CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Friday, July 20, 2018

FRED for my MMR

The requirements for the Model Railroader Engineer - Electrical certificate can be found here. In addition to wiring my layout, I had to build a couple of electrical projects. The NMRA gives some ideas and there are others online, and I purchased a couple of old Electrical Project books on Ebay and flipped through for something interesting. Most were either too advanced for me, or required circuits that were severely outdated, but an article in the February 1990 Model Railroader magazine seemed simple enough and fun. It was to build an end-of-train device (also referred to as "FREDs") for Flashing Rear End Device. Essentially, it is a blinking LED circuit.

I built one of these as a kid from a different article in MR, and it ran off of a 9 volt battery. A friend helped me build it, and I remember it had a potentiometer which allowed you to adjust the rate of the blinking. I wanted to do it again but couldn't find the article, and a call for help on the MR online forum didn't produce the article. If you know what article it was, please let me know. So, I went with a different design using a LM 3909 circuit chip. They are not manufactured anymore in the USA, but I found a couple on Ebay for $3 each and bought them from China. Very cheap, but shipping took a month and a half.

While reviewing the circuit diagram I found an error in the MR article. The diagram showing the LED has the polarity (+ and -) notations correct but the length of the anode and cathode reversed. Trust the polarity as indicated and not the length of the LED prongs as drawn. I used a small project board to make everything cleaner and mounted it all in a boxcar that I had lying around. I cut a notch in the bottom of the boxcar shell for the LED to stick out from, as I didn't want to have it permanently mounted to the boxcar's body should I need to get inside. It isn't a perfect scale model of a EOD, but it does demonstrate my electrical abilities.

I love cabooses but I may actually purchase a D&H decorated boxcar shell to use for times when I want to ... shudder... model a period train when cabooses weren't used anymore.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

DCC at last!

I have finally moved into the 21st century! And it took a while. I just bought the NCE Power Cab DCC system, and installation was as easy as can be. I am quite content to let a train run round and round and for that any DC system would have worked. But, add multiple trains... some of which won't be going round round... and a few sound decoders and things start to get complicated. DCC was inevitable.

This NCE system isn't the first DCC system I have owned, or even the second. It is the fourth! I started out back in 2002 with an Atlas Master DCC system that was as basic as you could get. It even looked like a regular train set power pack. For my small switching layout and two DCC-equipped engines it was perfect. But, I wanted something with more functions so I upgraded to a Digitrax "Chief" starter set, which I don't think is made anymore. However, once I took a look at the Digitrax controller with its millions of buttons I put it back in the box and eventually sold it without really using it. Lots of people swear by Digitrax (and some at them), so it clearly was just me. But, I didn't like it.

My local train club (RITMRC) at the time converted from DC to DCC and naturally chose NCE because the club was based in Rochester and so was NCE. They were really great to us. I remember having an engine (an Atlas AEM-7) that required a special, compact decoder and taking it to NCE and the owner Jim took me on a tour and we picked out the right decoder from bins and bins of them and he installed it himself. NCE had lots of buttons too but they were laid out better, were larger, and the display screen was clear and large. But, then I moved and I didn't need a system so I didn't think much of it until I built a small N scale layout. I wanted to use DCC so I picked up a cheap Bachmann EZ-Command system. Talk about simple! But, it worked.

Well, now I need one because I want to run sound equipped engines and get the most of their features. So, I turned to NCE again and finally bought their starter set. Installation took about 10 minutes, though I haven't read their full manual yet. It looks pretty well laid out though, which is encouraging to a non-tech guy like me. I still plan to have a DC track powered option too, but for most days this NCE system will be perfect.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wiring the Tortoise switch machines

Each switch machine needs a toggle switch to control the points, and I have seen them done in various ways. Having them protrude from the fascia is just asking for trouble, and making special bump-out protectors looks clunky. I wanted something low profile. I found a vendor selling DPDT, on/on (no center off) rocker switches on EBay for about $1.25 each. They are round, so installation is as simple as drilling a 5/8" mounting hole. And, I can orient them so that the little white dot on the switch indicates the primary flow of traffic through the switch, giving an easy visual cue as to whether the switch is set correctly. Finding a source for them took some doing, and I ordered a bunch in case I can't get them in the future.

