Sunday, January 30, 2011

Good weekend.

The water tower is only 1/3 full, but my enthusiasm is at 100%. The weekend started off with Friday evening at SVL. I originally planned to only take some photos and video footage, but when I was asked whether I wanted to run a train, of course I couldn't say No. I left SVL shortly after midnight ...

The meet on Saturday had some very interesting talks, and a few not so interesting ones. I particularly liked the talks about how others developed operations schemes for their layouts, especially when the layout wasn't really designed for operations from the beginning. The talk about about Operations at Train Mountain was also great. On balance it was a very good day, chatting with people in the breaks, over lunch, and well worth the time spent.

The layout tours in the evening were fascinating, inspiring, and sometimes intimidating all at the same time. We went to several private layouts in the Newark area, as well as the California Central Model Railroad in a former SP depot in Santa Clara. Four different layouts in just over 3 hours. By the end of the day my head was full, and I was tired and exhausted.

Sunday was the absolute highlight of the weekend when I got to operate on a private layout in South San Jose (not that far from where I live). It's hard to believe that I had this much fun switching cars on a local freight turn. This was a two person job, and took a whopping 2.5 hours in elapsed real time. Afterwards I did get to run a way freight by myself, and railfan the entire length of the layout. They say going slowly on a model railroad increases the fun, ... and it's true.
This layout feels extremely realistic, working with the dispatcher, communications between the road crews, the jobs of spotting and picking up cars, ... It was a pleasure to spend the day.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Boeing 737s on a train

Steve Eshom has some nice articles recently about Boeing 737s fuselages built in Kansas being transported by rail to final assembly at Boeing's plant in Renton, WA.

I very much enjoyed reading Al Krug's account of dealing with those extra high, extra wide loads from a railroader's perspective: Boeing bridge at Big Hook and More Boeings. Other articles on his site are also quite fun to read...

Looking forward to a weekend of fun ...

Last fall I signed up for the LD/Ops SIG weekend ("Layout Design / Operations Special Interest Group) that's coming up this weekend. Tonight is a dinner and the option to stop by at Silicon Valley Lines again.

The day tomorrow is packed with talks and sessions about various layout design and operations topics, followed by layout visits in the evening.

Sunday I'm signed up for an eight hour operations session on a private layout in San Jose.

I've never been to a model railroad convention before. I'm very curious about how this all will work out, the people, the talks and sessions, and of course the layout tours.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Emsingen track layout finalized

After operating for a while with the rearranged trackplan in Emsingen I have decided that, while not perfect, it is as workable as it's going to get in the space I have available, and I want to move on. So after soldering feeders on Monday, tonight I started glueing down the station tracks.

The stub roadbed in the rear will be serving the Emsingen freight house.

Once the major track work is in, I can start installing switch motors, and finally use some components I bought almost two years ago, as well as turn up block detection in the upper levels of the layout.

Block detection is already up and running in staging and properly reporting block occupancy in JMRI. One use case for this is to track a train over the layout and have the computer take over as it enters staging and drop it to an open staging yard, prepare the next train to appear, so I don't have to wait for the train to make it up the ramp, etc. We'll see how that works out ...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Note to self

The cat tree in the living room needs 300ft of 1/4" sisal rope. When replacing more than half of the rope, don't assume a 100' roll is enough.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Today I ran my usual routine operating on the Welztalbahn: One Nahgueterzug each from the North and the South dropping off and picking up cars in Emsingen, as well as the transfer run to Talheim. However, this time I wanted continuous traffic on the main line (instead of just pretending), so I kept two freight trains running, roughly with the same speed  spaced out on the main loop. As those trains ran continously around the layout, I ran the Ng's between them, and made the necessary switching moves. Digital train control is flat out fantastic for this.

