September 21, 2017

Timetable for First Operation Session

Here is the timetable we will follow for the first ops session. This timetable follows the prototype except that it has trains starting from Aquia and  Falmouth at roughly the same time.

Updated operations concept

In preparation for the first operations session Saturday, I've been thinking about how the layout should operate. I want to avoid using car cards and way bills. I do plan to use switch lists and train orders.  I have come up with an idea for a random pick up of cars, which is detailed below. The latest versions of these instructions  can be found on the page of instructions and bulletins. Visitors should always check that page before operating to learn of the latest developments and bulletins.

The idea for layout operation involves a random process to determine if cars are empty. The random concept is based onto fact that this is essentially a one-way railroad. Most cars leave Aquia Landing loaded and return empty. Cars that move loads in the opposite direction are special cases and will be covered by specific train orders. Haupt also insisted that cars be unloaded promptly. If you study the conductors' reports, you see that most cars went out and returned on the same day, though some did stay overnight.

I haven't decided if we need to have a third crew work at Aquia Landing. It would just act as a station switcher. We'll see how the first test op session goes.

September 19, 2017

Layout Status

A friend asked how far along my layout was. I had not looked at the overall numbers in a while, so I did an update.  See the chart below. Note that most of the major construction is done. I now need to add cars to the rolling stock fleet and finish the detailing of Aquia Landing.

Resistance was not futile

Ohm my word, it finally happened. I finished wiring the tracks to the Aquia Line. There were a few glitches along the way,  such as I forgot to gap the turnout on the wharf, that caused a few head scratching moments. But after cutting those gaps, all was back to normal. Also, some of the guard rails of my frogs were not electrically connected to the neighboring rails, causing a few unexpected stalls. I fixed those by soldering jumpers. People that solder their frogs and guard rails don't have this problem.

I installed a Tony Trains Exchange On-Guard auto reverser circuit on one leg of the wye and added 9 Tam Valley Frog juicers to the turnouts. Both items are straight forward to install and worked great.

Engine Haupt,  equipped with a Tsunami sound decoder, chugs across the manual turnout from the Bakery siding
The turnout to the siding for the bakery could not use a frog juicer. This was because a locomotive entering that frog will also trigger the frog juicer on the frog of the adjacent crossover. Frog juicers do not work well when two are tripped by a loco at the same time.  To solve that problem, I added a manually operated SPDT toggle switch to handle the polarity on that frog to the fascia near that turnout. I added a switch plate on the fascia to help operators to remember to flip it when they also move the points.  Fortunately, that turnout is only switched when accessing the siding, so it normally will be set for "main line." This is the only non-automatic polarity switching frog on the layout. Hopefully it won't cause too many operational errors.  A better solution would be to add an under table mechanism, but that would require a new design as my current switch stands and point bridles are scale size and not easy to modify.

Some lessons learned from this wiring exercise.

1. Turn off layout power when wiring
2. Follow a color code to keep track of polarity - I used "red to rear."
3. Test for shorts after each connection
4. Wiring with bi-focals under the layout is tough. Bring a work light with you to better see under the bench work. My desk chair could be adjusted to allow sitting under the layout in some spots which helped make things more comfortable.
5. Testing DCC circuits with an Ohm meter can be tricky. Engines, especially battery powered,  left on the tracks will measure as high resistance shorts. Best to remove all engines when debugging.

With all the wiring done, it is time to do some testing, and that is on going.  The wye works well. I have a few rough spots in the track-work that tuning and adjusting should help alleviate.

I am thinking about modifying my links to prevent them from jamming when cars are backing. As long as the cars push coupler face to couple face they work well. But sometimes, the links jam in the pockets and don't allow the faces to touch. That can cause the cars to lift off the rails. I plan to make narrower links without the middle bar. Hopefully, that stops the derails that sometimes happen when backing up.

September 16, 2017

They came from a land down under

Lachlan runs an engine into Falmouth while Garry videos.

This evening Garry Glazebrook and Lachlan McGuire visited  Alicia and I in Alexandria, VA. 

Garry and Lachlan are from the Southern Highlands of Australia near Burradoo.   Both Garry and Lachlan have layouts. Lachlan described  his as "small" and currently stored in a shed, while Garry has an extensive model railroad called the Newcastle to Fassifern. It includes an large steel mill, a harbor area, and over 200 turnouts. Lachlan helps Garry with the wiring, a fact that would come in handy later. 

After a quick introduction to the layouts, they had  a chance operate both  Aquia Line and the PoLA.  
videoThey had the honor of running the first train on the new tracks. Like most new operators, the double slip stub turnouts caused some confusion. 

Since the tracks at Aquia Landing are not yet fully wired, they ran a battery powered loco.  They were the first operators to turn an engine on the wye at Aquia Landing!

