Dec 28, 2010

Bummed. The end of Keller OnBoard for me? And on to DCC?

Well, perhaps the day has come.  When I started my layout about 2004, I designed the wiring to easily be upgraded from my old Keller OnBoard control system, to a DCC system.  I've withheld actually doing that because I've already got (and paid for!) the Keller system, and (until now) it's done everything I needed.

However, that has changed.  To date, I've actually only installed decoders (Keller called them throttles, but in this DCC-age I just call them decoders) in diesel locomotives, mostly Athearn's I've remotored w/ Sagami can motors.  The Keller decoders work well w/ these motors, albeit with a very slight buzzing at low speeds (due to the pulse-modulation used by Keller to help start older / cheaper motors).

But now came time to install decoders into my Spectrum 2-8-0 Consolidation steam locomotive.  The wiring was simple enough - removed the built-in circuit board, hard-wired the connections between tender and loco w/ super-flex wire (pulled from old computer mice, btw), and added the decoder in the tender.  Then came testing - and a very loud buzz in the lower 1/3 of the speed range.  That pulse-modulation doesn't work well w/ these much newer, and much smaller motors.

I tried everything I could think of - different versions of the Keller decoders, adding the Bachmann circuit board back in, etc, but nothing fixed it.  I guess this is a limitation of these old decoders, and one of many reasons the system isn't used much today.

SO - where does that leave me?  Time to upgrade to DCC, I suppose.  I like the idea of more control, more features, current technology, all that stuff, but I'm not happy about the re-wiring needed to locos and control panels, nor the cost.

Any suggestions on which brand, folks?  I'm probably leaning toward either DigiTrax or NCE, and it seems at a least a couple of radio cabs make the most sense.

Nov 18, 2010

Loving these weathering powders!

As I said, I've been working on finishing up some rolling stock; here's a bunch of cars (photographed very quickly this morning).  I'm loving these weathering powders!

Nov 14, 2010

Outhouses and cabeese complete at last!

Here's one of Banta Modelworks' set of 5 outhouses; I built all five, and used them to experiement w/ a number of painting and weathering techniques.  I'm pretty satisified w/ the results!

Here's another view of the larger building, and also a one-holer that I modeled after a still-remaining outhouse near the Rico station grounds.

Here's the smaller of the two large buildings, w/ the other two small ones in the background.

You can't see it here, and I couldn't get a good photo, but all three smaller outhouses are complete w/ open doors, toilet-paper rolls, newspapers nearby to pass the time while occupied, and a couple of posters on the interior walls.

Here's the first of 5 cabooses - I had some trouble finding something that resembled the center-cupola RGS cabooses.  This is a std-gauge freelance, w/ an alternate history, so I have some freedom, but I still wanted to capture the flavor of the prototype.  You'll notice the numbering on all these cabeese is close to, but not exactly, the numbers used on the prototype fleet.

Here's one of the three larger cabooses... these are all Walter's Gold Line models, which include the handrails and other details and add-ons for the modeler.  I had a heck of a time filing the insides after brushing my skills w/ the #80 drill, but they eventually came together quite nicely.  The weathering on all of these models is Dr. Ben's weathering powders, applied dry and worked in.  I really like working w/ them.

Oct 19, 2010

Couple updates to the website

Gosh, I've been far behind in updating the web site... I have a quite a backlog of updates and just haven't had the computer time at home to work on it.

But - I did update a couple pages tonight:  Some great new photos by Jim K, linked from the Exploring the ROW page, and  updates to the Model Listing page for Campbell models, who finally have their own web presence.

At home, I'm still working on cabooses, this time having progressed to adding grab irons.  Boy, that's tricky work!  I've done grabs before, but not for some time, so this is a bit of re-learning for me.

Sep 30, 2010

Quick update

I know it's been forever since I've updated this, but we've been very busy w/ getting our oldest off to college, finding and starting a new job, and other beginning-of-school-year fun.   Oh yeah, and my studying for an ASQ exam for work.

