Thursday, 27 September 2012

Hope over expectation

You know when you are cutting corners - well I do - and I was definitely cutting corners when aligning the track across the two boards. I knew what I should be doing but thought 'well, I know it is a bit fragile, so I will go carefully'. Some chance of that - inside two days the ends of the track on both boards were so mashed that running trains across was impossible and no amount of straightening would solve the problem.

This is an example:

Admittedly, this end had yet to be matched to the other board but it shows what happened by just catching the rails. As you can see, one side is bent and the other side has been torn out of its clips.

I knew what I should have done, having been bitten by this before. Given that I am now retired, I have all the time in the world to do this properly, so why didn't I do that? The answer is to cut up some printed circuit board (pcb) into sleeper sized chunks, isolate the ends by cutting a channel through the copper, drilling a hole and fitting the board permanently to the baseboard. Then I solder the rails to the board and the rail ends won't go anywhere! I even went down to the local electronics shop and bought a clean sheet of pcb for the job. Why on earth didn't I do it? There is an old adage about tools - "buy cheap - buy twice". This should be amended to "take a short-cut - do twice!"

Anyway, I got down to the job the other night and this is what the board ends look like now.

This is much more secure. I used a track gauge on both sides when doing the soldering so everything matches up perfectly and the trains run over the gap without any hesitation or bumps.

Job done!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Final Track Layout

Here is the final track layout for the terminal board.

All of the track is laid but only the main yard and the fiddle yard are wired up so far.

In case you are interested, this was drawn in Adobe Illustrator by tracing over a photo of the layout. I stood on a chair and looked down! Here is the original(not full width as the lens wouldn't stretch that far)
I have tried to incorporate most of what should be there in a good freight yard. You come straight in from the main. A switcher takes off the caboose and puts it on the caboose track. It then puts the freight cars into the classification tracks - shown here as sort/store tracks. This releases the loco so that it can go and get serviced. This is done, as explained before, off layout so that it can be turned by the 'big flesh coloured hand in the sky'.

The switcher then sorts out what is needed for the local industries and delivers cars as required. At the same time it collects any cars for onward delivery as loads or as empties.

The main industry will be the coal fired power station which will take at least two cuts of hoppers every day. This should result in 4 or five freight trains a day in and out. On top of these, there is a Budd RDC which makes at least three trips a day into the passenger station. I haven't finalised all the details yet but that would seem to be about right for a single session. Obviously, at times, the RDC will be in the way of the switching which will add to the fun!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Basic Electrics finished for the fiddle yard

I now have the basic electrics worked out and wired up for the fiddle yard.

The plan was to integrate a programming track into the wiring via a switch.

I use copper tape as my main bus which works very well as you can pick up on it very easily. On the odd occasion (not here but you will see it on the main board) you have to cross one tape over another. For this I use some wide shrink wrap (not shrunk). In the photo below, you can see the underneath of the board.

These strips connect all of the wiring from one end to the other and then to the switch.

OK let's explain what we are doing. I have mounted two phono sockets onto the front edge. One is for the main feed and the other is for the programming track feed. The plan is that the track nearest to the front is to be both a main track and a programming track whilst the others are main track only. Thus, the bus to the left is the bus from the main output of the Digitrax controller whilst the bus to the left carries the output from the slide switch. This switch - see below - controls whether the near track is main or programming. I have cheated a bit with the wiring of the tracks. I HATE wiring up track using droppers. I tend to make a mess of it. Hence, I have wired all these tracks up on the end of the board as follows:

Again you can see the separation between the track that is switched and those that are permanently main track.

Here is the front of the board showing the two phono inputs - man and programming - and the slide switch. The slide switch does have a centre off but that is pretty much redundant.

I have put the slide switch onto a backing of plastic because I knew that my ability to cut into 3/4" wood and get the square hole accurate without machine tools or chisels was going to be nigh on impossible so the plastic covers up all the wavy edges of the wood. Labels are still to be applied.

Next step? Wire up the new track on the main board - maybe tomorrow!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The plan proceeds - some track down but one glitch!

I have made the new baseboards and fitted them in place. The dowels I have used for alignment work very well such that I don't need any other fitting to make it all work.

Here is what it looks like at the moment.

Don't forget that y can double click on the picture and see a larger version for more detail.

