Track Pushes West Out of Oneida

Last week I added about another quarter mile (a bit over 15 feet) of roadbed and track to the Louisiana Central mainline.  Track is pushing westward out of Oneida now, and is well on it’s way to Monterey (the end of the line).  Here’s a snapshot of the progress:

West_of_Oneida

The track will continue toward the doorway down at the far end, and then curve left, passing in front of the opening.  There will be a lift span across that doorway.  The edge of Monterey is off to the left (out of the picture).

This roadbed and track is complete, and it’s wired up.  I’ve declared it ready for operation.

-Jack

A Set-up for My LokProgrammer

I mentioned recently that I had acquired a new LokProgrammer during their summer sale.  The device is only about 4″ square and when connected, has three cables attached to it.  However, I found it a bit awkward to handle all of this while using it.  So I took a short break from layout construction and cobbled together this little programming board for my programmer.  It makes it easy and portable to set up for programming a loco.  Here it is plugged into my train room computer:

LokProgrammer_Board

I attached a piece of track to the board with track nails and small screws.  The screws also serve as wheel stops in case the loco inches too far towards an end.  The LokProgrammer, at right, is also fastened with a screw through the hole in it’s center.  I didn’t want to torque down on the screw for fear of damaging the plastic case, so I glued a couple strips of thin rubber to the case bottom.  Now the programmer won’t have a tendency to rotate around the attaching screw.  The track connections make it easy to connect/disconnect if needed.  And the board sits on some little rubber feet so it doesn’t slide around.  The power supply and USB cable are stored in a small plastic case (not shown) when not in use.

I’m pleased with the result, and it made for an enjoyable change of pace this week.

-Jack

About Those Distractions

In the last post Spencer Sawmill Trackage Complete I mentioned how I kept getting distracted from my trackwork mission in Oneida.  It started when the folks at ESU announced a summer sale for their LokProgrammer.  For the benefit of those not familiar with this device, it is a LokSound decoder programmer that uses a computer interface.  While DecoderPro will program LokSound decoders nicely, this programmer has one interesting benefit that DecoderPro can’t match.  You can download new sound projects from ESU, then load them into your LokSound decoder.  I’m new to LokSound, but I’m quite impressed with their offerings at this time.  Several months ago I purchased my first LokSound decoder and it came loaded with the sounds for an ALCO 244 prime mover.  Then a few weeks ago, ESU upgraded the decoder file for this prime mover to include their new Drive Hold, and several other operating features.  No problem . . . just download the new file, and write it to the decoder.  It is now the latest and greatest.  Lured by this prospect, I decided to take advantage of the sale.  My first task was to upgrade my (still new) decoder.  It went well, and I’m tickled with the result.  Then I found out that I could actually modify the sounds in the LokSound decoder that came in my Rivarossi Heisler (it’s the top-of-line version 4 decoder).  Wow!  I spent several days playing with that and I’m thrilled with what I was able to do.

I also became distracted with my waybill generation program.  Back in the early 90s I cobbled up a DOS based waybill generation program using QuickBasic.  It worked quite well on my small bedroom sized layout of the time.  Then later I decided to write an enhanced Windows version using Visual Basic 6.  I’ve played with that program off and on (mostly off) for years now, and have thoroughly enjoyed working with it.  The program is about 85% complete, but lately I’ve been thinking that it’s high time to get busy and finish the thing up so that it’s ready for use when the layout becomes operational.  Trouble is, I haven’t done much with it for at least 5 or 6 years, and find that I’m spending a good deal of time trying to figure out everything I’ve already done!  To complicate matters, I recently started reading the detailed writings of Tony Thompson on the style of waybills that he and friends were developing and using (I originally saw an article he did in Model Railroad Hobbyist, then later visited his blog where his entire ongoing treatise of the subject is available).  They’ve come up with some interesting “model railroading” waybills that bear a nice resemblance to actual waybills.  They’re greatly simplified to be sure, but they capture the essence of the real thing, and I love them!  Indeed, they have prompted me to completely redesign the appearance of my waybills, and to expand on the concept.  Creating the forms was easy, but then I realized that I needed to add quite a few fields to my database to fill in all the new blanks on these new forms.  And then the code to make it all happen.  I’m not finished with this conversion by a long shot, but I’ve made good progress with it, and think the finished product will be well worth the effort.  The downside to all this was, of course, adding another delay to the program completion.

