Friday, 11 December 2015

Realistic Rocks with Pumice Stone.

I enjoyed the article in the January 2016 Model Railroader by Kim Nipkow on “3 Ways for Realistic Rocks”, but wanted to add a 4th alternative: - Pumice stone.
Pumice is a very light aerated, porous volcanic rock often found washed up on beaches.
Figure 1 below gives some examples. These samples are about 1-2 inches (2-5 cm.) long.
Figure 1 - Pumice as collected from the beach

There are many samples of pumice that like charcoal in the January article look like real rocks and can be inserted into the scenery base as they come. Pumice can also be ground down and makes excellent “talis rocks”. I use a mortice and pestal to grind the pumice and produce my small tallis rocks.

Figure 2 - Let the grinding begin

Here is a picture of some completed scenery using pumice as well as rock moulds.
Figure 3- A dry creek bed using mainly ground pumice stone

Many of the rocks in Figure 4 are pumice stone or ground pumice.

Figure 4 - Completed scene using pumice rocks

In summary, if you have access to pumice it is a free and very light weight solution for rocks and small talis on your layout and complements other rock building techniques.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Operations Early Experiences: BNSF Down Under 

I have been a member of the NMRA Operations Special Interest Group for about 4-5 years. From being a "set them up and let them run" person I am slowly being converted to operating a model railroad with some purpose - almost like a real railroad might. Many of my colleagues across the world have also helped to get me more operations oriented. My layout was reviewed by some excellent members of the NMRA LDSIG who gave me some of the best professional advice - which included elements of designing the layout with Operations in mind.
Pinch Point single track through mountains

So at this stage I have the layout running - all track and wiring working, some scenery completed, and towns and specific industries identified. (Google for blogs, pictures and stories on the layout). But my only experience in operations has been on other people's layouts. All are different but all gave me ideas for my operations rules and schedules. 
Intermodal depot at rear, 4 track yard at front.
I decided up front that initially I would not have a card system with each freight car separately identified and worked to different locations  (I have over 30 DCC locomotives and well over 100 cars). Oh did I mention I am also in N Scale and this can make identifying cars harder than larger scales. What I would do is identify the many different trains set up: Amtrak, UP, and a local Budd passenger train that could run to a schedule or plan. I also had gravel trains that serviced a gravel mine, car carrying trains, double stack trains, grain trains, mixed freight, pulp wood trains etc. On several long flights (often to MR Conventions) I doodled potential reasons for the various trains to exist and what they would do across the layout. The layout has over 200 feet of mainline, which can take 10-20 minutes to circuit without switching cars. 
Fuel Depot at Leeville
So for example one of the container trains would:
  • leave Intermodal Yard heading east. 
  • pass under Leeville and through the residential and city areas.
  • Continue on mainline towards Summit.
  • Check single track is clear to proceed through the mountains before Summit.
  • At Summit use passing track and drop off one container at freight depot.
  • Use local switcher to move container car to depot.
  • Continue to main when track is clear. (with one less car).
  • Proceed to Gleeville.
  • Proceed to Beauville  once single track main through mountain is clear.
  • Proceed to HJ Yard and park in 1-4 track.
This sequence can be reversed and can include staging to reverse the train and add to the operation timetable. The above would take about 30 minutes. Then the operator could choose another train to run.
Summit Gravel Mine
So here I am at this stage and have used a local NMRA colleague as my "guinea pig" to test out issues. We have discovered several so here goes.
  1. There needs to be an overall introduction to the layout. We have several ways of throwing turnouts. There are servo's with fascia push buttons, there are DPDT slide switches, there is one "push pull", and the majority of turnouts are manually controlled with swizzle sticks. All turnouts are Peco Electrofrogs. 
  2. As part of the introduction the layout plan needs to be explained - where reversing loops are, where "pinch points" on the layout are where double track becomes single track and what to do when approaching that.
    Town of Summit
  3. The overall rules need to be set: I have created my own rules based on many operating sessions I have attended. For example Amtrak has priority (not real for USA West Coast so may change). Through freight like double stacks, grain trains have next priority, LCL or mixed freights are lower priority. Local switching comes last etc. Speed rules are also key. It is surprising how experienced operators can run switchers like an express train - in both directions with a load. So Amtrak can get to 80mph, but gravel trains and double stacks mostly run at about 40mph.  On open sections they may increase to say 60mph. Local freight runs at a similar speed.
  4. It is worth a 15-30 minute walk through of the above before every operating session.
  5. Harley freight Forwarding
    Operators may not know your DCC system. I use NCE, my friend uses Digitrax. I have different throttles: wireless T Bones, wireless dial throttles and non wired versions of all. An introduction to these units is needed, and especially what to do quickly or in an emergency.
  6. My layout is set to a height to suit my 6 foot 1 inch (185cm) frame. Some of my colleagues are less vertically endowed, and so cannot see the layout completely. The layout track ranges from 125cm to 140cm. This is 49-55 inches above the floor. What to do? Mirrors can reflect the layout if properly placed but they detract from the overall scenery. My solution has been to make a number of portable steps - they are built on an aluminium frame with solid wood steps. This keeps the weight of the steps down and aids portability. Two steps are big enough for two people, or one operator to walk down a bit. But the lesson learnt is that people will have different requirements to you. Some may stand for 2-3 hours others will need a rest area. 
  7. Leeville city centre under construction
    A schematic of the layout is required if the layout is a reasonable size which mine is. The schematic can be multiple sections giving operators a diagram of the area they are working on and separating mainline from passing, service, and storage tracks. There are many ways of doing this but a simple section schematic at each area really helps. It can be done free hand, or via a Powerpoint diagram, or a full CAD diagram.
  8. Quality of the equipment is key. Many trains will run faultlessly for you but when a new operator appears that train may not run 100%. The reason could be speed and a different throttle action than yours. If a car does not run well, remove it and work on it later. Prototypically it would be ideal to drop that car at a siding or depot and create a work list for the owner to repair later.
    Pulp Mill at Beauville
  9. My experience with couplers has encouraged me to convert as many as possible to Micro Trains couplers - they are the best in my opinion. Several great cars come with very poor couplers that should be replaced. I have found Kato equipment fine but coupling to other manufacture's cars can be difficult. 
  10. Seek feedback from operators at the end of the session and encourage further feedback as they think of their experience. 
Well that is my experience so far. Yes, I will get around to developing some card system. I will also expand operations with more complicated switching and building train manifests. I may try computer generated operations. I definitely will develop a Dispatcher's position for overall control. Will that lead to telephone dispatching and communications? I am not sure.
One thing is for sure. Operations is fun and adds significantly to the overall Model Railroading experience, and it is a journey to mature your skills.
My aim is when folks arrive and would like to do something, I can give them a schedule plus a controller, and after an introduction 1-5+ of us can be operating.
Then after that it is time for a beer and chat.


