23 February 2010

Testing the plan

Quick post this one.

Last week I printed out a 1:1 scale of the layout and during the weekend I cut and taped together all A4 sheets and placed them on the benchwork.

Not too bad. Few issues came out, though.
  • The left and back sections are not exactly at 90 degrees, the actual angle is a little wider.
  • Streets on the left section have quite different widths. Glasscock St. is the narrowest while Kennedy St. looks the largest one. 
I think I have to modify them to have a more balanced look. Also, Glasscock St. is narrower towards 29th St. than on the Fruitvale Ave. end.

That's it for now.
See you soon...

22 February 2010

Layout project, version 2.2

A small update on my layout project status after I received some very useful suggestions and feedback. Again I have to thank Byron in particular who helped me spotting potential points where I may have problems with my project.

There are two major issues with my project:
  1. how to keep the junctions of several tracks aligned between the three sections of the benchwork spanning on two different levels
  2. how to build the benchwork for the helix and keep it aligned with the adjacent section
And -last but not least- the helix should be "movable" somewhere else as the rest of the layout when I need to park the car.

I read a lot about various solutions people have already developed to keep different part of the benchwork together. All modular layout have came out with some sort of solution (for example FREMO modules) to achieve that. However, I'm not really confident I will be able to perfectly align the two levels of each section in a reliable way because of the very limited degree of freedom to move each section and because more than one track is planned to cross the section boundaries.
In addition, that's my very first attempt a building a layout and I'm better start off with something simpler.

So, here the latest version of the layout.

Mainline green; sidings and spurs brown; staging blue

I gave up with the idea of two levels and completely removed the need for a helix. Basically the former upper level has become the only level, actually on what was considered the lower level though.
In addition to simplify section alignments I now have much more "vertical" space since there's no upper level anymore. Overall there are about 20" of vertical clearance above the benchwork subroadbed.
Since the staging yard was planned on the lower level I had to find out a new place for that. Byron's suggestion was to add a removable extension in place of the helix to provide for staging. I thought that was a great idea and I tried to push it one step more.
The result is a double-ended staging that connects to the end of both lateral sections. This brings in a lot of advantages:
  • as in the real prototype trains can enter and leave the modeled area both from east and west
  • I get continuous running possibility passing through staging
  • benchwork for this staging yard is far simpler than a helix and can be adjusted to correctly align with the other sections
  • when not in use I can "store" the staging section away, I need to find out exactly how though
  • the piece of track to serve Owens Illinois Glass Auto Parts can be connected through staging providing an additional industry to be served
On the other hand this has some downsides:
  • since I don't want to rebuild almost all benchwork sections the layout height is not optimal. The former lower lever is at 45" from floor while I preferred nearly 54"
  • to operate the layout one has to duck under either the middle section or the staging yard
I'm sure there's still a lot of space for improvements so please give me your feedback.

See you soon...

14 February 2010

Installation of a Digitrax DZ143 in a LifeLike EMD GP38-2

After my recent work to put drop-in replacement decoders in DCC-ready locos I decided to dive into a more difficult project: to install a Digitrax DZ143 decoder inside a LifeLike EMD GP38-2.

I felt a little more confident in taking away loco shell and the other parts based on the experience made with previous installations. So, I decided to give it a try.

First of all, though, I searched on the Internet looking for someone else -maybe more experienced than I am- who already did this installation. Actually I found two or three interesting website but the most well-done document -actually a real tutorial- is the forum post "Decoder Install: Walthers/LifeLike GP38-2" from pastoolio on trainboard.com.

Actually, you can simply follow the installation instruction and you're almost done.

So, I decided to start disassembling the loco. Overall it wasn't very difficult. As shown in the tutorial after having removed the fuel tank, the cover made by the dynamic brakes -hope those are actually dynamic brakes- and the cab I removed the shell by simply raising it with a small screwdriver on the bottom of the loco.

Then, it was the turn of the stock PCB board with front and back LEDs and few other electronic components. Again, as explained in the tutorial I used the board, LEDs and two SMD resistors for the loco head and back light when using the decoder.
While removing the PCB I made an error and I broke the front part of the PCB where the front LED is soldered. I was lucky enough I could reuse the PCB and glue the broken piece to the loco frame as you can see further on.

Then, I took away the two screws holding the frame together and removed trucks, motor and gear worms as well as two washers used to isolate the two frame halves.

Following the tutorial I put some isolating tape on front side of the motor "seat" in order to isolate the motor armature from the frame.

It was time for the motor. Here the difficult part begun. In order to have a way to let one of the motor wire reach the bottom motor contact I had to create a "groove" on the black plastic part of the motor body. I used small triangular and round files. Overall it wasn't that difficult but I felt very scary to damage the motor completely. However, everything's alright up to this point.

Then, I begun to cut the copper cladding on the PCB in order to isolate the components and be able to re-use LEDs and two SMD resistors.

