Miscellaneous Update #1

It’s been more than a week and I have no significant progress to report or at least anything that photographs. I have nevertheless made some progress on a couple of items.

Firstly, I have completed the beam engine beam to a functional if somewhat imperfect state. I messed up the rounding of one end but as that is cosmetic I just cleaned it up as best I could with a file. The original plans expected that the entire shaping of the round ends would be done with a saw and file so I am not way off.

I need to cut and fit a couple of shafts so I can assemble the progress so far. I have also begun on the last major piece, the cylinder itself. Not that it is the last piece of interest but everything else is in the nature of connecting things together.

Secondly, I have got enough code done on the traverser controller to be able to manually move the table at least once I get it connected to said table. I thing that needs to be the next thing since I have no sense of how fast the motor need to rotate to provide satisfactory move times nor how steep of an acceleration I have have without tipping over the stock on the table.

Traverser Control Dev Board

Here is my latest development(dev) board for the traverser control system for Comstock Road.

Prototype embedded systems are often embodied as a development(dev) board. This is, electronically, a complete system laid out on a printed circuit board instead of in whatever form factor the final product is expected to be in. The dev board is used by embedded software developers to create the firmware. Laying things out on a board makes it much easier to attach measuring instruments such as multimeters, oscilloscopes and logic analyzers to see what is actually happening in parts of the system.

Unlike the industry standard, my dev board is a literal pine plank with components attached to it but it serves the same purpose. All the parts are there and wired up, just not installed in the layout. Given how chilly the basement is right now and how far it is from my computer, this is a non-trivial advantage! Attaching everything to a board also allows me to move it around easily with reduced risk of damage.

Clockwise from the bottom right, the components are:

  • NEMA 23 stepper motor
  • Big Easy motor driver board with a barrel jack for power
  • 4×20 LCD display board
  • 2 limit switches
  • Arduino Uno with a screw terminal shield on top of it
  • Breadboard (so far just used as a ground bus)
  • Front panel with pushbuttons I built

Wire management could be better but it is clear enough to me in person. Now I just have to create the actual code.

Goals for a New Year

Lookit here, third post in as many days. Christmas sugar rush still in effect. I have a few things I would like to get done and putting it out there in a post is one way of adding a nudge towards action. I am blessed with the required resources of time and money but struggle with inertia, motivation, getting started, whatever you want to call it. I am also still alive so there is still hope for improvement. 🙂

At the risk of upsetting anyone who has seen too many corporate management fads go by, I am defining goals that fit my version of SMART(specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound). The specific is the important one to me, improve shop organization is vague, create a set of drawers for the lathe stand is specific. Everything can be done with infinite time so some target deadline helps me but I am not going to be too stressed about it. I am going to aim to get it all done by the end of May.

Without further ado, here are the ones I want to start with:

  • Machining – Complete Beam Engine: already ongoing
  • Shop Organization – Lathe Tool Rack: started on some widgets, need the thing to hang them on.
  • Shop Organization- Organize Measuring Tool Drawer: Kaizen foam in hand, need to work out a layout
  • Modelling – complete On30 railbus kit: this one is a bit ambitious but I think the machine shop gives me a way to fix my blocking issue
  • Comstock Road – Traverser Automation – I have already applied the paddles to this long dormant project, still working on rebuilding my development environment. With this done, I can complete the backdrop and mock all the structures.
  • Comstock Road – Rough Scenery – foam is half done. I want to finish that and get everything covered in basic ground cover.
  • Blog Regularly – I will aim for once a week at minimum. It may be me talking about why I haven’t done anything since last week…

That is all I am going to put on the list but of course there are many other projects lying about. Hopefully, this

Sieve Experiments

My soil sieve arrived unexpectedly early so I took advantage of the sunny weather to experiment outside and see what I could come up with. I started with some of the contents of a leftover bag of limestone screenings with thoughts of producing my own ballast. (When it’s not cinders, ballast in southern Ontario is usually limestone.)

The sieve came with three different meshes: 1mm, 3mm, and 5 mm. 1mm is about 2 O scale inches so about right for ballast. Or that was the theory, anyway. What I failed to account for was all the smaller bits and outright dust that also passes through that mesh. What I got was good “dirt” material but not ballast.

