Apr 232013
 

Here are a few snapshots of the TCWR 409 on my Sioux Junction HO Scale Model Railroad.  I plan to weather this unit later on this week.

The GP7 engine is by Atlas.  I cut the shell down to make a low nose geep 7 and applied paint and decals to make it look like the units in use on the real Twin Cities and Western Railroad.

The GP7 engine is by Atlas. I cut the shell down to make a low nose geep 7 and applied paint and decals to make it look like the units in use on the real Twin Cities and Western Railroad.

The GP7 engine is by Atlas.  I cut the shell down to make a low nose geep 7 and applied paint and decals to make it look like the units in use on the real Twin Cities and Western Railroad.

The GP7 engine is by Atlas. I cut the shell down to make a low nose geep 7 and applied paint and decals to make it look like the units in use on the real Twin Cities and Western Railroad.

DSC_4350

TCWR 409 rounds a bend on my Sioux Junction HO Scale Model Railroad.  The GP7 engine is by Atlas.  I cut the shell down to make a low nose geep 7 and applied paint and decals to make it look like the units in use on the real Twin Cities and Western Railroad.

TCWR 409 rounds a bend on my Sioux Junction HO Scale Model Railroad. The GP7 engine is by Atlas. I cut the shell down to make a low nose geep 7 and applied paint and decals to make it look like the units in use on the real Twin Cities and Western Railroad.

TCWR 409 on the Willow Creek trestle on my Sioux Junction HO Scale Model Railroad.  The GP7 engine is by Atlas.  I cut the shell down to make a low nose geep 7 and applied paint and decals to make it look like the units in use on the real Twin Cities and Western Railroad.

TCWR 409 on the Willow Creek trestle on my Sioux Junction HO Scale Model Railroad. The GP7 engine is by Atlas. I cut the shell down to make a low nose geep 7 and applied paint and decals to make it look like the units in use on the real Twin Cities and Western Railroad.

TCWR 409 on the Willow Creek trestle on my Sioux Junction HO Scale Model Railroad.  The GP7 engine is by Atlas.  I cut the shell down to make a low nose geep 7 and applied paint and decals to make it look like the units in use on the real Twin Cities and Western Railroad.

TCWR 409 on the Willow Creek trestle on my Sioux Junction HO Scale Model Railroad. The GP7 engine is by Atlas. I cut the shell down to make a low nose geep 7 and applied paint and decals to make it look like the units in use on the real Twin Cities and Western Railroad.

 

Apr 232013
 

I have been considering purchasing a smartphone for a long time.  In January 2013, our two year contract was ending with Sprint.  So we were free to make a decision regarding our wireless carrier and new phones.   I bought us a couple old used Motorola Razr flip phones.   These were at one time a big fashion statement but are now more of a status symbol of the notoriously frugal.

To make a long story short, we purchased an affordable Android device for my wife for use on our PagePlus Cellular plan.   We can pre-purchase air time and data.   The main rationale for this was her use of the texting features.  And we also have a trip planned to Colorado this summer, so having that as a navigation aide will also be nice.   I’ve decided to stick with my old RAZR for now, but have not ruled out a smartphone in the future.

There are a couple smartphone applications that apply to my leisure time interests.  Model Railroading, Cycling and Running.

Model Railroading

The first is a JMRI mobile interface application.  Java Model Railroad Interface is open-source software that allows pretty much any DCC system on the market today to be connected to a computer.  There is some cheap intermediate hardware needed, but the concept is that any computer can be connected to the command station.   One can do things like program decoders and operate locomotives from a computer without the DCC system’s throttle.

The JMRI people have extended the throttle piece to a mobile app.   The phone connects via WIFI to the computer that is connected to the DCC system.   Then the computer sends out signals out over the DCC command bus to the locomotive.    The result is that you can run trains from your phone.   Nevermind I already have two expensive Digitrax throttles.   But this isn’t such madness to the guys who don’t want to invest in a bunch of throttles for every one of 10 or 12 guys that come to operating sessions on their layouts.   It seems that smartphones are more prolific every day.  So this might work out for guys that operate regularly.

Running

The second application is in running.   A colleague recently demonstrated the MapMyRun.com application to me.   The app tracks your distance and pace by using built-in GPS.   It also has  a neat little feature that allows you to run out into an unfamiliar area.  When you are ready to turn around, it helps you get back to where you started.   Handy for those that want to put their long runs in when traveling in unfamiliar territory.  Of course the runs can be recorded on the user’s account on the MapMyRun.com website.

The GPS piece is a nice feature to have, but I live in residential area that is very close to some very neat and very dimensional mile roads.  It is easy for me to count miles without the aid of GPS.   Of course I am in the dark when it comes to speed and pace  but I wear a heart monitor, which probably is more important than pace anyway.  And my Polar RS300 does keep track of mile splits, so I know instantly at the end of mile, or within the mile where I’m at.

One big drawback I’ve heard from other runners about any GPS-enabled running aide-type device is that they are very hard on batteries.   I’d hate to miss a call because I’ve been on a run and I have a low battery b/c I forgot to charge my phone the night before!

Cycling

Same as running above, but substitute MapMyRide.com for MapMyRun.com.

Conclusion

I don’t really have time for some of the other stuff a smartphone offers, nor do I welcome the added expense.  And to think of running with an expensive phone tied to my arm isn’t exactly enticing either.  So for now, I’ll wait to see what else develops in the market.  It will be fun to find out what my wife thinks of her phone.

Apr 212013
 
I removed the wheelsets in order to weather them and make sure they were in proper gauge.

I removed the wheelsets in order to weather them and make sure they were in proper gauge.

