Saturday, April 15, 2017

Upgrade!

Well the time has come to upgrade my Simplex Digitrax Super Chief  Radio to the newer Duplex system.  

While I don't NEED all the bells and whistles that comes with the Duplex upgrade, I have two DT400r's from the original starter sets that a buddy and I got and one of the DT's was showing issues when I plugged it in.  The screen would flash back and forth between the track power voltage and the series ID of your throttle along with a series of Hex numbers.

Example:


Pwr 11.1V
0000 0o 0301

DT300 v1D
eO123o6789


It would continue to repeat this and never settle down.  Now the second one is showing the same symptoms.  After a little digging on the net I found out it had something to do with some capacitors that would go bad over time in the original DT300's and 400's.  

After conversing with my Guru, he advised me to get them sent in and have them fixed and while they were in for repairs to have them upgraded to the Duplex, as Digitrax sent out a notice that they were planning to retire the Simplex system shortly. Following his instructions, I shipped the first DT400r in for repairs and upgrade along with a UT4r to be upgraded.  Then I picked up a UR92 from him so that when the time came to send the rest of my throttles in for the upgrade I would still be able to operate the layout with these two throttles.

To help offset the cost of this upgrade, I've been turning to eBay and started thinning the herd to scrape up a little extra to help pay for this, but it's still gonna hurt.  

Before shipping them in I want to get the UR92 installed and test the two throttles to make sure the system works. Then in the meantime while the throttles are in for the repairs and upgrades I plan to start ripping up the mainline between Haskell and Winnfield to realign the main with a larger radius and a new alignment into the yard.  Right now it's a bit tighter than I'd like and I've had issues with longer cars derailing as they enter yard from Haskell.

Due to lack of experience (or over excitement) when I first started laying the track, I grabbed two sections of Atlas 11" radius curved track.  While this isn't the main problem, I also have a PECO large radius curved turnout following them and this has created a dreaded "S" curve.  60' and shorter cars normally do not have issues, but not so the case when I run auto racks and TOFC's. So this needs to be rectified and I figured it would be a good time to do this while the throttles are in for upgrades and repairs.  

At the present I have no plans for anymore Ops sessions until these two projects are complete.  Hopefully they will be done by this fall.









Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Rockets defy discontinuance

Almost a year ago I decided to try something different.  Instead of using Amtrak for some passenger service I wanted something that looked a little more Rock Island-ish if you'll have it.



Since Rock Island never jumped onboard with the Amtrak plan and I wanted some sort of passenger service as well as more Pig trains I decided to combine the two wants.  I also wanted to recreate the ambiance of the road, that is the deferred maintenance.  




Seeing how the layout is set in 1983 and passenger was long gone by the late 60's, I came up with the idea that with the revitalization of the line, the need for some sort of mail and passenger service might have been called for and that any chance to make a little extra money would have been a good thing.  So they decided to add a bit of service to see if it was worth the effort or not.

I figured that the passenger equipment would have been drug out from long term storage to fulfill that need without seeing a wash rack in decades, they would have looked a little bedraggled and weatherworn.

I tried not to go overboard with the weathering as I didn't want to wind up with rustbuckets, I just wanted something on the dirty side that was still in useable condition,

So I started off by striping the cars down and adding some homemade decals. Three of the cars I acquired from Steven J. and his Rock Island Sands layout since he retired his cars: The Ottawa Pullman coach, The La Salle coach and an unlettered baggage car.  

Along with his cars I also scrounged up two more KATO coaches that I named Little Rock and El Dorado. His baggage car I renumbered 858.  The other cars were factory painted for the Rock Island that I found from several sources.  These were two Wheels of Time Express baggage cars and one Walthers Smoothside baggage.  The last car was a custom resin casting for an REA boxcar made by Skytop Models.



It's basically a copy of the MTL Troop cars that he added a sliding door and plated over the windows.

After getting the decals applied and sealed with a coat of Dull Coat, I started on the weathering. Never having worked on any passengers car before I was a little hesitant on how and what to use for the weathering mediums?  

So I dug out my stash of Bragdon powders.  I grabbed three: Soot, Grimy Gray and Weathered Brown.  The Soot was used for the roofs, the Grimy Gray was used to tone down the Soot if it got too heavy and also to reduce the shine of the car sides and give them a dull look.  The Weathered Brown was used for a few spots that I thought might see a bit of rust.





