All posts by mark

WiThrottle and DCC++

One of the major design points for my shelf switcher layout is a compact way to power it.  Well, I pretty much have that ready now.

I put together a DCC++ Base Station using an Arduino MEGA board, an Ethernet shield and a Pololu MC33926 motor shield, then I added a TP-Link TP-WR802N pocket router for wireless connectivity.  I then worked on the software a bit, and added the ability for the DCC++ Base Station to communicate with the WiThrottle (or Engine Driver if you’re Android) app on my iPhone.

Now, when I install this in the shelf layout, I’ll be able to control the trains from my phone for a pretty low price…

Here’s a video of the gear in action…

Office Shelf Inglenook

Every day I go into the office, and there’s a shelf above my desk… it’s about 13″ deep and 48″ long.  I have some “stuff” on it, but it’s largely unused… from time to time, I look up and wonder what I could do with that space…  and I have some leftover turnouts and bits of track from the main layout construction…

Here’s my most recent thought… an Inglenook puzzle in N scale!

The Inglenook is a classic switching puzzle.  The three yard tracks hold 3, 3, and 5 cars each, and the lead track is just long enough for a locomotive + 3 cars. The goal is to arrange 5 randomly selected cars (out of 8) in a particular order on the main track while working within the limited space available… and it just so happens that my shelf is just long enough to do this in N scale.

Since my main layout is modern day and eastern, I might instead go with an older time frame and something Southwestern or Pacific Northwest.  Maybe early BN or even steam era.  I’m rather fond of the BN green/white color scheme, and this might be a good excuse to pick up an older SW unit in those colors.

My thought at the moment is to construct a 13x48x1″ box of some nice hardwood and fill the inside with extruded foam.  The track would be ME Code 55 flex and Atlas #5 turnouts (because I have spares).  The scenery shown here is just for illustrative purposes, but I do have a spare plate girder bridge that would go nicely.

Due to the way the shelf is constructed (modular furniture) there will be about 3″ of space behind the layout backdrop that could be used for storage or to house the power pack.  I could even make the thing wholly self-contained, with throttle controls directly mounted in the fasica.

Power would be DC, most likely, though I might consider getting an Arduino and using DCC++.  Since it’s a workplace setting I would not want to leave anything complex or expensive, and since there is only one operating locomotive, there’s not much need for DCC unless I want sound.  I could provide a power jack in the fascia for a power connection, so the throttle / power pack would not need to be hooked up full time, and I could even possibly incorporate an under-table sound decoder for layout sound (again with a headphone jack in the fascia.

Another benefit of a “side project” like this is it gives me an opportunity to practice some scenery techniques before applying them to the main layout.  If I make mistakes here, it’s easier to correct.

When will this all go down?  Probably not until later in the spring when the weather is nice enough to do woodwork in the garage… and I get just a little bit farther with the main layout.

 

 

Bursts of Progress

I was going to title this post “Slow Progress”, but then I realized it is more like bursts of progress with long periods of idleness in between — or more precisely, long periods of everything else in life taking priority.

But, there are in fact some bursts of progress. This past week I have been working on laying out the staging tracks. Here you can see that work in process:

Slow progress

In this photo I am laying the roadbed for the outermost two tracks of the 5-track staging.  I don’t have a photo, but at the moment I have the roadbed laid, two turnouts and all the track on both ends prepared (except for attaching wires) for installation, but I’ve hit a snag.

The staging yard will have infrared detectors placed at both ends and in the center, for queuing up trains on the hidden tracks, but I have to determine the clearance points between all of the tracks in order to figure where to place the sensors.  And the sensors must be placed before the track is permanently installed.  So until the next budgeting round, when I can purchase the rest of the turnouts for the yard (and some more flex track!), the staging must go on hold.

In the meantime, I did acquire some Code 40 flex for the industrial tracks, and so I began installing those, at least where I knew for sure what the final placement should be.

First, we have the 84 Lumber site, between the yard and the peninsula.  84 Lumber is a single track which will be in the middle of a lumber yard (obviously) and be mainly for centerbeam flats.

This track will be served by the Branch Line turn.

Second up, we have Standlee Forage, which is on the North wall of the room between the yard and the lift-out bridge.  This too is a single track, and will be one of the “signature” scenes anchoring the layout to a real place in space/time.

You can see the real site in the photo behind the tracks.

Third we have the two tracks for the Georgia Pacific “Dixie Cup” plant.

Dixie Cup is accessed from the main line just off the yard, and its spur crosses over the Branch Line as it curves around toward the closet.  The straight track will be inside the plant building, which will feature a cut-away scene of the interior loading dock.  The curved track will be outside the building and is an unloading dock for a single tank car of chemicals used in the manufacturing process.

