Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Work and Rework

Ended up not placing the crossover last night, since as I review what I had placed previous was missing insulated joiners. Oops!

So, I went ahead and pulled the track out that I had placed, adding insulated joiners as needed. Of course, as I did this, I needed to trim a bit of rail here and there since I managed to solder together two pieces of flex track and match the movable rail to the unmovable rail, giving me two unmovable rails. Doh!

After I finished that up, it was past 10, so I decided discretion was better than valor in this case and called it a night.

Decided this afternoon that I'm going to operate the railroad next month and future months and not wait on the upper level. Finally realized it was silly to not operate.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Upper Level trackwork, continued

I've been able to spend a bit of time working on the railroad recently, so I figured I would take the opportunity to bring everybody up to speed on where I currently sit, progress wise.

I have completed the crossover, so that will be placed over the next 2 weeks or so when I get a chance to hang out in the basement. I also need to figure out where the CB&W Interchange needs to be placed and the turnout for that, but that is fairly minor.

This first picture shows the completed main and siding lines on this level. My plan is to come back and piece in the industrial spots as I get a chance. If you notice center right, some ties have been placed for the code 70 industrial spur here. (Hand-laid since I'm too cheap to buy Code 70 ME flex..)

With the camera hovering over the north end of Acca, we get a nice establishing shot

This second shot is from further back in the aisle; two other industrial spurs can be seen, one is right in the foreground, while the other is hiding way back.

I need more lights down here...

Now we are looking the other direction.

Next two are the ties that I've put down to accommodate an industrial spot next to the aisle. My plan is to put code 70 here to really show the difference between the industrial trackage and the main line.

I'm going to sand these ties a smige and then hit them with some more stain, if need be, to make sure the track flows well.
Ties are the Mt Albert/Kappler standard HO ties. I found the ME ties a bit too short to mate with Atlas and FT offerings.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thoughts on Operating

I've been holding off on operating for months since I am trying to get the upper level to some semblance of function. I've been doing bunches of other things and not working on the railroad. I guess it is somewhat prototypical, as many lines had lots of fits and starts during their construction and more than a couple of lines had bankruptcies and reorganizations during this phase as well, so I guess I should not let it get to me so much.

I attended a second operating session this past weekend and it occurred to me that no matter what you do as a layout owner, nothing tests your layout (and your nerves) than having a bunch of people over to "play train".

I always enjoy sessions since they get me motivated to work on my own railroad; I'm so motivated that I might actually get something done this week and weekend. :)

Hopefully that is the case, since every other weekend is slam full of other junk, besides a single session on the area's best known and operating layout.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Upper Level roadbed and track

With the start of the school year, train time has been hard to come by lately. I'm continuing work on the upper level and I've put down a fair amount of roadbed and started on placing track. Lots of work is being done to turn out additional turnouts from the fast tracks jigs; I've started to seriously thing about a way to automate the filing step as it takes longer to file all the angles and notches than it does to solder the turnout together.

A few pictures to illustrate where the process is:

A 3/4 view of one of the industrial sidings; the cork is sanded down to a ramped profile so the actual car spots will be directly on the homasote, lower than the through tracks.

View down towards the crossings and Interchanges.

First two turnouts are down.

Trackwork... Emphasis on work.

Gluing cork

High level overview shot of the track complex on this part of the railroad.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Recap from NMRA National Convention (GR2012)

Now that I have returned home and settled back in; I wanted to put up a recap of the convention and my thoughts around it. The Operation Sessions (OpSIG) stuff, I will put in a few other posts to make it easier to deal with.

The convention was held in Grand Rapids last week; Monday July 30th to Saturday, August 4th. I did not stay in the convention hotel, so some of my thoughts around the convention are going to differ from most other folks that attended.

