Saturday, December 25, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
This project will save money for all of us building a DCC system who can find older turnouts used, or that matter, have old turnouts lying around, but not yet laid. For example, I got my 50 Shinohara electrofrog turnouts for $5 each, albeit heavily used. Regardless, this is much more cost-effective than the $25-$35 you pay for these new!
When you really sit and think about it, however, this process seems trickier than it sounds at first. I went ahead and experimented. I destroyed two turnouts in the process, but figured out a way to spend about 20 minutes work per turnout and have a good-looking, DCC-friendly machine in the end.
Frog number - anyone know how this works? There is a precise trigonometric calculation (cosecants and cotangent angles) used by American railroads, but for our modeling purposes, we can treat it like a ratio of 'rise over run' as European railroad engineers do. The 'rise' is how far the divergent track diverges per the unit length - so, therefore, the frog number is a geometric ratio of distance-to-offset. A #4 frog (or #4 turnout) therefore measures four units along the straight route, while moving one unit along the diverging route. Similarly, a #6 turnout measures 6 units along the straight for every unit diverging. So, the larger the number, the more gentle the offset, and the more gradual the turnout.
For example, a #6 turnout that is 12 inches from the points to the end of the straight route will have the diverging route be 2 inches away [(1/6)*12=2] from the straight route by the end of the turnout.
Electrically, it is no secret that 2-rail model railroads generally run on DC power, with each rail an opposite polarity. For DC railroads, then, with conventional non-DCC power, reversing the polarity reverses the current, and therefore the direction the motor spins. Turnouts complicate things because rails of opposite polarity cross at the frog. Therefore, there are two choices: a permanently-isolated frog, or a frog that changes polarity to match the direction for which the turnout is lined, with that electronic conductivity provided by the point rails closing against the stock rails. Frogs that are powered by the point rail contacts can cause problems with DCC, as a simple derailment (or out-of-gauge metal wheelset) can cause momentary contact across opposite polarity rails, which can cause quick damage to the sensitive DCC decoders. Additionally, many manufacturers made turnouts with both opposite points connected by soldered crossbars, riveted in the center to ties or the throwbar, increasing further the chance of a short.
In many older turnouts, the frog is powered by way of point contact. This includes older Atlas, Peco, Shinohara (Walthers), and Micro-Engineering designs. As you can see below, there are no gaps to insulate the rails in the frog from each other - the entire frog and point rails all share the same polarity by way of point contact.
The key here is that the point rails need power, especially if you have insulated frogs as described above, so that there are no stalls. In some many older turnouts, the points are soldered together by means of metal crossbars, which are in turn riveted to the plastic ties or throwbar. See the photo below.
How does one isolate each rail if, by design, they are soldered together and riveted as one to the ties?
First, keeping the general alignment of the points is crucial for throw machines to align the points correctly after modification. (I screwed this up, but was able to work around it). My method was to carefully cut strips of .15" thick styrene from a sheet to fit between the ties, perpendicular to the points, and to secure these from below with small dabs of Walthers GOO adhesive on each point rail. I put two on the points, one on each end, mounting them from below, several ties from the rivets.
Once that cures overnight, I used my Dremel tool and cutting disc to cut vertically through the metal connection bars and their copper contacts beneath. This caused a mess, but thanks to the styrene strips, the points held their gauge. I used an x-acto knife to clean up the burrs caused by the cutting disc. In the photo below, see the slice in the heel-point connector bar.
Once that is complete, the addition of several more styrene strips beneath the points and two on top of the point assembly over the old connections stiffens up the modification and improves the overall look as well. Again, an overnight cure will allow all to set up well.
I test the isolation by hooking the turnout to a conventional transformer, throwing the turnout, and then checking for shorts if I bridge a point rail with the adjacent stock rail. If there are no shorts, then my isolation is complete!
Finally, we need to make a modification to connect the now-isolated point rails to the stock rails to match their polarity, which in turn will be soldered to feeders and the bus. Since each point rail only needs to be connected to the adjacent stock rail, small 1/4" pieces of scrap brass or copper can be soldered, creating an electrical bridge (e-bridge) to the points.
Early on in this process, I invested in a resistance soldering machine, which has been nothing short of a Godsend for wiring. While a regular pencil iron works best for bus/feeder connections, the resistance machine is CRUCIAL for small, neat joints between feeders and rail, and in this case between e-bridges and point rails.
To install the e-bridges, I place the turnout upside down the work bench, then use a razor saw to remove the plastic webbing between ties. With the rail bottoms exposed, buff the nickel-silver bottom of the rails with a wire disc on your Dremel, apply a dab of flux and 1/4" piece of brass wire, then resistance-solder the wire in place. Work quickly to avoid melting and warping the nearby ties. If they do melt, use the x-acto blade or any tool to straighten them while they are soft. You can see on mine that the ties did warp a bit, but to me, that looks prototypical for a yard switch anyway. The final soldered connections are visible in the photo above with the tube of Goo above the turnout.
