Tuesday, November 28, 2023

A Second Look

Time has a way of changing one's perspectives.  It's not usually a sudden change but instead one that happens on its own schedule.  

As I have practiced Photoshop and other photo processing software, I have become more adept at creating images that more effectively communicate the feeling I had when I made the image.  That is a goal of my prototype photography, and also my modeling - to take the viewer along for  the experience.  

Here's an image from a 2014 trip to Syracuse, NY, expressly to photograph the last stand of the classic searchlight signals on the former NYC main line.  These signals worked into the Conrail era and beyond into the CSX era, and were finally replaced about a year after I made these images with modern color-light signals.  This experience was awesome - this train surprised us, following another westbound, and the sky was in the last stage of dusk.  The image was a tough one.  Last daylight with a camera of that era had a photograph with reds all washed out, muddy shadows and a bland sky.

Back in 2014, my skills weren't enough to even show this image to anyone!  Today, while I am still a long way from being an expert with this, I was able to bring the image to a spot in my mind's eye that reminded me of standing there in the cold, shivering, waiting for one more shot.  Reds were restored, the sky layered up, and color temperature adjusted.  And so here we have Q367, if I recall, the daily Selkirk-to-Chicago manifest train.  Today it is complete with Union Pacific power enroute to home rails.  

And we have an image that is worthy of the memory:  for a moment, it's like being there.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and best wishes into the holiday season!

Monday, November 6, 2023

State of Good Repair: Improving Signal Reliability

It is amazing to me that the signals on the Onondaga Cutoff are all approaching 10 years in operation.  The system has worked very well, overall, and I would do it again given the options back then.  The only downside to the current-based detection and the 3.6k Ohm resistors is the rate at which the rails get dirty.  A simple track cleaning ahead of each session essentially guarantees excellent detection, which is the foundation of good signal operations.  

One other intermittent issue which comes up each fall and each spring as the weather changes is the occasional dark head issues with the signals.  In nearly every case, that has turned out to be traced to loose wires in the screw terminals (Digitrax 'TSMK' boards) beneath each signal.  The searchlight heads are comprised of three LEDs in each head, one each for red, yellow, and green.  The wires that connect them to the system are tiny: 'magnet' wire, a superfine insulated 36-gauge copper wire.  

The screw terminals are better with about 24 or 26 gauge wire.  Even when I doubled up the ends of each of the magnet wire by looping it back on itself, some of the heads would work just loose enough with the change of seasons and we'd have a dark head present itself during a session.  I considered soldering under the layout to make a better connection, but the process would have been arduous at best and create a situation where removing a signal if needed would require more soldering or cutting wires.  Yuck!  

A tip from fellow signal modeler Rodney Kantorski turned me on to a tool called a ferrule, essentially a small metal tube with a plastic collar at one end.  The thin wire slides inside, and a special crimper is then used to crimp the metal ferrule tube tightly about the wire, essentially increasing the gauge with no soldering needed.  Thanks, Rodney!

This allows the wire (plus crimped ferrule) to be reinserted into the screw terminal and tightened, which results in a nice robust friction connection.  

So far, every head so equipped has had no issues with the weather change.  Success!  State of good repair projects can really add to the satisfaction in the hobby.