ESU CabControl on TMTV

TMTV - CabControl pt 1

As mentioned previously on this blog, I recently hosted Matt Herman from ESU on TrainMasters TV, to discuss the company’s new DCC system. CabControl is a based on the ECoS 50200 that I use on my layout.

You can click on the image, above, to view* the first of two parts about CabControl. Enjoy if you watch!

(*TrainMasters TV is a subscription-based service, but subscriptions are quite reasonable. For example, as I write this you can subscribe for as little as 83 cents (US) per week.)

Matt and Me at TMTV

Matt and Me - TMTV
(State of the art throttles – in their eras)

I spent the day yesterday at the TrainMasters TV studios with Matt Herman from ESU (the “Loksound” people). Matt and I shot a number of segments together for future episodes, including two that will focus on ESU’s CabControl – a new DCC system designed for the North American and Australian markets. (I wrote more about this system in an earlier post.)

In the photo above, Matt is holding ESU’s Mobile Control II throttle. This is essentially an Android-based tablet, enhanced with a throttle knob and some physical buttons. I use a pair of these with my ECoS 50200 system from ESU and they’re the nicest throttles I’ve ever encountered. They combine the flexibility of a software defined throttle with the tactile feel and convenience of hardware-based controls to access the most commonly used functions while running a train. What’s more, the feel of the throttle itself is quite high-quality – like a high-end smart phone. They’re just nice in the hand.

The CabControl system has many attractive features, which we will delve into on upcoming segments of “DCC Decoded” on TrainMasters TV. But here’s a sampling:

– Support for at least 32 mobile throttles. (The system can probably handle more, but as Matt said, “We gave up opening packages at 32.”)

– An incredibly intuitive user interface based on common smart phone gestures. Swiping left or right lets you switch locomotives from your stack. Swiping up or down lets you scroll between the function button screens for the active locomotive.

– Artwork for decoder-equipped locomotives and rolling stock. The user can choose from a selection of stock photos, or create and load their own. It’s a great way to confirm, at a glance, what locomotive is active on the throttle.

– Icons that may be mapped onto any function button. Need to know where the headlight is? You don’t need to remember it’s at F0 – just look for the lightbulb symbol.

– Custom menus for each decoder-equipped locomotive or car. If you have a model that doesn’t have a bell, you can hide the bell function button from the menu, keeping more of the function buttons that you do need on the first menu page.

– A motorized throttle knob that automatically resets itself to the last-set speed when switching between locomotives. This knob also has built-in reverse (by rotating counterclockwise past the zero speed point) for true one-handed operation.

– Four physical buttons that may be assigned to any function. I use these for the functions I access most frequently during an ops session, such as the whistle and bell.

– The ability to load other apps onto the throttles. For example, one could load a fast clock app, a car forwarding app, and so on. The throttles could even be loaded with Skype, and used for radio communication between crews and a dispatcher – who does not even have to be in the same country! (The throttles include a jack for headphones/mic.)

– Easy programming via the throttle, using menus written in plain language instead of CVs – and full compatibility with JMRI/DecoderPro, of course.

If it sounds like I’m a fan, it’s because I am. If you’re in the market for a DCC system – or looking to upgrade the one you already have – then CabControl should definitely be on your list.

I’m really happy with my ECoS 50200 from ESU, although it has a number of features that I will never use – for example, support for command control protocols from Marklin, Motorola and others in addition to the NMRA’s DCC standard. But the new CabControl system does everything that I need for my layout, so I would’ve gone with this one had it been available.

I know some friends are already looking at CabControl, and I’ll be happy to bring along my two Mobile Control II throttles to future operating sessions.

Decals and Data on TMTV

Recently, I had a question about applying decals. I’m no expert, but my friend Pierre Oliver is – which is why I was more than happy to host him for a segment earlier this year on TrainMasters TV, all about applying decals:

Applying Decals on TMTV
(Click on the image to head directly to the decal segment on TrainMasters TV)

And since you’re already heading to the video chair, why not also check out this companion piece on deciphering all that freight car data that you’re about to apply?

