Family Christmas “Operations” Prep

This coming weekend we are having our first Family Christmas since 2019, where my parents are coming down to Toronto for a few days. With this in mind, having been out hunting for operational gremlins recently, I wanted to run some trains after work today. When my parents are down, I won’t be doing serious operations to any kind of set switch list, but I want the trains to run well for my parents, my mom in particular has always just enjoyed seeing my trains run, and the happiness them doing so gives me. After all the bad of the past couple of years, I am really looking forward to some happy time with loved ones for a couple of days.

Thanks to my earlier searching for gremlins, I was able to quickly sort a couple tonight. In the area where I recently re-did the scenery, it was pretty clear I closed a couple of gaps around switch frogs with glue or something. Tonight, a quick saw through the gaps, and a re-application of some graphite to the rails to help with connectivity, and the locomotives started running right through the switch that seemed to be a problem on the other end of the layout. Proof of concept that you can learn something when you are doing things! Instead of messing around, I went for what looked to be an obvious problem, and sure enough, it seemed to fix it. Clearing the gaps around the frogs, and the problem was basically resolved. There are still a few spots where I had some stutters on the layout, but I have two more nights after work to run trains in these areas and look for causes and solutions. Most of the problems are in spots where the tracks are passing through the street. I think, these come back to my road paving and I need to do another round of clearing out the gaps to make sure good contact with the rails is happening.

So, with that, some videos of running trains in different parts of the layout tonight, trains running successfully, including my somewhat finicky Raipdo Trains SW1200RS running both ways through the first switch that has caused me so much grief recently. I am, particularly enthused by the first video below, it really is a window into the layout, where all there is is the layout. Yes, I see plenty of things that need work, but oh man, it really makes me happy at how real it looks getting my phone into the scene to take videos!

A couple of Gremlins Down

Well, after last week’s post about hunting for a persistent electrical/mechanical problem at the very first switch coming out of the CN Staging yard, I have made some progress. I have worked through a variety of possible sources of the ill behaviour being seen. I have gone back and re-gapped the copper rails, and the gaps around the frog in the switch. I have also cleared the flangeway gap in the frog to remove some excess solder and free up the flangeway. I am, to be perfectly honest, not sure which action individually seems to have solved the problem, as I was frustrated as my efforts weren’t getting anywhere, and I defied the scientific method and did multiple things before testing. Yes, I know, defeats the purpose of trying to follow a logical path of action. I am willing to live this this given that it seems to now be functioning. I need to go back and touch up the paint on the ties, as you an see from the pictures, the re-gapping has made a bit of a mess of them!

Looking at the problem location, rolling through a truck (could feel it bind at the frog), and re-gapping the rails.

As I said, I don’t know for sure what action solved the problem, but it seems to be working after a fair bit of testing. I am willing to live with that, as I was really getting upset by my inability to get a train to run onto the layout without stalling out and stopping.

Moving on, the next switch is actually permanently shut, but it had a regular issue where it was catching cars coming around the curve leading into it. As the switch leads off the edge of the layout, and is fixed, its purely scenic, I pulled out the soldering iron and quickly heated the end of the rail on the throw bar and widened the flangeway.

Widened flangeway at the top of the image, not visible that its over wide in normal viewing, but the gap now doesn’t catch any wheels and send them the wrong way.

The final Gremlin I have gotten to is one of the curves on the Bat’leth switch in the corner. The guard rails for one of the road crossings were clearly too tight, as cars would jump in two locations, sometimes dropping back in gauge, sometimes derailing. Using the truck being pushed through by hand, I could feel and see the locations where the truck was riding up. The good news was that it appeared both problems could be resolved by moving the same guard rail to give a little more wiggle room. The problem is, this area was already paved. This meant some time carefully chipping out my drywall plaster road paving between the rails so I could adjust them. This is of course, something I should have done long ago before paving the road.

