M&K Junction Railroad

M&K Junction Railroad
Another train of eastbound coal crosses the Cheat River

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Construction of the Helix Begins

My main task for the Christmas-New Year's week was to begin construction of the helix at the center of my layout (see Track Plan). Completion of the helix will allow for continuous operation. The two-turn, double-tracked helix also serves as serial staging and will hold (2) 25 car trains in each direction. I've set myself the task of completing the helix and at least one track on it by April 2012.

I had designed and ordered a template to cut the sectors of the subroadbed and lay out the center lines of the two tracks (see Track Templates), but the benchwork to support the subroadbed had not yet been designed. I used TurboCad 14 Delux to design the benchwork for the helix.

Helix benchwork2

The octagonal benchwork is made up of 8 trapezoids 44.25 x 58.25 x 18.75 on the short side. The two concentric circles indicate the subroadbed. Radii on the helix are 66.5 inches and 62 inches. The benchwork is 141 inches across - this is some helix!

Here I'm using the helix template to mark out the subroadbed prior to cutting.

I do my cutting outside, wherever possible. Here are 9 sectors of subroadbed, the yield of one sheet of 3/4 inch plywood.

The photo above shows the decks of the first four sections of the helix benchwork completed. The following photo shows the first three sections of benchwork assembled as a test. These sections are not in their final position.

The benchwork is 54 inches to the top. My current thinking is that only every other section will have legs; alternate sections will be suspended between the sections with legs. Squaring-up and leveling the benchwork may be difficult with this arrangement; if so, I will have to attach legs to each section so they can be leveled separately.

Corporate Logos for Sign Making

While searching for corporate and organizational logos to use in making signs for my layout I came across these sites:





On the first two sites there are thousands of logos from all over the world each, apparently, drawn and contributed by volunteers; so they’re all free for private use. There are even some railroad logos in the group. I'll intersperse some examples of logos with the text of this post.

Some of the logos are 'alpha masked', which means that you can use them as transparent overlays over other graphics, like placing them directly on a brick texture to make a painted-on wall sign.

The good news is that these are all in vector graphic formats: Encapsulated Postscript (.eps), Adobe Illustrator (.ai), Adobe Postscript (.ps) or Corel Draw (.cdr). Because these are vectors and not bitmaps (pictures) they can be scaled to whatever size you want and they will still look good. The bad news is that most of us do not have the high-end, vector graphics programs like Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw and therefore we cannot readily read or manipulate these files.

That does not mean that you cannot use these files, but you will have to work at it. My copy of Microsoft Word from Microsoft Office Enterprise Professional 2007 will open all of the Encapsulated Postscript (EPS) files. To do this click on the .eps file, copy it, place the cursor where you want the logo inserted into your Word document and then select paste. The logo will be inserted into Word. You can then click on the logo, grab any of the ‘handles’ that appear and resize the picture. Grabbing one of the corner handles and moving diagonally in or out will allow you to resize without changing the proportions of the logo. I don’t know if older versions of Word will open these files.

The version of Microsoft Power Point, also from Microsoft Office Enterprise Professional 2007, will open the EPS files using the exact same procedure. This is the better option as Power Point has better drawing tools to use with the logo you just imported.

Recent versions of the Adobe graphics tools (Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements) will open the .eps files. If you don't have Photoshop, trial versions of this software good for 14 days can be downloaded from Adobe. Before you try this, search the websites above and download all of the logos you are likely to want as you will be working against a time limitation. Once you have Adobe installed, open all of the logos, scale them to the sizes that you will need and then save each as .jpg or some other format that many applications can open.

Once you can read and manipulate .eps files, then next thing to do is to try to convert the Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Postscript and Corel Draw files to EPS.