But, I did nearly finish the outhouses, and have been busy (when I could) painting and decaling rolling stock, trying to get in the spraying work while the weather holds.  I've completed the decals and most of hte painting on 5 new cabooses, all lettered for the RGS, a couple of reefers, a couple of boxcars, and a couple of flat cars.  I will post photos if (when?) I finish all of those up w/ weathering powders.

I know it's crazy, but I'm still a little hesitant about attacking all of these new cars w/ the powders (and the outhouses too, actually), but I want to move on it so I can add any oversprays while it's still warm enough outside.  But life intervenes, so we'll see.

Jul 26, 2010

Enterprise is done! On to... er... outhouses. :-)

I've completed the Enterprise (see pics below), and I've moved on to what is actually my first laser-cut kits, a series of small outhouses from Banta.  I've built Campbell kits before (love 'em), but these are a slightly new variation and I'm having fun w/ them.

I'm following one of Darryl Huffman's weathering DVDs and staining wood for these kits using several variations of shoe dye in alcohol, and I really like the results.  And it's very simple and cheap.

So - I ended up painting a lot of the detail on the Enterprise's hull - great practice to get back into very fine painting.  I also used paint markers for the first time - an ultra-fine white for the lit windows.  And an ultra-fine Sharpie for the dark windows - both worked great.  I also used weathering powders for the first time, to add some battle damage, which also worked great and was really fun.

This model also has the fiber optic 'lighting', which was surprisingly challenging, but it turned out ok.  Here's a few 'night' shots.  The nacelles are also lit.

Jun 29, 2010

Still playing w/ the Enterprise

I've really gotta post some pictures... painting of all the detail on the ship is complete, and I'm finishing up w/ decals and then a final coat of dullcote or something similar.  The detail painint isn't perfect, but given the number of tiny details, it's been great practice.  There must be hundreds of the escape pods, and hundreds of windows as well.  I used an ultra fine point white paint marker for the 'lit' windows, which worked well, although even it was a little large.  I used an ultra fine point Sharpie marker for the 'dark' windows, which was really easy and worked great.

I will probably (at the urging of one of my teenagers), try a little weathering powders (I've got a set from Micro Mark) to simulate some battle damage.  Can't have this ship too clean, I guess.  But what does a phaser hit look like, exactly?  Dust, I can do.  Mud, yep.  But phaser hits?  Hmmmm.

On an RGS note, I've also dug out a set of 5 outhouses from Banta I received a while ago, and getting ready to start on those.  My preference for staining the wood is to create several variations of stain with 70% alcohol and brown and black shoe die.  Those are all purchased... more details to follow!

Jun 22, 2010

Not much layout work

I haven't been working directly on the layout lately; it's summer and we got busy w/ graduation season around our house (one from high school, one from middle, one from grade school, and a birthday - all within two weeks!).

However, I have been finishing up a model of the USS Enterprise-D, which my oldest son gave me a gift quite a few years ago, and which I thought I should probably finish up before he leaves for college (alarmingly soon, now...).  It's got fiber-optic lighting, and to properly paint it has hundreds of tiny windows, panels, etc.

It's not my greatest achievement, but it's been great to re-discover some painting skills long dormant, and learn new skills I haven't used in building the layout.  Perhaps I'll post a picture if it turns out ok.

May 22, 2010

Rico is complete - now for some ops stuff

Wow, I can't believe it's been almost a month since that last posting; looking for work and doing all the search-prep classes and whatnon burns thru the days at a surprising rate.

Anyway, I did get some time on the weekends and completed the trackwork in Rico; it's completely done now, including the Enterprise branch, turnout controls, the whole deal.

Next up is adding boxes for car-cards and waybills, and alongside that is finally figuring out my operating scheme (at least a 1st draft), adding at least markers for each of the buildings, etc.  I've decided to take a somewhat non-typical approach; if you're reading this feel free to comment on the validity of the idea.

