Saturday, November 14, 2009

DCC Controls for the HOG

Among all of the construction decisions, I've been contemplating how I'm going to control this layout. DCC is a foregone conclusion as it's the best way to get control of the locomotive (and all of my locomotives are already DCC-equipped). I've got a Digitrax Radio Super Chief that I purchased with the intention of using with an N-trak group (more on that below), but this system is overkill for a layout of this size and the only other modeler in my local area is an NCE user. The NCE PowerCab is the best option for a layout of this size, but my wife is liking the idea of using her iPod Touch as a throttle, so the ESU Ecos system has been getting alot of looks as well.... The Digitrax Radio Super Chief is a fantastic system, and when I bought it, I had several HO locomotives that had all of the bells and whistles (or the sounds, at least) and I needed the many, many functions that the Digitrax DT400R could perform. I've since sold this HO equipment and my N scale equipment doesn't need such a fancy control system. However, I noticed that many of the Ntrak clubs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area were avid Digitrax users and the Super Chief makes a nice system for an N-trak club. With that in mind, I built an "N-trak box". Here's what it looks like:

The box is built out of aspen plywood and measures 19" x 10" x 10". While there may be some wasted space, it ain't much! The top photo shows the front of the box. On the front is a lockable case latch so a small padlock can be applied to the case to keep little hands out when it's time to go to lunch or peruse the train show. The second photo shows the end where a large computer fan draws in air and pushes it across the transformers and the booster. On the backside (third photo), you can see the piano case hinge for the box lid, the exit hole for the cooling air, and the standard computer plug that connects to the power supply. Using the removable power cord makes it very easy to transport. The last picture shows the business end with the Digitrax UR91 radio throttle receiver and four Cinch-Jones plugs. The Cinch-Jones connectors are the Ntrak standard, so this box can quickly be connected to any Ntrak layout.

Opening the box, there's a programming track and a tray to hold all of the throttles, power cable, and connector cable. This tray is also a safeguard against curious little hands that might find their way into the box.

Removal of the tray reveals the guts of the system: The DCS100 booster, the UR91 radio throttle receiver, and the PM42 power manager (all on the right). The booster is attached with heavy-duty velcro just in case it needs to be removed. The UR91 allows Digitrax simplex radio throttles to be used. The PM42 is particularly necessary for Ntrak layouts since it allows individual circuit breaker detection. This way, a short on one track doesn't cause a system crash and everyone else can keep running trains while the short is found. On the left, there are a couple of fuses and a circuit breaker for the power supply. Just plugging in the power cord does not power up the transformers. The switch on the far left has to be thrown first. Even that does not power up the booster; that's the purpose of the other switch. All exposed wiring on the right side of the box is either 12V or 16V, so there's no real shock hazard. Even at this level, I didn't want there to be any chance of a child getting shocked. Hopefully, someone will have spotted the little tike by the time he/she gets this far!!

Removing the partition and lifting the cover that contains the power switches and the circuit breakers shows the transformers. The terminal blocks on the left carry 110V power, so it's a good idea to have the box unplugged before even opening this side. The fan is a 110V fan, so it runs directly off the input power. The large transformer powers the booster, while the two smaller transformers provide power to the UR91 and the PM42.
And that's it! All in all, it's about the best way I've seen to make a full DCC system truly portable. Putting the system in a box sure cuts down on the clutter associated with the Digitrax system, so this might be a good idea for any Digitrax user. I hope these ideas are of some use to you...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Adding the Fascia

Once the glueshell dried, I measured from the bottom of the benchwork to the top of the glueshell scenery at the layout edges.  Just under 6” was the longest measurement, so I cut a 4x8 sheet of Masonite into 6” strips and attached them to the sides of the layout with clamps to temporarily hold them in place.  Using a felt pen, I marked off the land contours by tracing along the joint between the glueshell and the fascia board.  Cutting along the lines with a jigsaw yielded a nice fascia piece that matched to land contours:

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You can see the holes that were drilled to allow the clamping bolts to pass through.  I forgot to do this on one section before I attached them to the layout.  Let’s just say that it really helps to pay attention to detail at this point!  Once the contours were shaped, it was time to attach them to the layout with wood glue and clamps:

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You’ll notice that I let the ends hang out over the corners of each layout section.  These can be cleaned up with a flush-trim bit in a Roto-Zip after the glue dries. 

