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Monday, December 23, 2013

Short and Sweet

A Christmas Present For You!

A couple years ago I made this little video in an attempt to get up close and personal with a trolley model (SDERy Birney #301). It didn't quite turn out as well as I would have liked, so I forgot about it. This last summer I happened to show it to a couple of members of the Southern California Traction Club who reacted quite favorably to it. So why not release it? So here you go, I hope you like:

Happy Holidays Everyone! God bless us one and all. Yes sir! God bless us one and all!


Monday, December 16, 2013

Operating System

Just a quick shot of the temporary control panel for the layout.

This simple set up is what I used while building the layout. I didn't want to invest any more money into the layout until I knew if it was going to work or not. So I used basic DC and a control panel built the old fashioned way:

Masonite cut to size.
Spray paint line color (cream).
Use tape to mask off route.
Spray paint main color (green).
Peel off tape revealing line color.
Drill for and install push buttons and indicator lights.
Dry transfers for street names.

These days its so much easier to build a control panel by designing one on a computer and simply printing it out and gluing it onto Masonite or Acrylic. Or, with the capabilities of DCC, a lot of folks are foregoing with control panels all together.

Electrical blocks are indicated (along with the direction of travel) by the gaps in the lines. So as you can see, this layout will eventually be able to accommodate a lot of cars!

These buttons control the NJ International switch machines. The switch machines have a bank of electrical tabs that power the indicator lights in the control panel. This has proven to be most troublesome and are the cause of almost all electrical shorts. Since the layout has proven itself and actually works, The NJ International switch machines are going to be replaced with servos which require a different type of switch. So like I said, this control panel is temporary. Yes sir. Its only temporary.


Monday, December 09, 2013

Repairing, Upgrading, Improving

Now that the layout is running regularly, the weak spots are making themselves known.

Specifically, my homemade turnouts are failing. Originally I just soldered the turnout rail directly on top of the post of the turnout link. But it turns out that those kind of forces are too much for the solder alone. So the engineering dept came up with a nub and groove design. The post has a rectangular nub filed on top and the rail has a matching notch. Then this interlocking design is soldered together. And that worked fine… for a while. But now with more frequent use, the hard snapping of the NJ International switch machines weaken that solder joint. And one by one, they are popping off again.

Above. This is the latest turnout point to pop off. You can see the nub and groove design (and I see that plaster from street paving got into the rail web). John McWhirter from the Southern California Traction Club suggested that I make a sleeve that contains the assembly, holding it all in place. Which I quickly dismissed as it would interfere with the flange-way.  But the more I thought about it the more it made sense.  So I thought I would give it a try.

This is what the engineering dept. came up with. A tube which slips over the post and is notched so that the rail seats inside. The sides of this notch fit snug against the base of the rail and is low enough to clear the wheel flanges. Simple.
The whole assembly is soldered together. So now, with this new nub and groove and sleeve design, things should be a lot more solid. (Eventually the old NJ Internationals will be replaced with the more gentle servo turnout motors, that should help too). The plaster was removed from the rail as well and everything is clean and shiny! We are ready to re-install.

The top of the hole is drilled out to accommodate the wider diameter sleeve, and the turnout point is installed.

A quick check to make sure everything is in gauge and... are you kidding me! We are out of gauge! You know, I noticed that the cars were bumping over some of the turnouts in the videos, this is probably why.

Yep, the hole is off center. How do you move a hole over?

The old hole is filled in with a same diameter dowel. Now I have a clean slate to start over with.

Then a carefully positioned pilot hole is drilled. That hole is widened with consecutively larger bits until the correct size is achieved. (This, by-the-way, is a real pain with the overhead in the way!) The turnout point is re-installed. The gauge is checked. And...

... we are back in business! Better and stronger than ever before. Yes sir! Better and stronger than ever before!


Monday, December 02, 2013

Not The First Grand Union Intersection Modeled....

...I was just the first to make a big deal about it!

There are actually a few working scale Grand Union Intersections that I know about. The first GU I saw (but I don't remember where) years ago was fully modeled but only part of it was working, the rest of the intersection was just for show. But then in the September 2010 issue of Model Railroader, a fully working O scale GU showed up:

This Grand Union Intersection is part of Les Lewis's home layout, the Connecticut Co. Notice the controls for the intersection on the lower right. As I understand it, the buttons are interlocked to prevent collisions. Press the blue button and the car will proceed straight through the intersection. Press the yellow for a right turn. Green for left turn, and press the red button to stop the car.

This is the first Grand Union that I know of that was built in HO scale:

 This nicely built Grand Union was built by Charlie "Chuck" Grant. As I understand it, it's part of his home layout but  it can be removed and connect onto the modular layout of the East Penn Traction Club.