For the undercarriages and trucks I used some of my new Pan Pastels as it sticks much better than the Bragdon powders and I wanted the these areas very dirty.




Maybe someday if they begin to make a little extra dough for the road, just maybe they'll see a wash rack?



*****


Several weeks after first seeing the passenger cars sitting in El Dorado I caught them on a shakedown run, then a few days later I seen some of them on the in service on the Southbound mail train.




*****



Now with this side project finished, it's time to get back to the track realignment I started a few months ago...





Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Rock Island Rockets pt3

Last week a buddy in Ottawa, IL told me he'd heard that the Rock was suspending passenger service on The Rock Island Ottawa Division.  The next day he snapped a shot of train heading westbound with four Rock Island passenger cars on the head end.

He'd heard through the grapevine that they were heading my way.  






This evening I saw them slip quietly into El Dorado yard.




I'm willing to bet these will be placed into to service on the two mail trains that make a stop in El Dorado daily?  I can't believe they are actually going to use a Dome car?  Maybe it's for parts?


*****


I happened to be talking with Steven Johnson the other week about looking for a few more passenger cars for use on my two mail trains, specifically a couple of coaches.  That's when he mentioned he wasn't planning to run anymore passenger service on his layout and he stated "I HAVE JUST WHAT YOU NEED!" 

He's such a pusher of model trains!

I actually sold these to him about a year ago when he decided to build a passenger train for his Ottawa Division.  He re-decaled three of them Rock Island, the two coaches and the dome, but left the Baggage car in it's original "Q" scheme. The two coaches he named Ottawa and LaSalle.  These I will leave, but I'll need to redo the coach and give it a name or number.  

When I get some time, these will be re-worked and be added to the two mail trains that I ran during the last ops session. Not sure what I'll do with the Dome car though.  There's not much to see down here in Arkansas?







Saturday, March 4, 2017

Rock Island Rockets pt2

Time for a bit of an update on the Rockets.
Here's a link back to    Pt 1 for a refresher

In the latest ops session I was able to get two mail trains assembled and running for the night.

I wound up using 6-8 TOCF cars and 2-3 baggage and coaches per train.
On the NB I used a WOT Express baggage, a Walthers baggage and a Kato coach.
The SB train I used a Kato baggage and Kato coach.

Here's a quick video of the two trains.



And a couple of shots from the last post.




These ran pretty good and the crews seemed to enjoy them, it gave a couple more intermodal trains as well some passenger which require a little bit of work for the trains. So instead of just running the layout, each train will be required to make a short layover in El Dorado, so I plan to move forward with them.

I recently found two Kato coaches and another baggage to complete the passenger end of the trains.  Once I acquire them and get them on the property I'll get some pics uploaded.






Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Op session #13

On the 18th of February we held our 13th session.
All things considered, it went well with only with a few exceptions and had a lot of "Firsts" this time around.

Since the last session I finally got around to replacing the old Digitrax PM42's with DCC Specialties PSX Circuit breakers and one PSX-AR.  The install and switch over went pretty well but had to call in some help when I went to program them.  I got to say one thing about them, they are much faster than the PM42's.  I know this because had a lot of shorts!

These all occurred when the six axle units were running. They would short out when they passed over the turnouts and would make contact with both rails after the frogs, something I seen only a very few times with the PM42's.  So I have a lot of filing to do on a bunch of turnouts, then I'll need to fill them with epoxy as explained here on this blog site.

I also modified my Tab System.  This time we stripped the layout void of cars and restaged the layout completely to see how this would work.  Everything worked just fine and this will also allow (or force) me to use more of my cars that I have in storage.

This was done for two reasons.  In the past sessions, four of the eight tracks in the front staging yard, we would keep a supply of cars on hand that we'd use to build the trains and stage the layout.  After a while we were seeing the same cars moving on the layout.  Hopefully we'll see some different cars riding the rails now?

The other thing that I did was to add four more through trains to the session making a total of twelve trains.  These four new trains replaced the supply of cars that were stored on the four tracks of the front staging yard.

With the four new trains added, I also wanted some sort of timetable or train sequence to keep things in somewhat of an order.  I wound up with a Train Sequence sheet which worked very well.

All staged and ready to roll.




Another First was we had a new visitor to the Little Rock Line.
Rodney Edington (aka: rodsup9000)



Also Coy Coles joined us for a 3rd time.



