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The Randall Museum in San Francisco hosts a large HO-scale model model railroad. Created by the Golden Gate Model Railroad Club starting in 1961, the layout was donated to the Museum in 2015. Since then I have started automatizing trains running on the layout. I am also the model railroad maintainer. This blog describes various updates on the Randall project and I maintain a separate blog for all my electronics not directly related to Randall.

2021-04-18 - Repair for Block B320

Category Randall

Today we’re fixing a dead spot that appeared out of the blue on the mainline, in the middle of block B320, right were engine 1201 is on this picture:

Initial inspection shows there’s nothing interesting there. It’s the middle of the block. Closer inspection gives a different story; one may even say this spot had a story to tell:

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2021-02-06 - Repair for Turnout T320

Category Randall

We’ve been experiencing some engines shorting on turnout T320 “again”. And interestingly, some engines would go past that turnout with no problem, and some would stop and short on the turnout.


A pair of SP SD40s arrive at T320.

It’s worth noting that this turnout is currently spiked. The tortoise is currently missing the spring wire, and there’s a short in the toggle button at the panel; because it offers little valuable operational benefit to us, I had thus disconnected it and spiked it for now.

Once I learned Jim was having issues there, my first reaction was try different trains to replicate the problem and identify some kind of pattern. Our track cleaning engine EMDX 1201 has no trouble going over it, nor do the automated trains. Maybe it’s a load issue… I tried to replicate the issue using two UP SD70s there with a long train, and could not replicate the problem. However once, just once, I got the 1201 engine to do a short stop-and-go hesitation there. Yet, very interestingly, the issue has been consistently reproducible with these SP SD40s, and I finally got to be on the spot to see the problem in action. I was eager to be able to reproduce it… not only is this turnout is really hard to reach making it nearly impossible to get the train out of it, it is also a very important part of the automation so I need trains to run flawlessly over it.

After trying some variations, I found these SP units work fine alone, yet they short when “under load”. And when shorted, here’s an interesting detail:

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2021-01-18 - Pending Work on the Layout

Category Randall

I started a project list one year ago and it’s time to look at what has been accomplished, and what’s left to do. Note that this is basically a snapshot of the same task list which is available in the layout presentation document here.

Task

Impact

Work Load

Stockton Station dedicated Circuit Breaker [done]

Need

Medium

Low

DCC Mainline turnouts for Napa yard approach  [done]

Need

High

Medium

DCC Mainline turnout for Bridgeport yard  [done]

Need

High

Low

Grade crossing lights at Fairfield Station [done]

Need

High

Medium

Napa yard clean & usable by operators [done]

Need

High

Very High

Bridgeport yard clean & usable by operators [done]

Need

High

Very High

Fixing dead spot at Sultan

Need

Medium

Medium

Fix the Fairfield-Lodi approach

        Status: Replacing turnout motor for T905

Need

Medium

Medium

Layout “cab ride” Cameras & Display for Public
        Status:
Proposal / Demonstrator Project.

Want

High

High

Computer monitoring of all Circuit Breakers
        Status:
Experiment with NCE AIU and EB1s.

Want

Medium

High

Finish DCC control Mountain Turnout Panel

Need

Low

High

DCC control Stockton Passenger panel

        Status: Station has its own DCC power district.

Need

Low

High

DCC block detection on Valley panels 1 & 2

Need

Low

High

DCC block detection on Mountain panel 1

Need

Low

High

Automation of Fairfield area
        Status:
Powered via DCC power district. Cleaning.

Want

High

Very High

Automation software “Conductor” v2

        Status: Experiment on-going.

Want

High

Very High

Notation: The “need” vs “want” column is highly subjective based on what I believe needs to be done here. “Impact” is from the perspective of the Saturday Operators and/or the Automation from a public point of view, e.g. would visitors/operators notice this work has been done. Low impact does not mean the task is not important -- it’s the “behind the scene” stuff that enables more to be done later. Ironically low impact often equates to a higher amount of work.

There are two new tasks added in this list. It’s satisfying to be able to mark six tasks as being fully done, and some serious progress has been done on six other tasks.

