Thursday, 4 May 2017

SNE Track design works

I put my track design on theModel Railroader Track forum for comments and had lots of help sorting out what would work and what wouldn't. There were concerns that I had done the usual trick of overestimating how much track that can be got onto a board and one commenter thought that I had used #2 turnouts to make everything work. In fact I had been a little ambitious but, with a bit of reorganising,I was able to get the basic layout to fit.

This is the "current" final layout.

I had to swing the runaround over so that it ran from one end of the main board to the other. To make this work,I had to move the passenger station onto the runaround. I also removed a couple of industries. Apart from that everything went in OK. here are some pictures as it went along.

The track is now down, wired up, had the turnout motors fitted and everything has been tested.

Here are all of the point motors laid out and pre-configured to their correct addresses. Little did I know what was to come!

 It wasn't until I tried everything on the board that I realised that motor No. 1 didn't work. I had done the classic Cobalt motor stupid error - put the two power wires in at the wrong end of the wiring panel. This is guaranteed to blow up a motor. Later versions have a little film cover to stop you. This is the second time that I have done this. So, a quick trip down to my friend Kevin at Coastal DCC and another £17.00 pounds spent. With that replaced, there was a further problem. Point #9 was the wrong way round. Sending close made it turn out and sending turn out made it close. Also, it was still self-centering at startup when I had switched that off for all the motors. Whilst I was with Kevin, I asked him about this and it seems that, very occasionally, the set/run switch gets a dry connection and, thus, programming the motor doesn't work. Fortunately, this is covered by their guarantee so Kevin will swap that over - hopefully tomorrow. In the meantime, I have swapped in #14 so that I could keep going.

The last activity that has been taking place is to put the wiring in for the switch display panel. To do this, I had to add a second wire into the frog polarity switch on each motor and run it out to the front. I have carefully numbered each one and wired them into a choc-block connector.

Here is a shot of the underneath with all of this in place. The red and black are the power bus wires and the yellow/green are the LED feeds. (I ran out of yellow!).

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Joining the Foam Core together

I have spent the day today connecting everything together. I have planned out the new layout. This has been amply discussed on the Model Railroader Magazine Forum.

I have been through four iterations of the plan and I think that I have got it close to where I want it.  However, the first thing to do was to connect the various boards together. The layout is like this:

I have connected 8,1 & 2 and 4, 5 & 6. The boards were hot glued and kept straight. The separate boards need to be connected together so that they don't move. I do this with foam core clips. I have used these before and they work very well. They look like this. There is a clip at the front and the back.

They sit right down and hold both sides together.

Tomorrow, I will start laying out the track to make sure that my design works. The design is as follows:

More photos tomorrow.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

All the foam core is down.

I have now laid out all of the foam core. It all fits very nicely and very tightly. It is 80mm high to accommodate the DCC Concepts point motors.

Here is a video of the layout as it stands. I hope that you like the music ( see my note at the end).

The next step is to start laying out the track. I have tried in the past to design the railroad on paper or on the computer but I never seem to get the spacing correct. This time, I have set my Givens and Druthers (fine old American expression that we don't have over here in the UK. I picked it up from the John Armstrong books and then heard it in a duet between Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer  on "Two of a Kind" called "I'd Rather Have My Druthers" (a CD I heartily recommend!). Anyway, I will start sliding points around along with some of my industry buildings so that I get the spacing correct.  I am looking forward to that.

The music is, as you probably guessed, "The Little Red Caboose Behind The Train" as recorded by the Pickett Family sometime before WWII. YouTube picked up on the song and they have a claimant to the copyright so you may find an ad appearing! Sorry if that happens:-(

Monday, 17 April 2017

New Boards

Further issues with my arthritis have caused me to dismantle the layout that I was building on the kitchen units. There were two problems with it. Basically, the return curves were too tight and I was getting a lot of issues with stock coming off the track. Secondly, it required that I stand up to build the railroad and also to do the switching. I can only stand up for about 3 - 4 minutes at a time (I then sit down and recover) so I wasn't getting much done.

My wonderful wife (who puts up with so much from me given my health issues) told me to take it down and reduce the height so that I could do everything sitting down. That had two effects.
  1. I had her support for the mess and work involved and
  2. She could hardly complain about the budget when it was her idea - well, I might not get away with that for everything - smile.
Reducing the height was easy. We just had to lift the kitchen units and take the legs off. This would drop them by about 8" - perfect. I am left with two nice long runs, with potential for staging on each end that is removable. I am thinking about what to do. I have recovered 14 points but little of the track so I have bought a box of 25 yards of Peco Code 83. I will cover this in a later blog entry.

