In the layout room, nobody can hear you scream

Tornado (Cyclone) hit Parsons Shops - 1903


The Industrial Park Upgrade Project Continues


Sweet Green at Glen Park!

Glen Park about 1983, or so I was told

Major upgrade in the works for NFIP!

Things are about to get AWESOME at the New Franklin Industrial Park!

My buddy, Joe, has graciously spent some of his valuable winter vacation time crafting this incredible ladder to replace the Peco turnouts currently installed!

Stand by for additional updates!



Video trailer for the new Katy book!

Excellent video on painting small figures

Predecessor to the Missouri River Lift Bridge

This photo was taken from the north side of the Missouri River (Howard County, Missouri), south of Franklin Yard.

It is looking south across the river to Boonville (Cooper County, Missouri. Probably taken in 1931 or so.

John W. Barringer III National Railroad Library

John Barringer was a Katy President and railroad enthusiast.

Established in 1984 as a special collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library, the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library stands today as one of North America’s largest and finest railroad history collections. Named after the noted twentieth century railroad executive, John W. Barriger, III (1899-1976), whose collection forms its heart, the Library has grown to become a major resource for the history of railroad business and technology as well as for the study of railroading’s multidimensional influence on the American economy, society and culture.

Mr. Barriger took his camera with him as he investigated railroads as part of this work with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and later as the President of the Monon, P&LE, Katy and Boston and Maine Railroads.

The online library contains nearly 35,000 railroad photos from his travels.

Click here to go to the FLICKR library site

Paola, Kansas depot

Boonville, Missouri depot

Likely the depot at Franklin Yard

Action on the Mighty MKT

MKT layout train meet
A westbound freight runs by the Rhineland turn working at Westinghouse.

Westbound freight passing Rocchport bluffs. Franklin yard drill track in the foreground.

Intermodal train DSL passing through Boonville, with the Union Pacific local working in the background.

Drone Footage of Boonville Bridge

Drone footage!

Katie Bridge at Sunset

Last train to cross the Boonville Bridge

Boonville Bridge Video

Anniversary of the UP-MKT Merger


Today, 29 years ago, the Missouri-Kansas-Texas and Union Pacific Railroad merger was finalized.

I recently came across a flyer describing the Katy Merger, and found it very interesting. The photos are a bit blurry, so I have transcribed the text:

Why is Union Pacific acquiring Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad?
The M-K-T, commonly call the Katy, is a vital part of Union Pacific's main route between Kansas and Texas because of trackage rights agreements. Those agreements allow Union Pacific trains to run on Katy tracks. Because of Katy's increasingly difficult financial situation, Union Pacific is concerned about the future of those tracks. UP has trackage rights on 380 miles of Katy lines. Katy also has rights on some Unopn Pacific routes.

If Union Pacific has such trackage rights, why is a merger necessary?
The merger is critical for M-K-T. Already in a weak financial position, Katy faces a multitude of competitive pressures. Survival of M-K-T is vital to Union Pacific and to shippers in the Katy service area.

If Union Pacific has such trackage rights, why is a merger necessary?
There are significant differences in the competitive aspects between this merger and the parallel Santa Fe-Southern Pacific merger. While the Santa Fe-Southern Pacific merger would have reduced rail service to only one carrier in several markets without trackage rights for other railroads, no such major loss of competition will happen in UP-Katy service areas.

Won't a merger between Union Pacific and M-K-T reduce competition and cause increased rates?
Following the merger at least two and in some cases, three separate and independent rail systems will provide service between major points in Missouri, Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma where UP and M-K-T operate. In addition there is substantial truck and barge operation in these markets.

What other railroads serve the M-K-T territory?
Other carriers in the market are are Kansas City Southern, Burlington Northern, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific.

