Friday, February 21, 2014

The ROCK 3.0: Progress Report 02.21.14

Last night, I mentioned I wished the signals wouldn't flash as long after the train had passed.  John at Azatrax was super quick to respond.  Upon further review, I had wired the second IR detectors to the wrong input.  I corrected that issue and everything works fine now.

The good out of all this...I'm learning a lot about electronics.

No other progress tonight.  Tomorrow, I'm going to operate one of the ROCK's operators Steve Holzheimer's AC&Y Railroad in N scale.  I'm looking forward to seeing his operations and superb scenery.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The ROCK 3.0: Progress Report 02.20.14 - Operating Crossing Signals

Well, flashback to yesterday.  I worked on the signal bridge again.  Again, two sets of signals working perfectly, two problematic.  There appears to be a short somewhere as one of the signals flickers if I move the wire.  I need to pull out the wires and try routing them a different way.  The wires must be rubbing up against the signal bridge.  I was getting frustrated again so, I walked away.

Hell bent determined to get something to light up on the layout, I moved to installing the blue flags at LOF.  That went well and they look great.  Just enough to know they are there, but not overpowering like my initial tests a couple months back.  Of course, I have learned about resistors now.  All I need to do is install the toggle switch to control power to the lights.  I'm waiting for that to arrive tomorrow.  At least one set will be complete at LOF.  I have yet to install the other sets at Ottawa Silica and Westclox.

This evening, continuing with my obsession of tiny LED lights, I broke out the instructions for the crossing gate signals.  I decided to go with Azatrax MXR2 for the signal control and NJ International for the crossing gates.  The instructions provided by Azatrax were super easy to follow.  

Detection is activated using pairs of Infrared (IR) detectors.  There are a couple of ways you can wire it up.  The system requires a minimum of two IR detectors (one on each side of the crossing) and can go up to six detectors.  Since the crossing at Ottawa Avenue is in a low-speed industrial area, I went with just a single detector on each side of the crossing.  

Now, you must decide if you want to install the detectors between the ties using a reflection method or across the track detection.  I chose across the track detection as on either side of the grade crossing the track opens up to numerous other tracks.  To install in between the ties would have required numerous sets of detectors.  It seemed easier for me to go across the track method and I could easily hide the detectors in buildings.  One sensor is more out in the open but will be blocked by trees and brush from the operators vantage point.  Drilled a hole and dropped the sensors in the benchwork.  Aimed them and wired up to the control board.  Tested with no issues.

Sensor hidden in the window of the sand receiving LOF office.

Sensor hidden in the guard house for Ottawa Silica.

Sensor hidden in the storage shed for the maintenance department at Ottawa Silica.

I then connected the wires from the crossing signals.  The NJ International signals have three wires.  One for each signal light and a common wire.  They are nice enough to include the proper resistors with the crossing signals.  Connected the wires to the signal controller and tested.  Heck yeah it worked the first time!  Now that's a good day!  Very awesome!  I'm super excited over this.  I still have to install the tortoise switch machines under the layout to control the crossing arms, but getting them to light via IR detection is awesome!

And video....

I apologize for the speed of the cars.  My daughters were assisting me by manually pushing a cut of cars across the road crossing.

The only thing I don't like and can't find a way to change is the length of time they lights continue to flash after the train clears the last sensor.  I have emailed John at Azatrax.  Hopefully, I can make a change to lower this time.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The ROCK 3.0: Progress Report 02.18.14

So today, I pondered randomness on the layout.  Since my layout is small, I need to adapt real-life situations as much as possible to slow down the session.  As many of you might recall, I mentioned installing blue lights to protect certain industry tracks while they were loading.  The three industries I was thinking of are:
  • Libbey-Owens-Ford - Tracks #1 and #2 - Float Glass Loading
  • Ottawa Silica - Tracks #5 and #6 - Bagged Sand Loading
  • Westclox - Track #1 Spots A through D - Clock Loading
All three of these are production plants that produce materials that will be loading into box cars.  Surely, the railroad can't just come along and start moving cars that are being loaded by plant employees.  So, I will install blue lights at the industries listed above.

