A Minor Triumph of Ergonomics

Inspired by my initial bit of wiring to get the loco off the traverser, I got stuck in on the wiring for the completed bits of trackage on the center section. Things are considerably more involved that two pieces of plain track so more time is needed. My lower back soon let me know that the awkward bending over I was doing was not appreciated. And then it hit me. When I regained consciousness, 🙂 I realized that the propped up section was at a perfect height to work on. If I was sitting down. A quick policing up of the floor in front of the layout (power cords, project box, …) later, I had my work bench chair in position and I was back on the job.

Here is the view from the chair.seatedwiring

I will do a separate post on my wiring methods, such as they are, but I wanted to touch on this particular advantage of sectional/modular/small layouts. The ability to tip up a section to get at the underside without crawling about on the floor is a definite advantage I had not really appreciated up till now. I have done enough crawling about under my own and others layouts that doing the same work seated upright seems so easy that it feels like cheating. And that is before we discuss the prospect of soldering wires while looking up: “The most important tool in the shop: Safety Glasses!” — Norm Abrams.

There are compromises that one has to make for a layout to be portable, some of which I would rather not, given a choice. It is nice to (re)discover an appreciation for one of the advantages.


Track Power Regularized


Comstock Road’s DCC bus in now powered in a proper way instead of the temporary hookup where I just connected command station to the traverser leads. The only track connected is the traverser and the two traverser lead segments on the same module but this means that I can run the loco on and off of the traverser. Operation!

More importantly, the command station and power supply are located at the far end of the layout and plugged into a dedicated outlet. When finishing the layout room in anticipation of the previous empire, I went all in and wired up the six circuits represented by the switches above. The intended uses were, in addition to room lights and general outlets, four outlets grouped at the end of the room for separate control of layout related circuits. Track, accessory, lighting and something else I don’t remember. It is a small thing but actually having the intended track power hooked up to actual track feels like an achievement.

Proper labelling TBD.

Jeweler Saw Practice

Having just finished the electronic part of installing a DCC decoder in Comstock Road’s lone Atlas O SW-8, I set out to finish the job by making sure everything was correctly insulated, taped down and able to fit inside the diecast metal shell. Perceptive readers might wonder why I mention the shell material. That is part of the fun!

Getting the wires all tucked in was not too much of a challenge but I then discovered that my estimation of clearance between speaker top and shell was, er, optimistic. The issue was the speaker mounting lugs cast into the inside of the shell. They are almost a fit for the chosen TCS speaker but only almost. I have also elected to not attach the speaker to the shell to give more clearance for a future detailed grill.

Here is what the inside looked like when I started.sw8mountlugs

Since the lugs had to go anyway, I resolved to “daylight” the opening back to something akin to the prototype rectangle. This would give plenty of room for the speaker to shoot upwards.

I got out my trusty jeweler’s saw and my excessive supply of #0 blades. Back in the day, I bought a gross of this blade size in a fit of enthusiasm and only afterwards discovered that #0 is too coarse for .015″ material. I have despaired of every finding a use for all those blades but no longer!

Even the relatively heavy #0 blades are fragile and do not tolerate careless use. You can turn corners in a cut but you have to carefully saw in place while rotating cautiously. If you push to hard you can jam the blade and snap it. Letting the work twist on the blade while repositioning can break a blade… You get the idea. Fortunately, I have about 12 dozen blades for just such an emergency. Or I did. I am now better at sawing and have less blades.expendovblades

Eventually, I got the opening cut out to my satisfaction. Here is the view from above with the shell on. (Apologies for the bad focus.)speakerhole

And here is the top view with the stock screens and grills back in place. All being black, the speaker is not visible unless you get up close and look straight.sw8postsurgery

DCC Install Complete-ish

Here is the full installation less wire tidying and any lighting connections. I don’t plan to hook up any of the lights because stripping the shell is in the near future so I don’t see the point.

This shot is very similar to the previous post except for the addition of the TCS speaker and LokSound PowerPack. Getting those soldered on was not any more difficult than the basic motor and pickup connections but my haste and ignorance did result in a bit of comedy.


Firstly, I have hooked up the ESU CabControl system but I haven’t read anything but the Quick Start card nor have I operated with the system elsewhere often enough to know it. I can just about remember that the first three function keys are light, bell and horn. So, first heart stopping moment was when I applied track power after hooking up the speaker and got… nothing, nichts, nada. (no smoke, either). But then I tested the controls and the loco moved so no fried decoder. Eventually, I figured out that I have to F8 to “start” the loco and the room filled with the glorious sound of a 567 winding up. After noodling back and forth enjoying the sound, I was off to apply the keep alive capacitor.

