Tracks-12-20 -- Model Railroading Newsletter
Articles in This Issue:
WELCOME to the December, 2020 issue of Tracks - a monthly newsletter published by Building Your Model Railroad, devoted to providing breaking news and tips to model railroaders of all ages and all gauges in a quick and easy-to-read format. Resources are always credited where appropriate.
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Photos: We're always looking for new photos for our Gallery pages. If you have photos of your layout that you would like to share with other model railroaders, I'd love to post them on the site. Send them in to [email protected].
Contributions Encouraged: If you have a tip, picture, video or an article about model railroading that you would like to share in this newsletter, please let me know. I'm always looking for more information.
One may think that railroad history is an unnecessary topic under the broad subject of model railroading, but most serious model railroaders know that this couldn't be farther from the truth. First of all, if you are interested in modeling a railroad or even just a structure or a locomotive, there is a certain curiosity about where it came from. How did it get to be what it is? Even if you are freelancing and using unusual names on your cars and locomotives, they are still based on some historical creation, which existed in a particular time or era. It's actually quite fun and interesting to explore the history of the prototypes and even the history of the model-building industry itself that created the models based on those prototypes.
For example, if someone asks you about an EMD GP-40, would you have any idea what they are talking about? What company made them, when and why? Or a USRA 0-6-0? A Baldwin 4-6-0? Or a Mikado 2-8-2?
How about an ALCO RS-1? What does ALCO stand for?
I certainly don't know all about the history and specific types of locomotives (there are hundreds of them), but every time I hear or see a term describing a particular loco or road-name, I try to look it up. If I have a particular type of loco or railcar on my layout, I want to know the name and type of that equipment and a little about the history of it, so when my kids or friends ask about it, I can tell them about it, and also because it's a little embarrassing if I don't know. So, I started keeping a little notebook in my smartphone about railroading where I can type in something about these things when I run across them, at least the more common ones, that I want to remember. I have found that my enjoyment of the hobby greatly improved when I knew more about railroad history and the specific types of equipment that were used in what era.
Are you safety-conscious when working on your layout?
Here is a list of safety items and tips that should be considered a MUST for every model railroader:
~ Fire extinguisher - up to date.
~ Safety glasses or goggles
~ A single on-off switch (permanently installed or remote) that controls the power to everything in or on your layout.
~ A fire and carbon monoxide alarm
~ A mask to avoid breathing in paint and other fumes
~ Use a ventilated paint booth when spray painting or airbrushing
~ Gloves when necessary to avoid cuts and scrapes that could get infected
~ Circuit overload protectors or fuses to prevent short circuits from causing overheating, fire, or damage to your equipment.
~ Avoid clutter. Keep cords, tools and throw rugs out of the aisles and off the floor where you might trip over them.
~Read the directions carefully for your power tools, especially the safety sections.
~ During the coronavirus pandemic, always wear a mask during operating sessions or when family and friends are visiting the layout. Use social distancing as much as possible. An even better solution would be to invite your friends and family to see the layout virtually, instead of physically.
~ Consider having insurance to protect any damage that occurs to your layout or expensive equipment. It is not that expensive and provides a lot of peace of mind.
Add these to your notebook of favorite model railroading tips:
(Reprinted with updates from BYMRR-Zine, Dec., 2011, with permission.)
Occupancy Detection is an important part of automated train operation. This requires some type of sensor that can relay a signal to a, you guessed it, a relay switch, which can then cause an action to occur. So there are 3 parts to this - the sensor, the relay, and then the action.
One type of sensor is an optic sensor, which uses a photo-electric "eye", that create an electrical signal when there is a change in the amount of light that hits the sensor. For example, if an optic sensor is located between the rails, then when a train on the mainline rolls over the sensor, it blocks out the light, which then activates the relay switch to turn a signal from green to red. The same signal can be automatically sent to a section of crossing track to prevent any trains from crossing the main line while the first train is still occupying that track. Infrared sensors can also be used for this purpose and are usually set up on each side of the track, so when the train goes by, it blocks the infrared signal from traveling to the sensor on the other side. Another one is the Hall Switch, which is located between the rails and is activated by a magnet glued to the bottom of the locomotive or railcar.
