Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wordy Wednesday #116

One of the few consolations of the time-suck that is Facebook is finding stuff you'd never find anywhere else, thanks to the generosity of the folks who post there. Unfortunately, I've misplaced the name of the fellow who posted the photo above (and if you're him and you happen to have landed here, please let me know in the comments!), but I'm so grateful that he uploaded this pic since it is the only photo I've ever seen of the crossing shanty at South Main Street in Millbury, MA.

As someone who's devoted to the CT Valley Line, why would that be such a big deal? Well, if you look at the smokestack coming out of the shanty, you'll get a hint since at the bottom of that stack was this:

Yup - I have the stove that was in that shanty way back in 1950. Click here for the story.

Things have been very busy 'round here lately. My day job is in full crazy mode, but that's typical for this time of year. Unfortunately, that's all but stopped progress on the layout. Fortunately though, despite it all, I'm still making some incremental progress: I've been reworking and finalizing Shoreline wiring, reworking the Saybrook control panel, and playing around with sound decoders. Hope to post some posts of all that soon.

In the meantime, I have crazyworktime til next Wednesday - Layout Life can restart after that....

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Relaxing Evening

Installing a new Digitrax AR-1 auto reverser to control the west end loop...

Friday, April 15, 2016

Friday Fun: Shake Down Ops - 3/31/16

After not having an operating session since January 30, 2015 (other than my "Dad Ops" session last spring), I've had not one, but TWO sessions in three weeks starting March 11. Granted, they were only "shakedown" sessions - to see how everything would work after over a year(?!) of expansion and construction - but the Trains Did Run and, despite a few glitches here and there, they ran pretty well.

Here are some photos from the second of the two sessions. Unlike last time, we actually had some paperwork this time. And - for the First Time Ever - we ran All Four Locals. YAY!

TomD working the Air Line Local in Somerset. Despite being our tallest operator, he still needed a stool to reach the manual turnout in the tunnel behind the church. Powering that turnout is on the "punch list" for next session.

Meanwhile, the two Shore Line Locals (Pete's PDX-1 from New Haven & Randy/Joseph's PDX-2 from New London, a.k.a. the New London Local, the Haddam Local, or the South End Valley Local) met in Old Saybrook to switch industries and exchange cars.

Pete and Joseph intently trying to coordinate efforts between the two Shore Line locals in Old Saybrook.

Since all the turnouts in Old Saybrook are now controlled by this nifty panel, the "Saybrook tower operator" (i.e. me) has to work with the Shore Line locals to throw the switches as they need them. This job was a little tougher since the new turnouts I added don't yet have LED indicators. Reworking the diagram is another punch list item for next time (w/help from BillS).

Having left its cars for PDX-1, PDX-2 heads up the east leg of the Saybrook wye (and over the liftout) toward Essex, Deep River & East Haddam.

Meanwhile, way up north on the Valley Line, Pieter is at the helm of the southbound Valley Local which has finished its work in Wethersfield and is now working Rocky Hill & Dividend.
One of the downsides of working PDX-1 (Shore Line local from Cedar Hill) is that it's a pretty short job. It comes from "Cedar Hill/New Haven" (staging) goes straight to Old Saybrook, does Saybrook switching and car exchange with PDX-2, then returns to Cedar Hill. Even with all that, it doesn't take nearly as long as the other 3 locals. In the future, the PDX-1 operator will also operate "generic mainline" trains (on the prototype, there were over 70 in a typical day - so PLENTY to do!). Until then, PDX-1 being done, Pete enjoys heading up to Middletown to watch the interaction between the Air Line Local and the Valley Local.

Air Line Local on the left, powered by DERS-1b (RS-1) #0669 & Valley Local powered by K-1b #278.

After the Valley Local interchanges with the Air Line Local in Middletown, it has to highball down the river to East Haddam to swap cars with the New London Local (PDX-2). Here it is southbound over Shailerville Bridge.

