Saturday, February 21, 2015

The ROCK 3.0: New Motive Power

Today, was quite the lazy day at our house.  Kids were gone most of the day playing at the neighbor's house.  My wife and I just hung out on the sofa binge watching "Arrow" on Netflix.  I haven't had that slow paced of a day in a long time!

Very late this afternoon and evening, I was somewhat productive.  Thanks to my friend Jan, we have a new Grand Trunk Western GP40-2 in use on the layout.  The package arrived and I immediately installed the decoder and tested.  It runs well!

Here is the new GP40-2 sitting at the locomotive facility at Ottawa Yard.

This evening, I thought about applying more static grass, but decided against it.  I placed the windows back in the L-O-F building (after painting a week or so ago).  I then cleaned up the room and put the skirting back up.  I take it down between sessions.  It drives me bonkers trying to find stuff as I go pulling up each skirt panel like three times and still can't find stuff right in front of my eyes.

Some toys (the Caterpillar Lego front loader) for crews to play with between assignments.

I finally placed all my Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars back in the cabinet.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The ROCK 3.0: Various Updates and More Electrical Woes

Bulk Sand vs. Bagged Sand
Today, I went back and re-read some of the original articles that inspired my revision of the layout to model the sand operations of the ROCK.  The article stated that bulk sand was loaded into box cars up until the late 70s.  Around that time, it switched over to bagged sand in large 50' and 60' box cars.  I have only been using 40' box cars and calling it bagged sand.  Since my era is roughly based on the mid-70s, I was thinking of switching back to bulk loaded 40' box cars.  What would this mean for operations?  Well, for one the box cars would now have to be weighed as with the hoppers.  Second, the cars would have to be cleaned out first before being spotted.  This is the key point that I really want to hit on.  I'm thinking I could use the caboose track in Ottawa Yard (adjacent to the RIP track) for cleaning out box cars.  I can fit about five or six in there at a time.  Typically, the plant receives 8 or 9 a day so the yard crew would have to switch them out in shifts.  Cars would arrive in during the day requiring the yard crew to spot them at the clean out track.  I would leave it up to the discretion of the yardmaster to determine when the cars were cleaned and pulling them out to be picked up for delivery by the South Ottawa local.

I'm already using Southern 40' Box Cars for bulk loading, but these have roof hatches designed for that.  They are loaded with the hoppers on tracks one through four.

This RIP track is on the left.  I would use the caboose track as my clean-out track for the 40' box cars.


Telephone Pole Project:
Since applying the static grass, I can't find my holes for the telephone poles.  I re-drilled them tonight and glued them in place.

All signal heads lit!  Yeah!

Fast Clock for Ops:
I killed the Windows 7 partition on my Mac laptop to free up space.  I had to re-download my Fast Clock app to use through Terminal Server to my work.  If you need a fast clock for operating and have access to a Windows-based PC, I highly recommend this one.  It works well.

More Electrical Woes
This is very concerning.  As you might recall, I had some mystery issues over the summer where locos were losing their minds running back and forth.
The issue seemed to be solved by clearing all the consists.

Now, I have a new issue.  The throttles won't return to the normal position when the system starts up.  I can unplug, repower the system numerous times and still the same thing.  Then, randomly, it will initialize and go to the normal screen.

This screen should just pop up for a second before closing out and going to the screen showing the loco dialed in on that throttle.

I have researched some on the internet tonight.  I have tried resetting the entire system, but that didn't work.  I powered down the system and removed the CR2032 battery from the system.  That seemed to work as it booted up the first time after that, but later, it did the same thing again.  

I had one throttle jack that provided intermittent power.  I ordered a replacement as I had two others that were doing the same thing.  I replaced the cables and that didn't work, but when I replaced the jacks, it seemed to rectify the issue.  I isolated that UTP panel, but that didn't resolve the issue.  There are no shorts present on the layout per the status lights on the booster.

