Monday, March 30, 2020

Hunkerin' down

Well, like much of the world, we're trying to "sequester in place" and, when out on "essential" errands, maintaining "social distance" with others.  Tomorrow may be a bit of a different story.

The pantry is becoming somewhat depleted.  So, we plan (you know how planning goes) to get up before sunrise and drive to the near Walmart.  They have "seniors-only" hour from 6 a.m. until store opening at 7 a.m.  We've never tried that before.  And, I have trouble going to sleep, usually after 1 a.m.  It'll be interesting.

On a more cheerful note, I've got the PICAXE micro-controller + L298 h-bridge wired on a breadboard, and have done preliminary power application to it.  So far, so good.
Now, I need to make a good, solid bench supply for +5v.  The h-bridge board has a +5v regulator on it, so it can source a little, more than enough to run the PICAXE and IR detector boards. But, ...

There's always a "but."  The high voltage input (up to 15v or so) that feeds the regulator is also needing to be variable, down to 0v, to control the train speed in my application.  So, I need a separate 5v feed to power things such as the micro, the IR boards and the control logic on the h-bridge board.  So, I'll make that (no problem, I have all the parts) (I hope).  It'll need to be small so it can be built under a train module with the micro.

Since the tracks involved cross multiple modules, it'll need a five-wire interface: two for track power and three for the IR sensor cards.  I haven't decided on exactly where to mount the electronics, but that's a minor item at this point.  

Otherwise, the isolation party roars on with the wife, the dog, and me.  yippee.
After waiting for the seemingly endless winter to end, now it's wait for the end of spring and the virus. Hopefully.  2020 is turning into almost a lost year.  With three grandkids ~50 miles and a new one in Florida, having to stay home is punishment.

Time to turn back to the work bench.  Everyone keep safe and healthy!

Monday, March 2, 2020

Only God can make a tree . . .

As I clean the two modules for show, I'm needing to do a little maintenance, scenery-wise.  One thing I often did in the past while working in a module was not only clean and repair, but also add a couple new details to it.

Same story now, with the Poco Loco grain elevator.  Not much, but I've added two trees and two vehicles.  I think a few figures would help, too.  Here's the module, after today's work:

The tree at the corner of the office and the (dead?) one at the end of the silos are the additions.  They are old models, inherited from the estate of a long time railroad buddy.  Thanks, Jim.

In addition, there's a yellow delivery truck at the warehouse door.  I definitely need a couple of people there. And, maybe, in front by the cars, too.

Looking around back, the red semi has been there from the start, but I added another, the blue one.  Moving a lot of grain in and out of here, they are. 

I got the blue truck a bit further around behind than I first intended, but it's glued down and not moving.  It can be seen from the front at the right angles, so it's good.

I have toyed with making "where's Waldo" lists for my modules.  The idea has been to print a composite list for each show, based on the modules being shown.  I'm thinking that the question sheet would not indicate which module to look for the target.  It's something to do in my spare time.  Yeah, right.  The half-hidden semi would be a good item, as is the worker on top of the elevator (not visible in the photos, but he's there.)

As for the second module, the Twin Towers (see my last post,) it will be worked on tomorrow.  A few new trees (I glued up a dozen or so late this afternoon) and some figures will dress them up pretty well. 

Both modules will get a pole and flag.  I'm using the flag kit from Osborn Models out of Canada.  I have the US and Canada flag sets.  Probably won't be using the Canadian ones, yet.

So, not a lot, but progress.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Out of the fire, into the - - - deep fryer?

I did something totally different tonight.  Well, kind of different.

Periodically, I cook a meal when the wife is busy with other things - laundry, etc.
Lately, I've been using a small deep fryer to cook chicken wings and trimmings.  Usually cut up new potatoes.

Tonight I wanted to try something different, so the main event was shrimp.  I've never tried shrimp before. It went well, IMHO.  The hardest part was finding raw shrimp in the store.

So, it was a successful variation on an intermittent theme.

Back to the hobby side.  There's a one-day train show coming soon.  The call for modules went out to the membership, and I volunteered to take a single or a double module.  The show coordinator will decide what he needs.

I've pulled a couple modules that haven't seen a show in some time.  The first module is the double named "Poco Loco Grain Elevator."  It has a single siding for loading grain in a weather protected place.

The single is "TriStar Apartments."   I made it with a raised level to place the apartments above the track level, for visual interest.  I like the change away from the "plywood plains" look is beneficial.

The towers are a pair of kits, stacked.  So, the two towers are the results of bashing four kits together.  I really like the look the extra height gives to a module.  I've thought of extending them another section (five floors) but the kit isn't available anymore.  Oh, well.

I recently bought a kit of three flags and poles.  This is one of three places I intend to use them.  The second is an existing module, and the third is one that's in the early stage of construction.  Details later, hopefully not too much.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

A Small Project . . . ?

