Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Future Plans

 Ops didn't happen due to scheduling concerns. January is shot already, but February might be a possibility.

Some progress has been made on the railroad so I hope to post up some pictures and what not in the next few days.

I do have articles pending for both the LDSig and OPSig magazines so once they get published, I will note it here.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Ops in November and December

 Keep a lookout for email announcing operating sessions in November and December.

We will probably keep the sessions small due to COVID but the basement is large enough that we can maintain social distance.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Backdrops Done for now

 The backdrops around the peninsulas are done. Still debating about painting the wall areas - that's more involved as I have to paint primer first (I use Kilz) and then go for blue.

If I can remember and get motivated, I will pull some shots off the camera this week.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Backdrop Work Proceding

Work on backdrops has continued throughout the last couple of months.

I was able to paint backdrops from the river scene into the space between the peninsulas. You can also see the subroadbed in place in these shots.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Op Session Snaps

The session photographer was a bit short.
And yes, an RS3 is out of era for the layout.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Easton and Potomac Final Open House

Pictures of the final open house of the Easton and Potomac have been posted to the gallery.

You can find it them at Richmond Terminal Gallery

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

2nd Op Session Success

The second Operating Session, held July 11th, was a success.

Expect pictures from the session and additional updates to follow this week and next.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Scenery? On my railroad? It's happening!

I wanted a bridge scene to give the railroad a more realistic feel than last time - the area of Virginia that the RF&P runs through is full of creeks, rivers and small elevation changes so I wanted to capture this.

I picked the bridge over the Chickahominy River as the target of my modeling since it is a plate girder bridge and good model kits exist for that style of bridge.

I bought a Micro Engineering concrete deck bridge kit and used it for a test. It looked good, so I attempted to source more of them and ended up having to turn to eBay. Also got the bridge abutments the same way.

As a FYI, the abutments are Walthers Cornerstone series and their heights do NOT match. I had to spent a fair amount of time cutting and sanding.

Hours later:

Actual model structures!
After some initial paint to prepare for the river scene.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Backdrops in progress, again

Looks shiny - paint was still wet when I snapped this.

The backdrops being painted status has reached the inside area of the peninsulas - I went hammer down about 2 weeks ago.

If you spy actual scenery, you have a keen eye.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Lower Level Benchwork Snapshots

A couple of shots from the recent construction progress to whet appetites for the next visit.

Putting in some additional structure
It can be rare to get a inside structure shot so figured I should share.
Note the pocket screws used to eliminate screwing into end grain
Lots more shots at the main gallery site.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

New Tool

Work crew members know that mounting Tortoises can be a challenge due to the size of the case and smaller, #1 Philips screwdriver needed to put in the #4 x 1/2" screws.

I've been on a search for a longer shaft #1 for what feels like years.

A recent perusal of Wiha found the solution to my problem.

The middle of that plat is about 11" or so wide.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Lower Level Benchwork Teaser

Additional work cycles have been dedicated to the benchwork requirement remaining for the lower level during the previous weekends' great weather.

Here is a teaser shot showing the beginning of the northern end of Acca yard. Expect a further update soon.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Hamilton Industrial Park Expansion

Operators may recall that there are three industrial spots at Hamilton, two on the south end and one at the end of the switchback lead north of the south spots.

During the ongoing clean up of the basement area, pieces of lumber were evaluated for reuse elsewhere.

It happened that with a bit of trimming, the original plywood subroadbed used to skirt the helix area was a great fit to fill in the area between the industrial spots and the backdrop.

Expect the Vic Smelly treatment of this area in the future.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Signal Update

Signals on the upper level at Hamilton, XR, Milford and South Milford have been installed, lit and tested.

Signals at Doswell are mounted and testing/integration is coming.

Here's a shot of the crossover signals at the North Doswell Control Point to keep you interested.

Signal closet to the camera is a BLMA (now Atlas) modern cantilever bridge. In the background is one of my scratchbuilt creations as signal bridges can't be found at this time.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

(Late) May Already?

