Sunday, December 31, 2023

December Op Session

 The December operating session went well, but it highlighted an issue with how I have done DCC block detection on the railroad.

We had 10 operators join us for the session and we were able to complete the entire schedule of trains for the first time ever.

The yard crew chats.

Engineer Mike is working crossroads. You can see the very nice RF&P power on his train.

Engineer Bryce is getting ready for a run while the traffic manager gets paperwork ready.

More photos can be found on the gallery at

Friday, December 8, 2023

Brightening Up the Space - Adding More Light

One of the downsides of having a large layout and the large room that goes with it, is that you end up with a bunch of model railroad to light up so you can see. Even with natural light coming from your windows (and thankfully, I have 4 windows plus 2 glass inset doors), it can be a challenge to get those back corners sufficiently bright.

Having task focused lighting while you are working on something is easy - bring over a flashlight/lantern/etc and done.

However, having enough lighting for operating and photography with or without the sun can be a challenge.

The builder installed a couple of pot lights around the room, but even with 125W bulbs, we couldn't even hit dive bar levels of illumination.

Check out the first lighting post I put together a few years back for some more information.

I had three areas that needed help - the staging room, the back corner behind the helix, and the area at South Doswell.

Staging room got a T fitting and then a 4' and an 8' track added. Moved some heads around, plus added another 4 of them. Have space to add some more if I think it needs it after I get used to the new level of light.

Staging yard. Note the heads off to the far right to help brighten up the yard throats.

South Doswell was lit by a combination of what was installed over Hamilton and on the peninsula end between there and XR.

Here, working from the original 4' track, I added another 4' track at an angle that looked good (using a flexible coupler) and then terminated in a 8' track running parallel to the track at South Doswell (and the crossover I installed there last year).

Trying to source the hardware all the same color is tough. As I don't care if it matches or not, you can see the mix and match effect.

The far back corner was one of the spots where I initially tested out the track light idea. I put the original 4' bar at an angle, thinking it would be enough.

Not even close, and having to add a bar inside the peninsulas meant it had to be removed and repositioned.

I added another L angle and tacked on another 4' bar. It is the bar in the back of this picture that is running side to side.

This corner is much better than before.

A few more shots can be found in the gallery at

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

A bit more staging

 Long time readers and RTRR operators are aware that the lower level (south) end staging yard is approximately 50% complete, with all the rails truncated at about half of the planned and intended length. The yard ladder for the other side is missing as well and the physical space has been used for storage of tools and supplies since the benchwork was completed last year.

This was done for a few reasons:

  • To get the layout operating with south end staging
  • Give some run time to focus on other tasks, such as signalling
  • Allow for more planning time for the last bridge needed
As we have a couple of trains that aren't run during a session due to staging space, I decided that I would start to extend the tracks a bit. I haven't committed to building the yard ladder yet, but that is going to be a next year project, once the days for working outside and cutting wood are numerous.

Here is a shot of this work, in progress.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Digitrax DT400 Series Encoder Repair

 During an op session earlier this year, a DT400 was turned in as defective.

The right hand throttle knob no longer had the push button functionality and that meant that going from one side to the other didn't work correctly. It seemingly was always pushed as well.

Digitrax no longer repairs the DT400 series throttles (or the UT4 series either, for that matter). Thankfully, the encoders themselves are still sold.

It takes some effort to get it apart, but replacing the encoder was straightforward.

The connection to the battery tabs broke, so I took the opportunity to install a snap connection.

This throttle is fixed and back in service.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Op Session November 12 2023

After a long break in operating sessions over the summer, I called another Sunday session in November.

The railroad ran well, but the signals require some additional tweaks. I wrote a list at the debrief and have been slowly working at it.

I did remember to snap a bunch of pictures for this session, so it was well documented.

The crew was:
Mike P
Mike B
Jonathan S
Dick M

Scott providing a pre-run briefing to Jonathan and Mike B.

Yard crew hard at work:

Yard paperwork:

Bryce had put together coal train that is almost 30 cars long and got his grandfather to put it on the schedule.

The head end is behind my left shoulder and the end is just about to hit the aisleway bridge at Doswell.

He had a couple of derailments and all the cars need resistor wheelsets installed. Going to have him to that himself so he has some more skin in the game.

Sunbeam is secure.

What do you mean I have to wait for trains before I go out?

More photos can be found on

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Adding an Interchange - Easton and Potomac at Brooke, VA

Interchanges on a model railroad have been termed "universal industries" as they could take any car type, from boxcars to flatcars to tankcars to gondolas to covered hoppers and anything else you might desire.

