Friday, November 20, 2015

Notes on NCE and Decoder Pro

The second session did not go so well, but seemed to get better as I changed out the batteries.

I was told that you didn't have to change out batteries every time you had a session so after a three hour session and a six week layoff we had another session. I was prepared for trouble as I did buy rechargeable batteries and they were charged.

As soon as we started, strange things started happening. Engines wouldn't respond all the time even when plugged in. Engines were pulled off of the layout and I started changing batteries and eventually things started to calm down.

After the session I did some troubleshooting and I couldn't find anything wrong, so from now on the batteries will be charged prior to the session.

I also took the time to hook up NCE to Decoder Pro and update all of the engine files. The strange thing is that I could read all of the decoders but the the NCE ones. Go figure.....

I even took the time to put decoders into a couple of newer engines I recently purchased. I will have to do some speed matching soon.

Monday, November 9, 2015

I think it's time for plan B

I got the frames up and laid the track in place on the lower level. The distance between the top of the lower frame and the bottom of the upper frame is 14 1/2" on the near side and 11" in the back. The last track is 30" from the aisle. The upper level is fairly easy to reach because I can lean over the benchwork. The lower level on the other hand has no way to lean over it and I believe I would knock everything over on the front tracks if I had to reach in.

I will stop work for now while I ponder my options. 

One option would be to turn the bench 45 degrees about half way in. This will give me the ability to get behind to the back tracks if needed. It just puts a curve in all of the tracks.

Another option would be to run a single track on the upper level past the lower staging and then build the upper staging. This would give me the ability to reach the lower level. It would just be a much longer run in an area that would basically be hidden.

Another potential would to trim the side frame from 3 1/2" down to a thinner board or remove it completely to give me more head room.

Looking at the lower level track.

Side view of the to staging areas.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

It's a go for new staging

The engineering team says it "should be okay", go for it. So the track team is making preparations for the expansion. The track will be worked from back to front. Track will be worked on the bench and then put in place.

There are twelve tracks for staging. Track 1 & 12 will have the return loop connected about half way up. The back half of these tracks will hold shorter trains and the front half will be clear. Track 2 will have a crossover in it and both passenger trains will be on this track. Each will be a little over 5' long. The rest will be full length of at least 10' in length. This will hold 12 fifty footers and a caboose with two engines.
If by some odd chance the return loop becomes improbable and I go with stub ended tracks, I can increase to 15 staging tracks.

I already used up all of the available used code 100 track that I had for staging, so I started to tear up the last piece of track work from the old layout. Now to start cleaning the pieces to see if there is any usable track.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Staging update

I started laying out the basic plywood to see where I stood on making the new staging work. I used the same two pieces just to get an idea of where we were. This is a crawl space that you step up into from the train room and it slopes up hill, so the lower level will be low at the far end. The total length of the plywood is 16'. There is still about 4' of space at the far end.

In the first picture you can see the upper level in place and I need to dodge the drain pipes. I started on the right with  an ~ 1.5% down grade for 8' and then leveled out the rest of the way. The starting point has room for adjustment depending on how much I get the old staging area lowered. Right now the far left end is 36" from the floor.

The next picture shows the boards in the position for the lower level. The is no slope at this time, but I can consider rising over that distance to keep the lower level off of the floor. Currently the far end is 19' off of the floor. If I have to crawl under there to get cars it could be ugly.

I'm looking into a return loop for both levels just to make staging easier. Right now that might not happen because the reach could be too difficult.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Checking Out the New Staging

I first had to move the track 2" to the left. The reason is that I'm still planning a restaging loop off of the two end tracks. They will come from about halfway down the total length to give me two short staging tracks on T1 & 12. 
I am a little concerned about that pipe though the upper level will be real close to that pipe. We'll find out when I put the next piece up.
The piece I just put in is 8' long. There is 12 more feet behind this for the staging.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Getting ready to test setup for new Staging

A little while ago I kind of laid out the track for staging, placing the turnouts to look for the best setup. Today I connected those turnouts to see how it would work. It looks like the track will be straight enough.

Normally my yard throat would be all in one block, but I can see this setup will allow me to split the throat into three blocks.. One for each set of six tracks and one for where it all comes together.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Swap to NCE is complete

I spent some time bench testing NCE in the hopes that the transition would be easier and because I wasn't sure that I wanted to start 3 days before an Op Session.

I started hooking thins up one at a time to my test track to see that things were working properly. This took a little while. Let's just say the NCE manual at times needs a serious look into changes. There was quite a bit missing that would have helped a lot. The command station was fine. Putting batteries into the Cab Pro was a trip. They were so tight they kept wanting to fly out before you can get the cover on. The cover is also flimsy so those batteries are still trying to get out.

I brought two engines out that were MU'd with digitrax, so they needed to be re-consisted and that was pretty easy. These two engines developed a problem with digitrax where they would only run very slow. This problem went away with NCE.

The wireless was a trip mostly because there was absolutely no directions in the starter set. I eventually opened the repeater box and it had directions for both.

