Saturday, November 1, 2014

DCC Update

We’d gotten the call from B1 during the week, so we knew the Update Chips for the DCC systems had arrived. So Saturday morning off to the club with my trusty NCE PowerCAB in my hand ready for a new update to be applied to it.

B1 (Bob Iron) had arranged with Gary at MRRC down south ( ), for the purchase of a pile of update chips for our NCE PowerCABs, both personal and club, as well as for the club 5 amp Power Pro systems on the layouts. As these were now in our sweaty little hands, Saturday morning saw B1 installing the chips for those who had put their hands up to purchase some upgrades and had brought their hammer heads down on the day.

The update chip for the NCE PowerCAB was to bring it up to version 1.65. A while back I had actually gotten around to installing an old update chip I had kicking around for the last 4 or more years, so I could use the NCE USB device to talk to my computer, but that only brought it up to version 1.28C. So now I could go up to version 1.65. Easy job, just take the back off the hammer head, carefully lever out the old chip and carefully push in the new chip.

Above is the lid off my NCE PowerCAB and the old chip removed.
Below you can see the unit fully apart and the new chip at the bottom between “8” and “12” of the cutting board.

Here is a close-up of the old chip – you can tell it’s old, it almost has a broken leg after I was done with it.

After screwing it back together, it was time to plug it in and make sure Bob and I hadn’t broken any of the CAB’s – all were sweet and came up showing off as being the new version 1.65 chip – good result.

Next came the chips for the 5 amp NCE Power Pro systems on the club layouts. So we gathered them one at a time and did the upgrades on them as well - the end result being that we would have them all up to the latest version which is 2007C. So after removing the lid of the case on the system, again we carefully lever out the old chip and carefully insert the new chip. Once the lid was screwed back in place, a test of the system on the layout and we were good to go – nice job.

Above we see the system open, the chip in question being at the top left.

And above we see a close-up of the old chip being levered out of the socket.

All, up, well done on Bob for organising the bulk purchase for the club members and the work to install them – very much appreciated mate.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Some great deity once said “Let there be light!”.

I think some great deity once said “Let there be light!”. Well, not trying to be big shots, the N scalers have none the less created light for our N scale Exhibition Layout. We have finally completed our little project that began a handful of months back with a heads together of the bunch to see what we could do.

So our list of materials used was: 
  • 7 lengths of Aluminium tubing of approx. 13mm diameter.
  • 7 curved Ninety Degree Angles.
  • 7 green Plastic Tubes. These were a type of conduit used by the Termite blokes.
  • 7 Galvanized Pipe Strap/Clamps (for the green tubes).
  • 7 x 38mm Drywall Screws.
  • 14 x 20mm Truss Head Screws to hold the strap/clamps.
  • 7 x 85mm Screw/Bolts with Nuts.
  • 6 x Fluoro Metal Reflectors.
  • 3 x 5m rolls 5630 based LED Lighting Strips (300 SMD per meter).
  • 3 x 12 V 6A Power Packs to drive the LEDs.
  • 3 pair Connecting Plugs for LED power from Power Packs.
  • 3 pair Connecting Plugs for LED power between the Pelmets.
  • 7 Plastic Round Chair Leg Caps.

 That’s enough bits and pieces, let’s put it together. Well, the pelmets we got from a friendly sparky in the club – Darryl. He got these from a job he was on that had some left over. These don’t have ends, but are night and white and shiny and very light weight.

Above is a photo showing the end of a pelmet and the two strings of LEDs.