And that led to yet another distraction.  The new waybills will be printed on 3″ x 5″ slips of paper (I’ve found a source for this paper size and my HP printer can handle it).  Problem is, the larger than “normal” waybill size requires a larger than normal box on the layout fascia to hold them.  I could of course make them myself, but I’ve taken a fancy to the nice boxes that are offered by Bill Brillinger up in Canada.  I contacted Bill and he says he can make up any size that I need.  Excellent.  But after some email exchanges, I realized that I needed to do more homework as to exactly what I’ll be needing (sizes, number of slots, etc.) so that Bill can work up a quote for me.  It was then that I realized that I was doing everything that I wasn’t supposed to be doing (at this time) and I pulled in on the reins.

I got back on the trackwork at Oneida, and I stayed there until the job was completed.  The only trackwork left to do (on the peninsula) is a bit of mainline on the backside of the peninsula that brings the trains from Oneida into Monterey.  I’ll be starting on that soon.

Now, where did I put that programmer?  And I really need to get back to Bill on those boxes…

-Jack

Spencer Sawmill Trackage Complete

Back in May I reported on the completion of the Louisiana Central trackage in Oneida.  In that report I mentioned that I’d probably get started next on the Spencer Lumber Company’s sawmill complex in Oneida.  And I did so within just a few days, figuring I would probably whip that out in just a couple of weeks.  So much for my optimism.  The trouble with the model railroad hobby is that it’s so easy to get distracted by other interesting things that pop up.  I could go on for the next five or six paragraphs rambling about these distractions but I really need to stay on topic, so I’ve put my distractions into a separate post.

Well, the Spencer trackage in Oneida is complete, along with the switch motor installations and all of the wiring.  In fact, ALL of the Spencer operation is complete.  Trains of empty skeleton log cars can leave the mill and head up into the woods, and then return fully laden with prime timber.  Spencer’s railroading days are winding down here in 1964.  The only trackage left in the woods terminates at Camp 6 located a few miles to the east of Whitcomb.  Camp 6 is now used as a re-load point for the logs.  Trucks have taken over hauling the timber from the various cuttings, but the trains still get them from this re-load point back to the mill.

Here are a couple photos of the recently completed trackwork.  In a couple days I’ll get a few additional photos posted on the main website for your perusal.

Spencer-Sawmill-Complex
Here is an overview of the mill complex.  In the center of the photo, the mill pond will be in that depressed area, and the sawmill itself will be in the open area at the upper edge of the pond.  The switch at the lower left is on the mainline coming from the woods.  The diverging route (to the left) is to the loading track for the finished product (the spur track to the left of the pond).  The track branching to the left from the upper switch is the connection to the Louisiana Central.  This connection will allow the mill switcher to retrieve the occasional load of supplies and fuel oil left on the loading track by the LCRR.  Heading straight up from the mainline switch, we enter the yard.  The track nearest the pond will have a log dump.  The crossover is to allow the locomotive to run around the cars.  The run-around extends past the crossover to the locomotive service track.  The spur at the far right is the RIP track for the logging cars, and will also double as the caboose service track.

This view above is taken from atop a stool to enable a better view of the track arrangement.  Actual track elevation in Oneida is 54″ above floor.

Spencer-Sawmill-Complex-2
And here’s the view from the sawmill area.  Again, the track closest to the mill pond is the unloading track, the center track is the run-around and engine service, and on the left is the RIP track.  There will be a bit more rolling terrain beyond that last track, and the Louisiana Central mainline will be wrapping around in the distance and then heading down the far left side of the peninsula on it’s journey to Monterey (off to the left of that doorway).

Other than the LCRR mainline trackage mentioned here, and a bit more down in that alcove, the remaining layout trackage is for the yards at Willis and Monterey, and the industrial trackage at each.  While that’s still a lot of track to lay, I can at least see the light at the end of the tunnel (and I think it’s a train).

