Thursday, 20 November 2014

Toilet Paper Scenery Base:

Yes, you read correctly. Here is a story and pictures of using common old white (hypogenic of course) toilet paper as a scenery base.
In the past newspaper or similar material like paper towels soaked in four and water paste, or other glue, placed over a chicken wire or cardboard stringer frame was a common method of forming hills. This has given way to styrofoam carved hills which are then covered in a topping coat material to provide a base. 
I like the styrofoam method. It is light, easily glued together, and with a hot wire easily shaped. Good quality styrofoam also cuts well with a box cutter knife. Don't try this with the cheap packaging styrofoam or you will have small bits everywhere. On top of the styrofoam I use "Top Coat" a plasterers mixture to smooth "gyprock" walls. You can buy it ready mixed as a paste and it lasts a year or so, or in powder form to mix yourself with water.
Now back to the topic: Toilet paper. I got the idea from Rob Peterson an NMRA member and Hills Model Railroad member. They built their portable N Scale module layout using toilet paper scenery base.
In summary you place the toilet paper over the area you want and brush on 2:1 or 3:1 white glue. The end result is a stiff base to add additional scenery to or just paint as the texture shows through.
Here is how I used it.
Here is a picture of my experimental area where I had built up a rough base of styrofoam and in one section used "Top Coat" over the foam. The top coat is in the foreground and the unfinished foam at the back with some rock mould casually placed to see the effect. Note the quality roll on the left.
 Here are the ingredients in place. I tore up a piece of paper about the right size and put it in place.
 Next step was to brush on 2:1 white glue to hold the paper down. Start at the top so the paper holds and the glue flows down the paper.  I used a cheap 2 inch brush – about a $1 from the Dollar shop. The white glue was mixed in an old 500ml. white glue bottle and squirted into a milk bottle bottom I used to hold it to brush onto the paper.  The plastic milk bottle is easy and cheap – just cut it about 75mm from the base and you have a good dispenser.
Layer the paper so you end up with a few thicknesses. A single sheet is not sufficient strength unless it is on top of foam.

 Here is the section almost finished. In some sections I squashed up the paper and soaked it in position. You can do this to fill in behind the rock moulds, or the create further small hills. I am satisfied with the result. Now I will paint the rock and base of the hills, and add layers of scenery to give it a western USA feel. You can see the results in future blogs.
Where the paper spans an area I have found once dry it is a firm base but not sufficient to insert trees etc. So I still use the "Top Coat" plaster over the toilet paper base.

You will note I did not mask the track and I was running my trains as I worked. This is probably not best practice but it worked. The brush and paper method is relatively clean and accurate as long as you are not reaching a long way across the layout.
Please no puns on my efforts!!!
 Here comes Amtrak through a cutting and future tunnel which will get the same scenery treatment - soaked toilet paper or hand towels and Top Coat over the top once dry to creat a very stable and light weight scenery base. .

Monday, 17 November 2014

DCC Wiring Experiences: September 2014 - January 2016.

Well we now have the staging completed, mainline track to Gleeville and Summit running. There is also track around the mountains - supported by the spline roadbed.
Here are some photos of the track and trains running, including the sound equipped Kato Mikado.
This will be the entrance to Summit across a bridge.

This is a bigger view of Summit where there will be a gravel mine and loader. If you look closely there is some complicated track work behind the diesel, including a crossing - all switched successfully by the Tam Valley Frogjuicer.


Here is a mock up of the mountain area where I plan to install a Central Valley bridge over a large ravine.

This is the exit of Summit. Eventually the highway will cross the tracks here and head down to the gravel pits and mine in Summit.

Trains ran well when supported directly from the Power Booster, but I wanted to put in a block detector. The staging tracks, which are a return loop circuit are on a separate booster and controlled by an NCE EB1 Isolation Circuit. They have tested and run well. When I added the NCE EB3 Power District Isolation Circuits between the Booster and the tracks, I started getting shorts. I had planned the Gleeville and Summit area as an isolated section protected by the NCE Power Distrist Isolation circuit. Isolating the problem involved several calls and visits to the hobby shop, and much testing. Here are some of my lessons learnt over the last few weeks. Interestingly most of the lessons were known before I started but I skipped some checks much to my avail.
Also Gary Spencer-Salt, the Australian NCE distributor at Model Railroad Craftsman,  has been excellent in support. 

