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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.

2020-05-02 - Ongoing Maintenance

Category Randall

Although the museum is still closed, the situation here is somewhat relaxing; consequently Jim and I ventured to the museum to do some much needed track cleaning -- our concern was that many months of non-usage would make the track harder to clean, and we believe some regular maintenance will help avoid downtimes when it is time to re-open. Luckily we completed that task without any difficulties.

I have using this workflow for light track cleaning with good success:

  • First we run our 1201 engine pushing a pad car. I found this removes a lot of dust from the track upfront of the engine. No wet chemicals needed if the engine can run fine without them.
  • Once the engine has completed a loop, I do another one without the pad car, with just one drop of ATF somewhere at the end of the Stockton yard and another drop of ATF before T150 (the long stretch before Sultan, which is roughly mid-way through the layout).
  • Once I’m done with that, I generally do one drop of ATF in front of each automated train at the exit of the Stockton station, and for the branchline one in the back at the YouBet station.

With ATF, “less is more”, and over-application will make the track too slippery for these guys’ large steam engines.

I try to remember to remove the pad car when I use ATF -- it seems to soften the pad, or more exactly the crud that is on the pad.

While I was there, I demonstrated the fixed turnout T151 for the Napa approach to Jim. One thing I did notice is that the point does not always close fully when the turnout is thrown. I pointed that out as it’s a potential source of derailment. Ideally I’ll leave this task to Allen when we can have him back with us, he’s good at that -- either it’s a cleaning job around the point, which I know he does well, or it requires to align the Fulgurex motor below in which case having two of us doing it would be ideal.

Regarding the Napa approach, the one task I have left is to add some clear indication that the turnouts are left thrown on the mainline. After experimenting with some LEDs at home, I’m going to use a single red LED temporarily mounted near the fascia and wired directly to the terminal powering the frog. See the link above for an example.

Eventually I’d like to put a nice signal mast there, yet that task will have to wait as it is more involved than I want: need to carefully select the signals, validate clearance, install them in what is a tricky part of the layout, etc. Doing it properly is a job all by itself, whereas what I want is to have a quick thing to make sure operators do not leave the turnouts thrown and short the mainline -- which is located on the back of the mountain where they can’t see it.

Other than that I do have some other projects I have started at home that “will” eventually be useful to the layout at the museum:

  • I do have a plan to provide more video of the layout to the public -- both live and recorded. I need to set that up at home, validate my ideas, then demonstrate a proof-of-concept to the museum staff, and then implement.
  • On the electronics side, I made a proof-of-concept that I can monitor the EB1 circuit breakers using an NCE AIU interface. This would allow the automation computer to be aware of shorts on the layout, stop trains, and warn us.
  • I have started to gather what I need to create a proof-of-concept to automate the Fairfield industrial complex using the plan I outlined last year.

So lots of realistic ideas flying around, with some early experimentation of what could work or not, and how it could work. These will take weeks to come to fruition.

There’s no shortage of work that can be done on the layout.

The only shortage is time, and often exasperation at the “are we there yet” comments. A lot of the time I get these ambiguous “this is fine but…” feedback. No “but” -- just stop at “this is fine”, otherwise you’re ruining it. This is volunteer work after all.


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