Tuesday, January 29, 2013

LD/Ops SIG weekend

The Layout Design / Operations SIG meet is a great event, usually on the last weekend of January. Saturday is the actual meet with talks and presentations. This year it was at Harry's Hofbrau, which worked out quite well as a venue. Lunch was included in the admission fee. It was that we didn't have to leave the venue to find a restaurant for lunch. Plenty of opportunity to chat and meet folks during the break.

The program was very diverse. Seth Neumann and Chris Drome presented a fascinating talk about using RFID in identifying cars (and locomotives) for operations, including a technology demonstration. I enjoyed Thomas Knapp's talk about about modeling the facilities of the Pacific Coast Railway at San Louis Obispo. Not only for its historical background and maps, but also because he recreated historical photos on his layout and photographed the model from the same location / angle. It also helps that his models and buildings are very well done. After lunch Dave Falkenburg gave a very entertaining talk about Free-moN, and the Silicon Valley group in particular. This really created some appetite to consider building a module. Dennis Drury's talk about using JMRI Ops to validate layout design was an interesting idea, though I didn't quite buy into it. Finally, Guy Cantwell talked about his Willoughby Line layout, and showed plenty of photos of his nice layout. The official part of the day ended with a panel discussion of how the era of a layout influences operations and vice versa. It was interesting to hear how various people arrived at the theme and setting for their layout and where they took it from there.

After dinner at Applebees, I spent the evening touring layouts with friends. Our first stop was Dave Adams' Durlin Branch of the D&RGW in On3, since it was near the dinner place and no-one in the group had seen it yet. What a surprise! That is one neat layout. Almost completely scenicked, and very well done.We spent almost an hour here, much longer than I anticipated.

Next up was Seth Neumann's Niles Canyon Layout in HO, which I also hadn't seen yet. What struck me about this layout was how the mood of the scenery changes between the industrial areas of Fremont/NUMMI and the Niles Canyon/Pleasanton side of the layout. And of course this layout is tricked out with all kinds of nifty electronics (including the RFID readers), signals, and lighting effects outside and inside buildings. We spent much longer here than I thought, too, not only because the layout was nice, but also chatting with people.
Both Seth's and Dave's layouts are built for operations and should be fun.

We finished the evening at Ed Loizeaux's New York Central, Valley Division. This S scale layout is really made for railfanning with a long double track main line run that winds through the room, a few switching areas, and a small yard (well, as much as things can be small in S scale ...) Several trains ran, and it's quite an experience to watch this long coal drag make its way across the stone arch bridge that forms much of the upper level.

For Sunday I was originally signed up to operate on Bill Kaufman's State Belt layout. That session got canceled on relatively short notice. Instead, I spent the day operating on Jim Radkey's BNSF Pink Lady, which is always a good and fun experience. The group was interesting, and I enjoyed both running trains (Sergeant Hill Local and others), and chatting with the other operators.

Overall, a great weekend. One thing that really struck me this time around was that there _is_ a strong social aspect to model railroading. Since this was the third time I went to this meet, and I'm active at Silicon Valley Lines as well, you get to reconnect with people you haven't seen for a while. ... and they recognize you as well!
Yes, you spent a lot of time in your train room, or the garage, by yourself or in a small group. However, with events like this, I got reminded that there are many others that share this same fascination, and these people are real, not just an email address. I've now met several people in person whose thoughts and advice I've read in mailing lists, or forum posts, for several years. A lot of this is about sharing what you're proud of. The solution to that tricky track geometry problem. This neat technique for scratch building. That awesome scenery effect. Do share and contribute. I'll do my part with this blog, showing my layout, and what I do with it.

Monday, January 28, 2013


It was a good weekend. Now back to work.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sail boat

Last week, Pascal built this sail boat. Very nicely done.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sixth Operations Session on the Welztalbahn

Today was the sixth operations session on the Welztalbahn. Since I had new equipment in service since the last time, I rewrote the schedule from scratch.

