Windows For Willy

One of the non-Comstock Road projects I have in my collection of projects in progress is a Bar Mills HO Waterfront Willy’s kit. Being taken with a desire for a change from track spiking and circuit wrangling, I pulled the project box out and set about figuring out where I was at.

Where I was at turned out to be adding window castings previously painted. That went well until I realized that there were more window holes than window castings. A short amount of searching and vocabulary exercising later, I concluded that I was indeed short three castings. I have no idea whether that was because I lost them or the kit was short so I contacted Bar Mills and enquired about buying the missing windows. They kindly undertook to mail me some. They have so far declined to take my money. I appreciate the prompt and understanding customer support!

Anyway, I have got all the windows stuck on, the eave and door trim boards applied and the two doors assembled. I just set them in place for the photo which reveals one crooked in the opening which is an argument in favour of photographing your modelling to reveal areas in need of improvement.



LCD Standoff

One of the challenges I face in constructing the control system for the traverser automation is that I am using prototyping components. These are standalone boards used to mock up a system but not usually used in a “product”. Typically, one designs a custom printed circuit board that has all the components on it and does not require various boards wired together. Since I am only ever going to need one of these, I am just building it out of the prototyping components.

Which leads to the challenge of attaching the LCD board to the panel. I cut a suitable sized opening but I still needed to fix the board in place. I settled on using 3/8″ standoffs. These have threaded holes in each end so I could use the holes already provided on each board corner and the ones I drilled in the panel.

The fit in the opening isn’t perfect but about as good as I can get without some sort of bezel to cover the gap. I also had to cut down 8 screws to get since 3/8″ is less than 2×3/8″ and that is the shortest machine screws I could find.


And here is the current panel front.


Next step is some sort of wire harness for a detachable connection from the panel to the Arduino which will have to be a bit of distance away. Jumper wires and a breadboard are not a great permanent solution. 😛

Charging the Hill

I managed to put a good couple of hours in on tracklaying today. I decided that I wanted to be able to run up the ramp to the elevated siding. Getting that done will finish off the trackwork that needs to be done from the rear of the layout. That, in turn, will allow me to rough in the scenery and put up the backdrop without needing to take it on and off frequently. (Famous last words…)

With that goal in mind, I installed the frog and diverging stock rail for the turnout leading to the hill and carried on up the hill. By the time the game was called on account of darkness I had rail all the way to the end with the end pieces in the process of being spiked down. I also got the closure rails cut and feeders installed (feedered?) so I can spike those down as well without having to break out the soldering iron. I even remembered to install the joint reinforcing brass screws before I spiked rail over the joint. There is a first time for everything. 🙂


I am reasonably certain my Atlas SW-8 will have no problem negotiating the stiff but short grade with a car or two. I am for sure certain that a derail and some sort of positive braking mechanism will be required since the grade can impart quite a bit of speed to a car rolling from the top.

I discovered that there is a downside to roller gauges. I had to deploy a t-pin to keep a gauge where I needed it. This may indicate an insufficiently tight tolerance in my gauge design.gradebrake

A Couple Buttons Short of a Panel…

is not what I want on my tombstone. It does describe my progress this weekend. I planned, cut out, drilled and primed a control panel for the traverser. This seems early since I don’t have the prototype control system and firmware done but the quantity fo buttons and all flapping about on jumper wires would get a bit out of hand. By the time I tied it all down to a plank, I might as well just build the panel. The current plan is:

  • One button for each of the five traverser positions. Moving to a position will be just a single button press.
  • To make non-routine actions like testing and programming user friendly, I decided to splurge on a 4×20 LCD screen. (4 lines x 20 characters per line).
  • A sixth button for non-routine actions like panic stop and invoking a menu system.

Here is the panel with 4 out of sixth buttons installed and the LCD friction fitted in place. I need to pick up some standoffs to attach the LCD to the panel. I am mildly irritated to admit that I also need to pick up two more black pushbuttons. I am sure I have more but I couldn’t turn them up. And they come in pairs so there is at least one adrift somewhere.


The LCD is backlit so it is easy to read when powered. I have also got as far as a basic “Hello, World” hookup of LCD board to Arduino board via I2C. The coding is, as usual for Arduino, dead easy. The minor challenge was in figuring out which wire went to which pin. I will need to find an app for creating circuit schematics so I can document the hookup.


The lit LCD confuses my camera phone since this shot was taken in a lit room.

