Friday, 17 October 2014

Another step forward in the iPhone world

Having played around with JMRI (Jave Model Railroad Interface) for a couple of weeks, I have managed to install it exactly as I wanted.

Firstly, I bought the NCE USB interface and got all that working on my iMac
2. I defined a panel and turnouts to interface to my Heljan/Walthers DCC turntable
3. Set up WiThrottle on my iPhone.
4. Got all of this going in a great way.

I then picked up a cheap laptop on Ebay - it cost me £6 ($10) with £8 ($13) postage.
I installed an old copy of XP onto it. Loaded up Java, JMRI and the correct USB/Serial port driver.
The Toshiba laptop works perfectly with the lid shut (the only thing wrong with it was that it had a broken hinge - hence the price - but as it will sit with the lid shut all the time, that shouldn't matter).
I have run up JMRI on it, imported my roster, set up the turnout configurations of the turntable and shut the lid.

I can now run the layout from the iPhone whenever I want without messing about.


Saturday, 11 October 2014

We have trees

The title reflects a blog post that I made back in June 2011 - We Have Trees. Unfortunately, I had to take that railroad down as we were planning to move house and the room had to go back to looking like a bedroom.

The same trees were saved and kept. Some of them have now been recycled into the corner of the current railroad.  In front, I have finished filling in the yard area with Sculptamold but yet to colour and detail it. I really like Sculptamold. I find it easy to mix and use. Plus, it is a very clean product so I don't get any peripheral mess and it washes off everything easily.

There is now a road along the front that crosses over into the yard. It is a back road so nothing much. The railroad crossing sign was copied from the official description of grade crossing requirement. These can be read HERE. This link contains more information than you will ever need about grade crossings! I tidied it up in Photoshop and then formatted it in Illustrator to get the correct size. The wood used on the crossing and the sign came from coffee stirrers courtesy of our local cafe - Isaacs here on the Ipswich Waterfront.

The rest of the crossing will be completed when I move to scenicking the rest of the yard.

Monday, 6 October 2014

JMRI and WiThrottle - a story of a turntable

If you don't know what JMRI and WiThrottle are, read on.

I recently bought a USB interface board for my NCE DCC system. I got this from my friend Kevin Dickerson at Coastal DCC who, fortunately, lives just round the corner from me in Ipswich.

The USB card connected my iMac to the NCE system. I had to install a new driver but I got that from the NCE USB web page. I already had JMRI (Java Model Railroad Interface) installed so, once I had created a new profile and connected that to my NCE, I was able to control my trains from the iMac screen. It gets better though.

JMRI provides a wireless connection for external throttles to drive trains through the USB link. I downloaded WiThrottle from the App Store and installed it on my iPad and iPhone. This quickly connected to JMRI and I was running my trains (and controlling all the sound effects) from my iPhone.

It gets even better! The following took a bit of time to work out but this is what I did.

  1. I created a control panel using PanelPro. Initially, I drew a schematic of the whole railroad. When doing this, you create a list of existing turnouts and connect one at a time to the turnouts on the schematic. None of my turnouts are powered so I used internal definitions. I included the turntable but I was at a loss what to do next. After a lot of fiddling around - the documentation is lousy - I got there. There is no beginners guide at all so it is a case of try and try again.
  2. I worked out that I could add a turntable to the schematic. I then defined 5 more turnouts using NCE definitions, numbering them 1 - 5 (as I have 5 roads on my turntable).
  3. I purchased the full version of WiThrottle for the princely sum of £6.99 but could see no way to control anything! I e-mailed the WiThrottle people but they had obviously not come across a turntable before so weren't much initial help.
  4. I sat down this morning with a clear head and decided that I could get this. Firstly, I realised that I needed to put the actual accessory code for each turnout - instead of 1 I needed to put 255, for instance. 255 is the accessory that is defined for the home road on the turntable. I deleted the existing definitions and replaced them with the correct ones. Then I applied these to the schematic. I clicked on one road and found that the turntable was turning correctly!
  5. All that was left was to find out how to operate this from the iPhone. Next to the throttle on the screen is a number pad for the various functions. I had been swiping left to change the pages to see the higher functions. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, I swiped right and found a list of turnouts. There, amongst the long list, were the 5 turntable turnouts. Done!
  6. The only thing left to do was to go back to the schematic and delete all of the layout except for the turntable. I then deleted all of the internal turnout definitions. On going back to the iPhone, I found that the turnout list now only comprised of the 5 for the turntable. Job done!
Here is the iPhone showing the turntable options along with the Heljan control box.

