DCC on a Board

I didn’t have a good box for this, or else it would be DCC-in-a-box.

All of my interesting DCC bits are tied together in one place.


This board has three “upstream” connections: 2 x 120V AC (from the power supply brick and the terminal server) and one wired Ethernet (not shown).

Downstream (towards the layout) are connections for:

  • LocoNet (throttle bus)
  • Digitrax Simplex wireless throttle support
  • Rail A, B (DCC input to the circuit breakers that feed the power districts)
  • Programming A,B (with the Programming Track Booster in place)
  • Serial ports (via the terminal server) to the LocoBuffer and to the CMRI bus that will go throughout the layout.

The configuration shown here (except for the CMRI connection) has been built, tested and used for various locomotive projects while I was between layouts.   This makes the wiring of the layout a bit simpler and also makes it easier for me to trust that the basic DCC wiring configuration is good, and that any problems I encounter as I lay track and wire it up is due to the new work and not these components.

Electronics Shelf

I’ve put in a shelf to hold the DCC board.  I’ll have a separate switched circuit under the layout to be able to turn the layout on or off from a single point.   This switch will have a light easily visible from the main room entrance, making it hard to miss if I turn out the room lights and have left the layout on.

If you happen to care, download the DCC on a Board image as a PDF file: DCC on a Board



I had been wondering what to do about switch controls. Blue Points, servos, Tortoise, something else?


Found these at the flea market today. 50 Tortii, at a price that can’t be beat.


Modelling the Alley

A few days ago, I posted a map of the North Point / Beach Street “branch” of the State Belt.  Now, using my sophisticated planning tools, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what is going to fit in the space I have available.


These are templates from Fast Tracks for the size of switches that I plan to use.  The crossover is set up for 2″ track spacing, which suits what I need.   I have a pile of these printed up, and lay out track arrangements with these.

I’ve annotated the left & right hand templates with information for when I lay the track — I have a box of switch ties pre-cut to the necessary lengths, as indicated adjacent to each tie on the template.  I glue the template in place, then glue the wood ties to the template.  Then I can put the pre-built switch into place and I’m ready to move further down the line.


I also have built a number of building mockups out of about-to-be recycled boxes from work.  These range from 2 to 8 stories in height, and are about one half to one third of a block in size.  Since these streets have significant structures on each side, I want to get the feel of the visuals as well as the mechanicals of the track arrangement.

The picture above is North Point, running past several different industries (see the map link above).   I like using “false fronts” along the aisle to indicate that those are active buildings as well, instead of placing a spur right alongside the immense drop-off of the benchwork edge.  I used this in a couple of places on the St. Paul Bridge & Terminal, although I’m taking it up a notch with several buildings in a row.

I’m mixing taller & shorter buildings in front, in an attempt to provide suitable access for everyone to be able to reach in and uncouple cars as needed.   I’ll be putting turnout controls on the fascia (either Blue Point mechanicals or some servo controller), so no reaching in for ground throws.


This shows Pier 43 1/2, which is one of three car float aprons on the north end of the railroad.  Alongside that pier is a small yard which I can only imagine was used to stage cars for easy loading and unloading of the car floats as they came in.   I’ll have four tracks, which should be good for a three track float.  Further back is a small yard & team tracks, and off to the right would be Standard Oil, Harbor Warehouse, and the track to Ft. Mason & the Presidio.

The white rectangle is the mockup of the car float (for size).   I think that a small portion hanging off into the aisle is probably going to be okay.

This more or less accounts for one third of my available space.   I count 45 car spots, plus the float yard.

Now to work around the curves seen at the far end of this photo — double tracks following the Embarcadero along the various municipal piers and towards the S.P. interchange at King St.

Maps to follow.


These are some of my favorite things

I have several of each of these, and I use them much more often that I would have expected.

They’re simple weights.   Cut with nice square corners, so they’re more than just a thing to hold something else down.  I can use them to square up corners when I’m gluing them.  They’re used to brace things against.   They’ll hold the other end of track down as I spike it.  They hold wires on the top side as I work with them belowdecks.IMG_5410

I bought some brass bar stock many years ago (about 1″x2″ x 5 feet or so), and had a friend cut off several pieces about 6″-8″ long.   I still have one piece about 2′ long – not something I want to drop on my toes.

The larger one shown is a steel block, of which I purchased 3 or 4 at some modeler’s garage sale (alas, I don’t recall whose).

These aren’t precisely measured machinist’s blocks — the dimensions aren’t any nice even size.  I don’t know they’re weight, but I do know the brass one are NOT sized to anything other than “this looks good”.

They’re both heavy, as a weight should be.  I’d guess the steel weight at 5-8 pounds, the brass ones at 3-4 lbs. maybe.


Oh My Aching….

Michael: I guarantee these are not what you first thought of.


When working on benchwork, or underlayout wiring, or schlepping things around, I find myself kneeling a lot.  And my knees ain’t what they used to be.   A $3 pair of foam knee pads is the best investment I can think of for making a model railroad.

Oh, they’re not perfect.  The elastic strap might be a bit too tight for all-day use.  They do sometimes slip down.  These are solvable, especially if you’re willing to part with a little more $$$ and buy some of the flexible armor that a Knight of the Round Table would have been happy to have back in the day.   But for $3, these foam pads work well for as often as I need them.

My first pair was purchased before the Saint Paul Bridge & Terminal was built.  I recently was wondering why my knees hurt so much, even when I was using them.  Well, foam wears out with use.  Duh!  No kidding.  14 years on one pair isn’t bad — probably should have been 13 1/2, but I’ll survive.

Sine qua non.

I wouldn’t even begin to build  new railroad without these.


Exiting stealth mode

Okay, I had some sort of brief fantasy of just calling people up one day and saying “Come over and operate” and having them show up to discover that I had done something completely different than they though I was doing.

Oh well.

I am no longer building the Washington, Idaho & Montana.  The railroad in the basement will now be the State Belt Railway of California.

The Belt serviced the waterfront of San Francisco, from the south edge of downtown (where the ballpark now is) along the Embarcadero  to Fisherman’s Wharf and on into Fort Mason (an Army shipping depot).  It was owned by the State of California (along with the entire port infrastructure of San Francisco), and operated more as a public utility than as a normal railroad.

No waybills were used on the Belt.  Someone shipping to/from the area serviced by the Belt would call one of the connecting railroads to arrange the shipping details.  That railroad would then direct the Belt to move the car as needed.  All billing was done on a per-movement basis, not as a partner in the billing tariff.

I’ll be modelling 1952, when the Port was once again busy shipping men and materiel to the Pacific Theater, this time to Korea.

Bill Kaufman, of San Rafael, Calif., introduced me to the Belt when I operated on his railroad back in January.   I was intrigued, and when his book came out, that sealed the deal.  So I’m back to an urban railroad, instead of the hills of North Central Idaho.

I’ll be keeping you all posted here.