Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 - A year devoted to the home layout

This past year of course has been a very challenging time for almost everyone.  I do feel fortunate that I have this layout to keep me busy doing something creative and that helps ease the feeling of "cabin fever".  With all train shows and conventions being canceled this year and being home all of the time I have been able to enjoy more model railroading time than I would have normally.  And with no shows I was not motivated to work on any modules so all of that time went into this layout.  Besides working on the continuing expansion of the layout I was also able to finish some side projects on various other parts of the layout.  Here are some of those projects with links to posts made on them:

This winter I am again participating in the annual Winter Layout Party.  I have noticed that there seems to be more people participating this year so I must not be the only one spending more time with their layout.

Already the N Scale convention in Sparks, Nevada that was scheduled for next June has been canceled and I suspect that it is going to still be some time before it will be safe to travel or have train shows again.   Until then, I'll just keep working on my railroad.

Happy New Year !

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The crooked path across the bridge

Back in June I posted about the lift bridge I had constructed across the entry into the train room, that post can be seen HERE.  After six months and changing seasons it has remained quite stable.  With this current layout expansion the bridge will be needed so now to put some track on it.   The idea of my bridge is to use tunnel portals and hillsides to hide the bridge being in the scene.  

The actual Palisade tunnels that this part of the layout represents on are on a straight alignment but I am going to take some liberties with the track alignments through these tunnels to make my track plan work.   The tunnel portals on the right or west side are angled to allow for a larger radius curve around the corner.   

At the points where the tracks meet at the gaps I am using copper clad PC board as these will hold the track very stable.  I was able to buy the material on ebay in a 2" x 6" size and then cut it into 1" x 2" sizes.   These were then cut at the angle that the track will cross the gap.  Each of the 4 track / gap angles are different.  Holes were drilled on both sides for track nails and a groove was cut through the copper cladding to isolate the rails.

On the lift bridge we built many years ago at the Ntrak club, we used Atlas code 80 re-railer tracks at the gaps.  The idea was that if a set of wheels gets derailed at the joint it will get re-railed right away.  This has worked out well so I wanted to try the same idea on my layout's lift bridge.  A friend had recently given me some Atlas code 55 re-railer tracks and the rails were a perfect match for the Mico Engineering track I am using.   Traffic will move mostly in one direction on each track so the re-railers are placed the side after the train crosses the gap.   Another lesson learned from the Ntrak bridge experience was to round the tops of the rail end a bit.  This helps with smooth running but also with a shirtsleeve being snaged when someone goes through and pulling up the track.

The gaps were done in pairs on the work bench with the second one being done with a tracksetta tool in place to hold the alignment and the track gauge was carefully checked with both an NMRA track gauge and a caliper.

So at this point the   track is in place and everything seems to roll smoothly over the joints with no derailments.  After the holidays I will post about the electrical aspects of the bridge.

Friday, December 11, 2020

River bottom and land forms for Palisade Ranch

The sub-roadbed has been completed through the new Palisade Ranch section of the layout and the cork roadbed is well underway.  So now I am also working on adding the river bottoms and the land forms.  This needs to get fairly far along before I install the track and bridges especially toward the back and under the bridges.  The bench work frame is only 2 inches thick here and the river will be at the top of that frame so strips of scrap were glued onto the existing structure of the bench work to create support for the river bottom.

Next the river bottom made of hard board was glued into place on top of those supports.  The river will round the corner around the corner to the right and disappear behind the built up track.

I am using similar methods for the terrain as I have before on this layout.  For some of the terrain I am using building insulation foam board.  Along the back of the scene the hills will be built up to blend in with the backdrop.   This will then be covered with a layer of plaster cloth.  A long sheet of .030 styrene is slipped in front of the backdrop to protect it while all the scenery work is going on.