Deciphering freight car data on TMTV
(Click on the image to head directly to the freight car data segment on TrainMasters TV)

I don’t often mention TrainMasters on my site since my work on that show is not what this blog is about. But we have had a lot of positive feedback on these two segments – including from people who are experienced freight car modellers – and I know I learned a lot about decals and data in the process of hosting them. I’m confident you will, too.

TrainMasters is a subscription-based service, but your subscription comes with more than an hour of network TV quality programming each month, for less than the price of a magazine. Becoming a member is easy

Full Throttle Steam on TrainMasters TV

The current segment on TrainMasters TV features my CNR 10-wheeler #1532, fitted with a LokSound decoder and loaded with Full Throttle Steam:

DCC Full Throttle Steam

Click on the image above – or follow this link – to start watching. You need to be a subscriber to TrainMasters TV to see it, but membership is quite reasonable.

(UPDATE: ESU has now released the first Full Throttle Steam file – based on SOO Line #1003, a 2-8-2. It’s at the top of the on ESU’s steam download page. For future reference, note that Full Throttle steam – and diesel – sound files are noted by the “(FT)” at the end of the name. Thanks to Matt Forsyth for alerting me that the first file is now publicly available.)

Preliminary peek at ESU’s “Full Throttle Steam” decoders

On Friday, I hosted ESU North America’s Matt Herman at the TrainMasters TV studios. TMTV brass hat Barry Silverthorn and second camera operator Christian Cantarutti shot a series of segments for DCC Decoded during which Matt and I explored the soon-to-be-released “Full Throttle Steam” sound and motor control files for LokSound decoders. Noted CP Rail modeller Bob Fallowfield – a fan of ESU’s “Full Throttle Diesel” line and a familiar face behind the ESU booth at train shows across southern Ontario – joined us for the day, and a grand time was had by all.

TMTV - Full Throttle Steam Segment
(Matt – standing – demonstrates the “Full Throttle Steam”-equipped decoder in CNR 1532 as Bob either shoots video on his phone, or genuflects to the awesomeness of Canadian National. Or, perhaps, both…)

As part of this shoot, we equipped one of my CNR 10-Wheelers with a LokSound decoder loaded with “Full Throttle Steam”, including an air-powered bell ringer and CNR-style Nathan five-chime whistle. This is a beta-build of the sound file and there are still a few lines of code to tweak, but Matt is going to send me the updated files once he’s finished working on them.

Once I have those (and have had a chance to customize the various CVs to, for example, synchronize the chuff rate to the driver revolutions), I will shoot video of CNR 1532 on the layout and share it here. But for now, I can say that the early results are certainly impressive. I’m looking forward to converting the rest of the fleet.

(In fact, in preparation for this, yesterday I picked up a refurbished Lenovo laptop loaded with Windows 10 at one of my local computer stores. I use Macintosh computers for everything in real life, but ESU’s LokProgrammer programming and sound-loading tool only works with Windows. Since I wanted a dedicated computer for the workshop, it made sense to find something inexpensive rather than add a PC emulator to a Mac laptop. But I digress…)

TMTV - ESU Segment
(I’m with Matt and Bob as we prepare to shoot a non-steam, HO scale segment at TrainMasters TV. It’s pretty obvious that we’re having a great time…)

I won’t have to wait long for the finished files- and neither will you: Matt anticipates releasing the first series of “Full Throttle Steam” sound files by the end of the month. It’s a great time to be modelling steam.

Stay tuned for updates!

3D Printing at home

3D Printing - Notch 8 - TMTV

Our hobby is embracing 3D Printing, but we tend to think of it only in terms of commercial services such as Shapeways. These services have printers costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they can create ready to use (or almost ready to use) models for us.

By contrast, we typically dismiss consumer-grade 3D Printers – those costing under $1,000 – as being too coarse for our needs.

