Sunday, November 16, 2014

The ROCK 3.0: Capital Rebuild Program

Lately, I have been working with my buddy Allen in Nebraska regarding speed matching my locomotives to make the fleet run flawlessly.  Mainly, I want to run any brand loco with any other brand loco to mix up the fleet some.  This article by Allen is what really sparked my interest.

The problem we faced in our discussions back and forth was the large number of Bachmann GP7s I own.  We feared that we wouldn't be able to modify the speed tables as the factory decoder installed has only the basic of features.  I picked the GP7s up cheap quite a few years ago.  They run well, a little loud, but pretty awesome slow speed runners.  I manually matched up the locos with other Bachmann GP7s that run at a similar rate.  I would like to mix up my fleet some and match the GP7s with other locos (like an Atlas GP38-2 for example).  There isn't a good drop-in decoder replacement. for these units.  Some have replaced with a Digitrax DZ class decoder, but it took quite a bit of work to get it done.

So, I shipped my locos off to Allen at the Little Rock to test further.  He was able to read in the decoders using his JMRI Decoder Pro software.  Unfortunately, it was confirmed what we thought that we can't modify the speed tables on the locos.

So, then we looked at re-powering the locos with an Atlas chassis.  Allen asked about just replacing with an Atlas chassis and shell.  I'm ok with replacing the chassis, but not the shell.  The shells were custom painted by my friend Larry Keller of the Lehigh & Hudson River layout.  They have tremendous sentimental value and I would not want to get rid of them.  Allen found if you look hard enough, you can score an Atlas replacement chassis for around $40-50 each on eBay.  I listed one of my spare Bachmann chassis with decoder to test the waters and managed to sell it for $38 plus shipping.  I believe I have a total of six more that I can sell.

Allen was kind enough to procure some Atlas chassis and decoders for me.  He re-powered my locos and speed matched them per his procedures outlined in the linked article above.  I have received reports back from the shops on the Little Rock that the locos run flawlessly.  You can read more about the process of rebuilding the GP7s on Allen's blog.

Here are some photos of two of the rebuilt Bachmann GP7s with the Atlas re-power roaming the rails of the Little Rock Division.

A special thanks to Allen for helping me with this project!  I will continue seeking out replacement Atlas chassis to rebuild the rest of the fleet.

A side note about Allen and myself.  We have never met in person, but found each other through the blogs and our common interest in the Rock Island.  We have become really good friends learning from each other and discussing ideas for both of our layouts.  I'm truly fortunate to find a good friend like Allen.  Our friendship makes the hobby even more enjoyable.  Thanks Allen.

In other news, nothing has been done on the layout.  And, I do mean nothing.  I had considered operating in December, but the the number of available weekends in December are very few.  It appears I will operate next in January or February after the dust settles from the holiday activities.  My intent in rebuilding the layout smaller was to share the room with family.  

Less layout equals less stress and allows me to spend more time with my family.  I have been doing just that.  My daughter 's interest in Legos has really grown recently.  Instead of working on the layout, I have been spending time with my daughter building this mega Lego Technic kit.  There is some debate who this kit actually is or my daughter.  You know, I'm a big kid too.  Anywho, we have been working on it just about every night for over a week now.  Here is a pic of our project so far.

While not productive on the layout currently, I wouldn't trade this time spent with my daughter for anything.  We really enjoy building the kit together.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

The ROCK 3.0: Speed Matching Progress

Well, I got as far as creating a test track for my locomotives.  I have a bunch of the old Bachmann locos which are cheap and run good.  We have found through testing that you are unable to speed match them though.  I'm pondering what to do about the situation.  I may look at replacing the chassis for some of the locos.

I would like to get my locos running as well as possible.

Here is my test track.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The ROCK 3.0: Progress Who?

I have heard through the grapevine that some of the blog's fans are wondering about me.  It's nice to feel appreciated.  Anywho, I'm still here.  October is a really busy month for us with my daughter's birthdays and life in general.  It is like this every year.  

So, between doing life events, I have been operating the layout on a solo basis.  I wanted to see how the tabs were working out.  I for one love them.  It is not easy keeping up with 50 sand hoppers that all look alike.  You start pulling cuts of cars, weighing them, setting off over loaded cars, and it can get messy quick.  The tabs make it much easier.  So, I completed my solo op session and had the spreadsheet spit out random requests for the next op session.  I will re-stage soon.