When I needed to run an opposing train to either of the two trains I only had to slow one of them down or stop at a (still imaginary) signal, when one of the other trains needed to run from North to South. This also works well with a passenger train looping in the opposite direction between Prechtal Staging, Emsingen, and Talheim.
I did similar things on my father's analog layout many years ago. One loco got it's current from the rails, while the other used catenary. If I wanted to run a train "in-between" it was sharing power, and therefore control, with one of the other trains. It's possible, and one had to time it right cutting in and out of the loop, but that is no match to digital control where each locomotive is controlled individually.

A nice side-effect of this was that my BR50 and BR194 got a good work-out ... a stress test if you will. The tender of BR50 managed to derail several times at a somewhat finicky location with curved turnouts at the exit of staging. Adding some weight to the tender and balance it out evenly helped, replacing the pickup shoe seemed to really make a difference. After I converted this locomotive to digital, the tender was a bit lighter since the I removed the mechanical direction relay, and a decoder is not that heavy.

BR194 needs some tuning, its motor is quite temperamental. I think I'll take it completely apart again and make sure it's mechanically sound.

Finally, my switcher BR86 needs a thorough cleaning. It has a problem were sometimes the gears bind, and the locomotive doesn't move after coasting to a stop. Let's see if I can figure out what's wrong with it.

Time lapse of SVL September Operations Night

Back in September I was at Silicon Valley Lines and I did notice the camera for the time lapse recording. Turns out there is a video of this evening, and I'm in it, clearly visible in the first few seconds while I got my introduction to the layout, and then later running a really long freight train.

The time lapse gives a good idea about the size of the layout. Definitely worth a visit. Check them out at

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Dell Latitude C810, ESS Maestro 3s, and Debian Lenny = no sound

I installed Debian Lenny on my old Dell Latitude C810 in the train room. With Debian Sarge, sound worked just fine, but Lenny just doesn't do it. Kernel modules are all loaded, and look right. Logs have

Jan  8 17:02:53 doc kernel: [ 2579.448816] firmware: requesting ess/maestro3_assp_kernel.fw

and nothing else interesting.

After some googling I learned that I'm missing the firmware, but it no longer comes with the Debian ALSA packages due to license violations of the binary-only firmware. has instructions on what to do to get sound anyways. Basically one needs to download the firmware tar.gz from the ALSA project's FTP server, and build it manually, then copy to e.g. /usr/local/lib/firmware/ess, reload the maestro3 kernel module, and voila, we have sound.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Like ice in the sunshine

It's been cold lately and I had to scrape ice off my windshield this week. Today the whole car was covered in a thin layer of ice.

Unfortunately, the photo doesn't do the ice crystals sparkling in the morning sun justice.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Two and a half years do make a difference

In August 2008 I attempted my first conversion of a Maerklin locomotive to digitial. I read some stuff online, but I wasn't really quite sure what I was doing, so I opted to using an Uhlenbrock 75200 decoder that doesn't require disassemby of the motor. I tried to do the minimum amount of modifications to that locomotive to make it work with Maerklin's digitial system. The image on the right shows the inside of this Maerklin 3075 locomotive, a BR216 of the German Bundesbahn, after the conversion. This locomotive has a large flat collector AC motor typical for older Maerklin locomotives.

I was never really happy with that conversion. The motor ran very rough and loud. So after having done a few more conversions and increasingly getting more adventurous, last week I decided to re-do BR216. This time I used an ESU Lokpilot 3.0 decoder. Since that decoder only supports DC motors I needed to install a permanent magnet and disassemble the motor, which was a good opportunity to give it a thorough cleaning, too. As is standard in my recent conversions, I installed a NEM 562 plug for the decoder, so that I can easily replace the decoder if I feel the need at some time in the future. The 16V bulbs got replaced with yellow LEDs that were painted black all around except the front to prevent light leakage into the cab. This was the first time I tried using LEDs in a conversion, and it worked reasonably well, though next time I'll try extra-bright warm-white LEDs instead of standard issue yellow, if I can find them. I'm also tempted to use SMD LEDs and glue them in place.

When I did the first conversion, I didn't have that many supplies, but now it's hard to see the tablet under all the stuff.