Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Roundhouse Machine Shop Complete

The small shop building from Vollmer #5750 comes with cute green windows, and I built it that way. However, when I put that next to the roundhouse, the green windows and green door clashed with the grey windows in the roundhouse.

Tonight, I pulled out a small brush and fixed windows and door. I also finished up and weathered the roof. I will need to add an outside light and the message board, but that will have to wait until I'm done with the concrete paving in the engine facility.

For the machine shop I used the following approach to paint the bricks:
I paint the brick surface in PollyScale "Maroon", which makes it a bit too dark. Once dry (wait at least a couple hours) I lay the brick pieces on a flat surface. Next I put a very small amount of water in a lid, dip the brush in a light grey or sandy tone of PollyScale (e.g. "LT undercoat grey", "sand", or similar) and mix the color into the water. This creates a very runny mixture, which gets applied liberally with a brush on the brick. Most of the pigment settles in the crevices forming mortar lines, the rest remains on the brick work, toning down the maroon color and provide random variation for individual stones. It's easy to overdo this, so I tend to apply one coat, let it settle and dry a little bit and then apply some more in areas that need more definition. The trick is to keep the brick surface horizontal while the soup dries, so that pigment settles where you want it.

The roundhouse was done with a similar approach, but using more color in the water and then wipe if off once the color starts to dry. This creates "smear lines" that I didn't quite like on the finished building. We'll see what I'll do about them, if anything. 

Next up on the list is the coaling crane and bunker. This is the well-known Faller kit #120147. I'm planning a little twist and motorize the crane. As mentioned before the coal bunker arrangement will also be very different.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Cove Beach. Ano Nuevo State Park.

This is not really the time for watching the elephant seals Ano Nuevo SP is famous for, but we had a good time at Cove Beach to make up for the lack of animals.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

From the "Getting There" department

Tonight I closed the gap behind Emsingen in the backdrop painting, and test-placed a few trees to see if my idea of letting tracks disappear into the scenery is going to work. I think it will. Makes me happy.
I re-confirmed that I need to be in the right mood to paint, and waiting for that mood to appear is better than forcing it for the sake of making progress.

Update August 28th, 2014:
I finished wiring up the service facility and connecting it to the rest of the layout. All tracks have power. The three-way turnout works as designed with single button control and Logix in JMRI. I spent some time laying out the footprint for the coaling station. I will draw parts from a Faller kit to build the coaling crane, but the coal bunker will likely be scratchbuilt.

Monday, August 18, 2014

New Industries. Alcatraz Island.

There's something interesting about run-down industrial buildings. Add to that the prison atmosphere of Alcatraz and it can get downright creepy.

The New Industries building on Alcatraz Island was open yesterday, so we took a peek what the former laundry facility looks like today.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


A side-product of operating a coal-fired steam engine is cinders ("Schlacke") that are removed from the engine during serving. The cinders are usually dropped into a pit beneath a track, cooled off with water, and taken away. Obviously, I need such pit in my servicing facility as well.

It was cleary not helpful to have the tracks laid out and glued in place already. It would have been much easier had I cut the hole for the pit in the base board before I glued down the tracks. Oh well. At least I didn't have to work in the middle of the layout, but could take the service facility module outside for the messy parts of this job.

Working on the cinder pit.

Done with the cinder pit.

Thankfully, I could put the module vertically for this.
Once I had the hole in the baseboard, I needed to build the actual ash pit. I cut every second tie from the track, and built a shallow pit from styrene sheet, Plastruct cement wall, and a styrene I-beam with respective supports to carry the rail over the pit.

Raw pit construction.

And painted.

Pit set in place and glued down.
 I added a ramp and framed the sides of the pit so that all the rough edges are hidden away.

The two ties not only keep the track in gauge but I'm hoping they will be sufficient to feed power to the pickup shoe on Maerklin locomotives. In the worst case I will glue some wire over the hole to guide the pickup shoe.

"Hello, this is the Windows service center"

Phone rings.