In other news, I have been focusing my attention on speed matching.  Allen's blog post got me thinking about speed matching my locos using JMRI and a LocoBuffer from RR-CirKits.  Part of the equation is purchasing a test track.  I did purchase that and set that up tonight actually.  It's a small 13 3/4" radius loop track by Kato for allowing locos to run and warm up.  I set it up on the craft table in the room and ran a pair of jumper wires over from the layout bus.  On my point-to-point layout, it hasn't been possible to run the locos much to warm them up.  This simple addition helps keep the fleet running better.  Before diving full scale into this project, I had concerns that I wouldn't be able to load speed tables into my Bachmann GP7s which I have a lot of.  I mailed a set off to Allen in Nebraska to test for me.  Once I have the results this weekend, I'll know if I should pull the trigger on the LocoBuffer and speedometer I need to complete the equation.  Thanks to Allen for being my test laboratory this weekend.

In other news, I had two NCE throttle panel jacks go bad.  They carried the current of the loconet for the throttles to other jacks further down the chain, but wouldn't power a throttle.  I replaced them and haven't had any issues since.

Speaking of donuts, I haven't had any other electrical issues since reporting the bizarre behavior earlier this month.  Thank goodness!  I have no idea what caused that, but glad it's resolved (at least as far as I know).

So, that's it from the ROCK.  If all goes well with testing this weekend, I will be speed matching locos next week.  If not, I will probably start back on scenery.  I have my eye on the Franklin Farms scene behind Ottawa Yard.  

Other projects in mind are structures, build more trees, and paint and detail my car kits.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

The ROCK 3.0: Electrical Woes Resolved?

Well, after clearing out all the consists the other night, I haven't incurred any other electrical issues.  This evening, I spent about an hour operating with no problems.

A side note: I really like the Tab-on-Car System. Currently, I have cars everywhere as I'm working Ottawa Sand.  After separating the cut out due to five overweight cars, it would have been hard to keep up with which car went where.  Now, I can place cars wherever I see fit and easily gathering them back up to move them out.

I guess I should get back to work sometime on the layout, but I have enjoyed operating on my own.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The ROCK 3.0: DCC Electrical Woes

Good evening,

I had an interesting evening.  For the past two nights I have been operating my layout on my own after I restaged it.  

I was taking a break this evening to help my daughter with her math homework and my loco started moving on its own very erratically.  


I'm like, what the hell?  I wasn't even touching the layout.  A controller had that loco pulled up, but it wasn't the controller I was using this evening.  I rebooted the system and left off for a bit but it still continues.

I rebooted again and removed all the controllers.  It still acted full blown crazy.  

I rebooted again, and another Atlas loco started doing the same thing.  None of the Bachmann or Kato units are doing it.  When either of the Atlas locos are on the track, I can't pull up anything else.  The controllers are frozen and won't even register right with those locos on the layout.  When locos are off, the controllers will register but I can't control any other loco.  It appears to pull up the loco or consist though.

Before I started with the math homework, I added three cars to the layout.  When one was placed on the layout it sparked as it had metal wheels (six axles) and was near a switch.  No big deal as I corrected it instantly.  It was five minutes later or so before the first loco started acting crazy operating on its own.   I have since removed the three cars I added to the layout.  

I don't know what to think.  I have had this NCE system since 2008 so it does have some age on it.  

Any thoughts?  Have you seen anything like this before?

Any insight is greatly appreciated.


I have a PowerHouse Pro (PH-PRO) model.
I consulted with Allen tonight.  When troubleshooting with him, it was determined one loco (that was not consisted) worked.  One by one, I pulled all the locos off and zero'd out the consist address in CV19 (Advanced Consisting Address).  I was able to gain back control of the loco after clearing this out.  After each loco fixed, I checked to see if I could pull up any of the remaining locos.  Still nothing.  I was able to reset all of the locos CV19 address and regain control.  All locos are back on the layout (unconsisted).  All controllers are also connected.  I left the system on for about ten minutes and nothing happened.  When I have more time to stay in the room to monitor, I will leave the system on for a while to see if it occurs again.  We think it might be a bad locomotive chip.  The question is which one?

