Tuesday, 17 January 2017

GC Laser Ice House

My next project after working on the yard area was to get the layout moving again. I hadn't cleaned the rails since I laid the ballast so I knew that there was going to be some issues. I had a cash Christmas present so I spent it on the Woodlands Scenics track cleaning andloco wheel cleaning equipment.



These both worked perfectly and I had everything running except the Budd RDC. This is an indulgence of mine as I really like to see a Budd running around the track. However, it is, strictly speaking, way to long for the curves that I have. This came home to me when it came around the left hand curve. First off, it hit two trees. Then it stopped as it had run its pilot against the scenic bank. Lastly, it stopped because the Kadee uncoupler was fouling the track! I cleared all of these obstacles and then had to tweak the track a little and it was now running OK.


OK, so now I had the railroad running again. I then coupled up JMRI and started moving some points. Acouple were still gummed up from the ballasting but these were easily freed up. Next, it was back to some building for the next scene.

I had on hand a couple of GC Laser kits. One is the extension Icing Platform and the other was the Icing Office for the Ice Shed. What I didn't realise was that the platform was an extension to the main one and that I had missed getting the actual Ice Shed! Humm. So me quick thinking was in order. Anyway, off I went. The Office went together first. They recommend using marker pens to colour the model so I dragged out a red and Sepia marker. This went really well. They also recommend buying some needle tip bottles for apply the wood glue. I have some Titebond here which I bought years ago because that was what Norm Abrams used in'The New Yankee Workshop'. Norm is my hero. I even made oak furniture for a living (well not much of one) some years ago thanks to his programmes. Anyway , I had a look on EBay and bought one for £3.50. When it arrived, it turned out to be 10 of them for the price. 


This works brilliantly.You can put down a single spot or a really thin line. Off I went. The construction was very simple and the instructions were a little on the complex side but it all made sense in the end. here are some intermediary images.



Here is the Office complete (sorry about the fence bending buy it is only card so it is a bit flexible).


Next came the icing platform and here is where I realised that I had made a mistake. This is designed as an extension so has a part of the platform extended to reach out to the platform proper. This makes the trestles work in place. Without the other platform it looked stupid so I had to do a bit of cutting and shutting to get everything to look right. It was all I could do anyway, as I didn't have room for the main, long, platform.  Well, here it is completed - the construction went so quickly that I forgot to take any in-progress shots.



Finally, I have placed them in their intended location. Firstly the air shot which shows the placement.


Then, the moody, low shot to give a feel for the siting.



I think that it looks the part and will look even better when the real Ice Shed arrives. It gives me the opportunity to close off the area between it and the freight house.This will enable me to make a couple of scenarios rather than just one large on.

BTW, I know that the freight house is missing some roof supports. That is one of my next jobs. They are in a pile around the back!

Monday, 9 January 2017

My wife can't believe this

No only do we have cows, we have buildings, people, junk, etc. I have never got this far before!

OK, so first off, I have put the Fuel Depot in place - this is part of the Walthers kit. I have added a few signs plus some oil drums. I am going to add two petrol pumps. This will also be where the S&NE diesels refuel but that is to come. The fence behind, as mentioned before, is scratch built from coffee shop stirrers. My NWSL Chopper does a great job of cutting these things to size. The next bit to go in is the gates to the railroad yard. These will be open and you can see the road going away.


Next off, I have put the "General Manufacturing" industry in place. This is a Carolina Craftsman Kit - Grizz's Hidden Gems which I have adapted by building a new base. The base is two layers of 5mm foam board covered with stone effect styrene card and decking made from the above mentioned stirrers. Again, I have made up the signage. This was a slightly tricky kit as it was laser cut but came with lots of stripwood for the bracing etc. It ended up looking OK.


I am now getting on with the lumber yard. I am making this from scratch (apart from the crane, which comes from a Wills kit).  The pile of logs in the background is a flat car load that is there temporarily.