Here is a shot of the turntable, itself.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Starting to lay the scenery base down

My Sculptamold has arrived. I think that it is a great material. The first time I used it, I mixed it 50/50 but now I see that it should be 2:1 Sculptamold to water. The only difference I can see is that it smooths out easier in the real mix. I am laying it throughout the freight yard to raise the ground up nearer the ties as I have put all of the yard track on foam track bed so it is the same height as the main. This way, it looks as though the track is lower to the ground without ripping up the track bed.

Once this area is dry, I am going to scenic it so that I am sure about the effect before I get on with the rest of the yard. I haven't cleaned up the Sculptamold droppings yet

You will notice that I have put up the back scenes - just simple painted with blue paint with some clouds overlaid. Not too artistic but good enough for me. The back scene is painted onto foam board and the board has warped at the top. However, I live in a rented apartment so can't fix (well, don't want to fix) anything to the walls. The whole railroad is actually free standing. I am just going to have to live with the tops of the back scene being a bit warped but I am concentrating on the track level anyway so I will manage.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The track is down and all works well

I have now laid all of the track and ballasted it. In addition, I have painted the sides of all the rails in a rust colour and used the Woodlands Scenic tie marker to tone down the glossy plastic of the track.

I have ballasted the main line in a grey ballast and the yard in black cinders. I have tested all of the track and everything works fine. In fact I did have one problem. Locos travelling over one of the points into the turntable area seemed to be loosing electrical contact. When I looked at the point closely, it seems that I had omitted to put in the requisite jumper leads to ensure continuity from the switch places to the outer rails. I put in a couple of wire jumpers and now everything works beautifully.

Here is what the track looks like now.

It all looks a bit messy but when I get the ground cover down it will all sort itself out.

I have also gone carefully through the turntable programming. I now have a consistent set of track addresses. On the turntable controller they are 1 through to 5 and on the DCC controller they are 225 through to 231.

I haven't fitted the control cabin or the centre post to the turntable. I have a feeling that I would break something if I did anything there now. I will leave these until the main scenery is down in the yard.

I have ordered a 3lb bag of Sculptamold coming so this will be the basis for the ground.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Branding the SNE stock

After some long discussions on the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum, I have sorted out the S&NEs own stock. I have made some decals using a white sheet of decal paper and putting everything onto a black background. So far, I have done the two steam locos and the one hopper that is owned by the S&NE. I have to say that the opinion out there is that my steam loco logo is too modern. However, I designed this in 1969 and it has been with me ever since. The layout is meant to be in the late 50's and the critics may well be right but "it's my party and I'll cry if I want to", if you see what I mean - smile.

Firstly, the loco:

Next, we have the hopper car:

The Sunset and North Eastern connects the New Haven at Hartford CT to the Boston & Maine (B&M) at Boston MA via the newly created town of Sunset (close to the actual town of Worcester). The total mileage is 104 miles with Sunset 58 miles from Hartford and 46 miles from Boston. It runs its own way freights from Hartford to Boston using Sunset as a division point. It does't have any passenger equipment so that is handled by a Budd RDC from the New Haven that makes runs over the 104 miles a couple of times a day. In addition, the B&M runs the main freights between the two ends. I have yet to work out the proper timetable so this is just an estimate of what will happen. 
The Budd RDC is currently being fitted with a sound decoder so will appear in a few days time (hopefully). Also in the works is an 0-6-0 switcher which will be based at Sunset. This is also being fitted with DCC sound. In the meantime, we have acquired a B&M RS-3 (again with DCC sound fitted).