I am pleased to report that significant progress has been made on the railroad since the last update.

Web content updates, not so much...

I will attempt to try and rectify this in the next few days.

Friday, April 17, 2020

LCC Nucleo DevKit Build Shots

Just a couple of in progress build shots from the workbench when I was putting together the first run of these.

The design is a mix of SMT and through hole with many key components having an option one way or another.

I've standardized on SMT for the CAN and power ICs as well as most of the standard passives. Diodes are TH.

Note the tweezers!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Layout Control Options - The Main Problem

Layout control is a subject with an interesting history and there have been various systems and schemas that have ebbed and flowed in popularity over the years.

When I say layout control, I'm talking about an accessory bus or network and not something whose purpose is to allow you to make your engine move, so let's agree to call those train control for the purposes of these discussions.

Up until this point, most of the layout control systems were an additional use case driven by the need to connect throttles to the DCC command station, but all of these suffer from various architectural deficiencies. The sole exception to the offshoot situation that I can think of is C/MRI - Computer / Model Railroad Interface invented by Dr. Bruce Chubb. C/MRI has been around for a long time and has a pretty solid community around it; in fact many of the CTC systems that I know about use C/MRI as the infrastructure, whether the panel is driven from JMRI or a physical panel.

Various Arduino and other microprocessor based systems have been brewed and used, as model railroader are ingenious in their abilities to adapt things to model railroad use, going back to dyed sawdust as ground cover at the dawn of the hobby.

What these solutions have in common is a single, central problem.

Lack of Sustainability.

They are either the work of a single person (the Arduino schemes are examples) or company (Digitrax, C/MRI, Atlas, Walthers, etc) and in most cases, are closed and proprietary. So once the manufacturer stops making that or goes out of business, you either have to reverse engineer it and potentially run afoul of patents and the like or be willing to run it until it dies and throw it away to start over once you have enough failures that you can't live with it anymore. Similar story if the kids move out and you get that extra space to expand the pike but you can't buy that anymore.

Enter Layout Command Control.

LCC solves the problem, as it is a royalty free and license unencumbered standard that manufacturers are free to implement however they see fit. If a DIY type approach is more to your liking, the standards are available to you so you can work from that angle.

LCC is the adopted standards from the work of the OpenLCB group. OpenLCB was started from what I will call the ashes of the NMRANet project. If one wants to burn a day or three, you can search and find various electrons inconvenienced about NMRANet and how it went a bit pear shaped.

I first saw OpenLCB (still referred to as NMRANet) in 2012 at the Grand Rapids convention. I got an early DevKit, thinking that it would be something somewhat shake and bake. I was so so wrong.

Thankfully, that was then and this is now.

At this point, commercial hardware is available from RR-Cirkits and there are various open source DIY stuff too. I have a mix of RR-Cirkits and the Nucleo DevKit here on the layout. I personally laid out an expansion board for the Nucleo DevKit.

If you check out the main openlcb.org website you can see the general status. There is even a print book out about LCC!

I will put up more posts as I have time and inclination - this post has sat in a draft status for almost 2 years; its original post date was October 2018...

From 6 o'clock clockwise: (on edge) RR-Cirkits Tower-LCC, Nucleo DevKit (green and white PCB combo), Railstars IO (Blue PCB), LCC-Buffer. At center is a TCH Technology USB-Serial to CAN adapter that ended up having a fairly serious hardware bug..

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Helix Completed

Long time Richmond Terminal operators remember that the old layout had two helixes, stacked on top of each other.

One was 11" and the other was 15" high.

On the new layout, I needed a helix that was 16" or so high.

The two individual structures donated enough parts to get the new helix built.

The spacers were replaced with clear 1x2 and 1x3 pine and glued with the same construction adhesive used to glue down cork.

These pictures don't show track being complete, but as I write this blog post, track has been completed over this area.