I then hunted around the house for something with a finer mesh. I was partially successful in that I found a bit of plastic screening but it looks to be about the same as the 1mm. I tried sandwhiching it between two of the screens and did get some “ballast”. I think it looks darn good but the amount produces is such a low ratio to the total material processed that I could not reasonably produce enough to do even a small layout such as Comstock Road.

Not to be discourages, I decided to use the “dirt” as a first texture layer on the foreground test scene. It is undeniably an improvement over brown paint.

Next I need to round up a suitable brush for stippling on glue and shoot some grass on this thing.

Foreground Staging: Useful Scenery Practice

I have been sporadically putting in the foam scenery base of Comstock Road but with no sense of urgency. I think that part of that lack of drive is due to a bit of uncertainty about the next steps. I know what they are, more or less, but have not done some of them in a long time (mixed Sculptamold in various consistencies and configurations) or ever (applied static grass). What I need is a practice project with low investment, material or emotional.

Coincidentally, I have been using my scheduled reading time to catch up on my pile of partially read model magazines and came across the perfect project concept. In the November 2020 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, George Dutka presents the idea of foreground staging. This is a small, simple, scenicked diorama used to provide foreground in layout photography and hide the front fascia. It also provides a way to temporarily deploy structures that don’t otherwise have a home. (If you are familiar with George’s work, you will know that he probably has an extra structure or two about the place. 🙂 )

Given the narrow depth and close to the edge track locations of Comstock Road, some foreground staging is something I can definitely use. The entire scene in front of the traverser will only be about 6″ deep. The diorama is inherently expendable and quick. So I am off! I have gotten as far as the “paint the Sculptamold” phase but am stalled a bit on some materials.

I am assembling appropriate ground textures from local sources, a process much slowed by the current Toronto area lockdown but not impossible. Hopefully, once I get ahold of some suitable sieves I can get this done. With curbside pickup and online shopping only, I can’t stroll the housewares aisles looking at the size of the meshes in the strainers so I have resorted to the online retailing behemoth for a set of soil sieves. Now we wait. And collect and dry used tea bags. By the time I get this done, I should have shaken out all the bugs in a basic scenery system.

As a thoroughly unimpressive illustration of the concept, here is what the aforementioned foreground track looks like with and without my work-in-progress foreground bit held in front of it.

Including of a structure to frame an edge will require a steadier setup than board held in left hand and phone in right. George recommends accumulating a suitable stack of boxes.

Some Pending Verticality

This is the current main loading dock side of Griffiths Foods, one of the few remaining rail served customers on the CN GECO spur. The view is facing west with the real Comstock Road is directly to the right. In the absence of any 1970’s photographs, I am going to take this and run with it, or at least what will fit.

The building front will be a maximum of 38 scale feet wide and mirrored to what is here. Main truck docks to the left will be implied to be in the off layout space in front.

Things I like about this and hope to capture:

  • Side by side truck and rail doors with the truck dock ramped down.
  • Despite a lack of any windows, there is a lot of things going on.
  • Clear progression of additions at different heights/widths.
  • Whatever that machinery on a plinth is to the right.
  • I have a big pile of 1:48 embossed brick sheet!

Things I am reasonably sure don’t belong in the 1970’s:

  • That metal siding at upper left. Covered windows perhaps?
  • Security camera on corner of building.
  • Gas bottle storage with exchangeable 20lb propane tank.

My current plan is a foamcore shell with brick sheets applied thereon. I will do the foamcore as a mockup to see how it looks.

About That Foam Scenery

During some of my scheduled shop time, I have been working towards getting all of the spaces between the tracks filled in with foam. The first priority to is relieve my anxiety about any derailments involving rolling stock making a fast trip to the concrete. Nothing even close to that has happened and I am generally well pleased with operational performance so far but it is still something I worry about.

Getting all those non regular shapes cut and fitted is time consuming and got me thinking about what I might do differently next time. I haven’t really settled on anything but I did want to share what I have learned about this approach. Queue the list.