The yard, in theory, receives uncut tree trunks and converts them into coarse cut lumber. To achieve this it needs the crane for loading/unloading and a saw to cut the timber.  I found an image that I liked on the internet. (c) https://www.dreamstime.com


This seems to me to have all the attributes I need. A small installation, constructed of wood and an easily modelled saw. I decided that it could be built using my stirrers. It is going together very nicely at the moment. First off, I cut the back planks. I then used the jig that I made for the railroad yard fence to put together short sections - held together using masking tape. (You can see some of the sections in the back of the image below)


The cross braces had some double sided tape applied and then the short upright sections were attached. Following that, the roof and its bracing were attached. The roof is just some basswood that I had lying around.

Next, I had to make the concrete base. This was made from DAS air dry clay. Whilst it was setting, I inserted some cocktail sticks into the clay to make the holes ready for the main uprights.



Having got all that in place, I layered the roof with strips of printer paper to represent tar paper weatherproofing.  This is what it finally looked like:



A spray of Vallejo Model Air wood finished off the top part and a coat of Vallejo mid-grey covered the concrete base. I made a small table saw to look roughly like the one in the photo. This was made from bits of plastic card and strip wood - mostly held together by doble sided tape.

Once everything was in place, this is what it looks like. I am quite pleased. It was well worth the effort and I am thrilled to be bac scratch-building again after many years.


You can see that the back fence is now in place along with the gates. Not being sure quite how to handle the signage on the gates (and having search the internet for examples) I went for: "Sunset Rail Yard - No entry unless on business - By Order". That might be a bit too British but without more information, I looks OK to me. Also, there is only on US citizen that is ever going to see this in the flesh and he won't mind!

At the same time as getting all of this done, I have completed the Blair Line "Greene's Feed and Seed". This was a great kit and a pleasure to make. I liked it so much that I have ordered three more kits directly from them. They are charging me just $9.99 for shipping from the US so they are great people in my book. I liked the way the kit went together and I also liked it that you got "stuff" to place around. I haven't started scenicking this end of the layout yet so it looks a bit bare.


 Don't you just love all those posters! I have to admit that the back side of the building is bare of all these as I have loaded the side we can see.






Monday, 19 December 2016

Herd of Cows?

Of course I have heard of cows -the old ones are always the best!

Two packs of HO cows arrived the other day along with some fencing from York Modelmaking.

These two together have pretty much finished off the top corner of the layout.


I have ballasted the yard tracks with cinders and the coloured the surrounding area with a lighter black to provide a psuedo-tarmac effect. The next job is to build up the area to the top of the yard as seen above. I am putting a fuel company there along with a refuelling point for the company diesels.



I am also scratch-building a perimeter fence for the yard.
I am making this using wooded stirrers from the local coffee shop (Costa not Starbucks!). You can see the Chopper that I am using to cut the wood. I have made about half of the number required.



I have just noticed that I still haven't fixed the join in the scenery around the corner. My friend Mark has painted a couple of extra back scenes so that I can get the join corrected. I also need to clean up the track and get some trains running again.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

University Project Part 2

The core of the project is the random engine.


The complexity is actually from the routing issues:

  • Each freight car has a destination.
  • The destination has a maximum car limit as well.
  • The destination maybe had a/some car/s there already.
  • Each car has a destination has a loading/unloading time*
  • Some of these may be ready to be collected.
  • If we collect them on this train, could this generate a demand for a replacement car
  • and round we go again!

Determine the next train

  • Select all of the possible cars in the yard that are available to be shipped (excluding empties).
  • Select all of the cars on the route that are ready to be collected (either because they are empty or are now loaded - and have been at their current location for sufficient time (see * above)
  • Use a randomiser to provide a list of cars up to the defined maximum car number for the train (it is possible that the number of cars is less than the maximum, but that is OK). 
  • Assess the cars to be collected on route (remembering that empty cars can be skipped if required)
  • Assess the effect of these collections against the train length at each pickup/drop off location.
  • If the number exceeds the maximum train length, re-assess the list until everything is OK.
  • Once the train is  defined, calculate the weight of the train and allocate sufficient head end power.
  • If sufficient power is not available, reduce the length of the train accordingly - use the randomiser once more to decide on the final make up.

