Sunday, 19 January 2014

Fish River Update and Tour...


With all of this hot weather, work on the layout proper has been limited.  As much as the train room is fully insulated and lined it does preclude comfortable working during weather extremes and other pursuits are attended to during these periods 

I have however brought the track plan up to date and have included it with this post to allow readers to follow the progress and to discuss what comes next.

I have labelled points of interest and will refer to them in the post...

Layout Total Area...12metres x 3.8metres
Directional Note: As an Example
 From Point "A" Down Trains toward Point "C"
Up Trains From Point "A" towards Point "J"

A.  Fish River Station and Yards...The station building and platform has been removed from the layout and is undergoing a makeover before permanent installation. The yard and features will be discussed in a future post.

B.  Loco servicing road.  As much as the points from the main have been laid in...the final configuration of this area will occur some time soon.  I have a 90 foot TT built by Bruce Akrigg and this may end up being positioned in this area. If not a minimum will be a coal stage and other servicing requirements.

C. Fish River yard entrance and positioning for tunnel portal to take the main under the elevated branch line that will terminate at point "E" (More on this later)

C1. Tunnel Portal to bring main line back into view.

D.  Divergence point for the branch line from the main...The branchline which terminates at point "E" will begin to climb from shortly beyond the junction with the main line and will climb at around 2% to a point where the branch crosses over the main at around point "C1"  I have not made the decision as to whether the branch between these two points will be visible or hidden.

Note:  The main line run between points "C1" and "D" will be rural running with a wayside station and most likely a short loop. I have intentionally laid the main at an angle so as to try and get away from parallel to fascia track work in an attempt to add some visual interest and variation.

E. Branch terminus.  My feeling at this stage is that the finger bench that will house the terminus will contain a cement works and a small passenger station.  I have an extensive collection of buildings completed for this area. The "finger" benchwork will be at a higher level than the balance of the layout.

F. Main line tunnel portal...The mainline will circumnavigate this room hidden behind a screen backdrop and will only reappear beyond point "H" and the tunnel portal to take it into the main layout room.

G.  Branchline terminus area.  The branch begins at Fish River and the tunnel through the "existing wall" at Point "I" will act as a scenery block...between the branch terminus and the layout room proper. I have no final plan for this area at this stage.

H.  Main Line tunnel portal that returns the hidden main to the layout room proper.

I.  Branchline tunnel portal that creates a scenery block between the branch terminus and the layout room proper.

J.  Fish River valley....this area and related bridges over the river has been extensively covered in previous posts and photographs.

K.  Named Henderson's Siding...and will have a ( namesake) flour mill and quite possibly a fuel depot.  Flour Mill building is almost complete and again has been covered in previous posts.

X to X.  I have purposely left the trackwork missing between these two points on the plan.   There are two possibilities here.  Presently the trackwork is in place between Fish River yard and presently terminates near the tunnel portal at point "H" The track presently acts as a shunting neck extension of the loop through Fish River yard and may stay that way.  The other option is to extend this track thru the tunnel keeping it hidden with the main beyond this point and exit the layout through the wall where the isolated section of track marked "X" is located at bottom left of the plan...and into the newly built "modelling room" This extension could become a repair road and could later contain an "off layout" marshalling area located in the modelling room.

Presently all track with the exception of the branch diverging from the main at point "D" and the branch terminus at point "G" has been laid wired and all pointwork motorised.  The two main control panels ( discussed in previous posts ) have been completed and are operational.  There will be a need for "satellite" mini panels at different points around the layout as work progresses on both major branch lines and these will be tackled in due course and when final configuration of these areas is decided upon.  Of course there are smaller areas that need to be planned and decided as well such as the loco service area etc.

With an operational loop of the layout room now completed, attention will now focus on completing scenery on the Fish River station and yard area and when this is complete I will then have the opportunity to look at the rest of the layout and begin to finish scenes as "instalments" to the bigger picture.

Well that's about it for now...I hope that this up to date plan and description has given readers of this blog a new perspective in which to follow progress.           



Friday, 17 January 2014

IPads, Magazines and The Cultural Shift


Around 2 years ago I decided to research out the reasoning behind the IPad and whether it would have a place in my life.  Having a high school age daughter also keeps me hungry to keep up with the technology that is ( or is about to be ) a normal feature of her life.  Following an extended period of being on the maybe list, I decided to approach the department of "Domestic Affairs" to discuss the likelihood of purchasing a unit.  I received the usual reply which is "If you think you can find a need for it...then buy one". 

Well the rest is now history and after 18 months of ownership...I don't see much of the mysterious tablet at all.  The girls have hijacked the once, much scoffed at and maligned purchase and I have been reduced to chief battery charger and not much else.  Indeed I have now been approached by my little band of "non believers" and am being hammered to get another unit.