I also found a secondary gremlin in one of the switches. One of the switches in the road had a guard rail for the road that needed to float freely so the switch rails could move. It was riding up over the height of the rail adjacent and was tight enough it was lifting the wheels of cars, causing some to derail. This was a simple fix, I cut a few mm off the end of the rail, so it was no longer close enough to gently lift the wheels of cars and toss them in the ballast.

The Bat’leth, multiple little problems, but the biggest to fix required pulling out the paving between the rails.

I am going to run trains through this for a bit before I re-pave the road, lets learn from past mistakes! Much easier to further adjust the guard rail if needed, thank to have to scrape out the paving again! Thanks to everyone who engaged with last weeks post, the suggestions are appreciated, and I certainly got a couple of ideas from them for things that I thought should be fine but where they may actually have been causing the issues.

Hunting Electrical Gremlins

Sigh, electrical gremlins, the worst gremlins. something you can’t see, and have to spend ages poking and prodding with a multi-meter looking to see if you can find the electrical short, and looking for bad solder joints or other issues. Electrical things are not one of my strong suits, I understand it, but I am just not comfortable messing around with them and at finding problems. At some point, I’m going to have to have a more electrically minded friend over, as I seemingly just can’t find whatever it is at this location, and I think I desperately need a second set of eyes and hands on the problem. This is the first switch coming out of staging for the CN end of the layout, and this is me starting the process of trying to get the layout to actually operate reliably. Parts of it are starting to look decent scenically, but at the end of the day, I want to be able to run trains reliably, and have people visit and operate and not have them fighting constant little problems to have an enjoyable experience. So far, I have found a missed track feeder, and maybe a bit of extra solder in the track gap, but nothing which is the smoking gun. It is frustrating, as i don’t run trains nearly as much as I should, and I would like to get better at resolving these issues myself, but without some guidance, I feel I am constantly shooting in the dark guessing, and doing that I start to run the risk that I will create a new or bigger problem trying what I think is a fix to the issue.

Something in this switch is causing a stall/snag and I have not been able to figure it out.

The video below shows my SW1200RS running through the switch. Its hard to see, but you can see the lights flicker, and definitely see the stall/jump going through. It is much more pronounced in this direction. It happens with different locomotives to different degrees, but everything has a stall of some sort in this area.

So on we go, I will continue to search for the issue among the many ongoing layout projects, hopefully someday sooner than later I will be posting to celebrate finding the issue and resolving it.

More Layout Wayfinding Signage

A while back, I wrote about my Toronto Street signs to help operators identify where they are, I originally had laser cut wood, but upgraded to vinyls cut on my cricut, I also wrote about some room decorating with the Cricut on the end of my workbench. With that in mind, since I had the Cricut out from some work on the weekend (there’s a post on that coming later in the week), my Monday night quickie was to do some more cutting and wayfinding signage, but a bit fancier than just plain streetsigns.

Loading up the cutting mat with a variety of colours, post cutting but pre “weeding” of the unneeded vinyl, and the components before layering/installing.

Having previously done most of the work in preparing the railway logos for cutting, this was pretty straightforward after work brain off activity. Resize the art, prepare the vinyl on the cutting mat, and run the cutter. A good way to end a Monday that had a lot of things going on at work, easy, clearing the mind.

As you can see in the pictures, something I knew, but decided to do anyways was the black of the CN herald on the black fascia. I really needed to make a backing for it, a green circle like you see in the logo as applied to equipment to make the green leaf pop. I’ll have to go back and re-do the art to include a circle I think. I went and added a yellow circle around the edge, but it still kind of loses some definition, but that’s ok. Something to do some other day when the Cricut is out and I am motivated!

Parkdale Yard and Strachan Yard, now with labels. You can see where the CN needed a circle to make it pop. I should have put it on a full background inside the gold circle, I may re-do it.

I am reasonably happy with how they turned out. I think they make a really nice addition to the staging traversers, with a bit of colour from the shields and clearly identifying where each railways crews start and end their work.