Caller: [with strong Indian accent] "Hello, this is the Windows service center."
[Awesome. This is going to be fun.]
Me: "Oh, I'm so glad you called."
Caller: "uh, yes. We are calling about your Windows computer. Is your computer on right now?"
[Excellent. This household does not run Windows.]
Me: "Yes"
Caller: "Are you in front of your computer right now?"
Me: [walking out on the patio] "Yes. ... Oh my. There is a big red window."
Caller: "Ah yes, Sir, this is why we are calling. This is the Windows service center, and we are calling about your computer."
Me: "A-ha"
Caller: "Yes, Sir, how old is your computer?"
Me: [looking over the lawn] "uh, ... I don't know ... 3 years, maybe"
Caller: "3 years, very good Sir. uh. Yes, we are calling about your computer. Are you sitting in front of your computer right now?"
Me: "Yes, there is still this big red window. What is that doing there?"
Caller: "Do you have more than one computer?"
Me: "No, that's the only one."
Caller: "Uh, ok, the only computer. You see, Sir, do you understand when you go online. When you go shopping online. There are hackers that get into your computer without your knowledge, Sir, do you know that?"
Me: "No, oh that's horrible. Can you tell me what this big red box on my screen means? I don't understand that."
Caller: "uh, yes, Sir, what does the box say?"
Me: "It says, 'What are you doing?' ... I don't understand what that means. Can you tell me what that means?"
Caller: "uh yes, Sir, this is the Windows service center we are calling about your computer. You know when you connect to the Internet, your computer gets malware and viruses."
Me: "a-ha. Could you tell me what I do with the big red box on my screen, please?"
Caller: "What does the box say?"
Me: "It says, 'What are you doing?' ... it kind of wiggles, too. What does that mean?"
Caller: "Just dismiss it and return to your desktop"
Me: "I don't know. What do you mean dismiss. How do I do that?"
Caller: "Look down on your keyboard."
Me: [hmmm, that lawn needs water] "yes, ok"
Caller: "Do you see the Control key? It's in the lower left corner of your keyboard."
Me: "Yes, the blue key. yes."
Caller: "Do you see, the Control key? It says C T R L on it?"
Me: "Yes, the blue key, yes, I see that"
Caller: "What's the key to left of it?"
Me: "yes, the green key. Yes, I see that."
Caller: "What does it say?"
Me: "That's the green key, yes"
Caller: "Sir, do you see the Control key on your keyboard?"
Me: "Yes, yes, I have that"
Caller: "what's the key to the left of it?"
Me: "yes, that's the green key"
Caller: "uh yes, Sir, what key comes after that?"
Me: "Oh, that one is yellow"
Caller: "Sir, do you know that you are one Big F*cker?"

Let's see if they ever call this number again.

Public service announcement:
There is no Windows service center that can see what you are doing on your computer. Microsoft has a pretty good article about what's going on here and they don't call you either to fix your computer.

And yes, I'm not the first one making fun of those guys. The guy in this Youtube video is playing along more than I did...

Next stop: Concrete

I painted the styrene strips and installed cork sheets to support the "concrete" pavement around the roundhouse.
Footprint of service facilities is coming together now.
In the first photo you can also see the foundation of the small machine shop on the far right of the roundhouse. I'm using parts from Vollmer #5750 "single stall engine house".

Track bits are painted. I added one "inspection pit" to the roundhouse tracks.
Let's see how the painted inspection pit works out once dry.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


The point of going camping at Lake Tahoe in the summer is to enjoy the outdoors in the sun, go swimming, play, and have fun. It's not meant to be wet, hurrying up to set up tents in the breaks between rain showers and looking for cover when a thunderstorm comes over the mountains while you're at a lake-side beach.
We planned to stay two nights, but ended up cutting the trip short and left yesterday evening just before yet another thunderstorm drenched the area.