Complex Routing


The other interesting thing is that some cars have a complex routing requirement. let us take an example from the Pacific Fruit Express (PFE) back then when they used refrigerator cars that were chilled with block ice.  Let us say that the PFE storage yard is somewhere north of Los Angeles, CA. It might go as follows:
  1. The car is sitting on a storage track
  2. It needs icing at the Ice House
  3. It is then shipped to the appropriate fruit packing company (maybe there are 3 with sidings on our division so it could be any one of three.
  4. It is loaded (1 day)
  5. It is collected and shipped to its destination
  6. It is returned to the storage track for cleaning and awaiting the next time.
This is further complicated because these three fictitious fruit packers send their fruit to different destinations
  1. Ships to Oregon so their cars go north and transfer to other railroads
  2. Ships to Chicago so their cars go east and transfer to other railroads
  3. Ships to San Francisco so theirs stay on the home road
and so on...

Train Length

Initially, train length is determind by the number of cars that shuld be routed - taking into consideration that each and every industry has a frequency of cars attached. This means that it is possible for a train that is allocated a length of 10 cars may only be allocated 2 or 15. below the defined train limit, there is no issue but if the number is above then the randomiser will allocate cars to be dropped. 

However, the ultimate limit is set by the train length. This, in itself, is set by a few factors - the power of the loco, the weight of each car and also, because it may meet other trains en-route (most US railroads are single track), the length of a siding that it can get into to get out of the way. The power of the loco isn't that important as you can always connect a second (or even third or fourth) loco. It is the siding length that is the ultimate limiter consequently, the maximum train length is one of the attributes of the train itself. This may differ by train type. If the train is a local/way freight then the limit is the shortest siding at locations along the route. If it is a through freight then the limit would be any siding on the main line. Passing sidings are not necessarily at a town or industry along the route but just may be on the main line for efficiency's sake.

Note:

In American terminology what we in the UK call a siding as named a "spur". A siding, in US terminology, is a length of track parallel (usually)to the main track and connected at each end by a point (US - switch). This provides a "hole" for one train to go into thus getting out of the way of a, second, oncoming train. This is not something that we see often in the UK as very little of our routes (apart from a few branch lines) are single track.
This will be a fun bit of code to plan and implement.

Friday, 18 November 2016

My Open University Proposed Project

I am signed up for TM470 - The Computing and IT project. This starts in January but before then I have to have a proposal for a project which will take 30 weeks to carry out and result in a 10,000 word report. It must be associated with at least one of the Level 3 (Honours level) course that have been followed and it has to be technology related. I spent some time a couple of years ago working on an idea for a freight car routing system. I managed to get a very thin prototype working which had the following constraints:
  • Capable of handling a small railroad
  • Very limited in its routing options
  • Minimal user interface (web based)
It did, however, prove that the idea was feasible. Now, I have to take it to a new level of operation. Well, in fact, I only have to design the project and report on the design. It would be good to have a prototype of the tablet front end and of the routing generator (which is the most complex part of the project). I can't get away with stating that I know that there are other issues that affect car selection and routing as I will be expected to have carried out a thorough analysis of the issues and choices which should be reflected in the design. Anyway, here is what I proposed along with a second post that expanded on the problem domain. Please note that this is written for an audience that a) doesn't know anything about railways and probably isn't interested and b) is based in the UK so doesn't know anything about US railroads - including the terminology that is obvious to us. The background description is purposefully brief so please ignore any obvious "facts" that have been missed.


Freight Car Routing On US Outline Model Railroads

Project Background

US manufacturers etc. are traditionally connected to a “railroad” by local sidings similar to container shipment delivery by road, now. Individual US industries, within towns/cities would be connected to the railroad by their own siding (maybe shared with others) and receiving/sending goods by “freight car”. These sidings would be sited within two “Division” yards. The railroad runs “Way Freights”  between Division yards that are given lists of cars to deliver from the main freight yard to various industries and collect cars from those industries when ready. Freight cars are sourced from other industries on the same railroad or from other railroad systems by an “interchange”.
Additionally, there will be freight trains that move cars between division points. The software will also have to provide for the make up of these.
The proposed system would hold a schedule of all trains and be able to prompt for the next train to be run against that schedule. The railroad will, possibly, run passenger trains within its schedule (even if managed by an outside agency such as Amtrak). The system should allow for these

Model World

  • Requirement to run trains realistically
  • Problem of generating random but sensible outcomes. Becomes harder as the size of the railroad increases. Some (many) model railroads in the USA can exceed 60’x40’ (18m x 13m) so the problem can be of great complexity.
  • Requires  a well-designed workable user interface during operation.

