Wednesday, December 31, 2014

More Holiday Entertainment

Except for some touch-ups, the first room is done. I'm quite pleased with how it turned out.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Still No Water

Now that the rains have passed, Coyote Lake dried up again.

There's only a tiny pond near the dam at the north end of the lake

Remember: No fishing from the docks!

Holiday Entertainment: 4 days later

Fresh paint. Carpet gone. Laminate flooring almost done.

Darkness and wind make it unsafe to work with the table saw and finish the flooring tonight.
The wall base boards are left to do and then the first room is completed. Need to find a place where to paint the base boards without getting all kinds of debris into the paint. I hope the wind dies down by tomorrow.

With other commitments this week, I don't think I'll get the second bedroom done before I need to go back to work next week. Oh well, that's what weekends are for ...

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Wifi Network Upgrade: Ubiquity Unifi AP-PRO

I've grown tired of the uneven Wifi performance at our house. The access point is in the garage on one side of the house. Wifi is ok in the adjacent rooms, but breaks down often if there are 2 or more walls between the access point and the device.

In the past, I have used a pair of 54Mbps Netgear WG602v2 802.11g access points in wireless bridge mode. They worked ok in the previous house, but never really lived up to that performance at our current place. A replacement Netgear WNR2000v3 N300 access point worked better for a while, but wasn't really that exciting either. On top of that it crashed every couple months

A couple days ago, when the WNR2000 crashed again I've had it, and ordered some real hardware to resolve the wifi issue once and for all. The Ubiquity Networks Unifi AP-PRO arrived today.

This enterprise-level access point is marketed to companies and businesses as a lower cost alternative to the Cisco's of the world. I've read in reviews that the setup is supposed to be more complicated than consumer-grade access points. It didn't really feel like that to me. The initial setup was trivially easy, and while using the controller software is slightly more involved due to its feature set, it's more logical, easier to use, and more useful than the typical convoluted Web UI one gets to deal with on most access points. 

On top of that, the AP-PRO looks really cool:

Network Wiring Center with AP-PRO mounted on the wall
By the way, the signal quality is excellent all over the house now, including the back yard, the front yard, and across the street...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Fill-in Scenery around the Emsingen Lokstation

The ballast is glued down, so on to the next step: Fill-in scenery.

Cover up existing track and scenery elements. Then apply glue and DIRT.
A short while later with the glue still wet.
And the same angle with the signal box back in place.
As I cover painted plywood with actual scenery over time, the views become more and more satisfying.

Next up: Finish the ballast in the curve, and then move on to weeds and bushes.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Some more papermill work

Down at the club tonight, I started out with working on the south turnout, but then quickly turned my attention to the north yard ladder when Dave pointed out that my nicely arranged and spiked down turnouts don't actually meet the SVL standard of 2 inches separation between track center lines. Oooops.

A little while later I had fitted a short spacer-piece and went on to drill the hole for the throw bar. Only to discover that it was right above a cross-member of the bench work. Oooops.

Attempt number 3 resulted in a usable turnout with the right track spacing. Here's the view with the first storage track spiked down.

I put down some paint on the ramp I built last time and let it dry while I messed around with the turnouts on the north-side. Superintendent MikeF declared the south turnout installation to be acceptable for the main line, so I went ahead and soldered the turnout in place, added the frog wire (still need to work on doing this in a way that doesn't melt as much plastic), and fitted the track down the ramp into the paper mill complex.

By that time it was getting late, and I decided to call it a night. Before I left, I laid out a few track pieces to get the look and feel of the track work. In the distance one can make out the nice track work Jeff put into North Hallelujah.

Looking north over the paper mill complex.

Looking south over the wood yard

Holiday Entertainment

Uh oh, that car looks overloaded ...

Yes, the load is heavy.

500 square feet of laminate flooring. Across the top are 12ft long wall base boards. They barely fit into our Toyota Sienna much to the surprise of the guy at the warehouse where I picked up our new floors.

I'm not going to be bored for a while ...

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Emsingen at Night

Ueb 97 836 returns late from Talheim. Engine 211 082-3 doesn't have much work with the single box car in tow.
Meanwhile, 89 006 is dropping ashes in the Lokstation in the background.

89 006 is one of the ubiquitous Maerklin Nr. 3000 C-couplers (0-6-0 in US parlance), not converted to digitial operation yet (if ever).
211 082-3, a light diesel engine type, is Roco Nr. 68960. Those engines were a common sight for many years on secondary lines in Germany. Hard to see in this photo, I still prefer the original purpur-red livery over the more recent beige/blue, or even DB AG's bright red.

Long Distance Ballasting (2)

My back hurts, but the curve now has most of the ballast it needs glued down. The remainder will get added when the Lokstation is back where it's supposed to be and the transitions are scenicked.

