Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Untergroeningen: Legs

Today I built the legs for Untergroeningen and set up the module with Kurve in the living room. Temporarily, of course! This was the only place in the house that allows for a 12 ft straight run with room to spare.

For the legs I'm using the same technique as with Slim Staging. Here's Untergroeningen segment 2 on its new legs.

I'm planning to work on laying out scenery and buildings in Untergroeningen, and start with basic scenery on segments one and two.

This next perspective won't be possible when shadow box and lighting are installed. Viewers and operator aisle are on the other side of the module.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Thoughts on operating a show layout

I'm considering taking the modules I'm building to the Eurowest show this summer as a stand-alone layout. Of course, this assumes that the Coronavirus pandemic is under control by the end of July, so that the show will actually happen. It also assumes that the modules are sufficiently presentable that I'd be willing to show them to a broad audience. I still have work to do on that front.

It will be a small setup, only 3 modules: Slim Staging, Kurve, and Untergroeningen. Slim Staging and Untergroeningen are made up from multiple segments, so six segments in total. The arrangement will be in an L-shape with both legs about 12 feet long (3.5 meters).  Untergroeningen will be the focal point of the arrangement, with a shadow box and built-in lighting that extends all the way over to Kurve. The hill and cut I built a few weeks ago will hide the transition to staging.

The Untergroeningen operator needs to run trains from the visitor side of the layout, because all turnout controls are built into the fascia, and the shadow box doesn't allow access from the side or the rear.

To make this a little bit more interesting for the operators, and hopefully visitors, too, I want to use car cards and waybills for the freight trains, to show reasonably realistic operation at a busy, but rural station at the end of a branch line in southwest Germany.

The staging operator builds a local freight train (Ng, "Nahgueterzug") with up to 5 cars from the supply in staging. The Untergroeningen operator runs the train to Untergroeningen and switches cars according to the way bills. Including the saw mill track, Untergroeningen has 12 car spots. If car spots are occupied, a car will need to stay off-spot and be switched to its destination in the next round. The Untergroeningen operator will pick the 5 oldest cars in Untergroeningen that had been spotted at their destination in the previous round or earlier, and assemble the return train. There should be no more than 10 freight cars on the visible portion of the layout at any one time to avoid turning this into a Timesaver-style puzzle.

On some regular schedule, there's also a passenger train to Untergroeningen. Using a Schienenbus will be a simple out and back operation. If running a regular train, the locomotive needs to run around it's train for the return trip.

Rolling stock and setting is in Epoch IVa, i.e. early 1970's Germany. For passenger service, I could run a BR64 or BR86 steam engine with Umbauwagen, a BR 798 Schienenbus with Beiwagen, or a BR211 / 212 Diesel engine with one or two Silberlinge cars. The same locomotives would be appropriate for freight service. I could even keep a Koef at Untergroeningen station, which would perform all the switching moves between runs of the Ng, instead of the Ng engine.

These are some rough ideas and I'll fine-tune them over the next few months as we get closer.

Shelter in Place Puzzle: That was quick

We're done. Much faster than I expected, and I didn't do what I had planned for today. That's ok. I had fun.

Shelter in Place Puzzle: Coffee Break

Tatjana and I are making good progress.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Shelter in Place Puzzle: Lisbon

We're stuck at home and in the mood for a puzzle. This one is extra fun, because it's a nice reminder of last year's vacation. Just in time for dinner the frame is set up, and the easy motives become visible.

Santa Teresa County Park

To combat cabin fever and get a little bit exercise we hiked the "small loop" via Santa Teresa County Park. Beautiful day and nice company.

There were quite a few people on the trails, more than we expected. Most people kept the appropriate distance, even though the trail is fairly narrow. It's so nice out here in the spring. Looks far away, but is so close.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Untergroeningen: Station Building

Over the last few days I worked on a blueprint for the Untergroeningen station building based on Google Maps, and photos from the Web. Wikipedia Commons, Eisenbahnfotograf and Vergessene Bahnen proved to be particularly helpful. I finished a draft of the walls tonight, made a copy and taped them together.

Below is my rendition of the street side photo at the link on Vergessene Bahnen. Of course, the (somewhat complicated) roof is still missing.

Here's an overview as seen from the aisle with the locomotive shed mock up in the background. Quite attractive.