In some larger areas I use the plaster cloth over cardboard strip method.    The cardboard that works best for me is from Postal Service Priority Mail boxes that items sometimes come in.  It is corrugated but thinner than most corrugated cardboard.  I cut it into strips about 1/2 inch wide across the corrugations so it will bend easily without any sharp kinks.   The ends are glued with yellow carpenters glue and either pinned or clamped to the surrounding structures.  Areas like this usually get 2 layers of the plaster cloth.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Plan and start for the new section

In a post on October 31st I had shown a prototype photo of what the next section of the layout will represent.  Here is another photo of the same area taken from just above the tunnels on Palisade Ranch Road that I like to use as a reference.  I suspect that the road access is the reason that this is one of the most photographed areas on this line and so I am calling this section of the layout the Palisade Ranch section.  The through truss bridges in the distance is in the spot that the concrete trestle will be on the layout.   

 In planning this new section I used some red rosin paper left over from a painting project and cut a section of that to match the shape and size of the new area to be modeled.    Laying it out on the floor I bent some track to the desired radius and laid them in place along with the bridges and tunnel portals that had already been built to get an idea of what I could accomplish in this space.  With Sharpie pen I drew in the key features.

Of course my model of this scene is going to have to be quite compressed and is going around a corner.  I want to include Palisade Ranch Road in this scene and that is indicated by the yellow line drawn in with Photoshop over the tunnels.  The location of the curved concrete trestle is also pointed out with yellow.

Construction on this new section is moving along.   There was already the basic structure in place that was supporting the temporary turnaround loop so working off of that all of the sub roadbed for both lines has been established.  Cork roadbed is now being installed and next will be the river bottoms and then some terrain can get started. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Building a curved concrete bridge

In the next expansion of the layout I will need a bridge where the WP line again crosses the Humboldt River.  The bridge that is actually in that location on the prototype is a 4 section through truss bridge.  My bridge in going to have to be part of a curved section of track so I am going to use a ballasted deck, segmented concrete bridge.  I already have a straight version of this type of bridge that I installed on the Golconda section in February of 2017 and is featured in THIS POST.   For that bridge I had a couple of good prototype photos I was following.  This bridge is going to be more freelanced.  I had considered the BLMA kit which is similar to what I wanted but it was too short for my application so I decided to scratch build this one.

I started by making several bents using some of the poles from Rix Products highway bridge kits.  These are 1/8 inch in diameter so I am only using 3 per bent.  The horizontal beam is cut of pine strip with holes drilled into it for the poles so they are quite sturdy.


The curve is going to be 18 inch radius so using an 18 inch radius Tracksetta tool as a guide I marked out a curved section on a large sheet of .030 styrene sheet.  Then I cut the curve out with a pair of scissors.

.030 thick styrene was cut into five 20 x 17 n scale foot sections and glued onto the curved strip.  The outer edge has small gaps between the sections.  The excess of the original curved sheet of styrene was cut off at each end.   Then .060 x .060 L channel strip was glued along both edges to covers the gaps on the outer edge between the two sheets of .030 styrene. 

The longitudinal beams were made from 1/8 inch Plastruct square tube stock cut into lengths that matched that section along the edges.  To give the bridge deck some stiffness, short lengths of .040 music wire that had a slight bend were glued into the holes of the tube.

On the straight version of this type of bridge I had used 1/8 inch thick acrylic to make the bridge deck stiff but not being able to cut a curve in the acrylic I used 1/8 inch hard board.  Between the music wire joints between the beam sections and the hard board the bridge deck got quite stiff.

.040 x .060 styrene strip was added along the top near the edges of the deck to retain track ballast.  Bridge abutments of the correct height to match the adjoining sub roadbed plus the thickness of the cork were made from 1/4" plywood.   All the pieces were painted with Model Master aged concrete acrylic paint.

The bottoms of the poles were cut and angled to sit on top of 1/8" thick footings on the bottom.  The bridge is shown here set temporarily in place after all the parts were glued together and receiving some weathering.  Once more of the surrounding terrain is built up and the river get at least a basic finish then it can be permanently glued in.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Upgrading wheels on old Kato locomotives

I have quite a few of the older Kato SD40, SD45, U30C, and C30-7's and I really like them for their reliability and durability.  One thing that has bothered me is the way they would rumble through any of the code 55 turnouts that I have had on my last two layouts.   No such problems with code 80 like on the Ntrak layout or the staging yards of my current home layout.   Apparently the older releases of these models have what in the hobby are called "pizza cutter" wheels as they have a flange that is almost as deep as the rail code 55 rail is tall. 