Download a trial version of Corel Graphics Suite from here:


The trial version is good for only 15 days, so install it only when you have the time to do all of the conversions. Using Corel Draw you can drag n’ drop the .ai files into Corel. If you are asked how to import text, click the radio button to import text as curves doing so will preserve scalability of the drawing. To write the file as an EPS file, choose ‘export’ from the file menu; in the next dialog box give it a file name and select EPS as the file type then click ‘export’; in the next dialog box set the resolution to 300 dpi or higher, and select to export text as curves; the final OK writes the file.

Of course, while you have the trial copy of Corel, resize and print all of the logos that you think that you will need.

Corel will not be able to import all of the .ai (Adobe Illustrator) files; but those that it does open seem to export to EPS correctly. Setting the resolution to 300 dpi makes the resultant EPS file smoother than it would be otherwise. You might want to consider redrawing all of your EPS files at 300 dpi in this manner. Obviously, Corel can read and convert its native .cdr files to .eps using the same procedure. The Corel Suite has an application called Photo Paint, that can do a similar job, but it does not preserve the scalability as well as Corel Draw does.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Industrial Shelf Layout

Here's an industrial shelf layout that I designed for Model Rail Radio. It's tightly packed with close clearances but. if done with typical brick, high rise (5-6 story) urban buildings, moderately weathered and sprinkled with detritus, it should be a scenic success. It's designed for 2-rail O Scale (or P48)but may be do-able in 3-rail sectional track. Click on the drawing to enlarge. Design notes follow the drawing.

Urban Jungle

'O' Standard Gauge or P48 Shelf Layout

General Notes:

  • Built from (5) 19" x 48" ppanels cut form a 4'x8' sheet of plywood and arranged into a 144" x 115" x 19" 'L'
  • Designed for 40' cars (the additional 2 1/2 inches of the 50' cars was a capacity killer)
  • Designed for small locomotives
  • GE 44, 45 and 70 Ton
  • NW-2, SW-8/9, SW1200/1500
  • Alco S1/S2
  • 0-4-0 and 0-6-0 Steam, saddle tank would be perfect; however, there is no provision for turning the locomotive end-for-end
  • (2) 33"x9" traversers (9 car capacity each); tracks on 3 1/8 inch centers
  • 35+ car capacity (17 industrial spots, 18 on the traversers)
  • Curves, what few there are, are 26" minimum radius - tight, but with short (40') equipment it will look OK, No equipment needs to couple/uncouple on curves, nor be parked on curves.
  • All turnouts (except one) are #4, drawn to NMRA minimum dimensions. Can substitute old (1970's) Atlas/Roco O turnouts (check loco compatibility) and free up some space.
  • One 30/26 radius custom-built turnout. This one will have a LONG frog, probably #12 or better.
  • Designed to slow down operation:
  • Extensive use of switchback setouts will require moving cars already spotted to position new cars.
  • Two car capacity on the run-around limits the number of cars that can be pushed/pulled into position in a single move.
  • Estimate 2-3 hours to move and spot all cars on the layout.
  • All buildings are 5-6 storied high and the layout is high enough that the tops of the buildings are at or above eye level. This creates the feeling of an urban canyon and hides the building-to-backdrop transition.

Specific Notes (keyed to the letters on the layout)

  • (A) Large industry - Brewery, urban bakery, freight storage warehouse, paper mill, etc. chosen for car variety. Hides one of the traversers. RHS wall removable to fiddle cars onto and off of the traverser.
  • (B) Freight house/meat packing/cold storage/produce distributor. Semi-flat against wall, two track awning over house tracks or tracks in open-air arcade under building. Second loading track served by 'bridge plates' between cars on the nearesst track and cars on the outer track; complicates loads/empties spotting.
  • (C) Irregular shaped building built on 'air rights' (stilts) over the tracks. often found in crowded urban areas; adds scenic interest. One spot loading dock underneath. Unfortunately, the building sits atop one turnout; prototypical, but could be a maintenance headache.
  • (D) Semi-flat buildings against wall. Set at irregular angles helps disguise the rectilinear arrangement of the track on the shelf. Tracks enter one structure, loading doors in the walls of the others.
  • (E) Open-air industry; iron works, scrap yard, sand& gravel, fuel (oil or coal), concrete, etc.
  • (F) High retaining wall with portal. This is the layout's 'beyond the basement' connection and portal to the other traverser.
  • (G) large building built on a bluff above; hides the traverser and continues the urban theme. The end is left open to fiddle cars onto and off of the traverser.
  • (H) Run-around, two car capacity; limits the size of set-outs, slows down operation.
  • (I) Loco pocket or team track.