Thanks guys for stopping by.


Two of the four new trains that were added were two mail trains!  In the past I had an Amtrak train that ran but since the Rock never gave into the Amtrak service, I wanted something a little more fitting.  These two mail trains were made up of 6-8 TOFC cars on the front and At least one or two baggage cars and one or two coach cars.  This kept them classified as Red Ball freights and also were required to make a stop at El Dorado for mail or what little riders they might have had?
Plus it gave me the opportunity to run more Pig trains!  At least one of these were powered by some Vintage E8's that were custom painted by Park Loco Works last summer.  They are a welcomed addition to the fleet.  
Thanks Doug!

Continuing with the lists of Firsts, The bridges between El Dorado and Calion drew a lot of attention and worked well. Can't wait to get after the scenery around the bridges.

The new Muddy Creek Mill at DuBach received their first shipment of grain.  

And finally, all of the recent trackwork that was done seemed to work as planned.
The siding expansion at DuBach was worth the effort, or so I am told.

The biggest thing was I almost called the whole session off the night before!
Quin came over to help me get things ready and finish getting the trains built, layout staged and clean the wheels on the consists.  While he was cleaning the wheels I was working a few new decoder installs when he mentioned that he had a loco that was not responding.
I told him to set it aside and I'd look at it in a few.  Before long he said he'd found another one!
within a few minutes he had found about 6 total that wasn't responding!!!

It soon occurred to me that every loco that wasn't responding was wearing some type of TCS chip.
The front headlight would come on, but would not change in direction nor was there any motor response.
Well that did it, if all of my TCS chipped locos were now down, it left me very power short.
So I told him "Screw it, I'm done, gonna cancel the session!"
I shut things down and was ready to walk away.  But we decided to try and deduce what was causing the TCS chips to act up?  I had the El Dorado switcher giving me fits the night before Quin came over but got it working again.  All of the locos that Quin found was in the staging yard and the switcher was on the main layout?  So we figured it had something to with the staging yard.
That's when Quin reminded me of the short he had earlier while cleaning the wheels.

Right before he started finding the locos that wouldn't respond, he had accidently shorted some tracks in the staging yard with his watch band.  At first he thought it was just the locos shorting on the turnouts, but then he noticed it was lasting too long.  Then the lightbulb came on!
At least we knew the PSX breakers were working!

Sooooo, I turned the system back on to test our theory of something wrong with the staging yard and when I called up the El Dorado switcher, it came to life and ran just fine!  Then we called up some of the units he found in the staging yard and bingo!  They worked just fine now!  So we continued getting things ready.  What a huge relief that was.

For whatever reason when he created that short it scrambled ALL of the TCS chips.  None of the Digitrax chips showed any signs of problems?  Weird?  Oh well, at least things worked.
The only thing I can think of was it was a hard short and TCS chips are a little more sensitive than Digitrax chips are?

OK, on with the pics of the session.
I didn't get as many as I wanted to this round as we were a little bit short handed. These are not in any particular order this time.

Enjoy.

New MKT and BN power is pulling the FPPX loads south through Fordyce and Calion.




Jon took on the on El Dorado switcher for the first time as Doug keeps a watchful eye.




Caught the Haskell local switching Riceland and later working at Calion Lumber.





A rare shot of the ICG bringing cars to Ruston Jct. to meet the Winnfield Turn.




Some ALCo action in Malvern.




  


The Riceland Switcher gathering cars for the Haskell local.





The NB mail train arrives in El Dorado, then departs and crosses the Ouachita River Bridge after picking up some passengers and mail.






A SB Rock Island freight drifts south through Debach.




Action in El Dorado.
A SB freight passes the El Dorado station on the main.




The El Dorado switcher with a long cut of cars backs onto the bridge while the LRMP-W crosses the Ouachita river before meeting the NB MoPac freight in El Dorado.





The Mopac gets clearance to leave El Dorado and then crosses the Ouachita River.





The El Dorado switcher getting the last of the cars shoved into the yard and then moves the last caboose into place before tieing down for the night.









   

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Rock, MKT, BN and the MoPac


With the upcoming Session on the 18th of February, I got a chance to get some new power brought to life.  I've added four new Through Freights for this session and I needed some extra power for these trains.

