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Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Using JMRI for Operations

I thought this was an appropriate time to do a post on this topic as I have just recently done a tuneup on on my JMRI operations with some help from the JMRI users group and Dan in particular.  There were a few things that I needed to understand better to improve car movements. This extra knowledge will  enable me to help others also. I have been using JMRI since 2010 and it has worked well, I am just trying to make it run better in the prototypical way that I prefer. I also use TT & TO to run my operation sessions. When I started out I used car cards but found this to be a bit cumbersome and so I switched to JMRI operations which handles all my car movements. I never did get to the part of having to build all the card holders and such. Like most things in each system has a few points that may result in compromise.  Living  in the Edmonton area where we have 10-12 layouts doing operation sessions that use both methods there are always conversation about it. I also use JMRI Decoder Pro and can't imagine running without it - I will cover this topic in another short post. None of of my comments in this post are meant as a slag against how anyone else runs their operations.
The great thing about JMRI is that it is open source so you do not need to purchase it to get to play with any of its features. I use other open source programs like Libre Office, LibreCad, and  Gymp which are all open source programs that are free.
It does take a  bit of time to set it up very similar to creating all those car cards. The JMRI site gives you access to a very well written manual.  Now I know most of us are men and do not need to read manuals "hahaha"  but you do need to read this one, most likely a couple of times before you start. and a couple of times after that.
It does take a little maintenance but so does flipping all those car cards before each session. The purpose in using any computer program is to make repetitive tasks much easier and it does just that.
JMRI Operations generates manifests and switch lists for trains that are printed out on 1 or 2 pages, which is easier for new operators to use since they have a sheet that gives them instruction on what to do. There are even switch lists for the yard operators. They  do not have to handle a stack of cards which for a 30 car train is about an 1 1/4 " thick and for the yard ops this can be huge.  For example my yard is on the smaller side but still holds 70 cars. The other thing this does is tell operators exactly what track the cars are going to as you can see below in Melville. Below is a what a manifest for  through freight 715 looks like. Rivers is in east staging and Watrous is west staging. The one thing that JMRI operations doesn't do well is block cars so I use this manifest to block the cars before a session starts. This is done in staging.
The first paragraph is mostly instructions I have added. This way even new ops have this with them all the time they are on this train.
Rivers is really just showing what cars and power 715 is leaving staging with and what track their train will be on. In this case the train will be on track 6.
Next it shows places they will pass and that there is no work there.
Then we get to Melville and it shows what pulls and spots there are and what tracks the cars are going to or coming from. The yard master will usually sort the pull cars ahead of time to a track and if busy the yard master can have the train drop all the cars to track 2 to keep things moving and move them later.
Watrous shows what cars you have and what track you are going to in staging. All my trains depart and arrive on the same track in staging. Each track just has different virtual names. Upon arriving in staging the train is reversed on the loop and then stored on its track. It will leave Watrous next trip as 716 east bound.

Manifest for train (715) West Through Freight
Valid 6/21/1959 17:29 (Tuesday)
At Rivers get your clearance, train orders and manifest
Drop cars to Track 2 at Melville and pick up cars from Track 3 West.
Or as instructed by Yard Master
At Melville take on fuel. Steamers can also take on water.
Get your clearance and train orders 10min crew change

Scheduled work at Rivers, departure time 07:00
 [ ] Pick up CN    9030   F7A      from Track 6                   
 [ ] Pick up CN    9037   F7B      from Track 6                   
 [ ] Pull    CN    478548 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      from Track 6                   -> Melville         
 [ ] Pull    LNE   352    Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      from Track 6                   -> Melville         
 [ ] Pull    CN    500799 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      from Track 6                   -> Melville         
 [ ] Pull    CN    485338 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      from Track 6                   -> Melville         
 [ ] Pull    CN    483916 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      from Track 6                   -> Melville         
 [ ] Pull    CN    544559 Boxcar       40'  L< Boxes>    from Track 6                   -> Melville         
 [ ] Pull    NYC   168265 Boxcar       40'  L<Supliment> from Track 6                   -> Melville         
 [ ] Pull    GM&O  75003  Flatcar      40'  L<Ties>      from Track 6                   -> Melville         
 [ ] Pull    GTW   591599 Boxcar       50'  L<Auto>      from Track 6                   -> Melville         
 [ ] Pull    CN    479667 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      from Track 6                   -> Melville         
 [ ] Pull    CN    500899 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      from Track 6                   -> Melville         
 [ ] Pull    CN    526844 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      from Track 6                   -> Melville         
 [ ] Pull    CN    543790 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      from Track 6                   -> Melville         
 [ ] Pull    NYC   712675 Gondola      52'  E<mpty>      from Track 6                   -> Watrous          
 [ ] Pull    CN    78934  Caboose      36'               from Track 6                   -> Watrous          
Train departs Rivers Westbound with 15 cars, 792 feet, 830 tons

