Back On Track…

Yup, I’m back on track. OK, enough with the stupid puns, I promise. I was able to get back out to the garage and get the plywood cut for the subroadbed  curve around the end of the peninsula. How was this possible? I was finally able to get  rid of the Candy Cart. Insert happy dance here. With it out of the way I have room to get things done now.

The cart went away around the end of October. With it gone I shifted into high gear. My goal was to have track in and wired on the upper deck up to and including the upper reverse loop by Thanksgiving. That way I could orbit a couple of trains. My family loves to see the layout and to see the trains run. However, watching a train run to the end of the finished track and stop just doesn’t cut it. I have learned that unless you’re into model railroading  you want to see trains running. Even if it’s a big circle.

With that in mind I got to work. I installed the curve around the end of the peninsula and the plywood for what will be “Interstate Junction”. Side note, I will have a post in the near future explaining the “Junction”.

Upper mainline around peninsula end in place.

Laying out the “Junction” required working out the return loop first. How the return loop lies determines where the track cuts off the mainline.

As I had mentioned before, the return loop crosses the mainline as it comes out of the helix. So that is where I started.

Upper helix lead. Return will crossover here and hide entrance to helix.
Laying out return loop.

With this laid out I added the support structure for the return loop subroadbed.

Planned bridge scene that will hide helix entrance.
Return loop over helix started.
Longer view of return loop entrance over helix.

The plan was for the loop to meet back up just past the bridge to head back out to the mainline. However I had clearance problems. The return loop ended up climbing a bit over the end of the helix. I had to run the loop down the other side of the divider before meeting back up.

Working on the return loop exit from over helix.
Laminating the subroadbed for the return loop exit.

Once I had this part laid out I went back and laid out the mainline track work and where the loop branched off.

Working from the junction to the return loop.
Approach track from junction to bridge scene.

And then it was just a matter of piecing everything together. Once done I started adding the cork roadbed.

Working on the track placement for Interstate Junction.
Cork in place and ready for track.

After the cork was in place it was on to the track and wiring.

Track in place for Interstate Yard.
Alternate view of junction.
Closer view of “The Junction”.
Track work in place for return loop.

I have kept all grades (the amount of rise or fall of the track) to 2% or less. Because of the climb over the end of the helix, the return loop drop is closer to 3%. I don’t see this as a problem because trains are traveling counter clockwise and the 3% is downhill.

Anyways… once the track was in and wired it was time.

First train headed into upper return loop.
Around and over upper helix lead.
And back out of the loop.

I was thrilled to have gotten this done. It has been a long time goal and now I’m there. Of coarse it was not problem free. When I wired in the lower return loop with the Digitrax (digitrax.com) AR-1, the return loop worked flawlessly. With the second wired into the upper loop I now have a problem. The first train entering each return loop (upper and lower) trips a breaker, pauses and then goes on. After that no more problems. Only thing at this time I can think of is to tweak the trip current on the AR-1’s.

AND this was all done Thanksgiving Eve. Trains ran beautifully on the big day.

With this done, I’m now able to let the trains run. Where this is important is getting all the engines out and running. They’ve been in storage for way to long. I’ll be able to see which are fine and which will need some TLC.

And that’s it for now. Till later…

 

 

 

Takin’ It To The Streets…

As I had mentioned in my last post I wanted to keep going with the basic scenery. In order to do this I had to get the streets in Jackson in place. In the past my streets were simply styrene plastic painted and weathered. I decided to take it up a step.

One of my sources of inspiration is Model Railroader’s Video Plus(mrv.trains.com). And one of their contributors is a personal favorite. Fellow Twin Citian, Gerry Leone. Gerry is a long time contributor to Model Railroader and now MRVP. His Bona Vista Railroad has been featured many times in the magazine. Anyways, one of the videos he has done is a two part series on making roads.

The main difference between the way I had been doing it and Gerry’s method is that he glues 100 grit sandpaper to the styrene. The end result is that you have a very nicely textured surface when done. If you would like an in depth description of the process I would suggest watching the videos, otherwise I will do a quick recap with pictures.

I was adding two streets to the scene. Both ran from the front to the back. Because of their location, both streets cross five tracks. The first thing to do was to install Blair Line (blairline.com) wood grade crossings.

Getting ready to build a road. timber crossings in place.
The street prep for the main street crossing in Jackson.