So I decided to see if I could do something about this and found that Kato USA sells packages of 6 locomotive axles with low profile wheels so I order several sets of these.

Once I got the new wheel / axle sets I wanted to make a side by side measurements of all the dimensions of both new and stock.   My first impression of the new wheels is that they look more like railroad wheels.  I also noticed that they also appear to be the same or similar as what are on some of my newer Kato releases.   Below are two photos with the dimensions I measured on each type of wheel set.


The main difference between the two is that there is a .013 difference between the flange depth.  The old wheel flanges are actually slightly larger that the height of the code 55 rail which is .055 so no wonder the wheels bumped.  The wheel itself is .015 narrower than the stock wheels but since flanges on both are right on gauge I don't believe that would make any difference but it does look better.

To change the wheels the trucks needed to be removed and then opened up to expose the axles and gears.  Then those are popped out and the new ones popped in, they are a perfect fit.  It's a good idea to clean out the cups in the brass contact frames that the axle points go in before re-assembling the trucks.

It is an $8.00 investment in each locomotive but I feel it's worth it as they are otherwise such great runners and already have DCC decoders in them.  Little by little I plan to got through the fleet with this improvement.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Yard sequencer

In previous posts I had mentioned the use of some automation in the staging yard, here is just a bit more detail about how that works.

I am using Aztrax IR sensors to sense when a train arrives on one of the four staging tracks.  The sending units are in stands made from brass while the receiving units are in the tracks between the ties.  These are positioned near the departing end of each staging track.

The post on one side of the stand is 1/8 inch hallow tube and the wires for the IR sending unit are fed down through it.  The post on the other side is 1/8 inch rod that has had the end threaded for 6-32 sized nut.  Before the IR sender LED's were installed, the stands were spray painted white.  After the IR sender LED's were installed white heat shrink tubing is slipped over after a hole is punched on one side for the sender.

Referring to the control panel photo and diagram below I will attempt to explain how this works.  When a train arrives at the IR sensor pair it triggers a one second closure of the relay on the Azatrax board. The relay contact outputs of the Azatrax units are wired in parallel with the push buttons on the control panel associated with the next track but first pass through a toggle switch labeled Auto / Manual in the photo.  In the auto position the contact will trigger the turnouts for the next track and the train on that track will leave.  In the Manual position that track will be skipped and the closure will go to the next track.   This allows the flexibility to use any of the tracks and skip others in the case there is no train on that track. 

In the photo below one of those IR sensors between the ties is pointed out.  This system has been working out fairly well.  I did have to move the sensors around a bit to allow for the arriving train to coast to a stop before reaching the end of the siding.   Also it does occasionally happen that the train stops with the sensors being right between the first and second locomotive.   If this happens then when that train goes out again, the second locomotive will be mistaken as an arriving train and cause the sequence to move to the next track.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Layout 6th anniversy - whats next

About this time in 2014 I started work on this layout and it has been slowly progressing around the train room and at this point is approaching the door to the layout room. This layout has been built one section at a time with a return loop of some sort being moved along on the leading edge to make running possible. 

So what's the next expansion ?

The photo below comes from and was taken by John West in 2009.  This is on the west side of the Palisade tunnels and is one of the most photographed spots in my modeled area.  This scene is the inspiration for the next expansion of the layout in about a 4-1/2 foot space.  After entering the tunnels the tracks will cross the lift bridge across the doorway.

It was photos like the one above that got me interested in modeling this particular line and I built models of these two bridges several years before starting the layout.  Below is the photo I took of them in 2010.  They have been in storage ever since waiting for the layout to progress to this point.

