Monday, February 27, 2012

Emsingen Yard -- all tracks in

Over the last few days, I've been converting Emsingen Yard to 4 tracks. Tonight, I squeezed in the last track. In the photo below the glue is still wet.

This was a a little bit tricky because there's isn't really a whole lot of space so this became an exercise of getting the track to fit right in the middle of the other two tracks. It didn't help that the masonite board I used to expand the yard to the left in above photo is too hard to get push pins in, so getting the flex track to stay in place required the help of a couple nails. Most of the trackwork in this photo is built with sectional track pieces. The last track installed (track 5, second from left) is mostly flextrack, and there's a short piece of flextrack next to the double-slip turnout on track 4 to get the right angle with a very slight curve. 

Now that trackwork on the layout is almost complete, I'm finally getting the hang of properly fitting and cutting flextrack. The Maerklin variant is quite a bit stiffer than 2 rail flextrack and thus a bit harder to work with.

Since the yard is wider now, I need to redo the tunnel portal to staging, and while at it, I finished the edge all the way to the wall. I'll need to break up the bland edge with some structure, and build the supports on the left and right of the tracks underneath. But before that I need to finish and install appropriate tunnel portals, and close the wall between the double-slip and the tunnel portal.

A boy and his kite

The wind was great this Saturday, so Pascal had some fun with his kite.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Emsingen Yard

When one thing leads to another...

Intensified operations is putting more strain on Emsingen Yard. While the tracks tend to be long enough to hold the cars, it's becoming hard to keep cars organized by destination. There are cars going south. Cars going north. There's local traffic within Emsingen, the hand-off run to Talheim, and interchange to Prechtal.  Doing all of that with 3 yard tracks is challenging.

Since I'm already working on the hill below the yard, I decided to bite the bullet and add the 4th yard track now, before I can finish up scenery on the hill.

The catch of course is that if I had enough space for 4 tracks from the beginning, I would have built 4 tracks... So, something's gotta give, and in this case I'm stealing about an inch of space from Werner & Soehne and give it to the yard.

The existing track 5 will be replaced with two shorter tracks (5 and 6). Yard track 4 remains quite long, and yard track 3 will remain quite short. Tracks run straight over the tunnel portal leading into staging. More like a bridge than offset tunnel portals as originally planned. I think I'll now give this this a more modern concrete look, too.

Track 6 will run along the edge of the supporting plywood, so I need to modify the hill slope underneath to give the impression this is properly supported, instead of looking like the work of a mad-man. The yard tracks will be set quite close to each other. I'm still waffling whether to do them all with flex track (and the respective hassle of aligning and cutting flextrack), or do them mostly with sectional track. I expect that flextrack will look better with more uniform separation between tracks, while the sectional arrangement leaves pockets of space that make it easier to uncouple in the middle of a string of cars.

In the end this will be a compromise. Even with the extra inch, clearances will be very tight, and uncoupling will need to be done in very tight quarters. I'll gain space for a few more cars and more flexibility for yard operations.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Visiting a piece of Germany

The German Consulate General in San Francisco is located on 1960 Jackson St. in San Francisco. The building is adorned in very nice brick, and the grounds are kept meticulously. The atmosphere is friendly. The people are really nice and helpful.
It's always a pleasure to come here for official business, be it citizenship issues, or getting a new passport, and today was no different. Add to that perfect weather, blue skies and sunshine, and you get a nice road trip.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fun with the rock crawler

Yesterday, Pascal and I went out in the neighborhood to look for places to exercise the rock crawler. There are some nice, steep hill sides around the sports field and we had a lot of fun coming up with dirt courses to run.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Not too shabby

Some paint and Pascal's expert color advice transformed the Scuptamold.
Next up: Painting the tunnel portal, then ground cover and bushes.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Scuptamold is a paper-mache-like material. Just add water and you get a paste that is extremely easy to work with.

Today was the first time I worked with Scuptamold to fill in holes and cracks around the retaining wall near Tiersteintunnel. I practiced a bit applying the Scuptamold with an artist's spatula, and experimented with the relative amounts of water and Scuptamold, and the resulting effects. Eventually, I finished up the hillside not yet covered in hardshell. The stark white could probably be toned down by mixing in some tempera powder paint.

I really liked working with Scuptamold. The drying time is quite a bit longer than my plaster-vermiculite mix. Working with a small spatula allows for very good control of where the material goes. Next, I turned my attention to the cracks between the tree bark "rocks" around the south portal of Hochwaldtunnel. ... Yeah, that is really white. For filling in the cracks I used fairly little water to get a more solid mixture (about the consistency of not quite fresh Play-Do), that allows for modeling sharp edges and crevices of rocks.

Next up is painting the rocks in a grey/brownish tone with light grey dry-brushed highlights. I hope it's going to come out well. We'll see...

I also rebuilt stub-ended staging (again). The faulty turnout was replaced with a spare double-slip. I really don't feel like buying any more M-track turnouts, so when making repairs I just use extra pieces that I have lying around.

While testing I accidentaly ran the test engine off the unconnected track of the double-slip. It got caught by the "let's not fall on the floor" fence I have installed in various places around staging, so nothing bad happend, though I obviously need to pay better attention when running trains out of those tracks.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Emsingen northbound semaphores

The northbound exit signals in Emsingen are now fully functional, including turnout routing via JMRI. I mounted the semaphores a few days ago, and connected wiring tonight.

