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?

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Sprucing up old lights

Of course my Dad's layout had some lights for illumination. That was 30 years ago, so everything was done with incandescent bulbs. The lights masts are not very detailed, but reasonable for inconspicuous locations. If only the bulbs weren't so huge!

After a failed experiment with a SMD LED, I replaced the original 16V AC bulbs with 12V DC grain of rice bulbs from MicroMark. That requires removing the shade, cutting out most of the bulb socket, and soldering in tight spaces. However, the effect is well worth it.

3 lights done. Two more to do.