Monday, 19 October 2015

October 2015 Update.

It has been a while since I updated this blog. Yes, I have been to a few model railroad meetings here in Australia and the USA. And last month I spent 3 weeks in hospital and rehab after getting two new knees. Everything is going well with the knees and the layout has progressed a little whilst I rehab. It didn't progress much for nearly 2 months whilst travelling and in hospital. I am close to opening the layout to a trial operating session. Yes, this is a session where all will have a role to operate a train, or switch wagons around etc. The plan is drafted but I need a couple of helpful volunteers to test out my practices. At the end of the month I will be operating on a colleagues layout so may find some volunteers. Or you may read this and contact me with an offer to help. I have attended several operating sessions this year and it is fascinating to own one part of the layout or a train and interact with everyone else to complete your assigned tasks.

Anyway here is an update and some of the new items since the last update. This is the view as you enter the room. The only lighting in this photo is the LED lights behind the valence.

Slightly  to the right is an island and some almost completed mountain scenery. Here is a new Kato locomotive pulling a double stack train over my "Central Valley bridge" which I built. It is a great kit.

As you can see below the work bench is not that tidy. Above the work bench you can see the staging area which I have opened up since last time. In the background is an extension of the city scene to be completed.The workbench is not only for modelling, but also the computer and programming all the digital locomotives.  Around to the left of this area is another bench and spray booth with exhaust to the outside.

Above the loop at the end of "Leeville" is going to be the city. I am experimenting with layouts right now.

Here is another view of the city at the end of Leeville. Union station is constructed but needs detailing to finish it off and make it come to life.

Here is 4449 stopped at Leeville with a full complement of 18 carriages. This one locomotive can pull the train up and down all the grades on the layout. If steam dies, I have just purchased a Kato PA / PB Southern Pacific Daylight set to take over.

Here is a close up of the staging area below Leeville. There are 4 tracks and each track can handle a 50 car train or multiple smaller trains.

Above the staging at Leeville is an industrial complex which I recently scratch built.

In the industrial area I built a freight forwarding complex (Harley's freight Forwarding). Harley is our only grandchild.

