Thursday, December 29, 2016

Emsingen Yard update and layout clean-up

After matching the existing ground cover in Emsingen yard to the freight tracks I did yesterday, I spent quite a while today cleaning up the layout room and getting ready for cataloging the remaining freight cars for the new car card system.

An intentional side-effect of the cleanup is that I can get to the underside of the layout again, and install the wiring for the new platform lights.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Setting up lights and more ground cover

The lights are on the layout. Since the platforms are made from styrofoam, I made mounting holes from 1/8" styrene tubes. I would have preferred brass tubes, but didn't have any in the right size in stock.

The tubes are glued to the subroadbed and the platform. The lights are sitting loose in the tubes.

It was still a bit early, so I proceeded to work on ground cover between the tracks. This is very fine, dark brown sand with a very pleasing color that nicely captures the look I was after. Here and there I added a bit from sand used for the platforms, as well as some weeds. In the early 70's this active freight area would have been reasonably well-maintained, so the main areas should be mostly devoid of weeds.

A nice side-effect of using a different ballast color for the main track, with the darker sand as background, the main track now really pops. One even gets the impression that the yard tracks are lower in the ground.

Improving Brawa Nr. 5504 "Ringleuchte" Lamps

I really like the ring light ("Ringleuchte") lamps for stations that have not had their lighting upgraded to modern lamps, so I decided a couple years ago that Emsingen will get ring lights, while Talheim station will have upgraded platform lights. I selected Brawa Nr. 5504 for Emsingen.

However, what the catalog picture doesn't show you is the black wire from the lamp body to the top of the brass mast as shown above on the right. This completely destroys the effect of the ring holding the lamp. I replaced the black wire with thin magnet wire as shown above on the left, which in my opinion looks much better than the lamp out-of-the box.

Das Katalogfoto der Brawa Nr. 5504 Ringleuchte zeigt leider nicht das duenne schwarze Kabel von Birne zum Lampenmast (siehe Bild oben rechts). Ich habe meine Lampen mit feinem Spulendraht umgebaut. Das Ergebnis ist im Bild oben links.

Here's how I'm converting the lamps.

1) I start by cutting off the black wire leaving only a short bit at the top of the lamp body.  Ich schneide das schwarze Kabel an der Lampenfassung ab, lasse aber noch einen kleinen Stummel stehen.

2) Thread the magnet wire through the mast and wrap the top end twice loosely around one side of the ring. This gives enough guidance to the wire later when I pull it tight to follow the ring shape.
Der Spulendraht wird durch den Mast gefaedelt und zweimal lose um den Ring geschlungen. Auf diese Weise folgt er spaeter problemlos der Form des Rings.

3) Solder the magnet wire to the short wire bit. Pre-tin 1-2 mm of the wire. It's easiest to just burn away the plastic insulation with the soldering iron.
Ich loete den Spulendraht an den Kabelstummel. Es werden nur 1-2mm benoetigt. Die Kabelisolierung am Stummel wird am besten mit Hitze vom Loetkolben entfernt.

4) Carefully pull the magnet wire taut through the mast, prodding and shaping the wire to adhere to the ring contour
Vorsichtig den Spulendraht durch den Mast zurueck ziehen, und um den Lampenring formen.

5) To protect the fragile magnet wire I twist it with the brown cable at the bottom of the mast. To make hook up easier, I shorten the black cable and solder it to the magnet wire, tightly twisted with the brown wire so nothing can move.
Um den empfindlichen Spulendraht vor Beschaedigungen zu schuetzen, verdrillle ich ihn mit dem braunen Kabel am Mastfuss. Fuer einen einfacheren Anschluss loete ich ein Stueck schwarzes Kabel an den Spulendraht, und verdrille braune und schwarze Kabel fest miteinander, so dass alles zusammenbleibt.

6) Finally, I paint the magnet wire in a light grey color to hide it. I used Polly Scale CSX Gray.
Zum Schluss male ich den Spulendraht mit einem hellen Grau an. Danach ist er fast unsichtbar, und faellt mit etwas Abstand ueberhaupt nicht mehr auf.

Done. Here are my 5 lights in Emsingen ready for installation.

Ballast for Emsingen

All tracks in Emsingen are now ballasted with exception of the curve around the railroad crossing, which is on the project wait list.

Time to go to bed while the glue dries.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

After-dinner entertainment for the whole family

Not too terrible

I put the tower back and the mess doesn't look quite as messy anymore. I'll hold off on the Gruppenablenkung for now. A thin coat of watered down matte black gives the right base for final colors later.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Maerklin turnouts and Weinert wire ducts

Maerklin K-track turnouts have an unusual mechanism to move the points. The mechanism is located halfway up the turnout and moves the points using a flexible lever. The advantage of this approach is that the points will snap back into place if a train fouls the turnout. The disadvantage is that turnout throw and lights are at the completely wrong place. Thus, detailing Maerklin turnouts with fine Weinert parts for mechanical interlockings (Nr. 7208) is somewhat an oxymoron.