How will the merger help Katy shippers?
Union Pacific will upgrade and improve maintenance of Katy. Upgrading will involve rail programs, tie renewals and improvements to the signal system. Without the merger M-K-T could not make these needed improvements. A well-maintained railroad will benefit shippers through more reliable, efficient and safer service. Katy shipper will also gain single system service to West Coast ports, more Gulf Coast ports and major additional Midwestern gateways including Chicago and Memphis, and single line service to Mexico. They will also have access to Union Pacific's vastly larger freight car fleet (6,000 M-K-T cars compared with 77,600 cars on the Union Pacific). Union Pacific's financial strength will give M-K-T shippers long range transportation stability.

Will the merger benefit Union Pacific shippers?
The merger will guarantee key routes between the Midwest and the Gulf will be preserved and maintained to UP standards. The shorter routes will benefit Union Pacific shippers in parts of Kansas. For example Union Pacific will be able to reduce the distance between Salina, Kansas, in the middle of the grain belt, and Fort Worth by 118 miles.

Doe the merger include the former Rock Island line from Salina south to Dallas?
Yes. The merger includes the former Rock Island route now known as the Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas Railroad (OKT).

Will there be any abandonment as a result of the merger?
There is extensive overlap of operations and service between Union Pacific and Katy. Some segments of both Union Pacific and Katy will be abandoned. Other segments will simply change from primary to secondary main lines.

What will happen to employees whose positions are eliminated?
The merger will result in a substantial reduction in force. Employees whose positions are eliminated will likely be entitled to a variety of severance options. These options may include early retirement, severance payments, and in some instances, New York Dock labor protection routinely imposed by the Interstate Commerce Commission as a condition to the approval of railroad mergers.

What are the terms of the agreement?
Union Pacific will pay $110 million for the Katy and will assume $256 million in outstanding debts.

Why was the plan to acquire the Katy announced, then cancelled?
Union Pacific had reached an agreement in 1985 to acquire the Katy, but the deal was cancelled when the Katy was unable to acquire a specified number of registered certificates that had been issued when the railroad was reorganized in 1958. Under the terms of the certificates, the M-K-T is prohibited from paying dividends until 60 percent of the certificates are redeemed. A new offer to acquire a sufficient number of certificates has succeeded, allowing the agreement to go forward.

When will the merger take place?
By statue, the Interstate Commerce Commission has up to 31 months to act following the filing of a merger application. The application to acquire the Katy was filed Nov 14, 1986. Union Pacific requested the commission adopt an expedited schedule. The commission has approved this request with hearings scheduled to begin August 3, 1987. A decision is expected in early 1988.


Never a problem on the Mighty MKT

Dont run trains like slot cars2

I sure hope the dispatcher doesn't have OCD.



Recap - June 10 Operation Session

The Springfield/Bella Vista group, hard at work on the Mighty MKT. East Rhineland is in the foreground.

We approach perfection asymptotically.

I’ve been in a operation state of mind lately. I recently hosted the nice folks from Springfield and Bella Vista (Missouri and Arkansas). After all the work it takes to prepare for an operations session (including the track and wheel cleaning and the preparation of session snacks), I decided, upon the generally successful completion of the session, to call another in two weeks. The train room was clean, the crew lounge was clean, the track was clean – so I wanted to strike again while the iron was hot (soldering iron?).

A crazy thing happened prior to the first session. I was at peace. Sure, I had a several items on my to-do list, but I diligently worked on them and crossed them off one by one. I was ready. The layout was ready.

The session had its usual number of glitches. The DCC short beepers went off way too often for my satisfaction (I use the CVP Products ZoneShare products, and have the layout divided into eight zones, each using a separate tone to indicate a shorting condition). Most of those shorts were caused by train engineers running into turnouts thrown against them. Operators paying more attention will cure that.

A couple of signal aspects were found to be backwards (red for green, and vice versa), and those were easily corrected in the hour after the session, thanks to my detailed wiring and logic notebooks. It was a quick fix in JMRI to correct swap red and green aspects. I will watch the signals closely next session to make sure that they are correct.

