Finishing the Wiring, Gremlin Hunting & Layout Visitors

In my last post I alluded to having wiring problems, and I did, but before I can deal with the problems, I want to touch on the “finishing” of the wiring. First up was to install a pair of HexFrog Juicers, each of these can handle auto reversing the power on six switch frogs to prevent short outs. As my layout has 13 switches, the two of these with the one single Frog Juicer on the peninsula covers the entire layout with live frogs that automatically switch polarity before the layout shorts out.

Prepping and installing the hex juicers. Preparing a base to screw into the benchwork, shots of the hex juicer mounted, and in place, wired up with LED’s lit.

Along with the hex juicers, I was finishing the task of connecting the track feeders to the power bus, to get to the point where I was ready to try and connect the ESU Cab Control DCC base station. For my ongoing testing, I was using my Lokprogrammer running from my computer to check for shorts by running a locomotive along the tracks every few wiring connections. As I went, it generally seemed to be going OK, I wasn’t finding shorts, things seemed to be going OK and I appeared to have successfully managed to connect red wires to red and black wires to black.

Watch for the brief short flash, and then bottom left LED’s flipping colour from red to green.

With the wiring I thought at a point where things seemed to be working, I thought it was time to actually set up the DCC and run the layout the way it will hopefully be run for many years. Again, the setup is simple, connect two wires from the back of the command station to the layout power bus wires.

IMG_1424ESU Cab Control DCC System, finally ready to come out of the box.

And, after I started testing with the Command Control, chaos… the track would not stay on at all, the second I put a locomotive on the tracks, the power light on the handheld control flashed from green to red. Sometimes, pressing the start button wouldn’t even turn the power on. It appeared, that despite everything…the Gremlins were back!!!

GremlinsGremlins!!! And not the cute gremlins like Mogwai, but the nasty monstrous kind that show up when you get them wet and feed them after midnight…

By this point, I had been working for almost 10 hours mostly at awkward angles reaching beneath the benchwork to do wiring. It was time to quit before I lost my temper and did anything I’d regret later. It took a few days to figure things out, and the breakthrough could probably have been found sooner if I’d turned to the internet, but the proverbial “a-ha” moment was when I tried to turn on the CabControl connected to a single piece of flex track just to make sure the base station was working, when that shut down immediately, I realized I wasn’t necessarily searching for a wiring short on the layout, but something else. I had set the ESU power supply set up and the variable voltage know as advised in their manual for HO Scale, my findings from that are, the supply as instructed doesn’t deliver enough juice to run even a small layout like mine. Turning the power supply up a little bit, and almost all my short outs disappeared.

Testing a variety of motive power across the layout. Finally some success. And achieving one of my goals, running a train across the layout on its own power without it shutting off (derailments are another story)

I was still finding little shorts and issues on the frogs with the layout shorting out, it appears that this has been solved by just turning up the power a little bit more from the supply. The best part of this, is that I was able to get the railroad re-wired up after cutting connections when Gremlin hunting, have it powered up and going to host visitors on Saturday morning, which I completely forgot to take pictures of! A friend was hosting an operation session/party/modellers meet Saturday afternoon/evening, and two out of town visitors were in Toronto for the weekend. Chris Mears from Dartmouth Nova Scotia, and Matthieu Lachance (and more here) from Quebec City were over along with regular visitor and layout building helper extraordinaire Trevor Marshall. We didn’t run any kind of scheme, we just talked about the layout, the prototype, the design concept, and banged some cars about, mostly without problems. A nice feeling, and the opposite to a lot of “Trains are Stupid” evenings of the past week or so trying to make sense of the wiring side of the hobby. Now, onwards with running trains back and forth looking for anything that causes derailments, power offs or any other unexpected behaviour for the next few weeks. During this time I’ll get some work done advancing the start of the structures to be ready for doing scenery once I am satisfied with the tracks operation.

Electrical Gremlins

Wiring and Electronics, two things that have never been my strong suit, despite taking Electronics/Computer Tech classes all the way through High School, but the mid 1990’s were a while ago now!

With the layout progressing, wiring and getting ready to have the DCC system set up have been getting closer to top of mind, and with them, the requisite search for electrical shorts, despite about as simple a wiring scheme on the layout as you could have. Red and black wires. Connect the red to the track closest to the front edge, and black to the back. So simple, even a caveman could do it according to the car insurance commercials… So of course, I have electrical shorts!!

