Sunday, 19 July 2020

And again and again

I am fated never to get a railway together. When ballasting the current switching layout, I managed to glue three points together so hard that they would not come apart to work. I could, of course, replace all three points but there is an issue with that. As I use foam core for my baseboard, pulling up a point that is stuck down will be catastrophic for the surface of the board. The strength of the foam core comes, not from the 5 mm of foam but the extremely thin layer of paper on both sides. Take some paper away and the board is ruined.

I now had to contemplate what to do and the answer, as always, was to "start again"! I was discussing the situation wit my wife when she asked why I hadn't been using the railway up to the point of the glue disaster. We talked about it and, as usual, Valerie had seen a flaw in the current arrangements. It seemed a good idea to have a small switching layout along the back of the desk but, in fact, it was difficult to use there and, as I have found before, once something is difficult to use, it never gets used!

I had been having thoughts about my Marklin set up against my current N scale and one thing had come to light. I really liked the use of Marklin C-Track. This is like Hornby/Bachmann track where you can put it together and take it apart easily. In fact, many Marklin fans have what they call "Carpetbahn" layouts - a muddle German for "Carpet railway". They put the track down for a few days and run some trains. Then, later, they take it up only to be put down again in the future in a different layout. I really liked being able to click the track together and then, when extending the layout, click some more on. There is one track system in N Scale that allows this - Kato Unitrack. I have seen boxes of it when visiting Scograil but never thought of using it before.

I searched around for some ideas and found out that there was a change in the way that points are operated using Unitrack. Each point comes with a built in point motor, so that is good, but the motor operates differently from most in that it is 2 wire, rather than 3. It seems that the point switches polarity when it changes so only two wires are required. I had a chat with Kevin at Coastal DCC about this. I now have a DCC Concepts DCD-SDC6 pack that contains 6 little units that convert the output of three wires from my ESU Switch Pilots into the required 2 wire operation. So, that is the techy bit sorted. Now, I have to learn a bit more about the track itself, and the use of these with an actual point.

Kato make a lot of combination boxes to extend the basic oval that comes with their sets. I have ordered a box that contains two points and some straights to make up a set of sidings.

It took me a while to realise that you don't get the oval in this box, just the sidings  - and £92 later, I have a set coming! Unitrack isn't cheap when compared to Peco but is similar to Marklin in cost so I should be used to it. Mind you, I don't have a friendly seller that offers me points, etc. at knockdown prices as I did with Adrian.

Valerie suggested that I forget about using the desk for my laptop, etc. and keep the top clear for the railway in a similar way to when it was in the bedroom. However, I am going to keep to the fixed dimensions of the desk and not extend outwards - 63" x 32". This should be ample for a nice N scale layout. I have searched the internet for track plans and found a nice one on the Kato web site. The one I liked is called Amhurst 2005. Now Amhurst is the huge model railroad show up the road from my friend Dan who lives in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. It takes place once a year and I would love to visit but... I entered the plan into Anyrail so that I could price it up.




 Valerie asked if I could print it out to see how it went. Just as well that I had entered it into Anyrail as it is easy to print out the track at 100%. It needs pasting together but it works very well.




The right hand loop is designed to be elevated and there are two bridges across the back with a river running under that finishes in a lake. I have taken the opportunity to extend the right hand loop out by one straight. Valerie would like me to put a fun fair in there as I did with my original Marklin layout. Faller make some nice sets so that's in the plan. I have also added a spur out the front as an interchange track where I can insert trains and remove them.

As you can see from the list there are quite a few items needed so this isn't going to be cheap, especially as the scissors crossover is £52 on its own (plus the single Switch pilot and four of the three to two wire units!). Fortunately, Valerie's mum gave me some money and I have been selling off my Marklin stuff so I have the available funds - close to £350! Fortunately, I have the ECos controller and mobile hand set plus 3 locos and 20 odd freight cars. There are two changes that I might make. I might put the scissors crossover at the back which will cut down the reverse running on the double track for trains from the interchange track. In fact, as I have the funds, I might put an extra crossover there so that trains can move between the two tracks on either side of the layout.

The V3 set comes on Tuesday and I will set it up to test the track and to get the points working with my ECoS. If that works well, then I will buy the rest. Happy days!

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

N Scale Sunset and North Eastern startup

Now I have it up and running I can give a fuller description of what is going on.