I had a couple of logic glitches on the dispatcher panel, the most obvious being that the St. Charles autoramp tunout was being thrown when the East Boonville turnout was set for the siding!! This was an obvious programming error on my part, since they are in no way connected. After the session, it was quick work to pull up those turnout configuration and, sure enough, I had somehow inadvertently told JMRI to throw the autoramp turnout along with the siding turnout. Go figure! It was a quick fix.

The most frustrating aspect of the session, was the period “glitches” experienced by the dispatching panel that would blink the display, then lose all block occupancy for an instant, then correct. However, it was just enough to allow the block tracking variable to lose their train identification. The behavior was observed at a previous session, and I had planned for it by building a separate screen/panel, that could quickly restore the trains whenever the dispatching panel “glitched”.

The glitching behavior occurred several times during the session, and I determined to locate the cause and fix it before the next session. I recalled that it had not originally glitched and that these errors were a recent phenomenon. My Consultant for all things electrical (Joe from Kasper Electronics) suggested that it may be either a bad USB/485 dongle or bad RS422 chips on the SUSIC. I swapped out the SUSIC with a spare I have, and the glitching behavior went away! I now have several replacement RS422 chips on order from Digikey.

Another item that had bothered me from the session was that we couldn’t see the status of the east St. Charles turnout on the screen. The turnout is wired to that the block show occupied. Several times during the session my Ace Dispatcher (Joe) commented “Why is that block still showing occupied? The train left long ago!” It was a thrown turnout at east St. Charles. We couldn’t see that the turnout was thrown on the screen. So I wired an input line to the spare set of contacts on the torti (the other set of contacts being used to power the frogs) and, with a little bit of coding, we now can see the status of the turnout on the dispatcher’s screen. It’s the CMRI difference, baby!

The point is that, little by little, I am whittling down the irksome and bothersome items on the layout. And as the irksome items become less and less, my anxiety level also drops.

Who knows, maybe someday I will be able to actually enjoy a session on my layout!

That's what I'd call a full torti. The outer two wires (pins 1 and 8) drive the throwbar. Pins 2, 3, and 4 power-route the DCC signal to the turnout frog. Pins 5 and 6 are fed back to the CMRI to toggle an input line that is read by JMRI to animate the East St. Charles Industries turnout on the dispatcher's screen.

Poor quality image of the new animation of the East St. Charles Industries turnout

Anybody know anything about these?

MKT Trucks

email me if you can provide some background info.

In the presence of greatness...

There is a scene in Kung Fu, a TV show from the early '70s that goes something like this:

Master Po: Close your eyes. What do you hear?

Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.

Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?

Caine: No.

Po: Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?

Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?

Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

Do you ever marvel at the skills of a master? It may be a musician, or a chef, or a tai chi practitioner. They have refined their art to such an extent that each movement seems to be effortless and so logical. You think, after watching them for a while, that you, too, could step up and play like that, cook like that, do the form like that. Then you make the attempt (if you make the attempt), and you fail. Miserably, completely.

It's not that you don't have potential, not that the desire is lacking, but that you have put in the hours, months, YEARS of practice needed to make such a thing look so simple and effortless.

In high school, I got a guitar for my birthday. It was a very nice guitar, with a beautiful satin finish, and quality components. But there was a problem - the frets buzzed. I was a beginner on the guitar, but every time I played it, the frets made a buzzing sound. Passing the music store one day, I dropped in to talk to the staff.

"How is the new guitar?", they asked.

"It looks great," I replied, "but the frets buzz."

"How odd. Bring it in and we can file down the frets a bit", they said.

A week or so later, my father dropped the guitar off to get the frets filed down. He brought it back to me a few days later, and I took a few strums on the now-fixed guitar, The frets still buzzed.

I was frustrated.

So Dad and I went back to the store, and Dad said, "Look, this guitar has buzzing frets and you said you would fix it, but my son says it's still buzzing."