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One advantage of allowing the ends to hang out a bit is that you have a surface to leverage if the corners don’t come out EXACTLY square.  I had this happen on the end piece in the photo below where I was lacking a 1/16” being flush with the adjacent piece at the corner.  Using a bungee strap and the weight of the layout, I was able to pull against those long ends to take that 1/16” out and get a nice, flush fit:

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After trimming with the Roto-Zip, here’s the layout with the fascia installed:

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I also had to do a bit of cleanup with the flush-trim bit at the layout joints since some of my marks didn’t match up exactly.  If you haven’t used one of these bits in a Roto-Zip or a router, they make quick work of the problem of cutting a corner piece exactly to length.  I highly recommend giving one a try!

Glue Shell Scenery – Comments now that it’s dried…

In my last post, I only had one layer of glueshell scenery down and I was switching from diluted ModPodge to full-strength Elmer’s GlueAll.  My hope was that the full-strength Glue-All, coupled with the second layer of paper, would create a nice rigid scenery shell.  Unfortunately, that plan didn’t come together exactly like I’d hoped!  The full-strength GlueAll is still pretty rubbery, flexible stuff after it dries.  The second layer of paper did help to make things a bit more rigid, but not nearly as hard as a plaster shell.  This can be a good thing, though.  My layout is intended to be semi-portable.  Scenery that has some give to it will be less likely to be punctured or cracked as things get moved around. 

I had some places where the paper shrunk as it dried, which created some interesting landforms.  By far, the glueshell did the best job in the places where it was well-supported by the benchwork.  It’s not a good idea to try to cover vast expanses of unsupported areas with cheesecloth, paper and glue.  If you’ve got this situation, either use a stiffer plastic or even metal screen in place of the cheesecloth or use a stiffer medium than the glue (plaster is a good example).  Hindsight being 20/20, I really wished I’d used undiluted PVA (wood glue) as my medium throughout.  It’s $30 a gallon at the local big box store, but it dries much stiffer than either ModPodge or GlueAll. 

Good news is, I’ve got the opportunity to give this a try:  I’ll be using Titebond 3 to attach the glueshell to the fascia; an area where a good, stiff connection is critical.  I’ll let you know the outcome.  I still love the glueshell scenery and I’ll continue to use it, but I did learn a lesson about unsupported scenery this time around…

Been a while….

I had originally thought that this blog would be a great way to 1) share my experiences in model railroading and 2) to keep myself moving forward on the railroad since folks might be following along.  The reality is that blogging takes some work to be worth a flip.  You need pictures that are of decent quality and help tell the story.  Unless you’re like my sister-in-law, you also need time to think through the post and to write it well.   The aforementioned sister-in-law is able to put together well-written posts in a matter of 30 minutes or so…I just don’t have her verbal skills!

SO…rather than spend an inordinate amount of time blogging, I decided to focus my efforts on getting the layout done.  Since the last post, I’ve laid up another layer of glueshell scenery using full-strength Elmer’s GlueAll, added the layout fascia, laid the cork roadbed, made some decision regarding turnout linkages and begun to solder together some of the “turnout junctions.”  I’ll address the outcomes of each of these activities in separate posts (to make them easier to follow).  The great thing about this approach is that my modeling time is put to maximum effect and progress is made.  The bad thing about this approach is that my blog goes long periods without being updated.  I’d rather have a model railroad than a really nice blog, so the trade-off has been a good one…

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Glue Shell Scenery

I know it's been a while since I've posted here.  That's 'cause I've been working on the layout!!  Here's a few shots with the styrofoam supports cut to fit around the spline roadbed: 

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I wanted a spot where a local highway passed under the track.  This meant cutting through the spline roadbed and supporting the spline with plywood.  Unfortunately, the spline was only a scale 12' tall, so I had to drop the roadbed support a bit and shim to the underside of the spline.  You can see the shims on top of the 3/4" plywood on the right.  The best part was that this construction created a nice dip in the highway, which is built from a 1/8" piece of lauan plywood.
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For the landforms, I tried my hand at my version of Howard Zane's glue shell scenery base.  Howard uses red rosin paper and straight white glue.  I used brown kraft paper cut into strips and dipped them in a 1:1 mixture of water and matte medium (Mod-Podge).  I didn't have a good source for large quantities of white glue, and I know that acrylic matte medium is plenty hard when it dries.  But at $7.50 per bottle, I figured I could get away with diluting the matte medium to spread it a little further.  More on this later.  The soaked strips were draped over the spline roadbed and foam pieces that formed the basic landscape.  It's alot like working with wallpaper.  The end result can be seen below: 

DC, Harrisburg Oct09 103 that one still has some spots that need to be touched up.  I used a very light cheesecloth to cover large open areas between the foam hill supports.  I really like the way that I could form ditches along the ROW in the cut. 

