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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.

2021-07-06 - Repair for Turnout T450

Category Randall

The Bridgeport turnout needed fixing, and it is now fully functional again.

It uses a Fulgurex turnout, and recently this one had started shorting the entire turnout power supply intermittently.

This is a Fulgurex slow-motion motor. Connections have two wires for turnout power, and two sets of contacts (three wires each) that are commutated based on the position of the switch:

And here it is after the fix, when testing it:

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2021-07-05 - Randall Scenery Lights in “dusk”

Category Randall

Lighting on the Stockton side:

The Fairfield main street with street lighting on, and the illuminated McDonalds:

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2021-07-02 - Understanding the Building Lighting Panel

Category Randall

I’ve been trying to update my documentation on the Building Lighting panel on the layout.

As a “recap of the previous episode”, under the Valley Panel 1 is located a row of toggles for “Scenic Lighting”:

Besides a few numbers (1 to 29), there’s not much indication on what these do.

Looking at my old emails, back in 2015-02-09 (before the GGMRC club donated the club to the museum in December 2015), I tried to understand this panel to light up the Fairfield town. Back then no lights were working and I “fixed” the power supply by replacing the fuse -- after finding they had the appropriate fuses behind the Stockton Yard panel.

From my notes, the fuse for the bulky 1997 power supply is a “5A 250V 313 Slo-Blow in a 31.75 mm (1 1/4") glass cartridge”. Here’s a mouser link for that kind of fuse.

So let’s try to decode all this. First, which toggles do produce any kind of lighting today? Allen and I could only find these below illuminating anything on the layout:

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2021-06-29 - Pending Work on the Layout

Category Randall

There’s been a multiplication of small-to-medium tasks recently, so it’s worth making an inventory of what needs to be done on the layout. These are more or less in the order I plan to address them.

Task

Impact

Work Load

Building Lighting: Install / power Jacker Jack sign

Want

High

Medium

“Train Motion” Project (cameras display for public, ongoing)
        Status:
Proposal / Demonstrator Project

Want

High

Very High

Adjust Grade crossing lights at Fairfield Station

Need

High

Low

Bridgeport ballon track: Install the new DCC Auto-Reverser

Need

Medium

Low

Bridgeport turnout: Replace the Fulgurex turnout

Need

Medium

High

B91 Siding: Wall sign & turnout LED status.

Need

Medium

Medium

Fix the Fairfield-Lodi approach

        Status: Replacing turnout motor for T905

Need

Medium

High

Fixing dead spot at Sultan

Need

Medium

High

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

Want

High

Very High

As usual tasks fall into two categories depending on their “impact”, meaning how visible a task is. “High impact” tasks have the most impact on the layout as a museum exhibit, from a public/visitor point of view -- these can be either scenery improvement, automation improvement, or anything that enhances running for the Saturday Operators and public view.

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2021-06-26 - Work Update and a look at Buildings Lighting

Category Randall

I reinstalled the tablet displays on the layout, preparing for an eventual reopening of the museum:

Allen got a “Cracker Jack” illuminated HO-sized billboard, so we’re trying it out to see where it would look nice on the layout; here’s Allen first idea and it seems like a good option:

(Edit: And here’s an update on how I think these work and how I managed to ruin the electronics for that one by using the wrong voltage to power it, so now I’ve ordered a full replacement and I’m waiting for it; they also sell replacement controllers.)

I think we should power it from the building lighting circuits (see below). So I had to dig a bit into it. The building lights are controlled by a row of unlabelled toggles under the Valley panel:

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2021-06-05 - Work Update: T80+T90 and Siding B91

Category Randall

Today we are working on the siding B91, located between turnouts T80 and T90. It has been unused for quite a while. Turnouts T80 and T90 still work fine. After carefully scrubbing the track on the siding to clean it, it worked fairly well.


A steam train enters the siding at T90.

On the other side at T80, we have 3 electromagnet uncouplers:

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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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