"How odd," said the sales fellow, a hippie drummer/guitar player that worked there. "Let me give it a try." The hippie took my buzzing guitar and played several minutes of the sweetest guitar music I had ever heard. With nary a buzz the entire time.

It was me, or rather my poor technique, that was causing the guitar to buzz. Red-faced, I grabbed the guitar, thanked the hippie for his time, and followed my dad to the car.

I learned a big lesson that day - If you fail to accomplish a task, it is likely an internal rather than external road block. Don't be too quick to blame external forces, or your tools, for failure to accomplish what you are trying to do.

The masters have practiced, practiced, practiced, correcting their form, making tiny adjustments, slowly, over time, until the result is a beautiful product.

Which brings me to my buddy, Joe.

I'm not sure of his formal title (Savant may be part of it), but he troubleshoots and repairs electronical devices for a living. And not just any electronical devices either; he fixes medical equipment like X-ray machines, and catheter labs, and various other doctor doo-daddery that, you know, KEEPS YOU ALIVE! Not only does he do this for a living, but he is the MAN, the go-to guy, the top dog, the big kahuna or, as they say in the medical business, the SHIZZ.

Oh, and he sometimes helps me on my layout.

Now I need to explain that Joe gets more accomplished on my layout in an hour than I do in a week of puttering. I've watched him in action - he uses the same tools as I do - soldering iron, solder, wire, files, opti-visor, rum. Yet, in his hands, those tools create beautiful things - perfectly shiny solder joints; tight wraps around crisply exposed bus wire; squarely mounted tortimusses with ramrod straight throw rods; and my favorite - finely prepared turnout throw bars, installed with perfect spacing and electrical isolation.

Joe is the Master Po of railroad wiring.

And I know how he does it. I can see him do it. But I can't duplicate it. Joe's efficiency and artistry comes from literally years of practice, every day fixing devices that are infinitely more complicated than anything we have on our layouts. He has developed instinctive troubleshooting procedures that allow hime to observe a situation, diagnose the problem, develop a remedy, and implement the fix. His efficiency is born out of a thousand repetitions of problem-solving, similar to the thousands of hours practicing to become a maestro.

By comparison, my attempts are clumsy. Oh, they will suffice, for a while (unsoldered twisted wire can maintain electrical contact for nearly 20 years…ask me how I know that). If you look under my layout, you can see where Joe has been - the solder joints are cleaner, the wiring layout is straighter, no solid wire in sight.

Joe is Master Po to my grasshopper, Obi Wan Kenobi to my Luke, Gandalf to my Bilbo, Spock to my Kirk, Chen Man Ching to my Ben Lo.

And I will continue to observe, and learn, and marvel, at the work of my very own Master Po - Master Joe.

I searched for "frog juicer" on eBay...

Cute, but I can't see where to attach the wires.

How I keep calm before an operations session

Here's what I do when I'm not modeling:

(By the way, that is NOT me doing the form)

LCC Project on Rick's Frisco Layout

I've been fortunate to be involved in a fun and entertaining on my good friend Rick's terrific Friso layout. We are installing hardware

resize_LCC II
Some of the hardware from RR-CitKits that will be used on Rick's LCC project

resize_LCC IV
The signals have been installed, awaiting wiring

resize_LCC III
Overview of the wye that comprises the plant to be signaled.

resize_LCC 1
Bret attempts to get the electrons to flow in the proper direction, while he dreams of his next Hawaiian vacation. Rick looks on approvingly, but he is silently thinking of his Rainbow Brite collection

Great MKT photo album!

Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad by John F. Bjorklund

Click here to go to the Flickr album

Depots of Kansas


I recently stumbled on this great site, showing depots of Kansas. Most have been repurposed or abandoned.

Click here to go to the depots of Kansas Site.

Drone footage of 25-car intermodal train north of Wichita, Kansas

LCC Clinic: Build a layout!

Three hours of LCC goodness. Takes you through the entire process of adding blocks, turnouts, and signals.

Not for the faint of heart!