0.35mm Off the Middle

The lead screw kit I recently acquired for the traverser included an 8mmx6mm flexible coupler for joining 8mm lead screw to a stepper motor. I had hoped that the specs meant 6.35″ aka 1/4″ but no such luck. My choices where either to go and buy an 8×6.35 coupler from my local robotics store (yeah, being able to say that is kind of cheating) or drill out the 6mm hole to take a 1/4″ shaft. The couplers are less than $10CDN so it isn’t that big a deal but I decided that drilling with my lathe was a capability I needed to exercise.

Of course, I didn’t have an appropriate set of drill bits so out I went to the local big box store. $50 later, I was ready to save $10. Payback on the lathe is going to take a long time at this rate. 🙂 Seriously, though, I think a boring capability (for bigger holes) is the only thing I still need to acquire. From hereon in, it should be all down hill.

The actual setup and operation was refreshingly simple, I just removed the set screws from the coupler, chucked it in the self-centering three jaw chuck, chucked the bit in the Jacobs chuck in the tail stock, adjusted for distance and drilled away. It took no more than five minutes.

If this was all I ever needed to do, the lathe would obviously be overkill. On the other hand, having one available makes this sort of thing dead easy and it gives me satisfaction to get useful things done with it.

Here is the setup with the work just done:upsized

And here is the coupler installed on the stepper shaft.quarterinched

Some Primary Research

I have previously mention my plans to detail my Atlas SW-8 as a Canadian National unit for Comstock Road’s primary Motive Power. I am lucky in that there are many photographs of these units to be had. The issue is that railfans have different photographic goals than model makers. They never include one of those dimensioned sticks for instance. They also are less concerned with underbody, pilot or roof detail although bridge shots do tend to cover the latter.

Thanks to a Tuesday Train post by Stephen Gardiner, I knew there was a plinthed CNR SW-8 in Memorial Park in Lindsay, Ontario. Which is conveniently on the way to this years canoe trip. I managed the time to stop by the park with notebook, tape measure and phone/camera in hand to gather some information. I am especially interested in the shop-built handrails that replaced the factory hood mounted ones.

I had a warm but enjoyable time climbing up and down over the loco accompanied by half a dozen railfans in the 5-8 year old age bracket. I was the only one taking notes and measurements and allowed to climb about unsupervised so nyeah! 🙂

I took many badly composed but useful detail shots and learned a few things you can’t tell from photos. For example, the handrail stanchion bases look solid from any normal angle but are actually formed from 1/4″ steel plate just like the stanchions themselves. I foresee a use for my Micromark photo etch kit in the not-to-distant future! stanchion_base_down

I also took shots of the brake gear, the pilots, the headlights, etc. Here is another shot railfans would see no reason for.8510_shorthoodpilot

All these shots are of a restored locomotive so there may be some deviations from the original (other than the missing spark arrestor and blocked off windows) so I will check for other sources where I can but this is way better than just working off shadows in photographs.

Here is an overall shot of the long hood end just to round things off.8510_longhoodend

FYI, the side handrails are centered 3 feet about the walkway. Somebody liked round numbers. 🙂


Weekend, er, Canoe Trip Reading: Track by Jim Pike


Track by Jim Pike  is one of the book deals I got at the Great British Train Show 2018. It is also the unread book I chose to take on this year’s canoe trip with my teenagers. The apple not falling far from this particular tree, I had to set a limit of one book each since it all has to get carried over portages. The Ziploc freezer bag is inner line of defense. The outer line being the barrel pack it rode in.

This an interesting book for those curious about the history of railway track construction. Written from a UK perspective, it covers the evolution of guided ground transport starting from medieval mine carts. Jim Pike, the author freely admits that this is an arbitrary choice. He also wisely brushes off that whole how did 4’8.5″ become standard gauge. Signaling is also not covered since it is well covered elsewhere.

Track focuses on the construction details of the track systems themselves: rails, sleepers(ties), wheels and fasteners. Methods of handling diverging routes and crossings are covered as well as some lineside features such as mile markers. I use the vague term “diverging routes” because the breadth of track systems covered includes those where turnouts and the like are not used. All sorts of interesting oddities get a mention including a steam powered Irish monorail that made it up into the 1920’s and an inclined line of variable gauge! that survived long enough that the owning entity that closed it was British Rail.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the history of track construction. You, too, can find out interesting things like why UK track workers are called platelayers. (And wonder why they are still called that.) Published in 2010, Track by Jim Pike is available through various online retailers in both physical and e-book form.