-Jack

LCRR Trackage in Oneida Complete

The largest town on the line between Monterey and Willis is Oneida.  Oneida is pronounced wah-nee-duh, an unusual pronunciation for sure, but typical of naming habits in Louisiana and Mississippi.  J.D. Spencer (founder of the Spencer Lumber Company) named the town after his oldest daughter when he built his sawmill complex on this ground back in the early 20s.

The Louisiana Central trackage here was recently completed.  The switch motors have been installed and the electrical feeders for all trackage are terminated at their respective terminal blocks.  The only work remaining is to connect feeds from the power bus to those connection points.  Here are a couple photos:

Track-in-Oneida-East

Above is the view from the east end of town.  The (future) bridge across the Little River will be at the lower right above the plywood river bottom.  The first switch is the Spencer Lumber Company mainline heading to the mill complex.  If you recall from an earlier post, the Spencer has obtained trackage rights across the LCRR bridge.  Once over the bridge, the lumber road splits away to their own mainline.  The next switch is the passing siding, and the track coming off the pass and heading back toward the camera is the spur for the sand and gravel pit.  Off in the distance, we see the spur for the Wildcat Petroleum Company, and way down at the far end, the spur for the Spencer loading track can (barely) be seen.

 

Track-in-Oneida-West

Here we see the view from the west end of town.  The mainline (on the cork roadbed) presently ends here at the switch; extension westward to Monterey will be in the near future.  The passing siding branches off to the left.  The first switch is the Spencer loading track, and the next two switches lead to the Wildcat Petroleum Company and the sand and gravel pit, respectively.

I’ll probably get started on the Spencer trackage for the sawmill complex next.  You can see the Spencer mainline heading this way toward the mill (the distant track at center that currently ends at a switch).  The Spencer track will curve to the far side of the mill pond (that depressed area at left), where there will be a log dump, and a couple servicing tracks for the steam locos and rolling stock.

I still need to get started though on those bridge abutments over near Whitcomb.  It would be hard to get over the line without that bridge!

-Jack

Back On Track

Really . . . I’m back on track, having reactivated my program of modifying Shinohara code 70 switches to be “DCC friendly”.  Regular readers of this blog will recall that I was suffering from “layout construction fatigue” back in late February.  Well, I’ve been ready to get back at it again for over a month, but have been continually distracted by other things.  To be sure, I’ve been doing mostly railroad related tasks, but meat and potatoes production on the layout, -namely trackwork- has been stagnant.  I spent time evaluating, ordering, and then changing out my DCC system back in March.  And I finally got my plate girder bridge assembled; it’s waiting for abutments and wing walls now.  I finished some miscellaneous support framing for the scenery base that will cover the staging tracks, and that area of the layout is just about ready for the hardboard fascia.  All the wiring is caught up with the installed trackage.  I even put some time in on my waybill creation program, redesigning the waybills and empty car bills to more closely resemble the real thing (thanks to Tony Thompson and his work in this area).  And as you know, I’ve been playing a lot, A Mini-Reunion at Covington.

But I have been distracted from the trackwork for much too long, so I determined that I was going to get something done under that discipline today.  That mission was accomplished.  Now that I’ve broken the ice so to speak, I think I’ll find it easier to get back into the swing of things.  I only have about 30 feet of track left to complete the mainline, but I’m holding off on that as I want to complete the trackage in Whitcomb and Oneida before I continue with the main.  I need eleven code 70 switches to be modified and installed in order to complete those areas, so I really need to get with the program.

It’s good to be back!

