Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wiring

Well, this part of the hobby is definitely my nemesis! Though I have enough interest and fair amount of idea about electrical concepts, I definitely lack the hands on skills to do what I actually want to do. Clearly I was anticipating trouble while wiring (especially given I am using DC) and yes, one hell of a trouble it is!

Anyway, somehow I have done the basic wiring to run the trains around the layout, and quite a few tasks are still pending, but overall I am kind of satisfied... well not really satisfied, but relieved that I have finally done it!

I started with the control panel. I used Masonite board (insulation board) to construct the control panel. My wife had drawn the diagram on a black background that I pasted on the board and drilled the holes to fix the DPDTs and Peco Studs for turnout control (Yet to be wired). This is how it looks now after the primary wiring of the blocks.

By the way, this panel is totally removable. Creating this panel also required some carpentry work (again!). But this was required since I had to make the arrangement for easy portability.

Another important part that I wanted to do was avoiding soldering as much as possible because that's another grey area in my skill inventory! Especially soldering to the track. I tried this before and realized that it will be really hard for me to bring the level of perfection that I want to see. Now, to do this, I cut small pieces of thin (.1 mm) copper sheets and slide them between the track and the ties. This makes a flawless connection with the track and is very reliable with less risk of lose connection as compared to soldered joints (especially the ones I do :P). I wired the whole railroad using this method and it is working fine.


Now about hiding these copper plates, it will be pretty easy for me since most of the tracks in the port will be concealed in concrete. Moreover, if you look at the joints, it will be easy to hide these using normal ballasting.

The video below will show the first trial run:


video

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Brick (Hotel/Residential) building




It's really really hard to model a brick textured building in N-Scale. but they look so amazing, and fit in so perfectly with the era we're modeling, we just had to have them!! So, we eased our work a little by ordering Walther's Modulars (Cornerstone series) for Brick buildings. the front needed to look authentic, so we used the modulars for the front. The back however was mainly made of cardboard, the floor separators in the building's interior was also made of cardboard. the back has a removable panel so that future renovations, additions and alterations are easier. Once the building was assembled just in the shape and size we wanted, I got a job to do...
This is what it looked like before I got to it.


I had to colour it!!

So, I looked around for ideas and found quite a few online. Finally i settled for using old fashioned charcoal(coloured) powder mixed with a little bit of water. This highlighted the grooves on the surface, making the bricks prominent and made the job of colouring the building that much easier.



The entire building was coloured using the same mixture trying to maintain consistency of colour all around.

The roof fixtures were coloured separately and fixed.

This is how it looks as a whole now!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Trackwork-Complete

Well yesterday I received the final shipment from US in this year! A relatively humble package of just a Peco Right hand turnout and a side mounting turnout motor.

Now as I discussed earlier, I added an additional spur to the plan exclusively for Loco parking (And now I am thinking of doubling it up as a stop for the single RDC unit that brings passenger to the port). This was not in the original plan, but I thought it wouldn't be much of a problem to fit it in.

And I was so wrong! It was probably the biggest challenge for me in laying the tracks. I had to spend hours to find the right spot for the turnout because as soon as I include the turnout, it changes the curvature of the rest of the track in that side of the runaround-and it started getting screwed badly. While trying to keep the curve broad, I was getting S curves and if I wanted to remove the S curve, the minimum radius was becoming less than 9 inches! However, after hours of struggle I finally found the right spot that would keep the minimum radius more than 11 inches without any S curves. This incident tells me that for small layout planning is ever more important than in larger layout. When you have large area at your disposal, a few inches, or even a foot might not make much difference, but for a small layout even a centimeter can screw your happiness.

Anyway, this is how it stands now:


I wanted the run around tracks to be parallel to each other, but inclusion of this turnout didn't let me do that. Even the spur is not exactly where I planned it-but hey, I am open to accept changes! :)

For some fun and testing purpose, I tried running my Life-Like Proto GP-38 on the steep grade of 6.5% in the trestle with two cars. And yes, I am satisfied with the smoothness of the grade. And this little 4 axle wonder delivers some awesome slow speed action even at 6.5 % grade! Have a look:


video

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Uncoupling

For some reason, I am never comfortable in the 'hands of god' concept in model railroading. In my layout I want things like switch operation and uncoupling to be done remotely from outside the layout. And yes, it has already cut a big hole in my pocket, and I am yet to acquire 9 more switch machines, but I still think it's 'required' for me to be able to do these things without taking my hand anywhere near the tracks.

Let's start with uncoupling. For the spurs it was a easy solution: under the track Magne-Matic delayed uncoupler by Microtrains (The red lines in the picture). The challenge was to find a solution for the mainline uncoupling (blue lines in the picture), because on mainlines, you must be able to uncouple only when you need it.


Now there is no off the shelf electromagnetic uncoupler for N scale which is very surprising given how much improvement we have seen in N scale over the last decade. When I was searching for options I happened up on one website that did give me an adventurous solution-bashing a Kadee HOn3 electromagnetic uncoupler kit for N scale! Here is the link to the website: http://www.aglasshalffull.org/article-uncouplers.html

It's a pretty lengthy description, so I will give a brief idea of what I had to do: First I had to narrow down the gap between the uncoupling plate to 6mm-which was quite an event given I don't have a vice. Second I had to alter the track mounting plate quite a bit to be able to squeeze it in between the uncoupler plate (which was not suggested in the website above, but I thought of giving it a try). But as it was predicted, it didn't work very well, so I had to give an additional wire support to hold the uncoupler plates parallel to the track.