Here is another HO scale Grand Union Intersection module recently built for a German tram club, Modular Nuremberg. The remarkable thing about this GU is that the rails are insulated for two rail operation! Here is a video that has a snippet of a tram negotiating a left turn through it at the 10:24 mark.

So, sorry my friends, I'm not the first to complete one. But they sure are fun all the same. If  you know of anymore, let me know and I'll post them here. Yes sir! Let me know!


Monday, November 18, 2013

The Grand Union Intersection in Action!

A Video of the Fully Functional Grand Union Intersection in HO Scale!

The dang thing actually works! Yes sir! It actually works!


Monday, November 11, 2013

Resolution Resolved!

The first day of this year (2013) I resolved to get my layout running before years end. Today I am proud to announce the fulfillment of that Resolution.

The completed intersection:

Next week I'll be posting a video of the intersection in action that I think you'll really like. You definitely won't want to miss it! Yes sir! You won't want to miss it!


Monday, November 04, 2013

Cutting in!

Locating and Installing the Turnout Pans

The prospect of nipping the running wire so as to insert a turnout pan is a bit unsettling to me. After all, the mainline is running so beautifully that I would hate to mess it up. But if the layout is going to run as designed, well, I've got to cut in those turnouts. So before I do, I want to be perfectly certain as to where that pan should go exactly.

So I read the Trolleyville Guide to Hanging Simple Overhead very carefully first. Then with a Sharpie I marked the wire where the cut happens: 1/3 the distance between the switch point and the frog. 

In addition to the cut mark, I also marked where the holes in the pan line up with the wire so I know where to bend the wire up so as to maintain the same tension in the overhead. 
Now I have the confidence to...

Snip! Twang! Boing! Cut. Then using the marked locations as a guide I bent the ends of the wires up.

The bent wire ends are threaded up through the holes in the pan and then bent back. I soldered the joints for good electrical continuity. Cleaned it up and ran the cars through. So far so good. One Turnout Pan in, 15 to more to go.
Well that wasn't so bad, was it? Yes sir! That wasn't so bad!


Monday, October 21, 2013

Grand Union Overhead

I've seen some Grand Union track-plans published.  But never for the overhead wires!

So the engineering dept of the Dan D. Sparks Plywood Development and Transportation Co. has its work cut out for it designing a reliable working overhead cantanary wires for this intersection.

This detail from a Shorpy photo is the only photo I've ever seen of a (non-modern light rail) Grand Union Intersection. Its a bit asymmetrical with one of the streets cutting off at an angle like that.  But lets see what can be learned from this photo anyway.

This is my interpretation of the wiring configuration gleaned from the Shorpy photo. And I believe this arrangement can be improved upon. I know one factor for reliable overhead construction is that the pulloff wires should be perpendicular to the contact wire. Something that the traction company in the photo hadn't yet discovered in those early years. Having a pulloff wire pulling the contact wire at an angle will increase the tension on one side of the contact wire, and cause slack on the other end. Nice balanced overhead tension is desirable. 

Another interpretation. Here I'm trying to counteract pulloff wires pulling off at an angle by having a second pulloff pull from the other direction. But I have found that the tension of having too many pulloff wires tends to cause the contact wires to loose their tension and sag. A model overhead needs to be a simplified version of the prototype.

Getting a little too complicated here. The nice thing about the rotationally symmetrical design of the Grand Union is that each contact wire has a mirror image counterpart that it can pull off from. All that the line poles have do is simply hold the whole thing up!

Here we go! To get a pulloff wire that  pulls off the contact wire at a right angle when there isn't a place for the other end of the pulloff wire to anchor to requires a backbone wire. Support wires can attach to the backbone wire at an angle, but the backbone wire provides a place for the wires pulling off the contact wire to attach at a right angle.

I think I have done enough figurings. I think now its time to dive in and start laying in some of these wires and see where it gets me. Doing these drawings has given me a good idea of what I need to do and the confidence needed to cut into the mainline wire and add in the turnout pans and diverging route wires. Yes sir! It has given me the confidence to cut in and lay in those diverging routes!


Monday, October 14, 2013

Time Killer!

Somehow I missed this, but in 1994 Microprose published the video game Transport Tycoon Deluxe. That game is way too old for today's operating systems to run and Microprose hasn't supported it in years so the game has long been abandoned.

But apparently the game has quite a fan base that wouldn't let it die and is now available for free as an open source game now known as OpenTTD! I am so addicted to this game right now.

It has a pretty steep learning curve, so it your going to play it, I strongly recommend watching these tutorial Youtubes, starting with this one on how to download and install the game:

When these videos are about to end, they show a link at the top for the next installment.

But I warn you: If you play this game, a large chunk of time will evaporate from your life! Yes sir! A large chunk of time!


