Monday, November 20, 2017

Signals at Bylong

For a little while now I have been back into working on my signals for the layout. When I started my Signals Branch shop on Shapeways and produced the line of signals in White Strong and Flexible (WSF) nylon material I worked out what I thought I needed and ordered all the signals. So of course when I later worked out how to have fine detailed signals in the more expensive Frosted Ultra Detail (FUD) acrylic material and to make them only a little more expensive than the WSF ones I already had all my signals. Bummer!

Knowing that I couldn't afford to replace the WSF signals with fine detail FUD ones (or my later brass ones for that matter),  my thoughts turned to cutting away the printed handrails that were too thick due to the WSF minimum design limits for 'wires' in the 3D printing process and replacing them with actual 0.015 inch phosphor bronze wire.

As a result  I had been trying to come up with a jig for bending wire safety handrails for the left and right hand bracket signals and the single post signals for some time and had designed and had printed a trial version, but I wasn't happy with it. This was well over a year ago.

A couple of weeks ago my wife Chris brought home an Aldi weekly flyer and I noticed that they were going to have a small 3D filament style printer for sale on the coming Saturday for $299. I investigated the printer on-line and found that it was a re-badged version of an existing small printer (a Wanhao i3 Mini 3D printer), so after watching a couple of YouTube videos of the other printer I was there at opening time on the Saturday and came home with the printer and three 1 kg rolls of the PLA filament in white, grey and black at $34.95 a roll. Note that this printer only uses PLA plastic filament, no ABS plastic with this printer.

The Aldi printer is called a Cocoon Create and is actually from a company in Melbourne, here is the link.

A few months ago Aldi had a larger filament printer with a heated bed ($499) and probably better than this one but I thought that this was all I needed for what I had in mind.

The printer didn't need to be assembled and set up was minimal but the included small manual must be read. In a short while I had the printer working away on a small cute dragon to test it. About 7 hours later it finally finished the dragon. The result was reasonable but it was obvious that this printer wasn't going to be making any fine detail signals but then I knew that.

My purpose for the printer was to do trial prints of designs to make sure that they would be OK before I placed them on my shop. Now as it can't do everything I will concentrate on useful items that it can do.

I then spent about half a day working on re-designing and printing versions of the signal safety handrail jig and after three versions I had it sorted. Now it might be said that $400 is too much to make a signal safety handrail jig but apart from saving the Shapeways printing cost I had also saved time as the three jigs would have taken about three weeks each between print test, redesign and re-order and this is very important to me.

Signal Handrail Jig Prototype

How to use the jig to bend the handrails
Once the jig worked I uploaded the design to my Signals Branch shop. The jig can be used for the WSF signals by cutting the printed ones off and drilling holes at the cut locations with a 0.45mm drill bit in a pin vise. It can also be used to bend up the safety handrails for the Fine Detail FUD LQ Signals and the Timber LQ Brass Signals available from my shop.

Over the last two weeks I have also printed off a few different items to explore the limits of the printer and it does have limits. Basically a design is best to have a flat base as the printer only uses PLA plastic filament that is heated and extruded onto a unheated plate and the first layer must stick. If the base layer is too small the print will move and you will get a mess.The supplied software that produces the gcode for the printer has an option called a Brim which is like the brim on a hat, that is it will be add around the base of the model to assist in bonding to the printer base plate. There is also an option for a Raft that can be used for items that don't have a flat base and this is a support under the whole of the item.

Here are  some servo motor brackets that I usually get from my Signals Branch shop.

Servo Motor Brackets still with Brim
One thing that must be said is that the printer is slow, slow, slow.......

Anyway, for those who are interested, I saw last Saturday that my local Aldi still had some printers and a small number of PLA rolls of filament. Be aware though that these basic printers aren't the type that are just press the button and go as some adjusting is required to produce a useful print, e.g. the printer base plate must be leveled for each print and attention needs to be paid to the printing temperature, Brim, Raft or None, etc. I was very aware of what I would have to do to get good prints as I have been watching the development of various types of 3D printers for many years.

So, back to the signals on the layout. I can make and add handrails, add one of my FUD signal ladders (available in 2 or 10 to a sprue) and add the wire ladder supports to a WSF signal in about 45 minutes now and I have done most of them with only about 8 more signals to add handrails to.

While the end result is not up to the standard of the fine detail or brass signals they still look quite good and are an easy upgrade.

Here are two photos of the partially completed signals in my Bylong station yard. The signals are yet to have the operating wires attached, be mounted and have the servo motors installed. The last thing I do with a signal is to glue the finial (NSWGR term is a pinnacle) onto the top of the post to limit damage while working on the signal.