To access the industrial area and connect to Leeville it was necessary to scratch build a modern overhead road system.

In Portland in August, Kaye and I won wo very special one off grain wagons. They were donated by AR Kits of Brisbane and specially decal'd with pictures of Warwick and Toowoomba and the Portland convention logo.

Here is a kit recently completed of an oil depot. I have yet to complete the scenery around it.

Here is a laser cut wooden kit I just completed. My first every wooden laser cut building.

As we get around towards Beauville there is a roadside diner being installed on the highway.

Another new building in Beauville.

Beyond Beauville is a paper mill and some recently acquired pulp wagons.

Here is a train of finished pulp and some empty wagons ready to leave the mill.

As we head towards Summit we pass a double stack train in the mountains.

Here is the scene looking into Summit from the over head road crossing.

At Summit gravel we have an open pit being worked by one grader. Several more graders are still in boxes.

Here is the mine at Summit handling the gravel. I experimented last week with the background scenery. I am not an artist but have friends who are and will comment and advise me on the work.

Here is the local sub station at Summit to feed the mine.

Just out of Summit is an old farm and working industry. To the right are some cattle in pens. To the left is the working "industry". At the back is the "dunny" and grandma is on the seat with the door open.

As we traverse more country we come across a small farm house.

Approaching Gleeville is the Gleeville church on the hill. Eventually the grave stones will come out of hiding and more life (and death) will become visible.

Gleeville is being developed. The street is yet to be completed.

At the Gleeville train depot a local passenger RDC has just arrived with today's workers.

Above Gleeville is the local scrap yard. I have purchased many sheets of perspex to use as protection from folks leaning over too aggressively.

Here is a view from Summit with the new overhead road crossing.

Here is another view of the new roadworks connecting Leeville with the Industrial area.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the update. If you can or want to help please contact me. I sure could use some help with Operations, and general checks on progress.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

DCC Update - from System/1 to NCE

For the last year I have had intermittent problems with my DCC system. Some locomotives have run away (no they were not analog capable), I have blown several frog juicers, and have had intermittent shorts that affected the whole layout rather than the circuit being protected. In between trains ran OK.
As well as these problems I also noted several locomotives running hot. I spent several "days" on the web and talking to colleagues. 
Finally one of my colleagues in the Sydney NMRA chapter (Lawrence Nagy) offered to come over and apply a second head to the problem. Lawrence arrived with his DCC manuals, and current power testing tools, including Multimeter We both experienced a short that occurred at a certain spot (on a certain switch frog). We thought the frog juicer was at fault and replaced it. We even replaced the switch. Changing the frog juicer fixed the problem. However Lawrence wasn't convinced that was the only issue.
Lawrence applied a current test with the Multimeter - looked OK. Then he checked the voltage on the track and WOW - it was 23 volts!. We followed testing across the wiring and discovered the System / 1 Command station was putting out 23 volts. We experimented with changing the voltage output by setting it for "G", "N", and "HO" scales. But the voltage stayed at 23 volts.
This is where the internet is powerful. A quick search showed this has occurred before to other users. I contacted the local NCE distributor, who was also aware of this issue, which was caused by the bridge rectifier on the Command Station main board failing. There was no fix other than replacing the main board in the Command Station.
Given my System / 1 was nearly 18 years old and had served me well I decided to cut my losses and replace it with NCE. I basically had an NCE system anyway as the command bus and all the controllers were already NCE. My circuit protectors were also mainly NCE. So all I had to do was buy an NCE PH-Power Pro unit. The System/1 had an automatic reversing circuit in it and I replaced this with another Dual Frog Juicer from Tam Valley. I had been using Dual Frog Juicers already for controlling the reversing circuits and had a spare unit anyway. They make a great auto reversing circuit. 
I also ordered a "RRampMeter" which reads current and voltage across the layout and can be moved to any area to also check for voltage drops - maybe due to weak wiring connections.
Installing the new system was easy and so far everything seems to be working fine. I did have to reset several of my locomotive decoders back to factory default and re program them. I use a SPROG 2 to record all the settings but given the previous systems were set using 23 volts, I played it safe and re programmed all decoders and recorded them on DecoderPro. DecoderPro is a JMRI tool that keeps all the settings on your computer, so if you ever need to reset a decoder you can just copy the settings using the SPROG2 to talk to the locomotive. 
Last April I presented on DCC wiring at the Australian N Scale / NMRA convention in Brisbane. This experience has enhanced my knowledge and personally added a few pointers that I should have been following and I think all DCC users should follow
These new / additional lessons are:
1. check voltage at each power district. Use a multimeter to do this. It is possible to have voltage drops from the booster or as I experienced a faulty Command station giving excessive voltage. Many command stations have adjustments for voltage to cater for different sizes of models. "G" scale requires a higher voltage than "N" scale for example. 
2. use a set of metal wheels to test all circuit units like Frog Juicers are working as designed to do. Run the wheels over a frog and see if the frog juicer or similar switch actually switches the polarity.
3. Also connect up a short detector as you connect every wire to the main bus. This will identify a fault on installation. Alan Gartner (Wiring for DCC) and others strongly recommend this but it is easy to let haste take over and connect a wire incorrectly.
4. If isolating the frog on switches, test the wiring and insulation before installing. I discovered one "properly" wired switch had some metal filings on top of the insulation and gap I had created, and this caused a small short.

