Saturday, December 27, 2014

Staging yard track gaps

Although this layout is going to be run with DCC, I still need to have some separation of sections in the layout for power districts and reversing loops and in the staging yard I wanted to isolate all of the staging tracks from each other.  In the past I had done this by using insulated rail joiners but this time I wanted to try something different.

At a local electronics surplus store I purchased several scraps of .060 thick printed circuit board that were about 1-3/8 inches wide by 12 inches long.  I then cut these into 5/8 inch sections as shown in this photo.

Then using a triangular file I file through the copper clad about in the middle in each direction leaving a pattern of 4 quarter sections as shown in this photo.

The plastic ties were removed from enough of the flex track to expose enough of the rail to reach the gap in the PC board.  I also drilled small holes in these plates to accept track nails.  When I started to install feeder wires I found out that these are also handy places to solder those to.

At this point I have these installed at the loop end of each staging track for a total of five.  While I am still de-bugging a few things on the turnouts, these rail gaps have been 100% derailment free.

Friday, December 19, 2014

First trains run in staging yard

After building several more turnouts for the staging yard, it was time to actually lay some track and install some turnouts so things could be more fully tested with powered locomotives and some trains of various lengths.  With the cork already in place for the rear staging track, around the return loop, and the return track in the front, that is where the first track has been installed.  There are a pair of left hand turnouts on the back track.  Linkages and un-powered Tortoise machines were also installed to hold the points.

First engine to run on any part of this layout was one of my WP GP-7's, shown here pushing a line of 89 foot auto racks through the aligned points of one turnout then the diverging points of the second turnout.  As the longer wheel base cars seem to be the most demanding, I'm testing with them first.

At first there were a few hangups but after tweaking a few things on the turnouts everything is running smoothly.  What is learned from these tweaks will be applied to the turnouts yet to be built.  I will be testing like this with different types of engines and freight cars.

These yard turnouts are not quite stock.  First of all they are made with code 80 rail to match the Atlas track I am using in the yard.  After building with the standard ties in the fixture, I have added several larger ties both to get the height up to match the Atlas ties and to be able to use track nails to hold the turnout in place.

The method I am using in the staging yard to control the turnouts is to mount a Tortoise motor upside down.  The wire in the motor is cut off at about 1/8 inch from the table top.  A linkage wire passes through a 1/8 inch square tube between the turnout throw bar tie and the Tortoise motor.  Each end of this linkage wire is bent up 90 degrees with one end linking to the throw bar tie and the other end coupled to the Tortoise were by a brass tube.  This way everything is accessible from above. Covers will be made later to place over each group of Tortoise motors.

Today's test runs have been very encouraging.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Testing my first Fast Tracks turnouts

Back in February I posted about my experiences so far with the Fast Tracks turnout system.   Where I left off was that I had built a few turnouts, both code 55 and code 80 and was looking at ways I could test them before actually installing them on the layout.

As the first part of the layout that is going to get any track is going to be the main staging yard, I have been spending some time building more code 80 turnouts and trying to fine tune my technique.  I recently added the Stock Aid Tool and Rail Bending tool to my Fast Track arsenal and have seen some improvement in my results with each tool added.

I did build a testing setup on a strip of plywood that is shown in the two photos below.  Just a un-powered Tortise motor to hold the points in place and a fixture made of styrene to hold the turnout.  The flex track is connected to the turnout with rail joiners.

Here is an overview of one of the turnouts being tested.  That's my Aztec Mfg. track testing car passing through the turnout.

Here is a more detailed view of how I built the fixture to hold the turnout.  This testing was all done before any additional ties were added.  This turnout was done with Atlas code 80 rail.  The thickness of the test fixture brings the ties up to the thickness of the stock Atlas ties.

