Two days of work in the basement have produced some good progress! I have tackled the joint between the two sections of the staging yard, installing copper clad PCB material on both sides, soldered the rails to it, and cut gaps in the rails to separate both sides. This sounds somewhat less laborious than it actually is. The PCB was sawn into strips and ties were removed from the track pieces. Then the strips were slid underneath the rails, and both them as well as the adjacent track sections were securely attached with screws and washers. There is an additional washer underneath each screw through the PCB to bring it to 2mm height (the PCB is 1.5mm, the ties on the track are 2mm). The PCB should be located so there is sufficient copper left and right of each rail to solder to.
The next step was soldering the rails to the PCB. This works surprisingly well, provided you have a sufficiently powerful soldering iron. I use a temperature-controlled 48W station, set to 300 degrees Celsius (570 deg. Fahrenheit). Apply plenty of flux, and heat the copper material as well as the rail thoroughly. Then apply plenty of solder, letting it flow underneath and along the side of the rail. Take it easy on the insides of the rails, the flangeways need to be kept clear! Once you are satisfied with all solder joints, clean the excess flux off with a cloth, polish the tops of the rails with a Bright Boy, and clean any excess solder off with the iron. Then, using a cutoff wheel in a Dremel tool, slice through each rail to separate them. Make sure you are wearing eye protection as the little wheels have a tendency to fly apart when lateral forces are accidentally applied.
I elected to install two sets of feeders to each staging yard track, one set on each section, plus whatever additional feeders will be necessary between the switches. All the wiring is above-ground so to speak and consists of 0.5 mm2 solid strand wire. I left enough open spaces clear of ties when I installed the track. Now it was simply a matter of running twelve black and twelve red wires to the twelve tracks on each section and soldering them to the rails. You can see the results in the pictures left and right. The wires are joined in terminal strips at the front edge of the baseboard which are interconnected with heavy copper wire.
In the right picture, the feeder wire (heavy 2x1.5 mm2) is connected to another terminal strip. From there one set of feeders runs to the distribution strip on this section, and a jumper wire will connect it to the distribution strip on the other section. This single wire is all that connects the two sections. The fewer wires the better...
After all the wiring and soldering was finished, I quickly completed the far ends of the no. 10-12 staging tracks, gave the tracks a thorough cleaning with the Bright Boy and then it was finally time to shove the left section of the staging yard underneath the layout into its final spot. Ahhh! I'm so happy to see this thing finally taking shape and getting out of the way of the more gratifying activities... Anyway, a quick test with my largest cars shows all clearances are good and there is actually enough space above the autorack to reach the tracks further in back in case it should be necessary. It's not a lot of clearance, and it will be a challenge when all the near tracks are filled with cars, but it's all I can do and it should work.
I considered wiring a track occupancy detector into the staging yard, but after seeing what others do in terms of staging yard control I skipped it. After the yard is done I plan to install one or two ethernet webcams above the yard throat so the dispatcher (who should control staging operations remotely) can see what is going on down there. The cams require additional light to be installed but that is a small tradeoff for taking the guesswork out of staging procedures.
...settles in again. Why are the holidays always such a rush? Precious little quality time spent on the layout, but over the course of the past week I completed an additional 5 of the MBTronik WA-5 servo controller kits. With a bit of experience a kit now goes together in about 2 hours. These six are all I need for the staging yard switches.
Stopped by the lumber yard and bought 3mm masonite (a.k.a. MDF) material which I had them cut to 20cm width with their huge saw. This is brilliant stuff - strong enough to hold up to some abuse, yet flexible enough to be bent into virtually any radius without kinking. Putting the sheets up was done in short order. Considering how nasty a job it was to mount the supports on the ceiling, this was a very relaxing two-evening project.
The long flurescent tubes still show rather prominently in the corners, I'll have to see what to do about that at some later time. I will probably attach small light shades to the tube housings themselves after the backdrops are installed and available light can be judged properly.
More switch linkage fun! Here are two more examples of what can be done with some piano wire and a couple extra servo arms (the Modelcraft servos each come with three different arms which can be used as required). The first picture shows a linkage attached to a turnout three tracks deep, again by use of a heat shrink tubing guide. The second shows a possibility to attach a servo at an angle to the turnout. I used a 3x20 mm screw to fasten the wheel to the baseboard; the head fits the cast-on cavity perfectly.
