This is a very nifty program that will let you maintain a database of cars, industries, towns, yards, and trains, and then generate and print switch lists for your crews. I can see the value of these to support the various yard and switch jobs on my layout.
On the right you can see a sample printout for the Y101 with a couple of cars to set out and pick up at Camp-Hill in McKeesport and Steelmet in Sinns. There is also a print layout that resembles the computer-generated switchlists of today rather than the hand written ones of the 60s.
What I find very charming about the program is that it provides a clever and user-friendly way to update car locations on the layout should you have switched some around without the aid of the program (as I am quite likely to do between operating sessions). Basically you just print a report, take it to the layout, pencil in the correct locations for those cars that show wrong, and then easily correct them via the GUI. That way preparing for an operating session is going to take only a few minutes. Very well thought out!
Some more incentive to get Riverton/Demmler and McKeesport yards into a useable shape so as to actually be able to do some switching...
14 more track feeders just went in and were wired up. The end of the wire so to speak has now reached McKeesport. I dare say the end is in sight. Need to call in the track laying gang again to put down some more main line. Also running low on critical supplies like screws and cable clamps. Shopping time...
More wiring today - 20 new track feeders installed and wired up. Riverton is finished. About 50 feeders for 5 detection sections left to go until the rest of the main line to west crossover Sinns is energized, but there's also about 10m of track still missing as well.
Well, over a year of no updates and very little progress. 2010 has in fact not been better on the time allocation front. Another year, another set of resolutions, we'll see...
Over the past year I did install some more servos and laid track on the Mon Sub side of the McKeesport bridge. Over the past few days I installed servos and angle cranks and fabricated the switch linkages for all remaining main line switches. Tonight the last meters of Mon Sub trackage went in and thus closed the (first part of the) loop around the room. I also placed ten Digitrax UP5 panels all around the layout near their future locations (once the fascia goes in) and mounted four ESU Switchpilot servo controllers and started wiring them up.
The pictures show, left to right:
The year 2009 has not been kind as far as work-play time allocations have gone, and also not in a few other areas. I guess in the general scheme of things one should be happy there's still a job to work and a salary being paid. Between a lot of work, and a lot of time spent on all kinds of things, modeling has definitely been on the back burner. As I said exactly a year ago, hopefully next year will be better. I'm not exactly holding my breath, but we'll see.
On the bright side, I managed to lay 5 more meters of track, bringing both main tracks up to the McKeesport bridge. About 9 meters are remaining until the main is completed, including the last switch, on the bridge off the #2 track.
...more wiring. Put in the fourth occupancy detector, underneath McKeesport. Put in the power feeder and hooked up the two detection sections that make up the western crossover in Riverton interlocking. Decidedly non-exciting stuff, but hey - someone's gotta do it...
For ease of wiring I decided to go for a fifth 8-section detector. Costs more money, but cuts down on wiring by not having to run feeders to far-away sections. It probably also won't hurt to have a couple inputs free for contingencies later on. The same will apply to some of the turnout controllers.
Not much to report this week. Was away on business for several days, so there wasn't much time to get anything done. But at least I was able to solder 16 track feeders for Riverton interlocking. Also installed angle cranks on 7 turnouts, albeit without the linkages to the servos as of now.
I experimented a bit with the angle cranks for the switches yesterday, fabricating a Mark II model with the axis even further into the hole, towards the turnout. I mounted that to a second turnout, also inside Sinns interlocking, and operated the two cranks side-by-side to see which one - if any - would work better than the other. After attaching the servo and configuring the decoder operation is pretty much the same.
Speaking of the decoder - I did play around with the settings some more and noticed I could actually slow down the servos' operations quite a bit more. A complete throw now takes about 5 seconds, or twice as long as shown in the video below. The ESU decoder has three small push buttons which can be used to configure servo travel and speed for all four outputs without requiring the setting of any CVs. That is quite handy because it means you can get everything fine tuned right when mounting the servos, rather than having to go back with a laptop or DCC station later. Plus I don't have the Loconet wired up yet...
Anyway, back to the cranks... Since the Mk. I model is somewhat easier to mount and adjust, I decided to stick with that for all the remaining turnouts. I did change the build method a little, and you can see the details in the picture on the right. This is the Mk. Ic model... ;-)
The frame is made out of 12 mm steel band, the same kind used in roof construction. I snip three "eyes" worth off of the roll, straighten it a bit, then make a 90 degree bend between two holes. A 3mm x 16mm screw with a 3.2 mm washer goes through the single hole, then another washer and an M3 nut is used to fasten that assembly down tight. Next, a 4.3 mm washer and the servo arm with the geared side towards the washer are added. Two of the four extremeties are snipped off for clearance inside the hole later on. Finally, another 4.3 mm washer and another nut complete the assembly. As no self-locking nuts are available in M3, a dab of glue or Loctite medium strength keep the nut in place.