On the flip-side, California needs the rain, and I (re-)learned about the Tallac site on the south shore which drew travellers from the Bay Area over 100 years ago. They got there from Oakland by train on the SP using the trans-continental line. Transferred in Truckee to the narrow-gauge Lake Tahoe Railway, which took them to the lake at Tahoe City, and finally with the S.S. Tahoe across the lake to Tallac for fun and (illegal) gambling in style.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Roundhouse Doors

The door linkage as it came with the kit. The right-hand side clips
into a special bumper that would be inserted at the end of each stall.
The hook on the left-hand side attaches to the door.
The Faller kit for the roundhouse comes with a spring-loaded mechanism to open and close the roundhouse doors. The doors to an empty stall are open. When a locomotive pushes against the lever in the rear, it closes the doors behind it. Neat and simple. ... However, there are a few things that bug me about this. The speed of doors closing is controlled by the speed of the locomotive, and in order for this to work, the locomotive basically runs into the roundhouse building. The speed of doors opening is controlled by the springs in the mechanism and how quickly the locomotive pulls back from the bumper. Finally, there's no way to have the doors of an empty stall closed.
The linkage after I was done with it. Note the zig-zag strain-relief.

Honestly, none of these issues are fatal, but I went into geek mode anyways. I figured this should be solvable by using a very small RC servo.

First off I modified the linkage to the doors to be straight, with a zig-zag to act as strain-relief, and shortened it to the length of the stall.

Next, I experimented with placement of the servo, as well as how much movement the doors need. I tried to find a good balance between the fairly small distance the linkage needs to move to open the doors and maximizing the angle the servo needs to turn to make the arm travel the needed distance. The larger the turning angle, the more fine-grained I can control servo movement and end-points, thus get a convincing effect. I drilled out the hole on the servo actuator arm so that it is big enough to hold the ends of both linkage wires.

Finally, I built a frame from wood and hardboard to mount the servo securely in place and at the right height.

Doors are closed

What this looks like from the inside.

And now the doors have been opened.
Now I just need to connect this to the servo controller to ensure it works as intended. The servo frame needs some more work to be a little bit less obvious in the roundhouse windows.

After I was done with this proof of concept, I went back to building up the ground around the roundhouse. In the last couple days I added styrene strips to cover the ties in all the places that require it, and now moved on to cover the areas between the tracks.

Pascal asked me today how workers will enter the roundhouse. "They don't come through the engine doors, do they?" - Huh! ... Yeah, he's right, this roundhouse has no other doors, and one version of this kit is sold with an additional building that houses the maintenance office, the water tower, the shop ... and has people doors.

I was already planning to add a lean-on extension in the rear-right corner of the building to act as the local machine shop, so that will also provide at least some more doors. Maybe I'll add another basic door in the side-wall for more effect.

Kinetic Machinery

The completed contraption
When Pascal and I spent some time soldering recently, we basically connected a solar cell to a big capacitor and a small motor. Today we built the rest of the contraption. This is a kit made by Solarbotics I picked up at Makerfaire earlier this year.

Pascal pulled most of the parts from the lasercut plywood bits and put the pieces together, while I watched and cringed at times on the inside hoping none of the more fragile bits would break. They didn't, and he was actually very careful, even when applying force to push pieces together. Final assembly was a bit tricky, so I ended up doing most of that.

Now, ... what does this thing do, you ask? There's a bunch of marbles being fed into the big wheel. The solar cell loads the capacitor, and whenever it reaches full load, it releases a power surge to the motor which turns the big wheel a bit, slowly but surely carrying the marbles to the top of the spiral where they spiral down.

In direct sunlight, the wheel moves forward every couple seconds, making it feasible to watch the show in a small video.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Morning surprise in South San Jose

My newspaper got wet.
Morning sprinkles. Nice time for a bike ride to the shuttle bus.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Turntable weathering

Weathered turntable pit
I spent more quality time with the turntable this weekend. On a whim I decided to try my hand at painting the circular rail and weathering the concrete floor of the pit. This turned out to be much easier than I expected. I used Polly Scale "Rust" for the rail, and "Roof Brown" for the ties, then weathered the rail and the pit floor with Bragdon black weathering powder, which hides minor inaccuracies from painting just fine.

I painted gully in Rust, then weathered it along with the pit floor. While the painted gully looked weird initially, after application of the weathering powder it all comes together quite nicely.

I painted and weathered everything with the bridge in one position, then turned it and worked on the remaining sections.
Paint the rail, then distribute some weathering powdir with a stiff brush.
Rub it in a bit with the brush.
And finish it off with an old toothbrush. It's important to vigorously massage the the powder into the surface to activate the glue in the weathering powder.
I'm really happy with how this came out. Compare to an earlier post that shows the turntable before weathering.