A word of caution when setting the travel end positions on the servo controller: the RS2s have gobs of power! In connection with the heavy wire, the weakest part in the link is usually the turnout throw bar. The Tillig switches are flexible enough to bend and twist instead of breaking, but the Roco switches aren't. In one case, the servo rushed to the max. throw position and ripped the throwbar clean out of the switch! It would be possible to include a couple of bends in the linkage to absorb the excess force; however, once the controllers are properly adjusted with the help of the programmer they aren't necessary any more. Just be careful when you reconnect a controller that had the endpositions reprogrammed. Straight out of the box the controllers come preprogrammed with both max. throws set to center which is a good thing.
I bought enough of the servos for all the turnouts on the layout. Not a big outlay of cash. Plus, at 2.95 a piece, should one fail in service later on it's a simple decision to toss it into the bin and put a new one in its place...
I took delivery of a bunch of servos from a national electronics mail order store, choosing the standard-size devices instead of the micro servo that was included by MBTronik. These Modelcraft RS2s are much more powerful, but also somewhat larger. The pictures show the first few installed on the staging yard throat turnouts, replacing the Hoffmann machines. I use 0.8 mm hardened steel (piano) wire from Weinert to fabricate the switch linkages.
Note in the right hand picture how the linkage for one of the turnouts is run through a length of heat shrink tubing as a guide. This arrangement is necessary due to the compact spacing of the turnouts. With some care taken while bending the linkages, everything operates smoothly.
Having found a satisfactory method to control switches I set out to build a little prototype installation to verify stuff works. I strapped a switch to a scrap piece of 40mm baseboard with a 16mm hole drilled through it. The hole is much larger than the max. throw so there's some wiggle room in positioning the turnout. The servo gets mounted underneath, with the arm positioned inside the hole. The picture at right shows the works.
This mounting position reduces the room required underneath, important for the switches located above the staging yard, and shortens the length of the wire to the throwbar, thereby reducing flexing of the wire as much as possible. This latter part is rather important as the Customtrax turnouts do not have hinged points so they require significant force to be thrown.
As shown on the left, the throwbar moves inside a wooden channel which further increases friction, and there are small sheet brass angles that anchor the points to the throwbar. These rub on the underside of the stock rails, again increasing fricion. All in all a tough proposition for a small servo.
Being handlaid, each turnout will require some attention and fine tuning to get it to operate smoothly. This is the only downside to the servo drives as compared to normal turnout motors - the servos are somewhat less powerful unless one selects the high-spec ones with more torque, at which point the turnout throw wire will be the limiting factor.
Shown at left is the mounting position of the servo. I have used a short piece of flexible metal strip fastened with 4x40mm screws to fix the servo in position. This is very solid and makes minor adjustments easy.
These pictures show the normal and reversed positions of the turnout after the end positions of the servo have been adjusted using the programming device. This takes a bit of experimenting, starting from the center position of the servo which can be reached by resetting the programmed values in the controller. Using the programmer, the normal (green) and reversed (red) positions are adjusted by stepping the servo to the desired amplitude.
So this will be the standard way of turnout control. I have enough servos on hand to do the staging yard, so let's get to it...
It's been a while since the last entry. Summer always seems filled with all kinds of things to do that do nt involve the basement, even when the weather is as crappy as it has been all summer long this year. Ah well... Now that winter is upon us, hopefully progress will be more forthcoming.
I have been researching switch motors for a long while, ever since I wasn't totally satisfied with the Hoffmann motors in fact. Seems like the recent drop in price of r/c components has made servo drives a possibility so I bought a DCC decoder/servo switch controller from MBTronik to evaluate. It comes in kit form and is available in two different versions - with or without relays that can be used to power frogs, drive indicator lights, or provide turnout position feedback. I opted for the version with those features, called the WA-5. Both versions drive two servos. The kit goes together easily and can be finished in one evening if you know how to handle a soldering iron. It comes with the PCB and all the parts needed. You will have to buy the servos separately, and you should purchase a programming device (really only a couple buttons in a housing) to aid in setting the servo end positions and movement speed. MBTronik offers handy starter kits at a discount.