-Jack

Trains are Running Again

I’ve been working and playing with my new NCE “Hybrid” DCC system for a couple days now, and things seem to be running smoothly.  The installation was mostly straightforward, with a few glitches in figuring out the polarity of certain wires and connections between NCE and my existing Lenz equipment.  The power input, and the track and cab buses were literally a simple plug-in and all worked fine.  The biggest challenge was hooking the control bus from the Lenz boosters to the NCE command station.  Lenz uses the Euro style wire connectors for everything, whereas the NCE uses that style for just the power input and track outputs.  The NCE box utilizes a telephone type plug for the control bus, so I had to figure a way to go from a twisted single pair cable to that telephone connector.  I had an old telephone out in the garage that I had retired probably 20 years ago, so I took the receiver jack out of its base (with wires attached) and I secured it to the backboard at my controls area.  I already had a barrier strip there where the control bus terminated, so I soldered a couple spade lugs to the appropriate pair of the jack’s wires, and simply attached them to that barrier strip.  Then I was able to use the telephone handset cord to plug the NCE box into that jack, and -voila!- I had signal on the bus.  Today I finished off the installation by hooking my computer up to the NCE box, and then cranking up DecoderPro.  After doing the configuration for NCE, I was up and running.  Other than a little tidy-up work, I’m done with the new installation.

In my last post I neglected to mention the other big reason I became disillusioned with my Lenz system.  My favorite thing about the Lenz was that LH90 throttle with the big knob.  The thing I liked the least about the system was that LH90 throttle with the big knob.  Huh?  How’s that you say?  Well, the LH90 throttle doesn’t have a full keypad.  It can only access five functions directly (that is, with a single key press).  Getting to higher functions (up to function 8) requires pressing a shift button before pressing the desired function.  Getting to functions up to 28 requires as many as a dozen button presses!  With my earlier decoders, this wasn’t any particular problem.  But with the advent of sound decoders, that shortcoming was quite disappointing.  I generally need between eight and ten “instant” function buttons to set things up the way I prefer . . . easy to do with a full keypad.  Even the small NCE throttles I have satisfy that requirement.

And last, I failed to mention the fast and convenient service Art Houston (my NCE dealer) provided when I called to order the system.  Thanks, Art!

Can’t wait to get back out in the train room tomorrow to run some trains!

-Jack

The New Hybrid DCC System

Back in the early 2000’s, I made the decision to go with the Lenz brand for my DCC power and control system.  That decision was based in part on the knowledge that Lenz was developing a new radio throttle that would utilize a knob (which I prefer) for the speed control (it looked identical to the present LH90 throttle).  That throttle did not come to fruition, as Lenz abandoned the project quoting the difficulty and expense in making an international throttle that could meet all the various requirements of broadcasting both in Europe and North America.  Major disappointment!  But anyway, I had already purchased their Set01 that uses the LH100 tethered throttle, and I decided to stick with their system.

Over the years I had added components to the system: several of the LH90 throttles with the big knob for speed control, a couple more boosters, a computer interface so I could use DecoderPro with the system, and a few other odds and ends.  But I still wished for a good radio throttle.  Lenz did come out with a plug-in that allowed you to use a wireless telephone as a throttle, and I understand it works well. But somehow, that just struck me as a kludge and I couldn’t warm up to it.  Then a few years ago Lenz introduced a method for using a “smart” cell phone for a throttle.  While there are some nice things about that, it still isn’t the type of control I want.  If I were to go wireless, and if I wanted a “true” throttle, I’d have to use the CVP system.  Their throttles interface to the Lenz system via a CVP base station, and are said to work quite well.  But there is a downside to that solution: big $$$.

Well, I recently had an epiphany.  The NCE system uses the same bus protocol as Lenz, and the two systems have many similarities in the way they operate.  I started investigating and found that I could use my Lenz boosters with an NCE system.  And NCE makes a radio throttle that I like . . . with a knob!  And further, I wouldn’t need to purchase all the throttles needed for the layout as so many folks around here use NCE, and already have throttles (something that didn’t benefit me with Lenz or CVP).

So, I made the decision to make the change.  I recently sold my Lenz command station/booster, the computer interface, and all my Lenz throttles.  I kept and will continue using my separate Lenz boosters, and will keep the throttle plug-ins around the layout.  I ordered an NCE Power Pro system with a radio throttle . . .

NCE-Power-Pro_R

. . . along with a couple of the Cab06 throttles that use that beautiful knob.

NCE-Cab06pr

The box arrived late this afternoon, and I have been reveling in it’s contents.  I’ll be heading out to the train room in the morning to start my installation, which should be rather straight-forward given the similarity of the systems.

