Thursday, August 25, 2016

Building a module (Part 1: Track)

In this post I want to show you how to build a simple straight module following our standards. First of all we need to build the wooden "box" that will be the base for our piece of the layout. If you read our norms there is a very important part (as in all modular norms) called "header". This is the wooden piece that connects with another module. As we are doing a straight module those pieces are in the East and West part of the module, but they can be placed in any part of our module where we want to connect to the following or previous one. It is also possible a module with more than two "headers" when diverging the track, or even just one in case it is an ending module with a loop.

In any case the "header" is the most important part and must be done with exact precision, so do not try to do it yourself using manual tools. Just half millimeter of error will cause trains to derail in our scale as tracks will not be aligned in a perfect way. So my suggestion is to go to a carpenter's workshop where they have a numerical control machine and pay for these pieces to be done following the measures in the manual. They can even make small holes to place and drive the screws to assemble the whole box.

Next important thing you need is the gauge, which is also defined in the manual. Gauges you see in the photo above have been laser cut and are made in stainless steel. They have the same exact precision as the headers. And finally you will need also a straight tracksetta from Peco available at any train shop offering Peco products.

Gauge is used to check several measures when placed in the gauge holes:
  • At both sides shows the top limit of the header. It will check the header is correctly done.
  • Inner slots show the base of the track (3mm over the top of the header) 
  • The width of the inner slots is exactly the 9mm gap between rails, the same width as the tracksetta that will fit in this holes. Tracksetta combined with the gauge will assure the track is aligned, perpendicular to the header and at the exact height.
First of all we have to place the track bed. I like to use 3mm cork, but you have other solutions like Woodland Scenics track bed which is also 3mm height. In the last 5cm at each end of the module you should use a rigid track bed to make sure the track height is not altered. In my modules I cut a piece of 3mm PVC or methacrylate. Use the gauge to center it and glue it with carpenters glue or contact glue. The rigid pieces of PVC is better to glue them with cyanoacrylate or any other specific glue:

With the track bed fixed in place we can place the track using Peco pins. Use the Tracksetta to make sure the rail is completely straight and aligned with the gauge, and do not fix the last 10 cm of the track at both sides until the next step:

Then use a Dremel tool or similar to cut the rails if they stand out of the header limits:

Now you can put again the gauges at each side and center the track using the tracksetta. Tracksetta fits in the gauge gaps and makes sure the rail is perpendicular to the header, and with the tracksetta and gauge in place fix the last centimeters of track with both pins and cyanoacrylate:

You can see in the following photo how precise has been fixed the track:

In next steps I will show how to make the wiring and sensors.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

ClubNCaldes modular norms v. 2.1

We published the first non draft document with the norms we are using to build our modules. This first "stable" version is 2.1 (Spanish):

Click here to download module manual v2.1

Main change is about the connectors between modules. For loconet signal we keep on using the DB9 connector as published in the first draft version. But for track current and power source (12Vdc and 5Vdc) we decided not to use banana connectors. We found an standard 6 poles connectors widely used in the automotive industry very easy to find and extremely reliable. From to any local automotive spare parts shop. This type of connectors are called "Superseal":

You can buy these connectors worldwide through Würth shops and eshops (locally in each country) but also in or electronic dealers like Mouser.

Mounting them is really easy, they are sealed against liquid and dust and there can be no mistakes connecting them as there is just one way to plug it. You can also connect and disconnect them as many times as needed and are reliable as DB9 connectors. So for our modules you just have to plug two connectors and all the job is done.

There aren't more significant changes. Now we are working on the software debugging and finishing the Arduino sketches for the PC Interface (for both UNO and NANO) and adding the Loconet support to the DCC++ command station software. Everything is already working in our first test modules and it will be published soon.

As in previous version we decided to use the Loconet Over TCP protocol implemented with an Arduino NANO. This keeps the system independent from the command station. Using the PC interface of the command stations normally means you cannot change it because the command station PC protocols are neither generic nor standard. This will allow to anybody to use any other command station Loconet compatible (Uhlenbrock, Digitrax, Digikeijs, ...) with our modular system.