For a while, I've had a desire to build a true micro layout.  By definition on the site, as stated by the late Carl Arendt, a micro is one will no more than approximately four sq. ft. surface area that does something. Scale is immaterial.  In fact, he did a nice Gn15 on one square foot.  If you've never seen it, look the Squarefoot Estate Railway up sometime.  See:

I've been slowly working on various TTrak-N modules that I've shown here.
I don't consider most TTrak modules (especially mine) as micros.  They are dioramas, considered individually, since they can't DO any action such as switching, continuous running, whatever. Even a passing siding, or a short stub would qualify, but just being a scene from a larger loop doesn't make it.

The two 3' modules will qualify, but I still wanted to do something smaller.  So, off to the side, there's been sitting a small, 310mm long TTrak module, just waiting to tell me what to do with it.   I've finally heard it, and here's where it's going.

It's approximately 310mm x 350mm.  I decided to build it up, and have the main lines tunnel straight through, nothing fancy.  However, the area ABOVE the tracks (still 310mm x 350mm) is now a new surface to use.  Here's where the micro is being built.  Using the full space, it's possible to put a small loop of rack on it.  A micro layout, it is.  Piggy-backed on a TTrak module, it is.

I intend it to be a light rain loop, with a rural scene on one side and a town scene on the other, something like this:

The left side is a very rural area, with several small shantys and one small house.  The right is a store/station/whatever for the town scene.  This is approximate, as it depends on the structures available to populate it with.

The curves are 4" radius Tomix C103(mm) track.  Here's the mockup:

The structures are just for scale.  They are dedicated to be used elsewhere, but they do give a sense of size.  The tram is a Kato product.  I also have a Kato pocket steeple-cab loco and some Bandai Shorty containers on flat cars and tank cars for a small freight train.  Shoot, I could run a Kato pocket passenger train. They all will handle the tight curves.  Options, options.

The track will be all Tomix fine Track, not the tram street track in the photos.  This I had on hand, and the proper track is en route "even as we speak."  So to speak, that is.

I'm wavering between plaster rock castings on the walls, or just scoring the foam and painting it to look like stone cliffs. The top will lift off for TTrak main line maintenance.

All tunnels have pairs of WS plaster portals for them.  The two on the micro divider are different styles:

I don't know exactly how they will be arranged.  I have one of each style on this side, but it could be both of the same style on the one side.  Only the future knows, and it's not telling.  Yet.

To power the loop, I'm going to place the power pack and speed controller on the main module.  A hidden speed control will be used.  As for power source, well, a wall-wart could be used.  But, another option comes to mind.

When used in a layout, at home or at a club show, the outer main is DCC powered. I think I can steal a little (very little required) from the DCC line and process it into the DC needed for the loop.  Voila, no external power connections needed. Usually. I'm thinking.

So, it's back to the garage to work on this, and the larger layout as well.  That's me, just one project at a time, NOT!

Monday, January 27, 2020

A Long, Sad Month

January has been a tough month.  Cindy's mother passed at 90, and while it had been expected for a while, it still was a bit difficult for all the family.

We made the trip to west Texas for her services, and to participate in some of the usual family business over the next day or so.  It was a time of sadness, but of good cooperation among the six surviving siblings.

The truck showed 1018 miles, Tuesday - Friday.  Recovering from that has been a challenge, especially with the colder, wetter weather of late.

Note: COS - total change of subject here: ;-)

Today it's been warm (?) enough to spend some afternoon tome in the garage, working on trains.  In the past, I made three hot-wire foam cutters.  A friend in the train group in Lubbock named them the "Foaminators."  It stuck.  But they didn't. I don't know if I sold them, gave them away, or they are just MIA from the move. They are gone.  So, I'm making a new set, pretty much like the old ones.

As I am starting the scenery on the home layout, one thing I want is a little "vertical" scenery, trying to minimize the "plywood plains" look so common in TTrak modules.  Here's where I got to today:

The tool is made from 1" PVC pipe.  Power wiring, routed through the pipe (I forgot to do this the first time), is low-voltage wire for outdoor wiring.  It's a good size, giving a low resistance feed to the cutting wire.  My cutting wire is 22ga nichrome resistance wire, similar to that in toasters, etc.  Brass hardware is used at the connection points.  Personally, I like to have six to eight feet of lead from the bottom of the handle to the power source, with 10 feet not out of reason.

After marking the lines for the cut, it's time to crank it up.  Having an adjustable power source is imperative.  I ran this cut at about 1A current.  Voltage, I don't know.  It's low, but not important. It's the current through the cutting wire, heating it up, that does the work.  By the way, be sure you have plenty of ventilation.  I was working at the open garage door.