Lachlan discovered that the locos and cars were shorting as the crossed the boundary between the new booster we added last week and the old booster. Fortunately, Lachlan is a bit of a wiring guru. We spent about an hour debugging the problem. In the end we concluded that there was something wrong with the new booster. No matter how we wired its output wires it caused a short at the boundary. But otherwise it worked fine. At first we suspected that since they were from  down under, that may be contributing to the short. But we eventually ruled that out. We could not find any crossed polarity feeders. We also could not find any feeders that would have been causing two boosters to feed one section of track. In the end, we removed the "new" third booster and reverted back to a two booster system - one for PoLA and one for Aquia. Then everything worked fine. This is another case of, "to err is human, but to really foul things up takes DCC." Anyway, it was a good test of the system. At least it is working now.

It was fun to compare notes with Aussie model railroaders. Perhaps we need to make a visit to the Land Down Under.

September 15, 2017

Feed Me!

Hopefully I haven't created my own little shop of horror, but last night I cut the last gaps for the frogs and soldered the last feeder to the track.   I still have to connect the feeders to the buses and install the auto reverse circuit and frog juicers.

I have a Tony's Trains exchange On Guard circuit for the autoreverse. These are no longer available, as they have an improved version. But I have one on the turntable in Falmouth and it works just fine.

September 9, 2017

Holy Cow! Great Work Session

I'll get to the cow later, but today we had a very productive work session.  Eight members of the USMRR construction corps showed up to work.

Mat Thompson and Pete LaGuardia arrived first. They went to work installing the booster to the Aquia Landing section of the layout. I had previously run the main power buses to Aquia Landing, so just they needed to swap out the wires at the main junction panel. I thought this job would take a few hours, but Pete and Mat finished in less than an half hour. We even tested it by shorting a section, and as designed, the other sections continued to work.

Wooden joint bars
With the booster connected, Mat went to work installing wooden joint bars to the finished part of the layout, while Pete started drilling holes and adding feeders to the tracks at Aquia Landing.  Pete was the model of efficiency as he got all the feeders installed and soldered.

Next "Loco" Leonard White and John Salmons arrived. They immediately went to work spiking track at the wye in Aquia Landing. Over the past week I had finished all the spiking of the new track at Burnside's wharf. With Loco Len and John's work, there are only about 6 or 7 feet of spiking left to do. Whew!

Track spiked, painted, and with feeders. What
are those B&M cars doing there?
Next, John "I read the email and brought my Floquil Pen" Drye arrived. He went to work painting track. Unfortunately, his paint pen was dried up, as were all of mine. So he ended up painting with a brush and acrylic paint. Later I fired up the airbrush and got busy painting rails with Vallejo acrylic paint.

Next to arrive was John Barry (yes that is the third John if you are keeping score). He went to work with Mat adding joint bars. After about an hour or so they used all the joint bars I had prepared. I need to cut some more on my laser.

new freight cars in various states of assembly 
JB Weilepp (no one knows if the "J" in "JB" stands for John. If so, that makes 4 Johns) arrived. He had worked on a box car kit at home. Earlier in the week, Paul Dolkos also brought over a box car kit that he had worked on. With the one I built, and two more flat cars, we now have 5 more cars in various states of partial assembly. JB had to leave, but he took another kit home to work on.

Carrot cake break
Doug Gurin was the last to arrive. At about the same time my mom showed up with a delicious home-made carrot cake. It didn't take long for the work crew to desert their posts for dessert.

After a tasty snack, I managed to get the crew back to work. Doug took over rail painting duties as JD had to leave.

Planking in between the rails on the wharf
I worked on planking the area between the tracks on the wharf. John Barry helped.

By 5PM, we broke for dinner. Doug and John Barry stuck around for dinner. During the dinner conversation we learned that John Barry not only has a pet horse, which we knew about, but he also has a pet cow. The cow came with the house that he bought in rural Virginia. And to top it off, the cow got pregnant and now John has a calf. How the cow got pregnant when John does not have a bull is a story for another time, but not to worry, it was not an immaculate conception. Of course my mom immediately suggested eating John's pet calf. Even Doug seemed to favor the idea of eating fresh veal.  Geeze, tough crowd!

All in all a great work session. Thanks guys.

September 5, 2017

The Last Turnout!

It took eight years, but I can finally breathe a sigh of relief as I am done with track laying on the Aquia Line. This evening I installed the last turnout including the switch stand. It all works well. It seems to be one of the smoothest turnouts yet.  I still have some spikes to install, but for now we can declare victory on the track work.

I also finished adding the tracks to the sidings at Burnside's Wharf.  I made a new jig using my laser to help spike the straight sections. That worked much better than I expected.

It's too bad I am done with track work as I was just starting to get the hang of hand laying.  In total there are 23 turnouts, about 140 feet of mainline, about 210 total linear feet of track, 6000 ties, and 24,000 spikes.

Clear acrylic straight track spiking fixture.

Next is wiring and electrical gap cutting. I need to add an autoreverse on one leg of the wye. I also plan to add frog juicers to the turnouts. Most of my engines have either batteries or keep alive circuits, but I do have one engine that is just DCC with sound. That one would definitely  benefit from Frog Juicers, which are easy to install. The Frog Juicers will keep the other engines running well too.