The area shown below will be a swampy area just on the outskirts of town.  I used a strip of plywood to support the spline roadbed where I had to make the cutout for a trestle.  A couple of carefully-placed styrofoam sheets created a dead-flat surface which will ultimately be covered with Enviro-Tex "water".  

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And here's the shot of that highway scene again.
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So far, I love the glueshell scenery.  It goes fast and isn't too messy, especially with the $3 drop cloth underneath to catch anything that drops through.  You do need to figure on a good 10 minutes to clean the dried acrylic off your hands at the end of laying it up, but it's much less mess than cutting styrofoam.  When the Mod-Podge dries, I'm left with a firm-yet-flexible scenery base...not as firm as I'd hoped for, but perfect for a portable layout!! 

On a trip to Lowe's this evening, I spied a gallon jug (128 fl.oz.) of Elmer's Glue All for around $11.  I had spent $15 on 32 ounces of Mod-Podge and had to dilute it.  I've got a small amount of Glue All that I plan to use undiluted to do a few of the remaining sections.  My guess is that the full-strength Glue All will create a more rigid base.  If so, I'll be using Glue All instead of Mod-Podge in the future to save on the expense.

In other news, our local Wal-Mart now has RC's in the dispensing machines out front for $0.75....   :-)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Still Kicking

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  School and work have kept me plenty busy, so what time I have for model railroading I’ve chosen to spend model railroading instead of blogging.  I’ve managed to finally fix the driveshaft issues with my Overland N scale SD70s, get the exposed wood on the benchwork covered with a nice coat of latex paint, cut out the foam supports for the town areas of the layout, and I’ve finished one N scale structure kit.  It’s really amazing what you can get done if you stop thinking and get to doing.  I thought the blog would help me to keep at my hobby, but I’m enjoying the hobby so much there’s no time to blog.  While that’s not exactly how I thought it would work, the end goal (modeling) has been achieved and for that I’m glad.  More to follow (hopefully soon)…

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Coming Together

So my version of the HOG layout is finally coming together. I decided to use 54" shelving units for my layout support since they'd be sturdy and would create ready-made storage space under the layout. These shelving units are normally found at Target, but we have a store here in town that gets damaged lots from Target and sells them at a greatly reduced price: Hudson's Dirt Cheap. We'd found one of these units a few months back, but it took us several more weeks of scrounging the local Dirt Cheap stores to find the next two. But at $15 apiece, it was worth the wait!

With the supports purchased, it was time to put the layout together. I was extremely pleased with the way my workbench fits underneath. I added a couple of photos to show how the layout height appears to me (6'1") and to my wife (5'4"). All in all, the layout height couldn't have been better. Now it's time to paint that benchwork to keep it from swelling (currently in process) and then it'll be time to rough in some scenery! More photos of my progress can be found here.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Eritrea's Railways

Wanna know where you can see narrow gauge articulated steam locomotives in action in 2008? Check out the Eritrean Railway (1 hour video):

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Layout Tours

So this past weekend, my wife and I loaded up our car and headed to Plano, TX for the North Texas Council's annual Plano Train Show. The show featured more modular layouts but less vendors than I recall from years past. All in all, a pretty good train show.

The real highlight of this show for me was the self-guided home layout tour. There's nothing better than seeing first-hand how other modelers have built their layouts. A real gem on this year's layout tour was Mr. Smith's Rock Island layout. The layout depicts the Graham Branch of the Rock Island from Bridgeport through Jacksboro to Graham, all in the state of Texas. The most remarkable feature of this layout is its simplicity: there's no yard, no engine terminal, no signal system, no spaghetti bowl of track. The result is a small layout that accurately depicts the branchline operations of the Rock Island in Texas.

The layout goes around the walls of a small bedroom and tunnels through closets to reach an adjacent guest bedroom where the staging yards are located. The track schematic is basically a loop with a wye to the outside of the loop. Operation starts in the Bridgeport staging yard. Trains run from this yard into the main layout room, which features a depiction of Jacksboro, TX. Jacksboro is the main attraction of this layout and it features all of the industries that the Rock Island switched over the history of the branch. Mr. Smith commented that modeling Jacksboro during any particular period would have resulted in a town with very few industries, so he decided to model all of the industries in Jacksboro as though they existed concurrently. This creates about 8-10 industries to be switched, which is very reasonable for the space. After switching Jacksboro, trains continue on to the staging yard that represents Graham, TX. After switching out the cars (to represent work done at Graham), the train is turned on the wye and retraces its tracks back to Bridgeport.

Here's some pictures for your enjoyment. You can see more of them at my Webshots page.

After seeing this layout, my wife is open to the idea of allowing me to put a staging yard in a spare bedroom! That's something I couldn't have convinced her of without her having seen it in person.