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.

Building Brunswick Balke Collender (Part 1)

With work on the tracklaying progressing, and hitting a wiring snafu, it seemed like a good time to work on something else to clear my mind and feel like I was making progress. I started work early on on one building, the power house for the Brunswick Balke Collender pool table factory. I started working on this some time ago, but this weekend, after my electrical glitches (and I will have more to say about that in the future), simple scratchbuilding seemed like a safe way to make some progress.

Starting the Building Construction from scratch process. A big (11×17) pad of grid paper, drawings of the building, and pencils and squares.

For Brunswick, I had plans of the restoration/modifications made in recent years, obtained through the City of Toronto’s public development application portal, the Application Information Centre. Many City’s now have these public portals, if you keep an eye on them, all kinds of useful modelling information can turn up on them. Old industrial buildings are nice, as while they often have a lot of windows and detail, large parts are also very regular and repetitive for laying out windows and brick rows, which definitely aids in modelling them.

Building up blocks of windows from Tichy Styrene parts, groups of four of different heights and widths to match the appearance of the prototype building.

For this project, the lone picture I have of the pre-replacement modern windows, through combining blocks of off the shelf windows, I can recreate the look of the building. Each window is four windows glued together using a small strip of styrene in the back to provide strength and to wick glue along to bond the frame.

The process of building a wall, cutting out window openings in a 0.060″ Styrene inner core, installing the windows, and adding brick sheet overlay.

Last year I built the portion of the side wall I need. Because almost all of my buildings are low relief against the backdrop, almost none of them actually have four walls, and most are only bits of the buildings. I means I get to replicate a lot of different looks and styles, but don’t have to do too much of any. My technique for scratchbuilding is evolving, but at the moment, it generally involves using 0.060″ styrene to create inner walls, marking where I need to cut the window and door openings, and doing so with a Nibbler. Slow and steady work with this, it generates a lot of annoying little bits of styrene, but with some care, you get window openings the perfect size to slot your windows into. For this building, I am using off the shelf windows, for others, I will be drawing my own parts to 3D print, and resin casting windows for the models. With the windows in, the last step is to prepare an overlay of brick styrene, and cut the windows out of that. With that done, you have a wall.

IMG_8223Brunswick Balke Collender looked like this from late May 2019 to February 2020. With a gust of motivation, soon the printout and cardboard will be replaced by a ready to be painted styrene building.

Sometimes, I find I need to be in the right mood, and for a variety of reasons, this project sat off to the side as other layout tasks (who cars about track and running trains, lets build some awesome buildings, says the guy whose wiring doesn’t seem to work right!).

When I came back to the project this past weekend, I decided that I could knock out the main wall in a day. I transferred all the planning dimensions from the paper pad to the styrene, and set to nibbling out windows, suffice to say, it was a bit of a slow and steady wins the race task, something I sometimes struggle with. Some of my windows are more carefully cut out than others, something that has a knock on effect on fitting the windows evenly if they are too big. Important reminder, go slowly and test fi/check as you go. Its easier to take more material off than to add more on!!

Working my way around the front wall of Brunwick. Transfer to Styrene, cutting out windows, test fitting, finishing the cutting, and all the windows in to check before gluing.

I was back at it tonight working on getting the windows glued in and the brick on the exterior started, but I’ll save that for a follow up post along with starting the process to get the building to stand on its own feet and be ready for eventual installation on the layout. Still lots to do on this one, but its starting to look the part on my workbench.

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…

Cheap and Cheerful Scenery in an Evening

My layout has been very pink, the nature of using pink 1/2″ insulation on top of the plywood sub-base is that the room has been pink since September 2018, Its time for it to start looking a bit more like something, less pink! On the weekend I marked out roughly where my paved streets will go, which meant I could come back and paint them with some artists acrylics to quickly add some colour, and start to hide the pink foam!

Liquitex Raw Sienna and Neutral Grey 5 tubes of paint from Michaels, and the start of a quick coat of the grey on the roads.