No work at Cana Jct
No work at Atwater
No work at Bangor Jct
No work at Waldron

Scheduled work at Melville, arrival time 07:30
 [ ] Spot    CN    478548 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      to Track 2                   
 [ ] Spot    LNE   352    Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      to Track 2                   
 [ ] Spot    CN    500799 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      to Track 2                   
 [ ] Spot    CN    485338 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      to Track 2                   
 [ ] Spot    CN    483916 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      to Track 2                   
 [ ] Spot    CN    544559 Boxcar       40'  L< Boxes>    to Track 2                   
 [ ] Spot    NYC   168265 Boxcar       40'  L<Supliment> to Track 2                   
 [ ] Spot    GM&O  75003  Flatcar      40'  L<Ties>      to Track 2                   
 [ ] Spot    GTW   591599 Boxcar       50'  L<Auto>      to Track 2                   Ensure End Door Is Facing Ramp
 [ ] Pull    CN    110473 Hopper       40'  E<mpty>      from Track 3 West              -> Watrous          
 [ ] Pull    CN    533503 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      from Track 3 West              -> Watrous          
 [ ] Pull    CN    143201 Gondola      52'  E<mpty>      from Track 3 West              -> Watrous          
 [ ] Spot    CN    479667 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      to Track 5 Mixed East        
 [ ] Spot    CN    500899 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      to Track 5 Mixed East        
 [ ] Spot    CN    526844 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      to Track 5 Mixed East        
 [ ] Spot    CN    543790 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      to Track 6                   
Train departs Melville Westbound with 5 cars, 354 feet, 372 tons

No work at Burmingham Jct

Scheduled work at Watrous, arrival time 21:12
Reverse Train Before parking
 [ ] Set out CN    9030   F7A      to Track 6                   
 [ ] Set out CN    9037   F7B      to Track 6                   
 [ ] Spot    CN    110473 Hopper       40'  E<mpty>      to Track 6                   
 [ ] Spot    CN    533503 Boxcar       40'  E<mpty>      to Track 6                   
 [ ] Spot    CN    143201 Gondola      52'  E<mpty>      to Track 6                   
 [ ] Spot    NYC   712675 Gondola      52'  E<mpty>      to Track 6                   
 [ ] Spot    CN    78934  Caboose      36'               to Track 6                   

Train terminates in Watrous

The manifest  makes it easier for ops that are new to operations as everything is explained. There is also a switch list for the yard that shows what cars they need to spot and pull from local industries. I also have a train lineup sheet that the yard master can look at which tells what trains are coming including the extras which are not on the time table. I don't normally have a dedicated dispatcher except for me so it works well on my layout. The biggest thing I am trying to achieve is a less stressful atmosphere for new people to operate in.

In another post we will look at the paper work I use during operation sessions.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

CNR Wood Trestle Part 2

This was a relatively easy build that was done in 3 days. I scratch built this trestle from the CNR plans that came in a bundle from CN Lines. The bridge is a wood deck, ballasted and is 43' long. I wanted one these bridges because short bridges like this one are so common in the prairies, although there are many different types. They usually have a slough around it and cross a small creek. This was a feature I could add to this section as the shelf is only 4 1/2" wide and helps set the scene and gives it something interesting. This is built from scale wood from Northeastern and Kappler. No real tips or tricks here just a straight forward build using the drawings and some pictures that I had taken of similar bridges. I used the pictures for details that the plans didn’t show. I partially drew it out in Cad so I knew what it would take to cover the span. Then I created other drawings in Cad to use as gluing templates. The wood was all stained before I started the build. I then taped wax paper over the printed paper so the wood glue would not stick. The deck was made in this fashion. The top deck and end bulkheads were made board by board. Once the deck was done I added the dowel posts and then set it in place. The spots were marked where the posts touched the scenery by putting lipstick on the bottom of the posts. I then drill holes in these spots for the posts to slip into. The posts were intentionally cut longer and were marked and trimmed if needed. The nut bolt washers are from Tichy. The ties are mainline Central Valley. I then added the guard rails down the middle using code 70 ME rail and glued them in place. The mainline rails are ME code 83. I regrettably do not have any pictures during the build. The posts are just doweling I had around. It is a tough place to take pictures because of lighting and the Plexiglas that is on the front of the shelf to protect equipment from falling to the floor.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Back Drop Painting