Printed schedule, train cards, and line schedule
I started out with a line-based diagram of where each train is at any point in time. You can see it in my notebook in the photo on the right. Since I created merely a sequence schedule, I didn't need to pay much attention to the speed of trains, and could instead focus on interesting meets. The diagram style format makes it very easy to see when a staging track is too full to hold the trains intended for it.

Then I combined this with the existing train cards from previous sessions, assigned train numbers, printed a couple new cards for the added runs, and created the actual schedule used by the operators. A printout is on the left in the photo.

Once I had the schedule, it was time to stage the trains accordingly. For the passenger trains this goes really fast. Select the locomotive, move the train into the right place. Done. The freight trains tend to need a little bit more attention, but get done pretty quickly, too.

All ready to go. Oh, wait, I do need to add a feeder to the Gregorius track in Talheim. It had no power since the turnout surgery last year. That got done quickly, too. Some track cleaning, and ... The PSX circuit breakers indicate a short? Oh man, did I really not pay attention? Disconnect the track. Short remains. Disassemble all of Kopper Sidings. Short remains. Disconnect track from the PSX. Short indicator remains on (!) ... Deeep breath. ... Power-cycle the layout. ... WTF? Now all THREE PSX circuit breakers indicate a short!!! Why now? I have two hours until my operators show up, and I have a short in the layout? But where? ... Deeeeep breath. ... This doesn't make any sense. I didn't change anything, and there's a short? Even with disconnected track? .... Hmmm, bad command station? Overvoltage? ... Replaced the Intellibox transformer (yes, I had a spare 16V AC transformer). Turned the layout back on, and ... no dice. No PSX delivers power to the layout. I connect track power of one block directly to the Intellibox. No problems running a train. I reset one of the PSXs to factory default. Didn't help... Some time later Balazs showed up, we look at the problem, and just as mysteriously as it showed up, the "short" disappeared. I still have no idea what this was. I have an email out to DCC Specialties, maybe they've seen this before.

Anyways, a little while later the operations sessions was in full swing.

Itamar works the Yard in Emsingen
Balazs shuffles cars in Talheim
As for the Kopper sidings, the new track at Gregorius worked as well.

Overall, the layout performed quite nicely today. A few dead spots on the industry tracks, and a short on the turntable, but otherwise no mechanical problems. The revised control panels seemed to make sense, too ... at least I got no complaints :-)

This session ran for 2.5 hours and all 17 scheduled trains ran with no problems. I think that's a first.

One good question I got today was, "do you operate your layout only twice a year?" -- No. I operate more often than that just by myself. However, I don't count my one-man shows as an operating session, since I usually run with a simplified schedule that includes only certain freight trains.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Birthday present

Pascal built me this awesome wooden steam locomotive from scratch as a birthday present. He did an excellent job. No power tools were used just saws, knives, files, a hand drill, hammer and nails.

I love the extra touch of modelling live steam from the chimney.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Digitrax DN143K2 in N Scale Kato RDC

The office layout is in N scale. Due to a spur of the moment purchase a Kato RDC found its way to me. I'll write more about the purpose of this guy some other time. Tonight I installed a DCC decoder in the RDC . What a giant pain for such a small model. The model is held together only by clips. Disassembly is impressively hard. Keeping the clips intact is even harder. Either way, after reviewing forum posts, the Kato disassembly instructions, and the Digitrax installation instructions, the decoder is ready for testing on the layout.

Following some forum advice I removed the underbody part to reach the clips for the seat panel more easily. That was a very good move.

The Digitrax product description did say this is a challenging install "due to the nature of the model". I guess I'll find out soon if I can manage to do challenging installs successfully. Update 1/29/2013: I tested the decoder on the layout in the meantime. One light board was slightly off the connectors (easily fixed), but otherwise the RDC ran just fine. The motor parameters do need some tuning. Though that can be easily accomplished when it's put together.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Jurassic Switching

The office layout got a few visitors while I was on vacation...

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year!

Fireworks rockets are so much fun.