Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Track diagrams

Working on keeping all the information required for all the electronics and trackwork organized.

Here's some diagrams I've thrown together

The Streetsville is based on a screen grab from JMRI while the Brampton has been re-drawn.  I think I like the redrawn version.  Little more space and neat.

More to come

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Electronics - continued

In my quest to link my computer with the model trains I've had to do a lot of reading about sensors, feedback, loconet (I'm using Digitrax) and all sorts of other really dry stuff.  Most of it goes way over my head but some is getting through the thick cranium I've got - to the point that I think I'm ready to share my findings.  Keep in mind that although my father is an electronics engineer none of his knowledge transferred (much to our mutual disappointment !) so I'd classify myself as a muddler at best.

First thing I want to ramble on about is the underworld that is the bottom side of my layout - electronic schematics and wiring plans are all pretty but once they hit the real world and the layout things can get pretty ugly and fast.  There are some folks who have done a fantastic job keeping everything wired nicely and neatly.  Those folks deserve an award (maybe sainthood ?) for their work  and patience.  Me ?  not as neat. or patient.  but I'm trying. Oh I'm trying.  Which brings me to what I've been up to lately.

Part of my plan now is to wire up my tower controller TC-64 to my TamValley Quad's. Originally I was only using the TC-64 for sensors but I read that it handles TTL which, in a pleasant surprise for me, the Quad's put out.  Therefore all the switch changes can go into the loconet and be monitored by the computer (using JMRI, but I keep looking back to Perecli's Railroad Automation as it looks so darn crisp, organized and easy).

So I want to connect all my Quad's to the TC-64's which is a lot of cabling.  As well the connectors for the TC-64 are IDC 2x5's, while the Quad uses standard header male pins - jibberish? no just connector types, see below as I've included pictures.  They don't mate naturally so you either do ugly wires wrapped around the Quad  and the TC (soldered or not) that might touch each other or possibly just female pins at the TC side (soldered /crimped whatever) but that gets nasty quickly.  I decided to I'd try for a nice neat converter board rather than a cable with appropriate ends for each.  My reasoning has two major arguments - first reason would be the strength of the connector at the TC end. The 2x2 connector would be soldered to the wire and then inserted into the TC which is snug, the ground would have to be shared with both Quads using a different method.  I'd be afraid that pulling out the connector would break the wires/connection.  and the 2nd argument is if I ever wanted to do something in the middle of that connection, like say light an LED or ?, I couldn't. So I decided on a small breakout board.   I'll break out the parts and costs and then the pin out conversion from RR-Cirkits to TamValley.  At the end I'll have a CAT6 cable run to each Quad from my main drawer / panel where these small boards are.  Then its a small ribbon from that board to the TC-64.

Naturally nothing seems to work out evenly and easily so each Quad, technically, needs 5 connections.  As pictured below.  1 per turnout 1 for the ground (negative or GND).  Cat 5 or 6 wire has 8 wires.  So 1 cable per board, which can add up to a fair amount of wires going everywhere underneath the layout and wire = mess.  However if we could use 4 wires per board, we can use 1 cable per 2 boards !  less wire, less mess !  Or so my thinking goes.

How can we get away from having that ground on each board ?  well... there's a couple ways we can cheat.  If you're not using all 4 turnouts on a particular quad (for whatever reasons), then just wire the needed pins.  Or what I've noticed is that if I wire up 1 quad with the GND, ALL the other boards work as if they have their GND wired !!!  that means 5 connections for 1 board, 4 connections for every other board.   There are probably a million reasons that this is BAD and not the right way to do it.  But it seems to be fine, so I'll probably wire up a couple boards with the GND and the rest without.

So I made two types of breadboards - one that feeds two full cables and one that feeds 1 cable.  The pictures make more sense I hope...

You'll also notice that I'm using 8 pin connectors when I really only need 7 (to cover the header pins we need to connect to neatly).  Well.... they had 8's in stock but no 7's and I didn't feel like waiting for eBay China shipments.

Some pictures to astound and amuse...

