Thursday, June 30, 2011


Friday, June 24, 2011

Layout ground connected to LocoNet ... somewhere.

Hmmm, I heard back from Uhlenbrock's tech support. As suspected I must have a connection between layout ground and LocoNet somewhere, which causes communication issues on LocoNet. The problem is present when track is connected to the Intellibox. This won't be a fun exercise to find...

At least I have a quick and easy way to tell whether LocoNet is working or not: Connect the 63400 via LocoNet to the Intellibox by itself, then power up the Intellibox. If the keyboard mode takes less than a second to show in the display, all is good. If it takes longer than ~3 seconds, LocoNet communication is affected.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Some extra time...

Spending some time at home over the next few days should help me get through a few work items. More electronics. Freight car routing. Convert another locomotive to digital. Maybe I finish up more of the backdrop painting. That would be nice.

First bit of feedback on car card & waybill routing of freight cars: Contrary to when I used JMRIs operations module, I'm more inclined to keep cars and cards in sync. I often run only one or two trains in the evening for fun, not as a formal operating session. Having the car cards right there in my face makes it painfully obvious and quick to move them to the right slots and trains.

Yes, a stack of car cards is not nearly as neat as a printed train manifest, or switch list, but so far it seems they fit my needs better. Time will tell.

Update 06/18/2011:
Well, I did end up spending an hour or two in the garage throwing paint at the backdrop while chatting with my Dad. Quite enjoyable if not for the colors on the backdrop that didn't quite work out the way I wanted. On the second try it started to come out more the way I imagined. We'll see what it looks like when the paint had a chance to dry over night.

Thursday, June 09, 2011


A bit more than 2 hours left...

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

DS64 "forgets" programming

When I mentioned a while ago that bad JMRI logic blew out a DS64 output, the actual problem was a lot more benign. The decoder simply "forgot" that output 3 is for turnout 11. I reprogrammed the 4 turnout IDs into that DS64, and afterwards everything worked just fine.

Various posts in the jmri-users and digitrax Yahoo groups report similar issues, and the same resolution. Problems with the track connection, or spikes on LocoNet frequently get mentioned as culprits for this. Hmmm...

Monday, June 06, 2011

Talheim Local Panel

The buttons are in, plus some LEDs. I'll test-program the Uhlenbrock 63400 unit driving this tomorrow.

The local panel for Talheim
Contrary to the Emsingen panel this one will be mounted horizontally next to the Intellibox, so I'm putting a little box around the electronics and wiring.

Elapsed time so far: 3 hours.

The red buttons are for setting routes ("Fahrstrassen"). The routes don't lock, since I don't yet have a way to unlock them automatically as trains pass through, though that would be cool. (I will need similar functionality once I have signals, so that a green signal turns red as the train passes through).

A route is set by pressing the two red buttons at the ends of the route, and all turnouts inbetween will be lined properly. I'll program the LEDs to light up if the turnout is set to Thrown (i.e. the train will take the diverging route, instead of going straight). I'm counting a total of 12 different routes.

Just like in Emsingen, the black buttons are "locally operated" turnouts, and simply toggle between Closed and Thrown. The 2 cross-overs at the small run-around are connected. The button throws the turnout, and the respective LED lights up if it is set to lead into the industry tracks.

Update 06/07/2011:
Oh well, that didn't work. LocoNet becomes unstable (again) as soon as I plug in the 63400. There must be something special about my LocoNet setup, though I can't put my finger on it. I'll do some more testing tomorrow, and if I can't figure it out quickly, replace the 63400 with a SRC16, and do the routes in JMRI. At least temporarily.

Update 06/08/2011:
Hmmm, that 63400 might be a bit wonky. I made sure it has a dedicated power supply, but even with only the Intellibox, a single DS64, and the LocoBuffer connected, LocoNet is unstable as soon as the 63400 is connected. I put the new panel into a box for now while I mull this over and tend to other things.

Sunday, June 05, 2011


A few weeks ago I went to a glass blowing lesson at the Bay Area Glass Institute. This was very cool. While the participants didn't work directly with the melting oven, we got to do most of the forming, and cutting of the pieces. After some initial explanations the instructors pick the glass from the oven, and prep the hot blob of molten glass, and then you get to have it with scissors, pliers, and and funky round wooden tool, while the instructors help you along. One has to work fast as the glass quickly cools down and hardens. Once the piece is done it goes in a special cabinet to slowly cool down over night.