The toggle switches were pre-wired at my workbench while I was sitting down and listening to music. Otherwise, it would get very tedious (it still was). For my ten switches I needed to make 70 total solder joints. And, I had to be neat because the wiring has to slip through a 5/8" hole from the front instead of back-loading as with typical toggle switches. Some of the solder joints for the criss-crossed wires looked a little too close for comfort, so I tried something new and used liquid electrical tape. It stinks, it is thin, it drips everywhere, but it peels off cleanly once cured. I did two coats as recommended in the instructions. I also twisted the wires for neatness. Each switch has two feet of wire... surely excessive... but a much better alternative to splicing longer wires on later.

To keep everything consistent and avoid screwups, I drew up exactly how I wanted the Tortoise machines wired and then printed it out and laminated it. (Side note: once you own a laminating machine, you will use it for so many things!). Though I could wire the machines directly to the bus wires, installing an intermediary terminal strip is a good idea should you need to remove a Tortoise for maintenance (or, as it turns out, if you need to replace a switch itself... grrr). Another option is edge connectors, but they are expensive.

I also ordered some of the "European" style barrier strips, which perform the same function as a terminal strip but are much easier to use. You just stick the wire in and tighten the screw. Sometimes I found that the wire wouldn't get caught by the screw and would pull out after I tightened it up, or the wire would go too far into the terminal and the screw would clamp down on the insulation part. Occasionally, the metal insert would become dislodged inside and the only way I could manage to get it in the right place again was to remove the barrier strip from the benchwork. However, they were indeed much easier then bending each wire around a screw while upside down.

However, they also essentially double the amount of wires necessary for each switch machine. If I didn't power the frogs, I think I would only need two wires going to the Tortoise. However, because I am powering them I needed an additional 6 wires. And, since the barrier strip was already in place I ran the power bus wires through it too for a total of 14 wires. Suddenly, my layout's neat underside has become a mess or wires. I plan to purchase a wire stapler to keep them organized, as the regular staple gun I have sometimes compresses the wires too much.

That being said, it wasn't a difficult job to wire up. I designed the layout sections to easily be disconnected and flipped on their side for wiring. While that is probably still true, I haven't done it because I am happy with how everything is aligned and don't want to ruin it. Unfortunately, the layout height is just perfect underneath so that I cannot sit on a chair (I hit my head) or lie on my back (too far away). I must hunch over. So, I do a couple of wires at a time and take a break to do something more interesting. To those who solder wires under the layout in situ, my respect to you!

I think toggle switches look better when they are recessed in the fascia. So, even though my rocker toggles don't extend very far out I cut a 1.5" hole where I wanted each switch. I couldn't always get them lined up exactly where the track switch was (because of the benchwork braces or it was too close to the end of the section) but it is quite obvious which toggle controls which switch. Then, the holes were sanded and given several coats of a dark green paint. No, it doesn't look perfect but this isn't the finished fascia either. Once my scenery is in I will cut masonite into strips and attach them to the benchwork edge. For right now, this is temporary. And, eventually something will conceal the bare pine benchwork.

Next, I used some 3/16" plywood squares (which I bought on Ebay because I don't have a table saw) and drilled a 11/16" hole in the middle with my drill press. After painting them green and gluing them to the backside of the benchwork, the toggle switches slipped in from the front and they were then connected to the terminal barrier strips. I made sure the little white pip was pointed the way I wanted it. Then, each toggle was tested to make sure it threw the track switch the correct way. Once that was done, I did one more test to make sure the frog of each switch was powered with the correct polarity in related to the position of the point wires. Amazingly, not a single frog was wired backwards!

Phew, it was a lot of work. More than once through the project I thought about gutting it all and using ground throws and unpowered frogs. That would reduce the amount of wire tremendously (and I plan to do this with my last side, the staging yard). But, I am happy with the results and it is pretty neat to flip the toggle switch and see the track points change.

To fully check everything on the layout was wired correctly, I took my newly acquired Boston & Maine RDC out for a spin. For the most part it operated fine, and I am happy to be finished with this wiring!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy Fourth of July!