I have got all the wiring in place for the track that is down and I have checked out the Digitrax unit. It is very nice and gives very accurate slow speed control. I have checked out my four locos. The GP9 and one GP-15 work very nicely but the other CSX GP-15 is very stuttery so probably needs its wheels cleaned. Currently, the programming track switch doesn't appear to work so I have a Kato Budd RDC which I can't test as I can't remember its DCC code!

Incidentally, I took the track laying and the wiring very slowly - as I now have all the time in the world for this. The track runs perfectly, even across the gap. I did the wiring in two steps - first one side of the rails and then the other and check both out independently. I managed it without any errors.

The next step is get the programming track fixed. The board to the right is the 'fiddle yard' and can be used either as part of the layout or as one big programming track using the big switch you can see on the front of the board. After that, I will get the rest of the track laid out and wired. I want to get this to the point I can run trains because I am still determined to develop 'Old Bill's Switch List' as a commercial package and need a running freight set up to test it out.

I intend to make most of the buildings from scratch so they will take some time.

I am going to enjoy this!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

New Controller

We are very lucky here in Ipswich - well fans of DCC anyway. Close by to me and, in fact, just around the corner from my daughter's house, lives the guy who runs Coastal DCC - Kevin Dickerson. He stocks a lot of what you need - and want (not always the same thing). Be that as it may, he certainly stocks Digitrax, which is my manufacturer of choice for DCC nowadays. I used to 'swear' by ZTC but there is too much history there for me to continue with it so it all went on E-Bay ready for the new beginning.

I have purchased a Digitrax Zephyr Xtra which is described here. The best bit was that I could pop around in the car and pick it up.

It has a similar layout to the ZTC controllers - a decent lever for the speed - a nice reversing and brake lever plus all the buttons for controlling the functions etc. Mind you this controller goes up to function 29 - not something that ZTC can do, although I believe that Neil is working on that.

Here is a picture of it out of the box. More as I go along and learn to use it.

New Baseboard made

I have made the base for the first part of the railroad. I made the frame from 3" x 3/4" planed pine with 1/4" (6mm) MDF top. I don't normally use MDF - my usual base is Sundeala board but this only comes in 8' x 4' boards at nearly £50. I used it because it was designed to take pins and holds really well. However, I found myself hot gluing the track down on the last railroad and that seemed to work well with N Scale so I could economise and buy 2 x 4' x 2' MDF boards at about 1/4 of the cost!

Each of the boards has some M6 T-Nuts underneath with 35mm bolts inserted. These are used to level the boards as I am placing it on a table - given that we are only renting and we have to move again in about 8 months time.

This is a t-nut. You hammer it into the wood (having drilled a clearance hole beneath it). This gives a fitting for a bolt. I can then adjust the 6 bolts on the main board to get it level across the width and along the length. Given that the subsidiary board is connected firmly to the main board at one end, I have just placed two of the t-nuts on the other end of that board.

I have posted the layout for the main board track. The subsidiary board is a 'fiddle yard' where I can build up trains to send onto the main board or receive trains. Part of one of the lines on the 'sub' board will be isolated and controlled by a DPDT (double pole double throw) switch so that it can be powered from the DCC Controller main feed or by the programming track output.

This is what it looks like at the moment. The fixture to hold the two boards together is yet to be done. There are two dowels between the boards that ensure alignment.

I have all the points from the previous layout and a box of 25 yard lengths of flexi-track arrives today so I should be laying track soon!

Just for the record - when we move to the next apartment - next May/June time, it should be the final move for a few years so the grey table you can see will be the base for the main layout and what I am building now will be the subsidiary board. At that time, the connection here to the 'fiddle yard' will be the connection to the main board.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Just about to start

I have the mdf sheet on board. I am going out today to get the wood for the framework and tomorrow I should be able to get the baseboards made.

Then, it is back to the apartment and start laying track!

I have two more real purchases - i.e. lots of money - to get.
  1. I kept all the points from my old layout but not much of the track so I have to buy a pile of flexible track.
  2. I disposed of my ZTC controller - too many memories - and am now going to buy a Digitrax controller. I am lucky in having Coastal DCC just down the road from me so I will be able to pick it soon.  I am intending to buy a Digitrax Zephyr Xtra which should provide all I need for running a small N Scale layout.
Hopefully I will have some cobstruction photos tomorrow.