Uh oh, No Short..Short, the search for the short begins!

I have been trying to be dutiful and test as each wiring drop gets connected to the bus, looking for anything shorting out the layout. It’s mostly gone well, but in the past few days, its become a nightmare.

Highly technical gapping, a piece of paper after the rail joiners are slid away to isolate a section and look for the short. Success eventually…

This time, the short was something stupid, really stupid, two feeder wires that weren’t soldered to the bus, hanging beneath the layout making contact…sigh, that only took an hour of frantic searching and filing gaps on switches and losing my mind over what had happened.

IMG_1410It’s hard to see, but important lesson, don’t take the insulation off wires until you are ready to connect them, inevitably they will touch and make you think you’ve shorted something out!

At this point, I was back up and running test trains using my Lokprogrammer for command. As they say, to be continued…

Some Days are more fun than others

IMG_1331Just a freight train at the corner of Liberty Street and Mowat Avenue. Nothing to see here…something that will just be ordinary on my layout.

This is a fun hobby, I do it as an escape from work and stress and everything else that we have to deal with on a day to day basis in life. I get to come home, and I have a project that I want to work on, and where I see progress happen because I make it happen (with a little help from my friends). In my last post one of my blogs followers commented on the enthusiasm for what I’m doing in building the layout in my posts. Sometimes, I’ll be perfectly honest, I don’t feel the enthusiasm when I’m working on the layout (but that’s a future post on something I’m struggling with on the layout). Today is a happy post. After last weeks progress, I took a couple of nights and hooked up my Lokprogrammer and ran a variety of tests up and down the Mowat Avenue trackage which is the only part fully connected to the DCC bus. Just running trains, testing switches, seeing where things are shorting out (which isn’t really a good test with the Frog Juicers not installed and the switch machines not holding the tracks in place, but, it makes me happy!). I ran the three layout locomotives I currently have, but I only took video of the one as shown below, a bit of running at Mowat Avenue and Liberty Street in the future intersection, and leaving the fully sceniced layout onto the staging traverser (which will just have some generic scrubby yard scenery).

So, to end, some ridiculousness, I decided to test something that would never have ever been seen in Liberty Village (and which can’t make the turns on my layout even if I want to!!).

I Juiced a Frog…

No actual frogs were harmed in the making of this post!! A frog in railroad parlance is a part of a switch. it is the location where the tracks cross. When you hear about a switch being a Number 4 or a Number 6 or the like, its referring to the angle of the frog. I’m not going to re-invent the wheel in trying to explain switches, if you want to go down that rabbit hole, check out here and here! On model railroads, the frog on a switch is isolated, otherwise as metal wheels drawing power from the track cross over, it would create a short as the two rails are different polarities (one positive, one negative). A “Frog Juicer” from Tam Valley is a little circuit board that on DCC systems, detects the polarity faster than the system can short out, and automatically switches the polarity of the frog so a train will keep going over it. The point is to keep power to the locomotive at all times so they don’t stall on the frog if it isn’t powered. I have three to install. Two which can handle six switches each, and one single switch juicer for the peninsula. Working under the benchwork alone without a second set of hands is a bit of a pain, so I decided I would install the Mono Frog Juicer tonight just to get a feel for it, and worry about the other two for the remaining twelve switches later.

IMG_1316Mounting the Frog Juicer board on a bit of double sided foam to stick to the layout

First, I started organizing the wiring runs on the peninsula into a batch that I can connect to the end of the DCC Bus wire. With this done, I figured out where I was going to mount the juicer, and put a purple wire on the frog wire from the switch (colour coding the wiring for future repairs). My layout wiring is pretty simple. Red and Black for power, purple for the frogs. I will eventually run a secondary power bus for building lighting, and I will pick two other colours of wire for this so they stand out. That’s a down the road task, I haven’t even really thought about that beyond knowing that I want to be able to light buildings, which means they need power!

IMG_1317Frog Juicer in place on the peninsula, with red and black wires to the DCC bus, and the purple to the frog. Now we see if it works when I get the wiring connected to the bus!

This was another simple project that I haven’t done before that I could tackle on my own. It also was a nice half hour project that I could do after dinner and feel like I’ve accomplished something on the layout today. Given how much I have on the rest of my week, I don’t expect to do anything till the weekend, so it’s always nice to feel like I’ve gotten something done when a few minutes were available.