Well, my friend Mark came around and helped me take down the old and put up the new. We took the kitchen units down and took the legs off. Mark moved the glass cabinets across the room (without emptying them). He also moved the steel industrial shelving unit that I had on the left hand side of the door (which had my kit stash on it) across to the other side of the door - commenting that, although it was full of kits that they didn't weigh very much. A younger and fitter version of me would have done all of this on my own but my arthritis prevents me from doing much.

All the new units (from Hobbycraft and John Lewis) all moved up into the left corner and my study desk (the nice electrically power one) was moved back to its old position. This left a clear area under the window. All in all, it gave me a lot more space - but no chance of a roundy-roundy - boo.

Mark gets my eternal thanks for all of his help. We managed it between 9.15 and 12.00. Since then, I have done the following:
  • Bought the 5mm A1 sized foam core from Hobbycraft (they have a special on - 4 sheets for £10.00. That is the same price per board as Amazon but with Amazon you have to buy 10 sheets and I wanted 12 so that was much better. 
  • Made a click and collect at Maplins for the wire and set of wire strippers.
  • knew that Tool Station does a nice line in screws that act as their own drills so I bought a box of 40mm.
  • Went to Travis Perkins and bought 20m (65') of 2"x1" (funny that lengths are in metric but wood sizes are still imperial ;-) (incidentally, I bashed the back of the car against an iron girder which will cost much more than I was planning to spend on the railroad!).
  • Went to B&Q and got a nice assistant there to get  a couple of 48" x 24" 6mm MDF (still confused about units?). into my car.
  • Decided that 40 mm wast't long enough for some of the joints so went to Screwfix (just around the corner from B&Q) and bought some 50mm drill tipped screws.

Now having everything I need, I got going. It was a long holiday weekend so I didn't have any interruptions. I got on nicely and here is the result.

Three boards ready for laying. I put extra strengtheners under to stop the sag that I suffered last time. Tere are 3 more to go plus some faffing around at the end.

I cleared off the top of the units so that I could make the open frame bit.

Here is the open frame. It fits very nicely between the units and the wall. The legs are fitted with t-nuts. I then insert a bolt, glue the bolt head to a castor cup. I can then level each part just by rotating the cups.

Finally, I have it all made up ready for the rest of the foam core to be built.

I hope to finish the foam core tomorrow. I will then plan the track layout by moving actual points around. I intend to have removable staging at both end but we will see how that pans out.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Here we go again

It's my blasted arthritis. I set the railroad up onto kitchen units on the basis that I could sit down and operate whilst it would be at a good height to build the scenery, etc. My arthritis has developed faster than I can work on the railroad. I am now in the situation whereby I can't stand up long enough to do anything (4 - 5 minute bursts don't leave enough time to get "stuck in"to anything!

There was another problem with the railroad as constituted. As I wanted a roundy-roundy, I had to accommodate the curves at both ends within the space between the wall and the door.  This gave me a board which, at its widest, could be 32". With some space for the longer stock to travel around, I was down to about 12"curves. This has been causing problems with various items of stock not liking various parts of the curves. The problem is that there are not any specific spots that can be fixed. One loco doesn't mind one end whilst another comes off every time going round it.

I was talking to the wife about what to do when she suggested that we lower the railroad to make it possible for me to work on the boards as well as run trains sitting down. Trust her to see an obvious solution. She suggested that we take the feet off the kitchen units and sit the cabinets on the floor. This would drop the whole thing by about 6" and everything would then be accessible.

This would kill two birds with one stone because I would have to take the railroad down to carry out this operation. The reason is that the baseboard is constructed of 5mm foam core boards of about 2' length but that are all hot glued into one long board:-( I jumped at this because, knowing what I know now, I would have to forgo the roundy-roundy but would no longer have the problems of the curves at each end. Additionally, as she suggested it, she could hardly complain about the budget. (Aside to self: best I put as much into this as I can as it is an approved expenditure - grin).

So, yesterday morning, we had this:

and now we have:

I expect to have the whole thing down by close today. We have worked out a new room layout which moves the desk back to where it was and shuffles everything else around to give me more space. I will be building down the left hand wall and across the back, making sure this time that we can open the window!

Other news since I last posted. 
  • I have acquired another two locos - a Pennsy GP9 and (as a Christmas present from my friend Dan in the US) an Amtrak SW-7. Both of these have gone off to Kevin at Coastal DCC to have "proper" sound decoders installed.
  • I have bought two SP coaches which I intend to re-decal as Boston & Maine. I had to carve off steps and some underbody stuff to get them to go around the old curves - which has ruined them really.
  • All change on the DCC front - out goes NCE and in comes latest Digitrax radio. More on that in another post.
  • The OU course is going well. Check out the web page and the blog

So, I need another 10 yards or so of track; lots more rail joiners; more feed wire and, oh,about 15 sheets of foam core!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Open University course has started

I am now underway on the actual Open University TM470 course - The Computing and IT Project. The idea of this course is to prove that I can define and deliver a complex IT/Computing based project to a timescale set by the OU. I don't have to produce the software to prove that I have done the work. The main deliverable is a 10,000 word essay that describes theproject in detail.