We now have a couple of extra cabooses so I will be converting one of these to a B&M caboose to go with the RS-3. This will be interesting because it requires white lettering. I am going to attempt this using dry rub down lettering onto a clear decal sheet under varnish. I might just work!

Current job - I am laying ballast in the freight yard. I am using Woodland Scenics cinders. It is quite a long job so I had better get back to work.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Sunset & North Eastern - Trains run all over - at last

I have now finished laying the track to the plan. The schematic looks like this:

I have a short video showing the layout in situ.

The turntable is a Walthers/Heljan DCC turntable. It installed and worked very easily. However, now that I have seen the trains running and having got the turntable working, I can see that it needs another couple of additions.

Firstly, the station is intended to be the mid-point on a short feeder line between two other railroads - currently assumed to be the New Haven and the Boston & Maine (to please a friend who lives in Connecticut!). As such, a lot of the trains will be going straight through. However, the S&NEs own freights will stop here and change locos - as they only have these small 2-6-0 Moguls. Hence the turntable and engine facilities. I realised when looking at the layout that there were two flaws. Where could I put the coal and water facilities and there wasn't a caboose track. A small tweak to the design came up with the following:

The second track to the turntable enables me to have the following "workflow". The loco comes from the train and enters the lower left hand turntable feed. Here it can dump its ash, put on water and coal and move to its storage track. When leaving the engine facility to take on a train, it leaves by the upper turntable feed. The extra track below the water/coal feed is the new caboose track. This should make the loco operations much more interesting.

I also realised that there wasn't a LCL/Freight House spur for the station, which will sit along the top of the layout on the top most line of the runaround. I plan to put in a left hand switch facing right along that side of the runaround which will solve that problem

I have now ordered the extra switches that I need for these changes and will post more when they are installed. Just so that you know, the two areas of staging at both ends will eventually be joined via a new station on the opposite wall. This will give me a continuous run as well as a single staging track on both side. This will have to wait until I have got a long way with what I have. "She who must be obeyed" (see Rumpole of the Bailey if you don't know that reference) - AKA SWMBO - says that I have to get some scenery and people down before I move on. She seems to think that I only ever lay track and tear it up later without doing any more. I point out that I did put some scenery down once on a N Scale layout about 4 years ago (see earlier posts in my blog) but she thinks that this was a one off.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

A bit of a problem and a small success

If you don't know, Peco electrofrog switches require that the frog polarity be set for each of the routes. This is done in the version as purchased by using the switch blades to route power to the frog so depending on which switch blade is touching a running rail, the frog gets one or other feed. Using DCC, this is a bit hit and miss so it is recommended that the links that make this happen be cut and the switch blades be connected electrically to their own running rail. This leaves the frog unpowered. Many people us relays etc. to manage this. I use what is called a Frog Juicer from Tam Valley. This is an electronic switch. If the polarity of the frog is set one way and the switch is set to the opposite that there will be a short as the lcl traverses the frog. The Frog Juicer senses this short in micro seconds and reverses the polity of the frog to the correct way round.

Sounds good. I have 5 switches set to one Frog Juicer and four switches connected to the other (each juicer manages up to 6 switches). One (the 5) works perfectly. The other causes a 1 - 2 second delay when operating! I have a suspicion that the one that is playing up is an older version that is incompatible with either my DCC controller - NCE - or with Peco switches. I have a video that shows the problem.

I have requests out to my DCC supplier, Model Railroad Hobbyist Magazine Forums and to Tam Valley. I will report back.

The success is this. I purchased 9 Accurail freight car kits which arrived on Friday. I have made the first one. It went together without any issues. I have, however, replaced the Accumate couplers with Kadee 148 replacements as I am having a bit of trouble with an coupler that isn't a Kadee. My plan is to replace any out as soon as I can. Here it is on the layout. (I have just noticed that one wheel is off the track!)

