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T-Trak Layout Update

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I finished up building the T-Trak module frames yesterday, and started finalizing the track layout. I decided that I wanted to not have any of the switching tracks spill over into the end-cap, which would necessitate having an extra module when the layout is included in group setups. The result is a shorter run-around, and a little trickier switchback operation. I’m thinking, at the moment, that I may permanently join the single and double modules on each side of the layout into triples, if for no other reason than to make a couple of cross-module joints a little more stable.

Revised T-Trak switching module(s)

The tail of the switch back is long enough for a locomotive and a couple of cars, depending on the lengths. Right now, my one locomotive is a VO-1000, and all the cars are 40-foot cars. None of the track is currently “spiked” in place. One of the beauties of using the Kato track is that it holds together well enough to test fit and test run your track plan before committing too much.

I had a fun time switching the module, but I gotta tell you: those Micro-Trains couplers are tricky to “pick” with a skewer!

Categories: T-Trak

New Directions, New Adventures …

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Frustrations …

I’m going to lead off with a bit of griping. You’ve probably noticed that it’s been pretty darned quiet around here lately. In fact, I even deleted a lot of the more recent posts, and so there’s not been anything relevant left after March of 2017! Aside from the occasional grumbly post about the cost of postage and privacy notices, not much (read “nothing”) has been happening.

DelTang continues to sell well when I can get it. Shipping of late has been really slow, and I suspect that will continue to be the case for a while. I have gotten a “flow” for throttle builds settled down, so once I do get parts, I’ll be able to turn them around really quickly. Heck, might even be able to have them in stock!

The LITco debacle continues. There was a fair amount of miscommunication during the transfer of the company (nobody’s fault, really), and we didn’t get some key hardware we thought we were getting. And, since we’ve been neck-deep in other projects, we’ve really not been able to get up and running effectively. We do talk about it a lot, and we do work on the processes as we can. LITco will be back … eventually.

The boxcars were, apparently, a complete waste of time. No one seems to be interested in them. So, I’ll make a few more for myself, and call that a day. It’s too bad, as they’re were a really nice kit.

The bottom line is that, frankly, for the past couple of years, I’ve just not been having any model railroad related fun. I’ve been playing trains for other people, but not for me. And that’s gotta change.

Getting Adventuresome …

It’s not that I haven’t been thinking about having some fun. In fact, while I was busy being very sick for the last week of January and into February, I thought a lot about it. In conversations, and in some old posts here, I’ve mentioned that the first layout I ever “finished” was a small N-scale layout (unfortunately, there are no pictures). And, that it was HOn30 modeling that really got me interested in model trains. I’ve even had some fits and starts at doing something in HOn30. So … hmmm ….

Over the past couple of years (five years, to be exact!), I’ve been having some conversations with the local group who have been making “T-Trak” modules, and thought that might be a way to play with N-scale or HOn30. And, I’ve been wanting to recreate that layout of my youth, or, at least something similar. My first thought was to do it on a hollow-core door panel, but very recently, a company came out with kits for T-Trak modules. You see where this is going …

T-Trak modules from CMR Products and Kato track will be used to approximate a layout from my childhood.

At the train show this past weekend, I purchased a handful of modules, a big bag of Kato track, and a train. (I’ll talk about each part in separate posts over the coming days and weeks). The basic layout is roughed out in the picture above, and I hope to have it “complete” in time for the Midwest show in March.

What’s This? DCC?

New Zephyr Express from Digitrax

I thought long and hard about this next part. In the interest of “playing well with others” and “maintaining my sanity”, I decided that for the T-Trak stuff, I’ll be going with DCC and track power. First, there’s just not enough space for batteries in the N-scale models. And, again, there’s already a standard involved. So, I also purchased a new DCC system, Digitrax’s newest Zephyr Express all-in-one DCC system. This newest version was just announced a few weeks ago, and I was lucky enough to be able to pick one up this past weekend. I’ve always liked the Zephyr series, and this new version really is a sweet package. Again more on this later.

