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…

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.

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.

Fascia Covering for the Layout Part 2

Another day, another step forward. Following on from yesterdays post, I have now trimmed and glued on the majority of the fascia styrene. There are a few spots around the peninsula hinge where some detail work is needed, otherwise, its done. You can see yesterday’s post for details of the work, but today is just a quick post showing the difference a simple sheet of styrene cut up and glued onto the subfascia hiding the wood and foam, and instantly making the layout look like it belongs and is a part of the furniture, rather than something that doesn’t belong.

IMG_1060IMG_1307December 31, 2019 top without the black styrene, January 19, 2020 bottom with, the layout to me at least now looks like it belongs in the room!
IMG_1305IMG_1308Similarly, the closet and CPR staging (both taken today), now the lighting valance attached to the closet shelf looks out of place, no worries, plenty of styrene left to quickly cover that and create a window box effect for staging.

Yesterday’s post generated some really insightful discussion on the styrene and preparing it for painting. The task of painting is well down the line for me, but its a discussion worth having now. I know at least one other modeller whose layout I’ve visited uses styrene on the fascia. I’ll have to ask him when next I see him what paint he uses on it, and if he did anything to the styrene to prep it. I’m also curious now if his results are different because he used white styrene vs black. The learning continues!

Helping a Friend with a Side Project

A friend and co-worker Adam who is also an N-scale model railroader had been asking me for some help with a project, as he doesn’t have any experience airbrushing, or facilities to do so. Ordinarily, I would suggest for teaching I would have gotten together on more than one occasion, but he has a bit of a rush to finish this, so I told him if he dropped the parts off to me at work last week, I could prep and prime them, and he can come over to do the finish airbrushing of colour next week and take everything home to assemble.

Micro Trains N-scale Tie Crane, a part of a 3 pack of service gondolas they sell. The small print on the purchase is the crane is a “multimedia” kit. The largest part is 3D printed, but comes complete with the print raft attached still.

The project is a small crane that rides above gondolas, and can walk its way between cars that is used on MOW service. Its actually a pretty cool model, but when I was searching online after he told me about what he needed to work on, it wasn’t clear in any of the marketing material that part of what you are buying is a kit, along with the three weathered gondolas it comes with. I think this caught out Adam’s dad whose model this actually is too! Eventually, I found the instructions online, its pretty simple assembly. The parts are actually quite nice once the 3D print support material is removed, and the flash on the resin castings cleaned up. It even has a really nice etched claw for the tie grabber.

Conveniently, the only N-scale car I have is the Rapido Trains Mike McGrattan Memorial Car (RIP Mike). The Micro Trains tie loader fits it to check everything is ok after cleaning up the parts.

Since its snowing like crazy in Toronto today, and I was doing train stuff, I pulled out the spray booth and painted a few sets of wheels, and put a quick coat of primer on the parts for the crane. As I said, in a perfect world, Adam and I would have been able to schedule a couple of get togethers so he could prime and paint, but at least I can work with him on the painting, and of course, as Maintenance of Way equipment, he wants to paint it yellow, so he’s at least picked a hard colour to get right for his learning!!

IMG_1283Hit with primer, my work here is done other than to show Adam his way around my airbrush Monday night.