Radio control at last!

I’ll do a follow up report soon once I get things operational.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all turns out as expected.

-Jack

Railroad Construction Crews Advance Despite Interference by Others

As I mentioned in the previous post, I have managed to get some work done on the layout.  I’m a couple weeks behind where I’d like to be, but all-in-all, things are still moving along nicely.

The Spencer logging operation received a bit of track, extending from the high line (along the wall), down to the mainline that will head back to the mill.  Last weekend I cut out the next section of sub-roadbed that, when installed, will take the mainline past Whitcomb to the point where the Spencer line ducks beneath the Louisiana Central mainline (see the track plan).

And speaking of the Louisiana Central, the sub-roadbed has been extended from Maynard westward to within about three feet of Whitcomb.  The next section of sub-roadbed, which will carry the line up to the middle of Whitcomb, has been cut out and is waiting for installation.  I’ve also started laying cork roadbed from Maynard out to near the end of the new sub-roadbed.

Electrically, all of the bus wiring that was run a few weeks ago has been tied into the circuit breakers beneath Whitcomb.  Now they are energized and ready for service.  And the Tortoise motors serving the Spencer trackage have their wiring extended down to the control panel location at the (future) fascia.

Finally, Wayne and I made a lumber run and then ripped enough joists, risers and fascia supports to carry us through Whitcomb and Oneida (the next town down the line).  We also cut several sections of Masonite fascia, and even managed to cut some long wooden tapers to use where track needs to drop from the cork roadbed down to the tabletop.

I’d like to complete just a bit more work before posting any progress photos, but I think that will be soon.  I’m optimistic about September and look forward to some solid progress during this month.

-Jack

Camp 6 in Operation

The past few weeks have been productive ones.  The Spencer Lumber Company’s high line into the woods terminating at Camp 6 (the re-load point) has been completed.  Trackwork is down, the Tortoise switch motors have been installed, wiring is complete, and I even sprayed a coat of Rust-Oleum Camouflage Brown onto the trackwork.

Next up was the double switchback.  The sub-roadbed for that has been installed, along with a nice section of the lower mainline.  This mainline will bring the trains to the mill in Oneida, two townships away.  The mainline sub-roadbed has progressed to the middle of Whitcomb (the first township).  The photo below shows the current state of construction in the area.  I’ve posted about a half dozen photos in the photo section of the website; you can -click here- to go there if you’re interested.

Spencer Lumber Co. Camp 6

This photo was taken while standing on a stool in order to show the track layout better.  The high line roadbed is 60″ above the floor down where the Shay locomotive is sitting.  The mainline at the point where it leaves the photo at lower left, has descended to about 54″.  It will drop to under 52″ by the time it reaches the west side of Whitcomb.  Those three tracks down in the “valley” are some of the staging tracks that will be hidden from normal view by the scenery.

Trackwork will commence on all of this sub-roadbed this coming weekend.  As a side note, all of the sub-roadbed here was cut from the salvaged sub-roadbed of a layout built back in the late 1980s.  The Homasote then was of a much higher quality than that being sold today.  Very little surface prep will be necessary before laying track.

The good news with all of this is that the re-load point at Camp 6 is now operational.  And even better, the Louisiana Central mainline can now proceed westward out of Maynard (that area down at the far end), and on to Whitcomb.

Some electrical work has also been accomplished.  My ace building compadre Wayne came over last Saturday and we twisted and pulled all of the remaining track power buses.  All remaining trackwork can be immediately connected to the bus and powered up as it is laid.

July and August continue to be great!

-Jack

Spencer Camp 6

The Spencer Lumber Company will play a significant role on the layout.  Spencer will have a sawmill at Oneida (on the peninsula closest to the top of the track plan), and will have a railroad mainline running from the mill up to Camp 6 (a re-load point) in the woods east of Whitcomb.  Camp 6 is physically located along the wall at the top of the track plan.  The Louisiana Central mainline between Maynard and Whitcomb will also run along this section of benchwork, near the aisle.  My construction protocol is to work from the wall out toward the aisle (a lesson learned the hard way).  Therefore, I needed to build and install the Camp 6 roadbed and trackage before advancing the LC mainline from Maynard (where it presently ends) to Whitcomb.