The pictures below show the finished circuit and the programming device. The nice thing about this controller is that it already contains a full-fledged DCC-compatible decoder. This saves money and messy wiring, so if you want to use DCC to control your turnouts, this device is for you.
Working slowly and according to the instructions, I was able to finish the device and verify it operates as it should. Next up is building a small protoype installation of a switch on a piece of the baseboard to establish how to properly mount the servo and see if it can move the Customtrax switches satisfactorily.
Just a quick entry to celebrate the fact that all the d*mn holes in the concrete ceiling have been drilled and the 24x44mm pine stringers that will support the lighting valance have been fastend in place. Rounding out the ordeal were a couple of junction boxes to terminate the (now unused) light circuits in. And I'm happy to say I'm through with that messy task.
Now the room will get a good thorough cleaning and then it'll be time for much more enjoyable things. Like hanging the valance sheets themselves, and then finally on with the construction of the staging yard and the start of track laying on the main.
It's been a while since the last update, but time hasn't passed by without some progress being made in the basement. A total of 22 flourescent tubes now illuminate the train room. Living in a brick-and-concrete house means drilling into prestressed concrete ceilings to attach the buggers, and that is one of the least enjoyable jobs in redecorating, let alone in layout contruction. The concrete dust flies everywhere creating a thick, sandy layer on top of every horizontal surface. Doing this after you have built a layout is absolutely no good idea whatsoever. So I decided early on to install lighting as early as possible, which means right after the final shape of the benchwork has been established.
So the next and final step of the "heavy lifting" so to say concerns the installation of the valance to conceal the tubes behind.
On an unrelated but equally happy note, my first shipment of Custom Trax flextrack and turnouts has arrived last week. It contains all the mainline material with light grey ballast so I'm ready for tracklaying as soon as the dirty jobs are finished.
Year, that is. Here is to a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2007!
Amazingly enough, the week between Christmas and New Year's has actually been a productive time. Track laying in the first staging yard is almost finished, save for a final extension to tracks 9 through 11.
I have started on sawing the benchwork for the second staging yard to shape and arranged it in place on the main benchwork. As you can see in the picture, the running track has 5 turnouts placed in the curve that branch off into the four long (4.30 meter) storage tracks as well as the 2 shorter tracks that will hold Amtrak P029 and P030 later on (3.30 meters length). Once this yard is in place, the total staging capacity will be 17 tracks with a combined length of 68 meters.
#9 staging is already extended around the corner, and tracks 10 and 11 will follow suit shortly. Together with #s 1 and 2 these tracks will be able to hold the longest trains on the layout. I envision them to be used for the coal trains coming off the Mon Sub which run to Demmler where the power switches ends and runs eastbound onto the Keystone Sub. There is ample space between east switch Demmler and west switch Riverton to turn trains in excess of 6 meters long, longer than the other blocks on the layout. Of course, empty trains returning to the Monongahela coalfields repeat this manoeuver in reverse.
While I'm still waiting for a large order of cable to be delivered, I decided I wanted to get something running and temporarily wired up the Digitrax Zephyr to #9 staging track. So around 6 p.m., an m.u. lashup consisting of CSX SD70MAC #734 and UP CW44AC #5714 moved under their own power for the first time on the new layout. Whee! :-)
I got a print transformer a few weeks ago which is able to deliver 50 watts of 15V AC power which I mounted on a distribution panel to form the nucleus of the "power central" for the layout. I'm a stickler for neat wiring and as such want to get everything structured well from the start.
Doing so also gave me the chance to exercise the two Hoffmann switch motors that are hooked up to one of the double slip switches. After a bit of fiddling around with the switch linkages they seem to work very well, throwing the Tillig switches reliably and with surprising force. They have a speed adjustment slider on them, but I still think they run too fast even on its slowest setting. This will require some investigation. There is an improved version out which I will order enough of for the staging yards and see if a resistor can be added to the power leads to slow them down some for use on the visible portion of the layout. So far they complete a throw in about half a second; ideally I would want that to be more in the 2 to 3 second timeframe. However, even in their current state they are just fine for the hidden turnouts.