Overall, I thought the convention went okay. I admit to not having too good a comparison point since the last convention I attended was in 1992, but I have attended many conventions/trade shows in the years since that were not model railroad related. Registration via the website before the convention was fairly painless, if a bit complex, as it wasn't really explained well on how the self guided layout tours were going to be handled. I did not sign up for any tours, as I was more interested in the clinics and OpSIG activities. The clinics did not get posted until very near the convention dates and I did not get any sort of email announcement that they had gotten posted; which would have been very helpful to plan out the days.

The convention timetable was pretty good with a handy fold out schedule, which I thought rocked.

Met a bunch of very cool folks, including some very accomplished modelers (including Jim Ferenc, Doug and Barbara Geiger, Steve-O, John Parker and others) that were nice enough to include me in their lunch plans on a day here and there.

I attended a few clinics; the two in particular that were most interesting were the OpenLCB. This is the beginning of a standard layout control bus that will eventually replace the Loconets, Xpressnets, etc of the world and give us a unified bus. What this eventually means is that you can buy a command station from one manufacturer, throttles from another, build you own signal controller and purchase block detection from yet another source and tie it all together. Very very cool. I've signed up to the yahoogroups for OpenLCB and have put a request in to get a dev kit so I can help the project along.

Some pretty neat stuff was available at the silent auction. I ended up winning two items, a #6 fast tracks switch kit and Doug Riddel's book about his experiences engineering on the SCL and Amtrak around Richmond and the rest of the system.

National Train Show:
Talked to a bunch of dealers about the breakout boards and bought way too much stuff! I concentrated on signals and related parts. Did find somebody with a locobuffer to replace the PR3 I have on the railroad that I hate; bought some tank cars and broke down and bought a beautiful Overland brass P42. Once I get a chance to put everything away down stairs, I'll snap a few photos of that P42.

I operated on three railroads; the Operations Road Show, Andy Keeney's Nashville Road and Duane Henry's Sister Lakes Southern. All of them were absolutely wonderful and I got to experience some very well built layouts using a few different operating schemes.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lighting Decks on Multilevel Layouts, quick thoughts

I noticed that a vendor I've used to make pc boards and fill other electronics needs had a flexible LED strip light available. (Seeedstudio, for reference) I'm been intrigued by the idea of lighting with LED strips versus trying to install tube or compact fluorescent lights under the upper deck.

I've been holding off, as the prices for the stuff available at Lowe's or HD is very very pricey per foot and is pretty limited. There are some internet vendors that are cheaper, but it still adds up when you want something like 50 feet plus of it per string.

This particular choice came as 1 meter of strip, and price was $11, so I felt that it was worth it for an experiment.

The strip has an adhesive backing that is simply peel off. Getting power to the strip is a simple as soldering two wires to pads, that are clearly labled +12V and -.

The following picture shows what you get from a single strip of these.

WOW!  No, my ankle isn't glowing, that is the strip of LEDs going.

Pretty darn impressive for $11. Power draw runs about 38mA per meter, so I'd say that you could power 10M of this off a good 12V 1.5A to 2A supply and still run at well under 50% utilization.

It did get a bit warm, so maybe attaching this to some aluminum C channel would be the ticket. Stay tuned for some more testing.

Upper Level work continues

Fairly significant progress has been made on the upper level of the railroad since the previous update.

Benchwork and subroadbed is complete from the helix through the opposite corner. The benchwork is homasote over 3/4" plywood that rest on 1x3 stringers supported by shelf hangers.

I decided to go with homasote for the top deck everywhere for a couple of reasons; I was so happy with the performance on the main level in Acca yard that I wanted that same experience on the upper level. If I was going to rebuild the railroad, I would put homasote everywhere and not fool around with the woodland scenics foam roadbed.

The homasote gives a few advantages over straight plywood; it is easy to elevate the main over passing tracks and spurs with cork roadbed. The cork can be sanded down to give a nice ramp to the flat(ish) homasote. It takes spikes wonderfully, which means it is faster to lay track than gluing with caulk and if you find a mistake, it is easy to correct after the fact.

Bus wires were run before the benchwork was laid down and fastened; much easier than trying to fish solid core 12AWG wire through the tiny space that would remain.

A couple of pictures to illustrate the updates follow.