What's special about this picture? I doubt you can guess. It is dated 7/04/2010. Yup, on our nation's birthday eight years ago I shot this picture. My wife was out of town visiting her family, and I was by myself. It was a scorcher, much like today, in the mid-ninties. However, I was firmly convinced I wanted to model the D&H so out I went with a camera, a map, a pad of paper, and a measuring stick to document every building in the area. I thought I was insane, but I am glad I did. Things are always changing.

The area to the left of the train in my picture originally had a factory on it in the 1980s but now it is just a grassy spot. The cream colored building behind the train was a millwork place in the 1980s, and if you look at my last post you can see it in the pictures. It is the bright red and yellow building in the distance on the left. Recently, a gas company has bought it and renovated it quite nicely. It looks a lot different from this 2010 shot. C.P. also extended the double track from Kenwood Yard to just south of here in 2013ish.

Eight years! My how the time does fly.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Track laying in North Albany Yard (Staging yard)

My conceptual goal for this section has been slowing evolving over the past 9 months. Where as once it was going to be a throwaway section, complete with some track work features (turntable, engine facilities) that were being installed solely for my NMRA certification, I have come to terms with the potential of this section. As I have described previously the yard located in North Albany (that is sadly completely gone now) that also served as a sorting area for at least half a dozen local industries. In 1984, much of the track still existed though within a year or two Guilford had removed nearly all of it.

March 28, 1984 (note Huck Finn's Warehouse on the left)
There is something terribly fascinating and depressing about seeing old, abandoned track. And, because it captures the mood of 1984 so well I plan to model it on my layout. However, like nearly everyone else, putting a yard (even a small one like this) would waste a lot of space if used solely for marshaling freight cars into trains. So, I am also focusing on the scenic potential of it.

Unfortunately, the yard is oriented west of the mainline which means on my layout that always has west in the back (and north to the right), the yard should be behind the main. That just isn't possible with my current arrangement. The yard will be extremely short (the entire section is only 4.5 feet long) and the yard ladder has to fit on it. So, it had to be selectively compressed. I started by laying down a layer of foam that I purchased at Hobby Lobby. I hate foam for this purpose as it is squishy and I fear the ballast/glue layer cracking while cleaning track, but this stuff is so thin that it should be okay. It is even thinner then N scale cork, so it really will allow the track to look buried in the weeds.

I went back and forth arranging the turnout ladder and to get the longest possible yard tracks they had to come off the main at an angle. But this didn't look like the prototype, so I made the first two tracks parallel (a layout planning no-no if ever there was one). I did leave space for a track between the yard and the mainline though, which I will model as roadbed and ties without rails in the process of being torn up. The closest yard track needs a switch coming off of it to go to the turntable and engine facilities. This is purely for my NMRA requirements, and once they are earned the switch will be removed. I may then add add a fourth yard track that is not connected but also just ties with rail torn up.

The turntable area was a tight fit and I needed three stall tracks for my certificate. If I were designing this layout section to be permanent, I would never have crammed it in this way. There were a lot of crazy elevation changes in this section, as the mainline uses 3/16" cork, the siding coming off transitions down to 1/8" n scale cork, and the turntable has a molded base of 1/4" for when HO cork roadbed use to be that thick. Shimming with card stock was required here and there, and my adhesive of choice now is Aleene's Tacky Glue (the stuff that comes in the gold bottle). I glued everything down except the turntable, which is screwed down. Since this is temporary I didn't go crazy with the glue.

The turntable is powered with the matching Atlas motor. I assumed that the motor would have a socket that fit over the shaft that comes up and is used for the hand crank but I was wrong. In fact, I had to read the instructions three times to fully understand what was going on. While skimming them I became concerned that I had bought a turntable which couldn't be powered and got upset. However, after reading the instructions I saw that you simply broke off a cover on the back of the turntable and the motor gearing meshed with that. A pretty snazzy set-up, Atlas. The whitish/clear gear behind the brass worm gear is part of the turntable itself.

And with that, track laying on my layout is complete. I still need to wire this last section up, and connect the ground throws for the three switches (no Tortoise machines here... and perhaps no powered frogs) but it is with sadness that I conclude laying track. However, I can't wait to start some scenery and ballasting!