You can see the last piece of sub-roadbed hasn't been placed here.
A bridge had to be built, just like last time on the small helix. Also note the plywood cut back to give clearance to the tier below.
More pictures are on the website gallery at richmond-terminal.org

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Electronics Teaser

Quick teaser shot of upcoming blog posts.

In this shot there are 4.5 different projects in various phases of completion.

I got tired of putting stuff in boxes and taking it on and off the work bench so I found some scrap 1x3 and 1x4 to make some circuit board holders.

Used the table saw with the blade set at a 15 degree angle and just cut by eye. Worked pretty great.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Flash Traffic from Richmond Terminal Headquarters - Signal Activation

This evening at approximately 22:45 Eastern, 02:45 Zulu, the first signal on the Richmond Terminal Railroad was wired, tested, and activated on the control system.

This signal protects the siding and main track 2 for Southbound traffic at Milford, VA.

The Management, Officers and Employees of the Richmond Terminal are rightfully proud of this occasion and pray you lift a glass in celebration with them. (once you have gone off your current tour of duty, of course).

Tomar 3/3 US&S Signal installed alongside Main 2
In the background, you can see additional signals awaiting installation. The Signaling department will continue to work in the Milford area, including the South Milford control points before moving north towards XR, Hamilton and the Quantico CP.

Hamilton Signals Installed

Signals at the Hamilton Control Point have been installed and connected to the various driving boards.

I've got some additional updates around signals on the way so look for that content to post fairly soon. Being stuck at home is helping move the layout forward.

Here is my favorite shot:

Looking North here

Under the layout to drive this stuff, I have RR-Cirkits Fan out boards (FOB) and a Signal-LCC board that drives the signals. The FOB lets me go from the fine 30 AWG gauge wire on the signals to the .1" square header pins.

Signal LCC at center left, FOBs center and center-right.

Working through the FOB lead me to put together an alternative circuit design to make it more economical, from both a money and space perspective. A future post coming about that as well.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Bridge Update and Spot the Error

Permanent track installation on Bridge #1 has been done.

This bridge carries 3 tracks over the room entrance at a high that makes this a cross between a nod under and a duck under as there is about 50" or so of clearance from the floor to the underside.

At the joint between bridge and permanent benchwork, I soldered PCB ties in place to help fix the rail in place to prevent any movement that would cause the track to misalign, making derailments and other operational issues a possibility.

Once soldered and secured, I used a cutoff disk in the Dremel to cut the rail.

It mostly worked and I got in a hurry with the soldering process, and used the gun instead of the iron.

So, take a look at this picture and see if you can spot the error.

If you said, on the track nearest the camera, those PCB ties look destroyed, you'd be right.


I had to rip that apart and redo it totally since the ties would not hold the rail in gauge anymore since they'd been delaminated by the high heat from the soldering gun.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Doswell and North End Staging Benchwork, Re-Work

As mentioned in a previous post on the blog here, the area of the layout that hosts South Doswell as well as the entrance/exit to the north end staging yard, required a rework.

The area was torn down to benchwork and new plywood subroad installed.

This also gave me a chance to use larger pieces of homasote, reducing the number of joints in play.

New homasote down.
All things considered, this wasn't all that bad of a job to do. I wish I would haven't had to do it, but that's water under the bridge.

Painted and ready for roadbed.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Block Detection

Quick block detection shot to share with my readers.

What you are seeing here at the center of the shot is a RR-Cirkits BOD-8 board. This is a board made to detect occupancy of up to 8 blocks, using current transformer coils that get placed on the DCC feeder for a rail of your choice. Also in the picture - Tortoise switch machine and Digitrax UP5 panel.

You can see that I use red for DCC Rail A and Black for DCC Rail B as the DCC bus and use 3M suitcase connectors to go from bus to feeder gang to feeder.

Per detected block, this is a probably the cheapest commercial way to do this. $35.40 is their direct NMRA pricing so that's $4.425 per block. A Digitrax BDL168 (which I used a bunch of on the previous railroad) runs about $120 for 16 blocks, which makes the math $7.50 a block there.

Once you figure out how many blocks even a smallish railroad requires, you try to figure out ways to maximize your ROI...