This time I tried a slightly different approach applying the glue in order to minimize movement of the ballast.
First, I sprayed about a foot of track with 70% Isopropyl alcohol, to help with breaking surface tension of the glue.
Then (and this is the change) I let the glue wick in from the sides of the track. Either by applying the glue right at the outside base of the track in locations where I didn't shape the ballast edge, or set the eye dropper on top of a tie end and carefully let the glue slowly wick into the surrounding ballast. Either way, the glue will wick under the track into the middle and wet the ballast from below, thus gluing it in place with almost no movement. When the ballast turns white from glue you know it's soaked all the way to the roadbed.

Using this "bottom-up" approach I no longer get the "wash out" effect I regularly had to deal with when dribbling glue into the middle of the track from above, and all ballast starts to swim in a puddle of glue between the ties.

The center studs in Maerklin track make it very difficult to arrange the ballast evenly between the rails. This approach keeps the pieces where they are supposed to be and minimizes cleanup later.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ready for Tortoise

The south switch into the SVL paper mill complex is spiked in place and ready for installation of the turnout motor. The north turnouts and the paper mill yard throat are visible in the distance.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Papermill north switches and mine branch line

The switches for access from the North to the Silicon Valley Lines paper mill are spiked in place and the mine branch line is re-connected to the main line.

Mine branch comes in from the right, crosses the yard lead to the paper mill and connects to the double track section of the main line in the distance.

Here's the view southbound over the future paper mill complex.  The mine branch line hangs to the left against the back drop. The single track main line hangs to the right towards the aisle.

The next task: South access switch.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"Long Distance Ballasting"

Ballasting again. This time I get to do it on the one of the hardest to reach corners of the layout: the turnback curve around the Emsingen Lokstation, which is currently sitting on the work bench outside the layout room.

This looks deceptively open and accessible in the photo. In reality, there is the computer cabinet and lower level tracks in the way.

The closest location to reach this corner is from the access hatch on the right hand side of this photo (behind the red cap of the ballast container). Most of the curve is about 3 feet away, so I get to work with alcohol and glue at the end of an outstretched arm. To make matters worse, the roadbed on the inside of the curve sits right on the edge of the plywood, so I will ballast and shape that part only later after I put the Lokstation back into the layout ... and then work really carefully around the sceniced areas

I put the ballast in place and carefully shaped it. Now it's time to soak it in alcohol and apply glue without disturbing too much of the shape. Still not one of my favorites.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Empty Canvas

I started work on the Paper Mill in Hallelujah on the Silicon Valley Lines club layout in San Jose.

The first act involved removing all remaining track and structures to create an empty canvas.

Structures gone. On to removing the tracks and turnouts along the backdrop.

The track in the rear is the mine spur that will be mostly hidden behind (and inside) paper mill structures.

The club is currently in its annual Christmas shutdown to allow for invasive track work. There are several projects going on in Bayshore. I used the opportunity to cut the mainline in Hallelujah and fit the turnout into the paper mill complex. The turnout needs to be shimmed and a frog wire attached. Holes for frog wire and Tortoise need to be drilled, too.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Safety First!

The cinder pit ("Schlackengrube") got a safety railing today. Worker Emil Hermann approves.

The railing is a left-over from the Auhagen telephone boxes kit. I bent it to shape, added some paint, and glued it next to the pit. ... Then I tested whether it is too close to the track. It was, of course. ... Now there are two dimples where the glue set up first. One of them is barely visible to the left of the white leg.

View from the workbench

First row seat to rain and sunshine.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dirt, Sand, Gras around Emsingen Lokstation

The Lokstation in Emsingen is on the bench. Yesterday, I installed the lights, today I turned my attention to scenery.

I tried out a different technique for the ground around the turntable. I wanted a somewhat unkept, muddy appearance.

Here's what I did: Brush thinned white glue on the painted base board. Sprinkle fine, real dirt from the back yard into the glue. Then stipple more glue into the dirt. This produces a mud-like appearance. In fact it is real mud. Next, I sprinkled various colors of fine turf into the wet mud. I deliberately tried to create make this very uneven. I finished off with the same grass fibers I used elsewhere on the layout to tie together colors, add body and texture.

Here's a close-up of the mud. The tracks will get some light ballast next.

Updated (12/15/2014):

Step by Step in pictures ...

Brush glue on the base board. I use Matte Medium from Scenic Express.

Using an old spoon sprinkle on sifted dirt from the garden. The more dirt, the muddier it will become.

Now comes the fun part: Using an old brush, stipple more glue into the dirt and make puddles of mud.

Sprinkle on some fine ground foam for more body. Here I used Woodland Scenics Yellow Grass, Burnt Grass, and some Medium Green.

Using the Grassinator add the grass fibers to taste. I'm using Scenic Express "Late Summer".

Done. Total elapsed time: 10 minutes, including covering up the roundhouse, which took about half the time.