After everything seemed to work satisfactorily I entered mass production of the little gadgets, making 25 in the first batch. That covers all mainline turnouts plus several of the turnouts on side tracks. I don't like manual throws on the turnouts, especially the ground throws which require you to reach onto the layout to throw, so all turnouts will ultimately be operated by servos. The ones not under dispatcher control will have push buttons located in the fascia for local operation only.
The picture below to the left shows the "drying rack".
In other news I also mounted the roadbed for the McKeesport bridges. I used 6 mm aluminium tubing in holes through the roadbed as well as the benchwork. The press fit inside the holes is good enough to hold everything in place and make adjustments with light taps of a small hammer. The roadbed was leveled and tested with track on both ends to make sure it is at exactly the required height, then the tubes were glued into place.
After the glue is dry it will be painted flat black, bridge track will be laid on top, and the plate griders will then be glued to the sides underneath the track. You can see in the picture at right that the roadbed is quite a bit narrower than the track will be. Pillars to add extra support will be added as the last step, once their correct locations have been determined.
Lastly, another 7 servos are now mounted underneath the layout, waiting for the cranks to dry and the linkages to be fabricated. But that's for another day...
Spent a good day in the basement today, quite productive. 22 more track feeders went in and all the mainline up to Riverton now has power. I actually managed to keep red and black straight this time, so the test run went without a hitch.
The photo shows the test train consisting of an articulated auto carrier, two 89' trilevels, and 5 Superliners. These are the "worst" cars in terms of overhang, coupler swing, and truck movement so they are natural candidates for spotting problem areas in the track. I give the train a good workout, pulling and shoving back and forth, after each section has been powered up.
Special attention should be given to vertical curves in the track, especially if semi-scale couplers like the Kadee #58s are to be used. Their small size combined with the massive overhangs of the autoracks can easily lead to break-in-twos if the vertical alignment of the track changes too abruptly. And I'm not talking about any obvious bumps - even minor misalignments suffice. I found a couple of places on the layout already.
Thankfully that is semi-easy to correct. If the problem is a dip I use a large serrated-edge knife to cut between the roadbed and the styrofoam base to cut the track free, then squirt some more white glue into the slot. If the problem is a bump it is easy to remove some material at this point.
Looking at the picture it is really really really time I finally got to the backdrops to cut out all the clutter...
Here's the thing: the Customtrax turnouts have one-piece points, without hinges in them. That means the points are bent by the throwbar just like the real thing, which looks great but requires a significant amount of force by the actuating mechanism. Additionally, there's quite a bit of friction between the wooden ties and the points.
I had wanted to mount the servos straight underneath the turnout, running a 0.8mm steel wire up into the throwbar. This seemed to work reasonably well with some turnouts, but when I tried it today the servo wouldn't manage to force the points against the stock rails all the way. I tried tweaking the turnout a little, thinking the friction could somehow be reduced, but that didn't work.
After some serious head scratching I remembered my physics education and the lightbulb slowly flickered to life. The problem is the leverage. With a 45mm long wire to the throwbar, the servo only needs to move a few degrees for a full throw. The force decreases with the square of the distance from the axis. The upshot is: the longer the lever, the less the force exerted. What was needed was a way to attach the linkage closer to the servo's axis and possibly add a reduction gearing between it and the throwbar.
You can see what I came up with in the picture to the right. It is a fairly simple 90 degree crank which adds an approximately 3:1 reduction and also - due to the lower mounting inside the hole - shortens the actuator wire from 45 to 30mm, thereby taking out some flex. This setup operates very nicely.
Clicking on the picture below will load a 450 kB Quicktime movie of the turnout throwing back and forth. Unfortunately the depth of field is very shallow, but it does show the operation of the setup.
Mounted the third occupancy detector underneath the layout, installed a power feed, and soldered twelve more track feeders in a week that again saw more travel than work on the layout. But hey - at least some progress...
Today I closed the last gap in the wiring between the staging yard and #2 switch Demmler; specifically, the remaining wiring to the loop controller Muet KSM2 (German language info only).
This is quite a nice device that has sensor sections at both ends of the switchable track which it monitors for power consumption. If a train is detected the switchable piece of track is flipped to the correct polarity. As the train hits the section at the other end, both it as well as the switchable section are flipped again to align polarity and the train exits the monitored section. Everything happens without the slightest short circuit. The downside is the device requires three track connections, a track power connection, and a straight AC feed, so there's quite a bit of wiring. Anyway, I think it's well worth it.
Postscript 22-Jan-2011: A recent development in this area is Tam Valley Depot's Frogjuicer, which essentially does the same thing but is easier to wire up, far cheaper, and probably more widely available. The primary purpose of the device is to provide hassle-free powered frogs in switches, but it uses the same concept. It is, however, limited to max. 2 Amp power draw.