This turnout building is more fun than I thought it would be.  The first couple were done while repeatedly watching the Fast Tracks videos on Youtube but now I can do them on my own and much more quickly.  The few turnouts I tested this way seem to work just fine rolling various freight cars through them.  I realize that in the staging yard I will need to raise the turnout up to .060 to match the thickness of the Atlas track.  I working on some ideas of how to do that and when that's figured out, I'll be actually installing some of these in the staging yard.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Return loop bridge for upper line

The upper level loop needed to pass over the lower level loop at a shallow angle.  This meant a rather long span that would require supports.  The staging yard being an off scene part of the layout, I was free to design my own bridge without it being at all realistic looking.  I wanted the area to remain as open as possible for track maintenance so after experimenting with several options, I built this curved bridge from brass materials.

Here is the collection of brass materials I found at my local hobby shop, Amazon, and ebay.

As you can see in the photo, I completed the painting on the yard since the last post.

Here is the completed bridge in place along with it's Masonite deck.  With the lower level cork in place it is clear to see how the two tracks cross each other. This cork on the lower level is the first to be installed anywhere on the layout.  After I get the track put in on the lower level return loop, cork and track can then be installed on the upper level.

Here is a low angle view showing how the lower level track passes through the supports for the upper level track.  Also seen is the Masonite deck of the upper level supported by the brass strips.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Main staging yard bench work - Part 3

Part 3 of building the bench work for the main staging yard was to build up the upper or Western Pacific line around the turn around loop and over the lower or Southern Pacific turn around loop.

While part of the path around the loop is solid bench work, the loop will be completed by a special bridge that I am building from brass.  In the near future I'll post about that part of the project.

Another bridge was built to carry the loop over the lower level as shown in this photo.  This was made from Masonite hard board that I originally got to use for curved fascia and sky boards.  I had never worked with this material before and am impressed so far with what can be done with it.

The space in the turn around loops will not be wasted.  I have had a lot of success mounting Tortoise turnout motors upside down and off to the side of the turnouts.  I plan to use some of the area in the loop for this purpose.  Next steps will be to seal and paint the remaining exposed areas.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Main staging yard bench work - Part 2

This second part of building the staging yard bench work will be to add the upper deck.

Side rails and cross braces for the upper deck were made from more 1-1/2 inch strips of plywood. The cross braces got 3/4 inch holes for wiring done on the drill press prior to installation.  Openings were cut in the lower deck for access.  Once the top is on the upper deck this box shape will give this section greater strength.

I'm a believer in sealing all bench work.  Sometimes for a module bottom I use some left over paint from some other project.  For this layout I found a light tan color in the bargain bin.  Before installing the deck for the upper level I painted those areas that would be harder to reach with the deck on.

Here is the yard section outdoors with the upper deck added.  I have left the entry end of the upper deck open as that part is still a bit unsettled as to the mounting of the turnout motors.  I do almost all of the cutting and sanding outdoor to keep the train room clean.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Main staging yard bench work - Part 1

In my last post I had just brought home the first sheet of plywood for building layout bench work.  Since that time, I have been able to spend several very pleasant afternoons building the first phase of the main staging yard section.  At 10 feet, 4 inches long it is likely going to be the largest single section.

In this first phase of building the staging yard,  I built the deck of the lower level.  To determine the size and shape of the upper deck, I needed to pencil in all the tracks and determine how many staging tracks and their spacing.  Also, the placement of the turnout motors and any linkages had to be considered.

I settled on a 22 inch width for the main part of the yard, 5 staging tracks for the SP on the lower level and 4 for the WP on the upper level.  Shown here is the end that balloons out to 32 inches where each of the lines will loop back at a 14 inch radius.

Here is a closer view of this part of the yard.  The green pencil lines represent the upper level and the red pencil lines represent the lower level.  The paper turnout templates were printed from the Fast Tracks web site.

The entry end of the yard will partly extend over onto the outer part of the helix with only two turnouts for each line actually being in the yard section. Here I had accidentally placed two templates on a blue pencil line and crossed them out in Photoshop.  That particular blue line represents the division between the lower and upper levels.