The layout is definitely 5' long by 10" wide with a 27" x 4"  extension for storage. All the track is laid and the point motors installed.

I tried the NCE system but had forgotten how pedestrian these controllers are. After my ECoS, everything seemed so difficult to select. Want to switch a point? Select Accessory, press a number corresponding to the point, press enter and then either 1 or 2 depending on the switch direction. On the ECoS - see the point you want (with an extended description), touch the point and see it move with a visual indication of the direction! No contest. I packaged the NCE up and sold it on EBay. It sold in 30 minutes of putting it up.

I decided that, as the layout was close at hand and quite small, I would like to have a hand controller and purchased the ECoS Mobile Station. This is like a mobile phone except it has a big speed control know fitted. I know that I could have used my phone using Engine Driver software but that would require my computer to be running JMRI and I wouldn't have the knob.



I decided, after spending some time with the SEEP point motors, that I could live with them. There seemed little point in shelling out £200 for 8 Cobalt motors. The TrainTec boxes work the motors nicely. I don't like the clunk that you get every time one moves but I can live with that.

I sorted out my loco situation. N Scale American Trains shipped me an Atlas Alco S2 switcher along with a 6 pin Digitrax decoder. It turned out that I hadn't fried the GP7 Digitrax decoder - just not connected it up correctly. Now I have two working DCC locos. I have bought a third one - an Atlas GP35 - from Rails of Sheffield and Coastal DCC have delivered yet another Digitrax decoder ready to go inside.

I have amassed 20 freight cars and 2 passenger coaches and have a caboose coming. This little(!) collection enables be to run some local freights, some short unit trains of gondolas and some short passenger trains. All of these are constructed by my Car Card software, of which more later.

OK, now some photos to bring you up to speed. Firstly, the basic desk.


Now, the desk with the railroad board in place. As you can see the desk is plenty big enough for the railroad and still have a usable desk.



Now the storage extension.


As you can see, the extension fits across the top of the printer. The printer is on a set of craft drawers that are on wheels so can be wheeled out from underneath as the track is self supporting. Everything is strong enough for me to lift the railway up and over to place it at the front of the desk for close working.

I was waiting for the Cobalt motors to come back into stock before I ballasted the track - I was going to have to lift each point to remove the spring. However, now I am staying with the SEEP motors, I can get on with the work. In the meantime, I started on some buildings. I realise the Exxon is too late for my railroad and should be ESSO or Texaco but Exxon was the only tank car I could get so it made sense to work with what I have. Rule 1 applies here (Rule 1. It is my railroad!). 



The two tanks are made from the inside core of a roll of toilet paper (if you are from the UK - think Blue Peter:-). The office is from a book called Easy-to-build Model Railroad Structures - a Kalmbach book from the 1950s that cost me $1 when I was a lad. The next structure is from a downloaded file that I printed onto an A4 sticky label before mounting on some foam core. The plant name and message were created in Inkscape and stuck on over the originals (a furniture factory).


The third industry that I have built to date is "Blum's Lumber Co.". This is a name that I stole from Frank Ellison, whose book 'On Model Railroads' has been a bible to me ever since I started at 10 years old.


This is all constructed of 40mm matchsticks (I bought a bag of 5,000 from Amazon for little money).  The roof is Evergreen corrugated plastic. The office was designed by me as a typical type of building - again out of Evergreen sheets.

Lastly, I am currently fitting a roof to the layout so that I can install some LED lighting. The roof is removable so that I can get to the back. It should light up really nicely.


The bits of paper that you can see are where the other industries are going. The sticky notes are to remind me which is which!

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Not quite as I imagined

The 4' switching layout turned into 5' with a 28" extension for staging. Secondly, the tortoise machines turned out to be out of stock so it got more interesting/confusing.

You want the full story - so here goes.