So after completing that it was time for the first train to operate all the way from staging through Braddock and to Demmler. The townsfolk assembled at trackside and cheered to the crew... ;-) Immediately after the ceremonies ended the wiring gang continued to work their way east past Demmler into the next occupancy detector territory.
Got to do some more wiring during the week and today. First up I wanted to test the new stuff I put in, and lo and behold there was a short somewhere. So I got to try out some electrical troubleshooting. :-)) Go to the distribution point, undo the jumpers, and test all three segments separately. As expected the staging yard and west staging - Braddock were good, and Braddock - Demmler wasn't. A quick look underneath the benchwork revealed two track feeders were swapped, black on the front rail and red on the rear instead of vice versa. Brain fart. How hard can it be to remember where to put the red and the black...? Unsolder, unscrew from terminal strip underneath, put in new feeders, reconnect, reconnect jumpers in distribution point, done.
At this point I'm actually debating whether it would make sense to wire in some switches to be able to quickly isolate any one of the (eventually) 4 sections. I guess it would make troubleshooting somewhat easier. 4 sections because the layout will be handled by three 8-input track occupancy detectors plus the non-detected staging yard. Wiring detectors into the works invariably leads to hub-and-spoke system where thick power leads run out to the vicinity of the detectors and from there all track feeders run star-like to the track sections in the area. Bringing the main power leads back into a central location means that for now they can all be bridged together into one large booster district, and later on they can be connected to own boosters, all of which are centrally located.
So I actually got to run the first engine from Braddock to Demmler - wheee... ;-) Quite interesting how it doesn't seem to be such a long distance apart, but when you run at decent speeds (like maybe 30 mph) it does take quite a while. Wouldn't have thought so. I can see the entire trip around the layout is going to be quite a run...
I also started wiring up the reversing controller. Needed to change some wiring on the staging lead and wire up the sensor sections. Almost done with that, just need to connect the east sensor sections to it. It also needs normal AC to operate so I also put in the first segment of the AC bus wiring.
So just a bit more wiring and I should actually be able to run from staging all the way to Demmler with a real train! :-))
Not much to report this time. The holidays came and went without much time or inclination to work on the raiload. We did have some nice winter weather with snow lately so what time was available got spent on railfanning outdoors. I did get the last remaining bit of roadbed done, which is the complicated bridge section at McKeesport. Still needs to be leveled and installed, but at least all of the sawing is done.
I went down for a bit today and wired up seven more track sections to the next occupancy detector and also soldered on a few more track feeders for the next section. I desperately need to put in the power feeder loop around the railroad so I can finally run a couple of trains! No pictures this time as there's nothing much to see.
It's been almost exactly four months since the last update, and unfortunately equally as long since anything has happened in the basement at all. As the year draws to a close it's time to reflect back, and my reflection says "entirely too much work!".
I have been traveling extensively these past months, all of which was work-related, and as a consequence hobby time has been at a premium. My resolution for 2009 is: no more of that, and more time for hobbies. Let's see if I'll manage. I know I'll be busy until late February, but that should be the end of such nonsense.
On a somewhat happier note I have acquired a couple new engines and cars. Shopping online is simple if you're stuck in some hotel out in the middle of nowhere. I popped down to the basement yesterday and took a few photos of my newest toys, an Athearn Genesis MP15AC and a totally adorable Bachmann Spectrum 45ton switcher. Here they are for your enjoyment.
Maybe I'll be able to squeeze in some modeling time over the upcoming end-of-year orgy^H^H^H^Hfestivities. I hope you do. If you can, enjoy the season. If you can't, pray it's over soon - I know I do.
...with the soldering iron. (ok, that was pretty lame) But then soldering 38-odd track feeders in a single evening isn't exactly intellectually advancing. All the track up to Demmler interlocking is now wired up and waiting for the occupancy detectors to arrive which I mailordered week before last.
Speaking of mailorder - the last fishing run in the electric Bay was quite successful and beached two exceedingly nice Athearn RTR SD60s in the EMD demo paint scheme. It sometimes is hard to understand these beautiful units sell for next to nothing these days. Overproduction? Market saturation? (Proto 2000 also made them) Who knows...
All we know is these days we can buy meticulously detailed and smooth running engines for only a tad more than we paid for a simple Blue Box heap 15 years ago. And that unit required NWSL wheelsets, Ernst gears, a Sagami or Mashima motor, and its purchase price again in detail parts to come anywhere near their current successors.
These units will in time be turned into Oakway leasers. Here they sit inside Riverton interlocking.
This is Erik, a cupboard on casters I bought from Ikea recently. I was getting fed up with having tools and bits and pieces littered about the layout everywhere, plus space to do so is running out. So it was time to clean up a bit and store everything in a handy location.