The connections for the keep alive are on the side of the bottom board so I removed the decoder proper to get clear access to the relevant pads. Soldering the three connections was easy and I excitedly put the loco back on the track for the big test of the full system. And nothing at all. Not even movement. A bit of checking of documentation (does it need to charge or something?), connections (did I short something this late in the game?) and head scratching later I realized that I had a very good view of the soldered connections. Almost like the decoder wasn’t blocking the view. After plugging the decoder back into the board, all was well and the family was summoned for the big demonstration run.

I then did a bit of switching of my test tank car back and forth between two approach tracks and the traverser. I now have strong motivation to get the wiring sorted so more extensive running can be done. And also so I can move the DCC base unit off of its precarious perch on top of the layout.

In at the DCC Deep End

My big recent hobby related purchase was a DCC system. Since the incumbent control solution is an MRC Tech II 2500, moving to an ESU CabControl system skips about 30 years of progress. With the cart firmly in front of the horse, I set off to develop a decoder solution for Comstock Road’s singular non-DCC ready Atlas O SW-8. Which will also be my very first decoder installation.

After some research, I elected to keep giving ESU Loksound my business and went with the following:

  • LokSound L Select decoder (with recently available EMD 567CR sound file for correct 8-cylinder 567 sound!)
  • TSU large oval speaker that almost exactly fits the opening under the top grill.
  • LokSound PowerPack Maxi

One of the big advantages of standard gauge O scale is that there is buckets of room inside a diesel shell for you to put a decoder. No milling frames or faffing about trying to isolate the motor from the frame.

After playing hide and seek to figure out where I hid my sheet of .040″ styrene, I was off. Credit for the general approach goes to a post by “Bob, Curator of the A&O Historical Society” on the O Gauge Railroading forum.

Over the course of Sunday, I got the loco apart, the platform made, platform and decoder fixed in place and the leads for the track pickups and motor soldered. This is the minimum to actually run the loco so of course, I did.

Not pretty but there was a soothing lack of magic smoke containment failure and the DCC age dawned on Comstock Road as the shell-less chassis trundled back and forth on a traverser track. Sound, electrical resilience and wire management pending.


DIY Jumper Wires

Anyone who has ever built a prototype circuit using a breadboard has encountered jumper wires. These wires have connectors on the ends which can fit into the holes on the board as well as the appropriate connectors on circuit boards. There are also male and female connectors (a jumper wire has a 1 wire version of these on each end). These connectors are usually referred to as type JR. You can purchase some premade but if you want anything odd like a 10 wire connector splitting to 6 and 4 connectors, you need to make your own. And of course, there is a crimper for that.

My plan for hooking up the control panel for Comstock Road’s traverser control panel involves the aforementioned split arrangement. This became the pretext to purchase yet another crimping tool along with the appropriate connector kits. And learning began…

I discovered that getting a good crimp was a bit of a challenge and it took a couple of YouTube video watchings and 3 out of 4 pins on the connector botched before I got it sorted. You cannot buy the pins separately so off I went to get another connector. Fortunately, the 4-wire connector is less than a dollar so the tuition is not high. If you get one of these crimpers, buy extra connectors for practice.

Here is the tool and the 4 and 10 pin connectors in progress.jrcrimp

Micromark Spiking Pliers

After a very stressful couple of weeks, it was good to get home and do a bit of work on the layout. I finished correcting the various gauge tightness issues on the high track turnout (rail braces can only push in, not pull out so you had better start wide) and have got the guard rails and rail braces installed. I will still need to fit the gauge plates and throw rods but the test car runs through each leg if I spike the points over. I am pleased that I have got things all working without messing up the flowing lines in the original Templot template.hightrackturnout

In doing this bit of trackwork, I have been trying out another one of my purchases from the GTA Train Show: a pair of Micromark spike insertion pliers. I had been meaning to get a pair whenever but a vendor at the show had a large array of Micromark items available including the pliers so I jumped at the chance to get them right now.

The plier are similar in feel to rail nippers but have flat jaws with a T-shaped groove in the ends to hold a spike. My dodgy photo show the T but the Micromark site has a much better version.


These pliers are kind of pricey and I was not certain they would work with the Proto87 Stores etched spikes but it turns out they do! The fit isn’t tight but it works well enough and considerably better than the ol’ needle nose.

I estimate that using these pliers doubles the speed at which I can get a spike in while also reducing the number of bent spike failures. Bent spikes are an expense in modeler composure if nothing else. 10 seconds vs about 20 doesn’t sound like a big deal and in the single case it isn’t. If I calculate the total savings in time then the purchase is a no brainer.

roughly 36 feet of track x 22 ties per foot x 4 spikes per tie x 10 seconds = 3160 seconds ~ 9 hours

~$30 / 9 hours is 3.33 / hour.  Anyone’s time is definitely worth more than that. The reduced aggravation from more precise spike placement and fewer (almost none) bent spikes also significantly increases my enjoyment of track laying. Another on my list of should have done it a long time ago things.