After they were in place it was a matter of cutting the styrene road pieces to fit in between. I had to add styrene strips to the back to bring them to the proper height.

After that work progressed in the following order:

Primed the sections. Airbrushed the base asphalt color (Tamiya – Medium Grey). Airbrushed a lighter grey for contrast. Masked and then added center stripes. Added cracks with a fine point Sharpie. Added a little more weathering and then installed. In the pictures below you will notice that I had mounted the sections in order with proper spacing on a piece of cardboard. This was done so that all weathering / striping / whatever remained consistent.

Backside of the asphalt sections showing the spacers to get the to the proper height. All number so that I don’t screw them up.
The asphalt sections. Styrene plastic with 100 grit sandpaper glued to it. Painted.
Close up of the asphalt sections. The texture does resemble a older tar road.
Dry brushed a little white on to the street to pick up some highlighting of the grain.
The street sections glued down in proper order with correct spacing. Final asphalt color applied.
Center stripes masked off.
Dry brushed on white paint for the stripes.
Center stripes painted. This is why the proper spacing.
Adding the patching for cracks.
Last step before installation. Adding various weathering colors.
And the street in place.
Jackson Main street in place.

Also while I was at it I finished the streets in New Brighton.

Also finished the streets in New Brighton.
A closer view of New Brighton streets finished.

A side note. The patches on the streets are for real. The masking tape lifted some of the paint. Instead of trying to match the paint I used darker grey to give the look of a fresh patch.

That’s it for now. Next time we’ll get back on track.

Til then…

 

 

Keeping Busy…

After the track was painted and the tops of the rails wiped down, it was back to the actual base scenery.

And the base scenery was all I am trying to accomplish at this point. What started this was wanting to keep busy and get things done that moved things forward. To this end I had got out episode one of Model Railroaders Dream, Plan, Build DVD series. I had subscribed to it when it first came out, which was while a was building my last layout. The first disc arrived just as I was putting the backdrop up. And one of the instructional pieces was backdrop painting.

My initial plan was to paint the backdrop on this layout first and then add ground cover. When I watched the video, they had the ground cover down so that they could match the background color to it. And that is why we are at where we are at.

I had stopped by one of the big box stores and hit their “oops” paint section. I was looking for a brownish or a brownish green color to cover the white plaster. Found a quart can of a light brown for a couple of bucks. Perfect. The guy working the department walked buy and asked if I needed help. Told him no, that I had found what I wanted. He looked at the can in my hand and said “that is some cheap paint”. I looked back and asked “you mean the price or the paint?”. He just said “Yup”, and turned and walked away.

Well, he was right. If I was trying to paint a room with the stuff, I would have shot myself by now. but since it’s for the layout it’s fine. As you can see in the pictures, the white plaster is barely covered. This is with several coats of paint. Again, for what I’m using for, it works.

The plaster in with a base coat of paint. Better sense of what it will look like done.
Plaster landform with a base coat of paint.

With the paint down it was on to the base ground cover. My method for this is simple, spread white glue with a brush, hit it with the various ground covers and let it dry. Then vacuum off the excess.

View down the berm scene with the first layer of ground cover on.
working on the first layer of ground cover with a little inspiration in the form of a picture of a finished scene.
The first layer of ground cover extended around the corner.

As you can see I didn’t finish the yards around the houses yet. I had planned on dirt driveways but think I may need to go back in and add asphalt driveways before the grass goes in.

Even the base layer is a huge improvement, so I decided to carry it all the way through the town. So I have to get the rest of the plaster base down. Which means I will have  to get the roads done first.

And that is where we will pick up next time.

Till then, take care…

 

October Update…

Hello and welcome to this, my October Update. Life has been pretty crazy since I last caught you up as to what I had accomplished on the layout. I’ve been really busy with a variety of things, but still have had time here and there to work on things downstairs.

After finishing the switch project and not having had a chance to cut the curved sub roadbed pieces, I looked around at “what’s next”. What I came up with was… back to scenery.

As you may recall, possibly not as it was a year ago, I had started some plaster work between the berm scene and Jackson. I had put in the landform and one coat of plaster cloth. So the first thing was to put a finishing layer of plaster down. Like I said, I’m pretty old school.

The start of scenery, first coat of plaster.
Plaster coat around the corner.
And the river scene is plastered.

As you can see in the first photo, I had put in foundations for the houses before the plaster.