This view shows what the underside of the yard module looks like.  I found some large shelf brackets at the local hardware store that were just right for this application.  There's enough room between the brackets for my big train cabinet or other large items.

Ready for that next sheet of plywood !

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Staging yard design

At the western end of the paired track just east of Winnemucca, there is a double crossover.  This point on the railroad is known as Wesso.  From Wesso the Western Pacific and Southern Pacific routes diverge as they continue west.  So this is actually a form of junction and junctions provide for interesting operations.

After each of the single track lines leave the junction they will enter staging through a helix.  I have a length of about 11 feet for the staging yards and turn around loop.  To properly simulate the prototype operation I want each single track line to have it's own staging and  loop back to itself.  After playing around with several ideas, this is the design I came up with to accomplish this.

It's hard to visualize from this one drawing but what happens is that at the west end of the layout the two lines will leave the layout disappearing behind some hills or buildings of Winnemucca to enter the double track helix down to this staging yard.  At the bottom of the helix the WP line will leave the helix first at one turn above the bottom and enter the staging yard on a level at the back half that is higher than the SP yard.  The WP return loop will pass over the SP return loop and then over the SP staging tracks to re-enter the higher level WP staging yard.

I'm ready to start building this and today picked up a nice sheet of 1/2 inch birch plywood at Home Depot.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Installing a Showcase Express display case

It's been a few months since I posted anything on this layout blog.  Again, most of my model railroading time has been taken up with module projects and some DCC installs but that is also rewarding.  The train room has now been through a summer and has been very pleasant to work in.  On some days it is actually cooler than in the house.  Also, as long as I keep the door to the garage closed dust is minimal.

The LED lighting for the layout has advanced to the point that I am beginning to build some permanent bench work.  I hope to post more on both of those subjects soon.  Recently I installed a large display case along the wall between where the lower staging yard will and the highest point on the layout.

Several years ago my wife gave me as a Christmas present this Showcase Express display case for my n scale trains.  This is the set that has 10 two foot long sections.

This system uses specially made aluminum channels that interlock when stacked on top of each other.  It's a flexible system.

I really like this one so when I had the chance to buy the set of 10 four foot long sections I knew just where I could use it in the new train room.

The goal is to mount this set as 2 sets of 5 high placed end to end.  I had already installed some shelf brackets that will support the east end of the layout which will be Carlin.  In order to mount these display case channels, I needed to build a frame that would allow the case to clear those brackets and still be securely mounted to the wall.

The channels have a groove along the back that help guide where the mounting holes will go.  I aligned these with the vertical sections on the frame I built.  There is also black plastic links that can be fitted to the top of the inside of adjoining channels.

These display case channels are designed to fit a standard Micro-Trains box including the lid.  Locomotive boxes, or larger Micro-Trains boxes do not fit.

The way I prefer to use these display cases is to put the locomotives and rail cars directly into the case without their boxes.  There are a pair of grooves on the bottom of each channel that are a perfect match to N scale wheels.

Here is the display case with all 10 of the 4 foot sections mounted temporarily in place with a complete train placed in the bottom channel.  Hey ! that's just about how long a train is going to be on this layout.  With these being just above the staging yard and the layout being multiple eras, I plan to park the out of era items on these display case channels.  Before mounting these permanently I need to get the shelf that will support the Carlin section of the layout in place.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Continuing development of LED lighting

It's been a couple of months since I've posted anything on this blog.  During that time I've been working on my Japanese Ntrak module quite a bit and also completing some DCC decoder installations.

Where I left off last time was that I had found a great little panel on ebay that contained 48 SMD LED's and that is intended to use as replacement interior dome lighting for vehicles.  Then I tested them by taking a series of photos of one of the Ntrak modules with different color locomotive, freight cars, and building to determine if the colors would come out true.