For your viewing pleasure

Sofie Vergara attempting to ride an inflatable bull in a swimming pool.

Is this a great country or what?

Im getting very good at it😂🐃 #Ihaveallsummer😒

A post shared by Sofia Vergara (@sofiavergara) on

A layout for the computer literate

It's the little things

Screenshot 2017-04-12 21.58.38
East Franklin Yard Entrance is now detected - the track displays yellow when occupied

I've been working on the JMRI panels lately, adding more functionality and user-friendly features.

One feature that I've wanted for a while, ever since I added train logging on the main screen, is to put block detection on the entrance tracks at Franklin Yard. With the entrance tracks detected, the dispatcher can then enter a train identifier so that the train will be tracked across the main screen

Tonight, I wired the east entrance, and set up the CMRI sensors and JMRI logic code to make it work. I will cocninue with the west entrance track tomorrow (hopefully). This should enhance the dispatcher user experience!

An oldie but a goodie!


The Autorack Project


I’ve been working on several projects for the Mighty MKT this spring. Following a generally successful operating session in early March, I had several items added to the old to-do list.

Autorack upgrades – I have two autorack trains that work the autoramp facility at St. Charles, then travel across the layout. My autoracks are the ConCor racks that came out in the early 2000’s and, at the time, were enthusiastically snapped up by N-scalers hungry for racks. They looked fine, but seemed a bit light and top-heavy; they would wobble a bit on the rails. A fellow in England (Alan Curtis) developed a new metal car bottom that would add weight and move the lower center of gravity to improve tracking and reduce the wobble. The upgrade kits are now available from NScaleKits insert URL

Elite Operator and good friend, Joe, had upgraded several of his autoracks with the new bottoms, and was happy with them. Years, ago, I had purchased several kits, but hadn’t installed them, so the project lingered on the to-do list for a long time. In December, I decided that the time had come to complete the upgrade.

The instructions say to cut out the original bottoms with a jeweler’s saw, but that did not work very well for me – the blade kept wandering and my cuts were not straight. I decided to remove the carefully bottom with a box cutter blade. I drilled holes in the corners of the cars, then repeatedly (carefully!) passed the blade along the wall/floor joint until the plastic was cut through. A little bit of filing on the corners and edges and VOILA! the car was ready for the new floor.
The floors were easily installed using CA and accelerator. You need to be careful to not bend the floor or it will tilt the later-installed coupler up or down.

I have upgraded about 12 of the autoracks, with ten or so more to go. A few have couple alignment issues, which I am dealing with on a case by case basis using styrene shims. The time invested in this project has need significant, so much that I question that the results are worth it. Although a complete upgrade to MicroTrains of Red Caboose autoracks (which are AWESOME) would cost nearly $800. I guess a bit of my time is worth $800.


Glen Park is coming back to life!

My good buddy, Joe, has an awesome N-scale Burlington Northern layout. No, awesome doesn't do it justice, but once you hit 'awesome', any other adjective just seems superfluous ('Super-awesome'? 'Awesome-squared'? 'Awesome times infinity plus 1'?)

Joe's great layout is centered around Kansas City, and he has shown the good taste and wisdom to include the MKT's Glen Park Yard in his design.

After much begging and cajoling from the local MKT fans (excluding your humble correspondent, who is WAY too cool for such things), Joe, starting last fall and continuing over the holidays, commenced construction on the Glen Park design and track.

During original construction of the layout, he had set aside this portion of the benchwork for the yard, so every time I ran a train south out of Murray Yard toward Lenexa, I cried bitter tears at the bare homeosote that should be filled with sweet Katy love. And now it is! Or soon will be.

The pictures below show the Glen Park track in its current state - all track is installed; the magnificent Kasper MKVII, Rev 2 turnouts have been built and installed; the torti are installed and connected to some awesome Kasper MK III diode matrices. The area is awaiting fascia and car card boxes. Then we can rock out with our sock out like it was 1990 all over again!

