Thursday, March 31, 2016

Started using JMRI

As you recall, about a year ago, I took the plunge and switched from analog DC cab control to DCC. I haven't looked back. The switch to DCC opened up a myriad of operational possibilities. During the past few days I've taken things even farther by interfacing the DCC system with a computer and using Java Model Railroad Interface or JMRI software to do a number of things.

The gizmo that makes this all possible is the Digitrax PR3Extra decoder programmer. It can be used a stand-alone decoder programmer or to allow your PC and DCC system to do the Vulcan mind meld. The latter is exactly what use it for.

What exactly does JMRI do? A whole lot things. It allows you to program decoders from your PC, allows you to use your PC or smart phone as a throttle, manage car routing during operating sessions, operate signals and manage your locomotive roster.  It can also display block occupancy provided the right hardware is hooked up to your command system. The possibilities are endless. However the system does have a bit of a steep learning curve and I'm still getting the hang of parts of it.

The feature I'm most excited about is Withrottle. This app, coupled with the JMRI software allows an tablet or smartphone to function as a DCC throttle. All that's required is a wireless router and PC, which everyone has anyway.  This means I don't have to spend a fortune on throttles in order to operate and thereby puts the goal of hosting my first operating session within reach.

Monday, March 21, 2016

More Scenery and Some Cosmetics


Well, spring has sprung here in the Palmetto State and as usual, other things are competing for m time with model railroading. This is the time of year work gets busy and I'm on my feet more. As such I find myself with less energy and my focus tends to shift from working on the layout to running the trains and enjoying the fruits of my labor. 

This year however, my enthusiasm hasn't waned much like it has in previous years. Gallitzin is coming together exactly as I wanted it and I'm totally geeked to see it completed. For my latest scenery project, I built a small ridge between the east and westbound tracks leading up to the Route 53 overpass. 

In addition to scenery, I've also been working on some cosmetic things around the layout. Chief among them is skirting. See part of the deal with my wife when this layout was started was she got the area beneath for storage. Frankly seeing a bunch of boxes and clutter really detracts from the look of the layout. So, I went to Walmart and picked up a few cheap brown bed sheets. They're held in place with some thumb tacks. It's easily removable for when it's time to sling some plaster.

Also along the cosmetics line is a major train room cleanup. The room is a disorganized mess and every work night seems to have more than its fair share or "damn, where the hell is that (insert tool or part here)?" This will be an ongoing project.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

As you can see, I've gotten some more lights installed and wired up. Now one problem I've noticed with these LEDs is they are turn-night-into-day bright. As such even these houses painted dark colors tend to glow. Normally, the solution to this problem is painting the insides of the walls black. This worked on three out of four houses. However, my Model Power farm house is glued to a plastic with only a mall hole to allow a lightbulb. As such paining the inside is next to impossible. A solution has yet to present itself.

And hows about the streetlights? Aren't they, um, great? I ordered them from China via eBay and they looked good in the pic. Unfortunately, these things are freaking huge! Like HO scale huge. Well, since I don't have time to track down a replacement they'll have to do. It kind of take me back to my O-Gauge Hi Rail days.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Let There Be Light!

 As you can probably tell by the title of this post and the above photos, I've been installing lighting on the layout. On my last layout, I waited a bit to do this step, but since I made parts of this layout really difficult, if not impossible to access once the scenery is completed, it was now or never. The lack of access also mandated the use of LEDs for lighting. Unlike incandescent bulbs, LEDs last a long time, probably the life the layout. As an added bonus, they use a fraction of the power.

With that in mind I added some LEDs to the industrial structures in Gallitzin. Then I ordered some industrial-looking street lights from China. I must say with the room lights turned down, they look awesome. If that weren't enough, I took some blinking red LEDs and added them to the roof of the cement plant to simulate aircraft warning lights.

Now the thing about LEDs is their low power consumption does complicate wiring a bit. The plain LEDs came with preinstalled resistors and I could hook them directly to a 12-volt power supply. The street lights on the other hand did not, thus they required their own dedicated 3 volt circuit.

DC-DC Buck Converter steps the voltage from the power suppl down to the right level
Powering all these lights is an Astron HAM radio power supply. As supplied, it puts out 13 volts. This required a device called a DC-DC Buck Converter to step down the voltage. I purchased three off eBay (seller "tomtop_shop). I then took the main feed from the power supply and ran in to an Atlas Connector box, this not only split the feed into three but also gave me a master shutoff for each. I set one converter for 12 volts, the other for 3. I then ran those feed to another set of connector boxes on the control panel, giving me several circuits for each voltage.

I've also been working on the residential part of Gallitzin, which is set into a hillside. My original plan was to make steps of of styrofoam, but thy ended up being too steep. After some head scratching I decided to use some cardboard sheets to create more gradual steps down. Once the lighting for the houses and street lights is done, I should be able to tie this area up rather quickly.