Then, I began thinking about what time will the industries complete loading so I can turn off the blue lights to allow crews to switch the industries.  I came up with the following plan:
  • LOF will complete unloading anywhere between 1:55pm and 3:10pm depending on the work load that day.
  • Ottawa Silica - 2:50pm until 4:30pm
  • Westclox - They load their completed products from the previous day early in the morning.  They can finish up anywhere between 9:50am and 11:15am.
So, I wrote a formula in Excel to create a random time for each industry.  For the Excel nerds out there, here's the formula.


The RANDBETWEEN function only works on integers.  Time when converted to a number in Excel would look something like this 0.687500 (4:30 PM).  Too have the RANDBETWEEN function calculate up to the 1000ths place, I multiplied the numbers by a 1000 each and then divided the answer by a thousand to be converted back to time.  The ROUND function rounds the time to the nearest 5 minutes.

Got it?  :-)

So, for the first session, #118 LaSalle Turn can't switch out Westclox until 10:00 AM.  For the crew of #217 Ottawa Local thrashing about, they can't switch the cars at LOF (float glass box car loading) until 2:45 PM and Ottawa Silica (box car bagged sand loading) until 3:10 PM.

I also use the RANDBETWEEN function to randomly select between 1 and 100.  Out of those 100 numbers, 6 will generate a flag that a sand hopper will be rejected.  I read in the Ottawa Sands book that cars were often rejected for one of the following reasons.  
  • Rejected - Dirty
  • Rejected - Cement Present
  • Rejected - Old Sand Present
  • Rejected - Leaks in Hopper
  • Rejected - Bad Discharge Gates
  • Rejected - Bad Hopper (or wrong type)
I ran the formula for all the sand hoppers for the first op session.  Three cars were rejected and will have to be handled by the crews just as they did back in the 70s on the ROCK!

I love it when a plan comes together!

Late this afternoon, I talked with Ben from BeNScale signals.  I found out the issue I was having was due not tinning all the wires for the signals.  The instructions indicated (at least the way I read them) that only the positive wire had to be tinned.  That was wrong.  Each micro wire has insulation on it that needs to be removed.  This is done by tinning the wire (or running the wire through a blob of hot solder).  

This evening, after dinner, I returned to the layout room and decided to test this theory.  Aspects that I couldn't light before, I was able to light immediately upon tinning the wire.  Sweet Lord!  It would have been nice to know this on Saturday, but glad I have it figured out now!  

In troubleshooting Sunday, I basically had torn the signal bridge back apart and removed all the heads. Repaired the signal bridge.  I have to route the wires down the signal bridge and install the 22 gauge feeder wires to the signal micro wires.  I have faith that all will work properly now.   I'll update tomorrow after the bridge has time to dry.  The handrails and top was loose requiring it to be re-glued.

While waiting, I worked on the blue flag lights.  I installed the two lights in the benchwork under the track at LOF.  I need to connect to the toggle switch and mount to the benchwork but that will be easy to do later.  I also soldered the feeder wires for four other blue flag lights for Ottawa Silica and Westclox.  I tested all.  By the way, I'm powering the 2mm Blue LEDs with 12V of power reduced by a 910K resistor.  This dims the light way down and allows just enough where you can see it easily, but not be overpowering.

Here are some pics of the LEDs installed between the rails at LOF.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The ROCK 3.0: Progress Report 02.17.14

Today, I finally received my package (delayed by the snowstorm last week).  I was able to complete repair of the 12 cars I had left on the workbench.

All cars are staged on the layout minus a handful that will arrive later from Nebraska.  I'm missing three RI sand hoppers though.  I took inventory a while back, but with so many with the same numbers, I believe I must have miscounted.  I mentioned in jest yesterday that I had to sacrifice a RI sand hopper to get those signals wired up.  I had three signal heads give me troubles.  I missing three RI sand hoppers.  Things that make you go Hmm??  Oh well.  I'll have to make adjustments for that on the trains paperwork.