At about mid point in the yard, we look right down the line of supports and bus wires.

Plywood down and test fitting in progress

This give a good visual of the area available for bus wires, switch machines, etc.

Homasote down

Lots of wire... Have to have it for block detection.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

June Operating Recap

An operating session was held June 9th. This was the first session since April, as the May session was canceled due to lack of previous proper planning.

A few issues were fixed from the previous sessions; the RIP cars were processed and the Dispatcher's panel was tweaked a bit to make it easier to understand. (If such a thing can be said about CTC)

The crew ended up being smaller than normal, but this gave everybody an opportunity to work hard and run multiple jobs.

Attending the session were:

Dick M: YM
Mike P: AYM
Doug B: Road Crew
Scott L: Road Crew
Rick: DS and other tasks as needed

One positive thing is that this showed it is possible to operate the railroad with a smaller crew. I think this foreshadows well for a weeknight session that would simulate the "Overnight" runs.

I did make a point to take as many pictures as possible during the session, so this actually might be one of the best documented session recently.

Q415 has dropped its cars and is continuing north from Acca to continue its run to Baltimore behind some foreign power.

Meet on the helix due to limited road crews being available

Looks like the engineer for F803 has the work well in hand today.

Apparently, the yard crew wasn't busy enough.

The yard crew sorts cars to keep the session moving.

The F803 job passes F805 on the main on the way back north to Acca. Both trains have 4 axle EMD power today; GP38-2 in the YN3 scheme holds the siding with F805 (closest to the camera) while a old school GP40 in Chessie colors rumbles by.

Very close action shot here!

Road crews meet in South Richmond as the Interchange jobs heads past F805 working the DoD plant.

The Interchange is very full! Sounds like a friendly Superintendent to Superintendent call is in order this evening!

The Autotrain is heading south over the helix.

Some throwback power today on the Autotrain, it seems. SCL E6 517 thumps north followed by Superliners and auto racks. The E6 is a Proto 2000 unit that could pull a house; the Kato F40PHs on the railroad don't have the grunt to make it up the helix with this consist. (4 Superliners and 2 articulated Auto-maxes [standins for the Amtrak specific models that have yet to be produced from what I can find, either in brass or plastic])

Upper Level Begins

Work has started on the upper level. The helix has made it to 60" above the floor, so this means that it is time to finalize the track plan and begin the benchwork.

The track plan is a fair amount of double track so that local trains will not cause the main line to be tied up during their work. The operational concept for this part of the railroad is CSX's RF&P Subdivision. In the era that I am modeling (1994), the RF&P has only been an integrated part of CSX for 3 years. There were not (and still isn't) many on line customers between Acca and Fredericksburg in this era. (Most of my research seems to indicate that the only industries were at Doswell and closed before the merger)

A look at the corner where the helix and upper level will join.

A longer shot looking toward that corner from closer to the shelf.

 This is another shot, from the YM's normal position at the middle of Acca.

The upper helix is only 1 track, so this will be a chokepoint for the dispatcher to work around. Operational design will take this into effect.

Here's where the helix subroadbed will meet the upper level shelf. In this picture, the shelf support to the far left has yet to be removed.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Operating Session Recap

The first operating session of 2012 has come and gone and the law of model railroading was proven once again.

The law is that nothing will fail until people are showing up for your operating session.

The computer that I setup mid week to run the JMRI panels worked perfectly without a single problem until less than 10 minutes before people started to show up for the session. This meant that we did not start the session until 1:45 or so.

We completed the entire schedule for the first time, so I would call the fast clocks a help for having the dispatcher and crews in sync on what needs to get done.

A bullfrog turnout throw on the south A/D ladder failed about halfway through the session, so it was flagged for rework and the yard crew worked around it as best they could. It has since been replaced by a blue point.

The yard crew did assemble the last local, F805, incorrectly. It wasn't discovered until the road crew arrived and walked the train, realizing that not a single car was for F805. This put the yard crew behind the eight ball and brought car sorting to a screeching, smoking halt. The Superintendent had noticed something wasn't right when a center beam lumber car was right in the middle of F805, but I figured that I should keep silent and see what happens. Fun times were had!