Another idea is the booster is going bad.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The ROCK is BACK - Part II

Today, for the second time, the ROCK (v.3.0) came to life.  I had three friends Larry, Steve and Jeff in attendance today plus myself. 

The session started off with an explanation of the new Tab-on-Car system and review of changes made since last time.  Most of these consisted of scenery changes, but there were some track changes (new crossover was added in East Ottawa Yard as well as the addition of LaSalle (drop leaf) Yard).  We also reviewed the new signals that are in place.  These are manually controlled by the operators. 

I reviewed operational changes.  The Utica Switcher (UTSW) is now based out of LaSalle Yard (formerly based out of Ottawa Yard).  It will perform its work as normal otherwise.  The Ottawa Switcher (OTSW) is now based out of South Ottawa.  It picks up the empty sand hoppers at Ottawa Yard first thing and delivers to the plant.  It then gathers up all the other pickups, including weighing sand hoppers and delivers to Ottawa Yard.  At Ottawa Yard, it will pick up the deliveries for today and return to the two industries.  From what I have read, this closely matches the RI prototype.

Steve volunteered for the Ottawa Switcher job.  Last time, I ran this job with two people.  This time, since I’m shorthanded, plus the fact we have gone paperless with the Tab-on-Car forwarding system, I decided to run with one.  We’ll see how that plays out.

Jeff signed up for the Ottawa Yardmaster position. Larry signed up for the Utica Switcher job.  I worked the various other road freights (run from staging to Ottawa Yard and return) as well as being the crazy foamer taking photos of the operations today.

The blue flags (blue LEDs) were used again today preventing crews from switching industries as workers loaded the cars.  Industries affected were Westclox, Ottawa Silica Bagged Sand loading tracks and Libbey-Owens-Ford (LOF) Glass loading.  This keeps crews on their toes.

Today’s lineup:

-       Ottawa Yard Job
o   on duty at 6am – Assigned two GP18s #1343 and #1346
-       Ottawa Switcher “Sand Job”
o   on duty at 7am – Assigned two GP38-2s #4304 and #4303
-       Utica Switcher “Chemical Job”
o   on duty at 8am – Assigned two SD40-2s (big power!) #4798 and #4790.
-       #13 Peoria Rocket
o   Departs LaSalle Station at 8:10am – Assigned one GP18 #1333
-       Bureau Switcher “Rock Job”
o   on duty at 9:30am – Assigned two SD40-2s #4797 and #4785
-       Soo Local
o   on duty at 02:30pm – Assigned two GP35s #731 and #722
-       CB&Q Local
o   on duty at 11:10am- Assigned a single SD24 #506

The scales continued to work well during the session.  Steve had three cars that were over tonnage on the Sand Job (OTSW) and Larry had two over tonnage on the Chemical Job (UTSW).

A recap of the session...

Jeff had no issues working the yard.  He remained busy through out the day gathering up cars for the empty requests from Ottawa Silica, classifying last night's cars left by the Blue Island transfer train, inbound cars from the Bureau Switcher and SOO Line freight as well as multiple interactions with the Ottawa Switcher.  This worked out well.  Last time, Larry worked the job and had lull periods throughout the session.  Having two inbound trains swapping blocks with the yard throughout the day worked out well.  I will continue this practice.  The only thing I might change is move up the time of the SOO freight.  

Jeff did have an issue right at the start with cars derailing as he backed onto Track 5 in the yard.  I took a look to find a point had broken free on the main turnout for the entire yard.  Oh sadness!  The track crew was called out and the point was repaired with the soldering iron.  No other issues occurred with any of the trackwork.

The entire session ran faster today.  I'm not surprised though.  Going paperless was a big help toward improving operating times.  We ran for 2 1/2 hours today, but it seemed longer than that.  Looking at when I took my first photo, we actually got started around 10:20, ran for about 1 1/2 hours, broke for lunch, and then finished up.  The fast clock started at 6:30am and completed at 4pm.  I believe last time we ran until 7pm or so.  

Steve worked the Ottawa Switcher (OTSW).  It ran from 7am until 4pm (9 hours).  Last session, it took nearly 12 hours and a crew going on the law to complete.  Steve had trouble with one of his GP38-2s as it would stall on turnouts.  We cleaned the track, but found it was just that locomotive acting up.  Steve removed the loco from his consist and operated with one loco.  He didn't report any other issues for the remainder of the session.  The loco will be sent to Carrie Ave Shops to be checked out.  Steve had only three cars that were over tonnage today.  Not bad.  Last time, Marcus and Jeff had quite a few that were over tonnage.  It was nice that the crews didn't have to take time to physically record the weights.  If a car was overweight, they simply added a red tab on top so they can identify the car to be set off to reduced.  This saves a lot of time as well.  