As an aside, I would like to apologize for the "quality" of some of the photos I have been posting. Up to now, the only illumination in the basement has consisted of three 60W bulbs dangling from the ceiling. I am fed up with this situation and plan to commence work on hanging the flourescent tubes and lighting valance soon. This should make for a much more comfortable wok environment and also help in producing better pictures.
Made some good progress on the staging yard. After a couple more trials, in which I found that two really long cars coupled together may have issues with sharp 15 degree reverse curves (quite the surprise, that...), the yard ladder layout has been finalized. As you can see in the top left shot, the two tracks that are closest to the wall have been extended to bypass the ladder and branch off the New Castle Sub lead directly. The New Castle Sub, Mon Sub, and #2 track of the Keystone Sub can access tracks 3 through 11, and the #1 track of the Keystone Sub can only access tracks 9 through 11 as well as the tracks in the second staging yard which will be located along the back wall, underneath Demmler. The track closest to the aisle is the second staging lead, which makes 10 tracks available for storage of trains in the first yard.
All tracks have been extended to the end of the first slab (a total length of 2.60 m). Now the second slab (2.35 m) needs to be cut and placed to continue track laying. The two parts will remain separate for ease of installation.
I want the motors to sit on the table top next to the switches to keep the underside of the staging yard slabs clear so as not to damage anything when sliding them out from underneath the layout for maintenance or repairs. There is space in most locations, just two switches will need some ingenious routing of the switch linkage. I think it might work. We'll see.
I have been tinkering with the staging yard ladder, trying to get a compact arrangement to maximize track length and keeping track-center spacing to a minimum to fit in as many tracks as possible. This is the first draft so to say that I came up with. I use 42mm spacing which fits with a few millimeters to spare and is enough on straightaways. Some of the yard tracks will curve left in front of the back wall later on - I will need to increase the room between tracks there. The photo on the left shows how I use 3x20 mm screws and metal washers to hold the track to the baseboard. This makes it easy to tweak the alignment which is good as my track spacing does not conform to the track system standard and as such quite a bit of fiddling is required. I did not install any roadbed as operating noise from the trains should not be an issue with the anticipated slow speeds.
I have since found out that the Roco switches are problematic especially with the Atlas and Walthers cars, which like to derail on the frog account of what seems to be too large flangeways at the guardrails and somewhat wide wheel spacing on the axles. I'll have to go back and check all wheelsets with an NMRA gauge and then decide on whether I need to change the guardrails. Interestingly enough the Tillig switches have no such problem which is why I now prefer them. They also require less space yet can be negotiated by longer cars with no issues.
Modelers of the modern period tend to have an insatiable appetite for widecab GE power in its various forms. Much as GE ate EMD's bacon in the real world, only a select few GE models are available for those of us not modeling UP or the Santa Fe Super Fleet. Here's a sampling of a few models, left to right: Kato BNSF AC4400CW, Athearn R-T-R C44-9W, Atlas C40-8W, and Kato C44-9W (actually a C40-9W). With Kato's continued ignorance of CSX paint schemes (and, it seems, general tardiness towards the HO market in general), I decided to sample Athearn's new offerings and I have to say I'm pleased with the detail and overall impression of their models. The big downside of course continues to be the old motor, but as seen in the case of the SD40-2 it can be made to operate satisfactorily with a decent decoder. So I think there'll be more CW44ACs delivered in due time.
As a preview of things to come, here's a C40-8W/C44-9W lashup on a coal train, showing off on Custom Trax trackwork temporarily placed for the occasion. My track order still hasn't shwon up, so I'll have to continue working on the staging yards until it does...
Five months after the first dowel locked itself into the wall, the benchwork has reached the other end of the world so to say - the last part of the benchwork on the visible part of the layout went up on the 24th. There's still quite a bit of small parts needed, mostly corners that need to be rounded off and others that need to be filled in with triangular pieces. The left picture above shows the view from the McKeesport slab towards Sinns and the benchwork disappearing behind higher Riverton slabs towards staging. The right picture shows the entrance to staging at what will be Glassport on the Mon Sub.
