I know, it’s been some 18 months since I posted any update. Turns out, if you want to get nothing done on your layout, start a model railroad company. The RasPi Zero W at the core of Iowa Scaled’s wifi receiver for the ProtoThrottle has been basically unobtainium for the past two years, so I started redesigning the receiver last summer. That involved hardware design, learning a whole new microcontroller and toolchain (the ESP32), and rewriting the whole thing from scratch – twice. Fortunately that long endeavor is at an end and finally to market, so hopefully I’ll have a little more time back. On the other hand, I really hate my day job these days and would like to have ISE become my full time income, and that’s going to take a lot more new products that sell a whole lot better in order to replace the paycheck that my professional job provides.
And if that’s not enough, I got suckered into being an assistant editor for Drip Points, which is one of the two main magazines of insulator collectors. Yes, I have hobbies beyond railroads, and putting out a professional, full-color magazine every other month takes a bit of time.
Basically, been a bit burned out for the last year. My hope is to get back to scenery this fall. I figure if I can get some hard shell on, then I can start weathering track, painting backdrops and fascia, and then start building the hundred trillion trees I’m going to need.
Progress this year has been slow. Between my real job, Iowa Scaled Engineering and projects around the house, I haven’t spent a lot of time in the layout room since March. The biggest thing I wanted to get done before getting back to the layout was to upgrade the furnace and finally, after 20 long years, add air conditioning to the house. Believe it or not, it wasn’t terribly common out here until about maybe the last two decades. There would always be a couple weeks in the summer that were terrible, but otherwise opening the windows and having a few fans was adequate. However, with working at home every day now, the higher heat load from all the computers and such, and the pervasive smoke from forest fires in the West in recent years, I decided the time was at hand.
I’d been procrastinating because adding air conditioning to this house (built in 1977) was also a non-trivial exercise. The house didn’t have a large enough electrical feed to handle it, the breaker panel was full, and my old furnace couldn’t handle it anyway. So it was an exercise is what programmers refer to as “yak shaving” – the seemingly endless series of small tasks that have to be completed before a project can move forward. “But to do X, I need to also upgrade Y, and to upgrade Y I need to also fix Z…”
I finally got fed up with it and pulled the trigger in July. Since the furnace is in the layout room and any AC lines would need to work around the layout, I wanted to get it done before any scenery started this fall. And it’s truly amazing what you can accomplish when you just open the checkbook and get some true professionals in to look at the job. In two days, I had a new heat pump, furnace, and the house was updated to 200A power. And now the whole house – including the layout room – stays nice and cool all day long.
So what I have I done on the layout lately? Not much. About the only thing I really have to report is identifying a source for new signals. While I love the detail of the Century Foundry searchlight kits, getting enough light through those tiny fibers and just the time it takes to build them isn’t the best use of my time. So I’ve been looking around at other options.
At Spring Creek’s Deshler train show back at the end of July, I found some signals from Custom Signal Systems at Azatrax‘s table. They’re quite nice, though not quite as detailed as the CF kits, and relatively affordable. They’re also nice and bright, which will be important for an operations-focused N scale layout.
While I haven’t posted much lately, work has been continuing slowly in and around work and personal commitments. I’m pleased to say that I finished configuration and checkout of the final control point tonight at South Chitina. CTC now works over the entire length of the mainline. (The actual trackside signals will be installed once base scenery is done – for now it’s just the fascia signal repeaters.) Most of the rest of the electrical is also complete. The only thing really remaining is to create and wire control panels for the various yards. Then it’s on to starting scenery.
Since I haven’t posted pictures of the whole layout in quite some time and it was all nicely cleaned up for the CR&NW’s first work night last week, I thought I’d show you the state it’s currently in. The track is complete, except for a few spurs and industry tracks that have yet to be positively defined. The backdrop and fascia is 99% complete. The lighting is done, the signaling is 95% done, and track power wiring is 95% done. I’m still installing switch machines at Chitina and Cordova, but that should be done in a week or two. I’ve also posted pictures on the backdrop to inform others and remind myself what some of the scenes are supposed to look like. It’s a combination of my photos from visits over the last decade combined with historic imagery.
Once I get those last few benchwork and electrical to-dos resolved, it’s on to scenery and painting!