Converting the straight pins to the 2x5 IDC connector type and feeding 1 cable of the full 8 wires going to 2 Quads.  This doesn't carry the GND
Converting the straight pins to the 2x5 IDC connector type and feeding 1 cable of 5  wires going to 1 Quad.  These have the GND connected

My Parts List
 I've also included ebay searches to make it easy to find the right parts, in bold links

    • 2x5 IDC  Female Header Socket Connector .100" / 2.54mm  (the ends for the ribbon cable) should be <40 cents each, you need 2 per cable. This goes to the TC-64 from my conversion board
    • 7 pin housing (the blue connector) .100" / 2.54mm and it needs pins to go into it. Less than <5 cents a piece, you need 2 per cable.   When I ordered them , they had 8's and no 7's so I did 8 position. Use this to search ebay "7P Dupont Jumper Wire Cable House Female Pin Connector 2.54mm Pitch" ... I later ordered 4 position from eBay for my GND-less  wiring - Ebay link here
    • terminals  for the housing above 100 for 3 dollars  you need 10 per cable (remember we're only pinning out the stuff we need - 4 x TTL and ground), make sure they're long enough for male headers you buy.  
    • Strip board (the yellow brown board that everything is built on), 5 for about 3.50, I'm cutting them into half, 1 per 2 cables.
    • 2x5 10 Pins Box Header IDC Male Sockets Right Angle .100" / 2.54mm (these are the male parts the ribbon cable ends plug into.  The right angle is so it lies flat, if you wanted it upright, then you get straight ones. <40 cents
    • 7 pin male header pitch of .100" / 2.54mm or the blue connector to plug into (the straight pins on the left middle picture)  I got right angle ones, but you can get straight for vertical.  About 30 cents each.  Again I had to get the 8's due to supply. Ebay also is sometimes lean on 7 pin units but you can always buy the 20 or 40 pin lengths and just cut them to the right number.
    • Spare runs of CAT5 or CAT6 wiring for the cables.  I get cut-offs from cablers at my datacenters, but you could buy a spool or buy cut offs from cablers (as copper is expensive they probably won't give it to you as they can sell it "dirty" to recyclers)
EBay is your friend for sourcing these parts !  much much cheaper than Digikey / Mouser but not as easy sometimes finding the parts.

You need 1 cable per Quad, and each Port on the TC-64 can handle 2 Quads. So the price per is TC-64 port (or 8 inputs, or to put it another way per 2 Quad's) about... $2.00 or so.  I'm sure that price can be driven down with more hunting on E-bay !

The next hurdle is the pin out demands and making sure the TC and the Quad are talking on the pins they should.  The TC-64 pin outs are below.  Usually everything has a number, so it would go to 10 but this schematic is showing inputs (8) and power (+/- 5V).   The Quad needs 4 inputs and the Ground.

So that should be easy enough right ?  yes!  it is.  But, and there's always a but, you have to first realize that the TC-64 pin is the actual ribbon cable connector, so its reversed from the usual socket diagram, like the one below, so TC -64 pin 2  is the "1" pin that IDC connectors also show as a triangle.  A typical pinout for IDC is below.  So to re-iterate the "1" pin is the "2" on the TC-64.  It just means that you can ignore the "1" pin marking and just follow what the TC needs.  Oh and putting power through the ground is bad.  I think its opto-isolated so you should be ok but don't do that. 

 and that is how, more or less, I've tried to neaten the connection change and keep my layout wiring clean.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


With the change of plans, mentioned way back in November, I had the opportunity to revisit my thoughts on code 40 vs code 55.   I've decided to have some code 40 on the spurs.  The only issue is that there are no commercial turnouts available, which isn't actually a bad thing.  I've always wanted to try to hand lay track and this gives me an excuse to do so.

I started with a Code 40 #4 turnout.  I bought the rail and a few tools from the great folks at FastTracks, downloaded the schematic from them as well and gave it a try.  I didn't put up the picture of that.  I expected to fail on it, so I wasn't surprised that I did, but that Code 40 is tiny!  And the folks on You Tube, and the  forums are all liars !  its hard to do !  So I tried again and got it more right than wrong, and then I did this curved one.  It even worked.  Ok, electrically it didn't, but after a bit of filing and swearing, more filing, walking away, more filing, swearing it worked !  Maybe the YouTube guys are right, it's pretty straightforward.

I tried my hand at two #10's in code 55.  A lot easier to work with but I still haven't perfected my techniques.  I watched some more YouTube videos and tried some different techniques.  It actually worked out pretty well.  Sure it took waaaaaaaaay too long but I'm not in a rush. That's what I tell myself at any rate.