Plus it's a great help underneath the layout when wiring. The layout height is such that I can sit in an office chair adjusted to lowest position and work comfortably. Being comfortable, not having to bend over into nooks and crannies, and having all tools and supplies at hand makes for very relaxed (and potentially more error-free) working. Erik just wheels along as I move around underneath the layout.
There are three metal drawers to hold tools and stuff and that's my homemade cable spool holder on top. As you can see I've already eaten quite a bit into the black and red wire supply, which are my main colors for track power. That's a ring of 3x1.5 square mm solid strand installation cable on the left which I use for the main power buses (AC and DCC) around the layout.
Sinns is now wired up with all feeders attached, and likewise the west staging lead has power almost to Braddock.
Some more time spent on track feeders tonight. Here are a few pictures to illustrate the process:
Step 1: cut bits of wire to length; step 2: strip insulation and bend two 90 degree angles, then tin.
Step 3: use wire brush wheel in Dremel to clean side of rail; step 4: drill through roadbed, subroadbed, benchwork all the way.
The two feeders on the near track have already been inserted into their holes, had a bit of flux added, and will then be pushed in all the way. Have the top bend in the wire touch the rail as close to the base as possible. Heat wire and rail thoroughly then add a bit of solder and attach the feeder. Use a Bright Boy to clean the rail after the joint has cooled.
Now, using a pair of needlenose pliers, first push the feeder down into the hole a bit, then grab feeder and rail in the jaws of the pliers and squeeze firmly to get the feeder to lay as close to the rail as possible (right). Notice how the right-most feeder is already finished and looks just like a track spike at this stage.
In addition to making it look better this also strength-tests the solder joint. If the feeder snaps off the track here you have a bad solder joint and need to start the process over again.
Don't just walk away from bad solder joints, they *will* come back to haunt you later on...
I like to use solid-strand wire for all my wiring, but even if you use flexible multi-strand everywhere else I recommend you use solid wire for the track feeders. It is much easier to solder than multi strand and come away with a clean looking result.
Here's the end result then. The silver solder still makes it stand out quite a bit, but a bit of weathering will blend it in nicely. And it can't be seen anyway since it's on the back side of the rail.
Note this is a macro shot, the wire diameter is a scant 1/2 millimeter. The rail is code 83 (.083 inches high).
Till next time, and have fun soldering! ;-)
Not too much progress to report this week, although I did manage to solder about 20 track feeders to the rails and wire them up underneath. This encompasses all four main tracks - west staging lead, Mon Sub, Keystone #2 and #1 tracks - up to Sinns interlocking, and also the eastern half of Sinns itself. I also got a bit of shopping done, first for an automatic reversing loop controller called the KSM-2 by Muet-Digirail. Secondly some 6-wire cable, plugs, and a crimp tool to fabricate the Loconet cables necessary to wire up the block detectors and throttle plug panels in the fascia.
Recapping from two entries down, here's a bottle-less version of the shot showing east crossover Riverton. After a bit of rearranging I was able to "cut the corner" a little so to say, giving the McKeesport Connecting yard on the right a little more room.
As mentioned previously, the extreme shelf design of the layout leaves fairly little room right and left of the tracks for scenery. So small, irregularly shaped areas like this will be all the more important in providing the visuals that clue the observer in to the surroundings. In terms of perspective, this is what your typical railfan photos offer. As such I'm betting it will be enough. We'll see...
In the distance you can see the tracks swing around to the left in front of the Camp-Hill complex (about where the blue box sits). From there it will head across the Youghiogheny bridge at McKeesport where the Mon Sub splits off, then curve to the right to rejoin the existing bit of mainline through Sinns interlocking. I have been spending considerable time this week getting this set of reverse curves laid out on the roadbed. It truly is the decisive point in the entire location of the main line, and the fact this junction sits on a series of bridges doesn't make it any simpler. I had not glued down Sinns interlocking back when I assembled it earlier this year because I wasn't sure how much space I had. Good thing. I shortened it about 12cm this week by redoing all the joints on the switches, located the throwbar holes, and glued the entire assembly down after making sure I could now get the reverse curves at minimum radius.
I'm guessing McKeesport will keep me busy for quite some time yet...
After putting it off for a considerable time - in retrospect: much longer than I should have - today I took the plunge and started wiring things up. The main reason I hadn't started earlier was I wasn't entirely sure how to do the track feeders, and how to organize things underneath. The track feeders are shown in these pictures, and I hope they're hard to see - they should be...
Basically the procedure is: drill a hole through the roadbed, subroadbed and Resopal using an oversize (extra long) 2mm drill bit, use a wire brush wheel in the Dremel to clean the weathering off the rail on the side away from the aisle, insert a length of solid-strand wire into the hole, strip off and tin the end, bend it towards the rail, and solder the wire to the rail. You have to work with small amounts of solder, especially on the front rail as the feeder is soldered to the inside and obviously the joint needs to clear the flanges of passing equipment. The smaller and neater the soldering joint, the less visible it will be.