  • I had enough foam core to build the baseboard. Remember that foam core, like most things, is very strong along its edge so I laminate 2 pieces together to make it even better. This goes around the perimeter and then I put bracing in every 8" - being careful not move any that will conflict with the points.
  • My LHS delivered the track and replacement SEEP point motors - SEEP are standard 2 solenoid motors like the Peco ones. These were replacements for the DCC Concepts Cobalt motors - which were out of stock - which were going to be replaced with tortoise motors but THEY were out of stock. I wasn't keen but they are much cheaper and I already had enough ESU SwitchPilot boxes to control them - along with the SwitchPilot extensions for the frog polarity (see later). Except that my LHS was one point short!
  • I have found a really good web shop - N Scale American Trains - where I ordered an Atlas MP15DC which was  DCC on board and 10 freight cars - plus that missing point that I needed. The freight cars were mostly Model Power and these had really naff couplers so I picked up a box of Micro-Trains replacement trucks and now they all run and couple to my liking.
  • I got the track laid down and then started to mess about with the point motors. Even after adjusting the CV values on the SwitchPilot, the operation was extremely flaky with only one out of every 6 or 7 attempts getting a point to switch. I messed about with the ESU ECoS controller but even adjusting the pulse lengths didn't work. I thought that it might be the over-centre springs that Peco fit to their points so I took one spring out and then totally destroyed the point itself by my too strong handling.
  • I then had a go at running the Atlas loco but it didn't want to run. Eventually, it sat there with the lights operating but nothing else. Tony at the shop was kind enough to take it back and he has now replaced it with an Atlas S2 with a 6-pin decoder. That will arrive in the next couple of days. 
  • I bought an Atlas GP7 from him and a replacement board for DCC from my LHS. Along the way, I managed to fry that one myself. You wouldn't believe that I used to earn money providing DCC services to N Scalers! Now I am left with a GP7 and no replacement board as LHS only had one and there are no others in the UK. I am obtaining advice from DCC Concepts as to which decoder would be best for me to hand install into the loco.
  • The ECoS is a great piece of kits but is heavily overkill for my little 5' pike so I have purchased (for the 2nd time in my life!) an NCE PowerCab. Again, my LHS was out of stock - this virus has a lot to answer for trivially speaking - so I got one from Hattons which came today.
  • I had discussions with SWMBO and we (she) decided that the layout should stay at the back of the desk and not be moved so I have now built a permanent extension to provide the off board staging. Now, everything is nice and firm.
  • All I need is to get a loco to hand, wire up the NCE and get some trains running.
  • Had an interesting discussion with LHS today - not the DCC guy but the model railway side. I mentioned the problems I have the SwitchPilots. He has recommended that I get some TrainTec accessory decoders as these have a built in CDU which makes them really good with SEEP motors. Mind you as DCC side is ignoring me at the moment, I am thinking of getting the directly from TrainTec. I know that the DCC side is very busy but I am a regular customer and not sure that anyone should have to wait 2 days just to place an order.
Next blog entry, I will show some pictures of the new set up.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

So the world changes AGAIN!

As at Monday I had a 2m x 1m Marklin 3 rail German/Swiss themed layout. As of now - nothing! Asking the wife what we might do now we were in lockdown, she said, with a smirk - how about taking that railway down that clutters up our (her) bedroom?
Well, six bankers boxes later and it was all done and dusted. All the good stuff in their own boxes, all the track bumped into one box and the structures in another.


That's where the Pennstadt and Valdorf used to reside.
A bit of pleading has got her to agree a small switching layout so, after 2 years of Marklin, I am back to US outline but this time in N Scale. 4' x 10" with a small staging track.
Not quite what I expected of the week. Mind you, she couldn't complain so, like the government, funds have been made available. Lucking my local hobby shop (and DCC specialists) are still taking orders and even delivering locally!
7 Peco points, 1 crossover, 5 yards of track and 7 Tortoise point motors. I have an Atlas EMD DCC equipped switcher coming and soon about 10 freight cars. Should give me lots of fun. It will sit on the back of my desk - a 5'3" x 2' 8" monster!

The railroad will sit at the back, where the small paint rack is. with the staging reaching out over the left hand end as and when required. I have an ECoS DCC controller so everything should work really nicely.

This is the proposed layout from Anyrail. The layout is based on Kanakee Belt RR as seen in the March 2020 issue of Continental Modeller.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Connecting Houses for lighting

I  have solved most of my problems:

Software - rewrote the lok allocation methods and now it works pretty much as I want it.
Lighting of coaches - not really solved but a "work in progress" for when I get more funds available.
Derailments - I bought a 7203 box of 50 close coupling heads. I replaced most of the Roco wagons and everything was going well. I then replaced the coaches and had lots of issues. It seems that the coaches are now too close! I replaced them with standard Roco couplers and now  everything seems to run pretty well. I would have used my spare relex couplers but my V60 telex coupling system doesn't really like relex couplers.