Everyone who has ever built a layout has had to overcome that one thing they don't enjoy or maybe even dread. That may be bench work, electrical, scenery, laying track, scratch building or putting kits together. The thing I dreaded most was having to paint my back drops. I procrastinated as long as possible which turned into about  9 years. My version of drawing a person is a collection of  5 straight lines, 3 circles and a curve. If I had been an artist I may never have gotten into model railway modelling as painting would  be an enjoyable hobby on it's own. So that being said I had to find a way to overcome the fear of painting backdrops.
I started out by asking my friend Norman how he managed to paint the backdrops on his CN Clearwater Sub layout which is set in interior BC with low mountains.  Norman was very supportive and told me you just lay down some sky and then just start adding the hills, a little shading here and there  blending it in to the scenery.   You can do most of this with a 1" paint brush and a couple of other smaller brushes to paint trees. Norman doesn't claim to be an artist but this was all very helpful.  But I still had very little confidence. So Norm and I had this conversation a few times before I felt brave enough to paint. The picture below is a sample of some of  Norman's backdrop. Looks pretty good to me.

I then went though the same process with Warren who's layout is Alberta Pacific Railway (I don't have a picture of his backdrop but trust me it looks just as good).  I also admired the layouts at the EMRA in Edmonton. But I was still not feeling it.  All of these layouts are so well done and the guys were very supportive.

My first work around not painting was to look at photo murals but I was not going to get what I wanted easily.   I  was also not 100% sure what was going where and it was going to be very expensive by the time I was done. So I started by painting the blue sky with some white blended in to lighten it up at the horizon, this was easy enough and was completed in 2007 after I had laid down the basic scenery profile.  It stayed like this until 2012.

I knew that this was never going to keep me  happy so in 2012 I had my first attempt at painting clouds behind my town site. This space is 3' deep and has a bit longer reach to the corners. I also realized that I was going to have to figure out how to paint through the corners. Awwghh  more problems. It was always in the back of my mind that this was going to have to be completed and I was going to run out of time as I wanted to start working on the town.

As you can see the  clouds looked ok but I felt they needed to look better. So I began to research on how to paint clouds better, thinking that might be all I required. At the same time that I was looking at clouds I was also looking at other parts of the scenery in some pictures that I had taken. I realized that on the prairies I would most likely only have to paint things on land about 3-4" high because the prairies are mostly flat. My other big fear was the painting of 2 coulees, a couple of low spots behind bridges where there are more  angles and the need for perspective to give depth. I knew this would be difficult, I watched You Tube videos, got a couple of books from the library and looked at hundreds of pictures that I had taken or saved from the internet. My cofidence grew as I bought brushes and acrylic paint in colours that I learned I would need. My daughters small easel worked well to hold inexpensive bristol board, which I used to practice painting landscapes on.
By early 2016 I had considered  more work arounds, I thought if I planted lots of trees against the back drop I would not have to paint anymore. So I amassed many trees and started planting them to give it a try. I soon discovered that this was going to take up a lot of space and in one spot I have a shelf that is only 4 1/2" wide and the trees would infringe on the track. Agh....  In Nov 2016 I started painting some better clouds. Which I was happy enough with and it was not really that difficult once I got going.

The next big move was to paint landscape, so I started with the hardest first, in the furthest part of the layout, which is slightly behind the TV where the track goes through the wall. That went well and then I moved on up the line to the first coulee. Now if I had done this earlier I would not have had to work around the bridge but this also went well. As I was going along I would fluke in to some shading and gain some more understanding. Oh... the hole in the wall to staging is just the other side of the last telegraph pole. The rest of the painting in all of the following pictures was done between Dec 2016 and Mar 2017

Next I decided to go to work behind the town, the farm and another coulee behind my wood trestle. I needed to finish this section as this was going to be the area that I was going to use for my NMRA Scenery AP, I was still learning little things as I went along. I stay away from detail mostly because it is one thing to paint using an easel, right in front of you, and another having to reach back to the wall. These next pictures show the painting as it progressed, not the finished scene.

The seam you see in the middle of this picture is how I did my corners. They are all curved by gluing Bristol board on to the wall in a curve into the corner. This worked really well and has stood up for 11 years so far. When you see it in person you really don't see the seam. Thus I have no 90* corners.

This next video is of the completed scene from the town to the farm.