Monday, September 30, 2013

Dancing the Cloverleaf

Hot Damn! The overhead wires around the layout and through the intersection have been completed and the cars can now run a continuous "cloverleaf" pattern. So you know what that means:

A video! Watch as #105 and #426 run beautifully around the layout:

 Once all the bugs are worked out and the layout is running relatively smooth (and I build up the courage), I'll cut into the overhead and string the wires for turnouts on that Grand Union Intersection. Until then, lets enjoy the cars finally running under power from the overhead! Yes sir! Let's enjoy the cars finally running!


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lucky 7

7 Years of Bloggety Blah Blab Blog and the Cars are Finally Rolling!

 What a difference a year makes. With my job going on hiatus (and then, unfortunately, cancellation) I was able to turn much of my attention to the layout. And finally, after all these years, the layout has transformed from a plywood monstrosity to a working, running model trolley layout, with damn fancy trackwork that, lo and behold, actually works as designed! Its still a plywood monstrosity though. So without any further ado, it that time of year again for:

The Annual State of the Company, Board of Directors Meeting of
 The Dan D. Sparks Plywood Development and Transportation Co.
A Figment of the Imagination Corporation (the “Company”)
Held on 22nd September 2013, 8:00 AM Specific Daylight Time
at the offices of the Company, San Dollar, California.

 Board Members Present: 

President:                         A placated Dan D. Sparks
Chairman:                        The very relieved Lettuceleaf M. Malone
Traffic Manager:              The hot-headed Robin DeRail
Finance Manager:            The always cool Count DeMonet
Director of Development: The fidgety Arnie Clever
General Manager:            The lethargic David Lyman
Quorum present?              Questionably so.

Others Present:
Technology Genius:          Volkmar Meier
Man of Mystery:                Fred Gurzeler
Company Orchestra leader:     Bill Bolton & Orchestra

Absent:                    That guy who was tying to tell us something vitally important.

· Chair, Lettuceleaf M. Malon called the Meeting to order at 3:03 p.m.
- Secretary Mrs, Roundbottom recorded the minutes.
 · Secretary Roundbottom presented to the Board the minutes of the Sept. 2012 meeting of the Board for approval, whereupon motion duly made, seconded and unanimously refuted as a pack of lies.

Opening Message from the Chairman:
In a spectacular turnaround, this blogs "fiscal" year (Sept 2012 to Sept 2013) saw excellent progress on this little railroad of ours. The streetcars (all two of them) are running under power supplied by the overhead (Which fulfills a major requirement of the 2013 New Years Resolution). This Railroad is now a working railroad.

· Traffic Managers Report Provided by Chair, Robin DeRail:
~ Aye! Because of light blog postings last year, the first 5 weeks of this year saw a dismal decline in viewership. But that decline was nixed with a real zinger of a post Jumping on the 3D Bandwagon! Apparently the folks are real interested with this latest 3D Printing craze and wanted to see what we were up to with our Switch Tower and whatnot. This blog saw a mighty spike in viewership with a record 283 views in one week with that post! After that, postings have been almost weekly, helping viewership remain stable for most of the year. Once layout construction was well under way, viewership has seen a nice upswing. When videos are posted, traffic really ticks upwards. We need more videos! 
Aye! Look! I got a chart!:
Unique weekly blog hits (visitors, not page hits) from 9/21/2012 to 9/21/2013

~ What else... aye yes! This blog hosted 3,355 visitors this last year (Sept. 2012 to Sept. 2013). That's up slightly from 3,064 last year, and 1,939 the year before that. They visited 6,621 times, up from 5,484 times last year and 3,379 times the year before that. That makes for an all time grand total of 23,983 visitors.

~  This blog is now averaging 20 visitors per day, but viewing duration declined slightly to a minute and a half (1:39). That's a 20% gain of visitors from 15 average daily visitors viewing for almost 2 minutes (1:52) last year.

~ The top 3 posts visited this last year were:
       1. Birney #301 
       3. My Old San Diego Trolley Layout
It should be noted that this years post Jumping on the 3D Bandwagon nipped at the top 3 by making #4 on the list.

· Finance Committee report provided by Chair, Count DeMonet:

~ The Count reported that revenue from ads (the only source of revenue) on this blog earned an average of $0.06 per day, up from $0.04 last year and $0.02 the previous year.

~ DeMonet continued with that the annual earnings for this last fiscal year are estimated at a record $22.78. That's up from $16.07 last year and $7.34 the previous year. This now brings the grand total to $62.26. He reminded us that we won't see a cent of this until the blog earns over $100. Debates raged over how to spend it, though the consensus seems to be to either invest it back into the blog somehow or into the layout itself.