My next step is to do a deep clean of the track as there are parts where the loks just stop and need to be got across a few inches of dead track. Mostly, this is where I can't reach so I am going to take the board down and get to all the parts that I can't currently get to. This should solve the final issue.

Now on to my current project

Lighting and Houses

I have three Faller houses and a Faller Butcher/Bakers.








All have lighting installed. When I built the layout I made sure that there was a 5 volt bus ready for lighting buildings. When I started on the little village, I installed four sets of 5v wires ready to connect to the house wiring. To do this, I used some micro connectors. What I didn't realise was that there were two different types of connector. It shouldn't have mattered because the houses would sit ok as the sets of connectors were in good places for the layout of the village. However, I then bought a Kibri signal box that took up one of the sites. Hence, I have had to repaint the baseboard and  re-position the four houses. Now the connectors don't match!

I wasn't keen on cutting everything back and soldering up connections.I don't really like getting the soldering iron out except at my work desk. I have some heat connectors - a wire in each end - cramp up both ends and then heat the connector up with a blow torch. In fact, the blow torch is much more manually controllable than the soldering iron. It has a decent handle so would never be dropped. If I did, the flame would to out. It has a firm base so it stands firm.


When I was putting the power busses together, I used what are called "Lever Nut Wire Connectors". These provide extremely firm wire connections. I have used the version that is designed for distribution of power - 


In this occasion, I wanted some line connectors and found a pack of 15 on Amazon.



A quick trimming of the wires - both from the 5v bus and the houses - and then one of these connectors between each house and its feed should make it nice and easy for the start of the village.

More to come!



Monday, 13 January 2020

Troubles, troubles and more troubles

It's been a time of strife over the last few weeks. Often, I was tempted to stop what I was doing and find another hobby - well, not really but almost!

OK, so what were the problems.
  1. My software seemed to be unable to do anything correctly
  2. Lighting coaches created lots of issues
  3. Derailments that were too regular.

 Software

My software is intended to provide a series of suitable train consists to give me a lot of interest and variety. However, the random allocaters of loks and wagons was failing miserably. I started out trying to fix the problems but then broke all my own commercial programming rules and - basically - tried to hack my way to a working program. On realising what I was doing, I stepped back - went to an earler version and rewrote the way these things were allocated. It took a couple of weeks of frustration before I sorted it out. It still isn't perfect but, currently, it is usable. Needs more work though.

Lighting Coaches

I would like to get all of my coaches lit but I can't find a system that I am happy with. I have tried four ways:

  1. Fit a slider and pickups; fit a rectifier and power a string of LEDs. Use Viessmann conductive couplers to get the power to other coaches.
  2. Fit a slider and pickups; fit a decoder and power a string of LEDs controlled by a function on the decoder. Use Viessmann conductive couplers to get the power to other coaches.
  3. Fit a slider and pickups; Viessmann LED fittings. Use Viessmann conductive couplers to get the power to other coaches.
  4. Fit Layouts4U battery power and latching reed switches.Use Viessmann conductive couplers to get the power to other coaches.
None of these worked because of my incompetence, basically.

First off, it didn't occur to me that fitting Viessmann couplers would shorten the distance between the coaches. One of my coach sets is comprised of "Expert" Piko ones and these are full scale length. However, individually, this is how it panned out.
  1. The worked OK except for two things. The way the keep-alive works meant that when the coach lost power from the track, the battery took over and the lights shone brighter. Not quite what I wanted. Also, my local DCC man - Kevin at Coastal DCC - only had one unit in stock. I tried communicating with the manufacturer - Express models but never got any answer to my e-mail - not good.
  2. Using a decoder didn't get very far as, firstly I blew one up so I had to buy a second to test the installation. Secondly, I was fitting it to my push-pull set so had to take the Piko decoder out (that controlled the lights on the end of the control cab). Once I had the ESU LokPilot fitted, it broke the way that the coaches worked with the lok. I now had to configure the coach lights using DCC and then switch to MFX to get the consist going between the lok and the coach set. Again, I had the problem of the coaches and couplers.
  3. I bought some Viessmann strips and put them into my Piko coaches - wrong! Realised that they still wouldn'y go around the curves. Broke the strips up taking them out and couldn't find a way to reconnect everything so it all went into the bin. Good setup though. The strip includes a rectifier and a brightness control. Still needs a slider though so conductive couplers.
  4. This seems to be the best was to go. However, I think that I must have had some faulty reed switches. Using a magnet, you should be able to turn the coach on and off. However, every time that I turned the coach off, it would come back on as I pulled the magnet away. I did find, later, that some that I put into my Rheingold coaches along while ago all worked fine. This is the way I will go for future investigations and it is cheap and doesn't require a slider.