Take a look at the track and Joe's handiwork below:

Glen Park - East End
The east end of Glen Park. The BN double main is to the right.

Glen Park - ladder and engine service
East end of Glen Park, including locomotive service tracks and the east ladder.

Glen Park - West end ladder
The west end of Glen Park, showing the Ash Grove industry tracks in the foreground, and Bunge Elevator tracks in the background.

Approaching Perfection Asymptotically

I once heard a live-aboard sailboat owner lament, "With ownership comes maintenance". Truer words have never been spoken.

Having a layout is fun(ish), but keeping a layout in good running shape is a non-ending endeavor. Non-layout owners, by and large, don't get this. They seem to think that you open up the doors of your layout room on operating night and "VOILA!", it is all magically pristine, with superbly clean track, and mirror-bright clean wheels.

Not so.

Maintenance is an on-going task, particularly on a DCC N-scale layout. Our locos don't (yet) benefit from the "keep-alive" capacitor unit that the HO fellows have. (But I'm not bitter!)

After each session, I generate a list of maintenance items that must be completed before I'll schedule the next session. Most are minor (low coupler, dirty track, etc.), but some require that the experts be brought int.

Such is the case of the misbehaving turnout at Boonville. I have an original (non-Kasper MKVII, rev2 - GASP!) turnout at west Boonville that often did not throw completely back to straight track after being thrown for the siding. The throw bar was just a tiny bit short and would catch on the rail, keeping the points from throwing all the way. No amount of filing or tweaking (not twerking, eww) would resolve the problem. In desperation, I implored my friend, Joe, expert turnout maker-betterer, to come have a look.

His diagnosis confirmed my worst fears - my entire layout sucks.

But specifically, that throwbar at west Boonville sucks more than acceptable, and must be replaced. So out comes the suck reduction tools and Joe gets to work.

An hour later, Joe looks up from the patient and says, "I call the time of death at 6:52 pm". No, he actually says, "Boom! Done!" (or something like that). And now the west Boonville turnout works perfectly. Many thanks to Joe!!!
Throw bar
Thanks to my buddy, Joe, the official Grand Poobah of track maintenance on the Mighty MKT, a new mo' betta' throw bar gets installed at the West Boonville turnout. As Joe likes to point out, retrofitting parts into a scenicked and signaled layout is a "special kind of Hell".

It's gift-shopping time!


Database of cars from days gone by


I came across this link in the online model train literature recently and am compelled to share it.

It is a flickr feed of cars from the American Car and Foundry (ACF) Company. The photos are part of the John W. Barringer III National Railroad Library photostream.

Great pics of a variety of cars from the past. It is a terrific modeling resource for those that model rail cars from the 1930's.

Link to photos


A simpler time, a simpler place...

Great video of grain operations in Canada:

Grain Elevator, Charles Konowal, National Film Board of Canada

Thanksgiving - Things for which I am thankful

I had a nice Thanksgiving with all the family. We ate tons of food and played some fun games. And we did our best to prop up the economy on Black Friday.

We all should take some time out and consider those things for which we are thankful. I'm thankful for many things: elastic bands in pants, radial tires, 24-hour ATMs, you know, the usual things.

But I am also thankful for my buddy, Joe. Sunday after Thanksgiving, Joe took mercy on me and offered to help me with a couple of misbehaving turnouts on the Mighty MKT. We call that "removing suck" on the layout, of which the St. Louis Sub has plenty.

Joe is a master at sussing out the problem (he does that for a living, so he's literally a pro at it). And he knows his way around a NMRA track gauge (a skill that comes in handy with the babes). It's a real treat to watch the master at work, complete with the attendant cussing, exhortations, and finally joy, that accompanies the task.

So, let's all lift another glass of eggnog to the people in our lives that help us out when we need it - people like JOE!

Joe is hard at it, removing suck on the Mighty MKT!

Joe in the "zone"

Me, after all the Thanksgiving food I ate


Yoda brings it!