They also add some operating interest, as it can be a reason to have some foreign road power on your layout (assuming that is not common in your era; in the RTRR's era, foreign power is somewhat common as trailing units, due to the cab signaling requirements on the RF&P mainline), as well as a reason to signal a crossing.

Brooke, VA is a location in the real world. It is in Stafford County, south of Quantico and north of Hamilton, and is not all that far from the Potomac river. Today, there is a Virginia Railway Express (VRE) station in this general area.

The late Keith Stillman drove the Easton and Potomac's mainline through this area when he designed and built his layout, giving him an interchange with the RF&P, and allowing him to logically lengthen the run between Hood and Thorny Point by installing signals to protect the diamond crossing.

As an operator, you would hit a button to request permission to cross. A script ran on a computer under the layout and eventually would give you the light. It was random-ish, and more than a few engineers found themselves cooling their heels for many minutes waiting on the signal to go green.

As the Richmond Terminal goes through this area, I felt it appropriate to add an interchange to honor Keith and his railroad. I assumed that a few of the industries would still be going concerns, mostly in the Hood, Flat Top and Thorny Point areas. The steamships would be long gone by the 1990s, but I assumed that Thorny Point would develop a robust boat building industry for small pleasure and working craft, taking advantage of the sheltered location on a major river that fed into the Chesapeake Bay, and also pick up a few military and government contracts due to their proximity to DC. I assumed that Hood Brothers packing in Hood continued to go strong and continued to send refrigerator cars of pork products out to the larger world. The line all the way to White Hall wouldn't have survived, as it was mostly a bridge line at that point, as modeled, and as the railroads consolidated in the 1960s, it wouldn't have enough business to be a going concern, but the eastern end would survive as the E&P Short Line.

Now that I knew where it needed to go, I just needed to build it.

I tried a couple of different track layouts to make it fit. Originally, I planned to copy the layout from the E&P and put the interchange track on the NE quadrant of the crossing.

This would only give me a foot or two of interchange track, which might be 3 cars, if they are short. 

So, I had to take a bit of modeler's license and move it.

I added a crossover to help keep traffic moving, and give a train working the interchange a way to stay off at least 1 of the mainline tracks, while giving the dispatcher a way to work around it.

#8 RH Crossover; Fast Tracks quick stick ties out to help me gauge sizes and locations.

Once I way happy with the plan, I pulled up the mainline.

Note the perpendicular cork down for the location of the originally planned set of diamonds.

And the cork, since I needed to shift the main tracks.

Once I had centerlines marked, new cork was cut and glued, and I built the crossover and the interchange track TO on the bench.

Note the crossover leaned up on the backdrop.

I cut in the rest of the track and restored the main.

Last bit was that I needed a way to drive signals and the 3 turnout motors in this location. A Nucleo DevKit node was selected and installed.

The DevKit is an open source (hardware and software) Layout Command Control node. I have just under 10 installed on the layout and another 5 or so on the test bench. I will eventually put together a blog post about building the node, just have to find the motivation.

I am pleased to report that the interchange has served the recent operating sessions well and I hope to set the crossing signals up in the next few months.

More pictures can be found on the gallery at

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Let There Be Light! Brightening Up The Lower Deck

 One of the challenges of a multideck railroad is providing appropriate lighting.

You have overhangs and shadowing to grapple with, and whatever solution you select needs to fit into the space you have without potentially impacting the modeling area.

Thankfully for this layout, the stick on LED strip lights have become cheaper and more available, and the color of the light seems to be consistent across multiple lots of strips, which wasn't always the case.

I use a "daylight" strip, which is around the 5000K "temperature" of the overhead lighting source (in my case, LED bulbs in track light heads). Working to get the light to spread out evenly, while being mounted in as small an area as possible took me a couple of tries to figure out.

I started with a strip of aluminium bar. This did provide a bit of a heat sink, but it did not have the rigidity that I wanted. Note the "wavy" in this photo:

This brought me to using aluminium angle stock instead. My first though was just to use the angle stock to provide the solid mounting surface I wanted. After some testing, I realized that mounting the LED strip to the outsides of the L would give me a spread of light - letting some of the light hit the models directly, but also bouncing off the backdrop to light what would potentially be in shadow in the light was coming from straight overhead.

Note the light for Acca behind the front light.

I share the same 12V DC supply for these lights with the LCC nodes or accessory boards that require a dedicated DC supply. There are 3 of these supplies installed around the layout. I use an open frame supply that I recovered from old IT equipment that was being e-wasted and retired. Similar supplies are available commercially or offered by online auctions off of eBay for anywhere from $15 to $50. The supplies I have are set to give +5V, +12V, -5V and -12V DC. I only use the +12V rail.