Another thing that got accomplished with the LED panels was they got installed in the travel trailer and in May we took a little trip and they worked out quite well.   One thing I've been aware of is that women are much more critical of the color temperature of lighting and with the lights in the trailer meeting with approval of both Nona and a woman friend of ours,  I have more confidence that these little panels are going to be good for the layout.

I mentioned that I got these on ebay.  Buying them in packs of 10 gets the price down to about $2.00 per panel.  There are both the white and warm white types.  I intend to use the warm white type for the layout.  At that price point, you can't expect the best quality control.  About one out of 10 of these have the red and black wires backwards which is easy to correct.

Using these small panels, I wanted to have a way to mount them in groups which could be customized depending on the area to be covered.  Most of these will be mounted under cabinets which might be of different widths.  In the area where I am starting there are four 30 inch wide cabinets each with a pair of 15 inch wide doors.  So for this first section, I came up with a 14 inch long module holding 5 LED panels and built 8 of these to match that section of cabinets.  One of these units is shown in the photo below.

This next photo shows some of the construction details.  The mounting brackets are made from brass strip and angled so that the light is not shining in the operators eyes.  The angle is only slight so the vertical space needed for the lights won't change much.  The angle can also be adjusted by bending the brass mounting brackets.  The planned 3 inch valance placed along the bottom of the cabinets will cover the height of the modules.  Notice how the second panel from the left is wired backwards.  That is how I corrected for the ones that were wired backwards on the panel.

Some calculations

Now that I've got an idea of how to use these LED panels, I needed to determine how many it will eventually take to light the entire layout, how much they will cost, how much power they will consume, what type and how many power supplies will it take to light them all up.

First the cost:
The planned visible mainline run which would receive full lighting is 62 feet.  At 4 panels per foot thats 248 panels needed.  That's over 11,000 indiviual LED's !  At $2.00 per panel, it's going to run about $500.00 spent over time.

Then the Electrical:
I had measured the current drawn by a single 48 LED panel at 75ma with 12 volts applied.  With 5 panels on each of these modules, a single module would draw 375ma.   8 modules on this 10 ft section of layout would then draw 3 amps.  I've seen a lot of laptop power supplies on line and in my local electronics surplus store rated at 5 amps and my next step will be to pick up one of those to try it out on this first section of lighting.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Experiments with LED lighting

With this layout being in a garage without any air conditioning, I was really concerned about any waste heat being generated by the room and layout lighting so LED lighting for the layout really seems to be the way to go.  I am already lighting the room with LED fixtures and that has work out really well so far.  The technology is hitting main stream lately with the products becoming more practical and more affordable.

I was also concerned about using lighting that would make the layout look good, like natural light.  Setting up a couple of those little LED light panels shown in the last post, I thought things looked good but did not really trust my own color perception completely.

Having noticed in the past that a camera sometimes sees things that my human eye does not, I took some photos of my Ntrak module to test how true different colors are represented under this type of lighting.

Using various locomotives and rolling stock, I was able to check a wide range of colors and have quite satisfied with the results so far.  All of the colors shown in these photos appear very true to the actual items.

So if I use this type of lighting, how many will I need for the whole layout ?

And how many 12 volt DC power supplies ?

These are the next questions that will need to be answered.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Evolution of LED lighting for layouts

From the first time I saw a bright white LED in a locomotive I have been fascinated with the idea of using them to light model building interiors, street lights, vehicle head lights, or anything else where a light bulb would be used on a layout.  Another area that I have wanted to use these is for layout lighting.

With this layout being in a garage without any air conditioning, I was really concerned about any waste heat being generated by the room and layout lighting.   The technology is hitting main stream lately with the products becoming more practical and more affordable.  The room that the layout is in is lighted with 3 LED light fixtures with great results.  To light the layout itself, here are some products I've experimented with.

It must have been about 10 years ago now that I picked up this set at Ikea for about 35 dollars to use under some cabinets to light part of my California Northwestern layout.

