Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Half-timbered houses for Emsingen

A few more half-timbered houses that will grace the market square in Emsingen.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Office Switching

The Timesaver for now lives on top of my bookshelf at work. Hmmm, some kind of background would fit nicely here...

Wireless Emergency Alerts

This morning we were woken up at 8:17am (groan "It's Sunday morning!") by my cellphone reading out an emergency alert about flooding in my area. Yes, it's raining, but why is my cell phone talking and showing this really unfamiliar notification box with information that there's local flooding and I should listen to local media?

Before my brain really kicked into gear, I clicked OK ... and then realized I should have taken a photo of the alert for this blog...

Turns out this is a new federal warning system. Verizon's website has more information about the "Wireless Emergency Alert" system that was installed and enabled this year.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Emsingen town arrangement -- first experiments

I cut a base board for the town of Emsingen the other day, and have been playing with house arrangements. I clearly need more houses, but this is starting to go somewhere now..

It's quite interesting how things appear more complete at eye level. Compare to this overview shot...

There will be a street leading up to the town roughly where the blue clamps are, as well as more houses in the back and to the left. The area near the stub track will get a loading dock, access road, and the Emsingen freight house.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

4 story houses in Emsingen ... or not.

I'm currently building more houses for the town of Emsingen. One of the kits I got for this a while ago is Faller's 130436 half-relief, background houses. I like the idea of half-relief houses since one doesn't need as much space as for the complete house, while still giving the impression of "there's more".

These two houses are the 4-story variant. The kit was an impulse buy, and I didn't really consider how high 4 stories is, nor the feel of Emsingen town. As time progressed and first houses were set on the layout, I took another look at that kit and mused that 4 stories is quite high. When I started building the kit I kind of spaced on this earlier insight. After the ground floor was built and I placed the house on the layout, it felt like a sky scraper, and completely out of place. Some kit-bashing was in order. Of course, by now I already had glued together the ground floor, so I couldn't go the easy route and do a nice straight cut along the bottom of the side-walls, instead I needed to cut at the roof line.

In the photo below I already shortened one of the two side-walls, and am test-fitting the facade, while the wall in the rear is still the original height.

Here's a view of the almost completed kit with other houses in Emsingen...

Yep, that works much better. Just imagine there were another floor in that house. It would be almost as high as the church steeple.

Our annual two weeks of fall

Friday, November 16, 2012

Gobble, gobble

Wild turkeys on my way to work...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thursday, November 08, 2012


New office location. Different breakfast options. Same sun.

More box cars

I was lacking a sufficient number of "real" box cars ("Gedeckte Gueterwagen") so Maerklin's new 2012 release of the 00776 display set came at the right time. Robert Frowenfeld from rjftrains had a good pre-order deal so I jumped on it in February. The shipment came in today.

These are Gbs 256 sheet piling wall box cars, not exactly one of the most common cars around on the prototype, but a good example for modern cars in the late 60's and early 70's.

The cars look really good as far as brown freight cars go. The molding is nice and crisp. Lettering sharp, legible, and as far as I can tell correct. Grab irons are present and iirc in the right places. Maerklin also molded the brake handles, though as usual didn't get the release valve handles correct (they are mirrored when they shouldn't be). I'm sure the rivet counters will be all up in arms about that. Some cars in the set are factory-weathered. The weathered look is nice, but I'll hold judgement until I see them on the layout.

I can now retire some of the really old box cars I'm running on the layout, but will need to revisit maximum train length. The new cars are quite a bit longer than the somewhat compressed cars from yesteryear. It might turn out that a 9 car train is now too long for the sidings and storage tracks.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Timesaver in N-scale

I've been toying with a timesaver module before using Bauspielbahn parts.

Last year I started to build an N-scale version. That project fizzled after a while, and the module was stored in the garage for most of last year. The baseboard is only 1 x 5 feet, so it wasn't much in the way, and, as can be seen on the photo, that leaves plenty of space for "scenery".

The module is fully wired up and operational. The Rapido couplers on my existing N-scale cars were not very good for switching, so I installed Microtrains trucks with knuckle couplers to match the little Diesel switcher. Replacing the trucks was reasonably easy on most cars.

This afternoon I sat down for a little while, cleaned tracks, hooked up power and indeed, the little thing actually works. It has some minor connectivity issues that should be easily fixable with some soldering and a couple extra power feeds.