The bright-white styrene strips between the points will disappear if painted rail brown, and actually do a plausible job of approximating some styles of prototype throw bar. In my case, I think they even look better than the big, ugly round rivet in the turnouts as they were manufactured! Here a modified curved turnout in Onondaga Yard has been laid in place, weathered, and linked to a Caboose Industries Inc. ground throw.
All for now. Good luck, and my sincere best wishes to all through the Holidays and for a happy, healthy 2011!
Monday, December 20, 2010
I am working on a big post regarding my turnout modification process and will have that up later this week. Best wishes to all; thanks for your patience as we come to the start of the new year!
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Then it is on to the engine yard, which will be its own challenge, but is considerably smaller than the yard itself.
Here is the newly-laid East End of Ononodaga Yard, with the yard tracks stretching into the distance. The main line is to the left, then continuing to the right are the south yard, north yard, and finally the North Runner. The turnout to the future engine facility is at extreme right.
The view of the yard from the West End is also much more enjoyable now with the yard all in place:
It is important to test all this trackwork before going for DCC - derailments now are a hassle but don't fry decoders! I can fine-tune all the joints, turnouts, and gaps to ensure when I plug in DCC and run the first train into the yard I don't end up with constant problems. For this purpose, I put together a train of varied cars, and run it through the yard as tracks become 'live' with feeders. This is a 25-car train, a good length for a future operation that would terminate and originate at Onondaga Yard. I took the liberty of calling this SEON, Selkirk (Albany), NY to Onondaga Yard. SD40-2 6495 leads a C30-7A into the North Runner:
Lots of fun. It will be great to populate the yard once it is all wired, and even more fun to switch the yard with a radio-controlled DCC throttle and train, while mainline trains pass at speed. Good times coming on the Onondaga Cutoff!
Friday, October 22, 2010
Main Unit: Visible Main Line
Short Line (not yet installed)
Booster Unit: Onondaga Yards/Engine Facility
Staging and hidden mainlines
This arrangement should keep my current draw below the 5-amp maximum, even with up to 4 or 5 units pulling long trains. Both mainline tracks are wired to the same bus. A basic 'blue box' Athearn unit that is in good shape draws about 0.6 to 0.7 amps at full throttle, and most other motors (Atlas, Kato, newer Athearn) are lower, so I can run about 6-8 units at full throttle at once on any power district - even with two big trains on the main line, I should have some spare capacity.
Spending hundreds on a one-shot deal with this hobby is unsettling, but Kristen supports it and at the least this should be the last time I do this for quite a while. My first task will be to install a decoder in a few engines, then make the big switch and hook up the new control system - and a new era will begin!
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Layout progress has continued, little by little, as I align the east end yard ladder tracks with the mainline turnouts at CP 280. After putting in the west end of the yard, I did not lay more than a few feet of yard track, as the alignment of the turnouts on the east end will dictate spacing of the yard tracks as they approach the east end. Once the turnouts are in, I can line everything up and secure it.
Enjoy the fall (and fall beers!) while it lasts! Plenty of time for model railroading coming soon.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Then, to test my kitbashed 'insulated' (i.e. DCC-friendly) switches, I wired the entire west end of the yard to its own bus wire, just to be sure that an engine would run through the trackwork and not short out. (A post about how I modified the switches is forthcoming.) Later this fall, the yard bus will be powered by a separate DCC booster than the mainline, and will have its own power-breaker, so as not to short the whole railroad when there is a minor yard derailment. So far, so good.
Here is the west end area as it looks now, glued in place and fully wired. All that remains for new track now is the eventual shortline connection (far back left in this view) and the trackage for Niagara Mohawk Propane (the switch at far right, on the North Runner).
I will have some time for more yard progress tonight - a few more pieces of track for tracklaying, and then wiring what I put in last night. Little by little!
Monday, September 27, 2010
First we put together a lashup of 1980's/90's Guilford power - an ex-N&W SD45, an ex-AT&SF SD26, and an ex-Illinois Terminal SD39. Three specific designs of locomotive that never wore Conrail paint cross the Nine-Mile Creek bridge eastbound on what we called a 'WAME' (Waterville, Maine to Mechanicville Yard, NY):
Following that, Mark pulled out a few units that he'd painted up in Boston & Maine schemes, and we built lashup of those for the same train:
Sharing model experiences like this is always fun, and I hope to continue the trend from time to time even after DCC!
Thursday, September 23, 2010
However, when I have 20 mintues or so to spare, I can get in the basement and lay a few feet of yard track, or solder a few feeder cables. Every little bit counts. I think that one of the keys with modeling like this is to make the most of whatever time you can get, and to try and do at least one little thing each day. Currently that is all work in the yard. I now have the west end, south yard ladder in place, and even installed the Caboose Industries ground throws that came with my box of used track and switches.