Final Thoughts:

  • All clearances are tight and a lot of 'No Clearance' and 'No Clearance for Man Riding Car' will be prototypical.
  • I've done a preliminary fit check and a few adjustments will have to be made during construction:
  • The two tracks leading into industry A need to be shifted slightly towards the front of the layout to assure clearance with the tracks at industry B.
  • Check and adjust clearances around industry C where the track comes near the wall.
  • If desired, the layout can be modeled as a harbor scene, with the harbor located in the aisle. the aisle side of the layoout is them modeled as bulkhead; industry A and E then have water-borne service as well as rail serevice. Tracks leading into industry A can double as pier tracks for rail/water transfer with an impressive traveling overhead crane.
  • Could be done as traction; the wire entering the buildings would make for some interesting wire work.
  • This layout could probably handle a collection of 100+ cars so that cars do not repeat trips to any given industry too often.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Photo Backdrops Made Easy

A few weeks ago, I appeared on the Model Railcast Show speaking about Photo Backdrops. For me, photo backdrops are the best alternative as I have little or no artistic ability for painting a backdrop. While the process of creating a photo backdrop sounds involved, once you have all of the tools together and pictures together, you can turn out a backdrop in 15 minutes - literally.

Because my narrative on Model Railcast was not complete, I made the following video explaining and illustrating the process. After viewing the video, be sure to read my notes and outline below it.

I've included two versions of the video. If you can use the HD/widescreen version you will be able to view the screen shots embedded in the video better. Try turning off HD in the play bar if your computer is running slow. For slow computers and slow internet connections, I've created a standard definition version. Be sure to use the full screen button in the play bar in either case.

High Definition/Widescreen

Standard Definition

Photo Backdrops Outline

(c) 2011 T. Terrance

1) What you’ll need:
  • Computer – A reasonably recent computer, dual core preferred, but not required.
  • Software – Open source, commercial and trial versions
  • Camera – Digital preferred, although film converted to digital or scanned photographs will suffice.
  • OR access to on-line textures (e.g. CG Textures, etc.) for the subject material

2) Collecting the ‘stuff’

  • Computer 3 GHz or better single core, or multi-core
  • Software

i) Open Source – GIMP, Inkscape

ii) Commercial – s/w that came with your camera; Photoshop Elements – sometimes a free copy is included with your printer; Photoshop, Corel Photo Pro, etc.

iii) Older versions of commercial software are sometimes available at a bargain price.

iv) Get on mailing list of Corel, Adobe, etc. for outgoing versions at a discount. I just bought Corel Photo Pro 3 for $9.95 with free shipping directly from Corel.

v) Trial versions – you can do everything with 14-30 trial versions of the best commercial software, you just have to get all of your work ready and dedicate the time to finish before the trial runs out. Use Adobe and Corel tools trial versions serially. Install on multiple computers.

  • Camera- you don’t need a Gigapixel digital camera. You’ll be combining several photos into one thereby increasing the number of pixels. In addition, you want the backdrop somewhat soft, so it doesn’t attract the eye and detract from the trains. 7 MP is good enough.
  • No camera necessary to use sky and scenic textures from GC Textures.

3) 5 Steps to a photo backdrop

  • Take photos (or obtain them on line)
  • Stitch together
  • Compose; adjust color, brightness, contrast, etc.; remove out-of-scale elements; add details
  • Resize
  • Print

4) Taking photos.