More information soon!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

1:32 Handcrafted train models

I had the pleasure not too long ago to know Jose Manuel León. He is an artisan who makes his own RENFE 1:32 models. But not only makes scaled and operational locomotives, he is also developing a modular norm to build 1:32 scale modular layouts and assists to train fairs showing his incredible work.

He was one of the modular layouts that I wanted to present in the train fair in Logroño, but unfortunately I had to left the project of the train fair. It's really a pity because never more will be the chance of having a more incredible (and free!!) place to hold it, including expositor expenses and module transportation also for free, but if who has to be more interested in it is not into it....obviously the biggest efforts and the best chances are not enough for the success. But this is another long story I'll pass by.

Going back to Jose Manuel, he has a must see blog called  "Creaciones Ferroviarias" with all the step-by-step instructions to build fantastic models like these:

Over rails excavator

You can see also this video in his youtube channel showing the process to build a RENFE 252:

You can see in this video he can lift the pantograph, open doors, manage lighting, ... everything controlled with an Arduino.

I hope to meet Jose Manuel in person in the next train fair. And if you want to acquire any of this 1:32 models or order any special design, you can contact Jose Manuel at his mail or phone: 687415413

Saturday, August 6, 2016

TOMIX Usui Pass (碓氷峠) EF63 DCC conversion

Some time ago I won both TOMIX EF63 locomotive tandem models in an auction at a very good price. It's item number 92908, decorated in brown color, and 92123 decorated in blue. Seem to be special models as they are come in a beautiful case. Notice that one of the engine models ends with "T", while the other ends with "M". Only "M" locomotive is equiped with Motor, while "T" locomotive is only a dummy.

The Usui Pass (碓氷峠 Usui-tōge) is a mountain pass that lies between Nagano and Gunma Prefectures in Japan, near to Karuizawa city. It has served as one of the major transportation routes in central Japan since at least the eighth century and Shinetsu main line was crossing it. Due to its high gradient, banking engines where needed in both ascending and descending. That was the job of these EF63 models.

Tomix models are for me the best detailed ones, but on the other hand are the most difficult models to convert to DCC. Normally is difficult to find room enough for the decoder, and access to the motor is also complicated as the pick up current plates are not accessible unless you disassemble it completely. This is the case:

Each locomotive only has lights, and its respective light board, in one of the sides. Taking a tiny decoder (D&H DH05 in my case), you can place it in the space of the missing light board and you won't need to sand any locomotive's part.

My plan is also to replace the bulb light in the board with a led light. Only the red light uses a led:

First of all you have to perfectly isolate the motor engine and solder the gray and orange cable there, like any other similar Tomix model. Wires fit in the space between the two metal blocks where motor is enclosed in. I recommend you to use Kapton tape, normal tape is too thick for this.

The only tricky part is the light board. Taking a look to the original board we want to keep the resistor and existing red led, remove the bulb light and associated components (diodes), and add a white led using also the same resistor for it to do not add more components as the room is imitated. Positive lead will be connected directly to the rail current, and negative lead will be connected to the white and yellow wires of the decoder. As the board has pick up current tracks, I plan to use it also for the red and black wires of the decoder as is impossible to solder something directly to the lead pieces:

This is how I prepared the light board, removing the SMD components of the bulb and the bulb light itself, and soldering the white led. The point where I soldered it is isolated but will fix the led in place. That's why I added a wire to the positive lead of the other led. Negative lead of each led will be isolated and connected to the white and yellow decoder cables:

And that's the result once in place:

First tests worked fine, with no short circuits. Take all the time you need to make sure decoder, motor and function cables are not in touch with the rail current (lead blocks) or your decoder can burn in the first test.

I thought the most tedious job was done, but I spent even more time detailing with the accessory parts both locomotives:

outlets, hose connectors

Horn? Antena?

This antena needs to drill the holes


These locomotives run in a really smooth way, and once detailed they are really beautiful. I hope you found this tutorial useful.