DCC is terrific and really makes operation and general running more fun and realistic. But, it can come with issues. Following the basic rules for wiring should produce many years of reliable running.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

May 2015 Update

Let's have a look at the layout today and take a trip around it both ways.
You will see a lot of newspaper attached to the backdrop. This is to prevent paint from the scenery I am doing getting on the sky background. Some of this sky background will also be painted with mountain backdrops if I am game in the future. Some has been done now as you will see.
I have largely installed all the FrogJuicers to about 60 switches, DPDT switches to about 10 switches, and 8 Servo motors to 8 switches. To date there is still a short that occurs intermittently - I suspect it could be a switch frog that is not isolated 100%. I will seek outside help to bring some logic to the solution.

So let's start from the passenger terminal at Leeville. UP 956 running a smooth sided passenger express is about to leave.

Here is another photo of it. Above the passenger terminal will be a city one day. Many of the buildings are built but need to be positioned - another project.
 Now UP956 is about to enter the city which is not finished. You can see Union station and I have many other city buildings to add. Most are built and waiting for construction to commence. Once I get the two servo switches here working 100% I will start the city landscape.

Here is UP 956 coming out of the city. Note on the right is the 4 track staging yard. From the aisle whilst operating most people would not see these staging tracks.

Here we pass the start of the freight yard.
 Now we head down the freight yard. On the right is the future container depot - intermodal yard.
 UP 956 is passing Kaye's Flour and also still passing the freight yard.
 As we pass out of the freight yard we cross a small river and highway overpass.
 Heading into Beauville. Deauville will be a busy old industrial area and junction to Beccy Pulp / Paper Mill.
 Emerging from the Beauville Mountains. The left hand tunnel is the entrance to staging.
 Entering Gleeville. Gleeville is an old town and engine servicing town. (read turntable)
 Gleeville Industrial station. Eventually there will be an operating crossing gate here.
 Climbing out from Gleeville.
 Climbing above Gleeville
 Entering Summit. Summit is the top level and has a major gravel mine. Note on the left a small industry. When you see the details it includes a lady on a toilet with the door open.
 Summit Gravel. This is still work in progress, and there will be significant activity installed soon.
 Exiting Summit. Highway overpass obove.
 Mountain section. This is where we have to manage a single track mainline. It currently has a simple signalling control which will extend later.
 Exiting tunnel in mountains.
 Passing Beccy Paper works.
 Culvert above Beccy Paper works.
 Exiting mountains.
 Passing HJ Intermoldel Yard. My first attempt at background painting.
 Heading back to Leeville station.

Now we will take a freight train of automobiles around the layout.
BNSF 9762 about to leave yard with car carrying load.
 BNSF9672 approaching Leeville.
 BNSF9762 approaching Leeville. Note the 4 track staging below.
 BNSF9767 leaving Leeville and overpass to the Intermodal.

 BNSF9762 above Beauville.
 Entering tunnel above Beauville.
 In mountains above Beccy paper Mill.
 Mountain section. This is the only section almost completely sceniced. The track is ballasted. I need to complete the scene with a fence and power poles.
 Through mountains

 BNSF 9762 in Summit.
 BNSF9762 above Gleeville
 BNSF9762 passing Gleeville engine facilty and wrecking car yard.
 BNSF9762 entering Gleeville.
 BNSF9762 entering Beauville. I still have a few tracks to lay here.
 Exiting Beauville and about to pass under the highway. Eventually there will be a fuel terminal on the left.
 Passing Kaye's Flour
We are now close to the stage of inviting operators to "run trains". Some of the operating details need to be honed and the wiring checked 100% under stress.
Many of the locomotives have been speed matched and their roster catalogued in Decoder pro.