Thursday, February 24, 2011

No tape, no ground cover

The platform for track 2 is in and debris cleaned up. It looks pretty bad right now, but I hope it will be much better once I add the platform edge (made from a Heki cut stone sheet), and build up the sanded top of the platform. I still need to build the platform for the house track. That platform will run roughly from the end of the switch on the left to where the cardboard sign for Emsingen is located. Due to that switch, obviously long passenger trains need to stop at track 2.

Adding ballast to the track as well as ground cover (dirt, sand, and gras) on the areas between tracks will substantially help with how this area will look.

However, my first experiments with ballasting and ground cover in Talheim were actually not that satisfying, both in color, texture and general appearance.  The photo below gives an idea of the look I'm after for the tracks.

I think the best way forward will be to build a small diorama with a short section of track, maybe two track lengths long (i.e. 36cm), and scenic that from beginning to end. One half of the diorama will be station track (ballasted with an assumed drainage pipe, like in the photo above), the other half will be the regular high ballast with water draining to the sides of the track.

Live flight tracking for SFO

This is cool. Live flight tracking around SF Bay Area.

Gorre & Daphetid in Z Scale

Just in case you have not seen this yet...

David K. Smith is chronicling his endeavor to build John Allen's Gorre & Daphetid in Z Scale for a couple months now. Following this blog's almost daily updates is  truly fascinating reading on the wonders and pains of model railroad modeling.

Update 9/28/2014:
David has removed all his personal blogs due to trolls and other idiots that can't appreciate people showing off their work. What a pity.
The G&D in Z scale went into the trash some time last year after all turnouts stopped working, and the layout was damaged. I removed the link to the G&D blog. 

American Politics is just frustrating

The California High Speed Rail blog has an interesting article commenting on a Michael Byrne article basically arguing that major infrastructure improvements -- actually any major public works project -- that can't be completed while one federal administration is in power, is doomed to failure. That is due to partisan politicking and fundamentally different opinions on how tax payer money should be spent, as policies and priorities can change substantially from one administration to the next.

Both articles look at this through the eyes of infrastructure advocates. However, the same pattern is pervasive throughout all levels of government, federal, state, and even local.
In the end I strongly feel that the existing two-party and winner-take-all system is to blame for this, because it leads to a mentality of not wanting, nor needing to compromise. Even the media (TV, newspapers, Web sites) can be fairly easily classified into "right-wing" and "left-wing", catering to their respective constituencies for entertainment, and ad-dollars.

Balanced opinions and thoughtful commentary are hard to find in this climate of pervasive hyperbole. This just makes me sad.

On the positive side I do like the no-nonsense approach Governor Jerry Brown is taking in California. Granted, he has nothing to prove on the political front anymore, which is why he can comfortably play this role, and even propose raising taxes without committing political suicide. I'm very curious how this will play out over the next few months.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Read the instructions!

A couple weeks ago I complained that I can't get the Uhlenbrock 63350 to send sensor messages to LocoNet. After reviewing the drawings in the instructions yet another time, I noticed that I was just missing a Ground connection between the Ground pin of the 63350, and DCC Ground. I expected that the 63350 would use LocoNet Ground (or RailSync), but apparently it doesn't. I also misread part of the instruction text talking about Ground between boosters in the instructions.
Now I'm somewhat baffled that at power-up the unit would actualy report anything given the setup I had.

A platform in Emsingen

I didn't feel like running trains tonight. Nor was I in the mood to build the control panel for Emsingen (the electronics don't like me this week. Why the heck can I not get the sensors of the Uhlenbrock 63350 to report that there is something to report when I connect Ground to an input? gah! But I disgress...)

So I started mucking around with a piece of styrofoam to build the platform for Emsingen's track 2. Working with styrofoam is messy. A very sharp knife is helpful. That turned out better than I expected, and after a few more experiments  I glued down the styrofoam. The idea was to build the platform core from styrofoam and then cover it with the usual plaster-vermiculite mix.

I imagine the platform is built from gravel and dirt with a sanded top. The side towards track 2 is raised slightly above the the rails, while the side facing track 1 is sloping down. There will be two crossings over track 1 for passengers to get to the platform for track 2. One can see the styrofoam core on the photo below.