Mike Pennie came over to help and we were moving to try it on the layout. I had been using the old Digitrax power supply on the test track because I didn't want to take out the big power supply. This power supply was removed a while back because there were too many engines. So we get into the layout and hook up the "old power supply" with the NCE and connect the track wires. Everything looked good and wham not so good. After a while of scratching our heads, I had a "duh" moment. The small power supply was taken off earlier because it was too small.
We hooked up the the bigger supply and all was fine.

We started playing with the fascia panels and the wireless and got to a point of no return. We had to finish. For some reason some of the bus wires didn't work with NCE, even though they seemed to with Digitrax. I felt nervous enough about the available amps I added the booster.
They will both need to be moved after the session because for convenience I was only able to get a 2/3-1/3 split of the layout and the number of engines is much higher on the bigger section

I replaced all but one plug in panel because I didn't order enough, but the amount of panels is probably overkill with the improved radio reception.

Speaking of radio, I only had one antenna installed in one of the rooms and I almost had full coverage. I had to stick the throttle back by the backdrop in the far corner with my body between it and the antenna to show a problem.

The consisted engines have been re-consisted and show no ill effects of swapping systems. Now to test with nine people at one time.

Friday, October 9, 2015

NCE Has Arrived

It looks like I have a job to do. NCE to replace Digitrax.

Planning For The New Staging

I'm doing a little planning for the staging expansion. I have laid out the track in 2", 2 1/4" and 2 1/2" track spacing. I'm hoping for 12 tracks with the outside two tracks mostly to help with restaging. I'm trying to keep the foreground  to under 16",  for ease in getting to the tracks.  It has to go around a corner to get the mainline. 
I usually use 2" centers to keep the space narrower. This has never been a problem for me. However, with the extra tracks I thought I'd take a look.

In all cases the throat used about 4' and about another 8" to straight track.

The first picture shows a track spacing of 2". The table with of 26"

This picture shows 2 1/2" spacing, a 31" table width and a change to a straight Turnout at the beginning. The curve around the corner is a little tighter and the outside tracks to the turnout is also tighter.

This picture is 2 1/4" track spacing and back to a curved turnout.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Contemplating A Name Change

Almost 25 years ago I came up with the Blue Ridge & White Mountain Railroad. It was based on a generic idea to make my railroad both Southern and Northern just by changing the locomotives and rolling stock. Needless to say I am all into Maine and the Southern part never materialized. If I had picked a mountain route instead of a coastal route things might have been different.
Many years ago I debated a change of the railroads name to make it more related to Maine. I am not a real good change artist. I had a hard time changing to code 83 from code 100. Now that I'm changing control systems and computer controls and the change bug is here I started thinking about the name change. Here is a listing of some ideas.

Casco Bay Northern - this bay is at Portland the southern most point of the railroad.

I have played with the idea of using my initials CMB

Central Maine and Boston
Central Maine and Bangor
Coastal Maine and Boston
Coastal Maine and Bangor

Dispatchers Desk Changes

In anticipation of the extending of the layout, the dispatchers desk needed to be moved. I cleaned out an area near the desk and moved the desk into this spot. The desk also needed to be a little shorter so I cut off a foot of the table top. The length could be shorter with all the old computers gone. 
This is a temporary move so that I can move the other things, like my sprinkler system. I hope to get the desk into the crew lounge at some point.

The dispatcher's desk in its new location.

The fast clock could no longer be attached to the benchwork so I put it in a scrap of beadboard.

Digitrax to NCE

Throughout the years I have had trouble with the Digitrax system. Mostly the radio portion. I never could seem to get a good signal every where. I have recently have had problems with the 9v batteries. This isn't Digitrax related, but my batteries were going bad on the charger.

I had been thinking of moving to NCE based on other layouts in the area also moving to NCE and having their problems disappear.

I had been in contact with Tony's Train Exchange, they were having a sale so I took the plunge. Sometime this month I'll be changing out the two systems and selling off all the Digitrax.


About a year and a half ago my Electrical Guru and I were talking about the availability of the older computers which were getting harder to find. I had extras for the moment but over time as they fail if I didn't have a backup plan my Op Sessions could come to a halt.

I decided to learn JMRI and gave myself a two year window to get it working. Better to swap control systems on my terms and not the electronics. Not only did I have to learn JMRI, I had to learn how CMRI worked. My boards were developed by my Guru to emulate CMRI, so I had learn how these boards emulated CMRI. Once that was done then I could get underway.

July was when the official full scale testing was started and in August we were using JMRI for the Op Sessions. Shortly after that all the old DOS computers and monitors were removed and discarded.

The dispatchers really like the new screens. It seems to be much easier to pick up and understand.

The best news is the file that is used will work on both the MAC and the Windows computer.

Enlarging the layout

Right now I have an eight track, double ended staging yard connected to a 2 track town by a reverse loop. This is duplicated right above it on the upper level.

A while back I decided to take the staging yard and straighten it out into a stand up crawl space and turn the two towns into larger towns with industry. This will enable me to narrow the benchwork by about six inches.

The staging will have more tracks to allow me to have more trains and the ability to stage special trains. The track will be longer which will help when trains sometimes are longer than planned.

I will be able to build these before ever connecting to the existing layout, so operations should not be affected.

This will add about 30 more feet of mainline to both ends of the layout. There will be roughly 7 new industries added to the existing towns. Of course, this is only a guess at this time.