To start with, I got a new trio of Rock Island GP's to help fill some of the shortages. Crossing the Ouachita River we see GP40 #373, GP40r #3000 and bringing up the rear is GP38-2 #4304.




This next trio of units will pull the second MKT coal train.  Now I'll have a NB mty and SB loaded FPPX coal train.  This consist is made up of  two of Miss Katy's SD40-2's #603 & #625 with a BN U30C #5394.




Last but not least MoPac will finally make their appearance on The Little Rock with a trio of their own GP's.    GP35 #2555, GP40 #605 and GP38 #854.




I got all these units chipped last weekend and then got them speed matched over the last two night.  Only ran into a few issues this round.  

First, when I fired up the Accutrack speed tunnel, it didn't want to work.  So after I changed out batteries several times with no luck, I broke down and ordered a new, siiiiiigh.

Second, After getting the chip installed in the BN #5394, it worked fine until I snapped the shell on, then....Nothing!  After a bit closer inspection I found that the shell was pushing down too hard on the chip and was pushing the contact pads down away from the frame so it would make contact.  Nothing a couple of thicker solder pillows wouldn't fix!

Third, on the MoPac #605, I had a TCS CN-GP chip sitting aside for this unit. After getting it installed and running, the unit being an older Chassis, it was a bit noisy.....typical for the older chassis'. So I tore it down and Beardonized it.  This entitled removing the Inner Bearing blocks.

Worked like champ except......now the unit would only run in the forward direction while the lights worked in both.  So I removed that chip and installed a new one.  This time the chip worked good until I went to program it.  For whatever reason it would not take ANY form of programming.....grrr!
This was the last loco I had planned to use a TCS chip on, but it might be the last TCS chip I use period!  I've had other troubles with TCS chips, but I'm not here to bash TCS.

Anyway, I'm hoping these additions will add to power needed for the four new trains that I've added.



   


Saturday, January 7, 2017

PSX circuit breakers installed and working!

After having some issues with the PSC circuit breakers a few months ago, I was finally able to get them tested, installed and working.

Out with the old, in with the new pt2

My DCC and Electronic Guru was in town this past week and we got together one day a took a long hard look at them.

Of course when you take your car to the mechanic, it never acts up!  Likewise with the circuit breakers they didn't act up at all now that he was looking at them.  The issue if you recall was after I installed the new Buzzers on the breakers so I could hear them, some of the buzzers were buzzing whether they were shorted or not?

I pulled them off the layout and tied them directly into the Command Station to see how they reacted. Well by doing this they would still buzz regardless of a short or not. So I left them out until Mike got back.

When I tested them for him again, non of them buzzed.....damnit!

So we hooked them back into the layout, these were for the Main Yard.  Upon a successful reconnection, we turned the track power on again and they showed no sign of buzzing!  But, we did hear buzzing coming from the 4 units for the main layout!  Closer inspection revealed two were buzzing and showing a short.

Long story short, they weren't lying!  When I installed the deck bridge I never installed any insulated joiners to separate the "El Dorado" and "North" districts as I wasn't done with the trackwork and bridge sections.  I also need to go back and drop new feeders.

Thinking that they were both protecting both districts, I removed the rail joiners on the right end of the deck bridge.  But that had no effect!  I scratched my head a bit more and then it hit me.  I still had some original feeders leading up to the deck bridge and to the right of those is where I removed the joiners, so the power was still getting to the track over the bridge and on to the "North" district. 

But the real culprit wasn't the feeders, it the guardrails on the deck bridge!!!
on one end.  I had temporarily tacked the guardrails in place so trains could run and the trip pins on the couplers didn't snag the ends of the guardrails.  I knew not to connect them because they would short since I soldered them to the bridge track with PCB ties which connected them to the actual rails.

When I released the guardrails, the short went away!

After wasting all that time tracing that down, Mike and got to work programming the PSX units.
it wasn't the easiest of instructions to follow, but Mike got it and away we went.

Each PSX unit has it's own ID number that can be accessed via the DT402 using the "SWCH" button. This allows me to also program the "Variable Trip Voltage" and also to shut each unit off independently if needed. 

We got the four units programmed for the main layout, but need to program the Trip Voltage yet, then I need to get the other two units and the PSX-AR programmed for the main yard.  I better get back down there and get that done before I forget how we did that......


Even though I still can't hear them as well as hoped for, I'm going to look into getting some LED's for both sets so that I can connect them for  a visual notice of a short.