and then it's time for fiddling the Ng again.

The end-result of this exercise:
  • Once again, I'm amazed by how much more one is drawn into the game when what you are doing has a (pretended) purpose.
  • I had a lot of fun, and time was flying by quickly.
  • Oh yeah, the modified track arrangement works nicely, too.
I can't wait to get done with plaster in the Steinle area, and be able to run trains across the whole layout again. Once the kinks are worked out, I'd love to try this with a second operator. Since space is very limited in the train room, my operating scheme doesn't need to support more than two (or at absolute maximum, three) operators.

Introducing the Welztalbahn

So, I need to test the yard and freight arrangements in Emsingen.

And I still have the tracks around Steinle covered with tape. Just moving cars around in Emsingen didn't sound too interesting, or useful, so I came up with a schedule of trains I could run on my layout, which also happens to more firmly place locations on the map.

To recap, Emsingen and Talheim are located along the fictional Welztalbahn in the south-west Black Forest. The Welztalbahn provides the shortest link from Freiburg to Hausach on the Schwarztalbahn and on to Stuttgart, via Kinzigtal and Gaeubahn. North of Emsingen, an unelectrified branch line serves the Prechtal.

Even though the Welztalbahn is electrified and built out as a single track mainline, due to its tight curves and steep grades it has lost considerable interregional traffic to other routes in the region.
If you take a look at a map of the south-western Black Forest region, you will notice the real-world Elztal, and its respective rail line. My Welztalbahn is located in the same area, but does include the planned but never built track to connect Elztal with Hausach on the Schwarzwaldbahn. Hence providing an excuse to run heavy freights, and regional passenger traffic. Only Emsingen and Talheim are actually modeled, the remaining destinations mentioned below are represented by staging.
Nevertheless, there are several regularly scheduled regional trains on the line, plus local traffic.

There is at least one daily Eilzug Stuttgart-Freiburg and back.
Commuter service runs between Emsingen and Freiburg. There is local service from Prechtal to Emsingen using a Schienenbus and, during commute hours, on to Freiburg.

Two pairs of heavy freight trains are regularly seen on the Welztalbahn. An oil tanker train running from Basel to Freudenstadt and returning empty, as well as a gravel and rock train from Schramberg to Freiburg, returning empty.

A local freight (Nahgueterzug, Ng) services Emsingen once daily. It arrives from Freiburg in the morning, and returns from Hausach late in the afternoon. The industries in Talheim are serviced with a transfer run (Uebergabe) from Emsingen, i.e. the Ng drops cars for Talheim in Emsingen.
Of course, aside from providing visual interest, the purpose of the passenger and freight trains is to make the job of switching the Ng and Ueb a bit more challenging, since the through track, and sometimes even the house track in Talheim and Emsingen need to be kept open for passing trains. This is particularly challenging in Talheim, due to limited trackage, where I usually end up using Track 2 to temporarily hold cars while switching.