Saturday, 16 August 2014

S&NE Starting the wiring

The layout is DCC so I need a power bus. I always do this by laying down some self adhesive copper tape. I am also using Tam Valley Frog Juicers to control the polarity of the frogs - I use Peco Code 83 Electrofrogs.
I am wiring up the first board. The railroad is designed so that it can be dismantled (we live in a rented apartment so who knows?) so the track is all connected across the board edges with short removable lengths of track (no points cross the edges at all). As I only have two 6 pack Frog Juicers (for a total of twelve points) I have to accommodate those connections across the boards as well.
I am terminating the wiring into strip connectors as, once the layout is back together, the joins will be permanent (until and if we move).

The two power busses are connected to the track via the green and yellow drop wires whilst the frogs are connected by the black wires. The black wires will connect to the Frog Juicers on the middle board. There is a staging yard coming off the other end that will have a single point, hence the ongoing green/yellow and black connections.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Sunset NE Track is down

Yes, I have installed all of the track. I made a simple mistake in my use of Woodland Scenic Track Foam. I drew the track out on the board roughly and then installed the track foam using the actual track to set the position. The trouble is that I didn't get everything quite right so the actual track isn't centred on the foam centrally everywhere. I am sure that with some judicious cutting and filling I can sort this. It is going to be covered by ballast anyway so it won't matter in the long run. I have run a caboose all over and can't find any point where there is a tricky bit of track so maybe it will run fine.

I then took a series of photos of the track from up on high and drew the track plan over it using Adobe Illustrator. This means that my plan is exactly like the real thing!

Next, I put arrows on the plan to decide on the track feeds for DCC. Tomorrow, I have most of the day to start putting in the electrics. Although it looks like a long board it is made up of 4' sections that haven't been fixed yet. There are no points on the board intersections and any track that crosses the board edges has been limited to about 6" long and is currently only held in place by the rail joiners (fishplates, we call them). This means that I can now take each board down and turn it over to install the track bus. My arthritis doesn't allow me to prance around under the boards!

I love this bit as I feel that I am so close to a running railroad but not quite so the expectations are very high. I will post again when I have the track bus completed and a loco running.

I am awaiting a parcel from Model Train Stuff that has another 2-6-0 DCC Sound loco, 20 freight cars including a good many Accurail kits and a pack of replacement Kadee couplers so I will have a lot of fun getting that all working. I am also about to order a Heljan DCC driven turntable!

Here is the current track plan with suggested feeders.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

All Change - Again!! Back to US HO

Whilst my visit to 009 was informative and fun, it turned out to be rather too much scratch building for me. Although I like making US freight car kits - the body tends to come in one piece - I got a bit fed up with making short run plastic kits from basic components for every wagon that I wanted to run. Each kit was so basic that I needed a mirror to build the body on so that I could ensure that it was square.

Recently, my mother-in-law has moved into the same apartment block as us. She used to live 10 miles away and used to stay overnight at least once a week. Now she is in the same block, we can dispense with the spare bed and I can get my hobby room back to my total ownership again.

I am building a new incarnation of my old favourite - the Sunset and North Eastern. This is a freelance road name that I have used since the 1960s. It is supposedly a short line in New England in the 1950s and still using the old 2-6-0 Moguls it has always had.

So far, I have built the baseboard and laid the foam track bed (never used that before). I am currently laying the track. It will, as usual, be DCC but I am staying with manual point operation (big finger from sky) as I have never got on with remembering all of the switch numbers to use DCC with them. The two locos that I have are both Bachmann with DCC and Sound fitted. Since fitting sound to my little 009 locos, I want to stay with that. I like the idea of ringing bells and blowing whistles at grade crossings.

I only have two photos so far. Please note that, for you USA types, wood is quite expensive in the UK hence the spindly legs but the layout is supported on three sides by walls so it won't be a problem.