Checking Switches

In previous blogs I described how I made the Peco Electrofrog switches more DCC friendly. I isolated the frog by cutting the frog rails below the frog with a micro saw. I then filled this gap with plastic  strip held in with Super Glue. When dry the plastic was carved to match the rail. Later it will be painted. I also connected wires from the outside rails to the stock rails. 
One thing I failed to do with the first few switches was to check all the soldering to ensure good connections. I found several solder joints that were not electrically connected. Whoops - a big NO NO.
Also I discovered one isolated frog that was not isolated. The gap had plastic to isolate the joint but some metal had found it's way in as well. Whoops again.
So part of the production process must include electrically checking everything. Also remember to move the switch and check the electrical isolation and connection. I use a simple circuit with buzzer and 9 volt battery to check for open circuits. It takes only a few minutes but can save hours of work and re-doing later on. You can use any multimeter or similar to check all the connections before leaving the workbench.

After a few weeks one of my switches started faulting / shorting on one direction only. It worked perfectly before installing and for the first few weeks. I removed the switch and re tested it. The wire from the frog had become bare or was already bare and pressure on the switch from cleaning had forced the bare wire to touch one stock rail. This was rectified but alerted me to another issue to watch out for.
One lesson is to NOT solder the switches to the other track, so it is "easy" to remove a switch in the future if required.

Short Circuit Tester

Most user forums and DCC blogs (e.g. Alan Gartner's Wiring for DCC is one of the best) recommend building a simple buzzer driver by a 9 volt battery to test for shorts. This is a MUST! 
However also you must:
  1. not have the bus wires connected to the booster at this stage or you will get a short signal.
  2. not have any locomotive on the track or that will also send a signal back.
  3. Not have the Frogjuicers connected at this stage.
Also use this tester as you connect every power feeder to the bus wires. As you connect if one wire is connected the wrong way or shorts some other way (e.g. touches a bare bus wire) the buzzer will sound.

Power District Isolation Circuits

Unless you have a small layout you need separate circuits (separate power districts). If you do not then any short circuit will bring down the entire layout. Power Isolation circuits enable a short to occur and only affect that district. If the short was due to a metal object across the lines and you then remove it the power district controller should right itself again.
I have 7 main power districts all controlled by circuits. There are easy to set up. Separate bus wires goes from each of the 7 circuits around the layout. All are different colours to ensure no foreign connections. 
You can substitute an automotive light bulb instead of the Power District circuit breaker and save money.
The Gleeville and Summit area of the layout is the farthest from the Control Unit and Booster so there is a long (about 9 meter) bus running to the area which is then split off into three sub buses. Running the Isolation Circuit back at the Power Booster / Controller continued to give shorts. So I experimented with twisting the 9 meters of bus wires and connecting the 3 section isolation circuit near Summit. This worked so I have purchased another 3 isolation circuit protections.
The NCE EB1 and EB3 Circuit Protectors are programable. You can program the trip time from the NCE controller. You can also change the trip current from 2amp all the way up to 6-8 amps. It is not recommended to go beyond 4amps. On two sections I have set the circuit to trip at 4amps. This is done with "shunts" on the EB1, EB3 boards.
Currently I have everything working so do not plan to make any further tuning of the circuits. However - who knows? One of the issues with DCC is there are more things to change and hence more things to complicate the overall flow of electricity, and signals.

Bus and Sub Bus Wiring

Even with 7 power circuits each circuit is a large section of the railroad with many switches and sections of track. If you plan to add signals later you need to sub divide the sections. I do plan to add signalling later.
Even if you don't plan to signal the layout it is advisable to sub divide the power districts into sub districts. You only need to create a sub bus across one of the bus wires. These sub buses can be protected with an automotive light globe which will light if there is a short.
The advantage of sub buses is the ability to isolate sections in the case of faults. It is advisable to make all connections between Boosters, Bus Isolation Circuits, and Sub Buses with screw terminals. Some folks recommend also adding switches in the circuit so you do not have to unscrew every time you are checking a circuit. I have done this and have 8 "on-off" switches on the fascia near each power district. If I get a short that does not reset immediately, I switch off just that district and turn it on again. This usually fixes the problem and I have not had to disconnect any leads. A good investment to install these on-off switches.
From the bus and sub bus to the track there are two proven ways to connect.
  1. Strip a section of the bus wire and wrap the track feeder to the bus. Once this works then solder that connection. I use a small motor mechanics gas lift stool on wheels to get under the layout shelves to solder. 
  2. Insulated Isolation Connectors are another way of joining wires. You need to get the right size for the wire you use. The connection is simple and quick by placing the connector over the wires and crimping the connector. 3M is a major supplier and auto suppliers and electronic suppliers (like Jaycar) also sell them.