Now, ... the point of the Timesaver is to act as a switching puzzle. I needed a way to define where cars are supposed to be spotted. I used Lego bricks on the Bauspielbahn-Timesaver a few years ago to give each car a color identity, and randomly placed matching Lego bricks at the loading spots.

For the N-scale version I wrote a script that shuffles assignments and delivers the result on a Web page in ASCII art. Not pretty, but functional and perfectly sufficient for the purpose.

Each car has a distinct color, which makes spot assignments very simple. Using the switcher locomotive the operator moves cars to their assigned spots. Then we start over.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bad Mojo Day

Never a good idea to get up late on a Saturday morning. Too many things went wrong yesterday.

Along the way I managed to blew out LocoNet communication on the SRC16 controlling the Talheim panel.

That's it. I'm going to put all the accessory and feedback decoders on a standalone LocoNet bus, while only devices required to control trains will remain on the LocoNet bus attached to the Intellibox, i.e. the LocoBufferUSB and a UP5 panel. The idea is to electrically isolate this bus from the Intellibox to protect it from the unusual reference voltage setup used by this command station.

For the stand-alone bus, a LocoBufferUSB needs to provide the Master termination, and the RailSync lines need to be powered by 12V DC. There are several ways to do this. I'll try to learn more about this over the coming week.

Thursday, October 25, 2012



Mediterranean meat-loaf and salad. Oh. My. God. So good.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Most underground tracks are hooked up to occupancy detectors. I'm cleaning track and one of the easier ways to distribute the cleaning alcohol is to run a train back and forth over the cleaned section.  But that gets old pretty quickly, so I modified JMRI's sample script  and made a locomotive run through staging tracks controlled by a script.

This presents the first time that I dabbled in automated train control on my layout. So many possibilities ....

The video shows a trip of the locomotive through staging as seen on the main panel of the Welztalbahn.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Working under palm trees

No rain this afternoon. A good excuse to work outside.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

New Emsingen Panel

The new panel for Emsingen is built and functional. All powered switches in Emsingen can now be controlled using the same logic I deployed in Talheim, along with routes and appropriate semaphore signaling.

The red buttons control routes and semaphores. The logic works by first pressing the button FROM where the train is coming, then the button TO where the train is going. The computer/JMRI take care of throwing the right turnouts and set the appropriate signals, including speed signaling for diverging vs. straight routes. The black buttons control the turnout at the respective location.
The story here goes that turnouts with black buttons are hand-thrown by the switching crew, while turnouts off the mainline are thrown by the tower operator.

The red buttons on the yard ladder line the yard turnouts so that the respective yard track can be reached from the switch lead.

I have not yet put together the indicator LEDs for the mainline turnouts and various control indicators. I'll do that for the Talheim panel first, Emsingen next, and finally the various turnouts in staging.

The fascia still needs some paint. Another day... I haven't run trains in a while, so the tracks in staging are all gunked up in various places and need some thorough cleaning.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Another house for Emsingen

I'm putting together yet another Faller kit to add more houses to Emsingen. In this kit I'm trying out a trick to get more depth behind the windows by adding a 0.20x0.60" styrene strip on the inside to keep the paper mask a whee bit away from the window glass.

House with the styrene strips behind on the inside of the windows
The 3D effect is surprisingly good. I did not expect that at all.

Franziska wanted to have a flower shop in the house instead of the bar that comes with the kit. I re-decorated the shadow box behind the big window with some foam flock... Well, ... at least it's clearly no longer a bar. I'll add a canope for "Franziskas Blumenlaedle" later.

Window shopping
The house placed with it's friends in Emsingen. I have at least 5 more kits to go before I'll even attempt arranging houses and where to put streets.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

oh yeah, I can see it now ...

Looking south towards San Jose from the San Antonio Rd Caltrain station
[For those of you who missed it. This is the storm carrying hail up to 1" in diameter down to Gilroy.]

Monday, October 08, 2012

Fascia fix-it

The fascia at Emsingen was one of the first I hung when I decided to keep the "operating pit". Since then I learned a few things, such as how to cut holes in an installed fascia without scratching the surface (use blue painter's tape), or to check for things that are behind the fascia (turnout motors, layout supports) before cutting a hole...