The sub-roadbed for Camp 6 has been in place since last September.  However trackwork was never started only because I’d not tackled the task of modifying the Shinohara code 70 switches required for this area.  As I mentioned in a recent post, the switch modification program has finally gotten under way, and work up at Camp 6 has resumed.  The high line was designed to be removable for construction work.  Two weekends ago I removed the right half and started laying track.  This past weekend, the track was completed on this section, the Tortoise switch motors were installed, and all wiring was completed.  I sprayed all the track with a coat of Rust-Oleum Camouflage Brown paint (first time I’ve done this), then re-installed the entire section of benchwork atop the risers.  The left side benchwork has been removed and next weekend, similar work will ensue.  As the final step, the double switchback will be constructed which will bring the trackage down to roughly the level of the (future) LC mainline.

Once all this happens, both the Spencer and Louisiana Central trackage can advance to Whitcomb, and then on to Oneida.  This will be a major milestone for the layout.  I am anxious to achieve this progress, and have an excellent start to making it happen.

The trackage along the wall and the peninsula written about above will be powered by the 3rd of the three DCC booster districts.  Booster districts 1 and 2 have already been completed.  This past weekend I set about installing this final district.  The Lenz booster feeds two DCC Specialties PSX circuit breakers, one each for the LC and the Spencer operation.  All components have been installed and wired, and some of the Spencer track bus wiring has been strung.  The only work remaining will be the LC track bus and the Spencer track bus onto the peninsula.

This summer is turning into a fairly productive one.  I’m pleased with the progress being made on the layout thus far.

-Jack

Progress on Multiple Fronts

I have to admit that I’ve been in a rut for quite some time at least in regards to track laying.  And it all centers around the (self-imposed) requirement that all of the track switches are to be “DCC friendly”.  I’ve finally embarked on this project and can happily report that as a result, track work is again proceeding.  I’ve modified four of the Shinohara code 70 switches thus far, two of which have been installed.  The Illinois Central passing siding at Willis, and the interchange track to the Louisiana Central have been installed and are operational.  This completes the I.C. trackage.  The next two areas I want to complete are the L.C. passing siding at the Willis yard, and the Spencer Lumber Company’s line up to Camp 6 in the woods just east of Whitcomb.  The latter is necessary as it’s located at the far side of the benchwork in this area.  I want to get this installed and operational before advancing the Louisiana Central mainline (to be located near the aisle side of the benchwork) from Maynard to Whitcomb.

And since trackwork has resumed, I needed a fresh supply of refurbished and pre-wired Tortoise switch machines.  I grabbed another pile of those, performed the prep work, and now have them ready for installation.

I’ve decided to go with recessed control panels similar to what I mocked up recently.  There wasn’t much point to mocking up my other ideas as the recessed version was what I really wanted and the mock-up confirmed that the idea would be workable.  This past weekend Wayne and I cut out the components for the four panels that will be in the vicinity of Maynard.  I hope to start the actual construction of these panels within a week or so.  Once these are installed, I’ll be able to paint that section of fascia.  I’m studying color samples and hope to decide on a color soon.

I’ve also made a minor lighting change in the train room.  In addition to the fluorescent lighting behind valances, I also have recessed can lighting over the aisles.  These have had 75 watt incandescent lamps in them.  I decided to change the incandescent lamps out to 5000k LED flood lamps, the same color temperature of the fluorescents.  These match the layout lighting quite nicely and I think it will be a visual improvement.  I also installed a twin head emergency light fixture near the entrance to the room as when the lights are out, that room gets very dark (as in black).  Interestingly, the first day after I installed the light we had a heavy thunder storm pass through and the lights went out for a couple minutes.  The emergency light did an outstanding job of lighting the way out.

And finally, freight car construction continues, although at a slightly reduced pace.  I have about 45 cars assembled and checked out to be road worthy at this point.  Only about 250 kits remain.

-Jack