Sunday, January 26, 2020

PCR SIG weekend - Morada Belt Operations

For the Sunday operations session I had the great pleasure to visit David Stanley's Morada Belt layout. This is a two-level layout with many industries and lots of switching work. I got the job of the Morada Yard master.

Here's what the yard looked like when we started. Dave has each yard track assigned to a specific purpose and labeled accordingly on the control panel and the layout, which helps a lot with switching moves. The Morada Yard Master also is responsible for servicing the industries around the yard. Due to the track layout working the Schmierer industry in the far corner requires some planning ahead to not conflict with servicing the ice rack.

Other large industries on the layout include the sawmill seen in the lead photo above, a gravel pit, and a cement plant. All the industries are nicely done and detailed

There's also small-town switching in Acampo on the upper level, which has this nice Swift meat-packing warehouse. This is an old Suydam cardboard and wood kit, and fits the location perfectly.

Industries on the branch line are more rural like this finely detailed sugar beet loader.

The town of Morada has a brand-new, modern car dealership, built by Dave's friend Pat Davis.

Like many two-level layouts, Dave had to work through figuring out the right height for the respective levels. In order to achieve proper deck separation, while keeping the second deck easily accessible, he chose to set the lower deck low enough that it can be conveniently worked while sitting down. Here I am working at Morada yard.

Dave also included space saving features. The retractable control panel for hidden staging underneath Morada Yard was designed and built by Pat Davis, too. I was thinking about using a similar approach for some control panels on the Murrbahn project and it was really nice to see this realized here.

When starting my shift as the yard master I got a note of what I was supposed to do when, and what to expect over the course of the session. Having a line-up like this made my work in a foreign yard on a layout I've never seen before so much easier. I really appreciated that.

The operations paperwork is produced by JMRI's operations module, hence looked familiar and was easy to follow.

Dave is a great host and  I thoroughly enjoyed banging cars around all day long. Chatting and debrief after the session took up the rest of the afternoon. A great day, and a great weekend.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

PCR SIG weekend - Evening tours

For the evening layout tours we started off with Robert Hoffman's ATSF Hereford Division layout, a modern double-deck layout with large scenes. Grain elevators are common in agricultural regions of the US, though rarely are they modeled in scale, so that they tower over the rail cars as they do in reality. I often take inspiration from layouts seen on tours and incorporate ideas into my own work. E.g. I spent quite some time taking a close look at how Robert's helix is built.

Other layouts have more of a Wow-effect, like Steve Redeker's Hetch Hetchy Railroad, which is modeled in the same gray scale tones as the photos the scenes are based on. This was truly impressive.

We finished the evening at the Sacramento Model Railroad Historical Society. Their large layouts, one in standard gauge, one in narrow gauge, depict scenes from the Southern Pacific and Western Pacific in California.

Note how the telegraph wires transition into the backdrop and into the hills in the scene below. Very well done.

PCR SIG weekend - Saturday

The last weekend of January is time for the SIG meet, for the special interest groups focused on operations and layout design. The event rotates through locations in the wider SF Bay Area. This year it was Sacramento's turn. I got up early on this Saturday morning and drove to Sacramento to arrive at the California State Railroad Museum just in time for the first presentation.

As in previous years, the program was a good mix of talks about layout design, prototype information and how to apply it to your model railroad, and spicing up operations. During the long lunch break my group explored the museum.

Engine No. 2467, 4466, and 21 were parked outside in the train shed.

I've been at the museum a few times now, but it always draws me in. The presentation of railroads in California is done so well.

Engine 4294, the only surviving cab-forward of the Southern Pacific always draws a crowd, due to it's size and massive appearance.

Here'e the tender. A museum visitor on the left gives a good idea about the size of this thing.

The Great Northern Railway Post Office car (RPO) is very interesting.

This car served in RPO service barely 15 years before the US Postal Service pulled the mail contract with the railroads in 1967. The car was locked up and stored in rail yards for years before it came to the CSRM. While the outside got a new paint job, the interior is all original.

Talks continued in the afternoon, here's the tail end of Tony Thompson's presentation.

As usual the program concluded with a panel discussion. This time participants talked about the origins of this meet, how it came about, shared anecdotes, and discussed what this meet means to them. TSG Multimedia live-streamed the discussion on Youtube.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

SC-44 "Charger" CDTX 2108 at Great America station, San Jose, CA

CDTX 2108 is part of a series of new SC-44 "Charger" locomotives built by Siemens in Sacramento that is helping modernize locomotive fleets operated by Caltrans in California. The wide open air intake on the side of these locomotives is impressive. Sure looks cool with the inside lighting.