  • Retrofitting foam is fiddly and time consuming. No matter what methodyou chose it will take time and probably involve a mess somewhere.
  • I have tried tracing the shapes onto the underside of the foam from below. This is awkward and not as accurate as I hoped. I always have to trim things down.
  • I have tried “routing” the shapes by tracing the edges from above using hot wire tools. This produces closer shape matches but has the various drawbacks of hot wire tools. Ironically, the Hot Wire Foam Factory router tool doesn’t work as well as the “knife” tool. The router is too short and too thick.
  • Foam board aka extruded polystyrene rigid insulation is very slow to cut with hot wire tools. The Hot Wire demo videos all depict white foam “bead board” and are clearly the intended material. I will consider using that instead for future projects if I don’t need the structural feature of the rigid foam.
  • Polyurethane glue works a treat but squeezing the bottle (LePage 200ml) for long beads is hard on the hands. I have resorted to using a quick grip clamp as a squeezer.
  • T-pins are great for holding foam bits together while the glue cures. T-pin use number eleventy-one.
  • Fumes from hot wire foam cutting are unpleasant. duh.
  • Getting the pictured foam in along the back edge strongly validates the removable backdrop design. It would be a real bother to do from the front.
  • Ditto having the layout lighting working.
  • Glue instructions say to dampen surfaces prior. Choose a stable container for your water supply. Just sayin’…

I expect to have everything roughed in sometime next week and will probably roll straight into some final contouring with additional layers of foam and sundry coatings. I have a jar of Foamcoat I intend to try out in addition to the traditional Sculptamold.

This Thing is Lit

While things have been off and on lately, I have finally managed to get the LED strip installed on (in?) the valance and wired up. The wired up part is only to the valance end as evidenced by the unsightly cord and power brick perched on the layout at back right. It should not take much more effort to get some concealed wires going down the back of the wing. I just need to settle on how to get from there to under the layout in a easily disconnectable manner.

I am happy with the lighting result but the intensity is on the weak side for photography. I will almost certainly add a second natural white strip in the not to distant future. I might make it switchable so I can vary intensity to suit.

I think that I will next have a go at complete the basic landforms and roll right into mocking up buildings.

Almost Done Painting

I was going to report that I was done with all the painting until I realized that I still need to do the rear of the backdrop sections. But all visible wood has been done. It is just waiting to finish drying before I reattach the front wings onto the sides. The quick install was verified as I reinstalled the sides as a convenient place to put the dry-to-the-touch pieces while they finished curing.

Things are going slower than they might have because my attempts to replace the now used up 21 year-old! can of Behr flat black paint foundered on the twin rocks of the whole paint code and formulation system having changed during that period as well as Behr seeming to have stopped shipping quart cans of flat. Gallons and sample size you can have but not a quart. No idea why but I do know that a sample size is not enough and, given how long it took me to use up the last quart, a gallon is more than a lifetime supply.

The resolution was to get a quart of Glidden flat black instead. The colour matches but the sheen is not identical. Fortunately I arranged to finish whole sections with the old can so nothing has to be half and half.

Once I get it all done and post the final result shot I will be out of excuses for hanging the LED light strip and getting on with the scenery.

What Colour Is The Sky?

It turns out that this is not a settled question, even in the real world. Local conditions can affect things enough that opinions will vary by geography, never mind personal perceptions. It also turns out that the Behr Android phone app and I have vastly different perceptions of what that sky blue colour is…

Long story short, I rashly tried once again to match a colour photographed under natural light with the app and did not get satisfactory results. My phone shows a nice sky blue and the paint is downright purple. Even with some added white it is never going to do except for perhaps as a participant in a spectacular western desert sunset.

I ended up finding an online discussion of sky paint colours and, for the record, went with somebody else’s light sky blue: Behr Serene Sky 540C-2. The failed match was Periwinkle P540-4. Interestingly, one of the reported sky colours in the found discussion was a periwinkle although not this one. No photo of the result as far as I could tell so who knows. I will stick to the pale white-ish blue suggesting a hazy summer day.

Here is the colour on first application with the failed contestant represented on the stir stick. You can see the some of the problem because even the sky blue looks purplish which is not representative of the in-person view at all. More photographic experience and fooling with lighting is indicated.