With Customtrax (or handlaid track on wooden ties) you have the luxury of heating the rail and wire very thoroughly as there are no plastic bits to melt as soon as things get hot - very convenient. After the joint is cooled, use a needlenose pliers to bend the wire as close to the rail as possible to further hide it. The wire will be toned down some by applying Micro Engineering weathering solution to it, and the necessary touch-up ballasting later on will probably hide it completely. Even now they are barely visible, being located away from the viewer.
A glimpse underneath the layout (left) shows the four sets of feeder wires for the four tracks just east of Sinns. The red wires are routed to the block occupancy detector (a Uhlenbrock 63340), a device that sends "block occupied" messages via Loconet to connected devices. In this case the messages will go via the USB interface to the CTC software in the computer, which accordingly displays the occupied track sections on the dispatcher's track schematic. That is, as soon as I start wiring up the Loconet.
The black wires are common to all detection sections (and tracks not equipped with detection), they end in the terminal strip next to the detector. The heavy grey wire is the track power bus, 1.5 square mm solid strand wire as used in house installations. The detector and terminal strip aggregate all the track feeders supplying one set of detection sections (8 per detector with this model). Every piece of track receives one set of power feeders to make sure the rail connectors are not relied on for power continuity. That's a lot of power feeders for sure, on the order of 80 sets on the mainline alone, but working one at a time it certainly is doable (if tedious) and certainly preferrable to problems due to shaky power. The chosen layout height makes this work fairly easy, I can comfortably sit on a swivel chair while installing the wiring.
So, after these first bits of wire went in, I just had to exercise the thing a little. After connecting and powering up the Zephyr, UP 5714 was taken for a spin light engine up and down all the tracks, then backed into the staging yard and pulled the first train onto the layout. On the right she is seen emerging from staging for her whopping 2m run...
In case you're a returning visitor, I have remodeled the layout intro page at http://mr.mtnsub.org/ to provide a lot more prototype information and also some background on what my modeling thoughts are. If the previous jumble left you confused as to what I'm trying to do here, I invite you to check it out. If this is your first time here, welcome! - and the same applies...
Any questions/omissions/errors, I'd love to hear from you.
First up, though, I just realized I hadn't shown any shots of Braddock after tracklaying is completed. Here you are. I'm quite happy with the way it turned out, with nice flowing trackwork.The photo on the right hand side shows a piece of masonite fascia mounted at Braddock, following the benchwork outline. Much as I would like to have the finished effect the fascia provides everywhere, I will put off on mounting it just yet as I suspect the upcoming initial wave of wiring work will be more comfortably done without it.
Obviously, for the Loconet wiring (and attendant outlets), it needs to be in place. Ultimately, a curtain rail screwed underneath the benchwork and curtains hanging from it will hide all the stuff stored underneath and will provide a nice, clean, habitable train room look.
Speaking of wiring, I have just placed an initial order for five ESU Switchpilot Servo DCC 4-servo decoders. They cost only about half of the MBtronik decoders per-servo, and that is already built up. Plus each Switchpilot controls four servos, uncluttering the wiring even further. Adding 3 EUR for a servo, the total cost of a slow-motion motorized DCC switch drive thus comes to 9 EUR apiece. I'll report back how well they work.
The current state of affairs as of last night. This view looks down the aisle with Demmler Yard on the right and Riverton Interlocking on the left hand side. You can see the first four turnouts in Riverton are glued down, as is the large horseshoe curve in the main leading to it. The curve sits on a piece of benchwork I filled in last week, that was one of the last bits of Resopal that was needed. I will have to add some for the Steelmet siding at Sinns later on, but that's still pie in the sky.
The somewhat wider view on the right shows the same general scene. The three switches surrounding the UP AC44 are the east yard switches for Demmler Yard, splitting the yard lead into back lead plus three tracks. All four tracks run between the main line and the wall on the right. The back lead continues down closest to the wall. The two switches shown placed down there will split off two more, shorter yard tracks for a total of 5 tracks.
Barely visible way in the back in front of the green bucket, a #8 right-hand switch joins the Union interchange track. Right in front of the bucket, finally, another switch splits that into the two Union RR Dexter staging tracks. As mentioned previously, these staging tracks turn left, run at the back along the wall, and tunnel through the pillar visible in the left background, behind which the River Yard is located.
The line of bottles shows an evening's work - 3m of track and two turnouts. The last three bottles sit right on the east crossover switches.
Two views of the McKeesport Connecting interchange yard laid out on the benchwork. Left picture looks west, Riverton east crossover is on the right underneath the bottles. You can see there's three tracks here, two of which continue to Camp-Hill, behind the photographer to the right. Engines will be able to run around their train in the two left tracks. To gain access to the right track they need to pull back behind the far turnout. There's enough distance between that turnout and the junction switch at Riverton to facilitate the move without blocking the main.