This was not a fine art project, it was a quick and thin coat, enough to add some colour to see how things are, and guide doing future scenery. I was careful to keep paint off the tracks and ties, though they’ll get painted themselves eventually too.

After adding in raw sienna, the pink is mostly gone, and it actually looks a bit like a layout!

I have to thank my friend Trevor for suggesting this as a do sooner than later task. It really makes a huge difference, more than I’d even thought for less than $10 in paint (and I have lots of both colours left for future projects) and less than 2 hours work to paint, photograph and blog about it. Between the fascia and the quick coat of paint, the layout is almost presentable to someone who isn’t a model railroader and who doesn’t realize how long it takes sometimes to get things done in this hobby!

IMG_1396Panorama of the layout, now with less Pink! There is still some bare foam in staging, I didn’t paint the staging for now, I needed somewhere to move things too while I painted the sceniced area!

I still need to get my act together and finish the wiring so I can test powered equipment all along the layout. I’m going to work on wiring this weekend I think, I’d really like to run a train all the way along the line just to say I can!

When Layouts attack and things don’t work

Yesterday I made a comment in a post about sometimes things don’t go your way. Sunday was one of those days. I was watching the closing hours of the Daytona 24 Hours car race, and working in the layout room on sorta odds and ends tasks.

I started my day by putting up my directional signs on the fascia with some tape, just to see how they look. I am really happy with them. The Maker Bean Cafe did a great job, I can’t recommend their work enough based on my experience with them so far. I’ll definitely be looking for other opportunities to work with them.

Street signs taped onto the fascia, I am really happy with how these look.

After this, I was moving around stuff, cleaning up tools and just figuring out what I wanted to work on. I remember catching the corner of the underside of the peninsula, but didn’t think anything of it, I’ve been bumping off the layout for months despite my best efforts to be careful. I carried on for a while, and at some point, I turned my left arm, and went, “oh, I’m bleeding, a lot…”

IMG_1368Owie, this gouge in my left arm is deeper than it looks.

After realizing I’d gouged myself on the corner of the underside of the peninsula, I took the time to clean and disinfect the wound. It seems to be healing OK, but I think I’m going to have a nice scar on my arm for a while. Once I was better, I looked into some furniture padding foam designed to protect infants for the bottom of the peninsula. It’s been ordered, and will be dutifully installed probably next weekend when its arrived.

Once I had cleaned myself up, I decided to start another project. Now that the fascia is on, I can look at things like installing gate hasps for my two switch locks. I’ve decided that for effect I want to mount my CNR and CPR switch locks on the staging traversers, but also have them locked when the layout isn’t in use. It will hopefully create a start and end point for operating sessions, where you have to come in and unlock the switch to release staging, and enter the village, and re-lock it when you’re done your work. Maybe its a bit cheesy, but it makes me happy.

Installing a hasp for one of my switch locks on the CNR Staging Slider… it didn’t go well.

I thought I was being very careful with positioning and pre-drilling holes and everything to get them mounted, and once the screws were in, the hasp wouldn’t close without forcing it, or open without forcing it, and risking a big bump to the slides. I eventually kinda got it working, though not perfectly. I may have to invest in an even longer hasp to move the loop over a bit and let me try mounting the loop again. I won’t be installing the one on the CPR end for a bit until I have made up my mind, but its a little frustraiting. The one nice thing I did discover is the lock hanging on the traverser seems to be working as a bit of a counterweight to keep it from shifting on its own. I can already see that a positive locking/alignment system will probably be needed long term, I’m just not sure what that will be as yet.

IMG_1367Lining out where the roads will be, to help with adjusting the building siting before I start foundations and scenery, and to help work on operations planning to see if things work in 3D instead of as a plan.

I wrapped up Sunday by getting out a sharpie and rulers, and marking where all the asphalt paved roads are. This will be a great help in starting to guide scenery in the near future, but in the short term, once the wiring is done, to let me operate trains to test out track and understand where things are and aren’t working and where adjustments to the track may be needed before painting and ballasting the track.

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!!).