LED strips only, no room lights.

More pictures in the gallery at

Monday, November 27, 2023

The NMRA 2023 Convention LDSig Tour, In Pictures

 Dallas in August is hot, but the layouts were cool.

Here is a sampling of the over 100 pictures I took.

See the rest of them at the Richmond Terminal Gallery- NMRA 2023 Album.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Backdrops, again

 During a work session a few years ago, the crew and I repositioned the backdrop on the upper level, on the inside of the XR & Hamilton peninsula.

As I had filled in screw holes and painted, it required a bit of deconstruction before we could move it down to eliminate a gap between the subroadbed's homasote, and the bottom edge of the backdrop.

We then refastened the backdrop and went along with the rest of the work session.

I came behind later, and filled in all the new screw head holes with joint compound and did a first pass of sanding once it dried.

I had left it like that for probably a year before I got sick of looking at it this past May, and finished the patching, and then painted.

This also gave me the opportunity to better blend the backdrops on this run with the backdrop that is on the turnback curve, as you can see to the left in the photo above.

I had also decided that I wanted the lighter sky color to go higher up, as the sky gets dark much farther above the horizon in real life than what I had originally painted.


A few more photos can be found on the Richmond Terminal Gallery.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Cleaning Track In a Photo

As I've mentioned on the blog and website previously, the Richmond Terminal has just under 10 scale miles of mainline track.

In general, it does not require much maintenance beyond a vacuum here and there, mostly to get any construction dust off.

I cut wood and homasote outside, but that doesn't stop having to drill pilot holes for screws to mount fascia or LCC nodes, install signals, etc. All that little stuff that requires a drill creates some dust.

After reading an article on Model Railroad Hobbyist about polar and non polar solvents, I decided to clean my track with "odorless" mineral spirits, instead of the normal isopropyl alcohol, as it turns out that isopropyl is a very polar solvent that will attract dirt and dust, whereas mineral spirits aren't all that polar and don't.

I started with a paint clean up rag. You can see the splash of brown in the center.

I promise the majority of the rag was white when I started.

I didn't scrub, I just rubbed this lightly across the track.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Operating Session Coming Up

The first operating session in 5 months is going to happen shortly.

Not much other stuff has been going on with the layout and I have been ignoring the blog.

Hopefully, as the holidays approach, I will be able to spend some time and add some content.

Please accept my apologies.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

June 2023 Operating Session

 June's session was better attended than May.

The crew was:

John V

Dick M

Mike P



I did not take a single picture, but Chase grabbed the camera and took some shots.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

May 2023 Operating Session

 Only took 1 photo this session; crew was small so I spent most of the session troubleshooting and trying to keep the railroad fluid.


John V

Ken M

Mike P

Saturday, April 1, 2023

March Operating Session

 March was the first session with the ABS signals running.

We found more than a few issues, but overall the system functioned.

This time, I did snap a few more photos than February, but I spent a bunch of time walking around and troubleshooting signals, so photos were a low priority.

Crew (from the book):

Bob S

Keith P

Dick M

Mike P

John V



Engineer Bryce getting an Amtrak regional parked in the northern staging.

Bob (foreground) and Keith (background) running.

John has just left the North Acca Control Point on his way over the railroad with what looks like a local.

A few more shots can be found at

Another created in November, backdated post.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

February Op Session

 The first operating session of 2023 was on February 11th, which was a Saturday.

We had a full crew. From the sign in book:

Cam G - Acca YM

Bob S

Mike P




I didn't snap too many photos, so here's two to keep this from being a text only post.

And yes, this was posted in November, but dated back to March.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Self Inflected Problems

During the last session, the crew switching Hamilton reported that 2 of the 4 turnouts were no longer moving when the button was hit.

Of course, it was 1 turnout per crossover, which made it even more inconvenient.

I use tortoise switch machines under the layout to move the points on anything and they are driven by a LCC node. Most of the turnouts are driven from the Nucleo DevKit nodes, which can be configured with different hardware options on port C (the dedicated tortoise port).

After looking at the node for Hamilton, I realized that I had pulled two of the driver ICs out.


Monday, January 2, 2023

Documenting the Layout - Map and Industry List

As a layout owner/builder, you know your layout way more in depth than you operating crews do.

One way to help your crews out are "job aids" which is a catch all for the various paperwork and references that you provide to them.

Before the last session in December, I created a line map of the railroad and a listing of the various industries on the railroad.

Here's the stack of them ready to be grabbed.