Tuesday Train #270

Day 2 of the London-Toronto Union Station GO Train “Pilot” service test approaching Kitchener on October 19, 2021. Running late for the 2nd day in a row to start the new service meant that I was able to catch it just west of Kitchener as the sun was coming up to provide light. The white on the grass is frost…the cold is coming! I don’t know if this service will work, its a long trip, and gives about a 7 hour window in Toronto. Expanding rail options is good, I’m just not entirely sure that the GO Train is the right option for this route, especially without significant upgrades to the track to improve travel time and ride comfort, but time will tell. Video of it is below.

Liberty Village’s current locomotive fleet all Kept Alive

Once I discovered the solution to why ESU Powerpacks were not working in older Rapido Trains locomotives for me last week, and got my SW-1200RS running reliably, it was time to do my last locomotive of the current “fleet” for the layout, my Rapido GMD1. Its longer wheelbase seemed to make it more reliable already, but why rely on that when now that I know that I am in fact capable of both making three very fine solder joints, and programming the decoder to use the Powerpack once its in!

Disassembling the Rapido GMD1, figuring out how to fit the ESU Powerpack into the cab (the only open space in the model, three wires soldered to the decoder to connect the Powerpack, and all re-assembled looking into the cab end at the Powerpack.

As with the SW-1200RS, the only open space in the locomotive to place the Powerpack is inside the cab. This does hide some of the interior detail, but you have to be so close to see it, it almost doesn’t matter, and unlike the SW-1200RS, the GMD1 does not have a cab light to turn on and show off the Powerpack. Despite that, I did put a bit of black heat shrink tube over the Powerpack to help hide it from the sides. The ends are still visible, but there are not really places on my layout where you can look end-on at a locomotive. To fit it in, I had to trim away a bit of the cab interior so the Powerpack would sit flat, and so the wires could be run into the body. Once the connections to the decoder were made, everything needs to be carefully fished together through the body into the cab, and re-assemble the cab and attach it to the body once the Powerpack is threaded into it. It was a bit fiddly, but there is more than enough wire to get it into place and ensure that they are routed safely inside the body shell. With everything back together, it was test time, and as you can see in the video below, it passes the tip test to keep running for a couple of seconds from the Powerpacks reserve of energy. Job done. Now I have four reliable locomotives on my layout. I can get back to focusing on scenery and buildings rather than trying to figure out why my trains wouldn’t run!

A bit of Before and After on freight cars

As I have written about recently, I am starting to actually attempt to weather cars for my layout. Taking it slow and steady. Last night, I took four cars, and added some base grime with the airbrush and the Iwata Comair weathering set I’d written about in the earlier post. They are by no means done being weathered, but a few simple passes with some light and dark dirt, and some smokey black over the roofs, and even just in quick shots in the spray booth, the cars are much less plasticy looking for the three factory cars (2 Rapido and one Kadee), and more used for the Tichy flatcar kit.

Left-Right: Rapido TH&B USRA, Kadee Buffalo Creek, and Rapido Pennsylvania X31 before and after some light spray weathering.
Tichy flatcar before and after some road dirt is added.

There is still plenty more to do on these cars, but it is very satisfying to spend 20 minutes with the airbrush and have the cars start to pop with some life instead of being shiny and plasticy. Lots more learning to do, and still more will be done to these cars.

You have to turn on the Powerpack…

Ahh Digital Command Control (DCC), seems so simple, yet is so complicated when you peel back the layers. Between me blowing up decoders, and not knowing why something as simple as connecting 3 wires to the decoder to add an ESU Powerpack keep alive capacitor to a model didn’t work, I have a lot to learn.

Back at the turn of 2021, when I was busy blowing up a decoder install as discussed in the post linked above, I was also busy installing an ESU Powerpack keep alive capacitor in a Rapido Trains SW1200RS. I am reasonably confident in my trackwork, but have found that locomotives, especially short wheelbase ones are struggling at times to keep connectivity and they stall. The sound and lights in modern locomotives need good contact and power, something, despite my many efforts to look for areas causing loss of contact, cleaning track and wheels, applying graphite to improve connectivity, nothing was working. My Atlas Alco S2 7020, the first loco for the layout has a keep alive, and the couple of seconds it gives is enough to keep things running and keep me from losing my mind when operating. When I have run my other locomotives, their stalling has been making me want to tear the layout down and see how far an HO scale locomotive can fly when you hurl it. Neither of these are things that I actually want to have happen or do!!

So, for some time now I have been annoyed that it seems I did not manage to solder 3 wires to the decoder board in the SW1200RS, as it did not work. Yesterday, I made a trip to visit my friend Pierre Oliver, who I hired to do the remedial DCC install on the second Atlas S2 after I blew up the first one. When we were chatting, he pointed out when I mentioned my keep alive problems, that buried in the ESU instructions are CV values you have to change to activate the Powerpack. Well, damn, I missed those and hadn’t done that. So when I got home, I immediately tried, and it didn’t work, the decoder wouldn’t accept what I was trying to do. I looked at the manuals on the Rapido and ESU websites, and nothing was obvious that I was doing wrong. Some searching online it seemed that the Auxiliary Functions on older decoders were different, but what ones to change to activate it was the question.