With a little downtime over Christmas and some time alone with the elusive Ipad...I discovered a whole new world of "stuff" that I found interesting.  I was also able to come to terms with a couple of "apps" that may also come in handy for operating the layout some day...and while these little gems are of great interest and blog worthy...they are not the reason behind this particular post.

Like most fellow modellers, I have a reasonably large arsenal of rail related books and publications and apart from these "one offs"...I also purchase a number of magazines from local and overseas sources on a regular basis through my local newsagency.  Apart from AMRM...I also buy four overseas offerings...they being Hornby Magazine, Railway Modeller, British Railway Modelling and Model Rail.  Apart from these I also pickup bespoke copies of other magazines based on the individual contents of each issue and whether they tickle the fancy.

At the end of the day, all of these purchases add up financially and of course being a hoarder of the past editions, storage then becomes a problem.  Examing the costs involved in buying the four British Magazines locally is also worthy of discussion and a real eye opener...

Hornby Magazine: UK price: 3.60 pound = $6.68 Aud...Newsagency Price: $9.95

Railway Modeller: UK price: 3.95 pound = $7.33 Aud...Newsagency Price: $8.99

British Railway    : UK price: 3.75 pound = $6.95 Aud...Newsagency Price: $14.20

Model Rail            : UK price: 3.75 pound = $6.95 Aud...Newsagency Price: $12.50

While I have not factored in the (minus) VAT vs (plus) GST is certainly easy to see that when one takes freight into consideration...the first two magazines in the list appear to be a fair cover price...while British Railway Modeller and Model Rail certainly have some explaining to do re the newsagency price here in Australia and this explains why I am not a strict monthly devotee of these two magazines. Maybe it has to do with circulation...but nevertheless I needed to curb my literary intake and be a little more discerning in my choices.

And so we finally come to the heart of this post.  It is possible to take out an "online" subscription to most magazines and have them automatically downloaded to the Ipad for a far cheaper price than what I am forking out now.  The only issue I had to try out and attempt to overcome was the generational change from a physical magazine to an online Ipad or tablet driven reading medium. 

I decided to take out subscriptions to two of the listed magazines and see how I would react to reading while utilising this medium...either on the lounge, at a table or indeed bed (my normal haunt for such pursuits).  I must say after about a month I am virtually sold on the idea. 

Firstly is the price difference between this medium and the old traditional physical magazine that I was purchasing over the counter... I have forked out around  $44 AUD for a 12 month online subscription for Hornby Magazine as against a yearly total of  $119.40 over the counter...and $44 AUD for the same with Model Rail magazine as against $150.00 over the counter...

Apart from a hefty saving on my traditional methods, other factors that I need to take into account are...No more trips to the Newsagency (sometimes futile) looking for my mags and no more impulse purchases of other magazines while at the agency.  The current edition(s) are downloaded automatically.  And the added more storage woes of past magazines.  Also the reading of the magazine is enhanced by the ability to zoom in and the clarity of text and pictures is superb...

I admit it is only early days...but as said before...I have been pleasantly surprised by my transition to this new fangled method of magazine interaction and I look forward to having more time to research out and explore what else is achievable ( now and into the future ) with an Ipad regarding the layout and layout control.

One other item I would recommend to anyone contemplating this medium is an item that I picked up at Target, that acts like a "bean bag" chair for the Ipad.  I think it is called a Pillow Pad or similar... and fits most tablets on the market...It certainly makes using an Ipad a lot easier and more comfortable... You can place the Ipad in almost any position and it remains stable without having to hold it...

In closing...I can only hope that AMRM is available in this format one day and then my trips to the newsagent will be limited only to "panic" runs for birthday and anniversary cards!!!




Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Who Let The Smoke Out...Part 2


After solving the problems thus far and checking everything appeared correct, it was time to liven the layout up again.  This time all went according to normal and the panel lit up as it should and the points moved into the default position.  All LEDs were lit and no shorts were occurring.  The next step was to check the actual orientation of each point to see that this matched the route as per the panel LEDs.  In this case 5 matched and 3 were opposite.  This phenomena is not unusual and a quick transposition of LED wires in the panel is all that is required to rectify the problem.  All is now looking as it should so the next step in "commissioning" the yard was to operate each set of points and fine tune the throw if required.

I pushed the button to throw the first set of points and you guessed it...nothing happened.  Each set of points was thrown and again nothing happened with any of them.  It was about now that I was ready to throw in the towel for the night and I retired to the kitchen, kicked the cat and made a cup of tea.  It is amazing sometimes how just walking away for a few moments can allow ( in some cases ) the brain to catch up and it dawned on me that this issue occurred when commissioning the other end of the yard.  For the life of me I could not remember what course of action I took at that time...but I knew it was a simple solve.  A re read of the Cobalt manual uncovered the reasoning for the inactivity of the points and then it all come flooding back. 