Derailments

The last problem came from the new Piko Hobby red/cream coaches. As these were shorter than the Piko push pull coaches, I assumed that they would go around OK but they kept derailing at the s-curve at the front of the layout. I was showing my wife what was happening when she mentioned that the track seemed to dip at that point. On investigation, it appeared that the levels between the two boards were wrong. Using the electric raise and lower mechanism, I raised the main desk just a tiny amount until everything showed level and, lo and behold, the coaches went around OK. On u to my eagle eyed wife!

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Lighting goes in with a new station

Now that some of the basic scenery is down, I can concentrate a bit on the details. First off, I had to install a station. There are to be two platforms in my station for Valdorf. I already had a couple of station buildings that I had made from previously obtained kits. One of them fitted in so that was my basis. However, it was only a building so I had to get some platforms for two types of train.

There are two passenger trains that are due to arrive in Valdorf. One is the push-pull train made up of the Marklin E141 with three Piko coaches - one of which is a cab unit. The second is a local train that is made up of some 4-wheeled coaches and a BR24. The E141 train is quite long as the three Piko coaches are full length. One of my platform  tracks was amply long enough for it and the other track fitted the BR24 nicely. The platforms were to come from Faller - kit 120105. I ordered one of these from my local hobby shop and soon got to work.

It turned out that the platform was too long for my situation. Plus it was very wide. The width was an issue as there is little room on the other side of the station tracks for a full width platform due to the goods arrival track being there. This has a couple of consequences. Firstly, I am going to have to narrow the other kit, when it comes and secondly, with a narrow kit there is no room for the subway entrance so I had to cut the subway out of the first kit as well. As I have alluded to it, the second kit has been ordered but not yet arrived. The first kit went together very nicely. I painted it to mask all the glue marks. MEK is a very efficient glue and doesn't affect the surrounding surfaces but does leave a bit of a shine. The platforms got painted in my new Marklin track colour and the roof got a couple of coats of Neutral Grey but not enough to make it looks perfect.

Lighting! I am a big fan of lighting as my wife likes the effect give by the railway in the bedroom when she goes to bed at night. We leave the railway on whilst we read our books before laying down. Couldn't be better. I ran a couple of dark wires up the supports of the roof - brown and black and then painted them the base gray. The wires power a few LEDs cut from a long strip. Each is wired apart from the next to give a good spread of light. Then I added a couple of LED street lights to the end of the platform. Lastly, I fished out one of my packs of cheap figures bought off EBay. You get 100 figures for £3.89. They are not brilliantly painted but, en-mass, they look the part. I put a lot of them on the platform and, when lit up, it looks very good to my eyes.





Wiring everything up was very easy because of the the 5V power bus that I installed under the board at the beginning. Every light has a pair of connectors close by. I moved on to put the goods shed in. This was built for the the previous layout and fitted in very nicely. It also has an LED strip installed. Next, I fished out the LED street lights that, again, were from the previous layout. These were bought from Amazon at around £6 for 10 per style. I have some standard two light street units plus some high level station yard lights.


I needed somewhere for unloading oil wagons from the local goods train. Vollmer had a nice little unit - their 45527 kit.


Lastly, I wanted to put a couple of signals in to add some more technical interest. Knowing nothing about German signalling, I just pushed ahead! I got hold of a couple of Veissmann 4011 colour lights. I was told that they should be ground signals but, if I did that, they would be hidden by the trains so I went for the normal ones. I am running these off my ECOS through an ESU SwitchPIlot. 



(the camera changes the colour but they are actually both showing red)

They are "hand" changed as desired. I did think about making them automatic but that would take some of the fun out. I have subsequently found out that I should have red/green-amber signals because of the point work following the signal. This is to indicate to the driver that he is to take care! I will see what I can do when my budget recovers from the recent bout of purchases.

I am working on the station car park for my next project. I also have some Wills coal yard kits and a Kibri signal box on the way so plenty to get on with.