This is where I have to say thanks, I think its important to acknowledge companies with good customer service, and my dealings with ESU have been fantastic. I sent an email to them this morning, and within a couple of hours, I had the information I needed back from them:

That is an older run locomotive with a Select decoder. On all of our Select decoders, Aux6 has to be disabled for the PowerPack to work.  You can do this on the programmer by selecting Aux6 and the changing the output mode to “disabled”.  To do it via CVs, please change the following CVs,

CV31 = 16, CV32 = 0
CV315 =   0

So, with their response in hand, I put the SW1200RS back on my programming track with the LokProgrammer, and pulled up the locomotive on the computer, within seconds, the changes were made.

Three quick steps in the ESU Lokprogrammer software. 1, go to the Function Outputs; 2 select Aux6; and 3, change to disabled. Then write to the decoder and test.

The video below shows the SW1200RS on the programming track, running away, then being tipped up on one side, and it keeps going for a couple of seconds before it cuts out, just like it is supposed to do with the Powerpack in an working. Now to take some time and run a train with it on the layout to see if the stalling out problems with this locomotive are resolved. If it is still stalling out, now I know its finding track problems instead of it being the locomotive.

There is something very satisfying about getting answers. Thanks to an off hand comment from Pierre about the programming of the locomotive he installed the decoder and Powerpack into for me, I realized something I had missed, which lead to the discovery of something that wasn’t clearly explained in the manuals, which lead to me asking for help from the manufacturer. They replied, and at the end of the day, in a bit over 24 hours I have apparently gone from one locomotive on my layout that runs reliably, to three!!

Two locomotives that didn’t work/weren’t on the layout a day ago, both now working and negotiating track without stalling. Some days, Trains are Good!

Tuesday Train #269

The first Business Train of Fall 😛 With fall colours arriving in Ontario in early October, on the Friday of Thanksgiving Weekend 2021, the Canadian Pacific Railway Business Train is seen at Milepost 30 in Palgrave on the Mactier Subdivision heading home to Calgary as Train 41B. It had come east a week or so before taking Keith Creel, the CEO on an inspection of the line. I couldn’t catch it that day when SD70ACu 7019 was leading, but even better on the trip west, FP9A 1401 was leading. The vintage paint against the early fall colours really makes this shot pop for me.

Switch Stands for Liberty Village

Continuing to work on scenery for Liberty Village, a year ago now I ordered some 3D printed CN and CP switch stands from Steve Hunter’s “Eastern Road Models” store on Shapeways. Recently I was reading my friend Matthieu Lachance’s blog and he wrote about his experience installing these switch stands. Seeing his post, it finally got me going on mine. I can’t install them all, but there are a half dozen spaces on my layout where I can start to add these to the scenery.

The bare 3D prints of the switch stands, CPR and CNR versions.

While I certainly am capable of designing these myself, why re-create the wheel? Steve Hunter’s done them, and they are excellent. On Liberty Village, most of my switch stands are CPR style, with open sides, and the remaining are Racor style CNR ones. The pictures I have all show the stands with short posts and the switch targets mounted on them. The 3D printed cores take a 0.015 wire for the rod to go through the main casting and have the target glued onto it. I used Tichy Phosphor Bronze wire as its strong and won’t bend unless I want it to sticking the long post in as a pin to place the stands on the layout and hold them for painting.

Assembling and priming the switch stands. Followed by a quick hit of yellow on the targets. A couple of days later, the targets were masked, and the stands hit with some Black-Grey. Wasn’t too picky about the colour, something flat and dark, as they will get a little bit of weathering powder to show some rust and help them pop.

With the stands assembled, or at least my first batch of them, it was off to the paint booth. I have saved scraps of the insulation used in building the layout. It comes in quite handy to make paint tools to hold parts, and its not something I need to worry about if it gets beaten up or if I need to cut it to change the size for a part. For paint on these, three passes, first Vallejo primer, then some Vallejo yellow on the targets. I didn’t wait on that, I sprayed the primer, and about 20 minutes later, hit the yellow. I wanted the yellow on before I sprayed the bases black, as its easier to mask a light colour than spray a light colour over black. I waited a couple of days on everything curing before spaying the black as I didn’t want my masks on the targets to pull away the paint if it wasn’t cured fully.

Installing the stands on my layout, is easy, just push them into the foam beneath the scenery. This means I can take them out for weathering, or for cleaning the track if needed. It also means they have a bit of flex for people operating and knocking them if they need to reach into the layout. Fortunately, almost all the stands are on the back side of the track, which reduces the risk someone reaching in will hit them.

Installed switch stands. They just poke into the foam underlay, so I can take them out as needed for cleaning track or doing scenery.

I am really happy with how these came out. Being 3D printed they are fragile, but I managed not to break any. Hopefully the other 8 I need to do when scenery progresses that far go as well. I’m also really glad to be able to help a fellow Canadian modeller/designer in the 3D printing universe by buying Steve Hunter’s stands. Its a small but growing group of modellers in the country who are making things we’ve designed available, and it hopefully helps us all to support each other.