Steve altered from the plan a little bit.  He started off the day in South Ottawa.  He pulled up to the yard board and made his empties pickup for Ottawa Silica.  Throughout the day, he made a total of three trips to the yard to swap cars that he picked up for cars that had arrived at the yard for delivery.  I had outlined that only two trips would be made.  It ended up working out well though.  This reduced the mass chaos of cars everywhere that we had during the last op session.  As Steve stated it provided for a challenging session, but not for an operating headache.  This also kept Jeff as the yardmaster busy throughout the day.  So, it was a two fold success.  Steve also suggested that only one loco is needed for the local.  Removing the shear number of cars needed to be moved around due to lack of storage space, I believe he is right.  I'll make the appropriate motive power adjustments for the next op session.

Larry worked the Chemical Job (Utica Switcher).  He worked from 8am until 2:30pm.  He first had to wait on the Peoria Rocket as it rolls through right after he comes on duty.  Once the passenger train cleared out, Larry worked the industries on Track 1 (Peru Power and PQ).  He would clear up for various road trains that would traverse by on their way to and from Ottawa Yard.  Larry had two cars that were over tonnage at Belrose Silica that had to be reduced.  His work day went well with no reported issues.  

I ran both the Bureau Switcher and Soo Line train.  Both trains took about 1hr 15-30 minutes to run.  Both trains set off and pick up cars at LaSalle yard and continue on to Ottawa.  They drop off their entire train there and return with traffic classified by the yard.  Both were pretty easy to run.  

I ran the BN local as well.  This one didn't have much to do other than swap loads at the yard as Steve had already made the pickup for the BN local.  The train took about 1 1/2 hours to run, but a lot of that was waiting for clearance into the yard as well as avoiding the RI local that was working the north end of the Ottawa Silica plant at the time.

The newly added drop leaf yard worked well.  I'm very pleased with the solution I agonized over for so long.  It added a lot to the layout, but doesn't expand the layout into the living areas of the house between op sessions.  This was a great success for which I'm very pleased.

In regards to the Tab-on-Car system, it performed flawlessly.  I'm very pleased with how it worked.  Crews had no issues identifying where cars should go or what work was required to be performed.  The lack of fumbling with paperwork was a big plus as crews could focus on running their trains at prototypical speeds and enjoying their work.  No doubt that we will keep this system in place.  In regards to staging, it makes it a lot easier as well.  I have already begun re-staging the layout.  It is extremely easy to take a count of cars currently at each industry.  I'll key in the numbers in the spreadsheet and have it generate the number of pickups and deliveries for the next session.  Not having to record the individual reporting marks for each car and updating the spreadsheet with each car's location is a great plus.  This was time consuming in the past.  I can now get the layout up and running much quicker.  All my friends agreed that the tab-on-car method was much easier and preferred.  That was great news to hear.  

Overall it was a great session.  Everyone had a good time.  We had one major issue with the broken turnout point, but everyone kept calm and we repaired quickly.  The locomotive performance was a disappointment, but was quickly resolved.  As with any railroad, you would encounter issues.  It is all how you react to them on how your session will go.  We are all pretty laid back and weren't phased much by them.

Photos from today's Op session:

Jeff working as Ottawa Yardmaster

Steve rolling into the yard (two blue/white GP38-2s) to pick up his empty car order for Ottawa Silica for today.  Jeff waits on the yard lead for Steve to make his pickup.

Steve heading back to South Ottawa to spot his sand empties.

A little later, Steve weighing his first cut of sand hoppers.

Steve had three that were overweight.  He contacted the plant manager (me) and set off the cars to be reduced.  I set a timer on my phone for one fast hour.  An old factory whistle blows when the cars have been reduced and can be moved.

This car is under the max weight of 263,000lbs.

The cut has been weighed and Steve slips down a through track between the plant buildings.

It's early in the morning, but sand is already moving on the ROCK.