Next step was to paint the track. On one of the forums a guy had pictures of switch point masks that he had 3D printed. Looking at the picture, they were pretty straight forward. So I made a set out of styrene strip and tubing.

Track painting switch point masks.

And yes, I have a left and right for the closure rails. It’s because of the outside rail divergence. Anyways the masks in place:

Switch point masks in place before track painting.

And after the coat of paint:

The track painted, masks still in place.

The finished product with the masks removed:

Painting masks pulled, will need to come in with a paint brush and touch up.

After this I just come in with a paint brush and touch up the places that need it. All in all they work great, paint one area, pull them and use them again. The color I’m using is Model Master (testors.com)acrylic – Railroad Tie Brown #4885. I then hit the rails with Woodland Scenics (woodlandscenics.com) Tidy Track paint marker “rusty rails”, part # TT4581. I had tried Testors CreateFX Rail Brown paint marker and though it’s a great rail color, it is too close to the tie color.

And for now this is where I’ll leave you. Back soon with a further update.

Till then, thanks for following along…

Switch Machines Pt. 3 …

Since I have the switch machines installed, wired up and programmed I thought I was set. Using my new found power to throw switches on demand, I was feeling pretty good about all the crawling around underneath the layout hooking them up. Went to grab another local freight from the staging yard and found I had a problem.

Digitrax’s (digitrax.com) DT throttles are full function. Their UT (utility) throttles are not. Which means that an operator, usually the yard operators, are unable to throw a switch from their throttles. Not  wanting to scrap the UT throttles and replace them with DTs (hello, they are expensive) I was going to have to do something.

Turns out that “something” isn’t that difficult.

My plan has been to use the fascia as a “kind of” control panel. Like I had done  with the staging yard, the towns will be laid out with striping tape. White for the main lines and the sidings in yellow. Industries will have their names and car capacities labeled. The number for the switches would also be by the turnout. Also kicked around adding LEDs for turnout indication.

The plan was to do this as time permitted. But the need for a way to control the turnouts locally moved the project front and center. In addition to the above I added a momentary push button switch to the panel at each turnout location. The DS 64s have additional input capabilities for just this situation.

Of coarse this meant pulling more wires. but one does what needs to be done. And actually with the roll around wire rack this really isn’t work, just time consuming.

The solution in pictures:

Fascia with industry labeled. Track capacity number is also on the fascia.
Fascia with the switch numbers in place. Holes for push buttons and LED indicators.
Fascia going in place, push buttons and LEDs installed.
Fascia in place.

Don’t have a shot of them lit up (the LEDS, not me), but I will try and get one for the future. The LEDs are powered through the DS 64 and the red (for a thrown turnout) is not as bright as I would like, but the green is. And when you are rolling through town with a hot freight green is what you’re looking for. If I wanted to as a future project, I could rewire the LEDs through the extra contact points on the switch machines, but for right now they are fine.

So Jackson has it’s switch machines in place with control from either the throttle or the fascia. For right now its a lot of fun switching the town, though I’m sure that it wear off after a bit. Which is a bit sad.

For now that’s it, next time we switch gears again. Till then Happy Modelling…

 

 

 

Switch Machines Pt. 2…

Having installed the switch machines, it was now time to add power and control. As I had mentioned before, on the last layout I only used the DCC system for locomotive control. When I started  this layout I was determined to use more of is capabilities.  That means the switch machines will be controlled from the throttles as you walk around.

So to do that meant the installation of Digitrax’s (digitrax.com) DS 64 stationary decoders. Not a big deal, as I was collecting switch machines I was also collecting DS 64s. They are mounted in the electrical cabinet (if it’s electronic , it’s in the electrical cabinets), the initial question was how. If I mounted them on the back or side wall, access for wiring, programming and maintenance would be a hassle.

The solution (and my original plan that I wasn’t sure would work) was slide out panels. That way I could pull the panel out and sit in the aisle to wire or whatever.

I cut the panels  (I made two) to size. Using templates of the DS 64s I laid out placement. Then added in where the wire runs would be and added in cable holders.

Laying out the panel.
Laying out the panel with decoder location and wire looms in place.
Panel for the switch stationary decoders ready for the DS 64’s. All mounting holes for the decoders and wiring looms are drilled, with the decoders numbered for switches controlled.