Here is how it looks now:


Now there was one thing that was mentioned in the main article that I need to bend the tiny uncoupling rods in the trucks and make them parallel to the uncoupler plate. Doing so, I am unable to uncouple the cars in regular fixed magnet uncouplers. Moreover the electromagnet seem to have magnetizing my uncoupling rods in my cars and they are behaving erratically when they I'm trying to uncouple them with the fixed magnets and they have literally started 'moving on their own!'

So I would say this particular part of the project has quite a bit of hitch and I am not really sure how I am going to fix the problems-but I am sure I am going to get some solution.

Uncoupling on a curved mainline at your will!

Now coming to the other mainline uncoupling section near the bascule bridge I didn't even have the option of using a kit-bashed HOn3 uncoupler. As you can see from the plan it's on a curved mainline, right in front of a switch and there is not way I could use any conventional way of uncoupling here and for a long time I actually accepted the fact that I would have to do uncoupling using hand or a wire. But after I started building the layout, during the very first day when I was placing the tracks and the turnouts to have a feel of how and where the required things should be placed, I got an idea-which for me is brilliant!

I bought a starter pack of S.L. Enterprise's totally hidden uncoupler a few days back for a totally different purpose: modeling moving N scale vehicle without spending as much as a Faller car system. Basically it's a set of 4 highly powerful, tiny buttons of rare earth magnets on a protective iron plate. The whole assembly is pretty small: 25mm X 15mm with four magnets placing on four corners to create a small, but powerful uncoupling zone. I did a small experiment and saw that yes, placing these magnets strategically will uncouple the cars and would even let me do delayed uncoupling! Now what about uncoupling at my wish? My ready made solution was to create a simple hand driven lever system to bring the magnets closer to the tracks when required and taking them away when I don't need to uncouple!

Here are some pics:



The small iron handle at the bottom of the picture lets me 'activate' uncoupling when needed and bring it back to the default 'inactive' state when I just need to run a train without uncoupling.


Now look at the placement of the magnets-they are not really symmetrical or parallel to each other. And that is required when you have to uncouple on curved track. Not placing the magents that way will pull both the uncoupling rods in the coupled cars towards one magnet which will not let you uncouple the cars.

Now finally here is how it works:

When the uncouplers are inactive:


video

When the uncouplers are active:


video

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Trackwork

The benchwork completed, what was left was the track-laying. The planning for the layout was pretty concrete to avoid any confusion during the track laying period, but still I faced quite a bit of challenge while installing the uncouplers. Positions of the uncouplers were pre-planned and provisions were made while doing the benchwork. And these uncouplers were placed and fixed at the beginning of track laying. I have done quite a bit of experimentation with the uncouplers and will explain it in a later post.



In the picture you will see quite a few thin white cardboard pieces beneath the track in some places. Those are the masking of the switch machine holes and uncouplers. Once the scenery is added, all those will vanish.

As it is evident from the plan, tracks on this layout have a lot of curves (And Oh! I just love them!! :D :D) The yard is on curved tracks, so is the entrance and run-around. So I had to use a lot of flex tracks and curved turnouts from Peco. Talking about Peco switches (I use the live-frog one), I would say it's one of the best decisions I have made to use Peco turnouts on my layout. They are sturdy and hardy, spring loadedfor 100% reliability and gives tremendous performance for slow moving locos-even the smallest of the switchers.

All frogs have been made insulated from the following tracks as required to safeguard short-circuits. Because I have mostly used flex track, use of rail joiners were much less. I used glue and nails to fix the tracks to the bed. I am glad that I decided to use insulating board on foam for this layout. They make track laying a cakewalk!

Notice that I haven't used any additional roadbed for the track, though I had the supply of 48 ft of Woodland Scenic's roadbed. Except the entrance, the rest of the layout will have tracks concealed in concrete (I mean, not literally, modeled to be concealed in concrete) and therefore, an additional height of 4 mm would have given me some trouble filling up the space between the main surface of the landscape and the track level. I originally planned to use additional roadbed in the entrance (The town scene) but then eventually forgot all about it while laying the track! But later I thought, what the heck, I am going to expand the layout anyway... :D


As for modeling the coal trestle and the coal transfer portal, it was tough to find a solution initially. I needed a strong base which is not very thick and wide... something that can easily be modeled to be a steel trestle/bridge later on. After scratching my head for a long time, one idea did click! I used small pieces of balsa wood block (20mm wide X 10 mm thick) used in a game called Jenga by Funskool (Basically a stupid game of putting one block on top of the other, if you ask me). I used these blocks on a narrow piece of insulated board, cut as per the track plan, and joined them together to form the base for this sheet of insulated board. What I wanted was a setup that will let me model the pieces of 'Jenga' blocks as steel girder spans later. Now all I have to do is add some thin cardboard strips to model the spans, and trestle support in each joint-the coal trestle will be ready! The grade on this trestle is around 7% which is decent enough and prototypical. Plus I test run the loco on this trestle and it runs AWESOME in very prototypical, slow speed. Will post some videos later. By the way, I used sectional track to build the trestle.



To end with, a small representation of the port with the tracks on... :D :D :D


95% of the trackwork is done, only the run around and the engine house spur is left. Ordered for the turnout in Model Train Stuff and waiting for it to arrive...

I will post a separate discussion on uncoupling as I mentioned earlier, and now, all I am waiting for is to wire this up and start running trains... Oh! I will be "happier than a tornado in a trailer park!"