Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Pumpkins


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Monster Gourd

This rather large pumpkin sat on a patio at work for a couple weeks now. Yesterday someone apparently had fun with it.

Monday, October 27, 2014


I love the mornings in the fall. The air is crisp and clear. The fog hangs over the fields. And it's not quite too dark yet.

After dropping off the kids at school, I took this shot of a cornfield and fog in Coyote Valley.

Coyote Valley in the morning
On the way to work, the sun started to peek out over the Diablo Range. The interplay of light, shadows and clouds was captivating.

Sunrise in Edenvale

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Model Railroading at work

I wrote about the Greenly Northern, my railroad in the office, before. Here is a short video of train #198 traversing the layout.

Since this is set primarily on office furniture, I'm using Kato Unitrack for most of the trackage for easy removal and leaving no trace when I need to move desks the next time. Most of the structures, tunnels, and bridges are also made from office material, like manila folders, Stick-It notes, etc.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Happenings at Silicon Valley Lines

When things go wrong on a Friday evening ...

"SVL Dispatch, this is the Kaos Fire Department. A tank car with apparently flammable load is blocking the Main Street crossing."
"SVL Dispatch, this is train #375. Signal malfunction in Kaos. There is a caboose with a tank car standing on the main line ahead of the train. We went into emergency and barely managed to stop in time."
Supervisor Murphy arrives on the scene to assess the situation...
What happened?

A coupler broke on train #801, which took this route before #375. The missing caboose was only noticed when #801 arrived at Nowheres Yard. By then the events were already in progress, and the Nowheres Yardmaster from Hell suggested to let this play out and see what Dispatch ends up doing ...

Good fun.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

S'Mores Tart

Today's Dessert

Sunday, October 19, 2014


I rarely get to see SMART output that shows a problem with a hard drive, before the disk is actually dead. Today is one of these days. One of the 2TB Seagate drives in Grumpy shows ominous signs of unhappiness:

Grrrrrreat. The drive has started to reallocate sectors due to read failures.

This is the drive that didn't die 3 years ago. It's still under warranty, so a warranty replacement has been arranged. Let's see if I have any more luck than last time.

Update October 26, 2014:
The warranty replacement has arrived and is now swapped in. The 2TB partition will be done syncing in ~10 hours unless Seagate wants to repeat history.

Emsingen roundhouse re-installed

I installed the roundhouse on the layout. I need to work some more on cabling and lights, but the basics are working well, including individual control of the roundhouse doors.

A Paper Mill for Hallelujah

I've never really planned, or built, a really large industry before. Paper mills are seriously big, and there is quite a bit of space in South Halleluja on the Silicon Valley Lines layout. While we toyed with the idea for a while, I figured it would be useful to plan tracks and building arrangements on the layout so we'd get a better feel for the available space, what works, and what doesn't. I used pieces of flex-track and printed out templates of #8 and #6 turnouts to lay out the tracks.

We're not trying to model a specific paper mill, but rather try to capture the atmosphere

Here is South Hallelujah on the lower level with mocked up buildings and tracks:

South Hallelujah
On the right will be the pulpwood yard, next to it a warehouse for pulp and recylced paper. The big white building in the back is where the paper making machine is located. The various tanks in front of hit will hold chemicals, as well as fuel for the onsite power plant. The brown building will have offices, and the large building behind it is the finished paper warehouse. There is a small yard in front of the finished paper warehouse on the left in the photo above.

Due to space constraints we're likely not going to model a truck loading ramp for finished paper, but there might be sufficient space to have one at the recycled paper warehouse. In either case, if not modelled it's assumed there is track loading on the "other" side not visible from the aisle.

The idea is to operate the plant with one or two trains per session, and the mainline needs to be free while the mill is being worked.

Let's look at the small yard first:

Yard area looking north
I colored the tracks in the photos by their respective function. In the photo above, the SVL main line (red) runs northbound into the distance. The paper mill is on the east side of the main line. Trains can enter the mill area from the North on the arrival track (orange), as well as from the South (see below).

The turquoise tracks serves as run-around, as well as access to the various loading/unloading tracks (green). The yard also has a couple holding tracks (blue) between the arrival track and the main line, that can be used to switch cuts of cars. The yard lead (blue) can be seen in the distance along the backdrop.
Finally, the mine spur (purple) will run along the backdrop behind (and partially covered by) paper mill buildings.

Here are more detailed views of the current plan.

The pulpwood yard
The pulpwood yard will be served by a slightly curved spur disappearing between stacks of pulpwood. A conveyor or two will be in the background for moving pulpwood to the debarker and digester (not modeled). Of course, the various structures occupying the space of the pulpwood yard will be removed. The warehouse for pulp and recycled paper has 3 spots for box cars.

One can also see the turnout off the mainline to access the arrival track from the South.

Chemicals and liquids unloading
A dedicated track (3 spots) is planned to unload various kinds of chemicals used in the paper making process (this mill will probably make fine paper), as well as to unload the occasional fuel oil car at a dedicated spot at the end of that track.