So this is what I have learned through this process.
-that I wish I had not put this off for so long
-in the end it was no more scary than when I installed my first decoder back in 2006
-it took about the same amount of research as I put in to the detailing of cars and engines
-you really only need a few brushes and not that may colours of paints (12)
-I have to be in the mood to do it, but this applies to lots of things for me. If I am in the mood it usually goes easy. This is maybe a little more intense since you have to engage your artistic side.
-none of this painting will equal that of Max Jacquards but then my whole layout is not museum quality either, so that's ok.
-I now paint a short piece and then do most of the scenery in front. This way it will look different as you go along and you have time to think about it.
-I never weather more that 1 or 2 cars at a time or they start to look the same and can be affected just by the mood I am in.
-the point in having  the backdrop is not to steal the show but to give depth and to enhance  the foreground.

This is a picture of the narrow shelf that I was talking about before. I just finished this last week. I apologize for the shadows, it is a tough place to take a picture from and yes there is plexiglas on the front edge.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Any questions you can email me or add a comment.

Monday, 27 August 2018

It has been a year

Well that was an interesting year. I started this blog on Aug 17 2017. I was not  100% sure how it would go but with some help from my buddy Brian, (Tech Adviser) it has gone well. I have received 2500 page views from about 25 different countries although I am never sure how many of those are bots.  I gave up on the "follow me" button for the reasons I posted about so I have no followers per say -that I can see- and have never received any comments which is all good, but I have received personal comments from enough people who follow it and like it. Having said that I guess there are some likes and 68 followers from having it on Facebook.  Brian talked me into putting it on there and he updates the notifications whenever I post something. I also got a plug from the NMRA 6 Div and the cover in the Feb 2018 Highball which was really nice.

I was not sure how hard it would be to write on a regular basis as I am by no means a professional writer. I took some guidance from Tony Thompson's blog as far as length and set up go. So far it turns out  that I have lots of things to write about that I hope are of interest to others.   Those of you who follow my blog can tell I sort of take the summer off from trains.   Summertime posts were not as regular but will start picking up speed again after September once I have put away the golf clubs, fishing rods, boat and finally close up at the lake. I will start curling and coaching and make time to go to the gym which eats up not as much of my time and get back to modeling. I did manage to start some posts in draft on rainy days out at the lake and as a result of that that I have 17 sitting in draft almost ready to go.

I did manage to get four of my NMRA  AP  awards completed in the last year.... Civil, Scenery, Electrical and Dispatcher AP's are all finished and I plan to finish Cars or Structures this winter.

If anyone has questions by all means email me

So from myself and my staff all the best in the coming year
Brian- Tech Support
Anita- Spell Check and Grammar...she is getting really good at train lingo
Doug-  Author

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

How I make my paint and brushes last


Surprisingly these two topics have come up multiple times over the last year when I have been at a hobby store or in a group of modelers, so I thought it was worth writing a post about it.
Model paint is very expensive given the amount you get.  Especially when compared to buying  a pint or quart of custom mixed acrylic from Home Hardware which is about the same price as a small bottle of hobby paint. Shaking and power mixers are the biggest mistakes most people make, it introduces air in to the paint, this only applies once the bottle has been opened. The air remains in the paint causing it to to set up faster.
I commented in the post My First Engine that I have paint that was opened 21 years ago and it is still usable. There are a few things I do. I only stir my paint until it is mixed thoroughly and there is no blob on the end of my stir stick. I never leave the bottle sitting open when I am using it. I fill my air brush or transfer some to a secondary pallet or container, wipe the threads on the bottle so paint can't dry on the lid. This will cause the bottle to become hard to open in the future.  Before putting the paint away I add a few drops of the appropriate thinner to replace what may have evaporated. I also go through my paints once a year, opening each bottle and checking it's condition, again I will add some more thinner if needed. The evaporation of thinner will happen because the seal on the lid is not as solid as when it was new. 
The vast majority of of my paints are acrylic and the clean up is so nice. I have never had any problems with acrylics on any surface, as I stated above my first project is 21 years old, has been handled a lot and the paint job still looks good.  Note: I now use Iwada Medea Airbrush Cleaner,         ( thanks to Joe for this tip ) to clean my airbrush and it is absolutely amazing. CAUTION:  I only spray it through my brush inside my paint booth as I do seem to have an allergy to it as it makes me sneeze. The cleaner appears to be some kind of soap and water.  I just spray it into the rag I have by my paint booth. I built my own paint booth and will cover that in a future post.

FYI I also use my paint booth if I have a lot of CA work to do especially if I am using a gel to glue larger resin parts together as I have a reaction to too many vapors from the CA.

Some of my brushes also date back to the 1990's, I have lacquer thinner in old clean glass paint bottles.  I  clean a brush with soap and water ( acrylic ) first by putting a little soap on the palm of my hand and gently rub the brush in the soap and then run a little water and continue to rub the brush until it is clean and rinsed. I then twirl it against the inside of the bottle that has the lacquer thinner in it.

