Sunday, May 31, 2015


Inevitably for me, following the visible progress of roadbed construction and track laying, the next necessary step—wiring—always seems to be a “downer.”  Nonetheless, wiring is essential to making the magic of trains run.  My prior post on wiring my railroad ( discussed why it seems to take longer for me to get track into operation.  I am happy to report basic track wiring has been accomplished on the mountain grade!

I distribute my DCC boosters around the layout to minimize power and DCC signal losses.  This results in a “station panel” associated with each of the boosters.  The panel for Wicopee and Cruzatte is about as basic as such panels get for my railroad.  The detection block wiring for a station is gathered into a pair of terminal strips.  These are fed by a circuit breaker, which receives power from the DCC booster.   Space is left on the station panel for subsequent installation of block detection circuit boards and power switch machine control boards.  For now, all the blocks get jumpered together.

Station panel for Wicopee and Cruzatte.

One issue addressed in locating the DCC boosters around the layout has been the installation of the NCE Control Bus between boosters.  This is a four-conductor cable that uses RJ-H connectors at each end.  NCE supplies a short cable with each booster, but longer cable runs are up to the end-user.  Unfortunately, four-conductor flat cable and RJ-H connectors have vanished from regular consumer supply houses.  My solution has been to run Cat5e cable between booster locations, splicing half of the NCE-supplied cable onto each end. 

Cable connections to the DCC booster for Wicopee and Cruzatte.  The green wire is a ground needed among the boosters.  The gray wire laying on top of the booster is the Cat5e cabled that has the NCE-supplied short cable spliced onto the end. 

NCE specifies a “daisy chain” set of connections from one booster to the next.  My chain begins with the command station under Springfield, passes through the boosters for Eugene Depot and Oakridge and now connects to the large booster for the Eugene Arrival/Departure Yard—the staging loop in the “back room.”  From this large booster, the command bus snakes back to a corner, up the wall and out on the upper level to the booster for Crescent Lake (upper level staging).  The command bus then has to back track to begin working it’s way out to the booster for Cascade summit and McCredie Springs.  Finally, the last leg extends around to the booster for Wicopee and Cruzatte.  A look at my track plan will give you an idea of where these locations are in my basement space.

With all of the cables run through the layout and end connections made, it was time to see if I got it together right.  My pair of Athearn GP35s that seem so handy for these check out tasks, got called upon once again.  They are seen in the photo below.  Look closely, you will see the headlight is on! 

Locomotive check out of wiring to the track at Wicopee.  The headlight is on and it runs!

I am getting very close to actually running over the full mainline!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


The Espee in Oregon Meet was held in Toledo, Oregon, May 15 & 16.  The major draw of this meet was the Georgia Pacific paper mill that serves as the motivation for the continuation of the railroad Toledo Branch.  This is the same branch that runs through the lower campus of Oregon State University in Corvallis—my home town.

The meet began on Friday with a tour through the Georgia Pacific paper mill.  Sadly, GP policy forbade cameras, so the only photos I have are from the public area outside the security gate.  The tour briefing was informative, filling in a couple of gaps in my knowledge base.  The paper mill was built in 1956-57 as an adjunct to the former C.D. Johnson sawmill purchased by GP.  The sawmill is no more, but paper production continues.

Georgia Pacific paper mill in Toledo, Oregon.

The GP paper mill in Toledo produces corrugated box paper—both the outer faces and the interior liner that is corrugated.  That is a business that continues with the changing marketplace for paper products.  GP uses 50 percent recycled material (mostly cardboard) in their current process.  The remainder of the fiber for the paper comes from the Kraft process (chemicals and heat) applied to wood chip fiber.  This contrasts to the thermal-mechanical process used by SP Fiber Technology (newsprint is the product) seen during last year’s tour at Newberg, OR.