The Programming track:

Here is the diagram to wire up the programming tack and switch.












I have two programming tracks. One is a long siding on the layout near the Command Station. The other is on the workbench. This latter has a DPDT switch to swap to my "SPROG" to use DecoderPro  etc. If you have more than a few locomotives in DCC get a Sprog and use DecoderPro. It helps speed matching and also stores all your locomotive specifics. So if for some reason - and it will happen, you lose the previous program for your locomotive you can download it easily. It also becomes an excellent asset list of your key investments.

Reverse loops:

I have two reverse loops plus the engine terminal / turntable which makes three. Following experiments with many products I have settled on Tam Valley Dual FrigJuicers as my controllers. They automate the reverse loop beautifully. 
One lesson I learnt the hard way is to make sure the reversing section on the layout is as long as the longest train. If part of the train is still on the main whilst the other end re-enters the main in the other direction you can get faults. I had to modify my track work in one section to fix this problem I created.

Summary:

DCC is terrific. It can also be frustrating if you cut corners. Use meters, or buzzers to test every connection and every switch at the workbench before installing. Also a RampMeter that measures track voltage has proved valuable. It will tell you the voltage everywhere on your track. In my case I had a faulty System /One Command station that was putting too much voltage onto the tracks and causing some of my early errors. It was 18 years old and replaced with a new NCE Command Station. 
After several months of running successfully,  the scenery and ballasting has happened across several areas. Here are today's pictures of the mountain area and Summit.

Summit from overpass road

Feather River bridge

Feather River Bridge

Overpass into Summit


November 2014 update:

The last month has been spent laying track and checking the track for "bumps" etc by running trains in all directions. I now have all the track laid except for the engine round house at Gleeville. This should be done in the next month.
All of the switches - some 70, are controlled by slide switches (DPDT) to switch the frog polarity and to control accessories like signal which I will install later. Fifty four of the switches are controlled by Tam Valley Frog Juicers. I plan to buy another "Hex Juicer" to bring the total controlled by these excellent electronic switches to 60.
Now I will start to bring out more of my loco's and carriages and put away a lot of the tools.
I am also planning operations and nearly ready for some operations, albeit in a simple form and on a non sceniced layout.
Here are some pictures: This is Beautown, a small country town with a branch to an old coal mine. Beautown has three tracks for storage and it is where the mainline goes from single to double track after exiting the mountain from Gleeville.. 
 Under the city I have 2 switches which are now controlled by mini servo's. The servo's are controlled by Tam Valley quad servo controllers. These make it very easy to manage the servo's. I have push buttons on the fascia for the two switches. Here is one of the servo's installed.
 Here is the base of the city at Leesville. The servo's and return tracks are underneath. There is access to all the tracks from below. Some of the city buildings from previous layouts are there to work out the streetscape.
 This is a view of Leesville with the city base in the background.
 This is the industrial area part of which will be a container terminal. There are 4 very long staging tracks here as well as some switching beyond the container (Intermodal)  area.
 I have also started forming up the mountain area. Here is the cutting in the middle of the mountains on the peninsula.
 Here is a view down a mountainous area. A lot of geography (land form) needs to be completed still.
 I have mocked up the highway at the end of Summit and will proceed to build that over the next few months. The highway bridge will be totally scratch built. In the background on the floor, you can see a gas lift red stool on wheels. This is very handy for wiring under the layout. Tools are left in the tray. I have two of these stools which cost less than $50.
I also intend over the next few weeks to invite colleagues to come over, help on the layout , or just offer advice.

Thursday, 9 October 2014


1st Full Circuit Completed: October 2014.

As of today a full circuit of the mainline plus the staging area are complete. In total this is about 75 meters (230 feet) of track. So, to travel the entire route at normal speed takes about 10 minutes. Once the towns and industries plus passing sidings, industry tracks etc are finished then a complete loop will occupy an operator nearly 30 minutes or more. The mainline will be double track in 75+% of the circuit but between these areas are single track which will force operators to wait for the line to clear. Today I have 4 wired hand held controllers (NCE T- Handles) and one NCE Radio Throttle. 
Thinking about operations is definitely a current challenge and I look forward to sharing the layout with many of you.
Here are some photos taken today:
All the structures and other background are temporary and not likely to be permanently fixed into their current positions. Also many of my structures are not suitable for a modern era western USA scene so will have to go to the eBay in the sky one day. 