I plan on calling NCE tomorrow to see if they can shed any light on the situation.  I'm wondering if my NCE booster is just going bad.  It is seven years old.  There are no EPROM updates available since like 2007 (crazy, right?).  So, I'm at a lost.  I'm deeply concerned as what might happen during the op session with the system acting screwy.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The ROCK 3.0: New Crew Instructions & Static Grass Update

Today, I wrote up new crew instructions in the format used at the CR&E this last session.  It seemed to work well and alleviate any confusion on what is expected of the crews.

The Ottawa Yardmaster's instructions are the most complex, but easy to follow (I feel).  See below:

Static Grass Project 
This evening, I hit the static grass hard applying to areas in front of Ottawa Yard, along the back of mainline (between the farm fields and mainline), and in front of Ottawa Silica Bagged Sand loading tracks.  I used a homemade static grass applicator and Silflor 6mm autumn color.  I like the the Silflor brand much better than Woodland Scenics.  It seems to work better overall.  I have also noticed that applying static grass is much easier when it is cold.  If it has been raining a lot, it doesn't want to stand up properly.

East Ottawa Yard lead / Ottawa Silica Bagged Sand Loading Tracks (Before Static Grass)

Ottawa Yard (Before Static Grass)

North of Ottawa Yard (Before Static Grass)

I emptied out the yard before starting.

The mainline got busy though as the cars were relocated from the yard.

Trains everywhere!

I paint the area doo-doo brown for the soil before applying the static grass.

The homemade "Grassinator" by Steve Holzheimer on loan.  I have given it a workout on my layout.

Static grass added in front of the Ottawa Silica Bagged Sand Loading tracks.

I applied the grass closer to the Ottawa Yard lead.  This will be more overgrown when it is all said and done with.  I also added some bushes between the yard lead track (left) and South Ottawa lead right.

Another view of the yard lead and mainline.

A view of the static grass on the south end of Ottawa Yard (to the left)

Another view of the same.

Static grass was also added on the north end (across the tracks)

More bushes and overgrowth was added around the creek that runs under the yard.

Static grass and bushes were added between the mainline and the farm fields north of the yard.

Looking east at Ottawa Yard.  

More overgrowth was added around the back end of the yard.

When moving cars back to the yard, I failed to hit reverse.  I managed to shove the cut of cars down to the end of the mainline.  Luckily the caboose got caught on the rail and didn't plunge along with half the string.

Signal Dept Update
My signals at the west end of Ottawa Yard have been flaky.  I need to re-wire them as I made a mistake on the control board during the original installation.  This evening, they were acting crazy and half the aspects were not lit.  I troubleshooted and repaired all those for now.  I believe after the op session, I will focus more on signals and try to get that project completely finished.

Track Repair Update
I found another broken point.  This is one I repaired, but I'm not surprised it broke loose.  It really didn't have enough solder on it.  I tried repairing with my battery powered soldering iron.  It works well (if you have good batteries).  When they get weak, it doesn't work near as well.  The batteries were very weak tonight and my re-supply from Amazon hasn't arrived yet due to the inclement weather.  I managed to make it work, but it was frustrating this evening.

A lot is getting done on the layout.  I'm trying to think what else I can knock out before the end of this weekend.  Next week will be spent cleaning track and making final preparations.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The ROCK 3.0: Layout Re-staged / Loco Exercises

Re-Staging the Layout / Operational Notes:
Last night, I stayed up late working on re-staging the layout.  Man ol' man are we going to move some serious freight this next session.   The addition of the East Staging yard was most needed!

With the added staging, we will incorporate some new trains.  Here's the line-up for the session:

  • OTSW - Ottawa Switcher - works South Ottawa industries
  • UTSW - Utica Switcher - works all industries from Utica to Peru
  • #113 - Joliet to Bureau Turn - works Ottawa Yard westbound and then again later in the afternoon eastbound.
  • SOO Local - Dubuque, IA to Ottawa Turn - works at Ottawa Yard
  • GTW Unit Sand Train - Ottawa to Montreal, Canada - departs Ottawa late in the session.
  • Freight Train #95 - Chicago to Peoria Freight
  • Passenger Trains #12/#13 - Peoria Rockets east and westbound
Not bad for my little layout.  Ottawa Yard is going to be a busy place with trains coming in throughout the day swapping blocks of cars.  