Right picture shows the same scene from the other, Riverton, end. You can see that some trial-and-error was necessary to get things arranged satisfactorily. I anticipated as much and left the specific planning for this and Demmler Yard until I was far enough along to do it with real track in 1:1. Which is just about now...
Note also in the right picture how I used simple phillips head screws through the foam roadbed to keep the track aligned through curves. Rail joints on tangent track are easy, but in curves you have to be careful to make sure no kink develops and the ties line up nicely. The screws can be removed as soon as the glue sets. Whatever small holes they leave in the roadbed will later be covered with touch-up ballast.
On the left, another view of Riverton. The switch to the right of the closest water bottle connects to the McKeesport Connecting interchange yard (see above) behind the bottles, and the MKCR storage yard (towards the camera), which on the prototype is parallel to the CSX main. This lead is often used by the Y10x crews to store their caboose and some cars before running around and shoving into Camp-Hill. While the yard will not be modeled, the lead will serve the exact same purpose (remember, I'm trying to model operations). The lead will approximately follow the dotted line and run off the front edge of the layout.
And finally, on the right, a look at the roughly laid-out west yard switches at Demmler. These are all right-hand #6s and as you can see this is a rather tight arrangement. I think I will have some good fun cutting and fitting them to fit into here. In the far background, the Union RR Dexter staging switch can be seen just in front of the wall; the staging tracks will run along the wall on the left approximately where the piece of plywood sits. I plan to put a low backdrop in front of that track to blend in with the full-height backdrop on the wall behind.
It's hard to believe, and I actually did not remember it, but it was two years ago last week that I embarked on this project. Wow!
Looking back at the first blog entries definitely is a trip down memory lane. Sometimes I think progress could be more forthcoming, sometimes it's hard to grasp what actually has happened and how - but looking at old pictures definitely helps to understand how much changed. I'm actually glad I took the time to document things.
Track laying has progressed to Riverton interlocking, the yard layout at Demmler has been finalized (talk about a head scratcher on that one!), and a bit of wood got added to the benchwork to make it all fit. Altogether satisfactory. Pictures later, probably this coming weekend.
This has been a productive week. The mainline "railhead" has been pushed to halfway between Demmler and Riverton, a total of about 22 meters of mainline track having been installed. Braddock and Demmler interlockings are likewise in place. Looking at the box of remaining track materials, about half the estimated flextrack for the mains is now glued down. That's pretty good going...
The picture at the left shows the status as of yesterday - Demmler interlocking in the foreground and the mainline running towards Demmler yard in back. Again, the water bottles are used to weight down the track while the glue sets. On the right, the east crossover switches of Riverton interlocking have been laid out and track centers drawn in.
The picture on the right shows a significant obstacle in the way of the Union RR trackage - the brick pillar on the left. In a fashion similar to the pipe at the top, the Union RR cinder bridge line down to the River Yard will have to tunnel through the pillar. On the far side of the pillar, there will be two concealed staging tracks for the Union RR trains. The ordeal of drilling through this thing will be saved for a later episode. Suffice to say I'm not looking forward to it...
Speaking of River Yard, here (on the left) is a view from the east manhole towards Braddock interlocking; roughly turned 90 degrees to the right from the previous shot. The area with the junk on the right is the future location of the River Yard. The Union RR will come here through the tunnel mentioned above (located behind the photographer) and enter the yard which is parallel to (but not connected to) the CSX mainline. This and the other manhole in front of the far wall will enable operators to switch the yard.
Back on the CSX main, you can see the switch for the Braddock Industrial Track. The track is used as a tail track to pull beyond the switch visible behind the glue bottle, then shove back to serve two industries located here. The black line on the styrofoam shows the future location of the lead.
The picture on the right shows the future location of Demmler/Riverton Yard and the current end of the mainline as of tonight. About where the glue pot sits is where the large 180 degree turnback curve begins - this is also the point where Riverton Yard ends and Demmler Yard begins.
Riverton is a small stub-ended yard which will be represented by two to three (depending on how things will fit) tracks. It is used mostly to set out bad-order cars, cabooses (yes, they're still used in Pittsburgh on locals that require shoving), and engines.
Demmler, conversely, is a much larger double-ended yard, actually consisting of two groups of tracks designated upper and lower yards. In the real world it is not exactly small. On the layout, no distinction will be made between the upper and lower parts, and total number of tracks will be around 4, not counting the back lead or Union RR connection.
The mainline tracks will be located closest to the aisle, with #2 track at the minimum radius (28 inches or 68 centimeters, depending on your preference). It is an inside curve, so the small radius will not be too apparent.