  • Seek out vistas with a large expanse of scenery and sky. Alternately large industrial areas.
  • 10 am – 2 pm flat light. Sun at your back, if possible.
  • Avoid wide-angle setting if possible
  • Use panorama or scene mode if available on your camera.
  • Use a tripod, if possible, but hand-hold is OK. Pan level left to right.
  • Overlap each photo by 20%
  • Bracket exposures – it’s only electrons

5) Stitch photos together

  • Never work on your original files
  • Use the software that came with your camera or something like Photoshop Elements (tutorials on line)
  • Set-up the stitch mode. Likely to be pivot rather than shift.
  • Work in raw or TIFF if your camera offers it and your computer can handle it.
  • Consider stitching only 3-5 photos at once. The 20-30 MB file that results will grow awfully large after resizing.
  • Save the stitched file and a copy, do subsequent work on the copy.

6) Compose

  • Trim. Adjust skew, perspective.
  • Save intermediate versions.
  • Adjust color, temperature, brightness, contrast, sharpness. One-step auto-fix, followed by individual adjustments. Remember you have an undo button.
  • Save intermediate versions.
  • Most advanced photo suites have a tool to remove items from the scene, these may, or may not work. Against a backdrop of trees and/or wooded hills, the stamp tool can erase many ills.
  • Save intermediate versions.
  • Add back trees, buildings other detail either photographed or obtained on-line. Scale to fit before inserting.
  • Save intermediate versions.


7) Resize.

  • Resize only after all other adjustments to your panoramic phot have been made.
  • In your photo software, create a canvas at the size of you final print and with the native resolution of your printer (300-600 pixel/inch). Don’t go overboard on the pixel resolution, bigger is not necessarily better.
  • Drop you panoramic shot onto the canvas; move to upper left corner.
  • Use the resize/scaling tool. Lock the picture proportions. Expand in steps 10% at each step. Perfect Resize 7.
  • In the final stages, it will take you computer a LONG time to complete each resizing, be patient. Do it during lunch, overnight, etc. At some point the process may fail on your computer/software combination. Change software, borrow someone’s computer. USB drives are handy for file transfer.
  • A soft image after enlarging is OK, but it should not be not blocky.

8) Print

  • Work, universities often have large format printers.
  • Staples
  • Wal-Mart Photo dept. send-out (20x30, 6 & 8 foot banners)
  • On-line services, (e.g perfectposter.com)
  • Desktop printers to 13x19 and larger by using tiling
  • If your backdrop exceeds the capabilities of the printer that you have access to, then printing the backdrop in ‘tiles’ with or without overlap is possible.
  • Plain paper/ink is OK

Friday, December 23, 2011

LEDs for Layout Lighting?

A basement-filling layout can consume a lot of electricity to light properly. I currently use florescent lighting to illuminate my layout, but even florescents draw a bit of current when they are all on. LED lighting is the up and coming technology but, putting cost aside, are they suitable for layout lighting?

I've been collecting samples of LED bulbs and testing them on my layout and here are some results.

I've been testing 1+ watt LEDs and these do generate some heat and get hot; so hot in fact that the bulbs have built-in heat sinks. Because of how they are constructed, LEDs are good for spotlights, but getting the light to spread is difficult.

Here are some examples:

Here is a car on my layout with the layout lights off, but the room lights turned on. In this picture, the car is illuminated from 30 inches away by a LED bulb containing (4) 1 watt LEDs:


This is what that bulb looks like:


You can see the four 1 watt LEDs. Notice that the light is intense, but limited to an area slightly larger than the car itself.

Next is the same car, same place and same camera position illuminated with a single 3 watt LED spotlight:

3 watt

Here's what that bulb looks like:


This is not exactly a bulb, but a self-contained spotlight. 110V has to be supplied to the two wires, which is easily done with a electrical cord. Electronics in the base converts the 110V to use by the LED. Again the light is bright, but confined.

Here is the car illuminated by a 4 watt LED bulb that looks like a bulb.

