Dec 11, 2007

Cork, and that wonderful code 55 rail

I finished laying the last of the cork roadbed on the mainline around Ophir. The only cork roadbed still needed now is Durango and Telluride... and I'm out of cork again! So, I'll continue when I get another order placed.

In other news, I finally decided to attempt - or at least explore - what it would take to join code 55 rail to my existing Peco code 75. I found that the code 75 rail joiners will work for horizontal alignment, but of course the code 55 rail height will be too low. I'm trying now to figure out how to hold the two rails in alignment until I can solder them.

I don't have a solution yet, but have been thinking of using a cutoff tool to remove the upper part of a rail joiner in the middle (so that portion has only the metal plate on the bottom). Then, I'd insert both size rails, and bend the joiner at the point where it's just the bottom part - should bend easily right? Get the height right w/some fiddling and bending, then solder it. Perhaps I'll be able to try that in a few days.

Dec 5, 2007

Once more, with feeling

There's hasn't been much progress on the layout over the last couple of weeks, but what time I had was focused on (again) getting the movable section of benchwork near Ophir to correctly latch.

A short recap - I had created this section to pull out, using drawer slides. The first attempt, when I laid the roadbed, shows that the drawer slides were somewhat sloppy, and also that if you pulled too far, the entire module dropped out (on my wife's foot - thus the requirement to redesign it!).

So - I replaced the slides with heavy-duty extending slides rated for 100 lbs; the module now slides out much further, and won't fall out w/o releasing latches on each slide. Plus, the module pulls out so far that it should (usually) not be necessary to remove the module.

So last week I laid track over one section, cut the rails, and realized a very tight locking mechanism was needed. I installed a couple of sliding dead-bolt type thingies (that's a technical term, you know - thingies). But, even with those there was a little bit of play that caused track alignment problems.

Finally, just last night, I reworked the benchwork and found a way to attach a suitcase latch (the kind where a tab flips up, then a ring of metal loops around a catch, then the tab is pushed back down). With a bit of fiddling, I now have this attached such that the latch actually squeezes the benchwork slightly, and makes a very solid lock, with no movement at all.

Hopefully, this will solve the problem. It's winter here, and the humidity has been dropping and benchwork wood is starting its seasonally drying and shrinking. During the spring, this process reverses, and it's then I'll find out if the wood changes enough to affect this or not.

Now let's see - with that task finished, what should I tackle next?

Nov 26, 2007

It's been crazy busy again, but this weekend I had some time for the layout again, and have been working on the 3-track staging yard at Durango (it actually sits under what will someday - hopefully - be the Ophir loop).

Nov 5, 2007

Making tracks at Vance

It was a pretty busy weekend, but I did find time on Sunday for a bit of layout work. I was able to lay both of the 3-way turnouts at Vance Jct, and laid the main from the laundry-room exit tunnel all the way past bridge 44-A on the Ophir low line.

There' s a pull-out section of benchwork just past 44-A, and I laid the first bit of track onto the pull-out and make the rail cuts. No testing yet, so I'm not sure how good it is yet. I've always been nervous about the junction of the rails across those joints, but so far it has seemed easy enough.

My kids were able to back the test train into Vance for the first time Sunday night, and that was a pretty nice milestone to meet.

Oct 29, 2007

More photos, and progress at Vance

So, I thought I'd start with a few photos of my wiring panels. Here's a photo of the 1156 lamps above the Durango panel. For my wiring, I've been putting an automotive 1156 lamp on every block, and wiring the panels so the main feed (from the command-control system) goes to a terminal block, gets distributed to a bank of 1156 lamps, then (from each lamp) goes to the block feeder on the terminal block.

Here's a shot of the entire Durango panel. It's mostly empty, since all that's wired so far are the power busses and some of the blocks. Each area of the layout has its own panel, feeding blocks in that area. Each panel is feed from a 4-circuit power bus that runs around the layout. One of those circuits is the main feed from the command-control system, the others (yet to be used) are for 12v and maybe 5v power.

I use the area under the layout for household storage (and cave-exploration by my younger kids!). So, to keep that space accessible all of the panels are hinged, and fold up when I'm not working on them. Here's the Durango panel in its UP position.