In a stroke of luck, I have made an acquaintance of one of the engineers at the real plant, so I am hoping to gather some “intelligence” on the actual operations and materials involved, to enhance the realism of this scene.

One issue I have come across is that Code 40 rail is short enough that my locomotives are rather noisily riding along the molded-in spike detail on the ties.  They still make good contact with the rails, so I think a bit of careful work with a file on the spike heads should solve that problem.  I will also have to make sure that all of my rolling stock is retrofitted with low-profile wheels.  Some of my boxcars with Micro-Trains “pizza cutter” wheels won’t run at all on this track.

We shall see when scenery is in place, but TBH at the moment I’m not sure the difference between Code 40 and Code 55 is all that visible, except perhaps in photographs.

That is all I have for now.  Upcoming tasks include (in no particular order):

  • Saving up for the rest of the staging yard trackage and turnouts
  • Pondering how to re-build the lift-out across the closet, and how to improve vertical alignment on the main lift-out.  This may involve Neodymium super-magnets in some fashion.
  • Studying the “pit” side of the peninsula and making final decisions about the industry/industries on that space.
  • Starting final design work on Standlee and Dixie Cup structures, now that track is in place and footprint dimensions can be finalized.
  • Creating the video update Part 6, which is long overdue.

 

Atlas MP15DC Decoder Install

Atlas MP15DC Decoder Install
I recently purchased this used Atlas MP15DC, and of course it needed a decoder. Since I’ve been more or less standardizing on Digitrax for my “run of the mill” decoders, I chose the Digitrax DN163A3, which is a “drop-in” version for this locomotive. TCS also makes a drop-in decoder, and of course a wired decoder can be used.

At low speed, this is one of the smoothest running locomotives in my fleet, even with the factory-default motor settings. There is an audible whine at higher speeds, but… this is a switcher. It’s not supposed to run at high speeds.

The install is so straightforward (and so typical of modern Atlas locos) that I won’t go into much detail here.

  1. Remove the shell
  2. Loosen the two frame shell screws
  3. Slide the light board out of the frame
  4. Place the decoder in the frame, with the large, wide end facing away from the cab end of the loco. Make sure to place it component side down, or LEDs up.
  5. Tighten the frame shell screws
  6. Replace the shell

The most important part of the install is to make sure the components face down when placing the decoder in the frame. The fit between the decoder tabs and the frame slots was quite tight, and required some force to get the frame to close up. If yours is loose, adding a little bubble of solder to the pads can take up the free space.

I also read in another install description that sometimes the motor tabs need to be trimmed or filed down just a bit to avoid incidental contact to the wrong tabs. I did not find this to be necessary on my loco, but be advised.

There was one thing that caught me off guard that I have not seen documented elsewhere, at least not with descriptive photos. There is a black piece of plastic inside the cab area of the shell that acts as part of a light guide for the rear headlamp. This piece is only press-fit, and seems to be able to fall out easily. Since I wasn’t expecting the part to fall out, I did not see where it fit originally, and it took some time to figure out where it went and how it fit into the loco.

To save you the trouble, here are a couple of photos:

The part is circled here.
Atlas MP15DC Decoder Install

This is where it goes… oriented upright like a chair, with the clear light guide poking through the hole in the black part.
Atlas MP15DC Decoder Install

One more tip… it’s easier to keep this light guide part in place if you flip the shell upside down and insert the frame into the shell, rather than placing the frame upright and putting the shell over it.

HTH!

Frost River Update Part 4

Here’s video update part 4. No narration this time, just a short video of trains running the now-completed main line loop, including crossing the lift-out bridge across the aisle.

I’m planning to provide update part 5 soon, in which I will describe some of the work that went into reaching this milestone, including tracklaying, hooking up the DCC track bus, setting up my Raspberry Pi / JMRI train computer, setting up servo turnout controls, and constructing the bridge.

Thanks for watching, and stay tuned!!

Hand Laid Turnouts

This is my first hand-laid turnout. It is a #7 right-hand switch made with MicroEngineering Code 55 rail, PCB ties from Fast Tracks, and using the Fast Tracks template. I cut and filed the rails by hand using my bench vise and a file. Overall it has taken three weeks, but probably only a couple of hours of actual working time.

The wrk wasn’t nearly as hard as I expected it to be. The filing work was a bit tedious, and I did a terrible job on the wood ties, but the turnout is quite functional.

I’m looking forward to building plenty more of these in the future, including some more complex track work like this crossover coming soon…