I also have the tunnels portals already built.  I mentioned those in this post back in June.   So this should hopefully move along quickly through the end of the year with some of the major items already built.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Sparks yard rebuild - completion

The rebuild of the staging yard is now finished.  This took about 7 weeks to complete which was a bit less than I had expected.  All 4 staging tracks in the main yard plus the siding on the return track are available for use and I have been running various types of trains through to verify everything is working correctly.

Back in this April post I explained how a section of the return track was used to activate a current sensing unit that would cause the Wye turnout to automatically align for the yard exit.  Because the new yard has a siding on the return track I was not able to do it the same way so an Azatrax IR sensor was placed between the end of the siding and the wye turnout to trigger the turnout to change.

Back in 2014 when I was building the yard I was able to do most of the original yard wiring before the yard was installed and tipped up on edge so access was easy and I kept everything nice and neat.   The wiring modifications this time had to be done with the yard in place but I really tried to keep it neat.  What did help was having the controls in the wall cabinet under the yard.  Shown in this photo are all of the turnout controls for the new setup.


















There are few more things I learned from the yard rebuild that I have not had a chance to post on so those will make good topics for future posts.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Peco turnout panic

Over the years I have used many Peco turnouts, both code 55 and code 80.  In most cases I have removed the spring that presses the points against the rails because the Tortoise motors I have used could not reliably push the point past the tension and the motor itself would keep the points against the rails.

In this project on the entry end of the yard I had used 5 of the MTB MP5 turnout motors on 4 new and 1 old Peco turnouts.  In most cases the MP5 motors can force the points past the spring tension so I did not bother to remove the spring.  The 5th turnout on the return track siding was of the old design and I did have to remove the spring as the linkage was going through very thick bench work in that location.

At the loop end of the yard I was using 3 new and 1 old Peco turnouts with Tortoise motors.  I removed the springs on all of these and everything was going well until I started to install the turnout linkages on the 3 new ones.  As I fiddled with getting the linkage into the hole on the moving tie, the tie came completely off of the points.

What I had not realized until then was that the design of the Peco turnouts had changed and the current ones rely on that spring to keep the moving tie connected to the points.  There is a wider gap between the moving tie and the head tie on the single track end.

My solution for this was to insert a .060 x .040 Evergreen styrene rod into the space between the moving tie and the head tie on the single track end of the turnout.   I used a black sharpie pen to blacken it but left it white on the bottom so it would stand out in this photo.  That tab that is covering half the strip in the middle helps to hold it into place.  I had to fully remove the turnout and do this on the work bench.

For the two turnouts that had not fallen apart I was able to slip a shorter section of styrene strip in from each side of the turnout and glue it into place with ACC being careful not to get any adhesive on the moving tie.  I was able to do this without removing the turnout.  I found it impossible to slide one longer section of strip past that tab in the middle so that is why I had to do it this way. 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Sparks Yard rebuild - general update # 2

The work on the rebuilding of the lower staging yard, also known as Sparks is entering it's second month. All of the track work has now been completed.  The turnout motors have been installed, wired and tested for correct connections to the frogs, and the control panel has been completed.

The control circuits need to be finished for that control panel to do much.  It was originally intended to reuse the Digitrax DS64 decoders but I discovered that the MP5 turnout motors draw too much current for them so I am needing to build control circuits to replace it.  A new control circuit has now been finished for the siding that is on the return track.  This will allow momentary push button switches to control the route selection.

Below is the schematic diagram of the circuit I am working on now.   This includes the diode matrix and Set / Reset logic circuits to latch relays that control the polarity of the voltage applied to the turnout motors.  This will also allow for single push button route selection of 4 tracks in the yard.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Updated control panel

As explained in the recent post Rebuilding of Sparks yard, a new control panel will be needed.   This is  the procedure I follow to make my control panels.

Below is a preliminary design drawn with Microsoft Visio.   Having a drawing available now would also be a good time to go over the operating scheme of this yard.  