This last step completely removes any paint that may remain from the first step.For solvent based paints I just clean the brush in the lacquer thinner. Now say you have had a bad day having left your brush with paint on it and it has hardened on the brush. Open your bottle of  lacquer thinner and let the brush rest in it for a couple of minutes then swirl it against the side of the bottle, all of the paint will be removed from the brush and in most cases will come out looking like new. You may have to perform this more than once. Put a little thinner on a rag and you can clean the ferrule of the brush.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

NMRA PNR 6 Div Meet

Hi all

 My wife and I spent the past weekend June 22-24  in Blairmore Alberta which is in the Crowsnest Pass area for the the NMRA PNR 6 Div meet. We had a very good time along with 39 other participants from Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
There was a meet and greet in the park on Friday evening.
Saturday started off with 2 tours beginning with  Frank's Slide and the other was a tour of the Bellevue Coal mine. There were a few showers in the morning but it didn't deter us from having a good time.The afternoon consisted of 3 clinics and in the evening we enjoyed a presentation by Riversdale Resources proposal for a new coal mine.
Sunday morning consisted of 2 clinics followed by lunch at the Crowsnest Museum in Coleman. The afternoon was spent doing model railway home layout tours in Lethbridge Alberta. There were 7 possible stops we made it to all 7. Each was different and interesting and they all had gracious hosts. Thank you to everyone for letting us in to see their work.  Thank you to everyone that worked to put this event on.
The next event for me is Northern Rails Sept 7-9 in Edmonton and Camrose. This is an operations event.

Thursday, 31 May 2018


I participated in my first ops session back in 2007 at my buddy Norman's layout, who I had never met before. Now I can't imagine having a layout and not running ops or getting to run on others. Even if you never run an ops for other people you should run your trains this way for yourself. It gives purpose to your layout. This will be the first in a series of post on operations.

 There are some design features that will make things work better for operations that can even be added into an existing layout. Those of us that run ops sessions spend a lot of time talking about how to make the experience better for the operators, especially new operators and promote the hobby.   Those discussions include topics like fast clock speed, amount and types of trains, TT&TO  ( Time Table and Train Orders), signals, paper work, how busy are the yards, use of basic railway rules, use of decoder functions like lights, horns and bells, labeling,  all the aids to help people operate. In a nut shell anything that people struggle with really needs to be addressed to enhance their enjoyment.

The purpose of having operations is to add more interest to your layout rather than running trains round and round. Almost everyone starts out with the around and round concept in their head myself included. I do have the ability  if all I feel like doing is rail fanning. Back in 1995 I never envisioned having ops sessions. Now I can't imagine not having them.  It helps if you have had exposure to operation sessions at some point and not everyone has that opportunity. You then move in to your own ops sessions with other people to run trains prototypically.  Most people have not had exposure to that either. I have said in other posts I have been very fortunate to have access to engineers, dispatchers and other railway people that are in the Edmonton area, as a bonus they mostly have worked for CN which works well for me. If it becomes too much work for your new operators they will loose interest and not likely return for another session. Most new people are very intimidated and apprehensive to participate because they do not understand what is going on. This reaction looks similar to asking someone to public speak. In my opinion that is why the paper work generated by JMRI works well as it alleviates some of the stress. I will operate on 4-6 different layouts in a year, one of which is the EMRA in Edmonton which is one of the largest layouts in Canada. It is not possible for me to have all those layouts in my head like I have my own. This is an important point to remember is that you understand how your layout runs crystal clear but not everyone else understands it as easily. When I ran ops on my layout for the first time for 2014 Northern Rails my wife thought I was going to crack, especially in the last 2 days leading up to that event mostly because all of these people some of which had traveled hundreds kilometers. I had never even met most of them before and they were going to be operating on my layout.  I am a confident public speaker  and have held high pressure jobs and I still found it very stressful. "Hey" my definition of stress is "fear of the unknown" . I guarantee every time you feel stress that it is generated by some unknown thing. Think about it, the better prepared you are the less stress there will be and you can keep most of the gremlins at bay. It has never been that stressful since.Below are some of the topics I will cover in future posts.

Fast clock speed see my post Fast Clocks

Amount and types of trains

TT&TO or signals, train order and clearance paper work

How busy are the yards

General maintenance of locomotives, passenger and freight cars

Basic railway rules

Use of decoder functions, engine cards

Labeling including signage on the right of way

Aids such as maps, descriptions, aprons, train line up sheet,

Using JMRI for Operations

I thought this was an appropriate time to do a post on this topic as I have just recently done a tuneup on on my JMRI operations with some h...