I did that on both sides always following the well-detailed tutorial. Though, here I made my first real error. I thought I could avoid to cut the two notches on the back of the PCB in order to pass the decoder wire through them. Instead I thought to lay the decoder with wire facing on the back and bend them on top of the PCB. That was something made me do the work twice!
Lesson learned: do not always think you're smarter than a very experienced modelers and think twice before taking a different approach with respect to what they do.

So I started soldering the motor wires -here you can see the "groove" on the motor body much better- and putting some isolating tape on the motors contacts.
To test the "great" idea I had I did a test installation assembling the motor, PCB and decoder in place. All looked fine.

So I went on soldering the power wire -black and red- and then the front and rear light wires along with the common blue wire.
I also glued the broken PCB part with the front LED to the loco frame.

Time to put back on the loco shell. No way! There was no space for the wire to bend and go on top of the PCB inside the shell. That's why I had to cut those two notches on the PCB.
So, I unsoldered all wires, took the PCB off the frame and cut two notches as shown the tutorial. Then, I cut and soldered again all wires -this time pay attention to the clearance required by wires.

A quick test on the track to check everything worked fine and tried to put the shell back on. This time is much better. I could fit all wires on top of the PCB rather easily.

I put back in place the cab, PCB cover and hand rails and I was almost done. Still few small adjustments of the cab and cover to sit them in the right place.

Well, overall this small project went fine and I'm rather satisfied with results. However, it could be much harder without the wonderful tutorial from pastoolio and without stupid errors I made.

So far so good, I've got another loco digitized and ready to run.

See you soon...

08 February 2010

Layout Project, version 2.1

After long time spent thinking about my project, searching on the Internet, reading a lot of material and listening to my favorite model railroad podcasts I finally put down a -hopefully- decent project draft of my first layout.

The Objective
As I wrote in an earlier post -sorry it's in Italian- I decided to build a proto-freelance industrial switching layout based on prototype railroads located in the Oakland/Alameda of the San Francisco Bay, California during late '70s early '80s.

Acknowledgments, References and Sources of Information
Before diving into the project I must thank everybody that helped me -directly or indirectly- to write down this draft. To this end, I think, listing all the references and sources of information could be a way to show my thankfulness.

First of all, I want to thank Byron Henderson for being very inspirational. This project wouldn't be at this stage without all the info and guidance he provided me through his articles, projects, interviews and blog posts. Most of my ideas come from Byron Henderson's works and website, in particular the layout he designed and published as Brooklyn Basin District of his larger Oakland Harbor Belt project. Other sources of information and inspiration were some references Byron listed for his work, for example Bart Thurber's Alice Street Layout.

Also, the following references have been very helpful in letting me understand better what I wanted to achieve:
  • Lance Minheim's projects and in particular his East Rail layout
  • Bernard Kempinski's "Norfolk Southern's Shirley Industrial Park" published in his book "Mid-Size Track Plans for Realistic Layouts"
  • various articles published on Kalmbach's Model Railroad Planning issues of 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009
  • several photos and documents about the Brooklyn Basin area found on the Internet
  • subscribers of the Ita-Usa-MR-Group forum in particular Babbo Enzo e Leo
  • Google Maps and -obviously- Wikipedia.
Last but not least, I found both the Model Railroad Podcast Show and the Scott Mason's Show very helpful and a lot of fun to listen to. If you're not already listening to those podcast I strongly suggest you to do it.

Brief History of Railroads in that Area
The former San Francisco and Alameda Railoard Co. and slightly later the South Pacific Coast Railroad were the first railroads operating in Oakland beginning in the mid 1860s. In 1868 the Central Pacific Railroad (later become Southern Pacific) acquired the South Pacific Coast and expanded its tracks in Oakland.
On the other side of the Brooklyn Basin Western Pacific and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe jointly acquired the existing lines in Alameda from the City Council in 1925 and founded the Alamed Belt Line. This railroad existed until 2001 when it ceased operations.
ATSF also had Alice St. Terminal in Oakland. It was connected to the rest of railroad only by car ferry since on the land it was isolated  by the surrounding SP lines.
In 1943 ATSF and Western Pacific jointly acquired the Key System's freight railroad Oakland Terminal Railroad crating the Oakland Terminal Railway (OTR). OTR is still in operation -yet very limited in size- serving the Oakland Army Base located south of the east end of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Passenger service was mainly handled by the Key System first and then by the successor company AC Transit

Prototype Location
I decided -at least for now- to focus my attention to freight service only. I imagine -not having more in-depth information- the area I want to model was owned and served by SP in competition with ATSF/WP who owned tracks nearby (?). As far as I could understand the area was very crowded of industries of many different types. For example Del Monte Cannery was present in the Brooklyn Basin of Alameda and was served by rail until recently.
In this context my project represents a small part of SP industrial lines and spurs that branch off the mainline towards Fruivale Ave. and serves a number of industries in the area surrounding Glascock St.; 29th and 23rd St. up to 9th St. docks as well as going on the famous Fuitvale Ave. Bridge.

Givens and Druthers
This is my -still to be completed- list of my givens and druthers I made to help me guide through the design process.