Since I had the tracks masked off already, I also filled in the area between track 2 and track 3, as well as a small section between track 3 and track 4. While I tried to make the surface of the platform really smooth, the fills are a bit more rough. Of course, the debris will be cleaned up once the plaster is dry. I should have just used a cork sheet when building the station area, instead of individual cork strips for the tracks. Oh well ...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Emsingen Underground

True, I didn't put up photos with my last two trains posts. I figured nobody is reading this stuff anyways. I was wrong. So, by popular demand this post goes into a few more details, and has photos of the ugly underbelly.

Emsingen Underground
South Switches from below
For orientation around Emsingen, take a look at the photos in this post from last year. The small yard in the upper photo is at the south end of Emsingen, while the north side sports a loading ramp, and a tail track.

Most people don't show the underside of their layouts because unless you have a large layout, or are really anal about cabling, it's usually a mess. Exceptions confirm the norm. Modular, or portable layouts tend to have cleaner cabling than stationary layouts. Anyways, the photo on the right gives a pretty good idea what my cabling looks like... Hey, at least I color code everything. Black/red is the main DCC bus (usually AWG14 cable). I have three independent power districts, this is in the "blue" district as signified by the blue tape wrapped around the bus cable.
Those red plastic thingies are 3M insulation displacement connectors (IDCs) to connect rail feeders to the main bus. The round grey cables are various local cable runs (e.g. the one at the top is connected to train detection sections, the one at the bottom runs to a servo in a somewhat remote corner of the layout). Blue/yellow is the 16V AC bus, and blue/red is the DCC accessory bus.
The printed circuit board in the back is a Tam Valley Depot QuadP servo controller.

The photo below shows my technique for installing and  connecting Tortoise switch machines. First off, at the workbench, I solder a short cable to the contacts and run it to a terminal block. The Tortoise has two built-in contacts for powering frogs or switch feedback. I don't really have a need for either of them, but since I have a 5 wire cable, I connected one of them.
Emsingen Underground Yard Switches
The Tortoise is screwed to a block of 3/4" plywood. After I prepared the hole for the throw bar at the switch, I add some wood glue to the top of the block, thread the actuator throw the hole in the switch throwbar, position the Tortoise, and test the throw, repositioning the motor until I found a position that evenly throws the switch without going too far in either direction. Then I hold the motor in that position until the glue starts to set and becomes tacky.
Depending on the amount of glue I added, this takes anywhere from 5-10 minutes, which is usually enough working time to find a good working position for the motor, and not so long that my arm falls off before the glue has become tacky enough to hold the motor in place.

Using terminal blocks between the track and the main bus, or between switches and decoders, makes it easy to disconnect wires for debugging.

Tortoise vs. UP5
Sometimes things don't quite work out, because you don't think about what happens behind the scenes. A few weeks ago I installed a Digitrax UP5 panel in the fascia at Emsingen. This is used to plug in Loconet throttles. The panel is connected to a printed circuit board that extends a couple inches behind the fascia. No problem. ... Until I tried to install the Tortoise for one of the yard switches, which happens to collide with one of the Loconet plugs at the back of the UP5. Had I installed the UP5 half an inch to the left, or a couple inches to the right, this would not have been a problem at all. Now it just barely fits when I let the UP5 stick out from the fascia a fraction of an inch.

Emsingen North Switches from below
The photo on the left gives an idea about how cramped the area underneath Emsingen is (and how big those Tortoise motors are...) Not only is there plenty of cabling in the way, but also a track running through the middle of it. Those white "guard rails" are extra slats from window blinds.

Emsingen South Switches

To wrap up, here are the south switches in Emsingen from the top. The big rectangular holes will hold the twin-coil semaphor machines ... Unless I'm crazy enough to either buy new semaphors with servo drives, or outfit the semaphores I have with servos...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

All switches installed and motorized in Emsingen

Over the last couple days I installed switch machines and programmed decoders for all switches in Emsingen. I used mostly Tortoise motors I bought quite a while ago, as well as a servo in one somewhat tight spot. The switch leading to the Lokstation is not yet motorized, but it also doesn't actually go anywhere.
The next project is completing the JMRI panel and routes for Emsingen, so that I can actually use all those switches without having to remember individual switch addresses.

While messing with cables I shorted out part of one of my Tam Valley Depot Servo Decoders. Very, very annoying, since I now can no longer fine tune the individual servo positions. I also managed to make a Team Digital SRC16 decoder completely non-responsive to switch commands. Only a hard-reset (hold the Smart button for ~30 seconds) brought it back to life. I love the very slow switch throw of this unit in combination with the Tortoise switch machines.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Breakfast View

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Here we go again

I'm at the airport again.