Although nowhere near the size of Middletown, there's LOTS of activity in the sleepy CT river town of Haddam. It's called "East Haddam/Goodspeeds" by the railroad, but the town of East Haddam is actually on the other side of the river - Haddam being the only town along the entire 400 mile river that's split in two. Here we see the Valley Local and New London Local swapping cars. Once their work is done, they'll both work sidings back to their home base and tie up for the night.
A "shake down" session is a dress rehearsal of sorts - an opportunity to put the railroad through its paces, test out the timing of all the actors, and reveal any quirks or other problems that need fixing. Then the idea is to work through that punch list in time for the next session where still-yet-more problems will crop up, which you fix for next time, and etcetera. Like bubbles percolating up through your newly-poured resin pond, you pop each problem and eventually - hopefully - the problems will become less and less frequent and might even stop altogether. Eventually.

Until then though, the shake down session is yet another opportunity to have some fun with your friends. No matter what problems come up, you'll still enjoy running some trains. And what could be better than that?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Converting Can Lights to Layout Lighting, Pt. 3 - Installing the Lights

Lots happenin' on the Valley Line, despite it being my busiest time of year at work. Whatever extra time I get I've been workin' on the railroad, so not much time left to blog. But I continue to make regular - and pretty significant - progress. I'm at the point now where I just want all the construction to be DONE so I can focus on things other than benchwork, trackwork, lighting, and wiring (not to mention tape, topping, and painting). For some reason, for example, I've been bit once again by the DCC bug and have been gettin' all crazy with decoder settings. I especially like how my K-1 will coast on momentum forEVer and I have to use F7 to brake. But that's another story....

For now, it's back to lighting. Once all the cans were converted to outlets, it was finally time to put up the lights. But I had to get them first. This is where having a smaller layout would have been nice - on a large layout, EVERYthing is bigger. Including your light order:

I ordered fifteen shop lights and a case of 30 T-8 bulbs from Wal-Mart. Given the quantity I needed, I went the least expensive route I could find - the "Lights of America" fixtures are under $11 each and I've been using them in the other room for over 3 years now with no problems.

To attach them to the drywall ceiling, I used the drywall anchors and screw hooks I described here. I placed the first fixture at the end and at the front edge of the layout and marked on the ceiling where the hanging chains would go. In order to limit the number of anchors/hooks I'd have to install - and because I wanted the fixtures to go end-to-end with no gaps - I decided to have one hook hold the ends of two fixtures.

Here's a close-up of the anchor/hook assembly. The best part of this setup is that you can hang the lights from the ceiling at whatever location you want.

I installed the first lights above one of the modules. Due to the "proscenium" there's a natural valence already in place. I mounted the fixtures close enough to this "valence" so that they'd tilt toward the layout.

I'll try to reproduce this effect over the rest of the layout.

As you can see, the effect is pretty cool - you don't see the lights, just the lighting.

Here's a shot with the rest of the lights on (having been installed):

And some over-all shots, showing how extensively and evenly everything is lit up.

I haven't yet tilted the lights toward the layout - that'll make a big difference in eye-glare. And eventually, I'll install valence to hide the lights even more.

Pretty dramatic difference from this:

Now that all the lights are up, the next hard task will be getting rid of all the empty boxes . . .

Not something the owners of smaller layouts have to worry to much about!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Converting Can Lights to Layout Lighting, Pt. 2 - Can to Outlet Conversion

(click here for part 1)

Once the outlets are all prepped, it's time to do the actual can conversion. I knew drilling holes into the drywall ceiling would make a little bit of a mess, so I covered the scenicked portion of the layout with some really light weight dropcloth/plastic material:

Once I did that, the first step in the conversion is, of course, to unscrew the bulb. And you're left with this:

Next, locate the spring clips that hold the flange/pot to the can and unhook those. It should be pretty clear where they are, but if you pull the flange away from the ceiling, it'll be obvious. Once unhooked, the flange/pot assembly comes right down revealing the can & light fixture.