And the last show - here's the end of the Ridgway staging tracks, where they terminate in the laundry / furnace room. There's a laundry sorting table (and old counter top) along the wall, and both the lower main and upper main / staging tracks run right along the edge of this sorting table. Because it's often filled with clothes (we do have 3 kids!), I enclosed the tracks. There's plexiglass on the sides, and the top of the staging level is a lift-off piece of bookcase shelving. So - trains are protected, and the shelf is handy for more clothes sorting. Eventually I'll paint and finish this, but for now it's at least protected and the tracks are functional.

I had a good weekend, thanks to my wife who wouldn't let me work around the house and made me just relax. I finished cork roadbed for Vance Jct and the beginning of the wye into Telluride, extended cork roadbed about halfway to Ophir, and rebuilt a moveable section of layout where bridge 46-E will (hopefully) one day reside. This is a pull-out section I needed for access, and getting the drawer slides and alignment issues worked out was a highlight of the weekend's work.

Oct 22, 2007

Vance Jct work

I've finally completed (I think!) the work on the McPhee staging tracks. I've unpacked a couple of long-stored Bachmann 2-8-0s and I'm using those on the test train, forwards and backwards. They seem to handle the staging tracks and sharp entrance radius ok. And - it's really great to have steam running on the layout for the first time.

The test train is pretty long - 9 or 10 cars - with a variety of car types (72' Athearn heavyweight passenger cars, 40' and 50' frieght cars, etc). The grade to Lizard Head is 3%, and this train does need double-heading to make the hill. The grade coming into Rico from the north is also pretty steep (2.5%). Both need the pair of 2-8-0s on this train, but that's pretty much as intended; after all the real RGS needed to double-head as well with longer trains.

So - I've begun installing the base for Vance Jct (which sits above the McPhee staging). It's going well, but there are several transitions to other modules (my benchwork is built in sections that can be disassembled if we have to move). Getting exact height matches between these modules is always a bit of a problem, and the Vance module has three - the line to Butterfly trestle and the Ophir low line, and the two legs of the wye leading to Telluride. All three need work at the moment, so that's the next focus.

Oct 14, 2007

I think wiring never ends

I was working on the turnouts to the McPhee staging area, and finally did get them completed, but with a really sharp turn into the staging. It won't be visible, but I'm kinda bummed it ended up that tight.

But - with that done I realized I had to finish wiring and testing the staging track before starting any work on Vance Jct (which will be above it). So - a bunch of work yesterday on wiring this area. At least the wiring is getting done!

Oct 9, 2007

Work moves to Dolores

With the yard throat completed at Ridgway, I've moved over to Dolores, and worked on the staging tracks (McPhee) this weekend. These depart the mainline at the south end of Dolores, and duck into what will be a tunnel under the Vance Jct / Lizard Head area. I've had the staging track laid for some time, but it was connected to the main.

So - I spent a good deal of my day off on Monday laying more turnouts and tying those tracks into the main. It ended up being rather frustrating and messy, as the turn into the staging tracks is sharper than probably anything else on the layout, and I really wanted to avoid that. Yes, it'll be hidden mostly, but I like to maintain the 30" minimum radius, and I'm sure I'm under that here. Oh well - there's just not enough room there to fit everything in. If it's really bad, I suppose I could replace one of the turnouts with a sharper turnout, or even a curved turnout. I'll try some test trains on it later and see.

Once this is done and reliable, I can continue working on the mainline into Vance Jct, which will involve covering this staging track.

Oct 5, 2007

New throat at Ridgway! And a real blog at last

A little more work on Ridgway... I installed most of the yard throat this weekend, and finished the crossover in the closet. These turnouts aren't too bad to reach manually, but installing turnout machines (if I go that route) will be difficult, as access in this area from below is, er, problematic shall we say.

So... I've been thinking about how I format the construction journal, and have decided that a real blog might be easier, and more fun, especially if folks want to comment on the layout. Also, I want to publish pictures more easily, so hopefully this will help there as well.

Oh yeah - I got the 1156 bulbs that were giving me trouble replaced, and everything's fine now. I think the order I received actually had some bulbs that were similar, but not exactly, 1156s. Oh well - one more 'lesson' learned. And more soldering practice, which can't ever hurt (well, unless one drops hot solder on one's self, but let's not talk about that. Actually, I avoided that this time).