This picture shows the below-benchwork view from inside the Riverton/Demmler aisle (Riverton is on the right, Demmler is on the left). The difference in elevation of the Glassport slab is apparent. The staging yard will be located underneath the benchwork on the left hand side, above the suitcases currently stored there.
The workbench will be located where the sawhorse sits right now, offering easy access and a convenient location. Being close to the only window in the room, it should be feasible to also hook up a spray paint booth's exhaust fan.
To celebrate the occasion, and study alignment for the upcoming staging yard benchwork, I brought home an assortment of Roco Line switches and flextrack that will be used in constructing the yard ladder for the first staging yard. The aim here is to get the most compact yard ladder that will maximize track length. As the staging yard benchwork is still bits and pieces in the garage, I assembled and tested the switches on the main level benchwork.
I came up a couple turnouts short, but everything looks good so far. I selected Roco track because it's affordable and readily available locally - looks don't count in this application. The double-slip switch is by Tillig. The two switches in the foreground will hold, right to left: New Castle Sub, Glassport siding, Mon Sub main, and #2 track of the Keystone Sub main. The #1 track of the Keystone Sub will bypass this ladder to the left and run down in parallel to the first yard to reach the second staging yard which will be located underneath Demmler Yard and interlocking.
At long last some small progress has been made in the basement. The slab that will carry the Sinns interlocking has gone up. Continuing the steady downgrade, there is now some discernable separation between Sinns and Riverton as can be seen in the left photo. The right view shows the step up from the McKeesport slab as well as the way the McKeesport slab has been fastened to the Riverton slab with metal plates and brackets. As you can see in the left photo there are also two brackets afixing the Sinns slab to Riverton. These brackets don't actually carry much weight as there is a table leg underneath Sinns - however they do a lot to reinforce and steady the whole works. The backdrop separating Sinns and Riverton will be attached to those brackets.
The photos underneath show a quick trial with one of my largest cars, a Walthers trilevel autorack. The difference in elevation shows nicely here. It is already sufficient to clear the car, but there is not much room above it - certainly not enough for the old 0-5-0 to reach in and clear a wreck in the hidden staging yard. However, there are still 2.5m of main track to go before reaching the entrance to the hidden trackage. It was clear from the start that vertical room will be at a premium down there, but that's one of the compromises to make during design. In my book it certainly beats having to build a helix or needing 3% grades...
Note the grade is not enough to start the very free-rolling Atlas tank car or the somewhat more stubborn trilevel down hill. An important indication that the selected grade (about 1.3% at this point) seems well-chosen.
The corner of the upper slab that the yardstick is resting against will get sawn off into a nice flowing curve once the rest of the surrounding benchwork is done. As shown in the 12-Aug-2006 entry, it will be used on the inside of the Sinns slab to support the wide curve leading towards staging.
That about sums up tonight's entertainment, save for the fearsome realisation that I have run out of 3mm sunny-white LEDs. Durn! Time to order a bunch for the next projects now that the long and dark winter evenings are upon us. Til next time...
Just what the mail man was thinking when he heard things rustling around inside my latest package. Which turned out to be my newly acquired preowned Proto 2000 SD60M which the auctioneer had failed to pack suitably before sending it off. What greeted me after opening the box was pretty hair-raising.
The Proto 2000 units come with plastic spacers installed in place of the couplers, and these spacers need to be reinstalled in the draft gear boxes before shipping the thing. Otherwise the unit will rattle around inside the foam bed and shed a lot of the detail bits, including the preinstalled plastic grab irons. The couplers were smashed to bits (goes to show just how good those plastic Kadee imitations are and why I always swap them for real Kadees at least on all the engines). Two cooling fans, the horn and the hand brake wheel had come loose. Foam bits also found their way into the inside of the shell and contaminated the entire drive mechanism. Needless to say I was thrilled...
The SD60M is built a lot like the other Proto 2000 offerings, so I won't go into all the details of how to put a decoder and LEDs in. Disassemble unit as per instructions, remove and discard diode PCB, insert NMRA plug into decoder socket, get to the bulbs and snip them off, solder a resistor to one on the LED leads each, and solder LEDs on. Remember the flat side goes onto the decoder function output, not the blue return wire. Slip heatshrink tubing onto the leads before soldering them to the LEDs, then after soldering shrink them into place. The LEDs will fit nicely inside the bulb cavities in the weight so you don't have to wire anything to the shell. Which is always well liked because you don't have to deal with long messy wires flapping about that way. I recommend using a spot of super glue to tack the front bulb into position. The rear one is held in place by the black plastic cover.