Locate the wingnut on the side that holds the light fixture assembly in place. Loosen that enough to allow the assembly to slide down - if you leave the nut turned vertical, it'll allow the assembly to slide all the way down and out.

(NOW - if you have not yet turned off the power to these lights, DO SO NOW! To be extra safe, I shut off the breaker and just used a floodlight plugged into another circuit with an extension cord for lighting while I did the rest of the job.)

Once you have the assembly out, it's time to cut it from the wires. Early on, I thought I'd want to convert back to can lighting (e.g. in case we wanted to sell the house) and so I cut the wires leaving pigtails on the socket for reattachment later. That made it more difficult to connect the outlets and I later decided if I ever wanted to put "more traditional" lighting back in, I'd do track lighting instead - and use my new power outlets for that. Once that was decided, I just started cutting the wires right next to the socket and just discarded the socket assembly entirely (along with the flange/pot). Having longer wires made it MUCH easier to wire up the outlets later.

So this is what you're left with:

Next, it was time to mark where the cover plate would go. To make sure the plate would be parallel to the wall (not askew on the ceiling), I used a long T-square and made a small straight pencil mark to give me a guide for placing the plate.

Then, holding the plate in place, I drilled four pilot holes in the corners (1/4"), set the plate aside, and inserted the drywall anchors:

Pete had wired the outlets and left pigtails to connect to the wires coming out of the cans, so it was just a matter of wire-nutting everything together - black to black, white to white, green to ground (in my case, I attached the ground wire to a screw on the side of the can. Oh, and btw, pay no attention to the actual color of my wires).

Once everything is all connected, turn your breaker back on, plug in a trouble light or something, and then flip your (former light) switch on the wall. If you did something wrong, the breaker will trip and nothing will happen (ask me how I know). If you did everything right, your trouble/test light will come on. Success!

I did each outlet assembly one at a time and tested each before moving on to the next. That way I'd be able to fix any problems as soon as they cropped up. After my initial snafu (I had a crossed wire on the first outlet), everything worked wonderfully. And it looks pretty good too (I'll eventually paint the masonite to match the ceiling).

Next time: the fun part - installing all the lights!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Converting Can Lights to Layout Lighting - Outlet Prep

I always used to roll my eyes when I heard "older" folks talking about how their sight would get worse with age. I've worn glasses & contact lenses since I was 5 yrs old, but it's only been within the last few years that I've discovered I actually need reading glasses in addition to my contacts.

I guess I'm one of those "older" folks now.

And along with this I've also discovered that the more light I have, the easier it is for me to see (well, duh) - and that's especially true with the layout.

Soooo.... I decided I needed Much More Light over my recently-expanded layout. Here's where I started out:

Actually not too bad, all things considered. These are fairly bright (150 watt?) indoor floodlights mounted in recessed cans in the ceiling - thus:

There were 7 of them in the room I expanded into and while the light was certainly adequate, it was spotty and I wanted to do what I'd done in the rest of the layout - have florescent tubes evenly - and brightly - lighting the railroad.

At first I'd considered just replacing the bulbs with those funky outlets-that-screw-into-light-fixtures. But even I - as a non-electrician - decided that was a bit too risky. So Pete and I came up with another solution: converting the cans themselves to outlets that I could plug the florescent tubes into. BONUS: the outlets, being in the ceiling, would keep all those cords well out of the way. I figured it was the next best thing to having custom-built the space with a ceiling outlet circuit installed.

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Now, before I go any further, I want to issue the following warning/caveat/statement:

While I have a rudimentary understanding of typical household wiring, I am not, nor have I ever, been an electrician or claimed to be an electrician. What follows is merely how I - as a NON-electrician - went about converting my can lights into outlets to use for model railroad lighting. 