This is Beautown:
 Here is an area that will be industrial - including a container terminal.
 Here is the Kato Mikado with sound at Gleeville.
 Here is the Mikado passing Kaye's Flour.
 The structures and background may be used somewhere but not here. Also the Dremel is work in progress. By the way the latest Dremel is terrific - much faster than others and easy / quick connect devices. The router attachments are first class and handy for opening holes for panels, switches etc.
 Here is what will be Leeville. Note the vertical metal bracket post. This fits nicely over N Scale track so is great for ensuring and aligning the track once laid on the caulk. Thanks Graeme Bull from NMRA Sydney group.
 Here are a couple of trains at Gleeville.
 At the northern end of Gleeville will be a 130 ft turntable and working area. I have kept a scrap metal dealer model from a previous layout.
 Here is Summit.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Spline Roadbed:

I had never tried spline construction for roadbed so decided to try it on the mountain section. This section is mainly single track with a short section going to double track. 
The web is a good source of ideas. So what did I do and what ideas and experiences can I share?
1. Masonite. 
There are many alternatives but I chose masonite. I used 4mm  thick masonite sheet and cut off 20mm strips with an electric circular saw. This was messy but progressed quickly. Wear goggles, and a mask to keep the dust from the lungs.
2. Risers:
I used the masonite to "draw" the eventual track position and mark where the risers were to go. The risers were clamped and levelled and once they were positioned they were screwed in place. 
3. First spline:
On each of the risers I inserted a nail that was longer once inserted than 20mm, so it rose above the spline. On one end where the spline started off some fixed baseboard I made a brace to attach the splines and inserted a nail to align the splines.
The first length of spline was test fitted to the risers and clamped in place against the nails in the risers. The next spline was laid out flat and covered in PVA white glue. This glue was spread with an old paint brush. Then this length was attached to the first spline and clamped about every 20cm. or so.




Here you can see the number of clamps required.



When finished the roadbed is probably glued to the risers but to be sure there is a stable base I screwed the spline to the risers. Start with a small drill hole slightly smaller than the screw and drill a countersink hole so the head of the screw finishes below the top to the spline roadbed.
You can see in the picture above that I used spline spacers on some areas.

The next stage is to sand the top of the splines ready to attach the cork roadbed. Sanding is difficult. No matter how careful I was to align the splines as I glued and clamped them the top of the spline roadbed is far from even. A plane did not work. Hand sanding was slow and laborious. I used a flat sheet planner but wished I had access to a planner.
Anyway the top was levelled and the cork roadbed attached with white glue as on the rest of the layout. Once dry the cork was sanded and checked for levels across the run of track. When happy i bevelled the cork edges and painted the cork before laying track.
Track was laid on the cork using coloured caulk spread thinly. Prior to caulking I laid out the track and drilled holes for the feeder wires / track connections to the bus. Remember I attach feeder wires to every section of track on the underside so there is no visible connection once installed.
Here are some shots of the first trains testing out the spline section.
 Eventually there will be a deep ravine and a Central Valley truss bridge on this section so I will have to cut of a small section of spline.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

August 24, 2014 Update.

Here are some photos of the progress.
The first train has run to "Gleeville". 
Graeme Bull and Mike Bartlett have both visited in the last week. Thanks guys - I need to organise myself so we can create a working session.
All the cork roadbed is in place - it still needs to be sanded and bevelled prior to track laying.
I have found the detailing of the switches to make them DCC friendly, very time consuming. Cutting the rails to isolate the frogs, wiring (soldering) jumpers and wiring to the frog takes some time.
I need advice on wiring and laying complex track elements. The issue is where to solder the power connectors? In some cases the switches are without power and I have had to jumper wires and solder them after the rails are glued down. Do I solder the joiners? Do I solder power leaves to the switches? 
Here is the first train at Gleeville.
 Here is the roadbed in place at Summit where I plan a gravel quarry and loading facility.
 Here is the exit from Summit where it will go to the spline roadbed through the mountains.
 Here is the city area around Leesville. You can see the staging tracks below almost hidden by the dark walls. The buildings are temporary to give some initial ideas.

June 2014 Status and Plans:

Late June I am off to the National N Scale Convention in Roanoke, Virginia. This 2 week break from activity in the train room and the long flights enables me to create a check list of the next stages and items I need to plan. Here are some of the challenges and my approach to solving, and planning to progress.