In other news, I discovered that large locomotives (electrics with 3 axles per truck, or a steamer) derail on the entry turnout to stub-ended staging. The loco climbs up while taking the curve, so it appears the turnout is out of gauge. Sigh. I thought I was done with surgery in that corner of the layout.

Upcoming and ongoing projects:

  • Fix stub-ended staging turnout ladder
  • digitize and fix a couple locomotives (railbus/Schienenbus, BR141, BR194)
  • add a 4th track to Emsingen yard
  • scenery, trees, and shrubs around south portal of Hochwaldtunnel
  • Hochwald trees and scenery. How do I make forest ground?
  • build and try out the grassinator

Not even mentioning building Werner & Soehne machine factory, the Lokstation, or the town of Emsingen, nor the stations in Emsingen and Talheim...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Productive Weekend

This has been a productive weekend.

Stub-ended staging track 2 is set for departure
I rebuilt the stub-ended staging yard, added more power feeds and squeezed in some more track. The switch ladder is now fully powered and integrated with JMRI. The logix are set up to throw the switch ladder and set an imaginary signal to Green when leaving the staging yard. Also, when setting the route for an arriving train, the cross-over on the staging ramp is thrown automatically.

I actually relaid the staging tracks 3 times, because M-track was giving me some connectivity issues. I hope I have that worked out now. Time will tell...

The decoder "bank"
Next was adding another DS64 to the main decoder panel. The panel was originally envisioned as the central place where all electronics is located. Over time that turned out to be not such a smart idea, and I came to appreciate a model of components distributed on the layout and connected by LocoNet. Nethertheless, there *are* a lot of solenoid driven turnouts in staging, and the signals in Talheim, so it made sense to group the decoders driving those units together.

Finally, I spent some time to install and connect the first semaphore signal in Emsingen. This signal is known as "A". Since there is a facing point turnout in Emsingen, the signal needs to be able to signal both "Stop" (Hp0), "Go" (Hp1), as well as "Slow" (Hp2). I wrote JMRI logix to control what the signal shows based on which route is chosen through the station. Below is what the signal shows, as well as what's shown on the layout panel in JMRI. Yes, JMRI introduced the concept of signal masts in version 2.14 which should render quite a bit of my custom routing and signalling logix obsolete. However, what I have works, and I don't feel like ripping it all out at the moment. There are more interesting work items ahead of doing _that_...

"Stop" (Hp0)
"Go" (Hp1)
"Slow" (Hp2)

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Fourth Operations session of the Welztalbahn

Yesterday, the 4th operations session of the Welztalbahn took place. Balazs joined me again, and Alex popped in for a little while.

I updated the schedule based on feedback I got at the LD/Ops SIG meeting last weekend. The biggest change is the addition of a local freight (Ng / Nahgueterzug) that runs from Prechtal staging to Emsingen early in the session, and a return trip to Prechtal staging near the end of the session. The intent was to make more use of existing staging capacity, as well as make use the engine servicing facility during the session. An unintended side-effect was that switching Emsingen became more involved. I'll likely revisit the yard in Emsingen in the near future to add a 4th yard track.

Another suggestion I implemented was parallel meets of passenger trains in Emsingen. While it's interesting visually, I'm underwhelmed about the operational need to run two trains up from staging on the same route back to back.  However, I'll definitely take another look at this as part of running passenger locals from Prechtal only to Emsingen (possibly servicing and turning the engine in Emsingen), and returning back to Prechtal, without running the train all the way down to Freiburg staging.

For the first time I used the new stub-ended staging tracks under Kopper Furniture to hold the two freight locals from Hausach and Freiburg respectively, which freed up the main staging tracks for trains that make multiple appearances. Even though the track is still not mounted permanently in place, nor has feeders, it worked well enough. I really need to power the switches, though ... A side-effect of using these tracks is that I actually do need to spend a little bit more effort on staging the layout for a session.

While the layout mostly ran well, this session still had some problems:
  • Early on we tried to convince the freshly digitized BR141 locomotive to actually work. It appears I need to take the motor completely apart and clean it thoroughly. Even on straight DC the motor didn't run properly, and lots of arcing was visible around the commutator and the motor brushes.
  • BR86 got stuck regularly, and needed the commutator cleaned.
  • After throwing a switch on the down ramp towards Staging 2, JMRI and/or the Intellibox went into a fit, LocoNet got flooded with switch commands, and the switch got toggled endlessly. I had to power down the layout, exit JMRI and start over to clear this condition. Adding "breakers" to Logix to control whether groups of Logix rules are active should help to diagnose this condition further in the future.
  • Due to the missing BR141, the schedule couldn't be run as written, and we somewhat messed up towards the end of the session.
Overall, the session lasted for about 2.5 hours, and we ran 21 out of 23 scheduled trains.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Emsingen Engine facility track connected...

I originally intended to use Flextrack to build the two tracks leading from the 3-way switch to the turntable. Which means, I wouldn't use the engine facility for quite a while. Last night I built a temporary connection from sectional track and for the first time ran an engine from Emsingen to the turntable and back. Things are starting to come together.