Ottawa Yard starts off really full, but it clears as fast with the departure of #217 Ottawa Local and #118 LaSalle Turn.  That will provide the yardmaster with some breathing room to classify cars.

No work on signals today.  I'm taking a break from those, but do have a desire to work on them again.  It takes time though.  I can't work on them in my 10-20 minute micro work sessions on the layout.

Late this evening, I picked up on the workbench and started construction on the RIP track office/warehouse at Ottawa yard.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The ROCK 3.0: Progress Report - 02.16.14

Signal update...

Last night, after I updated the blog, I routed the wires down from the signal heads to the bottom of the signal bridge.

I worked on wiring up the signals this morning and again this afternoon.  First, I had to separate the wire bundles.  There is a silver or magnet wire (positive) and then two or three brass wires depending on the signal head.  Next, you have to tin the magnet wire to remove the insulation.  To do this, you get a bead of solder on your soldering iron tip and run the end of the wire through it.  Very easy.  Nothing to worry about.

So, then I started testing.  I wanted to see an LED lit up!  Using just alligator clips is extremely difficult.  This wire is hair thin.  It's unreal how small it is.  Playing around with it, I finally got one to light up!  We have light!  Sweet!

So, then I decided to solder some 22 gauge wires to the end of the signal head wires in hopes of making a better connection allowing me to test better as well prepare for installation on the layout.  Well, I was distracted by something, came back in the room and connected the 12v power source.  Quick flash of the LED and then out.  I couldn't get anything else.  I look to see I forgot to use a resistor.  Doh!  I believe that head is fried.  I couldn't get anymore light out of it.

Unwired that damaged head and installed another one.  I will have to order a replacement for the other signal bridge at Utica.

I added in a permanent resistor in my testing wires and tried again.  I was able to get two heads' wires soldered to my 22 gauge wires and tested without any issue.  It was going well at this point.  I then went back to the head that had to be installed for the one I damaged.  I struggled with getting the head on the 3/64" brass rod.  I finally got it connected.  I then went to connect the wires to my 22 gauge wires.  This time I was having somewhat a difficult time getting a good connection.  I don't know what it is about this micro wires on the signals, but you don't simply touch a power source to them.  You have to wrap the signal head wires around the 22 gauge wire, hold your breath just right and sacrifice a RI sand hopper in hopes of making a connection.  WTH?  Once a good connection could be found and soldered, no issue.  Finding that sweet spot was another thing.  I struggled with this, but managed to get all of the third head lit.

Things went downhill further on the fourth head.  Struggling for about 50 minutes, I managed to get two of the three colors lit on the signal head, but can't get the green aspect to light for some reason.  I can't tell if it is bad or just not making a good connection.

It was time to go to dinner at this point, so I left it.

Today, I worked on it some more.  Now, the third head that was working, won't light one of the aspects.  I don't know why.  Nothing has changed regarding the resistor so it shouldn't have blown.  I worked and worked on it.  Nothing.  I ended up removing the fourth head as it will be returned.

I tried test lighting them again.  Nothing.  My frustration level is really high at this point.  I'm not sure what my next plan of action will be, but I'm not pleased right now.

Turnout Repair Desk
I repaired four turnouts that were damaged this evening.  I knew of two that had to be repaired.  Lately, I have been going around on a regular basis checking turnouts.  You often don't see it until you switch a turnout from normal to reverse (or opposite).  So, in one of my recent checks, I found two more.  It's a relatively easy fix that doesn't take long, but yet again, still frustrating.  I then roll a cut of cars over the fixed turnout to watch how smooth they glide across the turnouts and feel good again.  Hence, my love/hate relationship with these turnouts.  I keep thinking to myself, eventually, all the turnout points will break and I will have repaired them.  I've never had one break after I repaired it.  Then, maybe I can rest at ease.  Until then, it will always be an annoying thorn in my side.