Layout Maintenance, a never-ending task

So, after probably a month or so where I haven’t done a lot of layout work, or ran any trains, I decided on Tuesday evening this week to fire up the layout and actually use it to move the fleet of boxcars parked on it to staging to clear the layout. It ran, but I found multiple problems that required remedial work.

The first, is one I’ve been aware of, but haven’t really dealt with, cat hair. Gandalf is a majestic floof…but he is a floof. Cat hair is a never-ending cleaning chore in our house, and on my layout. While he doesn’t spend a lot of time in the layout room/office (he’s a mommas boy, he hangs out with my better half!), he does come in, and the floof travels! When equipment moves, you can see it picking up and dragging cat hair with it. It is particularly noticeable on the two Rapido locomotives I have, that seem to be floof magnets the way their trucks are designed. Both my SW1200RS and GMD1 had copious amounts of cat fur wrapped into the axles and stuck in with the lubrication that escapes from the gearboxes onto the axles.

One colossal floof, and the results of his floofing wrapping onto axles, and before/after of the SW1200RS and GMD1 trucks as I worked to remove the floof from them. Got a lot out, not all of it. Will have to tackle again!

Removing the floof, was a combination of vacuuming and picking it out with a fine pair of tweezers, followed by more vacuuming. I don’t think I got all of it (in fact I am virtually certain I did not get all of it), but I got enough that hopefully I am starting the fight to make sure it doesn’t get too deep into the mechanism, and to fight it being tracked across the layout. As my layout is still under construction, I haven’t settled into a routine of cleaning and operating it, so dust/hair/debris seems to build up. As I would like to be able to welcome friends in again to see the layout and run trains, I am going to need to actually work on this and come up with a routine for regular cleaning and running equipment. I also need to run equipment to find out where I either have track issues that need resolving, or where there are cars that need wheels/trucks adjusted to run reliably.

The second Tuesday Repair, is something I am still getting used to, broken switches where the rails have popped off. This one, I think is because I left the switch in the thrown position, which the way the Bullfrog Turnout controls are installed, puts a little bit of pressure on the rails, and seemingly over time, found any weak solder joint from the turnouts construction. This is the 3rd time I think I have had to fix a switch, and I am getting more comfortable and confident doing it, which is a good thing.

Repaired turnout on the left. the back rail had come off the throw bar.

While I’m glad I can fix things, I’d rather be spending my time building things and actually advancing the layout. I think figuring out a routine for regular cleaning and running trains will help, even without a plan. I am also starting to feel some motivation generally to actually build coming on, which is nice as honestly, through the summer I have not had a lot of motivation to work, but the later sunrise and earlier sunsets that seem to be catching up on us are bringing on the motivation to model as going out chasing trains in the real world becomes harder and harder as the hours of light after work become shorter and shorter!

I ran a train and I liked it…

So one of my friends asked lately if I had run any trains on the layout, and I realized, much to my dismay, that I had not, I hadn’t so much as fired up the DCC in several months other than one of the rare visitors we have had come into the house during the pandemic who had never seen it, so I briefly fired it up just so they could see a train move.

I was having a stressy Friday at work yesterday, and decided mid afternoon that I needed to take my break and run a train to clear my mind, and it was great. Didn’t prep and paperwork or plan anything, just ran a train from CN staging across the layout, then one from CP staging. it didn’t run perfectly, not at all. I didn’t clean or vacuum the track before trying to run the trains, and I’ve been doing scenery, which means potentially dirty sports on the rails, but whatever, I needed to bang some cars about!

Quick video of a CPR Job heading back to Parkdale Yard

Just the simple act of running some trains, even with hiccups (which, yesterday at least didn’t phase me as i knew that would happen) with no prep before running lifted my spirits and made me feel better to get through the last couple of hours of my work day. I even managed to use the ops session as a chance to check a clearance and start thinking about the next phase of scenery and a future project. All in all, a good half hour that sprung out of being frustrated at work, which is a lot easier to escape from to your hobbies on the days I’m still working from home!

Scenes from a quick test run OPS session, and checking clearance for a fence and gates at a recently built structure.