Saturday, December 24, 2011


HQ - Part 3

I thought I had picked up enough plastic to finish the bridge, but alas, I still need some Plastruct railings.  But you get the general idea.

The roadway is styrene and the sidewalks some extra walkway material.

I am also trying to finish my two bessemer converters.  Before painting I wanted to add a little grit to the surface of these machines as in most of the photos I have seen, they are pretty grimy.   I used a product from Vallejo - Sandy Paste to add some roughness to the smooth surfaces.  We will see how it turns out after paint.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

HQ - Part 2

As part of the Raritan Steel HQ building I need to build a small road bridge connecting the office parking lot to the rest of the world (actually the edge of the layout) .  I took two cheap Atlas Thru Truss bridges and combined and modified them to carry a roadway.  Mostly done, except I need to buy some plastic to build two walkways on either side of the bridge.
Adding a section to make a longer bridge and reinforcing with strip styrene

Semi-Finished structure sans roadway and sidewalk outriggers.


Having run all the wiring for the Lower Works East Panel I managed to hook up the two electrically controlled Tortice switch machines on the wye and all the associated switches and LEDs worked great - the route is denoted by the green LEDs on the panel.    The next step was firing up the primary mill staging yard.  This five track hidden staging yard has four turnouts with your basic Atlas electric throws.  I wanted to be able to press a single button on the panel, and all the turnouts align themselves to that track - sounds simple but is actually fairly complicated.  It is doable by a using a diode matrix, but I chose a different route and as I mentioned in an earlier post, I am using a NCE Mini Panel to accomplish the same task.  The wiring was simple in that I used five momentary single pole push buttons - attached a common ground to one lug on all of them and connected this to the ground bus on my main wiring board.   Then I ran a single wire from each of the remaining lugs back to the Mini Panel and attached to terminals 1 thru 5.   Basically, whenever a button is pushed it triggers the micro controller on the Mini Panel to execute whatever commands have been programed for that specific input.   The inputs are programed by plugging in a throttle directly to jack on the Mini-Panel for that purpose - you just follow the prompts and can program up to four lines of commands for each input.  For a five track staging yard, the maximum number of commands needed would be four anyway - one command for each of the four switch machines.   For a larger staging yard I can still use the Mini-Panel, but I'll just have to link to a second input once I get past track five - this will give me four more command lines but at the cost of two inputs (the Mini-Panel has 30 and there is no limit to the number of Mini-Panels you can use)  
Programming the Mini-Panel

I do need to stop for a second and explain how the turnouts receive the commands - the switch machines are connected to a Digitraxx DS-64.  This is a stationary decoder with four locations.  So the switch machines in this yard are designated DCC Accessories 1-4  . So when it comes to programming the Mini-Panel say for Track 4 of the yard - this would be Input #4.    The first command line would throw Accessory #1 Reverse, Line 2 - ACC #2 Normal, Line 3 - ACC #3 Normal, and Line 4 ACC #4 Reverse.   So now when I press the button for Track 4, all those switch machines are thrown to the correct alignment designated by the program.  There is a time delay between throwing each machine in the sequence so the process can take a few seconds.    The last thing I have to do for this panel is connect the indicator LEDs for the Yard - again not as simple as it looks.  I need to cascade a set of alternate contacts for the switch machines - I will have to use Atlas Snap Relays wired in parallel off the DS-64 and connect their contacts in a way that will only power one LED .  If I had used Tortice Machines I would have had their set of contacts built in and not have had to buy Snap Relays.
Mini-Panel top Left, DS-64 just under.  Only the beginning of much more wiring.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


After drawing the control panel faces and printing them out, my wife was kind enough to laminate the printed drawing for me.  As a backer I used 1/8" plywood and with spray adhesive glued on the laminated panel drawing.  This will then be drilled for electronics and mounted to the control panel cases with screws.

Laminated print out and 1/8" plywood backer

Speaking of controls, we managed to get WiThrottle up and running so now anyone can use their I-Phone, touch, or pad to operate trains on our layout.  With throttles running $100 or so we are counting on WiThrottle to augment our deficiency in the throttle department.  I guess some of you are asking, what is WiThrottle?  WiThrottle is an app for an IPhone, IPad, or ITouch, that you can purchase from the Apple.  It was actually developed by Brett,  a member of our Friday night operating group.   How does it work?   The WiThrottle app used a local wireless network to connect with the computer running JMRI, which in turn, is connected to the DCC system you are using.   The advantage of WiThrottle is that since it interfaces with JMRI it is an universal throttle that will work with Digitrax as easy as NCE, of course so long as your DCC system is connected with a computer.  Because you are using a wifi network, the signal is much stronger than what your typical DCC wireless system is capable of so you don't have to worry about loss of signal,...etc..   What's the downside?  The only real issue becomes if your wireless network has security, you will need to give out your password to WiThrottle users, or, do what we did and create a separate network for your model railroad.  
An ITouch with the WiThrottle App, controlling to locomotive in the background.