This Atlas GP7 is basically a unit built for Atlas by Kato in Japan.  It was probably built in the early or mid-1980s.  This predates DCC by many years, so special care is needed to install a DCC decoder in this engine.  Fortunately, Kato has made the job quite easy by the way the engine was originally manufactured.  Here’s how to install a Digitrax DH123 in one of these nice-running units:

I began by disassembling the trucks.  This step technically isn’t necessary for DCC installation, but I find it a good best practice for the running quality of the engine and appearance.  I made sure all wheelsets were properly in gauge (they were not) and painted the outside faces of each wheel with Polly-S roof brown.   This gives the appearance of a dirty, rusty wheel.  I reassembled the trucks and moved on.

I cut the power leads from each truck near the copper wire that runs along the top of the gray plastic board inside the engine.  I soldered the red wire to the engineers side wheels and the black wire to the fireman’s side wheels.  Then I soldered the gray and orange wires to the motor.  I later had to flip these around because I found the engine ran backwards.  No extra work is needed to isolate the motor here because the leads from the trucks now go through the decoder.  Unlike in Athearn and Proto2000 units, the frame in these GP7 units does not conduct electricity, so the motor is already isolated.

Installed on my Atlas GP7 with a Digitrax DH123 decoder.

Installed on my Atlas GP7 with a Digitrax DH123 decoder.

I then shortened the blue wire and split it into two wires, one for the rear headlight and one for the front.  I soldered in 1/4 watt 390ohm resistors to the yellow and white wires.  In series, I soldered in two Miniatronics 1.5 volt 30mA 1.2mm incandescent bulbs.  I still like incandescent bulbs in model railroad applications much better than LEDs.    Before doing so, I checked the length of the decoder wire to see that I didn’t have too much excess wire to interfere with the shell fitting over the mechanism.

All that soldered together, I inserted the bulbs into the headlight assemblies.   I secured them with globs of poster putty, which I consider to be God’s gift to us DCC installing model railroaders! Also, I secured all my solder joints with heat shrink tubing, which I also consider to be a great asset to the hobby!

I used poster putty on the front and rear headlight assemblies to ensure that the bulbs stay where they are supposed to be.

I used poster putty on the front and rear headlight assemblies to ensure that the bulbs stay where they are supposed to be.

I replaced the shell, but then realized that there was a glow coming from inside the shell.  This turned out to be the factory bulb on top of the Kato board, which had somehow survived being placed on DCC current without a resistor.  Not wanting the risk of it overheating nor its unsightly appearance, I removed it and replaced the shell one last time.

A test run on my layout revealed that the wheels needed cleaning (because of the earlier paint step, mostly), so I cleaned the wheels up with acetone, applied with a q-tip.  I have a DC powered wire brush at my bench to make the engine run while placed on a foam pad, wheels pointed up for easy cleaning.

The unit runs beautifully now and the lights look nice.

Apr 212013
 

Work continues on my Atlas GP7 chop-nose project.  I’ve painted the nose and cab front of engine Polly-S Railbox yellow.   Then I masked that color off and painted the cab sides and rear and the long hood and handrails Polly-S Rock Island Maroon.

The maroon airbrushes on quite flat, so before beginning decals, I applied Micro-Gloss to the entire model before applying any decals.   This is to help prevent the decal film from being visible in places where it is not wanted.    I also painted the air horn and Details Associates all-weather window before applying them to the model.

Apr 202013
 

I got out for my second insanely long run leading up to Brookings Marathon today.  I did the bike trail loop in Sioux Falls again.  It was 15 degrees when I stepped out this morning, so my body performed MUCH better than last time.   I was able to cover the 19.45 mile distance in a measly 2 hours, 53 minutes and some odd seconds.  I’m pretty happy with that based on how little I’ve trained so far.  I took my Sansa Clip+ MP3 player with me this time, but I played no music.   I listened to three podcasts.

So here’s my playlist for today

Marathon Training Academy – Angie and Trevor reviewed their experience at The Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon 2013.  We can relate to Trevor an Angie quite well as they are raising a young family and are putting on a really good show and helping people to reach their marathon and half marathon goals.   It doesn’t hurt that both Angie and my wife are nurses.  The New Orleans RNR Marathon sounded like a lot of fun.

The Model Railcast Show – Episode 183 –  The hosts talked about some best practices with wiring for DCC.  Most of this I know, but there are always some tips to pick up here and there.   And it never hurts to review stuff I already know about wiring for DCC.  It befuddles me to learn of veteran model railroaders that still insist on skimping on wiring under their layouts, even when running DCC.  I know at least one of them.  20 or 22 ga. bus wires are NOT heavy enough for DCC.  Ugh.

Runner Academy with Matt Johnson – Episode RA019 – Matthew interviewed Dick Beardsley, who was in his time, a dominant marathon runner.  Dick has a very inspirational story of starting out as a back of the packer in high school cross country.  He tells the story of coming from that level of ability all the way to being a elite marathoner.   Dick also tells the story of addiction to prescription drugs after a series of four separate accidents that nearly took his life.

All in all, it was a fabulous run.  The weather was beautiful this morning (the sun went away by lunchtime), the company was great and I learned a thing or two from each podcast.

Apr 032013
 

I have people ask me quite a bit about how I did the decals for the D&I engines that grace the header of this blog and the one in this post.   These are Vita-Cal decals with white backing, custom printed by me a while back on a printer which I no longer have.   I did a write-up for the NMRA Thousand Lakes Region newspaper The Fusee which can be found here.

Now the news has hit that D&I has purchased another SD40-2, the Ex-BN 7285 will become DAIR 3026, according to the railroad’s operations manager.  This locomotive is going to be a tempting project for me because I have everything on hand to do it, as well as an interest in the particular engine from its Burlington Northern coal hauling days and of course in its Dakota and Iowa future.