At 8:08am (because I can see the fast clock in the background), the Peoria Rocket makes its station stop at Utica.  Larry in the background is waiting for the passenger train to clear out so he can commence his work on the Chemical Job (UTSW).

The Peoria Rocket has a dome car on the rear today.  

The Peoria Rocket about to slam the diamonds at the CB&Q Junction.

Jeff on the yard job pulling a cut up the yard lead.

Larry departing LaSalle yard working Peru Power first.

All smiles from Larry as he backs a cut of sand hoppers down into PQ.

Cars are strung out across town at Larry works the Chemical Job (UTSW)

Like any good local, two locos and cab buried with cars on both sides.  

The Utica Switcher in front of the large Westclox plant.

The Bureau Switcher dropping off a cut of cars for tomorrow's Utica Switcher at LaSalle yard.

Otis constructed a new billboard sign along Water Street

I like this area where the road curves off to the left and the yard continues on.
Larry thinks there is room for another yard track there, but I think I'll pass.  

The Bureau Switcher pulling out of LaSalle yard after making its drop off so it can return to its train.

Approach Diverging signal.  The Utica Switcher is on Main 1 between the crossovers.  The Bureau Switcher will take the crossovers around the Utica Switcher to access Ottawa Yard off Main 1.

The Bureau Switcher running around the Utica Switcher on Main 2.

The Bureau Switcher continues east while Larry inspects the train as it passes by.

A tank car spotted at PQ Track 3.

The Bureau Switcher curves around the PQ plant ready to enter Ottawa Yard.

After completing its work at Ottawa Yard, the Bureau Switcher is ready to head back west with 12 cars.

Larry shoving a cut of cars into PQ.  

The Bureau Switcher crossing over from Main 2 to Main 1 at West Utica to pass the Utica Switcher working on Main 1.

The Bureau Switcher headed east by Westclox.

Ottawa Silica looking pretty empty.  Loads have been pulled, but Steve hasn't spotted the empties yet.

Steve working the Sand Job (OTSW).

Me on the CB&Q Local waiting for clearance to back into the yard.

Larry weighing cars at Belrose Silica.

Doh!  Over tonnage!  Larry had two that were over tonnage that had to be set off and reduced by plant employees.  The cars are typically spotted anywhere available while the hatches are opened to drop some sand between the rails.  

Larry pulling his cut of cars through the scale. 

Ding!  Right on the money!  Great job by the Belrose Silica employees.

Me on the CB&Q local. Steve backing up to the yard limit sign preparing to shove a cut of empty sand hoppers into the loading tracks on the north end of Ottawa Silica.  Jeff working on the yard lead.

Steve shoving a cut of empties into the loading tracks at Ottawa Silica.

Things are looking better over in Utica.  Two cars have been set off to have their loads reduced.  

The CB&Q Local headed back north across the RI after making its pickup.

The Chemical Job (UTSW) preparing to crossover to Main 2 to make its delivery to Westclox.

My favorite car on the layout.  My friend Allen custom weathered this car.  I love it!

Me on the SOO Local ready to depart LaSalle local on Main 1 as Larry prepares to work Westclox on Main 2.

Larry making his pickup at Westclox.

The SOO Caboose by Putnam Street.

Since the mainline realignment, Larry now has more room to work Westclox from the west end.  Previously that was impossible as the tracks ended shortly after the switch at the wall.

The SOO local about to take the signal at West Utica.

The SOO local rolling by the station in Utica at Mill Street.

The SOO local at Ottawa Yard had dropped off its cars and waiting for instructions from the Yardmaster. 

Jeff had a commanding presence working the yard.  He did an awesome job with the new Tab-on-Car system.

Jeff shoving my pickup to my locos on the west end of the yard.

The SOO local performing my brake test before heading back west.

PQ's business is looking up.  Seven tank cars are spotted at the plant.


The SOO Local has received an approach signal indication on the yard dwarf signal.

The SOO local rounding the curve by PQ.

The SOO local headed west on Main 2 by the Chemical Job (UTSW) at Utica station.

The SOO local by Westclox.

My Yardmaster Jeff is a little OCD.  I told him his OCD is rubbing off on me.  

Jeff and Larry chatting as he finishes up his work on the Chemical Job (UTSW).

Ottawa Yard at the end of the session.  Jeff was able to get rid of a lot of cars out of the yard.  It was chock full at the beginning of the session.