For contrast, back in 2019, I managed to accomplish zero tasks, as the whole year was all about maintenance to keep the automation and the operators running. Of course 2020 was different since there was no such running.

A very important difference is that I was able to allocate almost two solid weeks at the end of December to work on projects -- which I had been unable to do the year before since the museum was open and automation had to be running at all times.


2021-01-09 - Work Update on T150, Panels, and Lights

Category Randall

Today’s visit on the layout was mostly fixing some little overdue things.
To get started, I dusted all the yard panels. This has to be done very carefully to not damage the delicate inscriptions -- some of these decals are quite old and unglue very easily.


Napa Yard


Fairfield Industrial


Richmond 1


Lodi


Richmond 2


Stockton Station


Mountain 1 & 2

I rearranged the lights on the side of the mountain to remove dark spots; it is now somewhat properly illuminated:

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2021-01-05 - Cleaning Fairfield Industrial Yard… Again

Category Randall

Back in 2015 I spent quite some time “reviving” the Fairfield Industrial Yard [*], cleaning the tracks, identifying which turnouts still worked or not. And yesterday we had our cleaning engine 1201 attempting to clean the Fairfield tracks again!

So far I cleaned a few feet on two tracks only. Progress is slow as this has not been cleaned for a while and there’s a lot of track in “pavement” that is hard to clean -- neither the rollers nor the pad car can get to it easily. So it will take a while, and that’s fine.

The goal is to have some simple automation on this -- basic shuttle back-and-forth running. No turnout automation at first.

[*] Speaking of names, which one is proper? Fairfield Industrial Yard or Fairfield Industrial Park?

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2021-01-04 - New Power Districts for Fairfield and Stockton Station

Category Randall

The NCE EB1 circuit breakers for Fairfield and Stockton Station are now installed:

DCC is now provided to the Stockton Station using a dedicated power district on the “West” terminal:

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2021-01-02 - Front Yard toggles on Mountain and Valley Panel

Category Randall

The Mountain Turnout Panel has this little mysterious “Front Yard” toggle at the bottom, and for a long while I could not understand what it was connected to nor what is purpose was:

Now I understand that flipping it right or left connect its output to the Mountain 1 or Mountain 2 panels power:

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2021-01-01 - Happy New Year

Category Randall

Happy New Year 2021 from the Randall Museum Model Railroad team.

The museum has been closed to the public for a good portion of 2020. However we kept doing maintenance on the model railroad. After nearly four years off service, the Napa and Bridgeport yards are back at being fully operational for Saturday operators to take advantage of. The lights & bell are back on the Fairfield grade crossing. Other maintenance and improvement has happened which is not directly visible to the public yet will help long term.

Looking forward to a reopening of the museum to the public in 2021!


2020-12-31 - Cleanup & Mystery: Junior Engineer DC Console, part deux

Category Randall

Update: Finally traced the one white + two red wires that were the output of the obsolete “Normal / Children’s” plug for the DC Junior Engineering Day, and which I removed. I found this:

This exposed crappy-looking connection is key to all DCC power for the Mountain 1 panel. Seriously.

The white wire converts to a black wire that then connects to the main terminal under the Mountain panel:

Once again here we can see all “common grounds” are connected together at the terminal. This also bridges the “common” from both boosters used for Mountain 1 vs 2 directly.

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2020-12-31 - Cleanup & Mystery: Junior Engineer DC Console

Category Randall

The amusing thing working on a mostly-undocumented quinquagenarian layout is that most electrical circuits work in layers. Clearly stuff has been added later, then sometimes retrofit and upgraded, etc. As I found out, trying to remove any innocent-looking obviously unused old piece of equipment can result in a lot of fun. As in “mystery puzzle kind of fun”.

Task of the day: Removing the old plug for the Junior Engineer DC console. This little plate & connector on the left side of the Stockton Passenger station. I’m updating the station panel for a circuit breaker to later add more automation block detection and turnout control. I could use the space. That obsolete plug can go away, since it hasn’t been used in 5 years and it will not be used ever again. How hard can that be?

Doing so totally broke power to Mountain Panel 1. Why?

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