Thursday, April 2, 2020

South Doswell Track Rework

As mentioned in the previous post, the track in this area had to be totally redone as well.

40" radius curves or larger, as is standard
Cork was pulled out and various test fit operations were performed before more glue was commited.

As of now, this area is complete, but as always, documentation is lacking.

Cork being glued down for the main line here. Track to staging is directly laid on the homasote, to hopefully aid the operator in knowing where they are..

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Reuse or Model Railroaders are Cheap, Act VIII

Model railroaders can be a particular bunch.

A group that will spend $100 or more on the locomotive that gets run for maybe 40 hours a year, but shies away from spending $5 more a sheet for better grade plywood that is supporting thousands of dollars of stuff and hundreds of hours of effort every second of the day is certainly an odd one.

Version1 had backdrops that were painted, not so successfully, as a sky scene.

When it was torn down, I didn't want to throw away these pieces of Masonite (a whole $10 per 4x8 sheet), even if they had been trimmed a bunch to make them fit.

I saved them and figured that I would eventually figure out something to do with them.

I decided that with some black paint, I could turn them into fascia.

A sunny day this January let me take some of the stuff out and slice it down to 5" wide strips to be used.

Getting setup

Stack ready for some paint.
On a slightly warmer day a few weeks back, I painted these strips flat black; I remember taking a picture of that process, but can't put my fingers on it right now, so this one, pre-painting, will have to do.

Used benchwork from a 30+ year old layout that wasn't ever built to support painting. Masonite doesn't have a bunch of strength to sit on a set of sawhorses so you have to work out other ways to make it happen.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A couple of words about roadbed and benchwork

Anybody who has built a model railroad using conventional materials - dimensional lumber, plywood and other sheet goods, such as homasote, will tell you that there are variances in size of product.

Working through construction is sometime like a endless grafting project working to get stuff lined up level so your trains don't have to suffer through uneven track that causes operational problem like uncouplings, derailments and other problems.

One of the steps I take before track goes down is hitting the cork with a belt sander to take these variations out.

Case in point from Doswell from the previous fall season (2019)

You can see the high and low spots by just looking, so that tells you some remediation is called for here.

Note my sharpie'd notes on what needs to be done.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Quick Progress Update

Progress is being made on the railroad on multiple fronts.

Put a fascia up in a spot. 

Wired a bunch of signals and LCC gear. 

Putting up and reworking lower level benchwork. 

Built actual model bridges. Cats and dogs living together!

I hope to start sifting through pictures and posting a couple of updates this week.

Friday, January 31, 2020

North End Staging Track Rework Teaser

The other end of the staging yard, which terminate the north end of the railroad, is in need of a curve broadening as well.

This side is significantly more involved as the main line also passes through this bit of area.

Doing some testing showed that the benchwork needs to be widened to about 11" to 12" to give the amount of room needed.

Here are a couple of in progress shots from the testing that was done before sawdust was made.

I also took this opportunity to sand out the manufacturing defect in the homasote that was causing a hump in the track right as it entered the wall.

Note we are having to the use the space for main #2
Reverse view.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Staging Entrance-Exit Track Rework Doswell Branch

As mentioned in previous blog posts, the tracks that enter the upper staging yard on both sides (North End and Doswell Branch) have curves that are too sharp.

The track plan originally had 30" curves in these sections but during build the curves were installed much sharper due to trying to fit the track to the physical space that was in place.

After the first op session ran, it was discovered that the curves were causing tracking problems with long (85') cars. Primarily, these are passenger cars, the Amfleets (new production Walthers Proto) and Superliners (a mix of Kato, Walthers and Walthers Proto). As there are something like 10 or 12 Amtrak trains on the full operations schedule, we needed to rework these areas to solve the problem and make entering or exiting the staging area perfect.

The Doswell branch side was tackled first as it was only going to impact the track into staging. After a survey was performed (lots of measuring, test fitting and game planning), the area was torn down to benchwork and new subroadbed up was installed.