The original momentary center off toggle switches that could route in either direction have been replaced with 6 red push button switches to select the route.  The green LED's show track selection or turnout position as they did on the old panel.  All traffic will enter through the first turnout in the closed position and pass through the yard track selected.  After going around the loop there is one more siding along the return track.  The siding turnouts are also controlled with the red push buttons. The control of that first switch is automatic using sensors just like it was before so will align itself when a train approaches to exit the yard.  The sensors can be over ridden by a pair of red push buttons.   The toggle switches will be used to control which tracks will be in use for the automatic sequencer I am planning to include using Infrared sensors.

The original control panel was made from a pattern which I kept.  This pattern was made from a scrap of hard board is seen in the photo below.  Using this ensures proper size and alignment of the mounting holes.  The new panel is made from this same pattern.

Once a design is finalized, a printout of the drawing is stuck to the acrylic sheet and taped around the edges.   After drilling, the printout is removed and the acrylic sheet is cleaned up and polished with a product that removes any small scratches.

A sheet of .030 white styrene sheet is cut to match the size of the acrylic sheet.  Using the acrylic sheet as a pattern holes are made in the styrene sheet to match the ones in the acrylic sheet. Then another copy of the drawing without the switches and LED's is used as the actual display.  Using the acrylic sheet again as a pattern two or three of the switch holes are cut out from the drawing using a hobby knife.  The drawing is then sandwiched between the acrylic and white sheets and switches are installed in these holes so that everything stays aligned and then all the other holes can be cut out.

Since this panel was made the same size as the original, it will fit right into the original housing.  Almost all of the control wiring can also be reused with a few more added.   The red and white bottle shown in this photo is the product I use to polish out any small scratches on the acrylic sheet.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Sparks Yard rebuild - general update # 1

This yard rebuild project started around September 1st.  My plan is to push on with this through the fall and will be posting regular general updates along with posts on specific items as needed.  This is the first general update.

On the entry end next to the helix all 5 of the turnouts and Tortoise motors were removed.  Enough of the track and road bed was removed so a smooth transition from old and new could be achieved.   3 new Peco turnouts were assembled into a yard ladder on the bench and then installed and integrated into 4 of the existing yard tracks.  The turnout in the upper left corner will create the return loop and still needs to be installed.

At the other end (the loop end) of the yard the 5th track was realigned to be a single siding off of the return track.  In this photo the remnants of the old road bed can be seen.  The remaining 4 tracks have been cut off at this end of the yard and this yard ladder will be worked on when the entry end is finished.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Modifying guardrails on Peco turnouts

Almost 30 years ago I attended an informal clinic during an Ntrak club meeting on modifying Peco turnouts by adding a .010 shim to the inside of each guard rail to prevent the inside wheel flanges from hitting the frog.   This method became something of a standard for the members in the group and it is something I have always done prior to installing Peco turnouts on my home layouts and Ntrak modules.   I don't add this shim to my code 55 turnouts on my Asia prototype modules as some of the equipment run on that layout has thicker flanges and the shim would make the guard rail too tight. 

This photo illustrates what happens when the space between the outer rail and guard rail is too large.  When allowed to slide inward the inner tab of the gauge can hit the frog.





These are the materials I use for this project.

Super glue, Black sharpie pen, Hobby knife with new blades, .010 styrene strips about .125 in width, several tooth picks or push pins.



The strips are cut to a length just a bit longer than the guard rails and one side is blackened with the sharpie pen.





The side that is not blackened gets a fine bead of the super glue along it's length and is placed into the space between the rail and the guard rail with the glue side facing the guard rail.  Tooth picks or push pins are pushed into place to hold the strip against the guard rail while the super glue sets.



Next the excess strip is carefully cut away with a hobby knife making it flush with the guard rail.  The rails are used as a guide.  Any excess of the strip that extends beyond the guard rail is also removed.  This is where a nice new blade in the hobby knife pays off.



The shim should match the height of the guard rail and the edge is colored with the black sharpie pen.  As seen in this photo the gauge passes through without the inner tab hitting the frog.