HOW?  I'll detail exactly how we set all this up - it should be fairly universal although there might be some difference with how your specific DCC interfaces with JMRI.  In our case we pulled an old Dell desktop computer out of storage. It runs on Windows XP and was a pretty basic model when bought.  It lacks a wireless card so all network connections must be over wires.   We modified our benchwork to fit the bulky old monitor and computer into the edge of our layout.  It is located about 6 feet or so from the NCE control box and they connect using a serial cable.  These are hard to find, and expensive from radio shack, however, you can find them very cheap at All Electronics online.  I had to buy two to connect together and to reach the computer without stretching.   Back to the computer - I dumped the hard drive as they were totally virused up and just loaded the basics that I would need.  Then I downloaded the latest version of JMRI.  This is a free download.  Since there was no wireless card in the computer I just stretched a 50' cat5 cable from the computer, upstairs to my router and plugged it in - only to download JMRI.  You then follow the prompts to set up JMRI for your specific arrangement.  From then on when you load JMRI it should recognize your DCC system, NCE in our case and say so on the title screen.
The JMRI Screen showing one WiThrottle in use.

In our case we wanted to have a separate wireless network for only the model railroad that we could leave unprotected so it would be easy for guests to access.  This was as simple as purchasing a cheap older model wireless router - most routers are now N type, but I used an older G type as many of the N type needed a newer version of windows to set up.   I just plugged the router in and ran a Cat 5 line from the computer to one of the hardline ports on the back of the router.   So when someone turns on WiThrottle on their device, the network will come up as available.  There is a window you open in JMRI to turn on WiThrottle and it will list all the devices being used.   Fear not, if you have an Android phone there is an app available for your phone also.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


As part of my continuing wiring program I'm installing control panels throughout the layout.  I had built the boxes for a few panels and even partially finished the front of one when I change my mind about the size of the panels.  Originally they were roughly 11x17, with the main panel being even larger.  After seeing much smaller local control panels on Rick Bickmore's fine layout I realized that I could do things much smaller and seeing how I have limited space anyway, smaller would be better.  Not wanting to waste my existing panel work I actually threw the old panel boxes on the miter saw and chopped them up into two small pieces, only having to add on new side.  The resulting panels are roughly 7x10 inches.   For the faces I have been drawing the panel layout using a bare-bones Apple paint/draw utility program and then printing it out onto photo paper.  I then laminate the photo paper and then glue the laminated drawing to my backer panel - 1/8" masonite or plastic and then just drill the holes for LEDs and switches on the drill press and assemble.   The main panel will still be large and I am going to probably use a steel plate for the backer so the dispatcher can use magnets to represent trains.  The main panel will control all turnouts on the main, while the local panels will control any local switches using electric machines as well as provide local operators with a track schematic.  Some locals and or the main panel will have overlap with dual controls for some turnouts - more on that wiring later.   For now - a copy of the Lower Works Branch - West panel.

Typical Panel 

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Had a semi-productive weekend.  The newly extended Lower Works Branch was finally linked back to the main with the help of Jimmy installing flex track is a very tight area.  I also took the time to lay all the spurs to the forge shop, the heat treatment shop, the lower foundry track, and Machine Shop #2.   Jimmy also climbed up on the platform to lay cork on the branch line up to the coal dock.  This branch is another example of my poor layout planing skills as the middle 8' of it are virtually unreachable from the aisle and I still need to add track, landforms, scenery, backdrop painting,...etc..   Wiring work continues - I put back the circuit breaker board and track feeds into the Coke Works Branch control panel.  I also wiring in a few BD-40 occupancy detectors.  The wiring ahead seems endless, so much for DCC simplifying things.

I added some additional piping to the gas bleeder stack, essentially finishing this structure.  I'll give it the once over with some files and sandpaper and then prime and paint it.
Bleeder in roughly the position it will permanently occupy.
We managed to fit in a quick road trip this weekend, visiting a bunch of railroad, model railroad, and non-railroad sites in South Jersey.   One stop, the Patcong Valley Model Railroad Club featured some very fine modeling and my wife enjoyed looking for the hidden aliens scattered throughout the layout.   Just adjacent to this club, the real Cape May Seashore Lines Railroad was running their Santa Clause specials. Odd looking train with three or four Budd RDC between  Pennsy and CNJ first generation Geeps.
CNJ GP-7 in Richland, NJ (On former PRSL Trackage)
Some additional South Jersey rural railroading in Woodstown, NJ
Very Lightly Traveled Branch to Salem, NJ - Track is in horrible condition and Speed limit is 5mph.
SW something at Woodstown, NJ

Friday, December 2, 2011


More or less a finished product,...     Still going to add some sort of electrical conduit and a junction box or two along side the caged ladder.  Switched up this time and used the Tichy caged ladder over the Plastruct.  I'm not sure why I shied away from these before but they look much better than the heavy Plastruct models, abet a little harder to build.   Using the Tichy also allowed me to angle the bottom 20' of the ladder in a seamless fashion like the prototype, with I think very good results.  The Tichy is also cheaper, plus you get railings, stairs, and other parts on the same sprue.   The usual round platform work ensued, along with some rod materials at the top of the structure and boxy equipment boxes just under the top platform, serviceable from the lower platform.  I also added a second pipe to the base with a lid and hex rod slices as bolts - this would be used as some sort of service door.
Bleeder Tower

We were working outside this past weekend and in the process of moving things around and came across a portion of my old brick collection.  My kids were amazed that I used to collect bricks back during my college years and I think in their eyes my dorkiness level was raised to all time high.  Some relation to the steel industry as many of the bricks are fire bricks collected in the Perth Amboy, NJ area.  Steel mills were a prime market for these clay industries.
Part of my brick collection 

I also received an early Christmas present in the form of some beautiful ladle castings from Brandon Wehe.  These are truly fine castings and are no comparison to my nascent attempts at producing commercial resin castings.  These ladles will find good use in my open hearth.
Ladle Castings by Brandon Wehe