Sep 30, 2007

So, probably no one's noticed yet, but I've begun (finally) to post pictures from the RGS exploration trip I made with some other guys back in June. I've created a Picasa Album and have been having a ball adding captions, mapping all the photos, etc. The work is going slowly, as I need to dig thru a number of my RGS books while I'm trying to identify just what we photographed. I've got maybe a third of the photos posted so far.

Sep 24, 2007

OK, where did it go? I KNOW it was August just last week! I was able to spend some more time on the layout this weekend, and worked on wiring in the closet and Ridgway yard area. There's not much different visually (the nature of wiring work!), but the main line is now operational through the Ridgway yard area and all the way into the laundry room - nearly to Vance Jct (where the line ends in a cliff, since Vance doesn't even have sub-roadbed just yet). The staging yard at Ridgway is nearly complete - the area in the laundry room is covered and protected from laundry now, and everything is wired. I still need to add a bit of code-55 track, connecting the code-100 track in the hidden area to the visible turnouts in the Ridgway yard. I haven't tackled the prospect of connecting code-55 to either the code-75 main or the code-100 staging tracks. It can't be that hard, right? Please?

Aug 27, 2007

More wiring was completed in the last week, and the line is now operational up to Lizard Head. However, I discovered that the 1156 bulbs I've been using aren't all the same resistance, so it looks like I'll need to replace a bunch of them. The bulbs that work correctly measure about 1.1 ohms (cold) on my meter; some of the newer ones I purchased in bulk are measuring 2.1 ohms. That is too high, and the bulbs are turning on, which also changes their resistance and drops the track voltage considerably. SO - they will need to come out. More soldering - what joy!

In other news, we had a really bad storm here in the Midwest, and we lost power for 4 days. The basement had some minor flooding, and we spent most of the last week cleaning and mopping. No layout work this past week as a result! Thankfully, there was no damage to the layout or drywall, and our backup sump worked long enough to protect us from the worst of it. Some of our neighbors, w/o backup battery-powered sumps, didn't do so well.

Aug 6, 2007

Tracking laying in Rico

Having completed another piece of a layout design for a friend, I had more time this weekend for my own layout, and have been laying track in Rico and beyond. About half of the turnouts and mainline thru Rico are complete now, and the line out of Rico is complete to just past Lizard Head!

Jul 30, 2007

The climb to Lizard Head begins

A little more track laying over the weekend - a bit of track laid on the north end of Rico, starting up the steep 3% to Lizard Head. Also, a little of the main laid in the Ridgway yard.

Jul 25, 2007

Lower trackwork complete!

The lower-level hidden track is complete, on the entire layout (except McPhee staging, near Dolores). The Rico and Ridgway upper level plywood is complete, corked, and ready for track. I've extended the continous-run link from Durango's cutoff thru the stairs (on the upper level) and into Ridgway, and have begun laying track in Ridgway itself. Also, the 5 staging tracks coming out of Ridgway (thru the bathroom and laundry room) are complete, though not wired yet. I spent a good part of June in Colorado, and 3 days of that was spent exploring the RGS right-of-way. I have a PILE of photos from that trip, still being organized. But - one thing that stands out from the trip is how evident the old roadbed is where fills were used. I now plan to take a look of my layout, and see if there are some places where modest fills would fit, and plan the scenery according. Of course the dramatic scenery stole the show, and it was even more spectactular in person, than in the many photos I've seen.

May 21, 2007

Lower trackwork complete!

A little more work, after several weeks of busyness kept me away... I've finished the roadbed, cork and most of the masonite guard rails for the entire section from under the stairs, thru the Ridgway yard, thru the closet & bathroom, thru the laundry area, and behind the furnace to Vance Jct. It took longer than I expected (doesn't everything?), but it's done now. This past weekend I worked on wiring in the 1156 lamps for all of the Ridgway track circuits, and tied in the feeders from the new track laid behind the furnance (near Vance Jct). The cork sheeting at Rico is also complete!

Apr 29, 2007

Progress report...

I have been slowly working on completing the upper-level roadbed thru the laundry room and behind the furnace. That area is now nearly complete, and the cork sheeting was installed this weekend over the entire Ridgway yard and staging areas. The upper level around Rico is also complete now, and cork sheeting is being installed there. So - track laying in both Ridgway and Rico can begin next! With only a little more benchwork to be completed near Vance Jct, another huge section of the mainline has been readied for laying track.