Now that the Talheim buildings are tricked out with lights, and my winter break has started, I'm coming back to the Emsingen Lokstation. It's really convenient to be able to pull the whole engine facility off the layout and work on it at the bench, instead of being hunched over the layout in some more or less comfortable position.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Winter Evening

Stationsvorsteher Schmidt watches as the last Schienenbus of the day on the Welztalbahn leaves Talheim towards Freiburg on a cold winter evening.


I built the Talheim station building as a teenager, and fine-tuned the lights and appearance over the last couple weeks. Yes, there is a light in the telephone booth.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

San Francisco before the Rainageddon

I'm staying in the city tonight. Here's the view from my hotel room looking east along Howard Street towards the Bay Bridge, which is barely visible behind the high rises. We have a major storm coming in. I'm curious what the view is going to look like tomorrow morning...

Update December 11, 7:45am:

Rain and Wind have arrived.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Late Afternoon

In the hills on Croy Road near Uvas Canyon County Park

Thursday, November 20, 2014


The little phone box ("Fernmelder") for the entrance signal to Emsingen is a quick and easy build to relax at the end of a long work day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Changing the scale

Work in progress on the Welztalbahn
It's interesting how scale adjusts when you introduce something tall. Way back when, until I installed the semaphore signals in Emsingen, the tallest thing around the tracks were trains. The signals changed the scenery dramatically.

Last night, I installed the high mast lights and the scale changed again. Now the trains and the signals almost feel small in comparison to the lights towering over them. ... Which is exactly the effect I was after.

Of course, operators on my layout will now have to pay more attention to where they are putting their arms while switching cars...


Overgrown walls at Uvas Canyon County Park

Sunday, November 16, 2014


I'll try to model the semaphore signals and turnouts in Emsingen and Talheim to be controlled mechanically following prototype practices. Wikipedia has some nice background information on Mechanische Stellwerke (in German). Note: The English version of this page strictly refers to U.K. technology, that is similar to the German prototype, but looks quite different.

The basic concept of mechanical signal towers is that each turnout and signal is moved with a lever in the signal tower that is connected to the turnout or signal with steel wire arranged in a loop.

The wire loop between signal tower and the signal or turnout needs to remain under tension for the system to function properly as it stretches and contracts over time, as well as with temperature fluctuations. That's where "Spannwerke" (wire tensioners) come in. Using a combination of pulleys a weighted arm pulls the wire taught. The main forms are "Signalspannwerke"to tension signal wire loops, and "Weichenspannwerke" for turnout wire loops. They differ in various aspects, but the most visible is that Weichenspannwerke are built more sturdy, and the weights are heavier. Spannwerke are a signature feature of this technology and very visible. Weichenspannwerke are often located inside the base of the signal tower, if there is room. Signalspanwerke are often located near the signals they serve, to ensure higher reliability in case of wire breakage.

The models in the photo are of different types and come from several manufacturers. The two Signalspannwerke on the left are from Auhagen (part number 12242). The two Signalspannwerke on the right and the five Weichenspannwerke on top are from Faller (part number 120141). Finally, the four Signalspannwerke in the lower middle are from Vollmer (number 5136).

The Signalspannwerke from Faller #120141 are quite nice. I added the guide rod by drilling a small hole in the arm and adding a piece of thick magnet wire. I may add the wire loop later. The Weichenspannwerke out of the box are quite awful and too bulky. I lessened the blow a bit by extending the base and adding the guide rod.

Auhagen's Signalspannwerke are nice and detailed. They guide rod is suggested, but doesn't stick out above the arm. That is easy to fix, but not done in the photo yet.

Vollmer's Signalspannwerke were a very nice surprise. They are finely molded and have all required parts including the guide rod and the wire loop around the pulleys. In fact, the quality of these models made me modify the others to bring them to a similar level of detail.

Of course, all models need to be painted to look reasonable.

"Mechanische Stellwerke, Band 1", Stefan Carstens, MIBA Report, ISBN 3-89610-211-7

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Surprise Box

A box with vintage Maerklin equipment found its way to my doorstep today. There was a bunch of M-Track, as well as freight cars, locos, and the 7051 crane.

Thank you, Rick! Very much appreciated.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Silicon Valley Lines

A loaded coal train led by two W&S units at Mount Nichols during the Open House at Silicon Valley Lines.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Sprucing up lights 2

These mast-mounted lights also have fairly large bulbs, but I can't apply the same fix. The socket housing is very deep and narrow, and it's made from one piece of metal. I decided to leave the bulb alone. The housing and shade are oversize, but fit together more reasonably.

What always bothered me, though, was the gray cabling inside the mast. I soldered in some magnet wire, which makes doesn't stand out quite as dramatically, and now it's even possible to look through the mast lattice. I will spray paint the masts one of these days or on the weekend.
 It doesn't take long per lamp to do this modification, and it's mostly easy, which makes it a relaxing exercise at the end of a long workday.

Who needs TV anyways?