Note in the last of the above pictures the decoder is incorrectly fitted so as to block the slots in the sides of the weight that hold mounting studs cast into the shell. Stick the decoder in place a little forward to clear those slots.
Proto 2000 includes a package with assorted details that can be added to the engine. I mounted the snowplow but held back on the sunshades because they will invariably break off when the model is returned to its box. They will go on when the unit finds its permanent home on the layout.
A set of Kadees in the original draft gear boxes and a quick check against the height gauge completed the job for now. I plan to revisit the model at a later stage to add the missing ditch lights and also add the red marker lights these units still have from their previous life on Conrail's roster. And of course I will have to redo all those broken off grab irons...
As expected, the SD performs admirably with the Lenz Gold decoder. Although the motor looks very similar to the one in the GP38-2 it runs nicely with B-EMF enabled. Coupled with its very high weight it makes this classic EMD an outstanding performer.
Athearn follows a weird product naming philosophy these days. Remember the Blue Box engines when that was all they had? Now you get the Genesis line, Ready-To-Run, and also the otherwise-unlabeled- but-packaged-in-the-colorful-box items. I recently acquired an SD40-2 of the latter description which features some nice details added to that decades-old basic Blue Box model, but the motor and drive train are still pretty much unchanged. Athearn offers a number of really nice paint schemes, among them this rent-a-wreck Helm Leasing unit. It fits my needs very well, so crufty old motor or not, I had to have it.
I thought about remotoring the unit - in the age-old tradition - with a NWSL remotor kit I still had lying around. Turns out it'd been a while since I popped open a Blue Box engine because Athearn had changed the universal linkage to a much finer one which wouldn't easily fit with the NWSL parts. Since I also had no experience with how the old clunker motor performs with a DCC decoder I decided to quickly wire a decoder to it just for grins. Lo and behold, a quick test setup showed that with a decent Lenz or Digitrax decoder, the old motor could be made to run very well indeed! It is amazing what Back-EMF, pulse-width modulation, and speed curves will do to ancient machinery. Had we had this technology 20 years ago Mashima and Sagami would have sold a lot less replacement motors...
So I went ahead and transplanted a decoder into the unit. This is a little more involved than just pluging the gadget into the NMRA socket but it's none too challenging either. The main difference is you need to electrically insulate the motor from the frame.
Start by taking off the shell, ripping out the connector strip that connects the top of the motor to the truck pickups, and snip off the light bulb bracket over the front truck. You definitely want decent sunny-white LEDs instead so snip off the legs from a pair of those, solder a resistor to one of the legs (doesn't matter which one), and solder a piece of decoder wire each to the other leg. Connect both resistors to each other with another piece of wire, and finally solder yet another piece of wire to one of the resistors to serve as the common ground back to the decoder - this must be soldered to the blue wire on the decoder plug. The remaining two pieces of wire need to be connected to the white and yellow wires on the decoder plug. Then glue one LED in front of the light guide under the cab roof, and the other into the end of the long hood. Glue a piece of scrap plastic, cut to size, on top of the LEDs to keep stray light from entering the cab or shining out from under the long hood.
While this dries, unscrew the motor from the frame (four screws through the fuel tank from underneath), disconnect the universals, and remove the motor. Remove the bottom contact strip from the motor, being careful not to let the brush spring jump out and disappear across the room! Snip off the two contact tabs and bend the remaining stubs back to be flush with the strip itself. This strip needs to be insulated from the frame, so cut a piece of thin plastic film to fit between it and the contact area on the fuel tank. A piece of photographic film works nicely, but where are you supposed to find that these days? Plastic kitchen wrap or anything else may be substituted. Solder a piece of decoder wire to the contact strip and reinstall the brush spring and strip. Insert the insulation material you cut to size and reattach the motor to the frame. Remove the other contact strip from on top of the motor and likewise solder a lead to it. These two leads connect to the orange and grey wires on the decoder plug. Don't worry about which is which - you have a 50% chance of getting it right, and if you don't you can just reverse the polarity by flipping a CV in the decoder later.
