Saturday, March 3, 2018

Inexpensive End-of-Run UTP

(I mentioned at the end of an earlier post that it's been a tough winter for dads. Fortunately, my dad is doing great after his bypass. Unfortunately, The Missus' dad isn't doing as great - this is the 3rd time he's gotten cancer and he starts intensive chemo this coming Wednesday. Things have been, as you can imagine, very busy between family stuff and work stuff and time on the layout has predictably suffered as a result. Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers. Very much looking forward to things getting back to some semblance of normal at some point.)

Turns out it's been a bit over a year since I "finished" the cab bus for the layout. But operating sessions have a way of adding things back onto the punch list that you thought you were done with. 

Case in point: on one of the feedback forms after my last ops session, KayleeZ mentioned how nice it would be if there was a throttle plug (UTP) over by East Berlin. Apparently, the UTP at Wethersfield was just a little too far to work East Berlin comfortably.

So, I split the line at the Wethersfield UTP and - since the new UTP would be at the end of the branch (therefore no need to daisy chain) - I just used an inexpensive phone jack. $2 vs. $15. Here's how I did it.

An ordinary phone line splitter does the trick, as you see above. Just be sure you split off the outgoing jack (the one that doesn't say "CMD STA"). In the photo above, the line on the right is coming in from the command station. From the splitter, you have the line going out to the radio antenna (center wire) and the line going off to the end-of-run UTP.

Another thing to note is that the connection between the splitter and the jack may not be optimal given the weight of the wires and the splitter itself. The splitter will tend to droop, losing contact and there'll be no juice/signal going through it. So here I've just pulled the center/antenna wire up and stapled it to the underside of the layout to pull the splitter up to maintain contact.

Next, I marked where I wanted the jack to go and used a hole saw to cut the hole. I then used a level over the two faceplate mounting holes and marked them so the jack would be nice and level. I also marked & mounted the brass mounting base.

The last important thing to keep in mind when using a standard phone jack (at least with an NCE cab bus) is that the cab bus/phone cord wires have to be "run through." It's a bit hard to describe, but you can read about it in the NCE manual (where it talks about making your own cab bus cables). Essentially, if you're using standard phone cord, you need to remove the RJ11 jack from one end and reinstall it "upside down" so that the internal wires will match the NCE standard.

What that means for hard wiring a standard phone jack is that you have to reverse the order of the wires. As you can see above, the black wire went to the yellow screw, the red wire went to the green screw, the green wire went to the red screw, and the yellow wire went to the black screw. Trust me. If you don't wire it this way it will not work as a throttle plug.

So there you have it! A handy-dandy UTP in East Berlin for Kaylee or anyone else wanting to plug in here. It's not really necessary since I do have wireless throttles and such, but it's always nice to have the added insurance of a tether.

Given everything going on these days, I don't know when I'll be operating next but hopefully my crews will get to try this out soon!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tuesday Tip: Don't Wait til it's Too Late

mentioned last week how I'd finally gotten out my Micro-Mark resin casting materials (that I got, um, a while ago) and I thought tonight would be a fine time to finally break through and cast my first item.

The first step in casting is to make a mold. But before you can make a mold, you have to make (or have available) a master that you want to copy - and a box to hold the master, and the RTV rubber you'll use to make the mold.

Fortunately, I had a nice junk casting casting of junk on-hand to try copying and I have some experience making foam core boxes (click here for proof), so this was no problem. You can see the results above.

Now came the tough part. . .

I gathered all the materials Dave Frary recommended on the DVD included with the casting kit - and then went to open the first bottle of the two-part RTV (room temperature vulcanizing) rubber.

Well, let's just say that it did not go well. At first I thought all of the liquid had evaporated, leaving just the white residue of Part A. But when I opened it, I discovered it had "just" separated. "No problem" I thought - "I'll just shake it back together again."

No amount of shaking worked. So I decided to try and scrape it all out into a bowl to stir it back together.

Yeah. Not so much. As you can see above, I had to cut the end of the bottle off to even get everything out.

I finally got everything into a (thankfully disposable) bowl and stirred. And stirred. And stirred some more. After a while, I had to admit that no amount of stirring would fix what had separated. The lid had a couple of numbers on it -  "9/15" - and although it didn't say so, I can only imagine that was the "Use By" date. I'd waited too long and it was far too late to do anything about it.
Thank you again to all of you that expressed concern and offered up thoughts and prayers for my dad a few weeks ago. I'm very happy to report that he continues to heal well, there's no damage to his heart, and he's well on the road to recovery. Thankfully, I'll have some more time with him - and I plan to make good use of it.

Unfortunately, now it's my father-in-law's turn. The Missus got some not-great news about her dad last night. We don't have a lot of information yet, and are waiting for some more tests to come back. But continued thoughts and prayers would be much appreciated.
Hopefully, today's Tuesday Tip isn't too over the top. It should be no surprise that our hobbies - our passions - can often provide fitting metaphors for our lives. It's all too easy to wait and put things off until you think you have ideal conditions for doing what you've told yourself over and over that you'll do - soon, someday. Make "someday" today. Don't wait until it's too late - whether it's tackling that kit . . . or making that phone call.

It's easy enough to go out and buy some new molding rubber. Make sure you don't wait too long to do the things money can't buy.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Some more SOMEthing: Painting Fence & Track

First of all, I wanted to do a big shout out to my friend Bill Gill for redoing the banner photo. As I think I've mentioned before, I'm a bit color blind (which is why I'm so afraid of doing scenery....) but even I realized that the banner photo had a greenish cast - especially after I saw how great it looked after Bill fixed it! So THANK YOU Bill! You've made the blog as well as the Valley Local website just a little bit better.

Bill hasn't been the only one working on the Valley Line though. Taking some of my own advice, I decided to do some more quick painting with the little bit of time I had after work tonight. . .

First, a little "writer's license".... I actually painted the fence a little while back. But it was certainly another one of those quick, high-impact-for-the-time projects. Just take a little "rust pen" (courtesy Woodland Scenics) and rub it on the barbed wire <ahem> fishing line . . .

BillS did the fence (and ground work, and bushes... but I digress) but I painted the line at least. And it looks pretty good. Certainly better than plain fishing line!

So now for tonight's project . . .

The Missus wanted to be up in the train room/den, so - after consulting an old blog post for what paints to use - I collected my paints and tools and brought my ballast/track test bed up to paint the ties. . .

The plan is to treat the track on this test bed as I would on the layout. That way I can see the effect not only of weathering the ties (individually!) and whether the weathering will hold up under ballast and adhesive, but also how different ballasts themselves will look with and without weathered ties and with different applications of adhesive and stains.

So you hopefully see above three distinct levels of weathering: 1) none (only spraybombed with brown paint), 2) relatively uniform. light weathering, drybrushing primarily two different colors, and 3) heavier, much more varied and heavier weathering using 3-5 different colors. Having these three options will hopefully give me a much better idea of whether the weathering is worth it after I ballast, apply adhesive, and (probably) stain with either India ink/alcohol and/or a Minwax brown stain wash.

Not bad progress for a little time this evening - and as I mentioned before, I'm a little further along....

Now - as always - I hope you'll weigh in with your thoughts on my work. And if any of you have any tips, suggestions, or warnings about what I'm doing here, please let me know! Bonus if you share your own experience and what's worked for you. As you can see, I'm trying hard to dial in a good, repeatable, and effective process for finishing my trackwork. I have a LOT of track to ballast in Saybrook and I'd sure rather not mess it up & have to redo it! %^)