I know that it's not railroad or modeling related, but I just HAD to post this video of Yoda schooling Luke on Dagoba.

Great photos of 1980 railfanning in KC

I model 1984, and this recently posted video of photos showing train activity in Kansas City in 1980 is a real treasure!

How I'm gonna feel when the Intermountain SD40-2s arrive!

Tanks for the Memories


Some new rolling stock arrived in the mail the other day, perfect for the Safety-Kleen waste recycling and transfer facility at St. Charles.

These are special run cars from Pacific Western Rail Systems. They are very nice, but MAN! they are expensive. Now I'm usually not one to complain about the price of our great hobby, but I must admit that I squealed a little bit when I got the bill for these cars. Just a little bit.

They do look good, though. And they will see good use on the layout.

For when you are working on benchwork


Autumn is here!


More progress on the JMRI Panel


I've made a lot of progress on the JMRI panel since last time, adding most of the remaining on-layout signals to the panel, and latching the panel logic to the C/MRI hardware to light the signals on the layout. The hardware logic is a bit of an iterative process, since the data entry is manual and the software is pretty finicky about get the correct address entered to light the LEDs!

I'm using a simple ABS signaling logic, which is perfect for my needs. I'm losing a bit of functionality at the moment. For example, the C/MRI signals will knock down to red on any change, delay a tick, then show the proper aspect…the JMRI signals do not have this feature. It's the ability to program in those neat features that I really miss in the JMRI system. But I'm really digging the look of the panel, so, to paraphrase Clarke of "Lewis and Clarke" fame, I will "proceed on".

But is it modeling?


After my op session on Wednesday, I had several new items on my layout to-do list. Now my to-do list is about 10 pages long, probably not unlike any other layout owner's list. But I added several items that the typical modeler/layout owner may not have - programming upgrades.

With the exception of late-morning/early afternoon on Saturday (which I spent running on the awesome CB&Q - Hannibal Division), I spent the ENTIRE weekend working on improvements to the dispatchers screen. And my ongoing question as I spend hour after hour in front of the computer screen is: Does this count as modeling?

The picture above shows how I spent my time. I am adding code to drive my existing signals with the JMRI PanelPro software. This software is VERY powerful and full of options, but there is a bit of a learning curve. I'm in the process of defining the output that drive individual red, green, and yellow LED signal, then defining signal heads, comprised of those three individual LEDs. It is very precise work and requires a decent level of organization and record keeping.

I guess that I will call it modeling until somebody corrects me.

The old and the new

I've been working on the dispatcher's screen lately, improving both the DOS-based QuickBASIC version and the MacOS-based JMRI version.

Here is the QuickBASIC version that I have had for several years:
The first thing that you'll note is that there is more information on the DOS screen at this time. It includes signals, direction of travel, and logs the train symbols as the trains move across the screen. The graphics are a bit clunky compared to the slick JMRI screen, but for a program that uses only ASCII symbols, I thought the graphics were pretty nice for its time.

Here is the JMRI version:
JMRI Screen
I have only started to add the signals onto the JMRI panel, and I haven't implemented train logging yet.

I'm torn about continuing to use the QuickBASIC program and am wondering if I should just make a whole-hearted jump to the JMRI panel. Both work fine, but I have been having intermittent glitches with the Mac mini that I have been using to drive the QuickBASIC version (see previous post).

I will post further updates on the blog about the panel drama as I continue to refine both programs.

Op session recap

There was an op session on the Mighty MKT last night, and I had seven of my favorite people over to bring the layout to life. It was a fun and adventurous evening!

For me, the build-up to a session starts about a week earlier. I have a formal checklist that I have created and refined over the years, reminding me of the myriad big and small things that are necessary for a successful session. I have the layout-checklist items down pat, but it’s the non-layout items that sometimes can fall through the cracks. For example, “load the crew lounge chiller with sodas” and “put batteries in the radios”. Or “buy Fiddle Faddle snacks for Steve and Dan”!