Every participant made a flower and a letter weight.

I think, my creations came out surprisingly well.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

New Talheim panel in the works

Alright, I enjoy the panel in Emsingen so much that I'm building a similar one for Talheim (and will build yet another one for staging). Because the trackwork around Talheim is fairly complex (which should be an indicator that this will be an eternal bottleneck, but let's not go there...), Talheim routes are set by pressing two buttons on the panel at once, and the switches are lined appropriately. Well, at least they are supposed to.

The baseboard of the panel is done. Again I made this from hard-board. The buttons and LED holders are installed, and partially connected to the Uhlenbrock 63400 Switch-Control unit. I should be able to test-connect it to the layout tomorrow, and program the Switch-Control for the various routes.

This panel will replace the existing Talheim panel which was a lot of work to build, but turned out to be impractical to modify for the Kopper siding, as well as cumbersome to add LEDs or additional switches to it. I spent weeks building the old panel and the control board, mostly because of the many wires and solder connections needed to connect LEDs, buttons, and switch decoders to each other.

The new panel controls switches using LocoNet, so it doesn't matter which switch decoder controls the turnout, and they all work and behave the same.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Another shot at operations

I mentioned before that I feel too boxed in with doing car routing with the computer. I don't have that many freight cars on the layout that need routing (~35), and the operating pattern is fairly simple. I also don't want to chase after cars that are not where the computer says they are, nor do I care that much about preparing printouts of switch lists for operating the railroad.

So, I decided to try the traditional route with car cards and waybills. There is tons and tons of information on the Internet about how other people have done this (Google for [car cards way bills]), and including primers about the principles and mathematics of operations.

Here's my version 1.0 of Operations on the Welztalbahn. I'm using Micromark's car card & way bill set for this.


Each car is assigned a car card. The car card lists type of car, reporting marks, and has a pocket for the way bill card.

The way bill defines where the car is supposed to be delivered to next. Additional information may include load, shipper/consignee, and special instructions.

There are also engine cards that have information about a locomotive (road, reporting marks, and DCC address)


A train is formed by forming a stack of car cards representing each car in the train, and putting the respective locomotive card on top. I use colored paper clips to hold together the card stack.

Train types in priority order:

  • White - switching and deliveries
  • Green - Local Freight (typical stops in Emsingen and exchanges cars at the yard)
  • Blue - Through Freight (typically unit trains, their main purpose is to keep traffic up and get in the way)
  • Red - Local Passenger Train (typical on-layout stops are Emsingen and Talheim)
  • Purple - Through Passenger Train (typcial on-layout stop is Emsingen)
The pocket on the locomotive card has a schedule that describes destination, stops, and for passenger trains, length of station stops.

Car Routing

Following the principles of car card and waybill operation, the destination for each freight car is provided by the way bill. To keep things simple, at the moment not every way bill is fully filled in. Instead, I simply color code for the major destinations:
  • Blue - Deliver to the North
  • Yellow - Deliver to the South
  • Green - Deliver to Talheim
  • Red - Deliver to Emsingen
Unless the way bill has specific instructions, the operator decides on an appropriate industry spot based on the type of car. Future iterations of the operating scheme will likely improve substantially on this aspect.

We'll see how this works...

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


Elvira having fun running a passenger local
Elvira stopped by the train room yesterday evening. We chatted a bit, and as usual with visitors, I handed her a throttle to run a passenger train. She seemed to enjoyed it, so I ran a couple more trains in addition to keep traffic up and make it more interesting. She still enjoyed it apparently.

Alrighty then, ... let's try switching: "Here's a short freight train in Emsingen, run it down to Talheim, drop the cars at this, this, and that location, pick up the other cars and come back to Emsingen."
That was a nice little brainteaser puzzle, and she managed it perfectly.

Well done! :-)

Couple things I noticed while doing this:
  • The new local panel in Emsingen works well. I need to build a similar panel for Talheim. 
  • The cheapo push buttons are not so great, though. 
  • The Talheim panel needs LEDs for reporting which way switches are set.
  • There are a few dead spots in the less used industry leads due to dirty track.
  • Talheim Track 2 is commonly used for temporary car storage while switching. I need more experience how badly this affects traffic flow through Talheim and whether that is acceptable. Otherwise, I need to consider adding another track for working the Talheim industries, though there really isn't any space.