A trip to Miami for a bunch of meetings. I didn't feel like driving all the way to SFO for a non-stop flight, so today I fly from SJC via LAX, not exactly one of my most favorite airports. In fact most of the larger airports suck for their hustle and bustle, the unfriendly TSA folks, congestion, and delays. The small airports (like SJC) don't get you anywhere interesting non-stop. Though I like the usually relaxed atmosphere at the SJC security check points. The TSA folks were even joking today. Granted, it's a Sunday morning, and there were no lines...

Train detection woes

I spent Friday evening hooking up power feeders in Emsingen, as well as  connecting the drops from the train detection sections to a Uhlenbrock 63350 detector. The 63350 sounds great: Loconet, 16 inputs, flexible programming. But, ... it just won't send a sensor signal to Loconet when cars or a locomotive enter the monitored section. However, when I send a Loconet interrogate command, the unit happily reports all occupied sections correctly. So it seems I have everything connected correctly on the electrical side. Since Maerklin is a 3-rail system, I can just insulate one rail, and whenever the axles of a car bridge the two rails track voltage can be detected against ground on the sensor input. Ground gets to the unit via Loconet, so this should work. Looks like it's time asking on the appropriate mailing lists, and contacting Uhlenbrock Support.

Programming Loconet Configuration Variables (LNCVs) via the Intellibox menu is a tad cumbersome. I need to figure out how to do this for a unit that is not directly supported by JMRI.

What's more annoying though, is that I found out while researching the detection problem, that the 63350 doesn't have opto-insulated inputs, so shorts can show up on LocoNet and possible cause havoc (in fact, I had one nearby switch, which is controlled by a LocoNet connected decoder, throw itself when I created a short voltage spike while fiddling with cables. Not good). Not being opto-insulated can cause issues with Digitrax equipment later on, too.

For now the plan of attack is to remove the 63350 from track detection, finish up wiring in Talheim which is using a Viessmann 5217 (S88 straight into the Intellibox), to verify the general approach, and use the 63350 for the control panel in Emsingen complementing a 63400 unit. That way the control panel will have only one power plug for the 16V accessory bus,  as well as the Loconet plug(s).

Friday, February 04, 2011

Sunset today

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Emsingen mainline operational

The main tracks through Emsingen are glued down and operational again. I added all the rail isolations and cuts I need for detection as well. The north-half of the station has all switch machines installed.

As a little side-project I tried to fix the issues I had with BR86, and it ran great with the shell off. I couldn't get it to get stuck in various configurations over 30 minutes, when it stopped within a minute before I took the shell off. In the end I think it was a screw that was just a tad too tight and pressed the locomotive shell on a cog wheel off the motor.

Next up: wire and connect the remaining switch machines in Emsingen, both the freight area, and the south switches. Then build a quick-and-dirty control panel for the switches, since I don't really want to do this from the computer, and I don't want to spend weeks on building a proper panel (like in Talheim) before I can operate trains again. Then I'll move on to connect the detection sections, and after that probably do signals.

The locomotive service area is blocked pending proper seating of the turntable, and arrival of parts and the engine shed. It's not like I'm running out of work...

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

There's a prototype for everything

(image from: The calendar hangs on the wall near my desk at work.)

I have a bunch of steam and diesel passenger equipment. I also have several electric locomotives, and my working theory is that the Welztalbahn is electrified. My explanation for running Diesel equipment was that there's an unmodeled, non-electrified branch line to Prechtal north of Emsingen. Local commuter service to Prechtal is done with a Schienenbus, just like the one in the photo above. Also, since I'm modeling the early-mid 1970's the Welztalbahn has been electrified only recently, so not all scheduled runs have switched to electric locomotives, providing the excuse for running heavy freight steamers like my BR50.

Reading the description on the calendar entry this morning, it says this is taken on the Schwarzwaldbahn in 1989 showing E3642, and Schienenbus VT798 units were used well into to the 1990's on the Schwarzwaldbahn.
If DB can run Diesel passenger units for regional service between Gutach and Offenburg on the electrified Schwarzwaldbahn, I can do the same just fine between Freiburg and Prechtal on my Welztalbahn.

There's a prototype for everything.