I've been re-working the layout design in my head over the past month. I sat down this week-end and put it down on paper using the XTrackCAD software. For the most part, the software works well enough, but there are some tasks that are buggy on my Mac. For example, it won't export to a bitmap correctly. It turns out that this feature works perfectly fine on a PC and I managed to get an acceptable picture to post. 

I drew in the table sections to get a feel for the modules that I still need to construct. I also sketched in the structures as well. You can see the canal section between the residential buildings and the station. This is the part that had kept me frustrated for over a year. Most of the frustration was focused on how to make the table structurally strong due to the big gaping hole in the middle of the module. The table will be weak in the middle and have a tendency to twist and warp if I don't design it correctly. This still worries me. I may have to abandon this if I can't work out how to make it rigid.

The other concern is the conversion to DCC from analog now that I've changed the layout to a teardrop. I'm going to have to re-visit Alan Gartner's blog again on how to do the conversion on the Kato unitrack turnouts. Anyways, here's the output of XTrackCAD...


Track plan update

I'm glad I went to the model train show this weekend as it gave me the motivation to work on the layout again. At least to revisit the layout design. Nothing drastic, but I think I've come up with a better track plan. The previous design had a dog bone, but I couldn't reconcile the second branch line that didn't connect anywhere. But after a few iterations, I think I have something that is esthetically pleasing and functional so that I can run my trains at full speed. I can visualize trains going in and out of the Hel hauptbahnhof with departures announced over the intercom. However, in order for it to work correctly, I would need to convert everything to DCC and computer automated.

Variation A

Variation B


Supertrain 2014

It's been four years since I last attended the model train show. I found out from many of the exhibitors that this show is the largest one in Canada. That surprised me as I thought shows in Vancouver or Toronto would be much larger than Calgary. Interest in the show has changed for me as I'm more focused on landscaping and structures than the trains. There are a lot of hobbyists doing some cool stuff and they're more than happy to share their knowledge with anyone who shares the same passion. That's one of the reasons I like this hobby. Lots of nice people who love trains. Here are some pictures from the show.

The signal lights on this layout caught my eye.

I love the autumn look of this landscape.

I have the same cathedral, but mine doesn't look as good.

I really liked the look of this station.

There are 3000 pieces in the arched bridge and it took 2 months to build. I don't feel so bad about how long it took for me to build my bridge now.

Getting some good ideas for my canal module. I still need to figure out how to make the module rigid enough. But I think I have an idea what to do with the water.

Getting some ideas on my long run track module. Still not sure if I'm going to do a pastoral look with grass or do a Spirited Away motif. I always liked the scene where Sen rides the train as it makes its way across the flooded rural landscape.

As always, the lego layout was popular with the kids. They did a great job with the C-train.

I spent quite a bit of time talking with Ngineering guys about lighting. I want to light up my structures, but I'm still intimidated by the wiring.

This was a layout based on T-Trak specifications. I was talking to Don about his set up. I really liked how he set up his tables using aluminum rails. He showed me how well the modules aligned with each other. I was trying to figure out how to use them on my layout, but I wouldn't be able to retrofit them on my curved modules.


Lick of paint...

I really like the Tamiya spray paints, but they are very expensive. And the selection isn't as varied as the bottled acrylics. A bottle costs $3.00 as opposed to $7+ for a spray can. The other benefit of using a brush is that I can paint indoors any time. With spray cans, I have to wait until it is warm enough outside and in Canada, that's only during the summer. So I elected to hand paint the Faller structures for my residential block. It turns out the painting wasn't that difficult. I was worried that the paint wouldn't dry flat, but that wasn't the case provided I was careful. The hardest part was choosing colours that complemented each other. Looking at my model reminded me of my neighbourhood back in Prague. I ordered more structures to complete the other half of the residential block. Now that Autumn is upon us and Winter is not that far away, I have a renewed interest in modelling again. 


The story so far ...

Progress has been almost non-existent since the completion of my bridge in February. The layout had been packed away for the summer. The release of Diablo 3 has taken what little free time I have from my model train activity. And the fantastic summer we've had has kept me outside more than normal. However, my brain has atrophied from too much gaming and I felt the need to do something more constructive and started assembling one of the unopened Faller structures in my inventory.
I have two post offices and two town houses for my city centre. The Faller structures reminded me of the neighborhood  in Prague where I lived and worked for a year. As with my station, I elected to change the paint scheme of the windows and roof. The selection of dark blue slate for the roof stemmed from my love of French architecture. I've always been enamored with the city layout of Paris and wanted to see if I could replicate a small section of it. 

Faller did a good job with making the building walls look realistic with that dirty look, but I've always hated the white plastic windows so I re-painted them tan. This time, I used Tamiya's AS line of aircraft paint color schemes instead of their TS.