To these pelmets, we used the double sided tape on the LED strips to adhere them to the two channels in the pelmets – this gives us twice the light per metre that a single strip does (OK, I stated the bleeding obvious). We made the length of each LED strip that of the pelmet, less about 30-40mm at each end. This allowed us to add in some plugs to connect the pelmets together in pairs. Because of the power requirement, we needed 3 power bricks and hence three circuits. So we decided to wire the lights up in pairs of pelmets. To connect each pair together electrically, we used simple plugs we got from Jaycar that can only be plugged in one way – keep it simple is out motto – hence we can’t muck it up, now can we…

You will note that the pelmets have a small hole at the end of them. This is what we use to join them together. We have 85mm screws poking out of the aluminium tubes and the pelmets fit over the screw. It leaves about 20-25mm of screw sticking out the top and we’ve found the weight of the pelmets and the snug fit of them over the screw, means we do not need and nuts to hold them together. The pelmet drops over the screw and that’s it – see the next photo:

In the next photo you can see the screw/bolt coming up through the tube and pointing upwards with the pelmet sitting down on it. You can also see the connector plugs that go from the LED strips to the extension leads we made that are zip tied to the ally tubing to pass power up to the lights from the floor. This way the three power blocks sit on the floor and don’t dangle in the air – less chance of problems this way.

By the way, the power packs are just like those we used to have (and some still do) on their laptop computers. Simple, easy to source and therefore easy to replace if need be.

Okay, so that’s the electrical side. The aluminium tubing as mentioned earlier is about 13mm diameter. When we bought it, we also purchase matching curved 90 degree bends for them. The bends are about 50mm radius and the fellow at the metal shop we bought them from kindly installed the bends for us with a gadget he called a “Pipe Bender”. Must be a fantastic piece of equipment to be able to install bends into tubes.

We had ordered the pipes longer than required so we could play around and then cut back the pipe to the length we wanted later on. After playing around we decided on have the LED’s just past the half way mark from the back to the front of the baseboard. So if the baseboards are 600mm, then the centre line of the lighting is at about 350-360mm from the skyboard. Height wise, we left as supplied to us – which is about 600mm above track level.

Now it just happened that we had been given a few years back, some green conduit from our friendly Termite man in the club – Ian. This piping is plastic and is the perfect size for a reasonably snug fit for the aluminium tubing.

The above photo shows the green tube screwed to the back of the layout. A single long screw has been used to go through the bottom of the green tube and into the layout frame, thereby stopping the aluminium tube from dropping through. The clamp is then used to give the real strength.

Because there are no tight fixtures in this design, we now find that it is nicely flexible and if the flooring is undulating, the lighting fully adjusts to this without us worrying about it. Cartage is simple – just some sheets of very thin bubble foam in between the pelmets to stop scratches and the tubes are metal and therefore tough. The power bricks go in with all the other power bits for the layout during transport. Putting the lighting up can be done by a single bloke, but two is faster. Up and running the lights in about 5-10 minutes.

Above we see B1 admiring some of his work at the back of the layout. Now the last thing is length. The layout is 7.8m long and the pelmets cover 6.8m of it. We find the last half metre at each end light up quite well enough with the power we are putting out – a total of about 210 watts of LED’s in total actually.

Now for some empirical data. I got a hold of a light metre and did a few measurements. The ambient room lighting at track level was about 170 lux. At track level, whether measures at front or back or middle, we were getting somewhere in the vicinity of 650-800 lux. Now from the great world wide web and our friends at Wikipedia, we see that some example lighting levels are:

Surfaces illuminated by:
0.0001 lux
Moonless, overcast night sky (starlight)
0.002 lux
Moonless clear night sky with airglow
0.27–1.0 lux
Full moon on a clear night
3.4 lux
Dark limit of civil twilight under a clear sky
50 lux
Family living room lights (Australia, 1998)
80 lux
Office building hallway/toilet lighting
100 lux
Very dark overcast day
320–500 lux
Office lighting
400 lux
Sunrise or sunset on a clear day.
1000 lux
Overcast day; typical TV studio lighting
10000–25000 lux
Full daylight (not direct sun)
32000–100000 lux
Direct sunlight

So I think our lighting setup should show the layout quite well at all venues we attend.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Proof of the Pudding

Proof of the pudding with the Exhibition Layout and our little Raspberry Pi was at the Ipswich Workshops Rail Museum for the annual Queensland Model Railway Show held recently in October. We all assembled at the clubrooms on the Friday morning and hitched our trailers up to the tow vehicles and headed out to the old railway workshops in Ipswich.