CDTX 8308 Cab Car at Great America station, San Jose

A northbound Amtrak California Capitol Corridor train is led by cab car 8308 tonight. These "California cars" are already in service for 25+ years.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Good Night

Having fun with Android Camera's Night Sight mode.

I started the image capture shortly before Caltrain #268 entered the frame. Capture took about 5 seconds, so the non-moving parts of the image are reasonably sharp, the track ahead of the train is well lit by the headlight, yet only dimly illuminated by the inpsection lights above the trucks.

Emsingen Panel Updates

Yesterday I did some behind the scenes work to fix a long-standing problem with the panel. In fact, this problem has been there ever since I added the panel in 2012 (!) The buttons for the turnout into the Lokstation and the two lower buttons on the yard ladder were not connected to anything. This wasn't really much of an issue, the Lokstation turnout was used only a couple times during a session and could be actuated with a mouse click from JMRI.  The Yard ladder buttons are not strictly needed and operators just used the black buttons for the respective turnouts. The reason why they were not connected was that the Team Digital SRC16 stationary decoder driving this panel only has 16 inputs and I have 19 buttons.

Since I now added the button for the route to Untergroeningen (on the far left in the picture above, compare to the panel in the post from 2012), I decided to clean up the other buttons, too. I have a couple Digitrax DS64 stationary decoders installed nearby, which have 4 sensor inputs each. I made a 10 pin header to match the SRC16 sensor pinout and ran a cable for 8 inputs over to the two DS64 decoders. Now I have 3 spare inputs at this panel. Not sure what to do with them, but maybe I'll find a need in the next 8 years...

Since I need to add the new routes from Emsingen to Untergroeningen to JMRI, I decided to also convert Emsingen panel operation to require the operators to push origin and destination buttons at once. This is addressing another source of confusion that occasionally tripped up Emsingen operators. I wrote up how the panel logix works in a post from 2011. The change is very simple: Whenever a button is unpressed, I simply reset the respective internal sensor back to inactive. That way, operators can change their mind after pressing the first button, and there is no state in the panel button Logix when no buttons are pressed.

Good Morning!

Back to work after a long weekend.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Kurve: Basic Scenery (2)

Landforms are roughed in and got a thin coat of Scuptamold. I added some brown paint to the Scuptamold to avoid the "there's white in my scenery"-effect later when the scenery gets damaged. As described previously, I used a large artists spatula to spread the Scuptamold mix.

The first batch applied on the module. I will need a few more batches ...

The Scuptamold covers up the pink foam layering and allows a better assessment of the landform. ... Before I started I modified the right hand side of the inside curve hill. It's not a major change, but I like this better now.

Time to let everything dry and tend to other projects while my workbench is occupied.

Kurve: Basic Scenery

After I fixed a power problem with a track piece on the Kurve module and drilled a set of module connector holes, I should have proceeded to work on preparing for Welztalbahn Ops with the new module group.

However, inspiration took another turn and so I pulled out a sheet of 1" pink foam and cut shapes to build up scenery around the track.

I cut rough shapes and stacked them to form a ridge that the railroad had to dig through a cut to lay their track. Once I had the rough shape, I cut off the rectangular edges with a knife. This module will need to fit multiple purposes for the Welztalbahn, so the shape of the hill on the inside of the curve turned out to be a bit odd. I'm planning to plant bushes along the cut, and trees on the top of the ridge to enhance the module's function as a scene divider.

 With the rough shapes in place, I put a locomotive on the track to visualize the effect.

Not bad, but the hill on the right feels too low and not part of a ridge, so I added another layer to bring it almost even with the top of the edge on the outside curve.

Yep. That's better.  Here's a view from the other side. The pink foam sides will be protected with hard board. Here, next to the tracks, I'm planning to keep the hardboard at full height, and turn it into a painted backdrop to complete the impression of traveling through hills, as well as reduce the risk that rolling stock might fall during derailments.

Finally, I glued the layers in place with silicone caulk. I like to use Dynaflex 230 caulk for this. It dries quickly, doesn't shrink, and remains a bit flexible which helps with the next step. I let the glue set over night.

The next day, I'm taking the module outside for the messiest part of this exercise: Terraforming!

Using a  basket rasp, I'm trying to shape a nicely flowing scenery contour guided by the rough cut pink foam outline. A shop vac is super useful to keep the mess under control.

After 30 minutes with the rasp, the scenery base is shaped. It came out pretty close to what I had in mind. I'm still not entirely convinced by the inside hill. Maybe it should go uphill towards the module edge to stress the need for a cut here?

I'm pleased with the outside curve shape.