If you are utilising the AD1 or AD4 decoders to operate the Cobalt point motors...the decoders have to be programmed before commencement of operation irrespective of whether you are operating the points manually via the panel or through the NCE ( or chosen system ) handpiece.  It is a very simple task to "train" the decoders and once this was completed all is now working as it should.  Sometime later I will give each set of points a new unique number which will possibly be... even for up and odd for down...but that is a way off yet as I prefer to operate the points via the panel and not the NCE handpiece and for now I have given them numbers starting from 1 just to get them working.

Even to the most casual reader of this blog it would be obvious that I have chosen Cobalt point motors and decoders to utilise right across the layout and while I have little knowledge of competitors products to compare the Cobalts with...I am relatively happy with them so far.  I have read many times on chat groups that some people have had no end of trouble with them...but at this early stage they are doing everything I want of them.  I would however, offer some advice to anyone contemplating using them and that is to ensure that you use the mounting pad that is available from DCC Concepts as to mount the motor using anything less will ensure that your motors are extremely noisy!!!  I am at a loss to understand why these pads are not packed with the Cobalt motors ex factory and are only available as an accessory.  I would imagine that most complaints of motor noise would disappear if they sold them with the motor....Anyway I guess it is a commercial decision...

With Fish River yard all but complete I can now turn my attention to closing the layout gap and hopefully will soon enjoy continuous running...


Who Let The Smoke Out...Part 1


Here we are with Christmas just a memory and January 2014 in full swing.  I spent a bit of time on the layout in the last few weeks in amongst juggling customer's jobs that just HAD to be completed.  Following on from the last post I have now installed all pointwork and associated tracks at the down end of Fish River yard.  All point motors have been installed and all wiring was finalised last night. Lastly was the "power in" link to the control panel and all was in readiness to "liven" up the newly installed panel and the now complete yard.  It always amazes me the trepidation I feel when a section is completed and it is time to introduce power.  It should be a time to rejoice as all the blood, sweat, tears, profanities and stiff joints that have been invested should pay dividends and the enjoyment of running a train or three should be just around the corner...Right???.

When I completed the Up end of the yard and associated trackwork and control...I double, triple checked every joint and connection and then went over everything with a multimeter to ensure all was as it should be before livening things up and with this approach it all went remarkably well.  With the down end of the yard I foolishly threw caution to the wind in some instances and decided that as this end would be a mirror image of what I had already done and if all methodology was copied then there should (in theory) be minimal issues.  I did visually check everything and then hit the on button...

From the instant power was introduced it was clear that a short was occurring and the NCE system went into protection mode...power was turned off and smile turned to frown. An hour long inspection was undertaken in an attempt to uncover the culprit.  Nothing appeared to be wrong so I isolated all point motors and reintroduced them one by one in an attempt to nut out the issue.  During testing of the second set of points and with me under the layout I failed to notice a short and only became aware when I could smell something was not right...Another panicked shutdown and another inspection to find the source of the "leaking smoke". After another 15 minutes of head scratching and bewilderment...I found the source!!!.  The frog polarity wire had burnt the underlay on this set of points and closeup inspection revealed a partly melted sleeper.  My initial thought was that while fitting the points the frog polarity wire had somehow become dislodged from it's housing and was now in contact with both running rails....but upon lifting the point it was fairly obvious that sheer carelessness was the gremlin.

It may help to explain that I use Peco code 75 "live frog" points universally on the layout and also conduct the usual makeover of each point to make them DCC friendly and because I utilise Cobalt point motors ( and for appearance sake) I also remove the bulk of the throwbar detail, over centre spring and housing etc.  I then replace all removed sleepers with copper clad circuit board type sleepers.  I have been trapped in the past by not gapping these copper clad sleepers prior to installation and they have only been discovered during routine inspection before powering up the new section.  In this case this issue was not the culprit...  The issue was that as part of the DCCising of the point I had not removed the factory fitted links and as such with the modifications that I had carried out and the non removal of these links... the point was now had an inbuilt short circuit.... Luckily my stupidity was only discovered on 2 sets of the 8 that had been laid...

The story does not end there and Part 2 will complete the saga of Fish River yard...

For those unfamiliar...I have fitted soldered links that are visible centre right...which in order to operate correctly require the links visible at left to be removed... ( This shot was taken after removal )

Burning of cork roadbed and underside of sleeper...with frog polarity wire disappearing under the baseboard...

Damage to underside of the point....