Kevin has started playing with some HOn30 using the same types of module frames, although he’s not sure his stuff will be to any “standard”. I’ll be following suit at some point, but mine will be built to meet local standards.

Speaking of standards … (yeah, I know. We don’t need no steenking standards!), there’s a long-standing N-scale standard for T-Trak, but not for HOn30. So, we finally decided on what the local HOn30 T-Trak standard is going to be, which is something that has been hemming and hawing about for a couple of years now. Two of us literally stood over some T-Trak modules, pointed, and said “this” and so it is. So much more refreshing than the On30 module standard war that occurred back in the late nineties ….

So, that’s it for now. The On30 layout remains. And, I’ll get some work done on it as time permits. I have most of the supplies needed to “complete” it. It’ll just be a matter of inclination.

Categories: Miscellaneous

Setting up DelTang’s Rx102 Receiver

I’ve recently started to resell DelTang’s Rx102 receiver, which is intended for use with live steam or large scale trains that have power requirements that go beyond the current handling capabilities of the Rx65 (by use of an external ESC and reversing switch). While the Rx102 is highly configurable, it deviates from many of the “standard” DelTang binding and setup procedures, instead relying on jumper plugs for setting most functions. We’ve set up a special page just for the Rx102 programming options, which you can view here.

Back From the Convention

I’m back from the 36th National Narrow Gauge Convention up in Augusta, Maine, and I had a blast — although I still managed to run out of time and not see everything — for instance, I completely ran out of time to see the models in the contest room. But I did get to meet, after all these decades, Bob Hayden and Dave Frary (who inspired my interest in Maine narrow gauge when I was a kid) and Bob Brown, who publishes the best magazine for narrow gauge modelers, The Narrow Gauge and Shortline Gazette. I also helped out Kevin at his tables, and helped showed off the DelTang dead rail gear.

2016-09-08-15-45-56Other highlights of the convention were a visit to the WW&F Railway Museum — my third visit, and Kevin’s first. We road behind newly restored WW&F Forney #9, and poked around the new car shop and turntable pit, and once again wandered through the old shop and the museum store. The WW&F has got to be one of the best run and organized museum railroads anywhere. If your in downeast Maine, be sure to visit.

We also visited the Boothbay Railway Village, which features some really neat little Henschel tank engines pulling a variety of cars, and a couple of neat railcars, including a restored SR&RL rail bus. They’ve also got a fantastic collection of antique cars and outboard boat motors, along with numerous displays explaining the history of railroading in Maine. It was my first visit to Boothbay, and I found it well worth the price of admission.

I took in a number of clinics during the convention, all of which were very informative and generally well presented, and learned a lot about the industries along the 2-foot lines, about coastal shipping in and out of the Maine seaports, and gained some more insights into background painting.

Of course, being in Maine, we ate some great seafood (and some not-so-great pizza) and did some fun sight-seeing. In no particular order, here’s a slideshow of those pictures. Cheers!

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Categories: Shows and Events

Convention Bound!

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go. I’m standing here … well, you know the song. You’re welcome for the ear-worm. You can holler at me about it in Maine tomorrow, if you’d like.

While, I won’t have a table of my own, I am taking a few items of stock with me, and I’ll be within a cellphone call of the Berrett Hill table in the dealer room. I should have enough product with me that I could sell up to four starter sets, two of which could be our new “Super Starters”. These will be the versions with 180mAh batteries, and with no wires on the receivers. And, they’ll be at special prices (for cash, exact change sales): $90 for the standard kit and $115 for the Super Starter. To see what’s in the kits, visit the shop. Remember, those prices are for exact change cash sales only.

I’ll see you at the show!

New SUPER Dead Rail Starter Set

We happy to announce our new, SUPER Dead Rail Starter Set! The new set includes everything that comes with the very popular Dead Rail Starter Set, PLUS our new Turnigy E3 LiPo Charger.

TurnE3The Turnigy E3 Compact LiPo charger is a very simple to use charger for 2S and 3S battery packs. No need for additional power supplies, as this little unit has its own built in power supply. The E3 charger is capable of charging a single 2S or 3S LiPo pack automatically. Like the Turnigy P403 LiPo Charger, the E3 is designed to work with all Turnigy NanoTech LiPo 2S or 3S battery packs for fully automatic battery charging.