Two more post offices are on order and I'm hopeful that Faller re-releases their discontinued town houses in the near future to complete my city centre. Although the architectural style is different, I thought I could simulate a Parisian feel by showing the contrast between the oxidized copper on the larger structures with the slate roofs of the residential buildings. I managed to assemble this post office last night. Hopefully the other structures go as quick.



Testing the bridge / interchange module

The bridge module acts as central interchange allowing the trains to switch tracks. This was actually the first time I ran all my high speed passenger trains through the module. I also wanted to check that the trains passed the girders with sufficient clearance. In testing the bridge interchange module, I discovered some problem spots that caused derailments for my TGV and ICE1. Sigh.


Through the looking glass

There were many nights I felt like Alice falling down a rabbit hole with no way of getting out. But I was committed and bound to see it through. However, instead of chasing a white rabbit, I was chasing a white elephant. Those unfamiliar with the term, a white elephant is something expensive to maintain or upkeep. The kings of Siam used to bestow upon obnoxious courtiers a white elephant with the intent of financially ruining the recipient through the animal's expensive upkeep. However, in my situation, it was self inflicted and the cost was the heavy toll on my health to build this monstrosity. There were many nights of inhaling fumes from solvent or dust from all the sanding. I underestimated the effort to build my bridge which is more or less based on the Hohenzollernbrücke (Hohenzollern Bridge) in Köln (Cologne).

While doing research on the bridge, I discovered that it was the Nazis who blew it up while retreating from the Allied assault on Köln in World War II. Looking at the old archive pictures, I had always assumed it was destroyed by Allied aerial bombs. You can see the destroyed bridge in the background. In fact, most of Köln was destroyed. The photograph posted here was taken from the public domain which originated from the military archives. For more photos, check out this link, at Dierk's page. It is hard to fathom that as a species, we are capable of creating something so beautiful and yet also be so destructive. In retrospect, it was appropriate to name my fictitious layout on the two Norse mythological places known as the Realm of Fire and the Abode of Mists. Muspelheim and Niflheim, respectively.

After the fiasco of my previous attempt at constructing a tubular arched bridge, I had to re-think my plans for the module. Naively I elected to pursue a more complicated bridge design. No wonder it's taking me forever to finish this layout. I started this structure just before Christmas. It took almost two months hunched over the workbench, measuring, cutting, sanding, gluing and lots of squinting to complete this bridge. All in all, I'm very happy with the results of my effort. But if you were to ask me to do it again, my response would be the same as Sigourney Weaver's character in Galaxy Quest when asked to walk through the chompers. Her reply was, "Well screw that!". Although if you look at her lips, that's not what she really said, which I had yelled out many times during this two month ordeal. The bridge was made possible by much cursing and the creation of a jig, which went through several iterations. The previous iterations of the jig were rejected for aesthetic reasons. My first arch design was too high and looked wrong from a scale perspective. I accidentally over-engineered the second iteration with thicker plastic pieces. I finally settled on the third iteration. It's not perfect, but my vision couldn't withstand another iteration. I'm starting to appreciate why modelers in my age category have switched over to HO scale. I'll likely paint the structure, but that will have to wait until spring when I can do that outside. I plan to match the green oxidized copper patina that I currently have on the roof of my station and cathedral. This will give the modules cohesion and a consistent look. Now I just need to correct my hunched-over posture and cross eyed vision before my friends start calling me Igor.

Here are some pictures taken during the construction.

The above picture is a shot of the jig i had constructed. If you look very closely you can see another set of holes I had drilled previously. That was the first iteration where I later discovered that the arches were set to high.

I managed to pick up some spring clamps at the dollar store. They certainly came in very handy in constructing the arches. From this photograph, I laminated multiple strips together to hold its curved form. This lamination is a great technique for maintaining curvilinear shapes. I plan to use this technique in other future structures. You can see thin separators underneath the second strip. I needed to create a lip on the arch for the X shaped cross beams to rest on. You'll see this in a later picture.

A completed arch. The diagonal pieces at the top are very thin because the forces applied on them are pulling rather pushing. I originally had much thicker pieces on the previous incarnations, but I didn't like how they looked. A suitable analogy would be Romanesque versus Gothic architecture where Gothic architecture is very light and airy. Don't get me wrong, I like Romaneque architecture as much as Gothic, but for this bridge, I preferred something not as heavy looking.

With all three arches built, it was time to attach the cross beams. I created helper pieces to maintain consistent separation between the arches. You can see these spanning the top and the bottom of the arches. 90 degree angle brackets (not shown here) come in very handy for holding the arches upright.

The most difficult task was constructing the X shaped cross beams that secures the arches together to form a tight rigid structure. I had to make each X shaped cross beam. There are 32 on the lower tier and 48 on the upper tier. In the above picture, I was securing the lower tier.