~ The Finance Chair went on to try to persuade the Board that placing a banner ad above or below the blog title, as is typical with almost all websites, would increase revenue appreciatively. As it is now, all ads are "below the fold", and no revenue is gained unless the viewer scrolls down and the ads load. This sparked a raging debate over the artistic integrity of this blog.

· Board Development Committee's report provided by Chair, Arnie Clever:

~ Mr. Clever lamented the fact that with the razor sharp focus on getting the layout running, very little of the companies resources have gone to his planning department.

~ Despite this, "Good 'ol Arnie" continued, much is still needed to be planned. With the layout running now, what comes next? Usually, when the trackwork is complete, the next step is scenicing. And what with this being a city layout, the scenery this case are buildings. But! Arnie pointed out, the poles on 1920's street are temporary and are installed in the building lots next to the sidewalk until the specifics about the permanent poles are determined and the sidewalks drilled for them. So the next logical step is designing and building these complex poles. Only then can the temporary poles be removed from the lots, freeing up the space for buildings.

~ The Development Chair also revealed new plans for modules to be built for the Southern California Traction Club layout. So as not to interfere with construction of the layout, these modules will built at the clubs regular Sunday meetings.

Mr Sparks closed the meeting with remarks that pretty much boil down to, "well lets wrap this up and go run some trolleys. Yes sir! Lets go run some trolleys!

· Meeting adjourned at 3:05 p.m.
· Minutes submitted by Secretary, Mrs. Roundbottom.

Come back again because the next post will feature a video of the trolleys running. Yes sir! A video of the trolleys running!


Monday, September 16, 2013

Three Steps Forward, Two steps back.

Despite my determination to keep pushing the mainline overhead construction moving forward, pesky little problems keep popping up.

Just like nickel silver rail, nickle silver wire transfers power really well. So its being used for the contact wire.

Phosphor Bronze wire transmits electricity very well. So this is what I'm using for span wires and pull offs.
But as mentioned in previous post, the tension is mounting! And I'm finding out where the weak spots are. Above, apparently this pin wasn't soldered into the pole well enough and pulled out. Not an easy fix. But I'm trying to fix this stuff as quickly as possible so as not to get discouraged. Nothing will bring progress to a halt faster than getting discouraged. Yes sir! Can't get discouraged!


Monday, September 09, 2013

The Tension is Mounting!

Apparently as the overhead is constructed the tension is building, as is evident in the corner poles which seem to be taking the brunt of it all:

I was excited with how quickly the overhead was going up, allowing my cars to progress further down the line. But this development has brought all that to a screeching halt.

So this is what I'm faced with:

A Guy wire is out of the question, the poles are right on the corner.

Swapping out the poles is no easy matter. The wires would have to be cut, the poles removed,  beefier poles constructed, the holes enlarged to accept the larger poles,  new wires spliced in to replace the cut wires, and then all tied together.

There is no easy way of doing this. So I just jumped right in and fabricated new, beefier poles from solid, hard 5/32" brass rod, painted to look like wood.

The eye bolt was carefully removed from the old pole with the backbone and pulloff wires still attached. The old 1/8"diameter pole was removed and the new one installed. A new wire was wrapped around the new pole and attached to the old eye-bolt, maintaining the original tension. And were back in business. Yes sir! We're back in business!


Monday, September 02, 2013


With the first length of overhead contact wire installed, cars are starting to roll on the layout!

Making a racket with a symphony of clickety-clack, Niles car #105 crosses the intricate intersection track work under power from the overhead. We are finally rolling! Yes sir! We are finally rolling!


Monday, August 26, 2013

Tower of Tension

A helpful device for maintaining constant tension in the contact wire during overhead construction.
Parker Williams (1927-2010) was my trolley modeling mentor when I was a young pup in the 1980's. I met him when he was in the process of installing the overhead for the trolley line at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum at Balboa Park. He was using a device similar to the one pictured above and I instantly saw the merit of such an apparatus, so I built my own based on his design.

The idea is to maintain a constant tension of 12oz on the contact wire while its being soldered to hangers, crossings and pulloffs. Its biggest asset is that it frees up my hands for the soldering iron and the span or pulloff wires or hardware.

Its construction is pretty simple. A heavy base (Parker knew a guy who used a heavy ashtray!), I used a block of Iron (incorrectly labeled here as "steel"), with a rubber pad on the bottom to prevent slipping. Drilled about 3/4 of the way through to accept a 1/2" brass rod. Patio slider wheels have a nice concave contour that are perfect for channeling the fishing line that the 12oz weight hangs from. The clamp is a little tougher. I used half round brass drilled to accept a thumb screw. The bottom half is threaded for the thumb screw to tighten into. But it would have probably been easier to just tie a mini clamp to the line.

A Tension Tower isn't required for constructing overhead. The SCTC does just fine without one. But it sure helps to have that extra hand. Yes sir! It sure helps!