This bracket signal is complete and ready to go with LEDs


Since Marcus Ammann has added working lights to his signals (WSF versions from my Signals Branch shop) on his Main North layout and they look good and can be seen from a distance I have decided to do the same. Some signals that can't be seen directly such as on a curve without direct line of site to the arm will have fascia mounted LEDs so I won't wire the 0603 Warm White SMD LEDs into those.

If you are interested I did a blog post on adding the LEDs to the above bracket. As a comparison to the photo above; the photos of the bracket signal in the post show it with the original printed handrails and ladder.

A big job doing all the signals for the layout but I think it is better to do it this way than piecemeal.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Focus, focus!

The other day I was working on the signal logic for Wollar using the Simple Signal Logic part of JMRI and having all sorts of trouble getting it right. This was for the signals at the Down end of Wollar station yard that have been quietly waiting for me to get back to them for the past two and a half years, those who know me will also know why the layout has stalled over that period.

After a couple of hours I went and had a coffee then returned to the layout room.

Anyway, as part of working things out (still not right) I decided to check which parts of the main line had NCE BD20 track detectors installed and reporting to JMRI. I decided to run a train from the Muswellbrook staging yard over the whole main line to the upper Gulgong staging.

I was focused on watching the layout schematic on the PC monitor with occasional glances to confirm where the train was as it traversed the main line. It came to Wollar on the upper level which was where I was particularly interested and it passed by me and headed for the Down end of the yard when I heard a noise that I had heard once before in my modelling life, it was the sound of a locomotive taking a 1430 mm high dive to the concrete floor.


I had forgotten to put down the two layout drawbridges when I came back after my coffee!

The locomotive was a Trainorama 48 Class and here is the result.


Luckily although it hit the concrete it then bounced onto a mat which stopped any further damage.

It appears to have hit on the drivers side end of the front buffing plate breaking it. The front bogie also disconnected internally from the clip on the top of the bogie that retains the bogie in the chassis. The front square bearing of the upper gear tower fell out, one brake cylinder came off the bogie, a pipe from that brake cylinder to the other one still on the bogie came off (not in picture) and one of the air tanks on the fuel tank also came off. All up the damage wasn't too bad.

I re-installed the bogie including the bearing, pushed the brake cylinder in place, added the brake pipe and also the air tank.

I had to take the body off to push the shaft of the buffing plate back out from where it had been jammed into the buffer body. I then glued the round end of the buffing plate to the rest of the buffing plate and waited 24 hours for that to dry/set. Finally I swung the buffing plate down to align with the shaft and glued that.

After waiting another 24 hours I placed it on the layout and it started and ran without a problem, well made Trainorama!


Now I just need to touch up some silver paint on lower front drivers side corner of the 'cowcatcher'. Is that what it is called on a diesel?

Of course I suppose I should explain the first instance as well.

Back in the late 1980's I had received a birthday present from my wife Christine which was an AR Kits 45 Class diesel that Chris had organised Terry Flynn to get for her so that I didn't know.

I was testing the slow running of it with my back to the door of the then layout room at our house in Helensburgh when I heard a similar sound. Sure enough and with the layout being DC back then a locomotive and train had been quietly creeping along the main line behind me and the locomotive took the dive to the concrete. Luckily the passenger cars didn't follow and the first one was still hanging half off the layout where the removable door crossing was supposed to be.

The locomotive was a Lima 44 Class that I had done a fair bit of work on including adding extra weight in the form of a large mass of lead. Now this piece of lead simply sheared off the plastic posts that held it in place and smashed its way out the front of the 44 class. The result was about 44 body pieces instead of a 44 Class. I think I might still have all the bits some where in a box in the layout room.

So as I said, focus, focus!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Few More 3D Designs

I have just added three new items to my Shapeways Signals Branch Shop, these are:
A N Scale Standard Sleeper Take-Off
HO Half and Kilometer Posts that indicated distance from Sydney - These were the old rail type half and mile posts renumbered and moved (2 of each).
HO Kilometer Posts x 4 - Old Rail type

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Some New 3D Printed Infrastructure Items

I have just uploaded three new items of NSWGR infrastructure to my Shapeways Signals Branch shop.

These are:

NSWGR Standard Sleeper Take-Off
NSWGR Mile Posts - Old Rail Type - 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile and a mile post
NSWGR Speed Boards x 8
I have also uploaded a signal box door replacement for the Southern Rail Models concrete paneled signal box.
The timber plank door of the Southern Rails Model signal box is not the standard type although it may have been modelled after a particular signal box.



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Sound Decoder Function Standard

For a number of years I have been thinking through the problem of some sort of standard for function assignments on sound decoders. As we know each decoder manufacturer has decided to use their own 'standard' to suit their particular decoders. I have found this somewhat annoying so hence my 'thinking'.

I have a number of brands of sound decoders and these have varying capabilities. I can't afford to change out the older decoders for the latest types so I have to work with what I have.