Here's a shot similar to the lead photo on the post from last weekend. The angle isn't quite right, the lens is too high, and I should be "standing" between tracks 2 and 3, instead of tracks 1 and 2. However, what can be seen of the building and the overall arrangement matches quite nicely with my version.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Untergroeningen: Two more walls

Tonight I got two walls mapped out for the Untergroeningen station building. These are drawn in HO scale. Track 1 runs in front of the loading ramp on the left. With the photo from Vergessene Bahnen I no longer need to wing it for the street side view, but can produce a fairly accurate drawing next. And the street side of the building is indeed half-timbered. This is exciting.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Untergroeningen: Station building mockup

Tonight I spent some time on figuring out what the roof structure of Untergroeningen station looks like. I used the satellite view of Google Maps for guidance, and filled in a couple gaps from photos. Based on my crude measurements off Maps, the building is 17 meters long and 8m wide on the one side, 9m on the storage area side.


The Bay Area is going into a substantial shutdown of public life, and it's raining. No wonder no-one's out while we are walking the dog ...

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Untergroeningen: Station building research

Untergröningen Bahnhof 2004
Untergroeningen station buildings in 2004
This photo from Wikipedia nicely illustrates the building arrangement in Untergroeningen. The locomotive shed is on the left in the rear. Across the tracks is a large storage shed / barn-like structure. Track 1 is partially embedded in asphalt before the station building. There's a small outbuilding with restrooms between the station building and the shed. The station building has an integrated storage / warehouse area and loading ramp facing track 1. The challenge is what did this look like 30 years earlier?

I have been contemplating how to model this ensemble. The locomotive shed with its distinctive water tower and attached tool shop in the rear needs to be represented, and I already made a partial paper mock-up for use with Auhagen parts. The shed and toilet building are pretty straightforward. I really like the tree between the two buildings.

However, I've been going back and forth on the station building. It's rather unattractive, and I have not been able to find any photos showing the street side of the station building that would be very visible on my module. The photo above shows the building with a brown siding that wraps around the side, too. All photos I found on the Internet (e.g. here with some shots from 1983) show the building with this ugly brown siding that I really don't like.

So I thought about alternatives. We are in Wuerttemberg. I could use one of the standardized Wuerttemberg station buildings. Faller makes a very nice model of the three-story Gueglingen station, which is type IIIa. So I ordered that and have it on the shelf. While at it, I also noticed that the station included in the Faller "Haltingen" set, which I got as a present a few years ago, is a bastardized version of the Gueglingen kit with the second story and waiting hall removed. It kind of looks similar to the type I plan.  What bugged me about this approach is that the weg was a private railway, and they didn't use the standardized plans in any of their buildings.

Next idea: Transplant one of the prettier weg buildings to Untergroeningen. E.g. Sulzbach has a nice half-timbered station building that still stands today and is now occupied by a restaurant.

Next I took another look at the photos of Untergroeningen in Hermann Buernheim's book "Wuerttembergische Eisenbahngesellschaft: Die Geschichte einer bedeutenden Privatbahn". Low and behold on page 139 is a photo from 1973 (yay!) showing the Untergroeningen station building with a wood siding on only one side of the warehouse side of the building (YAY!)  While the rest of the building is rather bland, that can be modeled. ... There is no tree between the outhouse and the shed and the platform is very low just barely above the rails.

After the success on Google Maps with Sulzbach, I double-checked if can get any additional information out of Google Maps. Sure enough: While the service facilities and all tracks are gone and have been replaced with industry, the station building itself is still standing. The satellite view gives a good idea about the roof structure of the building.

The paved area to the right of the station building leads to the former loading ramp at the end of track 1. The large shed was to the left of the loading ramp.

Update March 17, 2020:
To my delight I did find a street side view of the station building and the restroom building (with attached garage!) on Vergessene Bahnen.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Signal bell boards for the ETE HOm Swiss Narrow Gauge modular layout

Test Setup
Every now and then I'm at shows running trains with the HOm swiss narrow gauge group of the ETE San Francisco Bay chapter.

The operating scheme is straight-forward: The layout is set up with a single track main line, a couple intermediate stations, and staging at each end of the layout. The typical setup consists of staging with a return loop at one end, two intermediate stations, and a simple staging yard at the other end. Operators are positioned at the stations or staging yards and verbally hand-off trains from station to station. A typical conversation between two neighboring stations goes like this:
- "Can I send you another train?"
- "Yes, go ahead. Once that's here, I'll send you a train back."
- "Ok." 
This works quite well. However, problems arise at shows with lots of visitors since the noise level makes communication, or even getting the attention of the other operator, difficult. Especially when the layout is arranged in a way so that they sit with the back to you.