Learned a couple of new things on the signals - a script should be developed that sets everything to red and all turnouts to closed after the panels are loaded by the dispatcher; the yard exit signals can only be thrown after a train hits the block that is the yard approach so the signal logic can figure out that you want out instead of in. The crossovers signals need to be tweaked a bit as well, but that is good to know. Also need to put a delay on the drop to red for the signal that protects entering the yard from the south (you are headed northbound), since more than one engineer entered the block, saw the signal go red, and big holed the air to bring the train to a stop.

Also, angering the dispatcher will cause you extra delay. Just about every road crew can attest to this.

Next session is schedule for the 2nd Saturday in May, hope to see everybody then!

A few pictures, as I remembered to take pictures this time!

Keith looking deeply dispatcherish as he tries to figure out why he volunteered for such a job...

The assistant yard master sorting and building:

Please note, no resistor wheelsets have been deployed so far, so you can throw turnouts under trains.. Here some road crew clean up such an "oopsie"

Mike P with his Patented Polish Pull and Push move:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

More Helix Progress

Got track and roadbed laid a bit further today. I need to solder in some feeders so they are in place before I start to add additional sections of the curved subroadbed into the helix.

Did remember to take some pictures as I worked.

Good view of the approach track with cork down.

Where we go from the approach track to the helix proper

Crossover completed. I originally wanted a double track to double track set here, but once I figured out what I needed for space for that sort of special track work, I realized less is more.

Fix chunk of flex gluing; once again I am using code 100 in the helix for the utmost in forgiveness. It is also cheaper that Code 83 as well, which is nice when you realize you are going to use up a 25 piece box for a single track up the helix...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Helix Approach Track

Working on getting the helix approach track in place. I'm using 1/4" plywood, laminated together to give me 1/2" thickness total for stability as I work to get the track from against the wall, swung around 180 degrees and connected to the helix.

Here's a picture of a complete piece; cut from a single sheet of plywood with help from Dick M. (Thanks for the help and use of your shop!)

Actually got a bit more that 180 out of that; ended up trimming it back to make it fit. Now I am working on tweaking the supports for this benchwork (need standard 3/8" washers instead of fender washers due to clearance issues). Hopefully I can get that finished up this week and start laying roadbed/track late this next weekend.

Sent out emails for the next Op Session in April; already have 4 signups.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Helix 2

Now that the main level is complete, it was time to start thinking about expanding the railroad up, up and away!

A second helix kit had been purchased from Ashlin designs at the same time as the first; only difference is that this kit is made to go up 15 inches versus 11 inches on the first kit.

Lots of thoughts were thought about how to support this second helix, sitting, as it has to, above the existing helix/reverse loop area.

First attempt as pieces of plywood, screwed into T shapes for stability:

This path has a couple of problems, all directly related to the fact that they were screwed into the lower helix supports, which turned out to be neither plumb, nor level, in any direction. A discussion was made about the possibility of disconnecting from the lower supports and pulling them away to have them free standing, but the reverse loop was a physical limitation, so this plan was scrapped.

The new plan was to use 3' pieces of all thread rod (3/8-16) and metal strapping to provide a support structure, as such:

Close up of all-thread/strap and Helix support area. Wood blocks are used to space the Helix support parallel to the all thread:

Giant 3/8 bit used to get holes into places where standard bits fear to tread: (amazing what you can get at Lowe's)

Jig used to make get the spacing correct for the metal strapping (which featured pre-punched holes on 3/4" centers):

Now, just have to get benchwork for an approach track setup and working and then progress can continue. I'm happy with the all thread solution and it is very flexible when you realize you need to move the helix up another 1/4 inch since cars don't clear the level above them in one place you never checked...

Next Ops should be in April; hopefully the helix is moving well along by then. Also have a project going to get more signals and fast clocks onto the railroad.