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The Randall Museum in San Francisco hosts a large HO-scale model train layout. 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 de-facto layout 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.

2017-11-15 - Progress Update

Category Randall

Time for an update on the progress on the layout.

Last time our group of volunteers and I got access to the layout was in May and June 2017. Claudette spent a lot of time carefully dusting all the buildings and the scenery. Greg, Mike, Robert and Jim all helped refresh the scenery, which looks much greener and less dusty.

A lot of time was also spent in cleaning the track and make sure trains could go around properly. There are some areas that need more work, e.g. at least 2 spots were trains hesitate on a turnout (probably frogs that need to be rewired) and I'll need to come back to them. Here are two videos of a train going around the track -- there's nothing like a good cab ride to identify all the problems on the track. I'll spare you the earlier camera recordings with the trains stopping at the most hard to reach location and instead let's focus on the last working version:

We haven't had access to the layout since July 2017. The staff in charge indicated main power was off starting mid-July as PG&E was doing some major work. This work was apparently scheduled to end in August yet carried well into September.

In August, we were told by the staff that a layer of dust had settled on the layout during their work. We haven't seen what it looks like. Reports were fairly vague and a request to get a picture to estimate the work was derided with a laconic "hard to photograph in dark" (I almost wanted to retork modern camera technology invented the flash, but that did not seem appropriate). We were also told after the fact that one of the staff members did manage to repaint the fascia panels of the layout during that period (in the dark?).

We attempted to get a status update on October and that was met with a reply that indicated lights were still not back on but would be soon and we should just wait to be contacted. The last laconic email had all the undertones of "don't call us, we'll call you" and as volunteers we decided maybe we should just get the hint and do that.

Meanwhile... in July during vacation I started working on the second part of my automation project, namely remote tablet display. The goal is to equip the layout with two tablets displaying the state of the automation as clearly and as simply as possible. The tablets act as remote displays for the main automation computer (which will eventually be located under the layout next to the DCC, out of reach) and provide a way for the staff to do an emergency stop of all automatied trains. Here's the final version of the system, and it's almost ready to be used:

https://youtu.be/XtwPmEy1OB0

As far as work left to do on the layout before it's open for public, there's still quite a bit.

  • First there's that issue of the "layer of dust" to take care of. Lack of details make it impossible to predict the amount of work involved, not to mention the fact that it will all depends on the volunteers' availability and motivation. Track-wise, we'll need to carefully clean the track again, that can be done at the same time.
  • On the automation side, I still have to finalize the work on the Linux box (the computer should auto-start when the layout power is on, shutdown when power is off, start JMRI and the Conductor apps automatically), and finalize some work on the tablets sides. There's probably 2 or 3 week-ends of work here.
  • The last part, which I originally intended to do in August, was train the staff for the automation. It should be as easy as turn the power on and off on the layout. The issue is dealing with the unexpected conditions, trains derailing or whatnot. Time estimate would be anywhere from a few hours to a few days depending on the people involved.


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