Now all that remains is to provide for power pickup to the decoder. Begin by soldering a piece of wire between the two lugs on top of the trucks. It is the thick yellow wire in the pictures. Attach a piece of decoder wire to one of the lugs and to the red wire on the decoder socket. Next, solder a length of black wire to the metal tab underneath the lug you just worked on on one truck only. These tabs are connected by the frame as they form the ground side of the pickup system. This wire goes to the black wire on the decoder socket, and completes the power circuit. Plug a decoder into the JST socket, put the unit on the rails, and you should be able to run the unit back and forth if you have done everything correctly. If your command station sees a short circuit the most probably cause is that you have forgotten to insulate the underside of the motor against the frame before reinstalling it. The whole setup should look approximately like the setup on the right.
The long hood area over the rear truck is a good place to install the decoder, so I suggest you stick it to the plastic light shield you installed earlier. Use double-sided sticky tape so you can remove it for troubleshooting, if needed, later on. All those wires can become a little messy, so to keep them away from rotating parts of the mechanism I installed another piece of plastic inside the dynamic brake blister. The cables can be tucked neatly underneath and out of harm's way there.
Finally, button everything back up, taking care not to get any of the cables caught between the frame and the hood. Install Kadee couplers if you prefer (you'll need a long-shank coupleer to clear the front snowplow on this unit). Make sure the trucks rotate freely and give the unit a spin on your layout or test track.
I experimented with different decoders, and for once deviated from my normal choice of a Lenz Gold unit. I found the Digitrax DH163IP to work better with the Athearn motor, providing exceptionally good slow-speed control and working Back-EMF. You mileage may vary, so it is a good idea to keep a selection of decoders on hand to try out.
There you go, an old dog has learned new tricks after all. And what a dog these things used to be... Never before have you seen a Blue Box unit behave so well, thanks to a lot of electronic wizardry that comes in small packages...
...the sooner it'll happen. October has been a really busy month so far, with work, railfanning, and gardening interfering with progress on the layout and the workbench. I did take delivery of a pair of exceedingly cute Atlas MP15DCs decorated for the Union Railroad and an Athearn rent-a-wreck HLCX SD40-2, both of which are badly needed models to be able to portray modern-day operations along the Mon River.
And lo and behold, Custom Trax got back to me with an email stating my huge order of trackwork will be ready and shipping in three weeks time! Yee-haw! So it looks like I should be able to put my hot and sticky fingers on the goodies in late November, in perfect time for a construction rush over the Christmas holidays. Now that's what I call good timing!
So, let's get the remaining 6m of benchwork ready! Errr...and scrape together the money for that order. Oh dear...
Nice and shiny as Google Maps/Google Earth is, the information in it is in a constant state of flux. Usually updates mean new material, with improved details, but whatever pictures are on there now will likely vanish in a short time. There is no archiving function (yet).
So, to preserve the awesome aerials I started to copy down the full-res images and paste them together into a huuuuuuge bitmap to be saved for future reference. The area is so large I actually had to split it into two large, 18000x25000 pixel images, and a third smaller one for the Mon Sub. Quite a bit of tedious work, but I guess it needs to be done. Would be nice if someone wrote a software that can download and stitch them together automatically...
Modeling a prototype means you need information, preferably lots of it. In the old days, getting this information was limited to books, articles in magazines, the odd employee timetable, and - if you were really lucky - you had a knowledgable friend whose brain you could pick. And of course the road trip to your prototype was indispensable if you happened to model modern times.
With the advent of electronic information storage, the omnipresent internet, and a host of new
and innovative applications tying those together, research has become easier than ever before. Nowadays,
live scanner feeds provided by railroadradio.net allow you
to listen in to crews operating your territory. ATCS shows you what
trains run where and how the dispatcher handles them. Webcams show the trains. Mailing lists and web
bulletin boads tie people together and enable information exchange. And, last but certainly not
least, the likes of
Using the Google Maps API, I have created an interactive map that shows most of the interesting locations along "my" railroad. Try it out here.