Once the trains are all staged, and the industries have waybills turned and balanced, my attention goes to the final two items. It seems that I always save them for last, mainly because I dread the tasks: cleaning the track and cleaning the locomotive wheels. Oh! How I wish I had the HO sized wheel tread and rail, with their larger surface area and heavier locomotives. For an N-scale DCC layout to run with any modicum of silky smoothness, you need scrupulously clean track and wheels. And powered frogs. And hand-built turnouts.

I try to finish wheel cleaning the day before the session, just so it definitely gets accomplished. Track cleaning is an on-going and continuing (and continual) process and occurs right up to (and during!) the session.

About 20 minutes before the session, I was doing a final walkthrough, testing turnout operation and the lift bridge. I noticed that the east Rhineland turnout was not throwing. Darn! That was on my to-do list. The tortimus fulcrum had fallen down and had been meaning to fix that for the past two weeks! I shut the power off the layout (to relax the torti motor). Grabbing the Kasper commemorative wand-o’-light, I dove under the layout to fix that fulcrum. I head a “snap” and “sproing”, but I thought that it was just the plastic fulcrum snapping into place. I gave it no further notice and went to the computer to restart the system.

I need to digress a bit and explain that, about two months ago, the computer used to run the computer/model railroad interface (C/MRI) that drives the dispatching screen, and signals (among many other things) had been misbehaving. The C/MRI program would repeatedly crash, then would work properly, then crash, then work, etc. Then, as suddenly as it began, the crashing problem disappeared. At the time, I had a bit of a freakout, and prepared a backup computer in case the computer glitch appeared during a session. So I sort of forgot about it. Silly me.

Back to my story: After fixing the torti fulcrum, I went to the dispatcher desk to restart the layout. And it crashed. Restart. Crash! Restart! Crash! Curses!

It’s now 6:50 and I am expecting guests at any moment. Ok. Take a deep breath. No problem. I’ll just pull out the backup laptop and all will be well. I recalled that I had even recently upgraded the backup computer with a solid state drive to improve performance. Wait! After I installed the new drive, did I reinstall the program and USB drivers needed to make the C/MRI program work? I can’t recall. With sweat dripping down my face, I booted the backup computer. Curses again! I did not install the C/MRI items! It’s now 6:55 and I hear footsteps of some of my guests coming down the basement stairs.

What to do? What to do? My backup to the backup is a half-baked Java Model Railroad Interface (JMRI) program. It will power the layout and throw the staging turnouts, but the signaling system will not work. And the dispatcher’s screen is not fully functional. I start up the JMRI panels and go out to greet the operators.

We have a brief orientation session (not my usual entertaining 45 minute presentation, much to the relief of my regular crew!), and Bill graciously offers to dispatch. I tell him that it will be a special adventure in the dispatcher’s chair today. Joe is the yardmaster, so he’s up to speed, so I spend my time with Bill, showing him the features (and idiosyncrasies) of the JMRI train monitor screen. All in all, the JMRI program worked pretty well, with the exception of a couple of turnouts that the train crews couldn’t throw in the field. The dispatcher was able to throw those turnouts, so we made it work.

About 20 minutes into the session, Engineer Rick commented, “East Rhineland turnout is missing a point!” I run into the layout room and, sure enough, the point is laying about 5 inches down the track! Hmmm, maybe that was the “sproing” that I heard just before all hell broke loose with the computer program. I gathered the soldering equipment in anticipation of making a field repair (or begging Joe to make the repair), but we were able to replace the point temporarily and work around the broken turnout during the session. Another item for the to-do list!

Overall, the session went about as smoothly as can be expected, with only a balky turnout or derailment here and there. More importantly, everybody seemed to have a good time.

Like Ragnarok in Norse mythology, where the world is destroyed, only to be subsequently recreated, so now it’s back to the to-do list and the cycle starts anew!

Op Session tonight on the Mighty MKT!

This is what I usually look like just before an Op Session!