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.

A quick update to Layout Wayfinding

It seems like it was just yesterday, but it was literally a pandemic ago (groan, I’ll show myself out for that one) that I bought laser cut and engraved wood signs for layout wayfinding. In the two years since I got them in January 2020, they have faded a bit and become somewhat illegible. The laser engraving is still there, but I am not sure if I want to brave painting them or not. The large sized one on the layout room door has stayed clear and amazing. With my recent purchase of a Cricut, I realized that I have art for the Toronto style street signs, I could re-create the signs and cut them out of vinyl.

The laser etched wood sign, and its vinyl replacement. Much more legible, seen in comparison with one of the wooden signs in the last image.

The vinyl sign looks significantly better than the wood one in terms of legibility. As with most things I do, I will live with the one sign for a couple of weeks, and assuming I remain happy with it, some day when a mood strikes me I will bang out the other ones and install them all in a couple of hours some day. Until then, back to building boxcars, my current main activity! (2 ready for the paint booth and 5 to go on that project)

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!

Saturday Switching Tracks

Well, today was a really good day on the layout. I haven’t been working on the layout much of late, its July, the weather is nice, and we have been enjoying just sitting outside on our evenings and weekends. That said, a couple of weeks ago I did my first Operating Session attempt, and some things that were really problematic, like having trains go where I wanted as only 4 of 12 switches had Fast Tracks Bullfrog turnout machines installed to throw the switches and hold them in position while a train passes over made me crazy have been turning in my mind. On my work lunch break on Friday, for some reason the motivation hit me, and I installed a Bullfrog on the first switch leaving the CN staging yard. It took maybe 15 minutes to get it fitted, mounted and the throw rod on. This was a positive, as it gave me a nice boost of confidence in my ability to do them.

Today, Saturday was a washout here, which motivated me to go put on some tunes loud, and get going with installing more Bullfrogs. All of a sudden, in a couple of hours, I had five more installed, giving me 10 of 12 switches done.

Where there were no installed Bullfrog switch machines on Friday morning, by Saturday afternoon there were six.

The last two switches required some big decisions to be made. Because of where the switch was located, it made a simple straight run for the RC Aircraft control rod that throws the bullfrogs impossible, at least unless I made a change to the benchwork. When I designed the layout, i designed it with the peninsula being mobile, it was designed to be unlatched and turned away to free up room in the centre of the layout room. Over a year of living in the layout room 8+ hours a day thanks to work from home and my workbench becoming my work desk, I have come to the conclusion, that it does not make my life better for it to swing, and once the track was laid and I got a good look at everything, I was never able to bring myself to cut the rails so the peninsula could swing, it basically hasn’t swung since I laid the track. This is good though, as the track now won’t have gaps and alignment problems that could have made operations bad. I know these kinds of things can work, but I have enough alignment issues to work out with my staging yards that I can’t avoid, so why create headaches when I don’t need them?

Fastening the peninsula and removing the hinge. A big design decision for the future of the layout.

The last two Bullfrogs were pretty much standard installs with the decision to remove the hinge and make the peninsula fixed. One of the things that had kept me from doing this was I had some challenges with my first installs, but learning as I went. Because of this, I have spent my pandemic modelling time doing things like building freight car kits, scenery and structures that I had a higher confidence in working out rather than things I’ve convinced myself I needed a friends help to do. That said, several friends have tried to give me the pep talk that I am more than capable of doing these installs, rather than waiting on a time where I can have a friend over. I think, as much as anything, I was putting this off as it is something that having a friend help with would be nice, one of the things remaining that maybe need a friend to help with a construction session on. Though, with me getting them done, when that day which is hopefully coming soon where I can have a friend over, we might be able to run a train without turnout problems at least instead of install turnout controls. I guess I’ll need to get on with finding and solving my few electrical gremlins that seem to still have locos stalling out in places, but that’s another days problem!

Installing the last Bullfrog and marking off the task on my whiteboard of major work areas…what a great feeling.

So, with that, today was a really good day on the layout. I got a lot done, and on at least first passes of rolling freight cars through the switches, the Bullfrogs are keeping everything tight so the wheels are directed the right directions. I have the motivation to work on the layout again that had been lacking, just getting a project done has given me a real lift. I look forward to actually running some trains where I can hopefully be sure they will go where I want them to!