Problem Outline

Designing a multi-user software design for Model Railroad Car Routing

  • Creating the background scenario – available rolling stock – industry destinations – track and train capacities – frequency of service within a database.
  • Creating a rules based software engine design that incorporates random elements to allocate freight cars to locomotives/trains/industries.
  • Able to deal with small railroads as well as large.
  • Creating a flexible user interface for data uploading of railroad stock and industry data for each user.
  • Creating an easy-to-use tablet based touch interface for using the system during railroad operation.

Implementation

Project to be an Object Oriented software solution providing

User front end (tablet/phone based) – iOS Swift or Android

REST back end server – “Smalltalk/Seaside” based (my in-depth language)

Fast, simple database – likely to be a Key/Value NoSQL – possibly Riak KV

Deliverable to be design and implementation plan ready for coding.

Glossary

Railroad – US name for a railwayFreight Car – US name for a railway goods wagonDivision – One part of a railroad. Railroads normally comprise of a number of divisions – normally crew and/or engine change points.Way Freight – A Goods train that comprises wagons for delivery at various industry locations along a part of the railroad between home depots. It also collects wagons that have been processed – either loaded or empty – loaded for onward delivery – empty for return to the goods yard.Interchange – A point on a railroad where two companies connect and thus can exchange freight cars for onward delivery – either to a location within the accepting railroad or for onward transmission to a ”foreign” road.Foreign – US railroads are all privately owned. There are approximately 700 railroads, all of which connect to one or more other roads. A foreign road is any other road than the one currently holding a “car”.Car – short name for any railroad rolling stock – hence freight car – passenger car, etc.

Amtrak - Wikepedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amtrak
Smalltalk – Wikepedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smalltalk
Seaside – Wikepedia - http://www.seaside.st
Riak KV – Basho - http://basho.com/products/riak-kv/

Addendum

As some misunderstood what the central problem was, I expanded on the routing generator as follows:

The complexity is actually from the routing issues:
  • A track can only take a loco, a caboose (brake van) and a maximum number of freight cars (depending upon the train type selected).
  • An appropriate loco and, maybe a caboose, must be available (modern trains do not require a caboose).
  • Each freight car needs a destination.
  • The destination has a maximum car limit as well.
  • The destination maybe has a/some cars there already.
  • Industries have car types and loading/unloading times that need to be observed.
  • Some of the cars at the destination may be ready to be moved.
  • If we move them, is there now space for a new car
  • A car, when selected, may have the following:
    * a new destination (possible if the car is loaded or empty)
    * released back into the free pool (if empty and own road)
    * moved off the system towards its home road (if a foreign owned car).
  • and round we go again!
and so on...
It really doesn't matter if there are 5, 10, or 50 possible locations as the limit is set by the train length.
This, in itself, is set by a few factors - the power of the loco, the weight of each car and also, because it may meet other trains en-route (most US railroads are single track), the length of a siding that it can get into to get out of the way. The power of the loco isn't that important as you can always connect a second (or even third or fourth) loco. It is the siding length that is the ultimate limiter. 
The smart part of the router will be coping with a possibly large number of cars in the pool. I have some statistics that show 250 cars available for use on a model railroad!
I will keep you informed as this progresses.


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Scenery and - now - ballast!

We are seeing some action at last. I bought a great spray can from the local Hobbycraft shop. I used this to put a better base colour down. I then did some more work with plaster - and some more paint. I bought a Woodlands Scenics (WS) sprayer and scenic glue. This glue is pre-thinned and contains a wetting agent so it works straight out of the bottle. I know that I could dilute some PVA and add Fairy Liquid (as advised on the MRH forum) but I only have a small railroad and this is very convenient.