Now my biggest complaint / problem is working out how to put on all the damn wooden ties.  I've tried gluing them to the paper and then using Pliobond to the turnout, thinkingit would be stronger than the paper to wood using a dollar store glue stick.  Either I'm totally doing it wrong or Pliobond sucks (I'm leaning on me not applying it correctly)

I've read that heat really helps Plio, and it says to shake or stir before using.  How you shake a tube is beyond me, but I'm game to try.  And using a soldering iron for heat. Tried both, still working it out.

Update- put the curved 40 into place and building the spurs it feeds Bacardi distilleries - I seem to be  having a theme with breweries and distilleries (in Waterloo I'm planning Brick Brewery, and Seagram's)...hmmm makes you wonder no?

Well, lots more to be posted shortly !

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Slowing down and its not age related...

Its November.  Last post was July.  Have I done anything?  sure.  couple things.  Had a baby (well I didn't, but my wife and I did.  I'll share credit.  I'm big that way).  Modelling-wise, sure haven't done much it seems.  Let's see what's been done the last few months -

Redesign -

Took out the big Vaughn yard (Vaughan if you spell it correctly!) ,  old and new trackplans pasted here to compare and contrast !  The new is labelled Phase I

Added a helix to the design, the upper deck with be Phase II

Removed the "Waterloo" portion as an intact section that will be re-used on the upper deck.  I really liked my track work and couldn't face destroying it.  This also allowed me to spray paint the track to see what that looks like.  Looks great, just not sure if black or brown worked better.  Did the mainline black, spurs and sides as brown.

Put the light sensors wiring from the BIX to the sensing boards.  I wanted three sensors in parallel for each trigger but have to get enough of the same sensors.

Ordered some LED's and such from Hong Kong, thank you Ebay!  Tried various connectors to make things neat and tidy.  That's still very much a work in progress, as are my panels. Still not sure, ultimately, what my panels will look like, but I've got some cool chrome bezels for the LED's and some black flat ones if the chrome are a little too much.

Put down some track for the Brampton area

Ordered some of the Kato Maxi-IV's, might get the I's as well.

Trying to build a transfer table, having a tough time with the alignment.

Can't think of anything else, at this point.  More to come but in the meantime thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Stalled, like an original VW in an intersection

Its been a few weeks of on and off again work, though the term "work" is being optimistic.  More of a puttering and fussing than work.

The frustration is from the last minute change in the room size/planning.  The old layout plan -above- had a return behind a wall into a spare bedroom.  This was going to also be a helix and staging yard in phase II of the build.  That's been scraped as my wife decided the bedroom is a no go area now.  So now I have to re-design which is causing me a lot of indecision.

Here's the current state of the layout, below.  Bench work is all built; however, modifications could be done.  The KW (Kitchener Waterloo) section is complete.  Don't really want to rip it all up as, I think, I did a pretty awesome job with the trackwork this time around.

Thoughts on a future plan -

  • not putting the Vaughan yard in - more scenic and a few towns
  • A "nolix" or no helix design.  Simply put, that means a 2 to 2.5% grade up and back to try to get to 12" higher than KW level, but on the Vaughan side.  Just realized I spelt Vaughan incorrectly in the picture.  "an" vs "n"
  • Staging would be underneath the 12" higher Vaughan side
  • Could use a tight helix by expanding the Maple benchwork to 30", using a 13.5 or 14" radius in the helix, then go up 16 or 18".  This would be instead of the 'no lix', allowing greater height
I guess my new givens would be -
  • staging
  • dramatic (tall) bridge scenes
  • escarpment terrain with imposing cliff faces... this kinda goes with the bridge idea
  • a few GO or Via Rail passenger stations
  • a couple industries for a bit of switching interest
  • two levels.
so until I figure out the new layout plan, I'm sitting in a non-motivated, uninspired funk.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Just working the rails

I've actually had some good time to work on the trains this past week and weekend.  Got a ton of track put down.  Feeling good but, of course, my lovely wife has thrown a huge wrench into the gears with a change of plans on where the layout can go!  More on that later.