I then mounted the DS 64s and the wire looms and they were ready to slide into place.

First set of DS 64’s mounted on panel and ready for the layout.

Once in place it was a matter of pulling the wires and then the long process of hooking them up.

DS 64’s mounted and panels slid into place.
The DS 64’s mounted with the wires pulled and ready to be hooked up.
First set of DS 64’s in and wired, ready to be powered up and programmed.

With that done it was it was time to start programming the decoders. I had watched the video from Digitrax several times. Though it looked straight forward, I figured that meant that it wasn’t. Turns out it actually is as simple as Digitrax says it is.  With the switch motors wired and programmed I went around to make sure they all worked properly. A couple of them were working opposite of what they were supposed to be doing. It was a simple matter of reversing the wires to set that straight.

Now, you would think that this was the end of this story. Turns out there is more.

Next time the saga continues, till then… Happy Modeling…

 

 

 

 

 

Switching it up…

When I last left you, this is where I was at…

And on to the end of the line.

I had reached the upper deck and had enough plywood for the first “town” area after the helix. Like I had said this isn’t necessarily a town as it will be a sawmill scene with a hint of a town. The plan was to keep moving on with the track work on the upper deck.

Well, I have the plywood for the subroadbed, but no space to cut it. My daughter and her husband are kind of in between homes and there is a lot of furniture in the garage. I’m able to squeak a car into our 3 car garage. This has been the case since early May.

Wanting to move forward I decided to start installing switch motors. Seemed like something that would be relaxing, easy and fulfilling. I have been slowly collecting them and have 19 Tortoise switch motors (www.circuitron.com) on hand. Along with 3 Digitrax (www.digitrax.com) DS 64s.

Originally my plan was to start at the staging yards and just keep moving around the layout. However without a finalized plan for the New Brighton yard I decided to skip it and start at the berm scene.

First thing to do was to wire them up. I was originally going to use Acculite snaps (www.acculites.com) to hook up the Tortoises. Instead, I have a bunch of CAT 5 cable on which has 4 pairs of wire. Works out great as there are 8 wire hookups on the switch motors. The thought is that they are all wired if I wish to use the contact points in the future.

Anyways, got the CAT 5 cut and stripped. Then started soldering production line fashion. Made sure all terminals strips wired the same. I also made sure to note the order in the “Book Of Standards”.

One of the first nineteen switch motors wired up.
Switch motor wiring using CAT 5 cable.

And after a couple of evenings they were set to install.

First 19 switch motors wired up and ready to be installed on layout.

Just a side note. I have noticed when the “Experts” talk about building a multi deck layout, they say that you should start with the upper deck. The reason being that by installing the upper deck first it will be easier to wire the upper deck. After crawling around the lower deck installing these I would disagree. The lower deck is to low to sit in a chair and wire and just a little to high to lay on the ground. Where as the upper deck is about 4 1/2 feet off the ground. Easy to reach in and install and wire these puppies up.

Anyways, got them installed. But nothing to hook them to. So it was time to start pulling wire from the electrical cabinet to the switch locations. For crossovers I used two Tortoises instead of using Circuitrons Remote Tortoise Mount to drive both switch points. Even Circuitron acknowledges that cost wise it’s not much different, but it’s easier to use two tortoises.

Got the wires pulled and the switch motors hooked up.

Switch motors going in and wired.

Then it was time to get the DS 64’s in.

Next time the journey continues. Til then, Happy Railroading…

 

Hello From Your Absentee Writer…

Hello, it’s you absentee web host welcoming himself back to his website. I have to apologize for the long absence and I will not insult you by offering excuses, I’ll just say I’m sorry.

Ok, not to insult you , but maybe an excuse or two.

When I last left you, which would have been the end of March, I had finally reached the upper deck. Having done so, I then had to work through a couple of electrical problems. After that post not much happened downstairs as I went into full work mode, gotta pay the bills. Big trade show mid April, so there was a week or so of prep and then ten glorious days in New York. We got home on the 17th of April, two days after a rare April blizzard. Less than two weeks later and the house was closed up again with the A/C running.

Somewhere I read that spring and model railroading doesn’t mix. Well, we blew right past spring and into any early summer with all the outdoor work that it entails.

And then towards the end of May my son and his family had to move a second time in less than 8 months for work. This time from Phoenix to Kansas City. My wife and I drove down to help them unpack and settle in. Back to my son in a minute.

