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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.

2023-01-20 - Randall Repairs: Block B321

Category Randall

Affected

Mainline B321 close to Turnout T322.

Description

Dead spot on Mainline B321.

Summary Fix

Fix bad track joiner.

Description of Issue

Recently we were back at having the automation freight train “hesitate” on block B321, and yesterday the passenger automation train totally stopped dead on that block:

We did a previous fix on the block B321, the issue was a broken solder join. On the track schematics, today’s repairs were performed in the same vicinity, but interestingly this time we had breaks on both rails:.

I tried to use the Dead Spot Detection car, and it correctly identified the dead part of the track, but the rail breaks themselves were quite subtle to see:

The breaks themselves were actually just that -- literally broken rails with I believe likely metal joints, but it’s really hard to tell. I could not detect any trace of solder on the metal joints:

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2023-01-20 - Branchline Update: SP GP9 #3566

Category Randall

OK so since the newly revived Rapido RDC SP 10 on the Branchline is already out of commission, I’ve temporarily set up one of Jim’s engines on the Branchline. The engine we have now is Southern Pacific GP9 #3566 in its Black Widow scheme:

The engine seemed to behave nicely for a couple runs. Later I will add one or two cars and a caboose, one at a time, double checking they all can stand the Branchline rough track.

The espee.railfan.net site does not have a picture of a real 35xx GP9 unit in the same paint scheme, however the NCRy has an excellent picture of SP GP9 5623 to give you an idea of how gorgeous the real thing is (the main difference is that 3566 has the dynamic brakes whereas 5623 is a passenger unit with the “torpedo tubes” air tanks on the roof).

I’ll need to revisit my branchline program because I got the sound wrong. Apparently that’s one of these engines where F8 is a mute option (e.g. sound is on by default) whereas I reused the RDC program that used F8 to turn on the sound (e.g. sound off by default). The sound is on when parked and it’s silent when running. Oops.

For my own reference: This is a LikeLike Proto 2000 model “by Walthers”; that means a QSI Quantum decoder.


2023-01-18 - An Update on the Rapido RDC SP 10…

Category Randall

After running for a couple days, the RDC SP 10 is already out of commission: the speaker swap fixed the sound issue just fine, and the engine ran fine for a few days, then it stopped moving. Decoder is still working as I get sound and light, yet no movement.

After taking the engine apart, I first saw all this brown dust around the motor:

Yet interestingly enough the motor does work, so I solder it back, check that the truck wheels are driven properly, start reassembling the engine, and half an hour later of dealing with the finicky reassembly process, once I’m done and the engine is fully reassembled I realize… it’s not moving. Oh, come on! OK, that’s nasty. That means something in the shell assembly process jams the motor so now I have to take it apart again.


2023-01-14 - Rapido RDC SP 10 Branchline Update

Category Randall

The Rapido RDC SP 10 is back on the branchline!

But first, this happened:

What you’re looking at is the Rapido RDC getting a speaker change. The astute reader will immediately recognize this is in fact the Rapido RDC Santa Fe 192 in that picture, right? ;-) Just kidding, of course you can tell by the baggage area without the passenger seats. The three Rapido RDC engines have basically the same internals, which is very sensible, and I’m fixing the 3 of them at the same time.

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2023-01-07 - Randall Repairs: B310-B02 Dead Spot (Stockton Station)

Category Randall

Affected

B310-B02 between T01 and T02 in front of Stockton Station.

Description

Intermittent dead spot on mainline.

Summary Fix

Fix bad track joiner.

Description of Issue

We've been having an intermittent dead spot on the mainline on block B310/B02, right between T01 and T02 in front of Stockton Station.


Location on the layout track map.

The dead spot is on the “bottom” section of the T01/T02 crossover. Depending on how the turnouts are thrown, this may be contiguous with either B310 to the left, or B02 to the right. In the default normal position of the turnouts, the segment appears to be powered by B310.

It took me about forever to find the spot because each time it was reported, by the time I’d get to the museum the thing would be working again. And due to this, it had all the hallmarks of a broken solder -- a minor crack in a solder that makes or breaks continuity contact based on rail/wood expansion due to temperature or humidity. I carefully examined the track inch by inch in that area and could not notice anything.

Finally today it happened when I was there and I was able to spot the issue:

What, you can’t spot it? OK let’s try to zoom in:

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2023-01-01 - Happy New Year

Category Randall

Happy New Year 2023 from the Randall Museum Model Railroad team.


2022-12-13 - ‘Tis the Season for the Polar Express

Category Randall

I stopped by the museum yesterday to put our make-shift Polar Express back on automation:

NYC #5278, an Alco “Hudson” 4-6-4, is our lead engine in this operation. This is a great and reliable engine that I have successfully used in automation before. Since I had used that engine 3 years for the same role, the automation change was fairly trivial, consisting mostly of reusing my old Conductor parameters with minimal change to the timings.


This year, the train has a nice Hershey freight car and the traditional
Lionel HO Polar Express cars. And let’s not dismiss the inkjet-printed labels that makes this a true Polar Express 🤣.

Video at 11.


2022-11-13 - An Update on the Walthers Mainline SD70ACe

Category Randall

The saga with the new Walthers Mainline SD70ACe comes to a very satisfactory end: I got the engines back from Walthers. From what I can tell, their support team did exactly what they said they would do, namely change the firmware in the ESU Loksound Essentials decoders. That has totally fixed the running issues. I spent some time this week-end preparing them. They are now ready to be used as replacements for automation.

I’d like to thank all the support team at both Trainworld and Walthers who have been very friendly and helpful in resolving this matter.


2022-10-31 - Randall Repairs: Turnout T111 (2nd fix)

Category Randall

Affected

Turnout T111 (after Fairfield station, arriving at Lodi).

Description

Specific steam engines stop-and-go on the turnout.

Summary Fix

Power the switch rail.

Description of Issue

We’ve had some specific steam engines derail on Turnout T111 in the past. In the last repair attempt, it was identified the switch rails were loose because there is no turnout throw rod at all. Previously the point rails were spiked, then glued, and that addressed some of the issues for a while.

However most BLI steam engines still stop-and-go on that turnout. An annoying feature of the BLI engines is that they stop when they lose power (ok, that’s understandable) but then they speed up as soon as they cross the dead spot. When doing so, the engines typically have a jerking motion that either derails the steam engines complicated wheelsets, or derails the attached cars, or both.

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2022-10-08 - Issues with the Walthers Mainline SD70ACe

Category Randall

Once I was done cleaning the track, I started looking at the new Walthers SD70ACe UP engines I got for the automation. They need a bit of break in before I put them on automation.

Out of the box, I was disappointed to see both engines were lacking the nose headlight & number plates. These were in the box. One of the snowplows was also off. I’ll need to glue them both back correctly -- the last thing I want is for a loose part to come off when running in automation.


UP 8312 and UP 8330 came with a snowplow and the number plates fallen in the box.

It became quickly clear there were a number of issues with these engines.

I wrote a full description of the Walthers Mainline SD70ACe issues on the other blog.


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