4 Watt bulb

Here's what that bulb looks like:


Before you say "Eureka! You've found it"; you need to see what ambient light is like. Here's ambient:


As you can see by comparing with the photo above, this bulb barely illuminates above ambient. It would only be good for mood lighting.

Since the high-powered LED lamps were not acceptable, I decided to try something else. There are bulbs made up of a number of surface mounted device (SMD) LEDs. The one that I chose to try has 60 SMD LEDs on it. Each one of the SMD LEDs contains 3 chips emitting light for a total of 180 LED emitters; color temperature is 6500 K. The bulb looks like this:

Unfortunately this bulb did not work out any better than the others. I could not get a good picture of the light output because the bulb seems to fool the sensor in my camera and the pictures have an strong overall blue tint. That alone would disqualify this bulb for photography purposes. The visual appearance of the light was much like the bulb immediately above, somewhat above ambient illumination. This bulb was mounted into a fixture that had a reflector, so all of the light was directed towards the layout.

Finally here is the scene lighted by a standard 60 watt bulb in the same fixture as the LED bulbs:

60 Watt

The nice, even, soft, well distributed illumination is hard to beat.

This has been somewhat of an apples to oranges comparison inasmuch as two of the LED bulbs were spotlights. But as you can see from the last LED bulbs, diffusing the meager light from an LED results in a very feeble light indeed.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fun with LEDs III

This is a continuation of two previous posts:

Fun with LEDs

Fun with LEDs II

We now have enough knowledge to start connecting LEDs to other things like DCC decoders and signal systems. This can be done in one of two ways, you can use the LED with just a resistor or you can use the 'universal' LED with a resistor and rectifier. There is no drawback to using the simpler LED+resistor for situations, like a DCC decoder, where the polarity of the lighting output is known and constant (users of DCS and TMCC/Legacy will have to determine for themselves whether the light outputs are of constant polarity).

On the other hand, using the universal LED reduces the possibility of error or of accidental damage should the decoder fail the LED can withstand full DCC voltage.

Here's the set up with the 'universal' LED. The decoder is an NCE D13SRJ, which is a basic decoder. Following the DCC color code, the DCC signal is being brought in on the red and black alligator clips; the DCC system driving this is a Lenz Compact, which is my bench DCC system.

The LED is connected to the headlight function output on the blue and white wires coming out of the decoder. Since I do not have a blue alligator clip, I've connected the blue lead via the yellow alligator clip. The blue lead coming out of all decoders is common to all function outputs and it is the POSITIVE lead. By using the universal, rectifier-equipped LED you can ignore the polarity and hook up either wire to either terminal on the rectifier.

Here's the proof in the pudding, the LED lights up:

Here's the set-up with the plain LED+resistor:

And a close-up of the LED hook-up:

In left of the picture above you see the yellow alligator clip connected to the blue lead. The yellow clip is connected, in turn, to the anode of the LED which has the resistor in the lead. If you hook-up this type of LED backwards, you'll likely burn it out; possibly damaging the decoder in the process. I did this once, for this reason I use the rectifier-equipped LEDs, either made by me or those from Evans Designs. The choice is yours, you can do it either way.

A Backdrop for the Cheat River Grade

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I started an ambitious backdrop project - 21+ feet of backdrop for the Cheat River Grade. This backdrop begins before the Tray Run Viaduct and continues until the Kingwood Tunnel. The backdrop will be 42-44 inches at it's deepest. It's supported on 2x4 and 2x3 uprights between the benchwork in the center of the layout. There will be another backdrop on the opposite side, although it will not be as deep.

Here's the first section going up:

Here's a view from the other direction:

Here the second sheet of Masonite, curved appropriately, is in place:

And a view from the other direction:

(Update 12/3) Finished the Masonite (the darker Masonite came from another store):

The joints and screw heads have been spackled. Here's the backside:

Next, I'll design and print a photo backdrop for this site, but that's for another post.