I popped into Scograil (our local model railway shop) to get a bottle of WS Fine Grass. Shaking this on and spraying the glue worked perfectly. Out came the trees that I have had stored away for about 5 years and I ended up with something that I am pleased about.





The unfinished building is a Carolina Craftsman Kit - Grizz's Hidden Gems. Not sure what type of industry it is going to be. I am going to make a stone base for it to get it up to rail level. It is an interesting kit. As the cover page says - "Our ZIP-Kits include limited instructions). Limited is the word. Lots of wood strips and nothing to show how to put it together. So, what you get is some laser cut walls, some Tichy Train windows and doors plus some corrugated material for the roof. Apart from that, you are on your own!

The trees on the outside of the track provide nice cover for the curve round the back of the hill. I intend to make a post and rail fence along the front of the hill, overlooking the rail yard, and put some cows grazing there.

I am in the process of putting down some ballast. I bought one of these ballast layers - my one is by a company called"Proses", in Turkey, but it is the same one that Bachmann sell. My ballast is quite fine and it shoots out so I am putting as much effort into doing it as I would if I was just shaking it out directly. 



The ballast is mixed 1:7 with DeLuxe Materials Ballast Magic. This comes with a little spray gun which you fill with water and some washing up liquid. Lay the ballast down and spray it. Job done!


I am amazed that I am getting on with it so well.

I am starting a new Open University course in January. It is a ICT project course that requires me to build a project and make a final report. Seems easy but first you have to have a project that can take 30 weeks to build up to a 10,000 word report! I have decided to expand on my car routing prototype. I will post up the proposal in my next blog entry.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Starting to build some structures and lay down the scenery

I am always amazed how quickly time goes by when trying to maintain a regular blog! It is now nearly three months since I said anything about the Sunset and North Eastern so here goes.

The track is down and wired up. I dropped the idea of the LED displays in the end because I don't have easy access to the underneath of the railroad now that it is all one big long board. It can be lifted but it is awkward so now that the wiring is done and working, I will leave it as it is.

A reminder: The baseboard is made from 5mm art foam board. The track is all Peco code 83 and has mostly #6 electrofrog points which are all powered by Cobalt Digital point motors. The whole thing is controlled by an NCE Powercab unit. There is a powered USB cable that runs round the room to my iMac which runs JMRI (of course). This then runs the WiThrottle server so that I can control the railroad from my iPad although I tend to use the JMRI panel for the points.

I was looking at having some vinyl back-scenes printed but the cost was a bit more than I liked. I had a brainwave and asked my friend Mark if he could paint some for me. He is an excellent modeller and artist.  He took on the challenge and painted the complete back drop on some spare foam board, all in oils. You can see the results in the images. These are excellent but are currently only placed rather than fixed. There was a "quid-pro-quo" in that I have agreed to design him a web site for his painting - he specialises in painting WWII aircraft and is very good. Once his web site is live I will post the URL - it is worth going there and looking.

I have cut up some polystyrene sheet and layered it as a base for the hills. This was then covered with plaster impregnated bandage and painted. I am in the middle of this and am trying to come up with a decent colour for the base of the scenery. So far, I have used burnt umber, then a white/umber mix. I finally found what I thought was a light brown paint in our local Hobbycraft store only to find out that it was actually gold. As I didn't have the light on when doing the painting on a recent morning, I didn't notice. Turn the light on and it shines! I am trying to find a nice acrylic paint at a reasonable price that will give the effect I want.

I am in the process of building up a laser cut wood craftsman kit from Blair Line - "Greene's Feed & Seed". This is going together very nicely. I intend to airbrush it so have left the window glass out. I will replace this using Microscale Krystal Klear which makes small window glass very easily.

Lastly, I felt that I needed another road loco and found a new Bachmann GP9 on Ebay that came complete with DCC (no sound unfortunately) at $80. I have now got my complete roster including all of the freight cars so I am ready to get going properly.

Anyway, here are a few photos to show you where I am.