The rest of the paper process looked familiar.  Indeed, last year’s tour was good background for this year’s tour.  The tour completed with a demonstration of rol-dumping RR chip gondolas.  GP’s chip dump is across the Yaquina River in the former loading shed of the CD Johnson sawmill.  A conveyor system transports the chips over to the paper mill site.  The old industrial switcher, used at the mill since 1951, was present but is no longer used. 

Friday afternoon provided time for layout tours and a tour of the Toledo Railroad Museum.  My first stop was with the museum.  I have visited here before, getting a copy of one of the few photos of the SP “Beanery” at Cascade Summit.  The museum’s highlight is their restored baggage-RPO car.  It is a great example of a working Railway Post Office. 

SP Baggage-RPO at the Toledo Railroad Museum.

My second stop also was in Toledo at the home and layout of a former charter member of my former model railroad club in California.  Both of us escaped to Oregon.  Jim uses mostly DC-analog for control using his PFM Sound unit.  I also toured a club layout in Newport.  The evening’s activities centered around an “open” slide projector.

Jim W.’s layout.

Saturday’s agenda had a number of presentations.  The important “local interest” presentation was by Lloyd Palmer and Mike Y. on the bridges on the Toledo Branch.  The SP upgraded the line in 1958 to handle the heavier traffic for the then-new paper mill.  The SP used a number of former turntable bridges, repurposed as railroad bridges, for the many crossings of the Mary’s and Yaquina Rivers. 

The evening’s presentations included a video shot on the Cascade Line featuring snow removal service.  The concluding presentation was by Bob Morris (aka “Photo Bob”) with a lot of his photography around Dunsmuir, CA, at the south end of the Cascade-Shasta Line (and the original main line).  Bob claimed this was the first time he had done a projected photo show (he works with photo prints).  He had us in stitches with laughter.

The Espee in Oregon Meets give me an opportunity to catch up with friends with a common interest and to add to my knowledge of railroading—particularly the SP—in Oregon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Now that the benchwork has been built, subroadbed and roadbed installed, and track laid on the mountain grade, it has been time to wire the new track.  I began with a pair of stations that have been sitting dormant for some time—Cascade Summit and McCredie Springs.  Cascade Summit actually has a fair bit of track that demands more wiring and switch machines.  I spent two weeks installing switch machines and wiring and have yet to complete Cascade Summit.

As I operated on another large, under-construction, nearby layout this weekend, I had an opportunity to reflect on differences in wiring philosophies of the two layouts.  The other layout is “dark territory”—no signals, so the wiring is fairly simple.  It really does approach the old (disproven) saying that with DCC one only needs to connect two wires and go.  My layout is not so fortunate.  It has a wiring plan that rivals a complex DC-analog layout with many separate blocks.  Contrasting the relatively simple wiring of the other layout to my own monster led me to reflect on design and construction choices I have made.

One big design difference already alluded to is that my railroad is designed to have a full signaling and Centralized Traffic Control (CTC).  The prototype SP Cascade Line had CTC installed in 1955.  Prior to that, the line was signaled using Absolute Permissive Block (APB) signals.  During the design process for my layout, I recognized that CTC would be a significant labor saving control system, just as the real railroad found.  The earlier system used Timetable and Train Order (TT&TO) control, which depends upon multiple trackside train order operators.  I have observed that model railroad TT&TO operations run “best” when multiple train order operators are used and most train crews use two persons (engineer and conductor).  That certainly is true of the other layout I operated on this weekend.  CTC allows me to eliminate the train order operator position and staff road crews with just an engineer.  This would be critical for operations with a modest number of crew members present, hence my design decision to prepare for CTC installation.

Wiring for full signaling, especially using CTC, greatly increases the number of separately wired track blocks.  A simple mountain siding on my railroad—the basic building block—has seven separate track blocks:  main, siding, “OS blocks” at each end (basically the switches), the mainline east and west of the siding, and a house track—the company spur for maintenance of way and other railroad uses.  By way of contrast, that simple “dark” railroad could include all of that trackage as part of a single power block.  A simple automatic block signal system would still need four blocks.  The result for me is a lot of separate wires running underneath my roadbed.

