Monday, July 28, 2014

A new evening project

Soldering is done. Tomorrow we'll work on the wood frame.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

More work on the roundhouse tracks

I hung out in the backyard shade and added more styrene bits to the roundhouse tracks, as well as started on the service tracks.

Hanging out in the backyard. It's really convenient that I made the service facility removable.

Roundhouse tracks detail.

Definitely better than if track ties were visible.

Starting to think about whether to use the kit-provided mechanism to open/close doors or build something a little bit fancier. Pascal pointed out that the roundhouse looks a bit empty and needs tools storage, cabinets, etc.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Silicon Valley Lines: Switching Nowheres Yard

Nowheres Yard from the perspective of the yard switcher engine.

This time-lapse video was recorded July 25, 2014 during an Operations session at Silicon Valley Lines, San Jose, CA.

A camera was placed on a flatcar, and a photo taken every 5 seconds. This video runs at 10 frames/second, thus the 2450 photos taken over a duration of 3.5 hours are played back in just over 4 minutes.

Started work on roundhouse floor

The floor of the Faller roundhouse kit is made so that any kind of common HO track fits in, which means if you do that, you have regular track inside the roundhouse surrounded by concrete floor. I felt I could do a bit better than this, and started to glue thin styrene strip on the track to hide the ties and other roadbed detail. The middle contacts of Maerklin track are not helpful here, but I used the NWSL Chopper to quickly produce a supply of stryrene bits that fit perfectly between two contacts.

Work in progress
The first track is almost done.
With some paint and weathering I should be able to do a reasonable job hiding the middle contacts. I will experiment with creating a simulated inspection pit by painting some of the styrene between the rails pitch black. You can see into the roundhouse only through the doors. Will see how this works out.

About using model trains in a school setting

Over at an Oakland math teacher writes about his experiments of using an Inglenook micro layout in a classroom setting.

In particular his description of how to introduce students to operating the railroad piece by piece, assigning the various roles, and how this leads to students being engaged and following the logic is fascinating.

I highly recommend to take a look at his blog (and start with the oldest entry at the bottom of the page!)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hillary Clinton

I don't go to many talks, but I figured this one would be interesting. You can feel about Hillary Clinton any way you want, this morning she presented a quite nuanced, honest, and balanced view of what's going on in the world. I didn't get one of the prime seating spots, but was happy to see it live. Well worth watching the video linked below if you have an hour to spare.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Locomotive Servicing Facility Electrical

This weekend I focused on electrical hookups for the locomotive servicing facility ("Betriebswerk"). Due to space constraints it's a very compressed operation, and the turntable is obviously overkill. I overlook those, uhm ... details... and enjoy the fact that I have a turntable on my layout.

Testing electrical and track connections with some balky engines.

The servicing facility is getting powered from the creek. Not quite.

Tracing the outlines of track so that I can accurately cut the surface area between the tracks.

Tested and ready to go. Gluing down the approach tracks.

Miniatur Wunderland Hamburg

A couple weeks ago we visited the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, Germany, the world's largest model railroad. Aside from the amazing model train action, the airport, and very busy streets, MiWuLa is known for it's intricate detailing of scenes all over the layout. Here are some examples...

Hamburg by night. Yes, it's a model.

An office building in Hamburg.

There are 4 independent scenes here.

Coal miners protesting retirement of steam locomotives.

The movement of the herd is clearly visible, even though nothing moves.

Airport Parking.
I went on a behind the scenes tour as well. Highly recommended. Not only do you spent an hour in a small group with a MiWuLa-guide answering any questions you might have, but you get to see areas that are normally not exposed to the public, including plenty of inside jokes.

Charging stations for airport vehicles.

Nuns sitting at the edge of the world.
The mechanisms inside the "clouds" are fascinating.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Pascal and I made fire. Then we all baked Stockbrot over said fire. Excellent evening.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Leap of faith

Corporate offsite involving jumping off  a 30ft pole? Sweet.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Squaw Valley in the summer

I'm back in Squaw Valley north of Lake Tahoe. This time in the summer.

At High Camp. If you look closely, you can see Lake Tahoe in the background.
The cable car to High camp. Yes, that's rain in the background. Thunderstorms actually. It's supposed to hail tonight.
Mountain Scenery at 8000 feet

something to model...