Before the invention of the telephone, railroads in Europe had similar problems. How to tell the following station and all operators at intermediate railroad crossings that a train is on the way? How to do that in a way that works reliably day and night, regardless of weather in rain, sunshine, and fog? Initially, humans were positioned along the tracks and blew a horn to notify the next post that a train is coming. That obviously didn't work very well and became completely inadequate as traffic density increased.

In the mid-1800's bell signals ("Läutewerke") were invented to address this. The Wikipedia article describes the basics. Hans Waegli's book "Hebel, Riegel, und Signale" has a good historical summary as far as use in Switzerland is concerned. The common arrangements were built with two bells tuned to different tones. Each bell was associated with a direction, so that crossing operators can tell when to expect the train and lower the gates early enough based on which bell is ringing. Bell signals were used widely in Germany, and became very common in Switzerland were they lasted well into the second half of the twentieth century, especially on secondary and narrow gauge lines. Some are still in operation today, but only to alert waiting passengers that a train as left the previous station.

I figured we could use a similar approach when operating the HOm layout at shows.

Signal bell boards schematic
Nice two-tone bells are rather expensive, so I settled for a cheap DC door bell. Each station has a button per direction that rings the bell in the next station. Because I only have a single bell, the direction of train announcements needs to be encoded in the ringer scheme. A simple ringer scheme to offer and accept trains between stations could look like this:
2 rings by originating station: Request train move from left to right
3 rings by originating station: Request train move from right to left
1 ring by destination station: Train may come.
If the destination station doesn't want to accept the train, they simply don't acknowledge, or offer a train in turn.

Since this is a modular layout, the cabling length between stations might vary from show to show. RJ45 plugs and sockets make using cables of different lengths easy. For the test setup I used Ethernet cables. Since only 4 wires are needed for the inter-station wiring in the schematic, I mirrored the pin assignments, so that any Ethernet-style cable can be used, and one doesn't need to pay attention to orientation. I tested this today with a 50ft Ethernet cable, which worked just fine.

Intermediate signal bell board
The real railroads used fairly elaborate schemes with two or even only one wire between stations, but those required independent power (mechanical, batteries, or house power) at each station. I wanted to power the whole system only from a single power supply, so had to include a power bus in the schematic.

Signal bell board with power supply connection
The signal boards are clamped to the modules so they can be mounted wherever it is convenient. The left button is connected to the bell of the station to the left, the right button to the bell at the station to the right, so using the bells is very intuitive for station operators.

Signal bell board clamped to the Welztalbahn
The signal bell boards come in two versions (yellow and green in the schematic above), that need to be installed in alternating sequence. So far I built two boards: a yellow intermediate board, and a green board with power supply connection. I have enough supplies to build two more boards which should be sufficient for the HOm layout.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Detailing SVL 68165 (2)

What do you do on a Sunday afternoon? I spent it watching a cab view video on Youtube. 2 hours from Offenburg in the Rhine Valley following the Black Forest Railway ("Schwarzwaldbahn") via Hausach, Triberg, Villingen-Schwenningen, and Singen to Konstanz on Lake Constance. In my version of reality, the Welztalbahn connects to the Schwarzwaldbahn in Hausach.
I have also traveled the segment between Immendingen and Singen many times when taking the Intercity between Stuttgart and Zurich. One of the new IC2 sets is visible in the video.

It's nice to watch the video and know the area well enough that I can identify the train location in the loops between Hausach and Triberg, or recognize the meadow near St. Georgen where I stopped with my Dad to take photos as inspiration for the Welztalbahn.

While watching the video, I continued to work on replacing the grab irons for SVL 68156. They are certainly not perfect, and I realize I picked a pretty difficult and annoying car to work on, but since I started this, I gotta finish it. After I was done with the one end of the car, ...

 ... I started working on the other end.

Phew. I was tired by the time I got to the last rung on the long side of the car and didn't notice how crooked it was until after the CA had dried hard.

Saturday, March 07, 2020

Detailing SVL 68165

After the successful build of a Bowser wood hopper car, which is now waiting for weathering, I'm stepping up the challenge with the second car in the series: Replace the molded on grabirons and stirrup steps with detail parts from A-Line and Tichy. I already removed the CNW lettering and heralds and will replace them with Silicon Valley Lines lettering like the previous car after a coat of paint.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Kurve: Rock Outcroppings (5)

Last week I ballasted track. This weekend I gave the rock face a quick dry-brush for highlights.
For the steep hillside next to the rock I'm planning for low-flung weeds, creepers, ivy, small bushes, and small trees. Today I started with the weeds and ivy. This is mostly Scenery Express Superturf. I love that stuff. It has a nice texture and irregular body.