But a couple of months ago, I hosted modeller Jeff Pinchbeck at the TrainMasters TV studio for a discussion on these home 3D Printers, and how they can be a valuable addition to our workbenches. Jeff took the plunge and bought a 3D Printer about a year ago, and since then he’s found many uses for it – including many he didn’t expect.

The first of a four-part series on 3D Printing is now available for viewing on TrainMasters. In this episode, we discuss why Jeff decided to buy a 3D Printer, how he selected the model that he did, what’s in the box, and how the process actually works. Jeff brought his 3D Printer into the studio, so we even turn it on and start printing something.

The rest of the series will be shared over the coming months. But be warned: After watching these four segments, you may be clearing space on your workbench for a 3D Printer. I know I’m thinking about it.

Enjoy if you watch.

UPDATE: All four parts are now available online for viewing.

Workshop: Studio lighting rig

Workshop equipment bar
(I’ve installed four light bars on the ceiling, from which I can mount my Fiilex P360 photo/video lights using a KUPO Max Arm and KUPO Convi Clamp, as shown here. I have three of these so I can do proper “key, fill, and back lighting”, although I’ve only mounted one for the purpose of illustrating this post. With lights up out of the way, the workshop doubles as a studio for photography and video work. And yes: I have a plan to eliminate the dangling cord…)

Good lighting is essential to good work. It’s equally important for shooting images and video. So from the start, I planned that my workshop would also be suitable as a photo studio and as a set for shooting “how-to” video segments. (In particular, I’d like to expand what I can do for Barry Silverthorn at TrainMasters TV.)

That would require light – lots of it. As well, I wanted to eliminate cords and light stands from the work space as much as possible, because they’re a) tripping hazards, b) always in the way, and c) ugly.

The solution was to add a lighting rig suspended from the ceiling. My workshop already has a bulkhead running up the middle of it, containing ductwork, so I was able to tuck my rig into the shadow of this bulkhead so it wouldn’t also become a scalp-gouging system. (I think of this as turning a short-coming of the space into an advantage…)

Barry suggested using pipe hangers, brackets, and 3/8″ threaded rod. This was a great idea, as they were easy to install and I could use a hack saw to easily cut the rod to the ideal length for my application (in this case, 5.25 inches).

Rather than use pipe for the rig, which would be heavy and hard to cut, I investigated whether I could use dowels. My local DIY store stocked 1.25″ (o.d.) hardwood dowels in 48″ lengths (otherwise known as the “inch an’ a quatah quatah-staff”). These fit quite nicely into split-ring brackets designed for 1″ (i.d.) pipe. I decided to use four rods in my lighting rig – two on each side of the bulkhead:

Workshop equipment bar
(The lighting rig on the front (south) side of the workshop)

Workshop equipment bar
(The lighting rig on the back (north) side of the workshop. The rig was hung to easily clear the 24-outlet power strip mounted on the bulkhead.)

The one issue I had to solve was how to keep the dowels from spinning inside the pipe brackets. The dowels are a loose fit, but if they spun in the brackets I would not be able to hang lights properly on the rig. I decided I could use the threaded rod to keep the dowels from spinning. I would install the pipe brackets so that about 0.75″ of the threaded rod protruded through the inside of the ring that holds the dowel, and would drill pocket in each dowel to accept this.

For this to work, I needed to locate two holes in line with each other, one at each end of the dowel, and they needed to run straight through the centre of the dowel. Some Google-Fu turned up instructions for doing this.

I started by clamping a dowel to my work surface, such that both ends were on the surface. (Only one end is shown in the image below.) I then placed a scrap board against the dowel and drew a line where the board and dowel met. Then, without disturbing the dowel, I moved the board to the other end and marked it as well.

Workshop equipment bar

Since the two lines are exactly the same distance off the work surface, they’re also in line with each other. I then measured in five inches from each end and marked my lines to indicate where I needed to drill my rod pockets.