After the rework, a 37" radius curve is now used and there were two industrial spots added to give the staging/Doswell crew more operational interest.

The walkway into the staging room was also enlarged so this effort was a ringing success all the way around.

The plywood on top shows the original size of the structure.
Curve in and planning out the new industrial spots
All finished!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Work Session - December 2019

A work session was held on Friday, the 6th of December to help finalize the railroad for the operating session the next day.

We started around 09:00 and went into the middle afternoon. I can not thank the attendees enough for their contributions to getting the layout ready for the first session.

John V
Scott L
Mike G
Thomas N
Ken M
Dick M
Mike P

John V digging through a box looking for electrical supplies.
Ken getting the shoo fly track's wiring in to complete the railroad

A complete loop.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

List of work from Op Session Number 1

During the operating session in December, a list of not functional items was captured.

The next couple of blog posts are going to be about the various rework efforts so I wanted to set the stage for why certain tasks were done.

  • Track curvature to/from staging on North End of railroad too sharp; Amfleet cars rub
  • Track not level to/from staging on North End; apparent hump in homasote
  • Track curvature to/from staging on Doswell branch too sharp
  • Staging ladder on North End power issues
  • Staging ladder on North End track gauge issues
  • Staging ladder on Doswell branch power issues
  • Some cars are missing Kadee couplers
  • Missing feeders between Hamilton and XP control points
  • Martin Marrietta spur; switch needs rework as it won't completely throw
  • N. Doswell cross over has feeder on flange side of rail
  • S. Milford industrial track missing feeders; totally dead rail
  • Frog power needed on staging ladders
  • Frog power needed on mail line cross overs
  • UP5 needed at staging yard throats
  • Tortoises need power/control connections
  • Potential Loconet issues
There were a couple of bad order cars that were removed, but that isn't something outside the norm from an operating session.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Sad News - Keith Stillman has passed away

Keith Stillman passed away January 18th. Keith was the Superintendent of the Easton and Potomac. His railroad was the leader in the Richmond area for prototype, TT&TO operations.

I didn't know it then, but that was a turning point in my approach to the hobby. 

Keith was the person that introduced me to true operation of model railroads. Up until that point, I would certainly "play train" but it didn't occur to me that there was a way to approach the play with an amount of rigor that made the challenge have excellent replay value. 

I met Keith now over 10 years ago via the local hobby shop, which itself has passed into history. Keith's name and email address was given to me from the gentlemen at Chesterfield Hobbies as one of the local "train guys" that was very active in the hobby.

I had been living in town about a year or so and had started finishing the basement in the previous house for the construction of a railroad. (Which ended up being Richmond Terminal version 1). It seemed like a good idea to make contact with other modelers, so I sent him an email.

Keith attended the first work session ever held on version 1, and pointed out a design mistake during our work session. I had a S curve that was spaced poorly and he mentioned checking out the John Armstrong book for options on fixing that sort of track arrangement.That was the beginning, but certainly not the end of the mentoring. 

I would see what he had done with the E&P and then sought to figure out how I could do that on my own layout since he had solved a novel problem or I could learn from his experience.

Keith dispatched the RTRRv1 a couple of times as well as filling other slots. He approached operations seriously, but didn't let that take the humor out of the situation. 

He never let a good opportunity to make fun of us "train nuts" and himself, by extension, go to waste. 

He set the standard for documenting a railroad, even with his frequent complaint that model railroaders can't read.

We lost a craftsman, an author and a contributor to the progress of the hobby with his passing. I am indebted to Keith more than I can put into a couple of paragraphs and I expect that I'm not alone in reflecting on his impact.

Keith dispatching V1 before I moved the DS office under the stairs.

Status Update

First operating session was held in December on Pearl Harbor Day, 2019.

Broken stuff was found and a long list of fixes was written.

I didn't give up and take up model airplanes as a hobby, so that's positive.

I am sifting through something like 500 plus pictures so I can add some more content to the blog. Please bear with me a bit here.