While this did work rather well to light up a small part of that layout it were not practical due to cost.

I got this 18 foot long LED rope light for about 10 dollars at Costco last year.  The price was better but a single rope was not going to give off enough light so it might take several of these running side by side to light an 18 foot section of the layout.

Looking for LED replacements for the interior lights in our travel trailer I found this product on ebay. There are a total of 48 LED's on a small circuit board with a 2 pin connector.  The kit includes 3 different types of automotive bulb type bases with connectors.  After buying a few to try out they seemed very promising so I bought a larger order and was able to get them for about 2 dollars each.

In my next post I'll show what I've been doing with these to further determine their sustainability for lighting my layout.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Layout version 4 - turning everything around

While I liked the last layout design, there was one big problem with it.  The primary staging yard for this layout needed to be on the west end of the layout.  Up to now my orientation for the layout was looking north, left is west and right is east.  Following this orientation the west end staging yard would be on the shorter wall not allowing enough space for primary staging.

The solution was to turn everything around so that the orientation was looking south, with left being east and right being west.  This drawing shows this new arrangement without the track itself being shown.

Because in this configuration the Palisade tunnels would be on the other side of the room, I decided to use the tunnels to disguise the lift bridge at the entry door.

Another change is that the bump out for the helix was reduced from 4 feet to 2 feet after I realized that the modeled scenes could be extended onto the first turns of the helix so the space is not really wasted.

This drawing reflects how the room was actually built so while this may not be the final version of the layout, additional changes will need to fit within this space.

Another thing that I believe may be an advantage to this arrangement is that on the western end of the layout the WP line will be closer to the front edge of the layout which I find more interesting.  On the eastern end of the layout after the lines have crossed in the canyon, the SP line will be toward the front edge in Carlin which is where there is more going on.

At this point in early 2014, the blog postings have caught up with the events. Future posts should all be "current events".

Monday, February 17, 2014

2013 - Working with the AnyRail drawing program

I'm not particularly good at learning to use various computer programs.  I learned to use Microsoft Visio quite a few years ago and got good at it so I have tended to rely on it for all types of drawings.  While it is great for many types of drawings, to draw a layout plan there are several programs available that are especially designed for this type of work.

In the past I had tried XTrakCAD and CAD rail but had trouble of getting the hang of either of them.  Then one of my local N scale modeler friends suggested AnyRail and I found it to be much easier to learn to use.

This is a drawing I did showing the 10 foot section of the layout that will represent the east end of the modeled area.  The program allows the user to set up what the minimum allowed track radius will be and then as the track is placed in the drawing it will show if  and where the track is tighter than that minimum.  I'm still just getting started with this but already I would recommend it for anyone looking for layout design software.  It can be downloaded at  The free trail version can do small drawings and does not have any time limit.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

2011 to 2013 - Trying out Fast Tracks

For some time I had been admiring the code 55 Micro Engineering track and turnouts that I would see at local train shows on the Silicon Valley Freemo N layouts.  The profile of the ties seemed to much more closely match the North American prototype and I really liked how wheels went through the turnouts so smoothly without the bumps that I normally associated with the Peco turnouts that I had been using.

In 2011 when I was laying track on my AsiaNrail modules I needed a couple of cross overs in code 55 rail. I thought that this would be a good opportunity to try out some Micro Engineering turnouts for myself so I ordered some custom made cross overs from an ebay seller who uses the Fast Tracks system to build them.  The track standard for AsiaNrail is Peco code 55 but I was able to adapt the Mico Engineering rail to the Peco rail.

This photo from the Tokyo In N Scale post 3 Types of Track shows the blending of the Micro Engineering / Fast Tracks turnouts with the Peco track on the AsiaNrail modules.

The AsiaNrail modules have been to a couple of shows now I am happy with the way the turnouts have work out.  The only issue that has come up was that one of the points came loose from the throw bar tie and I had to re-solder it.  Also the throw bard tie is rather delicate near where the hole is to connect it to the turnout machine linkage.  Looking closely at the photo above it can be seen where I had to re-enforce this spot.