This isn’t to say that nothing has gotten done on the layout. Quite the contrary. I have been working on several projects around the layout and will be updating you on all of it in the very near future. The problem goes back to the picture file upload limits. If I couldn’t get pictures in to show you what’s happening, then it just wasn’t any fun to write. I sat down here many times and just couldn’t do it.

Which brings me back to my son. Yep, he’s my IT guy and once they were settled he was able to fix the problem. Now I have to get all the photos loaded so that I can get you caught up on what has happened on the layout.

Till then, thanks for your patience…

 

And I’m Back…

I am back, limping along, but back. Haven’t heard yet as to what happened with the picture thing or when it will be resolved, but I have come up with a work around for now. I am now using the camera on my phone, although some of those pictures are to big to upload. Anyways, good enough for an update although I don’t think the picture quality is as good.

As I had mentioned in my last post I have finally reached the upper deck(insert trumpets blaring or a chorus of angels). As I laid the track onto the upper deck into what will be a hint of a town, but mainly a sawmill scene, I realized that I needed electrical support. Which means I started pulling new buss wires for the upper deck. Which in turn means I had to wire new a terminal block in the electrical cabinet as the upper deck is on a different booster/PM42. Did that and then the big moment came, I ran the first train up the helix and onto the upper deck and…

Electrical Gremlin #1…

The train hit the gap between the top of the helix/lower level booster/1st PM42 and the upper level booster/2nd PM42 and everything shorted out. The breaker kicked in, cleared and then clicked out again, rinse and repeat. I quickly pulled the engine off the layout to stop the shorting and then shut everything down.

Before we proceed , a picture of the completed helix and the dreaded “gap”,

Wide view of the entire helix.
The top of the helix and also the junction of the two DCC boosters.

 

I then started the arduous task of tracing all of the wiring to see where I had screwed up. Finding nothing that was wired incorrectly, I turned to “The Google” . After several attempts, I finally hit the right combination of words and got the answer I was looking for. It was a service bulletin from Digitrax (digitrax.com)  (not sure if Digitrax calls them service bulletins, but, oh well). Turns out that the polarity on Digitrax boosters are not always internally wired the same. WTF!!! Their fix is to simply flip the wires to Track A and Track B on one of the boosters. HUH. You would think that a company would have something like this pretty much down pat. So, fighting everything I know and grew up with (remember my Father the Electrical Engineer/Rocket Scientist) I flipped the wires on one of the boosters and tried again.

The command station and booster rewired to eliminate shorts.

And viola! The train ran up the helix, through the gap and up onto the upper level, no problem.

First train up the helix.
And on to the end of the line.

I breathed a sign of relief. And then it hit me, if everything was working right, why didn’t just the helix shut down?  Why did the whole lower level go dark?

Electrical Gremlin #2…

 

Looking over the PM42’s I realized that they have five LED’s, four red to show which section has shorted and a green to show power on. Nothing was lit. So I grabbed the multimeter and checked the PS 12 power supply and it was showing it supplying .03 volts. That’s a problem. I headed on over to the LHS as I know there were always a couple in stock. They were out of stock, turns out someone had come in the day before and bought both. I had Bill order a couple for me. This is late Wednesday and I picked them up Saturday morning. Can’t complain about that type of service.

I had originally wired both of the boards to one power supply, however the new setup is each board has it’s own supply. Got them wired to the boards, plugged them in and I had one board lit and the other one wasn’t. The one that wasn’t lighting up was the older of the two from my last layout. Not sure if the problem was with the board or with something in the wiring of the edge connector, I turned of the power and pulled the board out. Power back on and the light on the new PS14 wouldn’t light, meaning there must be a short in the connector wiring.

Normally I would have then checked the wiring on the edge connector. However, if you remember back when I installed them they are a little buried behind cabinets and under bench work.

Below is a photo taken when they were installed. There is now bench work above this.

View of the connectors installed. A rather tight space.

Also in that post I had mentioned that although I only needed two connectors I had wired up four in case of future expansion or should I have a problem with one I was using. Turns out that was time well spent.

So I changed over  the wiring in the cabinet, plugged in the board and turned on the power…

PM42’s now properly wired and working.

As much as I hate having to go back and rework things, I am happy with the way everything turned out.

Next up, wiring headaches continued.

Till then, Happy Railroading…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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