Modelling what might have been in southeast BC and northwest Wasington

Morning Star Mine development 3 – The mountain

More work on the mountain beside the Morning Star Mine. The track was first enclosed inside a cardboard tunnel, with side access, to keep dust and scenery materials off of the track. Then a web is made of cardboard strips, followed by a layer of brown paper to even out the “ribbed” effect from the strips.

Gordie and Tom installing cardboard strips for the mountain.
Looking good.
Tom completing the brown paper overlay.

Lathe saga

I control my track switches with a simple homemade toggle switch mechanism plus micro switches for the frog power. These are operated as simple push-pull using wooden dowels. The front end of the dowel passes through a plastic PVC pipe end cap, so that they are flush with the fascia. I got the idea from Jim Petro in Reno Nevada a number of years back when I operated on his layout during a PCR convention.

The end caps need a bit of work to prepare them for mounting. They have raised lettering on the face that I like to smooth off, and they need a hole drilled in the middle. Plus, I like to roughen up the outer surface using sandpaper so that the glue will stick better. All three operations are easily done on the lathe.

As we extended the fascia arouund through to Carson, I needed a bunch more of these prepared for installation. So, over to my trusty lathe. I used it to clean up about four or five of the caps without a problem, but half-way through the next one, it just stopped suddenly with the belt slipping. Huh, what happened? A quick check with the power off showed the the spindle had frozen solid and simply would not turn. Oh, oh.

Many years ago I was very fortunate to buy the 10″ metal lathe from a friend’s father who had worked for Boeing as a machinist. His hobby had been home-built aircraft of his own design, and he had designed his house with enough room in the basement to assemble them, but I digress….

Just after I purchased the lathe, I disassembled, cleaned, lubricated, and reassembled everything on it except the headstock, as I could see no easy way to do so and everything seemed to be running fine. Some years later, I was able to buy a copy of the user manual for the lathe and it included instructions on how to remove the spindle, only “if it was absolutely necessary”. Well, it now was and I really had nothing to lose, so I gave it a shot. It came out very easily, once you know what to do, which way to unscrew things, and where to apply pressure. The problem was immediately obvious in that the very old grease had simply solidified and jammed the ball bearings. The manual said the the spindle bearings were factory lubed with grease that was supposed to last the life of the machine, but I doubt they were thinking 73 years back then! (It was made in 1946.)

The seized spindle front bearing with hardened 73 year old gunk.
The rear bearing with who knows what sealed inside.
Continue reading “Lathe saga”

Second go at the new ops scheme

Hoping that the new operating scheme’s success last week was not a fluke, we decided to do it all over again on August 3rd, just to be sure, with VanRail only one month away.

If I may say so, I think it was one of the best operating sessions we have ever had on the layout. Lots of cars were in motion, even with 10 extra cars on the layout than before, but with no real tie-ups or confusion. The Grand Forks yard did what it was supposed to do, namely be a place to organize cars when a train is in town, and not be a big storage bucket all of the time. There was even space for two trains to meet and pass, because the siding was not clogged with cars.

Grand Forks yard working as expected and not clogged.
John switching Grand Forks – notice that the yard is not full.
Continue reading “Second go at the new ops scheme”

Shipments versus Car Roles

The original design of my CFS program used the notion of a Shipment, which implemented the basic idea of a shipper sending a load of something to a receiver, much as one would expect. The starting and ending tracks could be either in the modelled network (on the layout) or at virtual tracks in the unmodelled space (behind staging). With this approach, only the loaded segment of a car’s journey is defined, regardless of if it is heading in to or out from the modelled layout. Every car’s assignment will always include at least one segment that is done empty, either to supply a car to a shipper to be loaded, or to return an unloaded empty car back home, or both. With a Shipment having only information for the loaded segment, the other segment(s) must be generated using some sort of rules. The various rules tried so far have been less than entirely satisfactory, and this has led to some unfortunate side effects in terms of not being able to shape car movements in desirable ways.

A good example of this problem is when a car is supplied to a modelled shipper. The car will usually come from one of the staging tracks, but which one? The shipment is silent about where a car comes from, or where it returns to. When restaging a car, we may not want the selection process to consider all staging tracks equally, as that may have ramifications on car interchanges, flow through yards, etc. It would be better if there was a way to influence this selection process by having relative weights on the different choices, so that some are more likely to be selected than others. This allows for some oddball routing for variety, but the bulk of the selections will be what we expect.

Similarly, the choice of which way to route an empty car towards home suffers from the same problem. While there are lots of prototype rules around this, the reality on a model railroad is that we may have to coerce the routing so that parts of the layout do not get overloaded. Again, having a weighting scheme would help.

A simple solution to both problems is to define a complete life cycle for each shipment, including car supply, freight movement, and empty return. Each role is given a weighting that can be used when selecting from otherwise equal and suitable choices. For example, car routings that do not involve interchange to other railroads may be given a higher weighting and therefore are more likely to be selected than ones that have interchange, thereby minimizing cars having to be switched through a yard.

This new notion is called a “Role” for now, so that it can coexist with the current Shipments, but the name may get changed back to just “Shipment” after the original Shipment concept has been completely removed from the code.

One major benefit of this approach is that car life cycles that are more complicated than just a simple supply, freight, and return sequence become very easy to implement, as the role will simply have more segments to be followed. Think of a reefer needing to be iced before it is loaded. It really needs to make two stops for “loading”, one for ice, and the other for the actual load. This new simpler scheme eliminates the need for convoluted rules to handle the extra car movements. It now becomes very easy to include some unusual shipments that should get selected only very infrequently, simply by giving them low weights.

In order to implement this change in the program, significant code must be changed, which will be a big job as the results must be checked carefully to make sure that it really is working as expected. Results from early testing look very promising.

Stay tuned….