Here's the trench for the mainline tracks.  I'll be shaping the foam edges to form a sloping cut for scenery.  Now that it's rough cut, shaping is easy-peasy. I may even layer it tall enough to cap it, forming a small tunnel.  Kids (of all ages) at train shows seem to love tunnels.  That would give more hillside for small houses, forested areas, and . . . 😉

The small inner loop (for a trolley) will stay at this elevation.  It will have to slope down to a crossing (just off frame) but that's no problem, either.

It's easy to shape with Surform or similar wood tools.  In fact, I've even clamped the Foaminator in a small work table (a "Work-Mate" or similar)  and guided the foam around it.  There are no magic techniques here, just play with it.  Be sure you have plenty of ventilation.  A warm day in the back yard is perfect.

Don't throw away your cuttings.  They are useful for building hills.  Stay tuned for further developments.

Rain, and 15º to 20º F colder for the middle of the week, so it'll be the weekend before I can get out there again.  I'm soooo ready for spring!

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Barn diving

Well, I spent today diving into the remote corners (not the remotest, yet!) of my barn.  In the process, I've rearranged a bit, placing related items (N, On30, etc.) together.

At the very end, in the deepest, hardest to reach place (which I'm sure I've searched before) I struck treasure!  There were a number of items that I was sure were lost forever in the moves we've made the past 3 1/2 years..

But, miracles of miracles, they showed up!  I fully believe the Law of Selective Gravitation has been at work here.  You know, when you lose track of something (generally by dropping it and it bounces away) it's because it time warped to the future.  That's why you can't find it now, but may find it sometime later, or not.

At any rate, you're aware of the home TTrak layout I've been puttering (sputtering?) on for a while now is to feature a tram line through the town.  It's been frustrating since the target trams were gone.  Guess what - "They're baaack!!!"  They are the Kato Hirshoma-Hanover trams:
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It's good they turned up, I sure couldn't afford them now.  Especially the two I have.  I feel encouraged to forge ahead, garage temperature permitting.

The other main item I found was a stash of Tomix N Fine Track.  No big deal of itself, except that in the pile were two turnouts I've been aching to build into modules.  They are right-hand and left-hand curved turnouts: 

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For TTrak, they are nearly perfect, being 317/280mm in radii.  And, a standard curved piece (just happen to have some ;);) ) completes the 90º corner. 

There were some other goodies found that I feared were lost, as well, but these are the crown jewels of the day.  Yea!!!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Mending Fences

No train work, physically, today.  But whilst on another task, I put in a bit of thought on the trolley loop on the layout.  I have an idea that, if I can make it work, will save real estate for structures. 

First, on to 'real' real estate.  We share a wood fence with a neighbor on one side.  Good people, great neighbors.  Recently, they bought a small travel trailer, and decided to park it in their side yard, behind the fence.  We have no problem with that.  They did.

They have a small steel barn on a slab back there (as do I, but that's not important.)  The trailer wouldn't fit, too long.  So, the decision was to pull the fence forward far enough to contain the trailer.  With no HOA (Yea!!!) and a very permissive city, they set out to move the fence line.

Before starting, they did talk with us about it, and were concerned with how the uneven fence line between the houses would look.  After a bit of discussion, they said they would move my short fence to maintain alignment with theirs.  Good, I said.

In moving the fence, my gate there, a wide personnel gate (the mower will drive through, but not a street vehicle) was repaired and rehung.  A side note here: these fences were of so-so construction quality.  I generally say that the developer/builder used the Crappy Fence Company.  I'll not say any more.

Anyway, my gate there was stuck partially open, and was sagging.  After they (he and his wife worked side by side) were finished, the new gate on my side works fine.  It was moved to a more level spot on the fence line.  It was still wanting to sag, since it did not have a diagonal brace on the back side.  Now it does, thanks to a 2x4 and some long wood screws.  Looks good, works good, job finished.

Their gate opening is extra wide, to accommodate backing the trailer into its spot.  The original gates are too short.  With the unevenness of the yards around here, they wouldn't have worked anyway.  They are working on a solution to that issue, but are happy for now that the fences are moved and all are satisfied.

On the other side of our house, we have a double gate.  It suffers from sagging and other problems.  For fence work, that's next on the agenda.  Not until warmer weather, but it's in the project queue.  Those gates will have to be removed, straightened, and have a working brace applied.  Then they need to have about 2" sawn off the bottom (the yard here is NOT flat,) some hinge and hinge mounting point repairs made and rehung.  I will require some muscles for some of this, as I certainly cannot even attempt it any more. 

A few pickets need a little attention, but that's just a few screws and my cordless driver.  Not a problem man.

Now, for the trolleys.  I think I've devised a scheme that would allow unattended loop-to-loop action, with no reversing controls, no DCC, no track position sensors.  I'm going to be working on that idea, and will share details once I have it working.

Here's an early doodle for the tram track plan:

Track joint vs. module joint is an on-going consideration.  It's gonna be fun.