Upcoming updates: a New England 'operating session' with my friend Mark's B&M and Guilford power, an update on modifying old non-DCC friendly switches to DCC, and yard ladder design.
It is amazing that this time last year, I was still laying track in staging, and could not even run a train around the layout. So, this year has been a year of progress - even though it feels slow sometimes.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
My givens were the double-track main and the possibility of two trains working at once. Therefore, out at CP282 on the west end, I needed a universal interlocking, and I needed two yard leads that were both accessible from both directions. Here we see how that ended up looking, with weights holding down the first of the yard to be glued in place - the west end of the 'north runner':
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
I am aiming to get another update in this week, and will cover some of the recent decisions of yard design, roadbed selection, and switch modification for DCC safety, and will also have a few photos from my first guest operator - a long-time friend brought over a few of his B&M and Guilford units for an evening, and we put together a train for him and had a few beers. Model railroading is a community hobby!
More to come soon!
Friday, August 20, 2010
And, that brings us to the next point: the yard.
Monday, August 9, 2010
I now have all the Tortoise machines in hand, and have only a few more to install. I will rig up the temporary model boards as well, before it will be time to either lay the yard tracks or order and install the DCC system.
Major changes coming soon!
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Monday, June 28, 2010
Also, CP 277 is fully installed and operational. Just two more interlockings to wire! At this rate, I think that a DCC system will be purchased later this summer, before yard tracks are installed. The jury is still out on that one. :-)
Photos to come soon include two trains at once, and shots of CP 277!
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
A few photos: more locomotives are being upgraded. It's nice to see some of these again, for the first time in several years! This is a model I detailed and painted to represent Conrail's last SD40-2 as ordered from EMD. 6524 was the last as-delivered SD40-2 on the roster, and today is CSX 8868:
Monday, June 14, 2010
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
In testing, I tried a train of 30 cars and had no issue, and a train of 51 cars, which had a few issues for lighter cars at the front of the train. Once those cars were moved towards the rear of the train, I was able to run a 3-unit lashup with 51 cars with no issues at all. That is longer than most of my trains will be, but it's nice to know I can do it! The sound of that many metal wheels was neat!
I will be laying Track 1 around the remainder of the mainline, and upgrading locomotives as time allows. Next comes the full wiring of the main, and then the installation of switch machines and their wiring.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
One of the things that having the mainline complete will allow is operating 6-axle power for the first time in years. In advance of that, I have started to change out all the old Athearn sintered iron wheelsets to nickel-plated brass wheels, made by Northwest Short Line. Here is Conrail SD50 6789 with her new shoes:
The track looks pretty toy-like, right? I put a bit of old ballast down to see how that looked. It's too white, and still, the track needs weathering. All those things in good time :-) For now, here's 6789 positioned westbound approaching CP 277 with some ballast down:
And, finally, a shot of 6789 again, this time positioned on the big, superelevated curve westbound coming into CP 280:Before long, it will be time to weather the 9-Mile Creek bridge and install the bridge track to complete the main line. Then I can run big trains while working on wiring, yard tracks, backdrop, and upgrading locomotives...but at least there will be trains running!
Monday, May 17, 2010
We can see here some other minor plan adjustments as the work continues - the proposed lengthening of the short line, as well as an angle to the engine yard, etc. Actual yard layout will be modified to use what track I have access to.
More photos will come soon as I near the completion of the main line!
Monday, April 26, 2010
A recent article in Model Railroader was written by a modeler who never used commercial flex track or switches, preferring to have the realism offered by hand-laying. Recently he needed to finish a new addition to his layout quickly and had to use commercial products, and wrote an article on how he made them work with his design. One idea of his that I used over the weekend was to modify commercial switches to flow better with my design at the east end of CP 282 - this is a Shinohara (Walthers) #8 frog, left-hand switch. I cut the long ties on the far side of the frog with a razor saw, used a utility knife to remove the tie spacers beneath the rails, and then gently and patiently curved the main route and diverging route to match the adjacent curves. I am very happy with the results - subtle, but crucial to the future alignment.
On the far side of CP 282, along what will be Onondaga Yard, the mainline makes a sweeping curve. I use masking tape, layered and staggered by several inches on each end to 'step up' to the full superelevation gradually at both ends of the curve. Pictured here, Track 1 has the tape installed, while Track 2 to the left is waiting for tape.
So, the interlocking at CP 282 is now in place, though not yet operational. Here is the overview for an eastbound train. The North Runner for Onondaga Yard comes off on the left in this view, and the connector to the M&E is on the right in the middle distance:
As always, more to come - each rainy weekend allows some time to make some progress!