Unlike the advance P403 LiPo Charger, it’s not possible to alter the charging rate, nor can you charge two 7.4V LiPo packs simultaneously. Additionally, the E3 can’t be used “in the field” from a 12V DC source (so, if you also fly R/C airplanes or helicopters, you can’t easily take it to the flying field to recharge your flight pack batteries). However, we feel the E3 offers a great value, especially if all you have is a small layout and only a handful of locos, or if you don’t wish to “fast charge” a battery pack (which we really don’t recommend anyway).

Tx21ManualWe’ve also updated the original Dead Rail Starter Set to include our new Tx21 Assembly and Operations Manual as a download, as well as made it available as an individual download in the shop.

Which reminds me … A bunch more work has been done on the catalog pages. We think they’re now a little better organized, so it should be easier to find things.

Categories: Shop News

Kimberton 2016 Meet “Report”

I’ve just returned home from this year’s Mid-Atlantic Narrow Gauge Guild Module Meet (affectionately know as “Kimberton”), and thought some of you might want to know how the meet went. I enjoyed seeing many long-time friends, and shooting the breeze, both at the fairgrounds and on the porch at the French Creek Inn.

Attendance was down a little over last year, which was disappointing, and most dealers reported slow sales. As usual, since I go into a show with no expectations, I consider that I did quite well — I was able to go to the show and sell or barter off a number of items that I’ll never use, come home with a few items of higher value that I will use, and also bring home the same amount of cash I left with. Aces!

Wes White Spends Money!I didn’t take any pictures at the show — except for capturing this rare occurrence:

For those who are not sure what you’re looking at, I can understand. It’s something most people have never seen. It’s a rare sighting of Wes White spending money at a train show. Even I, The On30 Guy™, have only witnessed this three times in the past 16 years. Do notice, though, how tight a grip he still has on the cash!

2016-05-22 17.09.11In another news flash, the French Creek Inn has remodeled, and also increased the number of non-smoking rooms available in the process. The new decor borders on swank! They did, however, retain the strange, square toilets, and internet access there is still pretty bad.

I mentioned above that I picked up a couple of items at the show, both of which will find homes on the layout. First, I acquired another structure from the bench of Al Judy. This building will mostly finish out the collection of structures for a small town in a corner of the layout.

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The arrangement features three structures built by Al — a “general store”, a re-purposed sawmill structure, and this new business (I’m not quite sure what it’s going to be just yet). With all the buildings built by Al here, I’m thinking this town may get the name “AJ’s Corner”. The town still needs a structure or two between the tracks and the wall. I’m thinking that they’ll be low-relief buildings, probably the backs of one or two residences (Al, are you reading this?), and I’ll need to add a loading dock or shed to the back of the general store building.

As part of the same deal with Al, I picked up an old Madruga Model Works kit for an SR&RL flanger. It’s designed to be an On2 kit, so it will require a little modification for On30. As with a number of the kits I’ve picked up recently, it’s anything but a “shake-the-box” kit. It’s not even a laser-cut kit.2016-05-22 17.49.09 “Box of sticks” is a more apt description. But, it will make a perfect companion to the much-more-recently-released Portland Locomotive Works snow plow on the MOW track in Corinna.

One thing I’m struggling with is what to do with a couple of high end HO-scale kits. These were expensive, Micro-Scale Models craftsman kits, that build into beautiful models. I’ve got them priced very fairly, and yet I’ve been dragging them around from show to shows for at least fifteen years now. I really can’t believe that no one wants them. I’ve snapped some pictures of the box labels, which you can see below. If any of these look interesting to you, contact me. The prices are what I’ve been asking (all are discounted, some significantly), and some may be a pain to ship, but I’m sure something can be worked out.