To the left the turnouts for Riverton interlocking are already laid out. Depending on how things work out, I may be able to relocate them a couple inches toward the outside, helping to increase the radius a bit. As always, there are tradeoffs to be made. The white piece of masonite is a template for the minimum radius. That's very handy to have to quickly check how the curves work out while drawing in the track centerline.
The past couple of weeks have been fairly productive. The folddown section between west end Braddock interlocking and the entrance to staging has been finished. For now it will remain in the up position permanently until I get the nerve up to cut through the tracks running across the joints... The grade up to and across it (the section is part of the grade) is one of the design compromises I had to make. It would have been much preferable to have a separate west-end staging yard; alas there's nothing I can do to that end. So I'll have to live with it.
The picture on the left shows the view towards staging and also the grade climbing up in parallel to Sinns interlocking (where the Superliners are sitting). You can also see the fascia is nearing completion up to this point, and the first of the Digitrax UP-5 fascia outlet panels is mounted there at the curve. The track climbs the grade, swings onto the folddown section, and splits into three tracks through the two switches. This section itself will be hidden later on, both to keep equipment from tumbling to the floor in the case of a derailment as well as to hide this 3-into-1 arrangement.
The picture on the right shows the beginning of the prototypical part on the west end of the layout, Braddock interlocking. The three tracks coming off the bridge are, from left to right: The P&W Subdivision, the Glenwood Running Track, and the Pittsburgh Subdivison main line towards J&L Tunnel. The three of them come into one track on the bridge to head towards staging.
Here's a more track-level view along the interlocking. The black line on the left shows the track center of the P&W Sub track which is yet to be laid. The AC44CW sits on the Glenwood Running Track which leads towards the Glenwood yard and is used by the Y10x locals which interchange there. The track on the right is the Pittsburgh Sub main line towards J&L Tunnel.
Compare the layout to the ATCS schematic below. Basically, the visible part of the layout will feature the area between Braddock on the west end and Sinns on the east. Sinns is located directly next to the ramp coming down from Braddock. The Pittsburgh Sub west of Braddock and the Keystone Sub east of Sinns are represented by staging. Since it is the same staging yard for both ends the whole layout forms a large reversing loop.
The thin styrofoam under the track in the last and the next picture is 4mm styrofoam wallpaper, used for insulation purposes under normal wallpaper. It can be bought in rolls at the DIY store, is easy to cut using a knife or scissors, and just the right thickness to raise the main line tracks above sidings and yard tracks. I glue that in place beforehand, draw the track centerlines in, and then glue the track down on top of it using white carpenters glue. The water bottles are used to weight down tracks and switches until the glue sets (roughly one day to stay firmly in place, and another one to two days until it's fully set).
Here's another view looking west towards the folddown section. Again, the black line shows where the P&W Sub main will go. The black line in the foreground is the tail track of the Braddock Industrial Track, which comes off of #2 main just east of Braddock.This is the narrowest part of the layout benchwork, just barely wide enough for the tracks. It is really narrow, about 20 cm at the "tip". Most other locations on the layout are approximately 60cm deep.
One of the design decisions made early on was to keep the shelves narrow. This makes working on the track - and presumably operation later on - a very enjoyable affair free of having to reach over multiple trains and scenery elements. The operator is always up close and personal to their train, concentrating on the task at hand. In most cases he is either facing the wall or a backdrop. I can see already now that this very much isolates one from the surroundings, making the layout appear much bigger than it really is. Right now it is still possible to glance across the room (which is good since I have a habit of losing tools in all kinds of places) but once the high backdrops move in this is going to be a thing of the past. An operator located at Braddock will not be able to see or even talk to an operator located at e.g. Demmler without using the radio. An additional benefit is it will limit the surrounding scenery to those items closely related to the railroad - signals, equipment sheds, switch motors, code line and poles, and a few structures. No sweeping scenic vistas with hills and dales on this layout - thus the slab benchwork is a good fit.
The photo on the right shows a peek underneath the benchwork. There are two 30mm holes located underneath the switches through which the wires off the servos will run to actuate the throwbars.
It's sure been a while, and almost no progress has been made. Springtime is always busy with the garden demanding attention, and the good weather after a usually dull and dreary winter beckoning. What little time is left is spent on railfanning. So, the second quarter of the year isn't anything to write home about as far as model railroading is concerned. I did work a bit on the fold-down section linking Braddock to the staging lead, pics to come in a later entry.
Today I took delivery of the second half of my Custom Trax order, and as always I was delighted. Everything was well packaged and survived transit in splendid shape. You can see the box on the left. Steve has been working his magic again, the trackwork is awesome. Much better than anything I could build myself. Much better.
The beauty with custom-built track is you can get it the way you want. Even though he doesn't list it on his website, Steve readily agreed to use code 70 rail on this batch. Combined with the dark ballast it will give a beautiful rendition of the lighter trackwork used on sidings and yard tracks. The picture on the right shows two #8 switches, the one with light gray ballast has code 83 rail, the other code 70. The piece of plastic track, by way of comparison, is Rocoline code 83.