So my progress report -

Screwed down the KW side of the layout.  Which sounds easy, but was a bit mental fight as I have the electronics drawer underneath it.  Access going forward is limited to the front two thirds.  Which, if I planned correctly should be fine.  The back third of the drawer is power distro, the Digitrax chief, my PR-3 and a bit of the TC-64.  There's no looking back now !

With the help of my 3 year old son, got a lot done.  He enjoyed using the tweezers to pick up small objects, not so much with the actual help.  Small steps, small steps !

I completed the entire KW yard, and Waterloo is connected to it.  Picture is above.  Added a couple notes about what's going where, possibly.  The only definite is the KW Station in the yard.  This will service GO Transit and VIA Rail.

Notice my mainline is elevated from the spurs and yard.  Got this idea from everyone else...

KW yard to the left, storage and roundabout tracks to the right

Connection from Waterloo to KW is the middle line, the engine is on  the Elmira spur
Of course with all the track work down it allowed me to test it out.  Have to add a few more power feeders, less than I thought actually.  It all seemed to work pretty well.   Next step is to wire up all the servo's and then watch for derailments with my most finicky cars.

Next blog will go into the big change of plans !

Monday, June 4, 2012

Track work and Electronics

So I'm using a proto freelanced approach to Southern Ontario on the CP Rail lines.  Its difficult for me to actually nail down what Cities I want to model... and they'll be more representational than prototypical.   Of course most of what I'm choosing to model are actually on CN Rail lines but... well, I like CP more.  Though I might try to have a bit of CN traffic later... they do have some really nice models..

On my list - for this week - are

  • Kitchener Yard and Via/GO Station, with a couple industries (maybe could be Cambridge for the factories?)
  • Waterloo industry; really just wanted to get The Brick Brewery and Seagrams !
  • Vaughn Inter-modal and general yard.  CP's major inter-modal is the Vaughn but I wanted other general stuff too. 
  • Maple Via/GO station - I needed a station after Vaughn, so chose Maple.  No reason really, its at least got a bit of history to it.  
  • St Thomas - can't do anything train related without a mention of it.  'sides the kids love Thomas and the travelling show comes here.

I flip flop on KW (Kitchener Waterloo) or using Brampton and Mississauga.  There's a nice small yard near work here for CP Rail in Mississauga, and Brampton is where I live and has some interesting industries which includes Bacardi Rum.  You might notice the number and importance of brewers in my model rail road.  Coincidence I think.  

That's the planning part - which is sort of independent of the trackplan.  I know it shouldn't be but that would be the freelanced aspect of my approach!  

Here's the track plan with a few cities on it so far.  I'll be detailing it up a bit more as I make up my mind on what's where.

That's all the planning and what not.  Here's what I've worked on.  Did the track area from St. Thomas to Waterloo, and then all the spurs in Waterloo. 

Put in the servo's for the switches on a Tam Valley Quad.  Wired up and worked it out.  There's a few ways for servo's to be mounted now, but I tried out the brass tube method.  First one was easy easy easy.  Damned if the next ones made me almost resort to my old methods!  what a pita (pain in the ass) installation.  But I persevered and finished them - except one but it has its own challenges.  That particular one is resting on a support so things have to be moved and will take a bit more thought.  

In my previous layout I discovered that the Quad could get out of sync with JMRI's control panel.  That is to say, when you pressed the physical panel button it didn't update JMRI's panel with that info.  Naturally the question is - how would it?  the Quad could put it out on the DCC bus but I don't believe that's allowed, and it doesn't use the Loconet.  So I originally thought of using the Tower Controller 64 for this purpose, that and getting sensors on the Loconet as well.  The TC-64 has 64 input/outputs that can send / receive info.  The Quad can put out TTL levels on its expansion pins (one of the reasons I like the Quad so much) that the TC-64 can interpret and then pass that info to JMRI.

So I tested it out, finally.  It worked.  Here's the incredible easy how - and at about $8 bucks per Quad its very inexpensive.

So now I have my JMRI panel switches being updated by the Quads, via the TC-64.  With some fuzzy logic, sensors and this info I can probably figure out what tracks are occupied without sensors everywhere.  I'm using the light sensors from Rob P as mentioned in my past posts.  They're inexpensive and awesome.  Not as polished a product as Tam Valley but, then again, not the same price tag either.

So that's what I've been working on for the past couple weeks!