Then In early 2013 I finally purchased a #6 turnout building set from Fast Tracks.  So far I have built just a few turnouts but they seem real nice. I learned that code 80 rail can be used in the same fixtures as the code 55 and have also built a couple of code 80 turnouts that way.  I plan to use code Atlas code 80 track in the staging yards and and code 55 in the visible areas of the layout.

The next thing I want to do is to set up a sort of test fixture where each turnout can be temporarily connected to sections of track and manual turnout control for testing prior to installation.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Layout version 3 - loose the peninsula

Sometimes what looks good on paper does not work out in 3D.  As I started in May of 2013 to lay out the new room within the garage and allocate space between the train room space and the garage space I realized that I would not be able to give up as much garage space as I had hoped.  Originally I was going to take the back 13 feet of the garage but discovered that having only 7 feet left for all of the other uses would just not be enough.

I also discovered after making a full sized mock up with cardboard boxes that the space I was allowing for a module work area in the train room was going to get rather cramped.  So I decided to go with a 50% use of the garage which would result in a 10 ft x 21 ft train room and no Peninsula.

I was counting on using the 3 ft width at the end of the peninsula for the helix and did not like the idea of filling up one corner of this narrow room with the helix.  I came up with the idea that I could have the helix inside a 4 ft x 4 ft bump out which would free up the full perimeter of the room for scenicked parts of the layout.  The part that sticks out into the garage would be in a blind corner anyway.

Here is the drawing for version 3.  It's a simpler around the walls type of layout with a two stacked helix's for each end of the layout to access it's own staging yard.  This drawing does not show the staging yards which would be above the top section and below the right section.

Another issue that came up as I was laying out the area for this room was that the concrete floor of the garage was too cracked, tilted, and uneven to be able to easily roll the items I wanted to have on wheels.  To have the garage floor demolished and replaced was cost prohibitive so my only other option was going to be to build a raised sub floor for the room.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

2009 to present - Building a WP locomotive roster

In the summer of 1970 I was lucky enough to visit the Feather River Canyon for the first time and see some silver and orange GE diesels of the Western Pacific Railroad. Because of that memory I have always liked the WP but had not really collected any WP engines except for a pair of Atlas GP7's.  Building this new layout of the paired WP / SP line in Nevada gives me the the opportunity to model another railroad that I liked.

So starting in about 2009 I began to find the occasional deal on WP engines on ebay.  All of these were Atlas models as WP had only 4 axle road diesels and all of Atlas's offerings are 4 axle while Kato's are mostly 6 axle, wonder why that is ?

So here's what I have so far:

I'm really proud of the fact that I've got decoders in all of my WP locomotives.  The ones with Lenz decoders came with those but all the others I installed.  While it's always tempting to buy more locomotives, this should be a good fleet for this layout and I believe is a good representation of what they had running by the time of the merger with Union Pacific.  One locomotive model I would like to add is the U30B as WP had 19 of these.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2012 - A double deck design

After finishing that first layout drawing it occurred to me that I would really rather have the layout not just go around and through a single staging yard.  What I really wanted was to have a staging yard on each end and a way to for a train to turn around at each end.  I wanted it to have a sense of actually going somewhere.  The other problem with this design was that is was completely flat as both ends had to meet at the staging yard.  The prototype does have a bit of a grade with the east end being higher than the west.

Using the fact that the prototype has a grade I came up with the idea of placing a two stacked helix's at the end of the peninsula connecting the ends of the layout to staging yards on each side of the peninsula.   The west end being lower would helix down to a staging yard that was below the east end.  The higher east end would helix up to another staging yard above the west end.  I never did finish an actual layout drawing of this version but did have a track schematic shown below.

Just as well I didn't spend the time on that drawing because Version 2 would not be even close to the final plan.