Seen while standing in traffic on Highway 101 through San Jose this morning...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Congratulations to the Worldcup

I'm not that much of a soccer fan, but this was a seriously exciting game topping a great tournament.
Congratulations to the German soccer team for winning the Worldcup and the excitement and passion that goes along with a great team.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mysterious Short on Roco Turntable solved

... as so often it comes down to: Read the manual. But one thing after the other.

I commented before that there's somewhat of a mystery short on my Roco 42614 turntable. Everything works fine, but when the bridge turns to one of the two tracks that lead to the rest of the layout, there is a brief short. At the time I left this to be evaluated and solved later.

More than a year later, I'm working on the engine facility again, and finally took a closer look at what's going on here.

The Roco turntable is a very nice model of the standard Deutsche Bahn 20m turntable. Here we have the turntable on our dining room table. One of it's features is that it will power the house track from the bridge if so desired. This is accomplished by the two spring-loaded clips right below the rails at each end of the bridge. Normally the clips can't touch the rails due to the plastic pieces that make up the ring wall of the turntable frame.

When reaching a track piece, the right hand clip will make contact with the rail, the left-hand clip makes contact with a small metal latch that, in the Maerklin version, is tied to the middle contacts. However, when the bridge turns, there is no way to prevent the left-hand clip from touching the contact for the right-hand rail and vice-versa.

The solution is of course documented in the manual. One is supposed to insulate the track pieces from the rest of the layout. In particular, the Maerklin version indicates stricter insulation of the track pieces, and power even the house tracks individually. I intended to do that anyways, since I don't need to worry about keeping power away from locomotives that are not supposed to run like in the good old analog trains days.

With the turnout problem now understood, I moved on to work out the approach and coaling track layout. When I originally slapped this together, I allowed myself some leeway with the tracks, and overlooked various kinks, just to get the engine facility operational. Now that I'm actually building this for real, I wanted to fix those issues. I also wanted to make it so that the whole engine facility segment can be dropped into the layout in one piece without having to move track. This requires a smooth transition from the three-way turnout to the adjacent turnout in Emsingen's track 1, as well as some modification of the turnout with the cut-off disk in the Dremel, so that I can drop the segment into place from above and just move two rail joiners to align the tracks.

After quite some time spent arranging and re-arranging track pieces, I couldn't quite make the track layout work without cutting some rail. One of the turntable track pieces had to be shortened by about 9 mm, which was quickly done with some cut-off disk action. I could not use flex track here since the required bends are very tight. Most of the curved pieces I ended up using have a 360mm radius.

Since the track is now a bit straighter than before, I'll likely forgo the storage track on the left for a shorter stub that has space for just one car to supply the coaling station, but gain a bigger coaling bunker in return.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Stoomtram Hoorn - Medemblik Reprise

Of course, I did take some video when riding the steam train from Hoorn.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

When you don't have anything better to do, you break some stuff ...

... or something like that.

While the ramp rebuild is now complete, I somehow managed to bend and damage the semaphore on track 2 in Emsingen today. Even with carefully bending it back, the semaphore arm and linkage seems to be twisted in a way that makes the arm hard to move. Certainly too hard for the dual-coil machine that drives the signal.

Twisted arm and misaligned linkage of the semaphore on track 2 (in the middle) prevent the arm from even going into the horizontal position to signal Stop (Hp0).
Due to a lucky accident a couple years ago (also known as "over-buying"), I had a spare of the exact same semaphore, so I could install a replacement fairly easily. Nevertheless, along with dinner there went the evening. No point to start something new at this time.

Semaphore replaced and tested.
By the way, I budgeted a day for rebuilding the tracks on the ramp. In the end it did take me about 12 hours to get that done over the course of 3 days. Not exactly how I planned to do it, but one has to take care of more than just the railroad while on vacation...

Next up: Track work in the locomotive servicing facility, including finding out why the turntable likes to short out the whole layout. This work was the motivating reason for fixing the ramp, since I wanted easier access to the servicing facility segment and thus had it out of the layout, which made the ramp accessible.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Inaugural Train on the rebuilt staging ramp

Today, the first train ran on the rebuilt staging ramp tracks.