A close up of the lower tier of X shaped cross beams. You can see that the cross beams rest on the lip of the arch. This made it easier to set and glue each of the individual pieces.

To secure and glue the top tier of cross beams, I had to flip the bridge upside down. It was a tight squeeze and in hindsight, I should have elevated the structure a little higher.

All told there are 749 separate pieces that make up this bridge.


Adventure in amateur movie making

All my previous videos were taken with an old point and shoot Canon camera. I've never been overly impressed by the video quality. Seeing some of the excellent videos on other blogs made me consider getting a video camcorder. I've had my eye on the Panasonic TM900 camcorder for its excellent low light capabilities and time lapse feature. Unfortunately, most stuff in Canada are unfairly priced higher than our neighbours south of the border. However, good things comes to those who wait (6+ months) as I managed to pick up one that was extremely discounted during the Boxing week sale.

I thought I'd provide some initial impressions on this camcorder. The camcorder can record in high definition 1080 x 60p AVGHD or iFrame (960 x 540). iFrame is specific to Apple's iMovie format. Video in iFrame format is a breeze to import into iMovie'09. Editing is also easier since the files are smaller in size. Editing high definition videos is much more difficult on my Mac Mini. Response times in iMovie when previewing clips in HD are brutally slow and jumpy. The other problem I experienced with HD clips was that iMovie wouldn't import m2ts AVGHD files. To get around this problem, I had to convert them to mp4 format using Format Factory. Unfortunately, this software is only available on a PC. This only adds to my frustration level as I have to use multiple platforms.

However, the mp4 files are easily imported into iMovie. The first time I did this, I wasn't aware of the default setting where the software automatically optimized the video to 960 x 540 pixel size. It took some sleuthing to figure out why the video image quality from the camcorder was no better than my point and shoot camera. Once I turned off the optimization, the image quality is a great deal better. The other thing I did to improve image quality was use manual focus on the camcorder. That's the other reason I went with this model. It has a ring on the lens that allows me to focus or zoom like an SLR. So far, I'm pretty happy with this camcorder. I'm hoping with practice, I can improve the quality of my videos.


Everything, but the kitchen sink

This is how my workbench typically looks. Most of my fellow modelers are much more tidy and organized. But out of chaos comes order. The kitchen renovations finished last month, which freed me up to work on my layout again. I finally got around to wiring up my DC power switching box. I actually got to use my soldering station and volt meter for the first time. My soldering skills were somewhat lacking at the beginning, but they got better near the end. Here's the final product. All the parts were purchased from Digi-Key. I'd definitely recommend them to anyone. Friendly service, great selection and reasonable shipping/brokerage fees.

I finally got to test my interchange module. Here's a video of the first run using my new power switch. I'm pretty happy with the results.

During setup, I discovered why Kato sells separate packages of rail joiners. As I was connecting and re-connecting track, the metal piece broke off a few of the rail joiners. You can see the missing metal piece in the track situated on the right side in the picture. Fortunately, I had purchased extra rail joiners and was able to replace them. The blue plastic is used to remove the joiner from the track.

The reason for connecting and re-connecting the unitrack was that I had finished my platform for the city overhead station. The construction of this platform went fairly quick. However, I made it too long and consequently both ends of the platform were too close to the S curves. I had forgotten about clearance so when I ran my train through the station for the first time, it was rubbing against the corners of the platform. Boy did I feel dumb! So I had to shorten the platform and moved the S curves further away from the platform. A mitre box and hacksaw certainly came in handy for this, but it wasn't pretty.

Unfortunately, not all of my modeling is as successful as my platform doh! I also worked on the bridge module. I wanted to construct a contemporary looking arch for the bridge. I decided to use styrene tubes that I thought I could bend. The Evergreen styrene tubes only came in lengths of 24" so I extended them by placing an insert inside to connect two 24" lengths together. I thought that if I had a long enough insert I could bend the tube without fear of breaking. I remembered my platform arches had become brittle aft
er applying solvent to them, but I thought I could avoid this problem with more plastic to reinforce the structure. How wrong I was. I applied some weight at the centre of the tube and used a hair dryer to warm up the styrene. As soon as the styrene became warm, it broke exactly at the spot where the solvent was applied. So it's back to the drawing board for the bridge.

What with having to shorten the platform because I forgot about clearance and the shattered remnants of a bridge gone wrong, I was feeling pretty miserable. So I thought some retail therapy might cheer me up and picked up the Minitrix LINT train set. Despite some setbacks this month, I'm pretty happy with the progress I've made and I gained more knowledge about modeling. Hopefully this renewed interest in trains will continue through to December. Now if only I could figure out what to do about that damn bridge.