Currently, the mainline is operating from the Durango cutoff (approx) to just below Rico. There's no sidings yet, so I just have a test train that runs forwards and backwards over the line. This section includes nearly all of the hidden track, and I've wanted to make sure that was operating well before covering it. I had a little trouble over the winter with wood contracting, and despite my expansion joints the track did pop out in a couple of areas. Those were reworked (more gaps were cut), and they seem to be ok now.

Here's a few pictures of the real use of the Durango yard area (the upper level is raised while I complete work on the lower level). Sometimes I think the layout just provides a roof for all the forts and tunnels being created below it!

Apr 2, 2007

Turntable at Ridgway

I'm still working on the Ridgway yard area, and realized that before I add the cork sheeting I really need to complete the roadbed all the way thru the laundry room (the lumber sizes and tight clearances mean I need to install the benchwork behind the furnance first, then work back thru the bathroom to Ridgway. This weekend I was able to start prepping that behind-the-furnance benchwork piece. I also built another small section of benchwork to cover the Ridgway turntable. I decided on a 105' CMR turntable and cut the appropriate 15" circle. Of course 105' is far larger than Ridgway's actual 50' turntable, but my focus is operation, and since this is both std-gauge and an alternate-history version of the RGS, I selected a turntable large enough to handle any type of power I might someday want to use, or that guests might want to run. There's no space here for a track running straight over the turntable to the roundhouse, so the turntable needs to handle anything that wants to get into the roundhouse.

I used 3/4" plywood here, instead of the usual 1/2", to ensure everything is solid. I don't know how long it'll be until I actually purchase and build the turntable, but I needed to cut the opening now, which forced the decision. I plan an identical 105' table at Durango (also very different than the prototype 65' table that's really there, but oh well).

The benchwork for the roundhouse itself should prove very, er, interesting. It's going to have to a hinged section of benchwork that can swing into place over the basement sink. My wife is VERY gracious with the basement, but she rightly insisted that the sink be fully accessible, and actually I agree. The benchwork will sit about 2' above the sink, but when you have to wash paint brushes or fill large 5 gal buckets, we'll need more than 2' of space. So - the plan is to hinge the roundhouse section itself and let it swing off the sink area, folding back along the Ridgway yard's edge when not in use. This is going to be rather trick, what w/all the alignment issues and mechanical stuff. But - I don't need to build that until I actually want a roundhouse, probably a year or two into the future, at least.

Mar 17, 2007

Guardrails, underground lights, hidden track, stairs & more

This weekend I've started focusing a little on the fascia... went out and purchased a pile of 1/8" tempered masonite. A huge boon was a really nice guy at Home Depot being willing to cut 6 sheets of the stuff into various widths; saved me a lot of cutting & dust!

I've also been installing guardrails on the hidden mainline portions. For some of this, I'm using the plastic cloth-like stuff used for weaving yard furniture chairs and such; it's bright yellow and pretty easy & cheap to run. I used this mainly along the back sides of the hidden runs. The front sides need to be accessible from below for cleaning and rerailing, so I needed something just high enough to catch derailed rolling stock, but not so high it'd block my hand coming up from below to clean the track.

Under Rico, I experimented with more of the chair stuff, screwed into the 1/2" plywood subroadbed - it actually seems to work ok. It's flexible, but should be plenty strong to prevent derailed stock from hitting the floor. In other areas, I ended up using very thin strips of masonite, again just screwed into the plywood subroaded. I found that as a little as 1/2" edge above the top of the plywood seems enough to prevent crashes - it just has to catch the trucks of derailed stock. At this low height, it's pretty easy to reach over it (from below) to clean the track.

I also realized that before installing the upper level plywood, I needed to add some lighting, so I could see the lower levels for cleaning and other access. I purchased a bunch of ropelight from Mernards, and installed this along most of the hidden track. I'm not permanently connecting this lighting - if I need the service lighting, I'll just plug in the strings with extension cords or to nearby outlets, as needed. Below are some photos showing both guardrails and lighting under Ridgway, where the lower track sneaks thru the stairs and then tunnels under what will be the Ridgway yard (someday!).