The two rebuilt staging ramp tracks are on the left. The track in the middle leads to the Prechtal return loop. Some lower level staging tracks accessed from via the ramp are visible on the right.
Yesterday and this morning I installed wiring for the new tracks.

Since I moved the crossover further down the ramp, there is now sufficient trackage between Talheim and the crossover to put in the originally planned for --- but due to track layout constraints never installed --- train detection section on the downhill track.

I also extended the respective detection section of the uphill track, which freed up a sensor to properly detect trains on the uphill track around the crossover. Thus, the JMRI panel now tracks progress of trains on the upper half of the ramp much more accurately.

I found that one of the K-Track switch machines I installed for the crossover had broken clips and didn't throw the uphill turnout properly. That was easily fixed, but swear words were used since accessing the turnout cabling is a slight bit awkward. The space in the access hatch is limited. Thus, no matter how you twist your arms and hands, your own body is always just a whee bit in the way to get the right angle for turning the screwdriver.

My next layout won't have 8 tracks stacked on top of each other over 3 levels in difficult to reach places.

I've got only a few things left to do here, mostly around securing the new tracks in place and creating a smooth transition from the underground M-Track to the new K-Track section.

... and for the rivet counters among us:
The train on the photo should use the right-hand (uphill) track when it comes out of staging if this were a proper double-track arrangement. However, it's not normally visible to the viewer anyways, and I'm also thinking of the ramp as two single tracks with cross-overs. 
Let me explain: Staging represents both Freiburg (plus points south) and Hausach (plus points north). For better flow of operations, trains usually occupy the ramp right-hand running to leave and enter staging and use the turnouts at Abzweig Talheim to select whether they traverse the layout from the North or the South. Using the two crossovers on the ramp (one at the top, one at the bottom), a train may use the "wrong" ramp track to pass a pre-staged train waiting on the ramp on the way up, or to work around congestion in Talheim on the way down.

One might even use the uphill track to run a train down to the dead-end staging tracks below Talheim industries, while another train is lined to use the regular downhill track to enter main staging. Technically the signal arrangement and interlocking in Talheim doesn't allow for this when coming from the North, but that could change if and when I install an Ausfahrsignal (exit signal) southbound on track 2 in Talheim.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Rebuilding tracks to staging

Feeling productive...

Before: M-Track down the ramp. Curved crossover at the top of the ramp.
The inside of the curve at the top is normally occupied by the locomotive servicing area.
After: Replacement track geometry worked out using K-Track and crossover moved down the ramp.
The ramp to staging has a couple problems: Some locos like to derail on the curved crossover at the top of the ramp, and some locos like to get stuck on bad track halfway down the ramp.

Of course, either location is in very hard to reach corners of the underground trackage.

Close-up of the dreaded curved crossover.
One can see the little styrene guide I installed to guide the locomotive pickup shoes.
Yesterday, I removed the Betriebswerk and replaced the curved M-Track turnouts with K-Track, as well as rebuilt the crossover with K-Track turnouts in the middle of the ramp.
A tricky bit here was to cut and replace the transition track from K-Track to M-Track, because in my infinite wisdom I soldered the feeders to the transition track and while at it, also soldered the joiners to the transition track, and the flextrack section right next to it, making a very solid bond, which is basically impossible to remove without substantial damage to another very hard to reach area. I ended up cutting the transition track in the middle, keep the soldered bits in place, and replace the other half with a regular 180mm sectional track piece cut in half.

Gapped transition tracks cut through all the way. The cut is on the left. The gap and connection to M-Track is on the right.
Today, I replaced M-Track further down the ramp just short of a common track feeder location and fitted appropriate K-Track. On to soldering feeders and test runs before mounting the track in place...

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Step 3

Back home.
SFO windows are photo-unfriendly.

Step 2

Given that boarding starts in 25 minutes and considering the size of a A380, the waiting area is surprisingly empty.

Update at boarding time:
Everyone was waiting in a long line on the other side of the gate counter. That explains it.

Espace Musées at Charles De Gaulle airport Paris

La Grande Nation has a lot of culture, so it's only appropriate that there is a small museum at the airport.

While the artifacts are behind glass and don't look good on a photo, this shot down the entrance way looked quite interesting.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Step 1

Stuttgart-Echterdingen Airport. The plane is here, crew just arrived. Let's hope for on-time departure and arrival in Paris.