Paper making building and finished paper warehouse
There will likely be some office building next to the finished paper warehouse. The huge building housing the paper making machine will be represented in half-relief along the backdrop, with the mine spur hidden inside. The finished paper warehouse acts as view block concealing the mine spur, and is served by a spur with 5 spots for boxcars.
North end track work
The yard lead crosses the mine spur and extends north between the main line and the backdrop. The large half-relief building will be removed along with the track in front of it.

NASA Ames 75 Years Open House

There were crowds. It was hot. And it was awesome.
Pascal and I had a great day at NASA Ames.

Arc jet explanations. Too bad they didn't fire up this plasma making thing for real. But there was a model that explained the concept well.

At the intake of the largest wind tunnel.

Future Flight Central backstage tour.

Inside Hangar One

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Roundhouse lights

The kit comes with bases for lights, but not bulbs. For the interior lights I installed 12V grains of rice from MicroMark. I wanted the warm glow of incandescent lights on the inside, since there will be some cool white lights on the outside lighting up the Lokstation area. I wanted only one, or at most two connections for lights inside the roundhouse. The leads on the bulbs were too short to reach all the way to the rear wall, so I extended them with magnet wire reaped from the motor of a broken kitchen appliance Pascal and I took apart a while ago.

Lights installed. The magnet wire runs along the roof trusses.

Night time.

Ready for installation on the layout

Servo Control for the roundhouse doors

This weekend I spent a little bit time to put together the mechanics for the roundhouse doors. As mentioned before, I want the doors to open and close independently from moving a locomotive.

I replaced the supplied spring-loaded mechanism with Micro RC servos. The servos are mounted in a scratch-built support structure made from 1/8th inch styrene.

Test-fitting supports

Servos mounted and fit into place

Time for some spray-painting...
I spray-painted the styrene pieces, mounted the servos, and fit the piano wire in place. The video at the top of this post shows the result. When installed on the layout the cables will leave the roundhouse through hidden holes in the roundhouse floor and the decoder mounted underneath.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Talheim Controls

I've grown unhappy with the arrangement of the Talheim control panel and tonight decided to see if I can make the setup work better.

Back when I didn't have much more than the Intellibox and S88 feedback decoders, I built a shelf, mounted the decoders and the Intellibox on it, and that was it.

A few years later, things got a little bit more crowded.

The local panel for Talheim is in a somewhat awkward place, and still not properly fastened. There's quite a bit of dead space to the left and the right of the Intellibox, and I'd really like to put a UP5 panel along the frontedge of the layout.

The solution is to move the Intellibox a bit to the right, the local panel for Talheim to the left, and put the UP5 to the right of the Intellibox.

That seems to work better. Let's see if it actually is when I run trains the next time.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


Today's fog as seen from Hwy 85 at Monterey Highway going North.

Monday, October 06, 2014


Beautiful sunset today.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Bicycle Tube Patching

That metal thing found its way into my bicycle tire when I was commuting to work in the morning a couple days ago. It took two patches to repair the damage. A small one where it entered the tube, and a larger one on the opposite side.

I have little confidence into my ability to make air-tight tube repairs. For now the patches are holding up and seem to be tight. We'll see tomorrow morning...

Update Oct 6, 2014:
Seems to be holding up for now...

Update Oct 26, 2014:
... for a couple days. The patches are not quite 100% tight.

Coaling Bunker Done for Now

The coaling bunker is at a sufficient level of completeness to put it into the layout and move on. I did some more fine tuning on the coal carts and finished installing the crane hook and rigging. I gave the crane some light weathering to fit in with the rest of the bunker.
The service track in the front will be covered up with concrete. Even it it were balasted, I didn't quite expect it to look this weird.

I mentioned before this is a kit-bash. Here's my model with the original arrangement on the box. I kept the general idea that the locomotive track is in the rear next to the crane and protected with concrete wall. The wooden wall bits are intended to be lowered and raised as delivered coal fills the bunker. However, since there isn't much storage near the service track I didn't bother to install bunker walls along the track and ran the cart track alongside the service track instead.
The wall on the left of my model is made from two pieces of Noch foamwall, that I sliced in half to reduce thickness, glued back to back, and topped with a piece of strip wood to cover the gap. While the coloring of the foam piece was hideous with some concrete color it now matches other concrete brick in the area.
Note how I folded the stairs to make more efficient use of the available space.

The coaling bunker is boxed in between the turntable, the engine track, and Ef tower. Unfortunately it is somewhat hidden from view behind Ef tower. You can't always win.

I'll postpone motorizing the crane until I have a bright idea how to link a motor to the axle of the crane without causing a wobble effect on the crane house, as well as turn it in a way that doesn't make the coal cart wiggle violently along the way.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Stairs safety and More Coal

I made additional handrails for the stairs from strip styrene. This took quite a bit longer than I expected.

The coal heap on the right is now also done.
The basics are done. I need to finish the crane, add some detailing, and a couple workers.