Before drilling, I had to make sure the lines I’d marked were at the very top of the dowel, so that the hole would go straight to the centre of the dowel. So, I used a centre-finding head on my combination square and a striking knife (more accurate than a pencil) to mark each end of the dowel. I then highlighted the mark with a pencil:

Workshop equipement bar

These marks would help when setting up the drill press:

Workshop equipment bar

I lined up the first hole by eye, using a block of wood that I knew to be square against the end of the dowel, to check that the line I struck was vertical. When I was happy with the position of the dowel, I clamped a scrap of board to the table as a fence. It’s tight against the dowel (to the left of the bit in the above image). I then used a hold-down clamp on the dowel itself (to the right of the bit). I held the dowel securely against the alignment board and set the depth stop so I would only penetrate the dowel by 0.75″. Once the fence was set up, drilling the eight holes required went very quickly.

Since I was using 3/8″ threaded rod, I drilled with a 7/16″ bit for a loose fit.

With this done, I could turn to hanging the rig. Since I was going into a drywall ceiling, I decided to use butterfly bolts in the ceiling hangers:

Workshop equipment bar

I marked and installed all the ceiling hangers, then threaded the rods into them with a smear of breakable Loktite on the threads. I then spun the top half of the split ring bracket onto each threaded rod and introduced the dowel. The projecting rod inside the ring keeps the dowel from spinning, as planned. At this point, I used a small level and spun the split rings up and down the rod until the dowel was level. Finally, I installed the bottom half of the split ring bracket.

Workshop equipment bar

Short articulated arms with clamp heads make mounting lights quick, easy and secure. For extra protection, I can add chains to the lights, locked to the rig. I’ll have to add a bracket near each rig, against the bulkhead, to hold the power brick for each of my Fiilex lights and come up with a cable management system to allow me to plug everything into the power strip.

The good news is that in addition to holding my studio lighting, I can also use a carabiner to hang my Flex-Shaft motor tool on the rig when using it at the bench. I’m sure I’ll come up with many other uses for this rig as I start using the workshop.

(Thanks, Barry, for helping me design this rig!)

The view from the cab (or the cupola)

 photo 4205-Copetown2016-01_zpssttbwlqf.jpg
(CNR T-3-a 2-10-2 number 4205 leads a coal train on company service on the S Scale Workshop layout. The photo is actually a screen capture of a video, shot with a small but powerful camera mounted on a flat car)

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to view my hobby, and to capture and share the effort with others. I’ve taken a lot of photos of my layout – and even some video – using a variety of image capturing hardware.

Now, thanks to a conversation with my friend David Clubine, I’m able to capture the view from the cab in video, too.

 photo ReplayXD-Copetown2016_zpspi53rt9n.jpg
(Is it a circus cannon? The Prime X from Replay XD, mounted on an S Helper Service flat car and ready to capture on-track video of the S Scale Workshop modular layout. The plow-shape lets the camera capture more of the layout, and less of the ceiling…)

As the members of the S Scale Workshop prepared to exhibit their Free-mo style modular layout at this year’s Copetown Train Show, we were looking for a way to share our effort with a wider audience. Someone had suggested we should some trackside video and I thought that would be a novel way to see the layout. But what to use?

One of our members suggested an iCar – a laser-cut car that holds an iPhone and allows one to aim the camera down the track. But they’re not available in 1:64, and I was looking for something that would shoot better quality video. A GoPro was also considered – but while they’re small as cameras go, they can be quite large.

Then David suggested the cameras made by Replay XD. David runs a company that serves and supports professional racing teams, and he uses the Replay XD to capture high definition video of the cars in action. It’s small yet rugged, and its “lipstick” shape doesn’t compromise a race car’s aerodynamics.

While we don’t need to worry about drag coefficients in the railway modelling hobby, I realized the small size of this camera might be just the ticket for mounting on a flat car to capture video from the engineer’s perspective. So I ordered one from the California-based company.