Nevertheless, I'd like to try. The wire loop from the tower arrives through ducts from the right entering the main mechanism.  I'm adding a turnout throw closer to the tip of the points and "drive" it from the main mechanism, i.e. the main mechanism is where certain turnouts on the prototype might have a center lock ("Klammermittelverschluss") and the look is reverse from what it normally should be. A workable compromise for now.

I built enough of the remote throws in assembly line fashion, and tried the arrangement on the layout.

Building a bunch of remote turnout throws from styrene. The prototype is on the left.

Maintenance facility turnout at track 1 in Emsingen
Remote turnout throws installed at the south end of Emsingen

Next I built up the wire ducts towards the tower. After some contemplation I figured the prototype would not have bothered with a full blown wire group diversion ("Grupperablenkung") at this tower. I removed the building for better access.
While the arrangement looked ok'ish with the first couple turnouts connected, ...

... it became quite messy and didn't at all look like what you would expect from a major German government agency as it progressed. I'm not happy with this spaghetti bowl. The rather tight turnouts, sharp angles, and limited space are not helping, but that's the track geometry I have to live with.

As remedy, I'm going to build a Gruppenablenkung and attempt to keep the routing of the ducts as straight and rectangular as I can make it. The longer run to the turnout on the left (and the south entry signal, too) would likely be open-air. Let's see whether that works out better.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day

After enjoying a very nice walk in the foothills in south San Jose, we had more German Christmas goodies.

For dinner the family tradition called for baked ham and cheese in pastry with Knuddel's herring salad.

Followed by games and fun. All in all a great Christmas Day.

The Bench

"Wouldn't it be nice if we had a bench in the entryway? Maybe with a somewhat rustic look? I saw some on the antique market in Watsonville, but didn't quite like what they had." 
--- Beautiful wife a few weeks ago.
Mission accepted.

Sadly she also mentioned there are many vendors at that antique market and she didn't remember the stall or the name of the vendor that had the stuff she liked. Alright, time for Plan B: If you can't buy it, you make it. I have "vast" wood-working experience (a train layout and a coffee table), how hard could it possibly be to build this:

A frame. 3 pullouts for shoes. Some nice finish. Shouldn't take me more than 2 days. ... Hah! Obviously, I had no clue what I was getting myself into.

Last week I got a sheet of 3/4" plywood, decided to stop messing with the computer model, instead just used a hand-drawn sketch, and went to work with the portable circular saw. The cuts were even fairly straight.

Once the workbench was cleaned up and the garage sufficiently organized to have space to work, I went into full-out production mode, drilled, filed, sanded, planted dowel holes and fairly quickly had the first two pieces together ...

... when I was reminded the hard way that "fairly straight" is not good enough when you build furniture. Thank god for saw dust to fill the gaps.

At roughly the same time I admitted to myself that my woodworking skills are not sufficiently well developed to build what I had planned and have a chance of it looking halfway decent, and this thing was going much slower than I expected. No surprise really: overboarding engineer's optimism and overconfidence at work here.

Alright, change of plans. I move the opening to the top and the seat doubles as lid. I'll worry about hinges when I get that far.

Construction continued.

I had a field day with saw dust and glue to fill the remaining gaps.

Looking at the seat / lid, I realized that it better have rounded edges. Hmmmm, a friend has a router table, but they are going on vacation tomorrow. I barged in with a short email, and the next day I was busy with the seat edges.

While at it, the box body and legs got rounded edges, too.
Now, on to the hinges. With Tatjana's help I got them mounted nicely (if a little crooked, but I trust you won't tell anyone...)

Minwax wood stain. Oh my that stuff stinks to heaven. And it was too cold to work outside, though looking back it would have been a good idea. I ventilated the garage to not succumb to the fumes. A respirator would have been useful and will be used next time.
The stain transformed a rather bland piece of plywood into a nice looking box.

I finished up with two coats of Minwax Polycrylic Satin to protect the wood. I probably should add a 3rd coat on the seat.

She seemed to like the result when confronted with it at Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Tree

As in most recent years, the kids took care of decorating the tree, while the parents provided logistical and some moral support.

It all came together nicely.

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 23, 2016


Huh! The tree didn't look this tall when we cut it at the tree farm. However, the one 5 years ago was taller. There are times when you are thankful for 14ft ceilings.

Thursday, December 22, 2016


A layout surface is just such a convenient place to put tools and supplies. Even when it's already partially finished.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Emsingen: Platform Renewal

On the Welztalbahn I picked up from where I left of in November. Today's project was rebuilding the platform for track 1 in front of the station building. I removed the old plaster / sand cover and fitted a sheet of Evergreen tiles instead.

A fun part of this section is fitting and building the crossing to the track 2 platform, as well as working around the turnout lever. I spray painted the styrene sheet with Tamiya Primer, which to my surprise turned out a bit darker than before. Some weathering should help hide the difference.

I started building the platform edge replicating the original method used in Emsingen five years ago. Next I added to the foundation of the shed just kept going all the way over to the railroad crossing hiding away the edge of the city segment.

Both the station segment and the city segment remain removable, though it will be a somewhat of a pain to take either one out.