Here it is:
I want to make operations a bit more flexible, so operators feel a little more like they're responding to the current situation on the layout, rather than following a tight script of events.  Perhaps this won't work, but my idea is to use only 2-cycle waybills, and to mostly keep the waybills stored seperately from the car cards.

We play a good number of board games around here - Rail Baron, Empire Express, Silverton, etc, and most of those function w/ some type of random demand request, which is then fulfilled as efficiently as possible to make money.  Of course, ops on a model railroad have a different focus, but I've been wondering if I could borrow some of those game concepts, and see how that might work.

The sequence would be something like this:
  • At the spur (factory, mine, stockyard, etc) there are a bunch of waybills in a pocket, available for use.  Each lists the type of car needed, and a destination.  So, a mine shipping lead has a card saying it needs to ship a load of lead to Grand Jct (which is a staging location).
  • The operator grabs the waybill, walks to a yard where empties have been returned, finds an appropriate car, and loads the waybill, empty-side up.  This becomes a waybill to move the empty to the mine.
  • The car is routed to the mine w/ this waybill, sits for a while, and is magically loaded.
  • The waybill is flipped to reveal the destination (Grand Jct staging in this example).
  • The car is then routed to that location, via a scheduled or extra local, or whatever else.
  • Once arriving in staging, the waybill is removed.
  • The empty car-card has instructions for where to return the car, and it's returned.  Alternatively, another waybill could be inserted before it gets back to its home yard.
Trains would be routed via schedules, and supported with 'train cards' laying out their runs for each operator.  For passenger runs, those would be set schedules.  For freights, scheduled locals would simply take all available loads from point A, and pick up what's needed along their route.  Extras would be handled by the dispatcher.

So - what da ya think?

Apr 28, 2010

Pushing forward in Rico

Well, I'm still out of work, and spending most of my time in job-search related activities.

But, there has been some time for layout work in the evenings, and I've been working on finishing the trackwork in Rico, and on the Enterprise branch.  Nearly all of that trackwork is complete now, and I've been adding track feeders.

All of the turnouts of Peco code-75, and all of the spurs, branch, and siding track in this area is ME code-55.  I'm using ME transition rail joiners (c55 to c70) which are plastic, and this means there's a lot of insulated track, and a lot of feedeers to install.  But wow, does that code 55 look great!

Apr 7, 2010

Feeling pretty blue today

This isn't about the RGS or my layout today... no, it's me feeling gloomy.  I lost my job yesterday, along w/ 80% of our office, which is being closed.  Piles of work, trips booked, meetings planned - then suddenly nearly all of us are gone.

There is severance and other benefits, but the loss is pretty painful right now.  I was there 22 years, and this change will take some getting used to, to say the least.

And no, the economy has nothing to do w/ this - corporate acquired one of our competitors, then decided to move the software headquarters, management, quality (my area), tesing, and more to their location, and to discontinue a number of our products.  Corporate greed?  Saavy business?  I don't know... seems there should've been better ways to use a staff w/ the decades of experience and very industry-specific expertise that can't be replaced easily.

Apr 5, 2010

Making tracks in Rico... again

After a long pause for wiring, I'm back to laying track.  I managed to save up enough to purchase the rest of the track for Rico and the Enterprise branch, and have completed about 1/2 of the town's industrial trackage already.

Once Rico is complete, that'll leave only Dolores and Durango for major track-laying work.  Ridgway is done, except for the engine terminal, which is waiting on the turntable, which is waiting on funds that - um - aren't available yet!

Mar 27, 2010

HUGE milestone - operations can begin!

A friend and I wired the last Tortoise turnout motor (of the initial set of these, anyway), spent some time cleaning tools and whatnot from the tracks, and then started some simple operations.  The Ridgway and Telluride yards worked wonderfully, and we had a blast doing some switching and routing trains back and forth.  Although we mostly used only these two towns (and Rico a little), there was plenty of space, and it's encouraging that the layout can probably support a good number of operators easily, even now.

