Wednesday, April 13, 2016

2014-June - Preparing the harbour

A major feature of these modules is a rail ferry, the connection to the outside world (also functions as staging and/or fiddle yard).  Since the layout is assumed to be based roughly on the Esquimalt & Nanaimo (but with the studied-but-never-pursued option of a bridge from northern Vancouver Island to the mainland and link up to the transcontinental mainlines) these modules will represent Nanaimo as the mid-point on the Vancouver Island line.

The real present-day rail ferry in Nanaimo can be seen on Google Maps (49.165,-123.929). It actually looks fairly similar to what I have on the layout, although that wasn't intentional (I hadn't decided this should be Nanaimo at the time of track planning).

I used the recently re-released Walthers Rail Barge (933-3152) and matching Car Float Apron (933-3068), and also the Railroad Tugboat (933-3153). The barge is large kit but easily assembled. And really needs a coat of paint, looks very plastic!


(yes, that's a VHS tape, it's the perfect thickness to support the bridge during test fitting)

For the harbour section I cut out the Styrofoam at about a 45-degree angle before I glued it down. The rest of the foam I had glued the plywood with contact cement. Test-fitting the barge and apron on the layout:

Now to prepare the water area. I painted over with some primer and almost-black paint that were lying around, and that already made it look much better than bare plywood. A few more coats of paint in various shades of blue and green made it look a little more watery, but the overall effect is still of very dark water.

I wanted a rip-rap shoreline, and I had a bag of gravel that looked just about right.

It's a fairly laborious process since you have to place each stone individually for it to look right, but once done the effect is quite nice.

The holes you see above are for the wood pilings, which I made from 1/8" dowel, roughed up with a hacksaw blade to give some grain. Seven of them bundle together just perfectly to fit in a 3/8" hole. I used either my smallest spring clamps or rubber bands to hold them together while the glue dried.

With all the pilings and stone in place it's starting to look like a harbour

To make the water I simply dabbed ModPodge gloss medium over the whole area using a foam brush with a wedge tip. After spreading the ModPodge over the whole area I pushed the foam brush firmly into the wet medium and lifted off vertically, leaving a raised line from the centre of the brush where it last made contact with the surface. Just dab and repeat in lines parallel to the shoreline and you get the effect of waves and generally ripply surface. Very easy to do and looks good when dry.

I didn't put much coverage under where the barge would go because nobody will see it.

I ended up putting down probably 7 or 8 layers of ModPodge to build up the gloss and texture. I'm happy with how it turned out.

2014-May - Getting the track plan onto the layout

Now it's time to transfer the track plan to the layout.

I drew a grid on the Styrofoam, 12" grid in red and 3" grid in black.

I printed out the track plan from XtrkCAD full-size on regular letter-size paper, with the option of location markers selected. I laid the track plan pages onto the layout and stuck a straight pin in each location crosshair and made sure it lined up on the corresponding grid line on the styrofoam. It worked quite well.

Then came the painstaking process of poking the straight pin through the track centreline every centimeter or so to create a line of pinprick dots in the foam. After removing the paper track plan I put a dot with a blue Sharpie in every pinprick, and then connected all the dots to end up with all my track center lines readily visible.

2014-April - Benchwork

Once the track planning was done, it's time for benchwork. At the time I was a strong believer in heavy-duty construction, so everything is 3/4" plywood. As time went by and I had to move these around a little, I see weight can be a consideration. Check out the 2016 posts for updates on that front.

I got my local hardware store to cut the plywood to 70.5"x32" (add on a 3/4" end plate to each end and you have the 72" module length). From the leftovers I ripped the 4.25" longitudinals and 24"x6" end plates.

Everything is screw-assembled with angle brackets. Which is great if you need to disassemble it to move things, and did come in handy once, but it's a lot more work (and weight) than glue.

Add on a layer of 1" styrofoam on top and the basic table is complete

Catching Up

I have been traveling a lot in the last 5 years so not a whole lot of opportunity for model railroad progress. However, I have also been lax in my updates here, there has been a little more progress than 3 years of not-posting would indicate.

I have been taking photos along the way, and I will attempt to catch up current progress in with a number of photos and a few comments along the way.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

RailPro vs DCC control

I had been fully expecting to use DCC when I started the first E&MH, and indeed I bought a NCE PowerCab DCC system, although I never got the chance to install or use it before the layout came down. Since I'm generally planning on following Free-mo specs for v2 of the E&MH, I was planning on getting a Digitrax Super Empire Builder set (Free-mo specifies Digitrax as the control system standard).

However, in the mid-August update email from Model Railroad Hobbyist, I noticed an ad from Ring Engineering. It was actually the non-descriptive name that caught my eye, strangely -- I didn't know who they were or what they did so I went to their website. Their big product is RailPro. Not that they're new advertisers, or a brand new company, I just never happened to notice their ads before, or rather that RailPro was something other than just another brand of DCC. It's not.

They have two introductory videos on their site, so I obligingly started up the first one, not expecting much more than the usual marketing about how ours is better than theirs, but as the video went on I became quite fascinated.  In short, RailPro is a direct-control radio system -- the locomotives get only DC power from the track, and all the control commands are sent via radio commands (2.4GHz, similar frequency and range as Bluetooth) directly from the controller to the locomotive. Moreover, the communication is two-way. Not only can the locomotive (or power supply, or switch machine, etc) talk back to the controller, but the components could actually talk to each other, as in their impressive demonstration in part 2 of the video on linking two dissimilar locomotives. (Note: I'm not 100% certain from the video if the locomotives actually do talk to each other directly, of if the data is centrally handled by the controller, but I still believe that peer-to-peer communication could be possible even if it's not currently handed that way).

