Thursday, January 31, 2019

Module 1: Terraforming

While the pink foam sheet yield a very lightweight surface cover, it's also perfectly flat, which doesn't look particularly natural, unless your layout is set in the far North of Germany. I dressed up the sides of the track board with more pink foam and shaped it into an embankment with a basket rasp. While at it, I also carved the drainage ditch.

Next I hit one side of the module with the jigsaw, cut a light depression into the side, and used the basket rasp to even it out again.

I applied Scuptamold tinted with brown paint to tie it all together.

The cutoff from the one side was glued to the other side and backfilled with more pink foam cutoffs. More terraforming and shaping will happen once the glue is dry.


This looked just weird enough that I had to put it here.

Google+ going away

You might have heard about Google shutting down it's attempt at social networking, Google+.
I know there are several readers that follow this blog through the automatic posts Blogger creates in my Google+ account.

After April 2nd, and possibly earlier, that will no longer work. All content on my Google+ page will become inaccessible and be deleted eventually. I invite you to follow my blog at instead, or point your favorite RSS reader (such as Feedly) to that URL.

Thank you for visiting.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Module 1: It works

Test setup at the work bench. Module 1 and the experimental module end are connected, hooked up, and have power. I tried with a a few locomotives and didn't run into problems. As mentioned before the real test will be with the turnouts on the next module. Moving on to painting the rails and ballasting.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

City by the Bay

On the way home from Novato, I stopped at the Frontage Road along I-80 in Berkeley, and enjoyed the view across the water for a few minutes.

2019 SIG meet Petaluma: Sunday

My operating session today was at the Central Vermont Railway, a new layout focused on Timetable and Train Order operation. I ended up being the conductor on two trains, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. This model railroad runs impressively well and is a lot of fun.

Regular readers might have noticed by now that I love railroad paperwork. Timetable & Train Order operating layouts produce a lot of paperwork, and this layout is no exception.

Here you see me as conductor on Extra 1701 North, and I'm obviously waiting for something. What happened?

The CVR runs two-man crews, so for the afternoon session we reported to duty as conductor and engineer for a 12:50 pm departure and picked up our paperwork. Clearance Form B shows that the preceding northbound passenger has left a few minutes earlier and all other higher priority trains have arrived or departed.

Extra 1367 is working a few miles north of us and will expect us after 1:30pm. They are also told to expect southbound train 738 after 1pm. Hmmmm. According to the schedule, train 738 was supposed to have arrived in East New London at 11:27am. Hint, hint, hint, ...
However, when I read the order during the session I concentrated on the first part telling me where to expect Extra 1367.

The other order is the authorization to occupy the main line and run north from East New London to Brattelboro.

I have a clearance. I have authority. I know there's someone ahead of us. I'm told all superior trains have arrived or departed. We're ready to go and pull out of the yard onto the main line. At the north end of the yard is the train register where all inbound and northbound trains are logged.

I double-check the schedule, the only opposing train that could possibly interfere with us is train 738, so I verify that train 738 signed the register... Uh oh, they did not. We're on the main line and we are on their time, so I tell the engineer to pull into the engine siding at the north end of the yard to clear the main line. Head-scratching ensues. My paperwork is obviously not consistent with reality. I chat with the yardmaster and walk back to the East New London station agent, while the engineer sits in the siding with the train.

The station agent checks in with the dispatcher and eventually confirms we'll get additional orders. Since all orders are dictated to the station agent by the dispatcher over the phone and the dispatcher has to run the rest of the railroad as well, that will take a while. We can't leave until we have orders. This is when the photo above was taken.

Eventually, we got additional orders with another clearance form B, this time advising on trains 430 and 738 and I know from the schedule that southbound first class passenger train 4 is also coming our way later in the afternoon.

In the first order the dispatcher sets up an explicit meet for us to meet train 738 in Montville, which is 5 miles north from East New London Yard.

With the second order the dispatcher lets us know that train 430 is running 3 hours behind schedule. Taken together the two orders allow us to occupy the main line to Montville, work in Montville and beyond until it's time to meet train 430.

By 5:35pm we have made it to Norwich, where Extra 1367 has been expecting us for the last few hours ...

Half a dozen sheets of paper and several fast-clock hours of work to move a train.

I very much enjoy this low-tech way of running a railroad, but it really only works well on large layouts like this where distance between sidings, the interaction between dispatcher, station agents, and engine crews contribute to the mental exercise of working with and interpreting orders and the schedule. And sometimes you get stuck in a siding for a while, especially if you're an Extra in the Inferior Direction of the railroad.

Good Morning, Petaluma!

Petaluma Marsh at Sunrise

Saturday, January 26, 2019

2019 SIG meet Petaluma: Saturday

This year the SIG meet is in Petaluma. As usual the clinic program covered several interesting themes and ideas around operations and layout design. Paul Weiss gave an update on his Central Vermont Railroad layout. Jon Schmidt talked about how he made JMRI Ops do what they needed on the CVR. After lunch Bill Kaufman looked back on how his State Belt layout evolved and could have evolved. Ed Merrin gave a retrospective on his NWP layout depicting scenes between Petaluma and Willits. The day wrapped up with a design challenge for building a layout centered around Klamath Falls, CA, which attracted several very different ideas and approaches. Chatting with other attendees in the breaks and over lunch adds to the friends-helping-friends atmosphere of this event.

