Tag Archives: design

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.



Sometimes you do need a pro…

If you are ever in the need for some expert layout design help, contact M.C. Fujiwara at Yardgoat Layout Design.  This guy is “the man”.

I was growing increasingly frustrated with the design I posted earlier, and the various changes I was making to it.  I could not clearly articulate in track and scenes the concepts that were swirling around in my head, and the pressure of this being my “main” layout was causing me all kinds of grief.  I was getting plenty of helpful advice from some trusted advisors, but it just wasn’t coming together. Continue reading Sometimes you do need a pro…

Frost River Moves Upstairs

After a long discussion with the “Planning Commission”, the CH&FR has been ceded property rights to the 10×10 foot spare bedroom upstairs. Plans are progressing for an around the walls shelf layout (with a peninsula) that will provide point to point operations for several people.

The proposed track plan is based closely upon the HO scale “Midwest Branch Line” plan designed by Lance Mindheim with some modifications for the continuous run and the point-to-point (vs. out-and-back branch) operations. And of course conversion to the different room dimensions and N scale. Continue reading Frost River Moves Upstairs

I added a fascia…

  by BGTwinDad
, a photo by BGTwinDad on Flickr.

Recently, in an effort to get something done on the layout, I started work on the fascia. I have the two long sides painted and one installed, and messed up cutting the first of the short sides.

I started with Model Master ATSF Blue and CSX Tan paints, and painted color-match swatches on a piece of hardboard, from which I got a quart each of household latex color matched at the local hardware store. After cutting the fascia pieces to length and priming them, I painted them tan and applied a 1″ painter’s tape where I wanted the stripe to be.

Mistake #1: I should have over-painted the tape with tan, to seal the edges and prevent bleed-under. Instead, I went straight to the blue, and the result is that my edges are not clean.  Mistake #2: I wasn’t careful what nap roller I used, so there is a bit more texture than I had originally planned.  Nevertheless, it looks OK, I think.

Still, in the philosophy that some progress is better than none, here we are. It really does look much nicer from across the room, which was goal #1. I will go back later and touch up the bloody areas.

Yard Improvements


I made a rather significant change to the design of the yard over the past few days.  The above video shows an example of operations before and after.

In the old version, the Engine Service track was an extension of Yard Track 3 along the front edge of the layout.  To access the track, a locomotive on the A/D (Arrival/Departure) track had to execute a “Z” shaped move, pulling up onto the yard lead, down the ladder to Track 3, and then forward onto the service track.  To hook up to a new train, engines have to do the same move in reverse.  In addition, there had to be sufficient open space on Track 3 for the engine to clear the switch.  All this takes time and ties up valuable car storage space in the yard.  The alternative is for the engine to pull up and block the main line while the switcher does its yard work.

In the new version (second half of the video), I moved the Service track so that it extends off the Yard Lead beyond the Ladder.  Now, engines on the A/D track can simply pull straight forward and take the switch to the Service Track.  One simple move, and the Engine is clear of the yard and the main.  One reverse move and the train is ready to go.  In addition, the entire Track 3 is available for yard work.

On a larger yard, extending Engine Service off the “top” of the yard instead of the yard lead can make sense.  With space this tight, it did not.  I think this was a good move, operationally, and I think the video proves it.  What do you think?


Layout Update 15 Oct 2010

It’s been a while since I posted a general update on the status of the layout.  Track work continued apace to the point where both yards and the outer mainline have been laid.  There are several trouble spots that require attention, and in particular both of the curved grades on either end of the layout may need to be ripped out and completely rebuilt.  But trains are running.

ON one end, the track is not level across the rails, which actually generates a nice superelevated effect, except that the outboard ties are floating up in the air. I will need to reseat that track and make sure it follows a level profile around the curve.  I believe the grade is otherwise acceptable here.

On the other end, I have realized that the lower half of the grade is actually level, creating an overly steep grade at the very bottom leading into the staging yard turnouts.  This is creating some issues with cars derailing when shoved forward by the cars behind them.  In this case, the only choice will be to lift up the track and regrade the subroadbed to a more consistent slope.

Most of the rest of the work needed appears to be routine track rehab:  vacuuming up stray bits of foam, cleaning the rails, filing down solder joints and frog guard rails, and so on.  I’m working these out one at a time as I find them while running trains.

Next up is to build the big Central Valley Truss Bridge for the upper loop (it’s on its way) and the second MicroEngineering Deck Bridge for the mine yard.  These will need to be installed (along with the other upper bridge, which is an RTR Kato plate girder bridge) to complete the track work.  After that, all that will be left is the Town Branch, which I don’t want to commit to until I finalize the town and industry design.  In the meantime, I have a temporary piece of track tacked down to allow cars to be spotted.

In general, I’m learning a few lessons about track design.  Like how important it is to leave space between the track for scenery, and how hard it is to reach across a 38″ table.  And how easy it is to derail a train by forgetting to throw a switch.  I’ve successfully installed a Caboose Industries Ground Throw, and worked out the positions required to work an Inglenook Sidings puzzle in the town yard.

Even after running operations, I’m fairly pleased with the design.  For a single operator, it will be important to provide easy access to both sides, and adding power remote switches will help tremendously with that.  I need to get my mind started considering detailed scenery design, but I can’t help having some fun running trains and wondering about how to connect an expansion.

I’m already considering how to connect a removable platform for a wye and an intermodal yard…

Great Customer Service

One of the things I’ve found in this hobby is some really great customer service from the manufacturers and retailers.

Two that I would like to give a “shout out” to today are Mike & Robin Fifer at Fifer Hobby Supply in Las Cruces, NV and Duncan McRee at Tam Valley Depot.

Mike Fifer is an active model railroader, in addition to running his retail and online supply business.  He also has a great series of videos on YouTube outlining the construction of his AC&T Railroad at the shop.  I’ve had excellent service from Mike & Robin, including some more than fair “above and beyond” business practices regarding shipping.  They clearly are out to build a good relationship with their customers by doing the right thing all the time.

Mike has also been very quick and patient in responding to the many questions I have peppered him with, and it is clear that he would be just as nice regardless of how much I was buying from him (and in truth, I’ve bought very little, $$$ wise).

As for Tam Valley Depot, well, if you’re looking for turnout controls or other electronics for your layout, you’ve got to check these guys out.  They have an excellent product line that has been clearly very well thought out and designed with flexibility and ease of use in mind.  I can say that with authority, as I do this kind of stuff for a living.  It’s really good stuff, and well documented, too.

Again, just like with Mike & Robin, Duncan has been more than helpful and patient in answering the dozens of planning questions I have sent his way, and I have yet to drop a dime on his company.  That speaks very well of him and his company, in that they understand their customers’ needs and are passionate and engaged in helping folks achieve their goals.

Thing is, it’s not just me, either.  I’ve seen many, many posts on the forums from a broad spectrum of other folks regarding these two companies, all to the same effect.  Top notch products, over the top service, and a real passion for the hobby.

Of course, there are many other MRR companies out there that also do an excellent job, and a few that perhaps don’t do so well.  But Fifer Hobby and Tam Valley Depot are certainly two examples of the right way to do things.

(Note:  While Tam Valley Depot products could be used on any layout, Fifer Hobby is an N-scale specific retailer).