Going together with nice trackwork is a semi-scale wheelset. I have a large number of cars that have plastic wheelsets. I consider those no-nos for clean track and good operation. A good number of aftermarket replacements exist, among them straight RP25s, semi-scale .088 profile wheels, and of course the Proto:87 compliant almost-true-scale wheels. After some research I decided to strike a balance with the .088 profile wheels, which should perform well on standards-compliant track yet give a noticeably better impression than the RP25 wheels with their very wide tread. I am currently evaluating wheelsets made by Branchline and Intermountain, both of which have a good reputation among modelers. The picture on the right shows a Walthers Bethgon equipped with the Intermountain 36" wheels, while the Proto 1000 hopper on the left rides on the stock RP25-contoured 33" wheels. It's quite a difference in real life and even more so in photos.
The track laying crew finally comes out into the open... The staging exit on the right has been layed with Rocoline track on a plywood base, and the Customtrax picks up where the track will be out in the open. I decided to hide the entrance to staging as the tight curves are ok to operate on but not much to look at.
The tracks from near to far are New Castle Sub staging lead, Mon Sub, Keystone Sub #2, and Keystone Sub #1. Having the New Castle Sub here side-by-side is definitely a design compromise, but I think is excuseable in an urban environment.
You can see Sinns Interlocking in the background, ready but not glued down yet.
Superelevation in curves is definitely a feature of modern mainline track and one I love. The outer end of the ties is 2mm higher than the inner, courtesy of a lot of spare ties left over from the staging yard project wedged between the track base and styrofoam.
I glue the track down using white carpenters glue. It is plenty strong enough, takes several hours to set initially and about 2 days to harden thoroughly. This allows for plenty of time to check and doublecheck placement and adjust at will. I squirt the glue underneath the track on the outside as well as the inside on curves. On the straightaways, I gently lift the track, squirt glue underneath near the middle, and then push the track back down into the glue. I use a number of water bottles to gently hold the track down while the glue cures.
As you can see, a 10mm styrofoam layer has been glued on top of the benchwork. This makes it very easy to add scenic features like ditches later on. The foam is glued to the Resopal slabs with the same white glue.
Today I finished the last remaining bits of wiring, tested everything, and shoved it under the layout into its final place. The section joint to the other part lines up nicely, and engines and cars traverse the joint with no problem on all the tracks. I skipped powering the frogs on the Roco switches and the Tillig double slips, but did wire them up on the three-way switch and the Tillig switches.
In retrospect it would have been easier to modify the Tillig switches so the closure rails are connected to the points and leave the frog unpowered. But since the WA-5s have relays for the purpose it wasn't a big deal.
These two shots (and again apologies for the poor quality - ISO 800 and handheld) peer into the entrance to the staging yard. In case you think the tracks look somewhat crooked - they do. This is a model based on CSX after all. ;-)
Actually considering the yard is 4.5m long, the deviations aren't too big. Even with the very tight track center spacing of only 42mm there is ample equipment clearance.
The nice thing about digital switch control is that only 2 pairs of wires connect the yard to the layout - AC for the switch motors, and DCC for the track power and switch controllers.
Apparently the wires have been organizing their attack formation somewhat better, as evidenced by this collection of scrap pieces of wood and metal masquerading as a spool holder/cable dispenser. The white bit in front is a piece of kitchen tabletop edge liner, which has a rubber lip on the bottom and clamps the cable ends down nicely.
Six of the seven required MBtronik WA-5 servo controllers have been mounted along the front edge of the board and have been hooked up to power and DCC. 12 of the 14 servos are wired to the controllers, and a few additional track feeders have also been installed.
As always with these kinds of projects, there are a few learning points to be found along the way:
Following this reasoning I think it wise to keep the auxiliary DCC bus (for switches, signals, and other non-train stuff) separate from the track DCC bus. I use different color wiring to distinguish between them (green/orange for aux-DCC and red/black for track-DCC).
It is a good idea to set standards for this during (or even before) the early stages of construction and purchase color-coded wiring in quantity accordingly.
I started setting up the track schematic in CATS, a free software by Rodney Black which makes use of JMRI to interact with DCC-controlled layout elements like signals, switches, occupancy detectors, and such like. The picture shows a screenshot of the staging yard schematic. All the turnouts are already controllable and CATS can be used by the dispatcher to set up routes into the staging tracks.
JMRI interfaces to the Digitrax Zephyr (or most any other Loconet-compatible command station for that matter) by way of the RR-CirKits Locobuffer-USB.
In case you haven't heard of JMRI yet, take a look at it. It contains a number of very good tools, including DecoderPro which makes configuring DCC decoders a breeze, and several good debugging tools like the Loconet Monitor.