I did get a chance to read through the manual of my NCE PowerCab, and the number of buttons on it, or any DCC controller, is moderately intimidating, especially since they have somewhat cryptic mapping between buttons and functions. I'm a computer programmer and am perfectly comfortable thinking in binary or hexadecimal, but it seems that too much of that is still apparent in the end user's hand in DCC controllers. RailPro, on the other hand, seems to have successfully abstracted the technical details of how the controller and decoder talk to each other behind a friendly touchscreen GUI (graphical user interface).

My original plan was to buy a DCC system (most likely Digitrax) and locomotives with pre-installed DCC decoders. That has now altered with an eye towards RailPro as my next control system. Since no manufacturer to date ships with RailPro decoders preinstalled I'll buy DC locomotives and install the decoder myself. However, since I'm planning to start small (see track plan in previous post) I'm not likely to have more than 1 locomotive any time soon, so I can actually start with an inexpensive DC locomotive and an inexpensive DC power pack and get up and running with minimal investment, and save up the money for a fancy control system when I have more than 12 feet of mainline.

The RailPro system seems reasonably priced for what it is -- US$300 for the controller, $60 for a basic decoder, $100 for a sound decoder. My only concern was for the apparently high price for the power supply: $270 for the 75W version. I brought up the issue of the price of the power supply with Ring Engineering, and since it's basically a good-quality DC power supply (with a radio repeater, reporting and auto-reverse module) I commented that I would be able to get a top-brand (e.g. Corsair, Seasonic, etc) computer ATX power supply for a quarter of the price of the Ring Engineering PWR-75 (even half the price of their newer cut-down PWR-56). Ring responded very quickly and raised some good points:
The common power supply, such as a PC power supply, is not designed to be short-circuited.  A model Railroad power supply is going to be shorted when trains come off the rails, metal objects are inadvertently put on the rails, etc.  Therefore a model railroad power supply has to be able to be short circuited regularly.  Further a model Railroad power supply should have auto recovery after a short so it will power up without intervention after a short is removed.  A fused power (which is typical for commonly available power supplies) would blow the fuse and you would have to replace the fuse each time you accidentally shorted one rail to the other!  Even further, if more than one is used they must be designed to load share.  When a loco crosses a gap that isolates the two power supplies the two power supplies become connected in parallel through the locomotive!  Most power supplies are not designed to be paralleled.  Some will even damage each other when connected in parallel.  Ring Engineering RailPro power supplies are designed to be short circuited, have auto recovery, are designed to be paralleled, and have special software and circuitry to do load sharing when paralleled.  Additionally, RailPro power supplies have Direct Radio to allow then to be configured as a repeater, have remote monitoring (such as real time power consumption), they have overload protection and allow remote control of the output.  Lastly the proper voltage for HO scale is not readily available in common power supplies.  Our power supplies are calibrated to 14.5 volts.  Some incandescent bulbs are very sensitive to over voltage.  A little over voltage can drastically reduce their life span.  So if you choose a common 15-volt supply and it actually outputted 15.5 volts that is about 10% too much voltage which can have an exponential impact on the life of bulbs.  On the other hand if you picked a common 12-volt supply the power on the motor would be much less than 12 volts and the top speed of the locomotives would be noticeably slow.
I'm not sure that any of the above is enough to stop me from trying (there's usually no shortage of ATX power supplies around a techie's house). For example, the over-current issue should be easily solved with the 1156 tail light bulb trick (see also MRH 2013-Mar p17). I plan on using an ATX power supply for layout power anyway, at least for accessory power.

I'll leave you with the two RailPro videos for your viewing pleasure.

Part 1:
Part 2:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Not gone, just absent

The 6 people who have ever looked at this blog may have noticed I haven't posted anything for a couple years. Unfortunately the layout I was previously describing here fell victim to moving out of that house, not long after the last progress shots seen here.

Since then I've been moving every month or two, so anything that doesn't fit in my (very small) car is not allowed, so no layout (even a Z-scale layout in a pizza box would be difficult to find room for).

However, hope is starting to appear on the horizon: I expect to be able to stop roaming so much and be able to start again, with room for at least a modest layout. After starting and demolishing several layouts over recent years before they progress to anything even operational, I'm now firmly committed to a modular design of some kind. I have no plans to join up with anyone else's modules, but I have tentatively adopted the Free-mo standard as a guideline.

Inspired by M.C. Fujiwara's Shelf Layout Project in N scale from Model Railroad Hobbyist, November 2012 (page 100), in turn inspired by Byron Henderson’s “Alameda Belt Line”, I came up with this 12' x 2'8"

Two modules, each 6' long by 32" wide, designed as a linked pair. The outside ends (one of each module) tapers to 24" endplates per the (single-track) Free-mo specification. The inner endplates also (mostly) conform to (dual-track) Free-mo standards, although the end width, scenery and secondary tracks do not.

The "3-track yard" in the lower-right corner is the Walthers Car Float and Carfloat Apron.
HO Scale
12' x 2'8"
Minimum radius: 42"
Turnouts: #8 mainline, #6 industries


Monday, March 7, 2011

Fascia installation

I was inspired by this post, so I decided to go ahead and install much of the fascia for the layout. It may be premature in some areas (no doubt I'll complain to myself at some point about lack of access to something), but is very necessary in other parts to start working on some basic scenery landforms.

The contours in the photo are obviously very rough; once the scenery profile is more determined I'll cut it to a nicer shape.