A lot of the students have been searching around for a project theme and many ideas have been rejected as either not Computing/IT or not deep enough to warrant the work. However, my project was accepted immediately and without change.  The project is called (snappy title this)

Freight Car Routing On US. Outline Model Railroads

I have outlined the project before so there is no need to do that again. However, I now have to organise myself and get myself together for doing this properly such that I can finish my B.Sc (Hons) with a flourish. I have managed to get myself a few little assistants. One is a web app called Wrike! This is an only project planner. They do a free student version but were only clued up for .edu e-mail addresses. In the UK our student bodies issue accounts so a couple of e-mails bounced around until I got access to their professional version. That works very well. I also signed up for a thing called Toggi which lets you monitor the time that you spend on anything. However, I stopped using this when I let it run overnight on one task. I also started using Evernote for my notes but that didn't last either.

I decided that I could treat myself to a special item to do both of these tasks. I am a great user of Moleskine notebooks. I always have a few of the little A6 ones to hand and have three of the A5 ones for various purposes. I have always wanted to have a reason to acquire an A4 notebook and this was my chance. I now have a time record in the back of the book and a blow by blow account of my work, thinking and planning in the front.

I have to say that I am enjoying this greatly. This is the first time that I have had to detail my ideas, etc. on paper before going ahead and it is working very well. Not to say that my previous efforts were not so easy - I have always managed to write good software with few bugs. Mostly because I write tests at each stage and carry these tests out often to make sure that everything is going the way I want it. 

The project is spilt into three iterations. These are designed to fit in with the last two Tutor Marked Assignments TMAs) and the final End ofModule Assessment (EMA). I have the main part of the first iteration working, in that I can now deliver a full day's timetable with indicative trains created. For the time being there is no proper allocation of freight cars. This happens in the next round. What I am building at the moment ids the basic infrastructure of the system - there is a diagram at the end of this blog entry that shows the first iteration targets.

There are two ways to follow what is happening with the project - follow this blog or go to my project web site where I put all of the "techie" stuff.

The following diagram shows the "logical" setup of the system. Currently, I have the Data Controller working along with the Riak KV NoSQL database. I now have the main decision engine within the Web Controller working. before the next TMA is due on 11th April I have to have the Web Server in place and talking to the Web Controller. I then have to complete a 4,000 word report on my activities!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Assistance with my current Open University Project

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was starting the OU course - TM470 the Computing and IT Project. I am now into the first few days and have been asked by my tutor to go looking for "clients" to assist me. When they speak of clients, they mean people who will assist and comment on my proposals as time goes along. I have just joined the NMRA (National Model Railroad Association) at an expensive cost! I have placed the following request on their Operations forum and on a US Forum. Perhaps there are people reading this blog that could give a hand. The message explains it.

Hi there.
I live in the UK and am currently completing the last couple of modules for my OU Honours degree in Computing. The main one of these is the TM470 Computing and IT Project. For this, I have to develop a project that incorporates much of what I have learned at the OU. 

Background: I am 72 years of age and started my OU course in 1974 but dropped out in 1982 as a hectic job in the City, four kids and a dog all got in the way. Since 1985 I have worked as a programmer both for myself and others so I have many years coding and project management under my belt. 

In 1956 I was given a Triang Transcontinental train set for Christmas and since then I have been a dedicated model railroader.

My project for the OU is entitled "Freight Car Routing for US Outline Model Railroads".

The intention is to develop a specification, detailed analysis and working prototype for a system that would be:
* Internet based
* multi-user
* operated by a tablet/phone
* data stored "in the cloud"

The software will deliver (after configuration for your specific railroad) the next train to run and its composition, taking into account a large number of parameters to decide on individual car routing (and on-line collection at stations en route). 

I have a long experience of running my own model railroad and a good knowledge of how freight cars are routed and the decisions required but my course requires that I have some outside "clients" that can comment and advise. I have to say that this is set up for younger people to obtain more experienced mentors but I am what I am - smile.

If you feel that you could be interested in the project please let me know and I will give you a more detailed description.

It is unlikely to get from the prototype stage and will not become a commercial product as I am too old to get into that game so there is not bait and switch in this at all.

I need two or three kind people to give me just a few hours reading over the next few months - the project has to be completed by late September.

I hope to hear from you.

Main man on the Sunset and North Eastern R.R.

Please contact me at if you think you would like to join in.