Bachmann EZ-App / BlueRail Trains RS-3 First Impressions

EZAPPRS3I picked up one of the Bachmann EZ-App HO RS-3s to assess its suitability for a dead rail conversion. The plan, overall, is to use the mechanism and electronics to power an On30 “doodlebug.” For my use, I didn’t really care about the roadname, so my Bachmann pusher got me a Pennsy unit like the one shown here.

My initial tests have been on powered track, using an MRC Tech III power pack. The pack has reasonably accurate meters for voltage and current, and can reliably deliver a couple of amps to the rails at up to about 14V, so it’s a decent test supply for model trains.

2016-01-22 08.38.47For my initial tests, I followed Bachmann’s included instructions closely. I downloaded the app to my iPhone 6s, powered on the loco, and launched the app. And … nothing. It took several attempts to get the app to recognize the new loco. Once the app found the RS-3, I was able to change the loco name, and it recognized it every time I powered up the loco.

When everything’s powered up, and you first launch the app, you’ll see a list of your locos, and options to connect or disconnect. Locos that you’ve accessed in the past, but are not currently powered on will read as “not available.”

2016-01-22 08.37.31The app allows for standard, single train control, or a mode which allows control of multiple locos from a single device. So far, since I only have a single EZ-App loco, I’ve just used the standard control. By default, the throttle layout is what Bachmann refers to as “classic.” There’s a big slider for speed, and buttons for direction, long horn blast, short horn blast, bell, and lights. There’s also a little fly-out menu for some additional sounds.

Speaking of the sounds … The sound implementation is a little strange. Instead of coming from the locomotive, the sound is produced by the phone. And frankly, they’re horrible. The diesel sound is a generic EMD prime mover, and sounds to me like a turbo-charged EMD 645. There are loops for the throttle notches and sounds that ramp between the notches. Unfortunately, the loops don’t match well to the transitions, and there are often gaps in the sound when ramping up and down. The horn sounds sort of like a 5-chime Wabco, and while the short sound is passable, the long horn is one of the worst jobs of looping I’ve ever heard. The bell, if you can call it that, is reminiscent of the old PFM sound system bell, only worse.

2016-01-22 08.37.41 2016-01-22 08.37.49Moving back to the app, there are two other versions of the throttle display available. I prefer the one called retro.

In order to move the train, you need to first tape the start-up/shut-down control. The noise will begin, and after the startup sound finishes, you should have control of the train. Sliding up the throttle control will cause the loco to move out smoothly. Control is reasonably good, and the loco seems to run well. Tapping the “gear” icon reveals an advanced settings screen which allows adjusting momentum effects and maximum speed. What I don’t see are controls to change the interpretation of what “forward” is. This is important for locos like the RS-3, as some railroads ran them long-hood forward, while others ran them short-hood forward. I also don’t see any provision for consisting.

My next tests were to see what the lowest acceptable operating voltage would be. The results were certainly not optimal for 2-cell LiPo packs. At full charge voltage (8.4v), operation was fine. However, as I decreased the voltage, performance degraded rapidly. At 7.4v, the loco would run about 40% of the time, and a 6v, there was no response at all, except that the head and back lights would flash indicating low voltage. Simulating a 3-cell pack, the results were better. I quickly realized, though, that there is no low-voltage cut-off for LiPo batteries! A 3-cell pack should never be allowed to drop below 9V, and as noted, the loco still runs with the voltage below that minimum.

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I opened the model up to access the board and see if there was any indication of a way to remedy this. The BlueRail board, while very large, is well labeled, mostly. There are only a couple of mystery connections (one, labeled “+ SC -“, and a series of jumper positions). The board looks well made, but is much larger than it needs to be, leaving plenty of potential for miniaturization. The only part that can’t be changed is the Rigado Smart Bluetooth module, which handles all of the communications and control functionality. The external parts are for the power supply (left 1/3 of the board), high-current switching and motor drive (middle of board), and LED drivers for up to 4 LEDs.

BlueRailThere has been indication from BlueRail Trains that future boards will feature provision for battery connections. Hopefully, low-voltage cutoff will be a part of that functionality.

I will be continuing with the conversion project, and will post updates as I progress.