Underside of a piece of McCredie Springs.  Separate track block lines are for (front to rear) house, main, siding, OS-West and mainline west.  Powered frog and switch machine control wires still need to be connected to the switch motor terminal block. 

Another design and construction choice I have made is to power the switch frogs.  This is the area of a track switch where one side’s rail crosses over the other rail as the route diverges.  Left un-insulated, this would cause a short circuit.  Some modelers choose to leave the area unpowered, relying on multiple wheels of a locomotive for power pick-up on either side of the “dead” frog section.  Instead, I choose to power the frog, but this requires switching the polarity of the frog with the switch position.  I use a set of contacts on the switch machine for this function.  It is a simple wiring step, but it takes a little bit of time that adds up.  My experience with a variety of small locomotives, especially small steam locos with small tenders, convinced me of the need to power the frogs.

In a somewhat related vein, I chose to build my railroad with a feeder to every piece of rail on the layout.  Actually, a few two-inch sections are connected to another rail through soldered rail joiners, but the basic rule remains.  The reason for this is that nickel silver rail has a higher resistance per foot (more voltage drop) than copper wire.  One needs to minimize the voltage drops on the railroad to get the best performance and to ensure the circuit breakers protecting the electronics can operate correctly and quickly when a short is detected.

I have found as I build, wire, trouble-shoot, and operate this railroad that I need to break up yard tracks into several logical electrical blocks.  I have found it best to wire yard switch ladders as separate blocks, perhaps as two separate blocks for many tracks.  The other end of the yard needs the same treatment.  The body tracks can be one big electrical block, but I have found I need to wire no more than four tracks across to a single wire bus line.  Having separate blocks helps with trouble-shooting.

Taking the many separate electrical block construction philosophy another step, I have found the logical groupings of blocks also helps with “short management.”  DCC is much less tolerant of shorts than DC-analog.  The circuit breakers we use for DCC short protection nearly instantly shut down the track they feed when they detect a short.  I find myself thinking somewhat the way I did with DC-analog by providing a separate circuit-breaker-protected set of tracks for each switch crew in a yard.  Yes, there are times when two crew will share such a power district, but having switch ladders at opposite ends of a yard separately protected keeps one crew working while another deals with the short they just created.  I have yet to feed the two ends of my Eugene classification yard through separate circuit breakers, but the basic track wiring will make that a simple change.

Eugene Yard Panel.  Currently, the depot tracks are fed from one circuit breaker and the classification yard has one other circuit breaker.  I plan to add two more circuit breakers for the yard ladders at each end, leaving the body tracks on a third circuit.

DCC signal conditioning can be an issue, particularly for long wire runs.  A rule of thumb is that DCC signal condition becomes an issue for wire runs greater than thirty feet from a booster.  I addressed some of this concern by distributing boosters around the layout.  This reduces the length of wire running from any given booster to the track it feeds.  It also means I have to walk around the layout turning on the boosters when I turn on the railroad.  This also means I must run booster command bus wires to the distributed boosters and run a grounding wire among all of the boosters.  More wire. 

Even with my distributed boosters, I still have some long wire runs.  An answer to some of this length is a “snubber”—a simple resistor-capacitor circuit across the rails.  This is fine for “dark” territory, but the snubber defeats track occupancy detection.  A partial answer for me is to install the snubber for a long wire run just before the pair of track wires needs to separate for detection.  The snubber is on the booster side of a track detector.  This means I need to distribute a number of track block detectors—close to the detected track—rather than collecting them all at a central station panel. 

All of this adds up to a lot of wiring work.  This most definitely is NOT “run two wires and you are done” connection!  I could have simplified a lot of wiring just to get trains rolling, but I still would need to wire the way I am to support signaling.  Since signals are an important part the prototype railroad I am modeling, I just need to get on with it.  Wiring for signaling now will save a lot of effort and heartache later.