Monthly Archives: December 2015

It’s 2 AM… And I’m Up

T’was the morning before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except me. Boring me. You see, I tend to suffer from self-inflicted insomnia.  It’s not persistent, and not chronic (thank goodness).  But about once or twice a week I get stuck “on” and can’t seem to shut off my brain.

Here’s the funny thing – I’m stuck thinking about something fun.  This isn’t typical.

Since we last spoke (more then a year ago…. wow….) I’ve taken on a very large, very time consuming and very difficult project.  It’s enjoyable and rewarding when everything works as intended, but it has pretty much taken up all known free time.  Personal programming projects, my NJ Devils empire, and things like video games and model trains have all taken a back seat.  Even home improvement projects have been pushed aside.

But not today.

You see on Monday I did a bit of work around the house.  Tuesday I did work at my parents house.  So Wednesday, I devoted time to play with my trains.  And now… my brain is stuck on trains.  Which is silly because in a few days I’m going to go back to my time consuming side project and not touch the trains for another 6 months.  But it’s nice to step away from it and get stuff done on the ol’ layout.

So what’s keeping me up?  Control.  (Train geeking out will begin in 3…. 2…. 1….)

I’m not interested in DCC (that’s where you can control each engine individually, wirelessly, remotely).  I like the standard throttle at a control panel at the front of the layout.  It brings me back to when my Dad had a layout and I would work on it with him (or, more accurately, I would mess with things and then he’d have to undo it all to make it work again).  So far I have the yard wired up, the main line and one spur wired up, and now I’m wiring up the turntable, spur that leads to the turntable, and 6 tracks off of the turntable.  I even bough a fancy momentary double throw switch to operate the rotation of the turntable.  Of course during the cutting of the hole to fit the switch in, I stripped some paint off of the control panel so I had to dig out the can of paint and touch it up.  But while the paint was drying I ran some new cable out to the second spur, wired it up, and labeled many of the controls with a P-Touch labeler.  OCD? Absolutely.

Okay, so it all sounds good, but now I need to wire in some power.  Currently I have an old MRC Tech II power pack handling the power to the tracks.  And I bought some laptop power supplies that will provide power to the switches, turntables, and accessories.  My problem: because of the space problem I have – which is I have 5′ x 9′ of space and so I made a layout that takes up all 5′ x 9′ – I have a control panel that swings out and can be “put down” so it lays flat against the side of the layout.  This lets me pull the control panel up when I want to play and lower it when the trains are “put away.”  (I also put casters on the legs of the layout I built, which I’m still proud of, as it makes it a cinch to wheel out and work on the layout!)

Now here’s my dilemma – I can’t mount the power pack to the control panel because, well, the control panel swings down and the power pack will just fall off.  I also don’t want it to stick out like that since I need to walk by that area to get to the other side of the garage.  My intention was to abandon the power pack control and just use the laptop power supplies with a custom built knob to control the train’s speed.  The problem?  I’m not an electrical engineer.  And the “simple” controls I found online look like this:

Since I’m using a laptop power supply, I think I can cut off everything to the left of C1, and because I’m using an Atlas controller which contains direction switches, I think I can cut off everything after R5.  It’s all the stuff in the middle that I don’t really know what I’m doing.  Like what’s that icon that repeats at the bottom over and over – it looks like an antenna or something.  Is that ground? Isn’t ground that round third prong of a plug? Or is that neutral? Or are those AC terms but this is a DC diagram?  Oh, and what happens if I short out the track?  I know that’ll happen because, lets be honest, I tend to short things out.  On the good ol’ power packs, there was a little red light that would light up when I shorted it out.  And in a few seconds, if I removed the thing causing the short, the light would turn off and the world would return to normal.  If I do this fancy circuit above, what happens if something starts to short out? Do I create a meltdown?  The laptop power supplies I bought say they have overload, over voltage and short circuit protection, but is that good enough?  Will it protect the circuity above even though that circuitry is after the protection?  And if it does work, what happens after I trip the short circuit protection?  Does it reset after a few seconds like my good ol’ MRC power pack?  Or once it trips, it’s fried?

So that’s why I can’t sleep…. And I am not posting this to really get any answers, but just because I have this stuck in my brain.  I think, though, after penning this post for the last 45 minutes, I’m going to try to go back to bed.  It’s 3 AM and I had ambitions of getting up at 9 so I could do more work on the trains before dinner with my family tonight.  Anyway, if anyone reads this, have a Merry Christmas!  I hope to post more than once in 2016…