Turns out Sunday is a layout day too

You might think that after a big progress day yesterday, Sunday would be a day of rest, and it kinda was. I watched both EPL matches this morning while writing up yesterdays progress, but that meant that by 1:30 I was done watching football, and migrated back upstairs to the layout room.

The first thing I did was finish up the west end of the layouts drops to the DCC bus. When we were working on this, we found a short that took some hunting to track down and resolve. It was some not quite fully clearly gapped copper ties on a switch. It hadn’t shown itself earlier, but as we started connecting track all of a sudden both rails were in continuity with each other, not a great situation to have for a layout!! After some frustrated time yesterday searching out the electrical gremlin, Mark found it, and we had it quickly cleaned up. A little bit of paint on the ties will eventually hide the new bigger gap.

Because I’m completely incorrigible, with the wiring connected and looking OK on the multi-meter for no shorts, I of course proceeded to connect my ESU Lokprogrammer to the end of a track, and run a test train out of CNR staging and onto Mowat Avenue. The video below shows the results, right up to the point where it hit track not yet connected and the keep alive ran out of power! An unqualified success, a train successfully run on my layout!!

First attempt at running a train out of staging and down the line (sorry about the video being fuzzy, I’m not here to win cinematography awards!).

A little bit more running exposed a couple of not unexpected snags, particularly on the switches, but without switch machines installed holding rails in place, I think any time the equipment didn’t catch the switches perfectly clean, they were moving the points. I won’t get too worried about this unless it starts happening when the switches are being held tightly in place.

With that done, I decided to start building switch machines. I am using the Fast Tracks “Bullfrog” switch machines. These are laser cut wood manual throws, a lot of my friends have used them on their layouts, and I love the way they work and the simplicity of them. It takes maybe 10 minutes to assemble them. I have two built new for the layout, and one from a little test track I built a couple of years ago to learn how to build and install a switch machine. After building another fresh one for the layout today, I started messing around with the RC aircraft control rods that are used to link the machine under the benchwork to the fascia for the switch to be operated. This reminds me that I need to get some supplies for the handles on the end, I never did get around to doing that.

IMG_1216A Fast Tracks “Bullfrog” manual switch machine assembled. This one is from a little proof of concept board I made to experiment with learning to install these. The throw wire is now too short for the layout, but I’ve got more of those I can replace it with.

After one Bullfrog, I decided that my goal for the day was to finish the last two sidings on the peninsula. One was easy, a piece of flex with a gentle curve, the other was a bit more complicated. A curved track into a switch to two sidings flanking the freight shed I’ve been building. Once all the track was adjusted, curved and trimmed, I marked out the sides, moved it, and placed down a layer of the clear Alex Caulk. The track was then worked into position, and weighted/pinned down as appropriate. It will sit till Monday night now to have the pins and weights moved while the caulk cures.

Laying the final track on the Peninsula, from L-R marked out and holes for switch machine/frog wire drilled; caulk down; first siding down and caulk spread; and, final view with track down and weighted/tacked down.

With the track on the peninsula down and now drying, I went to the final gap in the layout, a less than 1.5″ piece on Liberty Street between where I’d been working east and west across the layout. I’m not going to install this tonight, I’ll do that Monday or Tuesday night, it will give me something to look forward to at work as the week starts. I’ve got the final piece of track to be laid on my layout cut to sized, filed down, and joiners added ready to go whenever I decide the time is right.

IMG_1215Less than 1.5 inches to go to the trackwork being laid for the entire length of the railroad. So of course, instead of doing it, I’m blogging about how that’s all that’s left to do!

In well less than two years since we took possession of our Townhouse in June 2018, I have gone from a bare room, to a nearly functional layout. This is a huge thing for me, I’ve wanted to build a layout for a long time, but never had the space. Since we moved in, I’ve turned that dream into a reality, and in the process, I’ve learned a lot from friends, and from trial and error. With a bit more wiring, I’ll be in a position to start testing trains to see if the track works and start looking for snags.

With that, a productive Sunday in the layout room is over. Time to go help get some dishes done in the kitchen so we can make a late Sunday dinner of home made Bacon and Gruyere Quiche and watch the new episode of Doctor Who in a couple of hours.