1. Wiring switches - live frogs etc.
I have decided to make all the frogs on the switches isolated. I have ordered a jewellers saw from Micro Mart and will use this to cut the rail just below the frog, and totally isolate the frog of the switch. I will also use Tam Valley Frog Juicers to switch the polarity of the frogs. These Frog Juicers are simple to use. You connect up the two bus wires and the single frog wire goes to the unit. My units will manage 6 switches (frogs) per unit. As the train identifies the wiring of the frog switch is incorrect it shorts and quickly reverse the polarity.
This method will be a little tedious isolating the frogs and wiring the point rail and stock rails to give continuous power, but once done I will not have any switch controllers or slide switches on the layout. All the switches will be manually controlled by the operator.
Of course if I was using Peco "Insufrog" switches I would not even have to worry about this. 

2. Track laying.
All track will be laid on cork.
All track will be wired with the wires soldered onto the underside of the rails before laying.
Track will be held down with coloured caulk. The caulk is applied from the caulk gun and I will spread it using a spatula so there is no fault squeezing up between the sleepers.
I will use metal straight edges (can I buy a 9mm long steel or aluminium straight edge?)
I will use a roller (like a wallpaper's small roller) to bed down the track.
The staging will be laid first and will be tested before progressing as some of this is hidden.

3. Block control.
Do I section some of the power districts?
I will have 4 power districts - each will be protected by their own circuits.
Sectioning power districts can make future signalling easier, but I can probably easily isolate track later if required. I will seek advice at the conference.
My plan is to section later as required.

4. Details of the layout.
    - reason for the existence ( trying not to clutter)
    - towns and track details.
    - industries - not all - align to reason to railroad etc.
    - can I be ruthless on selecting and deleting non period / area specific buildings? (not sure as I want a turntable)

5. Painted backdrops?
Most of the backdrop will be sky.
Gee I would love to photoshop a backdrop but do not have the skills or patience yet.
Some areas will have distant mountains.

6. Landscape - mountains, desert, hills - basic landform.
    - I think I have the basic skills but I need to be very specific with the Western USA scenery and colours. Dirt is yellow / brown. Scrubs are common. Pine trees exist. Forests are not common in desert areas.

7. Layout diagram:
I must get XTracCad and use it to show my layout and detail some of the specific industries.
Does it work on my Mac?

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

August Update:

Well a lot of activity has happened over the last month.
The staging tracks seem to test out OK (after a few sections were replaced).
So I progressed with developing the rest of the layout base. By this date (August 6, 2014) I had all that completed.
In terms of wiring the 4 sections I had decided on. the following colours for the bus wires.
1. Staging Bus wires - green and white.
2. Remote town and mining area: Black and Red Bus.
3. City and Approaching industry section: Black and Red.
4. Industrial and Small town area: Blue and white bus wire.

The two Red and Black bus wires are very separate and will be labelled so there is no confusion.
I also have tested the first two Tam Valley "Frog Juicers" that automatically reverse the polarity of the switch frogs when the switch is moved. 
I unpacked the last of my boxes of materials and structures that I had in storage over the last few years, and laid out many of the structures where they may go. 
I also did a reasonable amount of wiring. One lesson I learnt about wiring was to install junctions rather than have multiple separate lengths of wire. So from the power district controllers wires ran to junctions before leading the to layout. Where there was more than one set of lines leading out I used a junction and all the cables are connected with round end cable connectors soldered to the wire. These are then screwed to the junction creating a very secure connection but one that can easily be segmented by removing a connection for testing. This seems to be best practice wiring for a model railroad and it is worth the effort and cost to do it this way.
Here is a set of pictures updating you on progress.
This is the city area above staging.
 This is the city return loop.
 Here is the city and loop section before any track.
 Here is the remote town loop.

Note Mum on toilet.
 Risers and base.
 Risers before base installed. The base will be attached to the  horizontal riser support and screwed in place.
 Here is the Staging entrance pinned down into the caulk. Note the bus wiring underneath the tracks. The bus wires lead through small holes drilled in the risers.
A structure from a previous layout. Will I use it???
 The city area with some structures and the raised road in place. The structure are very temporary at this stage.
The end of the staging are and the junctions which will mostly be hidden tracks when scenery is completed. Note the background. It bends 90 degrees here but because it is curved the effect is more realistic.
Here is the 1st section of valence installed around the controllers.
 Here is the valence around the entrance to the staging area near the city area. Once I have painted the masonite and completed the valence the staging will be largely hidden but will still be accessible from above.