I have first generation Soundtraxx Tsunami, latest Soundtraxx Tsunami 2, first generation QSI, QSI Titan and ESU Loksound 4 in steam only.

The early Tsunami has the functions in groups that is not every sound or lighting can be applied to any function you may want. This is somewhat restrictive compared with the later Tsunami 2 which can have any sound or lighting set up for any function number.

The QSI and ESU sound decoders also allow a lot of flexibility in aligning sounds and lighting with function numbers.

Working within the constraints imposed by the first generation Tsunamis of which I have quite a few I have now come to what I think is a reasonable set of function assignments or at least ones that suit me and the way I want to operate.

I am not one who wants to 'play a musical instrument' with a lot of button pressing and I am quite happy to allow the decoder to sound those random sounds such as injectors, blowers, shoveling, etc. Manual notching for diesels is also something I don't like as you can easily drive a train at notch one up and down grades with a full train load, not very prototypical.

I would have to say that I really like the Tsunami 2 with auto notching as it reads the BEMF and responds to the load on the loco. If you start a light loco it and use the throttle to notch up to say notch two or three it will do so but then once moving it will drop back and quieten right down. Similarly if it has a train load behind it it will notch up louder and then drop back as it gets the load rolling, very nice.

I also have a steam Tsunami 2 in a NSWGR C35 Bergs brass model and it also responds in a similar manner, chuffing loudly to get the train moving and then dropping back and chuffing lightly or even drifting once the train is rolling.

I believe that the TCS WOW sound decoders also work this way but I don't have one, this is the only reason it isn't included in the tables of function assignments.

I also want to work towards having working marker lights which will be a long process of course as some of the earlier models didn't have them and some decoders do not have enough lighting outputs either.

I have drawn up a diesel and a steam table for my new 'standard' and I have begun to re-program my loco fleet.

I have an NCE DCC system with the standard larger cabs. These cabs have 12 available function buttons  but F10, F11 and F12 require the use of a Shift key to access. Functions 0 - 9 are all single press (Function 0 is the headlight). Also of the basic eight functions only six show on the LCD display.

I realise that not everyone will like or agree with my choices but they are of course just my preferences.

Here is a table showing the function assignments for a diesel.

And here is the table for steam.

Please be aware that I model late 1965 and as such the diesel function assignments do not include ditch lights, etc. of modern locomotives.

Most sound decoders only have 4 outputs, some do have 6 and there is one that has 10 and these have been listed on the PDF tables.

For those who are interested there is also a decoder that has 12 outputs and it is one of the Zimo sound decoders.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Stock Train of Sheep for Agistment

A couple of weeks ago I was browsing in a camera shop looking at a top line DJI Phantom 4 drone and of course was approached by a sales assistant. We were discussing the drone when I noticed some tripods and asked if there were any that had a smooth head for panning with a video camera. Of course there was, so I am now the owner of a Manfrotto 290xtra tripod, only $199. It has a very smooth fluid head but has no level indicator so you must be careful how you set it for a long pan, I will get a small bubble level or use the App on my phone.

A week later in JB HiFi I saw a Manfrotto mount for mobile phones for $19.95 so home that came as well.

I now give you a video made with my Samsung Galaxy S7 phone of a stock train climbing towards Wollar loaded with sheep for agistment. Now theoretically loaded stock trains on the layout should be heading downhill towards the cities or the abattoir at Bylong but this one is going the other way.

As my layout time period is set in late 1965 (an earlier proposed mid 1950s alternative not withstanding) I have been told that my back scenes are too green as there was a drought in 1965, of well I am not repainting them. Anyway, the only way for a stock train to be climbing towards Wollar is if the sheep were being moved to better pastures.


I did try my video camera but I wasn't happy with the result, more experimenting needed or a new video camera. I had to remove a bit of noise from the video in my video editing program but I think the result shows promise. I have to work out how to control the auto focus a bit better, camera placement really, note the focus on the water column at Wollar.

Incidentally, I like the idea of playing around with a drone with a high resolution camera but I really can't think of a reasonable reason to get one, that is what to use it for. I suppose shooting video of whales passing on the coast would be pretty cool but it wouldn't do to lose it in the ocean. I saw a video on YouTube of one that was doing something similar when it got confused or the owner lost control because the sun got in his eyes and it ended up in the sea with its camera still running, luckily someone with a boat rescued it for the owner.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Holiday Observation and Other Things

Well, the sheep finally got tired of watching the trains go by and decided to have some lunch.

Train watching
Time for lunch
On our recent caravaning holiday to South Australia, it became obvious as we saw paddock after paddock, that 99% or more of the sheep were busy head down, grazing and I realised that I had to do something about it.

Once back home I fired up the computer and turned to my latest favourite modelling tool (as if you haven't noticed). I spent some time 'converting' a standing, head up sheep to a grazing one. It is just lucky that the sheep couldn't feel anything as I cut its head and neck off at the shoulders and swung it downwards. That was the easy part, I then had to fill in the gap caused and some hours later it was done.