Saturday Layout Working Party

Well that was a productive Saturday afternoon and evening. The layout room cleanup this week paid off nicely. Four friends joined me, Mark, Dan, Trevor and James. This was great as Mark and James had never seen the layout room, so it was their introduction, while Dan and Trevor (See Trevor’s post on the day here) have been regular visitors and helpers in construction. It also proved that the biggest number of guests that can reasonably be accommodated is 3! Five people in the room with the layout and tools going is too many to manoeuvre at times.

Mark, Trevor and Dan working, and a sort of group shot of Mark, Dan, James and the back of my head discussing what we are doing!

We started the day by starting to make the wiring connections from the individual track feeders to the DCC power bus along the sceniced part of the layout, the connections in staging were previously made. Mark started from one end of the layout, and Trevor from the other. Dan was prepping to replace a switch throw bar that we broke on our big tracklaying day last year, and I was learning and asking lots of questions of Trevor and Mark to understand their slightly different, but equally effective techniques for making the connections from the track feeders to the bus wire. I now know two different techniques for it, and can work on finishing the job myself in the coming weeks.

Splitting the bus wire, in this case 14 gauge speaker wire, and then connecting the track feeders into the bus.

While we were upstairs working, my wife Heather decided to bake some cookies for us. Last week after baking some cookies for herself and for me to bring to a friends layout operating session, she announced that she was taking a break from baking after the holidays and doing a lot of it. I’m happy that break only lasted a week! If you like good food, you should check out her blog, its in the sidebar and linked here!

IMG_1184Gandalf was not having it, too many train guys in his house. It stressed him out so he retired to the sofa downstairs to recover.

With the bus wiring started, and my understanding growing as how it is done to make good connections, we moved onto the final bit complex trackwork, the series of crossovers to access the peninsula on my layout. This area reflects the trackage from Liberty Street onto the spurs on/along Pardee Avenue. This is complicated trackage, as there are two spurs accessed from one direction, and one coming the opposite way, it means there are two crossings in close proximity, and all of this needed to be aligned so that the curves were navigable, and the crossovers didn’t sit on the split where the peninsula starts as it is designed to be swung away, and I don’t want this area to be any more unreliable than the risks movable benchwork already creates by the fact its designed to be moved.

Dan working on adjusting the switches and getting the trackage off of them installed. I’m honestly not sure what Trevor is doing other than proving you cannot fit in my layout room while standing on a three step ladder (the higher ceiling area is the skylight vault in the middle of the room).

After a few hours of hard work wiring and figuring out the final track geometry, it was time for some dinner (the least I can do is feed my friends to thank them for helping build my layout, it isn’t nearly enough, but its a start!). I ordered a couple of pizzas from our local place here in Etobicoke, Milano’s Pizza, and despite the consensus from my friends that Pineapple has a place on pizza (pro tip, it does not), we never the less ordered a Hawaiian pizza for the crew along with a more traditional one and some mozzarella sticks. After a relaxing dinner break, Mark headed for home before the roads turned to ice (Toronto set a January rainfall record while we worked, better than a snowfall record I guess since people travelled from across the City to get here), while Dan, Trevor and I headed back upstairs to finish the trackwork they had started.

After dinner Dan and Trevor figure out how to complete the “baby Bat’leth” of trackage onto the peninsula, building it in place to get the curves right.

We got the track alignment and curvatures sorted out eventually. We wound up using a pair of the four-tie long “Gapmasters” from American Tie and Timber that I bought for each of the crossings to hold the trackage in place. We figured that would give better support since the tracks cross the gap at an angle for when I make the cuts to allow the peninsula to be swung into its stored position.

IMG_1203Dan and myself working on the last crossing of the peninsula. The heritage brick is doing yeoman’s work at holding track down while the Alex Caulk dries.

With that, tracklaying is almost done. After the gang got packed up, I spent a bit of time cleaning up the room of little bits of wire cover and sawdust so Gandalf wouldn’t get at it, and started to plan out my next steps. There is a bit of soldering cleanup on some of the bus connections that were started and not finished, and a real chance that I can finish track laying this afternoon (after a nice lazy morning watching proper football and drinking tea. Trains can happen during with the NFL games as background later). There is one switch and three sidings on the peninsula to go, then my final piece gap between the two ends of the layout.

IMG_1204End of the day, the peninsula looking mighty fine and progressing towards completion.