Ok, now that that's out of the way... Before I even started, I knew the first thing I needed to do was to figure out whether my existing circuit could handle the load of all these lights. Here's how I went about it:

I determined I'd need 30(!) shop lights, each with two 32 watt T8 florescent bulbs. I next found the circuit breaker in my breaker box that controlled the existing lighting. Thankfully, it's a 20 watt breaker (most household breakers are only 15w) - likely installed to accommodate the high-wattage floodlights. I calculated the load of my new lighting this way:

30 fixtures, times 65 watts (2x32w plus some fudge factor) totalled 1,950 watts. I then divided that number by 120 (volts) and came up with 16.25 watts - well within the limit of my 20 watt breaker.

<><><>end electrical sidebar<><><>

Once I knew I could accommodate my lighting, I next needed to make up the outlets. Here's some supplies I needed (since I have a drywall ceiling):

I used these both to provide something for my new outlet panels to screw into, AND to mount the lights.

Hooks to screw into the anchors to hang my lights. #10 size matched the screws that came with the anchors.

Outlets, of course. And outlet boxes (not shown here, but you'll see them later)
 I tasked poor Pete with the job of making up the outlets (he'd done it before and I trust his work) while I made up the new mounting plates from scrap masonite (former fascia material) . . .

My masonite panels are 8x8". I placed the outlet box face down in the center of the panel and traced it.

Drilled out the corners to accommodate my saber saw. . .

and cut out the hole. This panel is for a single outlet.
 Once I'd made up a bunch of mounting panels and Pete had gotten some outlets wire up, it was time to put the two together:

Double outlet, mounted
A bunch of mounting panel/outlet assemblies ready to go!
We had a bunch to do, but the work progressed steadily. By the end of the afternoon, I had enough ready to install. Next time, I'll show you how I did the actual can-light-to-outlet conversion.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Worded Wednesday #113

A rare find from the Archive - westbound at Old Saybrook. Signal bridge and station in the far distance, Donnelly Printing siding in the foreground. "Rare" because it shows a J-1 on what appears to be westbound manifest - note the TOFC at the back, so unlikely to be the New London Shoreline Local. Anybody know - what's the story?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What's On My Workbench - Wireless Throttle Antenna Elimination

Since I've been focused so much lately (like the last 14 months or so) on layout construction/expansion, I haven't spent much time at the workbench. That's changed over the last couple of evenings.

So, this latest edition of WOMW, shows my handy-dandy NCE wireless throttle antenna elimination modification - this time being attempted performed on an NCE CAB-04pr throttle.

Despite the fact that the Cab04 is a much less expensive throttle than the ProCab, this mod is actually proving to be much more cold-sweat-inducing. Everything is Just So Cramped. Thankfully, I just tested it and it works(!). I just need to add the battery pack cut-out switch and this project should be done. I'll decide later whether to do the same surgery on my other Cab04 (it's currently at NCE for "other issues").

When I'm finished, I'll do a more detailed post. For now though, a quick tip: use 20 gauge rather than 18 gauge wire in this one.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Modeling Monday

"Modeling Monday" was one of the first posts on this blog - a simple and quick little post that served to highlight some of my modeling - and to serve as a welcome reminder that I do actually do some modeling from time to time, despite all the layout construction (benchwork, trackwork, wiring lighting) I've been doing over the last couple of years.

So, without any further ado - or comment - here are a few random photos I took recently while railfanning in the Air Line town of "Somerset" (one of the two 2x8' modules) . . .

The truck says "JD Owen Coal Co." but regular operators know this as "Derwin Coal" - named after helper/operator Tom Derwin who donated the trestle (which reminds me, I should do a post on how I modified/superdetailed it)

Engine terminal looking across to the other side of the mainline. The photo backdrop is especially effective here.

The part of town that's down by the tracks. These buildings have full interiors.
I can take credit for the module construction, including track and scenery. But all the structures were salvaged from the layout of a dearly-departed old friend. Click here for a little bit of that story. And click here for more model photos & modeling related posts.

Happy Modeling Monday!