At just over 1″ in diameter and under 4″ long, the Replay XD Prime X is smaller than a GoPro, and weighs just 3.5 ounces. But this small camera packs big performance – capturing high definition video and audio, and it’s WiFi enabled so it can be controlled from a smart phone with the Replay XD app. One can start and stop recording, and the camera will stream what it sees. Pretty slick.

 photo ReplayXD-Copetown2016-Meta_zpsimtnosfo.jpg
(With the Replay XD app installed, the iPod Touch is linked to the camera via WiFi and displays what the camera sees – including my friend Stephen Gardiner, who is taking the photo: That’s him to the right of the mainline in the screen of my iPod Touch!)

The camera arrived Friday and I got to work building a suitable mount so I could secure it to the deck of an S Helper Service flat car. (These are great candidates for this as they’re all metal: their weight means they track well and glide smoothly on the rails.) At first, I mounted the camera mount on a piece of 0.060″ thick sheet styrene. I marked out and drilled four holes in the corners, arranged to line up with stake pockets on the flat car, and glued short lengths of .025″ phosphor bronze wire into the holes. This worked well: the camera was easy to mount on the flat car, it stayed put, and I didn’t have to modify the car in any way.

 photo ReplayXD-Mount-Flat_zpsyfdbhwxi.jpg
(A good start: the mount doesn’t flail about, and there’s no damage to the car itself)

I did some testing on my layout but I found that the camera – equipped with a wide-angle lens – captured too much of the ceiling in the layout room. So I went back to the workbench and built a wedge – like the front of a snow plow – so that I could mount the camera pointing down at the track. This worked much better, and is the version shown in the photos of the camera car at work on the S Scale Workshop modular layout.

 photo 4205-Copetown2016-02_zpsvvnslsno.jpg
(The camera car attracted a lot of attention from attendees at the Copetown Train Show. Here, several people grab shots of it as it shoots video of CNR 4205. This image is a screen capture from the video.)

I took the camera car to the Copetown Train Show on Sunday and shot several minutes of high-quality video. The camera and app are easy to use and I’m very pleased with the results.

I’ve posted two videos shot with the Replay XD to the S Scale Workshop blog. Click on each of the photos, below, to visit the Workshop’s blog and watch the videos. I hope you enjoy them.

Cab Ride at Copetown
 photo CabRideAtCopetown-Poster_zpstjirh8c9.jpg

CNR 4205 at Copetown
 photo CNR4205Copetown-Poster_zpsrvvsyefh.jpg

And yes, I plan to press the camera car into service on my Port Rowan layout, and elsewhere. Stay tuned…

(Thanks to Stephen Gardiner for the photos, and David Clubine for the lead on this big little camera!)

Keeping the Minions under control

 photo Minions-02_zpsay6hxcfx.jpg

One of the things I’m pleased about is that – despite the plaster dust and disorder kicked up by an extensive home renovation – the layout is running well. That’s not by accident, of course…

Layouts, like Gru, come with thousands of Minions. They’re all the little things that can go wrong, and keeping them on a short leash is one of the biggest tasks for a layout owner. It’s also one of the most important.

I was reminded of this earlier in the summer while re-watching the “End of the Line” segment on TrainMasters TV, in which three layout owners tear out large portions (or all) of their creations.

Two of the lessons I took from that segment were:

– How important it is to stay on top of the many little maintenance tasks any layout requires, and

– To be vigilant against the phenomenon of “Creeping Normality”.

Of course, there are many positive reasons to tear out some (or all) of a layout, as the “End of the Line” segment also makes clear. But if left unchecked, Minions will take over one’s layout – at which point a dumpster (and a good pesticide*) may be the only option.

As I prepared to show off the layout to visitors earlier this week, I gave the track and equipment a quick dusting with a soft brush. I also tested all track switches and loosened up the mechanical turnout controls by operating each of them back and forth about a half-dozen times. And I test-ran the locomotives that would be in service during the session.

It took perhaps 10 minutes to do this, but it made all the difference. If there were Minions about, I was able to keep them under control, and prevent them from creating havoc…

 photo Minions-01_zpsp4pkbzkj.jpg

(*No Minions were harmed in the writing of this post)