Relay switches are commonly used in circuit boards that perform these automations, but if you don't have one of these circuit boards, you can use an Atlas Relay Switch for simple operations such as the one mentioned above.
If you are the DIY type, you can make your own circuit board with a Raspberry Pi or an Arduino mini-computer. This really brings model railroading to a whole new level.
Model analog locomotives made by companies like Athearn, Atlas and many others have been using DC (Direct Current) power for decades. One of my visitors recently asked me, how does DC current drive a loco?
This goes back to the principle of electromagnetic motors which require a magnetic field to rotate.
The DC current travels from the DC power source (transformer) through the positive rail of the track, through the metal wheels on one side of the locomotive (the wheels have to be insulated from the wheels on the other side), which are connected to the positive terminal of the motor. The motor consists of a coil of wire surrounding a core. The current travels through the core to the negative terminal which then connects to the wheels on the other side of the locomotive, then to the negative rail and then back to the transformer.
Whenever a current travels through a metal core wrapped with a coil of insulated wire, it establishes a magnetic field that can pull or push other metal objects either towards the field or away from it depending on which pole of the coil that is near the object. You can do this experiment yourself at home by taking a long nail, wrapping a coil of insulated wire around it several times. Then connect the end of the wire at the head of the nail to the positive wire from the DC transformer and then connect the end of the wire at the point end of the nail to the negative wire from the transformer. Turn on the power of the transformer and place a metal object near one end of the nail or the other and see what happens.
So, inside the locomotive, there is a DC motor constructed in the same way, called the armature, with windings of wire, usually wrapped many times over in varying parallel directions. Surrounding the motor, there is a cylinder of stationary magnets, each of which has its own pushing and pulling polarized magnetic energy field. When power is applied to the coil, using brushes to allow for free rotation of the motor, a magnetic energy field is produced which causes a pushing and pulling action against the stationary magnets depending on their position and polarity. This causes the core and the coil to rotate.
On one end of the motor core, there will be a circular gear that rotates as the motor rotates. This gear connects to series of other gears that result in rotation of the wheels.
That is a very simplified explanation. You can get a more detailed and more complicated explanation here.
Probably the most important thing to remember here is to NOT to try to take pictures of your model railroad with any handheld device. No matter how steady you think you are, and even if you have an "image stabilizer" in your camera, nothing beats a tripod when it comes to taking pictures of small objects. Also use the self-timer on your camera, so that the picture is taken without you having to touch it. If you are using a digital SLR camera, you will need to use a large F-stop number and a long shutter speed (sometimes several minutes if you're doing a night scene) to get better depth of field and better light exposure.
The newer smartphones cameras can also be used as long as you use a tripod and set the self-timer. Sometimes it's easier to get the smartphone into a small area of the layout than it is to get the SLR in there.
Depth of field is frequently a problem when photographing your railroad, because the foreground may be in focus while the background is not, or vice versa. One way to get around this is take the picture from a distance using a very high resolution and a large F stop number ( smaller aperture) and then crop the photo in your computer software. The other thing you can do is take three separate photos, one with the foreground in focus, one with the mid-distance in focus and one with the background in focus. Then go to your computer and use Adobe Bridge to put them in layers and then photoshop to fuse them into one picture - a process called stacking. A much easier way to do this is to use a product and software called Helicon Focus. The Helicon FB tube is a special extension tube for your digital SLR that automates focus bracketing. Then process it in Helicon Focus software, so that you end up with a very sharp image from foreground to background. You don't have to have the FB tube. It just automates the process of taking 3 pictures in a row with different focus points.
The camera's point of view should be at eye level with your scene as if you were standing there near the tracks. This is much more realistic than if every one of your photos appears as if you took it from a helicopter.
This layout requires three full time employees to keep it going.
Featuring Ken Patterson and Tim Schreiner
Hope you enjoyed this issue of Tracks. Feel free to pass it on to your friends, family and other model railroaders. If you have a great tip or article that you would like to publish on the website, please let me know - The more, the better. Any comments or suggestions are always welcome. You can either go to the Comments/Contact Page and enter your suggestions there or contact me directly at [email protected]
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