Next up, hopefully - completion of the Rico trackage, and the Enterprise branch, which should add significantly the operating possibilties.

I've started playing with David Hussman's car-card / waybill software, and eventually will start moving toward some more formalized operating schemes.  If you're looking for his software, btw, it's in the files section  Yahoo's Car Cards group.  It's great, and it's free, but does require Microsoft Excel and Access, on a Windows platform (since Access isn't available for the Mac at the moment).

Mar 23, 2010

Ridgway Tortoises done

I finally was able to finish all the wiring, LED indicators, and other stuff for the 6 Tortoise motors installed in the Ridgway yard area. This means the hidden and hard-to-reach turnouts for this yard are now all automated.

I will probably pull the springs from the Peco code-75 turnouts I've motorized, although so far I haven't actually removed any of the springs from these turnouts. The Tortoises (with .039" wire) are strong enough to overcome the springs, but I suppose it's silly to make the motors work harder; there seems to be no reason to leave the springs in place.

Mar 1, 2010

Three more toroise installs

I finished up the mechanical portion of three more difficult Tortoise installs, under the yard lead at Ridgway. The fun part is that the control rods for these turnouts actually pass thru the edge of the hidden track below Ridgway, which is nearly directly under the yard lead.

Here's the innocent-looking yard lead from the top; the machines were installed on the three-way, and the next switch down (leading to the 3rd yard track).

Here's an overall view from below; that benchwork is only about 12" deep here; very tight working conditions.

Here's the control rods and how they just miss the hidden track below the yard lead. I love small digital cameras; I can't see this otherwise.

And here's a closeup of the machines for the 3-way turnout:

And a closeup of the machine for the track 3:

Jan 30, 2010

Photo time, at last...

OK, so here's a series of photos, showing the recent Tortoise installs, and a (very messy) overview of the layout as it exists at the moment. I'll be very glad to start working on scenery, but I'm forcing myself to finish wiring, track, and turnouts first.

First up is a tour of the layout - here's Vance Junction, with Lizard Head curving above it. On the right you can see the wye from Vance heading toward Telluride's penisula.

And here's a couple shots of Telluride:

And here's Ridgway's yard:

This is Rico, with just the main line and sidings laid so far.

Here's Hesperus, with the area for Durango unfinished above it. Lots of scenery will hopefully hide most of the yard lead directly above Hesperus behind a ridge.

And here's Dolores. Again, scenery is intended to nearly hide the line climbing above it on the way to Lizard Head.

Here's the staging tracks cutting thru the bathroom. There's a main line between Dolores and Mancos hidden under those staging tracks, too.

And this is the crossover into the Ridgway yard lead, which is hidden in a closet in the bathroom, before the Tortoises were added.

And finally, one of the two Tortoises above ground in the closet; the one that's installed is part of the crossover, and there's linkages prepared for another, handling the first switch in the yard lead for Ridgway. My method here was to carefully drill a #70 hold in the Peco linkage (after snipping off the nub), then running that thru some aluminum tubing drilled into a bit of scrap masonite. The tubing keeps the throw wire from popping up or moving around too much.

And here's the turnouts at Vance, handling a 3-way Peco, with one motor above (hidden in a tunnel eventually, I hope), and the other below.

And a closeup of the upper machine at Vance - using a slightly different method to grab hold of the Peco. I like the method used at Ridgway better, but this seems to be working fine.

Jan 20, 2010

Tortoise installs

Wow... has it really been a month and a half since that last post?

Anyway, I've managed to get another 4 Tortoise installs done, along w/ the related control-panel wiring. The turnouts for both ends of the Ophir siding are done now, as is the hidden crossover in the bathroom closet, just outside of Ridgway's yard. That was difficult; I will (promise!) post photos soon of that one.

Next up is trying to find a way to install Tortoises on the 3-way at the start of Ridgway's yard, which is a difficult reach from the aisle. Another Tortoise is about finished on the first turnout of the Ridgway yard ladder - that one also being in the closet.