Once the trial print sprue of 64 White Strong and Flexible sheep arrived from Shapeways I sprayed them with my dirty sheep colour, Tamiya XF57 Buff. This was followed up with Model Master Skin Tone - Tint Base for the face and the lower legs (below the knees as the wool doesn't grow there). At this stage I snipped the sheep from the sprue so that I could more easily paint their rear end with Model master Dark Tan (either observe or think about it). Now both Model Master paints were thinned with some acrylic solvent so that the colour would not be so strong and would flow and blend with the base colour. I make my acrylic solvent with about 70% methylated spirits and 30% window cleaner.

While the last two colours can be seen with the naked eye they haven't shown up in the above photo so perhaps I was being a little too subtle.

Anyway I am very happy with them and have ordered another sprue of 64 grazing sheep and they are now available from my Shapeways Signals Branch shop.

What about the heads up sheep? Well they will be going into the stock race yards when I build them as there is nothing to eat in the yards.

More Brass Signals

Since my last news about the brass signals I have been busy and now have 15 brass signals on my shop along with the appropriate White Strong and Flexible bases that the signals plug into.

I have listed them them here but please go to my shop to see them.

  • 16 ft post signal with 1 Siding Arm and other detail parts

  • 18 ft post signal with 1 30 inch Arm and other detail parts

  • 18 ft post signal with 1 30 inch Arm + 1 Siding Arm and other detail parts

  • 23 ft post signal with 1 36 inch Arm and other detail parts

  • 23 ft post signal with 2 Siding Arms and other detail parts

  • 23 ft post signal with 3 Siding Arms and other detail parts

  • 27 ft post signal with 1 39 inch Arm and other detail parts

  • 27 ft post Distant signal with 1 Distant Arm and other detail parts 

  • 27 ft post Home and Distant signal with 1 Home and 1 Distant Arm and other detail parts

  • Left Hand Offset Bracket  signal with 1 36 inch Arm and other detail parts

  • Right Hand Offset Bracket  signal with 1 36 inch Arm and other detail parts

  • Left Hand Bracket  signal with 1 39 inch + 1 30 inch Arm and other detail parts

  • Right Hand Bracket  signal with 1 39 inch + 1 30 inch Arm and other detail parts

  • Inverted or Underslung Bracket  signal with 1 39 inch Arm and other detail parts

  • Scarborough Siding Bracket signal - no Siding arms.

  • Sprue or 4 Siding arms, 2 Calling On arms, 2 Shunt Ahead Arms and 2 Wrong Road Arms.

I have just ordered an Inverted Bracket in Brass for my layout as the train drivers will have a sighting problem under a road bridge at Cox's Gap if a normal starter signal is used. I also wanted to get an order in before this GST change started for online overseas orders on 1 July 2017. I don't know how Shapeways will handle this although they do apply VAT on British orders.

If ordering the bracket signals then be careful as the view that the Shapeways system has put up is from the rear so the left bracket looks like a right and vice versa. Read and go by the model name. I have tried to change this but all I can do is change the orientation of the view that you get on the next web page once you have clicked on it.

As may have been noticed, there is one 'odd ball' signal among the fifteen and that is a bracket signal that was in the sidings at Scarborough on the Illawarra line. This signal was done for a friend and has been made available on the 1 in 1000 chance that someone else would want/need it. The bracket is unusual as it has two dolly posts and no main post above the landing, one dolly post is in the usual position on the outer end of the landing and the other is in the middle of the landing, very strange.

I will be doing the small brackets that held the small centrally pivoted siding signals that were attached below the main signals and these will be in brass. There seems to have been three variations of the brackets, an early McKenzie and Holland somersault type, a cast iron one of the Byles type and a fabricated one. I will do all three and probably put multiples of brackets and arms of each type on a sprue of each type. These will be done with a peg that will allow them to be mounted on White Strong and Flexible (WSF), Frosted Ultra Detail (FUD) and Brass signal posts by drilling a hole in the post where required and glueing or soldering them in place. These will be operational but the operating rod will be bent in a 'Z' shape as there is no way that the actual mechanism could be workable, too small. If you aren't sure what I mean by a Z shape then turn it on its side (sort of).

Of course I still have to draw up some more steel post signals including bracket signals, does it never end?

It is lucky that I enjoy the creative process as another form of modelling.

Oh, yes, here is something I did for a friend, a funnel for a H Class 17 Class Post 1924 re-classification). Something else that will have only limited appeal.

I have made it available in Frosted Ultra Detail, Frosted Extreme Detail and Raw Brass, I suggest that the brass version although more expensive will be the one to go for as the top of the early funnels were polished brass.

Ok, that's all for now.