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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…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please Stand By…

Please stand by, if you’re old enough. you will recognize those three words as a problem with your viewing pleasure. If you’re not old enough, a quick explanation.

Back in the olden days when we only had three TV networks, the local station would occasionally have a problem with the feed from the network. Your screen would go blank and then those three words would pop up until the problem was fixed. Seconds, minutes or even hours (rare).

And that’s kind of where I’m at.

As you know from my last post there was a problem with the website, or the company hosting it. Though the basic problem was fixed in that the site is back up, I still have lingering problems. Mainly the size of the pictures files I can upload to it so that I can place them in posts. If you’ve been following along long enough you may remember I had run into this problem before, kind of. That time it was a new camera with a much larger sensor, thus larger picture files. Solution then was to continue to use the old camera.

This time when the site came back up it severely cut back on what could be uploaded to the hosting server. I do have a call into my IT dept. and my son is working on the problem. Just haven’t heard back yet as to the verdict.

So for now just words.

The good (great) news is that the railroad has reached the upper deck. I obviously would have liked to have pictures showing the historic moment. But I really couldn’t wait to share this moment until we got the picture thing worked out. As soon as I can, I will have the photos on here.

Of coarse as soon as the first train hit the upper deck the whole “mouse/cookie” thing reared it’s ugly head again. I am now in the process of running buss wires for the upper deck and all the other support structure that I had put in place on the lower deck so long ago and had not thought about for the upper deck.

I hope to have photos of what’s been going on soon. The world has become far to visual not to have them.

Until then, please bear with me. And “Please Stand By”…

 

Welcome back…

Welcome back, it’s been awhile. I’ll better you’re wondering if I’m speaking to you the reader or myself. I guess a little of both.

The last time I posted was almost a month and a half ago. I thought I would be back here sooner. January was a little crazy at first and then a couple of trips for work. Got home from those and then my wife and I slipped out of town for our anniversary for a couple of days. When I finally had a chance to get back to the site I logged onto a lot of things I didn’t understand, but I did understand two of them. A big red “WARNING” and “FATAL ERROR”. That and no website.

A quick text out to my IT dept. (my son, who set me up on this site and teaches coding and website design) did not yield a quick response. It took him awhile to get back to me and the response was: I’m not sure what happened, but it’s not something you did.

Thanks son, that I knew.

He finally got back to me with a lengthy explanation on what he did to get it back up and running. I was kind and let him talk although I didn’t understand as he sounded rather proud of fixing it. There was talk of “FTP”ing and hiding things and “skipping” something. All in all, what I might of heard was “I hacked my way in and fixed it”. Not sure though.

Any way if you had stopped by during the week and half that the site was down and still came back to see if it was still here – Thank You. I appreciate your staying with me and your patience.

I will have a new post in the next couple of days.

Again, Thank you for staying with me…

The Helix Continued…

I hope everyone is having a great Holiday Season. While I have been busy with family and work, I have had a chance to continue on the helix. Just not as much as I had hoped. I guess that’s the way it goes.

I did get the second ring of the helix installed. Tracks in and wired and successfully tested. Which leads to some thoughts on the way helixes are monitored.

This has been and continues to be one of the great divides on using a helix. Many will tell you that they would never use one for a couple of reasons. First, they are a tremendous real estate suck. Yes, yes they are. I have devoted about 30 square feet to mine. That’s a lot of space, especially if you are working in tight quarters. Fortunately I have the space.

The second is, you can’t see what’s going on and have no idea if the train is even moving.

My solution to that one.

One could just leave the helix open so that you could see what’s happening. My sense of aesthetic won’t allow me to have this great big monster hanging out in the open. I don’t know, maybe we should chalk it up to OCD.

My plan is the following. First the progress.

Second loop of helix in.

You can see above that both tracks end in the same place. Not something that happens when laying track with two different diameters. They were cut off together because this is the end of the first detection block. There will be a three over three signal at the entrance to the helix top and bottom. The upper signal head will show occupancy for the first section as the train navigates up or down. The lower the second section. The operator will have the visual cue of the signals so that they know there is movement.

If this isn’t enough, I have a two camera monitor that the operator can watch.

Monitor and cameras for the helix.

You can choose between the two cameras or have a split screen of both. The cameras will be placed (I hope) so that one can see the entire helix as well as the upper and lower return loops. Will see how that works out. I had picked this up at Lowes years ago on clearance. When I got it home and played with it I really liked it. Went back to get another but they were gone. The newer security systems are way too expensive (my opinion) for what I need. Mainly because they all have DVR’s built in. Don’t need a replay of the train in the helix.

Any ways, my solution to the problem.

I did get the third ring assembled and set into place.

Third loop set in place.

One thing that struck me was, with only two loops, it didn’t strike me as a helix. With the third in place it now “looks” like a helix.

Still have several family functions to attend through new years, so there won’t be much work done downstairs. After the 1st though I should be back at it.

Till then, Happy New Year…

 

Movin’ on up…

Got the helix started and we are movin’ on up to the second deck.

As I had left it last, I had all the curved roadbed pieces cut for the helix. As I was getting ready to assemble the first loop I realized that even if I got it put together I had no way to mount it. So back out to the garage to cut the vertical supports.

Originally I was going to have six sets of vertical supports. They would mate up with the with the joint in the roadbed pieces. I had a rather intricate plan for the vertical supports that would have been a lot more involved and labor intensive. Also I would have had to figure out how to a measure .667 inch rise between supports. I did the math and the fraction of an inch isn’t any better. So, I decided to have eight sets of supports, which meant that it would be a half an inch rise per support. A lot easier to figure out.

I than had to refigure the placement of the supports. Which presented the next hitch. One of the supports landed right in the middle of the reverse loop under the helix. Again, out to the garage to cut a piece to lift the support over the track.

The supports.

Vertical supports added for the helix.
Alternate view of the vertical supports in place.
Of course there is always a special case.

And then I was off and running. First I measured and cut off half of a curved section for my overlap. With that done it was a matter of gluing and screwing the pieces together till I had a complete circle.

Start of the first loop of the helix.
The staggered joint.
First loop complete.

Before I moved the finished ring to the layout I started the next loop so that the overlap would match up.

Also made the first section of the next loop so that the joint would match up.

Ah yes, moving the loop to the layout. I had assembled the loop at the end of the peninsula. The plan was to slip it into place on the Brandon side. Wouldn’t go. So around the layout and up and over the New Brighton street scene. Got it partially into place and then back around the layout and into the helix center where I wrestled it into place.

The next task was to join it to the other sub roadbed. My plan was not to use any cork roadbed to increase clearance. This meant an offset joint. While trying to figure out how to cut a piece 5mm thick for the offset, it occurred to me to just use a piece of cork sheet.

The loop in place with the joint plate connected.

Next I measured and mounted half of the loop, with the other half pulled high (you can see it in the picture above). This was so I could mount the first section of track where it was under the overlapping piece of the loop. I am using code 100 track in the helix. The reason is simple, I have a bunch of it sitting around from what I figure is about 25 years ago. Plus if I need more it’s cheaper than code 83. This meant a had to use transition pieces. They are from Walthers (walthers.com).   

Added the track to the area under the end of the loop while still accessible.

After that, permanently mounted the rest of the loop.

setting the rest of the loop in place.
The loop from the other side.

Next up was to add the track, wired in feeder wires and then the first train.

Successful run up the first part of the helix.

Now it’s back to the next loop. Keep you updated…