Either way, I moved the UP-5 out of the way of the turnout motor a few months ago, and now that it's time to upgrade the control panel for Emsingen, I might as well put it in a spot that is more convenient to reach. Since most operators have problems seeing the panel with the somewhat tight space in the operating pit, I wanted to install the new panel slightly tilted, so that the button and track arrangement is more visible. We'll see how well that works out...

New fascia board installed. The UP-5 is now mounted on the L-girder supporting the layout.

Testing view lines with the old panel. I can barely see the uppermost buttons when I'm standing straight, but the new tilted arrangement is much easier on the eyes for anyone shorter than me.

Scenery update

I promised removal of the ugly distant hills behind Hinteraecker in my last post on this subject. Here is the result.

Hinteraecker background
One of the items in my luggage on the return trip from Zurich was Faller's "Rathaus Ahlsfeld" model, which is to become the centerpiece of the market square in Emsingen.

I need to get cooking on building more houses, as well as potentially get creative with background flats for the town.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

Uetliberg Hike

The team went up to Uetliberg tonight. While we intentionally chose the longer path, trying to avoid the super steep direct route, it took longer and was steeper than expected. Nevertheless, this time nobody got lost, and we had a nice dinner at the top of Zuerich.

View from the path through the forest towards Zurich

Tomorrow will be taking the train in this direction, and go visit some real mountains.

Sunset Cruise on Lake Zurich

ZSG's sunset cruise is a two hour trip on Lake Zurich to Rapperswil. ... and another two hours back, if you indeed feel like taking the boat.  

It took two hours for the sun to set, and a lot of photos...

Sunset dinner

And now we are reaching the light sensitivity boundaries of the sensor in my cell phone camera.
At the lake in Rapperswil, just below the castle. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When there's rain, there's water ...

The Sihl, one of the two rivers flowing through Zurich, is usually only a few inches deep, and cristal clear. However, after the rains last night, it's carrying a lot more water, and one can't see the river floor anymore.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Swiss ingenuity

What do you do if there's not enough space to build a freeway into the city?
You put it over the river:

A3 on top of Sihl river

A little bit downriver they put a train tunnel underneath the same river. Bahnhof Selnau, the underground station in that segment, is accessed from a bridge crossing the river.

View Larger Map

Cutlery in corporate apartment

Cutlery drawer in the corporate apartment
This is a good selection and variety of utensils and knifes.
Contrary to Lamia and Wolfram's experience .

Sihlcity in the morning

I have this odd obsession with old brick chimneys. Thankfully Zurich is littered with them, primarily in converted industrial parcels.

This is the chimney at the Sihlcity shopping center. Today the only smokers around sit in the restaurants at the foot of the chimney.

Saturday, September 08, 2012


"Knabenschiessen" is an annual festivity in Zurich, combined with a big street fair and carnival rides. I went during the day when it was quite empty and you could easily move around. No lines either.

Street fair  and food stands on Uetlibergstrasse. I had excellent Raclette-Cheese with potatoes and a pretty good crepe with banans and chocolate for dessert.

Carnival Rides. The grounds are packed with rides. There's pretty much no flat spot that doesn't have either a ride, a food stand, or is needed for people to walk.

Awesome ride. Plastic balloons in water. Everyone can play (even adults). Maximum two people for at most 5 minutes. Reminded me of the hamster ball from school, but the children apparently really enjoyed it, and this was one of the few rides with a line!

*sigh* Too bad I'm not into Gummibaeren...

Notice something?
There are no cages or glass enclosures for the gondolas! There are apparently no seat belts either.  Not only does this look really friendly, but the view must be so much nicer without the cage bars, too.
A setup like this would be impossible in the U.S.
Oh yeah, there were also youth that apparently were shooting on targets or something (which is the whole point of this 4 day event. You could hear the shots when being close to the shooting range, though I didn't go inside. That was pretty crowded, even at 3pm.

When I walked back the apartment, lots of people were walking up to Albisguetli from the city. I was glad that I got food and took a look around before the masses arrived.

There were several very big portable carnival rides like this one:

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Morning View

Today I was woken up by a friendly, but loud "Guten Morgen!" coming up to my window from the courtyard. The friendly woman's intention was certainly not to wake me up, but it was a good start into the day.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Half full

Hefeweizen at Juan Costa right next to the office.

Bye, bye Stuttgart

View from IC 187 while traveling the Gaeubahn between Nordbahnhof and Stuttgart West on its way to Zurich.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Ready to go

Let's see what the box looks like once it arrives in San Francisco...