The traditional evening layout tour took us first to Paul Weiss's CVR. Wow! They made some impressive progress here in the last 12 months. I will operate on this layout on Sunday and am very much looking forward to it.

I hadn't seen Ed Merrin's layout yet, and after his talk this afternoon I was quite keen on it. Beautifully done scenery with a great eye for California colors and atmosphere.

One of the topics Ed touched on in his talk was how he built his helixes and used cuts and scenic vignettes to soothe impatient operators waiting for their trains to reappear from the helix.

Notice how the Highway 101 bridge covers and hides the portal into the helix.

A relatively easy and effective vignette is to cut a window in the helix outside, and add some scenery around the track. I've been thinking about doing something like this for one of the passenger stops of the Murrbahn project and here I see an example of how to actually do it. Nice!
The building on the lower level makes the transition from layout deck into the helix less jarring.

We wrapped up the day with a long discussion about German prototype operations practices and how to adopt them at Peter Barnes' layout set around Bavaria and Austria.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Silicon Valley Lines January Ops

Tonight we had the first Ops session after the holiday break. It was very well attended and we completed the full schedule well before the planned session end time. Here's the Nowheres Yard Switcher on track 1 of the passenger station.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


Yountville is a neat little town north of Napa. Yes, it's touristy and filled with the usual wine tasting bars, restaurants, and antique stores, yet their train station is neat. It's no longer served by passenger trains, unless you count the "Napa Valley Wine Train" dinner train.

Next to the train station is a row of cabooses that make up the rooms for the Napa Valley Railway Inn.

Several stores and restaurants in the area have railroad-related names, which I found amusing.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Module 1: Wiring is done

Eating too many vegetables

Module 1: Electrical

I'm almost done with wiring up module 1. Another late evening job, and I sure hope this is actually going to work, since I have not tested the track yet. If it doesn't, ... well, at least I've gone through the motions once and know what to do for the next module.

I really like working on cabling this way. I sit or stand at the work bench, tools in front of me, soldering iron on the side. I can turn the module for convenient access, or rotate it like in this shot from earlier in the evening

No fuzzing around under the layout. Really nice.

The module is much lighter than a layout, so while it stands easily, it also easily tips over. But with no scenery on the other side yet, I can put it on its face as needed, too.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Testing Connectors

I wired up the experimental module end. The wiring follows the FREMO Puko 2.0 standard with 4mm plugs and couplers on each end per rail and a pair of plugs for the center studs. The cables are supposed to be stored inside the module, held in place by wooden clothspins glued to the module.

Experimenting with Peco turnouts

I intend to build my upcoming Untergroeningen project using Peco Streamline Code 100 turnouts and track converted to Maerklin-style 3-rail operation. Adding the center studs to the track is obviously needed for that. However, it turns out that the distance between the insides of the wheels is slightly smaller for NEM 340 (14.0 mm, Maerklin) than NEM 310 (14.4 mm, DC / DCC). When traversing the diverging route of the "small radius" Peco turnout SL-91, for some long-wheelbase cars this results in binding of the wheel set between the guard rails where the diverging and straight rail meet.
Really old cars -- like the brown flat car in the photo below -- even have trouble on the straight route.

It seems the solution is to remove about half a millimeter of material on the rail-facing side of the outside guard rails.

After filing the guard rails, I laid out some of the turnouts I'm planning to use for Untergroeningen on the garage floor and tried them out with several cars. So far I have not found the need to modify the frog of the turnout, but I would not be surprised if some locomotives need some further work on the track to pass reliably. We'll see what happens when I have the center stud strips installed on the first set of turnouts and run locomotives over the turnouts under their own power.

Module 1: Not quite perfect

I dusted off the frame for module 1 I built in October, and cut some Peco SL100 flex track. The idea here is to build a module that attempts to hide the Maerklin-typical center studs as much as possible, and get an idea about the amount of work it takes to do it, while staying compatible with regular Maerklin K-track.

This time I used the "melt-it-into-the-plastic-ties" method of attaching the pickup studs from Weichen Walter. This feels easier than the "screw-and-solder" method I used on the test piece. However, it's still quite easy to drift off the middle and not hit center line, so my studs are not 100% straight. I wonder how I'm going to do that on a curved module...
Attaching the center studs takes time, but goes faster than I expected. The strip sticks out below the track by about 0.7mm and that needs to be taken into account when mounting the track. I cut a V-groove into the trackbed, which worked quite well.

Overall, it turned out not too shabby, but I certainly can do better, and need more practice...

Friday, January 11, 2019

Track Experiment

After cleaning up the work bench, I'm trying something new tonight. A test piece with Peco track converted to operation with Maerklin rolling stock using Weichen-Walter Puko strips.

The strips are etched and stick out slightly under the track. On this test piece I ended up cutting a slot into the road bed for the bottom edge of the Puko strip. This is the technique described in the documentation using brass screws and soldering the Puko strips to the screws.

I have a few more strips to try another approach that should be easier with curved track.