  • Track layout must fit the available benchwork as is designed and built
  • Minimum curve radius: 20" mainline; 17.5" sidings and spurs; 16.25" hidden track
  • Minimum turnout size; #8 mainline; #6 sidings and spurs
  • (Hidden) Staging yard
  • Operation-oriented layout design
  • NMRA DCC control system
  • Continuous running
  • Track should not pass through a scene more than once
  • Interchange with another railroad or connection to a major line
  • Average train length of 15 cars, caboose excluded

Layout Shape and Dimensions
In previous posts I've already described the basic shape of the benchwork I built for the layout. The layout is in a one-car garage about 15' 6" long and 8' 6" wide. Ceiling height is at 8' 3" only.
On one of the shorter walls there's the garage entrance for the car while on the opposing side there's a door to the condo's main staircase.
Given the tight dimensions and since I wanted to continue to use the garage to park my car I had to figure out a way to "move the benchwork away" when I want to get in with my car.
The final idea was to build a benchwork along the walls that can be "lifted" toward the ceiling so as to leave enough space for the car and to get in and out from the garage.
When in "use" the layout would be lowered from the ceiling to stand on supporting legs.

It resulted in a U-shaped double deck layout split in three sections; two on the longer walls and one on the back wall of the garage, spanning across the door. Each section can be lifted separately by the other and is guided by means of aluminum rails fixed to the walls and rolling trucks fixed to the benchwork sections.

The two decks are 9" apart, not very much indeed! The limited ceiling height and the need to lift the layout limited the total vertical available space. Also, depth of two decks has to be kept to the bare minimum, hopefully not more than 2". Width of decks range from 15" 3/4 up to 20" 1/2.

A helix is planned to connect the two decks on one end. Clearly a "blob" will be made in order to have space for the helix that's going to be much wider than the benchwork 15" 3/4.

Industries on the Upper Deck

In the modeled area I decided to put a representation of some of the industries that were really present while other are totally or partially fictional.
The flour mill close to 23th St. and the Terminal on 9th Ave. were -most likely- real industries. Other ones were either gone by the era I'm modeling or not yet present in that period but could have reasonably been there since the industrial aspect of that area.

Beginning from the right side, just out of the helix, there's going to be Fruivale Ave. As Byron described there were track on both sides of the street. So I decided to follow the prototype even if the track on the right of the street is purely for scenery purposes -at least for now. The track on the left side appears from below the Nimitz Hw. that works as a scene divider, it splits in a spur and a siding to serve a couple of industrial buildings along Glascock St.: Fairn & Swanson Transports and Joansing Iron Works.
The main track crosses Glascock St. and serves Dreisback Cold Storage through another siding. Then, it crosses 23rd St. and 29th St. and split again in a siding to serve the -supposedly- big ConAgra Flour Mill.
Shortly ahead there's another spur to serve the Cemex Aggregate building and loading spots while another siding -the longest of the layout- departs from the mainline.
Finally, a three-track spur departs from the mainline to serve Pacific Rim Transports & Storage along 9th St docks.
The line ends and disappears going through a Nimitz Hw. underpass, another scene divider.

Lower Deck

So far I haven't yet decided whether on the lower deck there's going to be the staging yard only or some scenicked tracks also. The very tight vertical space will most likely limit most if not all possibilities to have realistic scenes.
The plan is to put the staging yard on the same side of the 9th St. dock spurs forming a double ended staging. This would ease the construction of a continuous loop on the lower level.
Then, I could represent part of the big yard present on the prototype east of Oakland station that leads to the point where the track departs from the mainline to go towards Fruitvale Ave. Here the helix could represent that part of the line.
Another possibility could be to represent the Oakland station just out of the staging yard and then a part of the mainline track to the east of the station where a junction connect to a section of hidden track that leads to the helix while the mainline goes east in a loop that enters into the other end of the staging yard.
In this latter case I have to figure out how to support the track for the continuous loop between the staging yard and the bottom of the helix.

That's it for now. For sure there's going to be a lot of changes in the project both before and after starting to lay track. At least now I have some sort of a project designed.

See you soon...

02 February 2010

NW-2 digitalization video

In my recent post about how I installed a DCC decoder in two new Kato EMD NW-2 switcher I wrote I would have published a video I took while digitizing the second loco.

So, here it is. Actually, here they are since the whole recording is too long for a single YouTube video.

Part I

Part II

Hope you enjoy them.

See you soon...

01 February 2010

Hand made #8 turnout

During the last days I found some spare time to build the fifth #6 turnout using Fast-Track material. I improved my skills at building turnouts along the way so my last two #6 work and look much better than my first attempts.
Also, I thought I could try to build a #8 turnout without the help of a #8 jig. I used a printed template on a sheet of paper to guide the construction process and a MicroEngineering code 55 track gauge to space the rails correctly. To file the frog and point rails I used the tool for #6 turnout I have. Point rails are not so different though the frog rails have a different angle. So, I filed them manually to have a narrower angle than what obtained with the #8 filing tool.

Look at other photos here

Overall I'm rather satisfied with the result and I think I could build #8 turnouts without buying a new jig and tool. The building process is much slower and cumbersome, though.

See you soon...