Here's a view of the rope-lighting along the hidden mainline under the Enterprise branch, and the ones below show the line under Rico and (lastly) under Durango.

And then, finally, I've started on the areas above the hidden track. The first is the upper-level connection between Ridgway and Durango, going thru the stairs. I got part of the subroadbed for this stretch installed. Below are some photos of the lower and upper tracks going thru the stairs, during install of the upper track. I created the upper track roadbed and laid cork on that, then installed it.

These two photos so the upper level track emerging from the stairs and entering Ridgway. Anchoring the upper level roadbed as it emerged proved a little tricky, as the lower-level track is right below it.

Mar 4, 2007

Wiring and the 1156 lamps

More wiring... I'm installing 1156 lamps these days, to provide some short-circuit protection. There's a lot of discussion on this method in various places - see this entry from Wiring For DCC for some background. So far, the Dolores panel is done (7 lamps), and the Durango panel is 2/3rds done (9 out of 13 done). A good deal left to go.

Anyway, the issue is how exactly to install these buggers. I'm just soldering directly to the lamps since they should last pretty much indefinitely, but that's a little tricky. The final plan I came up with was to feed one side of the main track feed to a terminal block, then to a wire soldered across the tips of a line of 1156 lamps anchored to the benchwork. Then, wires soldered to each brass base of the lamps is fed back down to the terminal blocks feeding each section of track. Yeah, I know - I really need a picture of this... eventually I'll try to add one.

There's one lamp for each section of track, basically each block, or each group of service or yard tracks; I'm trying to minimize the number of these lamps I need to solder and install. Actually, I'm trying to arrange it so each locomotive would always be protected by its own lamp, so tracks are divided based on how many locos I think will be active at any one moment. BTW, I've been buying these lamps at Walmart - they're only about 98 cents each there, in the automotive section.

Feb 6, 2007

A bit more of the mainline is laid now - it's extended from the laundry room, through Dolores, under Rico and Enterprise, and nearly into the south end of Rico. I finished up soldering feeders this weekend, and working on the wiring for those sections right now.

Jan 22, 2007

A couple more weeks have passed, and the power supply bus wiring is done! I've now got the main track bus and three other bus-pairs wired to each of 7 barrier-strip panels scattered around the layout. I've been running trains forwards and backwards along the existing track, checking for problems, but haven't found any yet. And, w/the wiring done for the moment, I'm back to laying track: the hidden staging tracks for McPhee are completed, and I'm working on laying out the turnouts and other track at the southern end of Dolores.

Jan 3, 2007

After fighting the flu most of Christmas break, I was able to do some more wiring. I've now gotten the main track bus (#10 wire) plus other power supply busses (another 3 pairs of #12 and #14 wire) all the way around the layout. These will provide track and aux power to each of (now) 7 local panels. I've gotten three of those built and installed - Rico, Ridgway and Durango. Each of the panels is a 18" x 24" hunk of 1/2" plywood covered with terminal (or barrier) strips. The panels are hanging below the benchwork, but are hinged so they can fold up under the layout when I'm not working on them. Of course, all the runs to these panels are using stranded wire, so the panel movement won't break the wiring.

I also wired the existing track from Durango to Mancos, so trains can now run between the laundry-room hidden track all the way thru to Durango! There's nothing visible to see after all this work, but it's critical infrastructure and it's good to have gotten the main bus runs completed. Although it feels a little like I'm using too much wire, I've decided to run the main track bus to each local panel, then individual wiring to each block. Although I'm running command-control, I want to wire each block individually so that I can add block detection later if I want, and also so I can run of sections (say, staging tracks or enginehouse spurs) if they're just storing trains. I've got a good deal of hidden track, so all that will need detection, at least.

From each local panel, I'm running #14 or #12 to each block. The track is being laid with every other length of flex track soldered, so I'm running short #20 jumpers to every other section of track - thus feeders approx every 6' and every rail is either soldered to a jumper or to another piece of track. I'm using mostly electro-frog Peco turnouts, and with these newer ones you can easily wiring the frogs directly, which is what I'm doing. This does mean that each turnout will need it's frog powered, and I'm still trying to decide how to best accomplish that. At the moment, I'm leaning toward manual push-pull knobs connected to slide switches for local turnouts, and Tortise moters for turnouts further away.