Putting a Stop to It

Now that I can run the loco on Comstock Road, there now exists the possibility of rolling stock taking inadvertent flying lessons. This is much to be avoided so after one scare involving a combination of touch screen finger trouble and momentum effects I knew I need to take steps. It is a small job but it is now a small job done. I cut up some scrap pieces of 1/4″ plywood and made stoppers for the four ends of track. They are fastened to the subroadbed with wood screws which should stop the loco unless it really gets up a head of steam.

The end on shot is an artifact of having to detach the section to get at the ends which normally are about 6″ from the wall. I am pleased to have this taken care of until I get scenery and/or backdrop ends installed.



Weekend Reading: Animated Scale Models Handbook

animatedscalemodels.jpgWhile I was in Kingston, ON on Saturday, I was able to take a bit of time to visit the Kingston Railfair train show. As is my habit, I browsed through the used books because one can never have too many books! I was lucky enough to come across Animated Scale Models Handbook by Adolph F. Frank. It was inexpensively priced so I took it into custody out of curiosity.

I am pleased to say that I am not disappointed in my latest acquisition. I have not finished reading it yet I soon will. Published in 1981, Animated Scale Models describes methods, materials and mechanism for animation predating the advent of inexpensive microcontrollers, stepper motors and servos. While some of what is described has been superceded, much of the wisdom of creating mechanisms from simple materials still looks useful.

Materials and tools described are only the ordinary sort that can be easily obtained. While the tool list certainly does not include a lather, I am also certainly going to find things to do with mine in this book. And save money either way. One can buy pulleys from a hobby robotics supplier, for instance, but the cost can add up in a hurry. Using the techniques in this book, one can readily build inexpensive alternatives that are exactly what is needed.

The book itself is soft bound and printed on non-glossy paper. It is well illustrated with plenty of clear drawings but despite the blurb on the back cover, no photographs other than the one on the cover. No pretty pictures here, just the stuff you actually need. Chapters include basic components, speed reduction mechanisms, mechanical movements,  and various example projects including a ferris wheel, a factory with a bicycle assembly line and more prosaic things like a small house with a man swinging a hammer to repair the roof and grandma rocking her rocking chair on the porch.

I think I can safely assert that any model railroader could find something useful in the Animated Scale Models Handbook. I look forward to employing some of these techniques to liven up Comstock Road. While apparently no longer in print, the online book retailers seem to have multiple used copies available at very attractive prices if you are interested.

Comstock Road at One Year

It has been approximately a year since I finalized a trackplan and started construction of Comstock Road. As one does, I took stock of how things had gone.

Current state is still mostly bare trackage abuilding but what trackage there is is considerably more functional that it was before. Here is how I see the state of things

  • Steady albeit slow progress still going on. This is the main achievement. I am still interested and still getting down to the shop to continue the project.
  • Just this afternoon, I got the high track and main on the non-traverser end wired up and can now run a train from one end to the other. And did!
  • First DCC sound install completed and DCC system wired up.
  • Still haven’t got a turnout servo installed although two turnouts are essentially complete. This is obviously my next psychological hurdle to clear.
  • The sectional design is holding up well, I can take them apart and put them back together with impunity. This includes wiring connections.

Goals for the near future include:

  • Get that first servo installed so I can start Inglenook style operating.
  • Basic foam ground forms in so I can stop worrying about derailments (which haven’t happened) causing a long drop to the concrete.
  • Traverser automation installed. Manual alignment from the front is challenging.

Here is the obligatory status shot. Not visible is the wiring and the 40 percent or so that of laid track that has tie plates spiked on all ties.


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.