I plan on having a total crew size of four people, but almost consider a fifth.  The first session, I did operate with a fifth person, but that was due to the paperwork confusion of working the Ottawa Local.  Since converting to Tabs-on-Cars, a second person is not required for that job.

Operating Positions for the Session:
  • OTSW Job - works Ottawa Local all day.
  • UTSW Job - Local job plus run GTW Unit Sand Train
  • Ottawa Yardmaster - works the yard all day.
  • Train runner - will operate #12, #13, #113 WB, #113 EB, Soo Line, #95
I didn't consider it until just now, but I wonder if I should split the OTSW job into two shifts.  That way someone could run the local and run some road trains as well.  I will have to run that by the boys.

Locomotive Exercises:
Today, I worked from home due to the ice storm we had last night.  While working, I setup a test track on the workbench next to my computer.  I had all the locomotives in the fleet run laps for 15 minutes each.  What a difference that makes.  They all start off slow and hesitant, but after running for 15 minutes they run like a charm.

We have so many trains running this next session, I need to pull out some reserve locos (my RI ALCO RS2s)!  

Track Repair Update:
Repaired the turnout points on the west crossover at Utica this afternoon.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The ROCK 3.0: Re-Staging the Layout

Well, NC will be closed for at least the next 24 hours.  We are under a winter weather ice storm this evening.  The news reporters are foaming out the mouth and anxiously awaiting to report on the dreaded "black ice".

This evening, I'm working on finishing up the re-staging of the layout, plus making some modifications for the new trains that will run due to the newly added East Staging yard.  

The ROCK 3.0: Visiting the CR&E

I made a video of one of the trains I was operating at Marcus' Charleston, Roanoke & Eastern Division this past Saturday.  Enjoy.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The ROCK 3.0: Window Sill Expansion Project Update

This morning, I continued work on the Window Sill Expansion Project.  It took a while to get everything aligned properly coming off the main, making the turn to the East Staging Yard.  The hardest part was installing the Tortoise Switch machine.  Great device, unpleasant to install though.  I didn't have much room to work either as it is mounted between the benchwork and the window.  Anywho, I managed to get the mainline installed down to the switch for the two staging tracks.  That took about 40 minutes.

This afternoon, I opted out on my Sunday sofa time for a nap to work on the layout plus various other things.  I glued down the cork roadbed and left it.

I returned late in the afternoon to cut and shape the flex track as well as glue it in place.  I drilled the holes for the nine sets of feeder wires for all the track changes, stripped the wires placing in the holes, removed all the tools from the construction and vacuumed up the area.

This evening, I returned, soldering all the feeder wires.  Soldering the feeder wires went ok, but connecting them to the bus under the layout.  Wow!  That hurt my knee a lot.  I had to be very careful.  That is the worst it has hurt in quite a few days.

Cleaned up the track and tested.  Everything works extremely well.  I'm quite pleased with the Window Sill Expansion Project and consider it a success.  This will be a great addition to the layout.

Looking east before the change.  You see the CB&Q crossing to the north (right to left)

Looking east after the change.  The mainline curves around to the right to the east staging.  I added the blue board background to keep the sunlight bearing down on the track.

Looking north before the change.  CB&Q continues north across the west-east RI mainline.
You can see the outline of the former bagged sand loading tracks.

Looking north after the change.  You can still see part of the outline for the original bagged sand loading tracks.  They were moved closer together and closer to the aisle.  The mainline curve flows nicely into the window sill (still allowing for the window to be open if required) and then opens up to two east staging tracks.

I added a Tortoise Switch Machine to control the switch as this will be blocked by the Ottawa Sand building.

I started working on re-gluing the sand pipe that pumps the sand slurry from the mine up to the processing buildings.

Looking south at Ottawa Silica.  New east staging to the left.  Scale track in the foreground.

Looking north at Ottawa Silica and the new east staging to the right. 
The staging tracks holds a 18 car (sand hoppers) train plus two locos and a caboose.

I added a toggle switch to the right of my blue light control for the Tortoise control of the staging tracks.  Eventually, I will create a proper panel cover and ID.