Once out onsite, the crews quickly backed up the trailers and moved all layout components over to our allocated areas and began assembly. Whilst the HO’ers went at theirs, the N scalers setup theirs. Speed was of course not required as we had all day to setup and get ready for the weekend. But as usual and in no time flat, we had the N Scale layout up and ready.

This year of course we had two new additions to the layout – the new LED Lighting and of course our new Raspberry Pi and JMRI setup. The lighting once turned on was fantastic! The layout was magnificently illuminated if I do say so myself. There was only one minor glitch in the setup, and that was a mechanical joint failure of a single wire to one of the LED strings on the lighting. Easily fixed within a few minutes by re-soldering the join. We will of course over the next weeks, rectify this design fault by a little readjustment of where the wiring taps into the LED strings and the application of some non-acidic silicon sealant to hold the wires in place as well – nothing like a good mechanical joint to help out an electrical joint.

The Raspberry Pi fired up and we all whipped out our phones and began driving some test trains around as we cleaned the track ready for the next day. All was well, so after some train running, we headed over for a bite of lunch then not much after, headed home.

The N scale layout ran well over the whole weekend with no faults found to hold us up. There were lots of congrats on the lighting, as the layout was very visible (more o that next blog entry). So it looks like the work over the last months was worth it all.

Here is a quick photo of the Raspberry Pi setup we used. We have it sitting on the shelf under the fiddle yard at the back of the layout:

On the far left is the Belkin 4 port powered hub, next is a 4 way power board, then there is of course the actual Raspberry Pi just to right of centre. The NCE 5 amp DCC system are the two boxes at the back right.

As usual I think I can say for all, that we had a great time running trains at the show and will be back again next year with bells on!

Sunday, October 26, 2014


I have decided I should keep this blog up to date a bit more than one a year or so. So I'll roll all N scale activities at the club into the blog. By the way, the new N scale clubroom layout is sort of on hold while we play with helping out on the new HO clubroom layout being built (and learn from the process at the same time). So let's get rolling and skip the last 12 months and come to the month of September. Here is what we've been up to on the N Scale Exhibition Layout "Pine Rivers".

The N Scalers are now pretty much complete with their radio control installation for their exhibition layout.

We have now after a number of years of using some laptops to drive our system, cut over to using a Raspberry Pi to drive the wireless for the layout with the use of JMRI software. The setup we are using is:

    Raspberry Pi computer "Model B+" (from Element 14)
    5V 2A power supply for Raspberry Pi (from Element 14)
    Case for Raspberry Pi (from Element 14)
    8 GB Sandisk Micro SDHC Card (From OfficeWorks)
    Digitech Nano N150 USB Wireless Adapter (from Jaycar)
    Belkin 4 port Powered USB Hub (From OfficeWorks)
    Digitech USB to RS232 DB9 Serial Cable (from Jaycar)

The all up cost for the bits was roughly 160 bucks and it all plugs into the layouts’ NCE Powerhouse Pro DCC system we use.

We have used the latest stable release of JMRI software, version 3.8, and have used the September release of the Raspbian operating system for the Raspberry Pi.

We have decided to keep it really simple and therefore there is no keyboard, monitor or mouse attached to the system, yet you can add them whenever you want. Instead, we do any of the rare modifications to it via remote control to the Raspberry Pi by using “VNC” or “Putty” software from our phones or tablet/laptop computers. As we turn on the layout for a run, we turn the power on for the Hub and the Raspberry Pi and wait about 3-5 minutes and we’re good to go. When it is time to shutdown it can be done the quick and dirty way of just turning off the power or if we want to be clean and neat computer peoples, we can remote into the unit and do a clean shutdown – either way works.

So we can now hook into this system to drive our trains via any smartphone or tablet/laptop with the appropriate from software out there – Engine Driver for Android devices and WiThrottle for the Apple type devices such as iPhone or iPad. The picture below gives you the idea of all up size. Not very large heh?