Saturday, February 24, 2024

Getting Way Too Excited About Terminal Strips

In my last post about replacing the Vasona Branch's signal controller, you might have spotted those odd terminal strips in the pictures of the new signal controller. These are the Dinkle modular terminal strips (the 2.5N size) intended for professional use on industrial controllers and electrical panels. As someone who grew up using the vintage Molex black terminal "barrier" strips from Radio Shack, the terminal strips definitely feel like I’m in a new century of wiring practice. The individual terminals in multiple colors clip together onto a DIN rail, a common mounting bracket for electrical equipment like controllers and circuit breakers.

I found them great for model railroads (as compared with the traditional terminal blocks) for a few reasons:

  • packs more terminals in the same space - about 3/16" per terminal
  • multiple colors so easy to identify terminals and polarity
  • inset test points for safer testing with voltmeter
  • supports adding jumpers for wire-free connections between strips, and two jumpers allowed on any terminal.
  • terminals are covered, so loose wire less likely to touch others.
  • able to reconfigure as wiring changes - possible to pop terminals out of the middle to change colors, or move end clamp blocks to add terminals.

Close-up of the Dinkle 2.5DN terminals showing how they're wired and attached. Terminals are 3/16" wide, wire is 22 gauge.

The price is a bit more than terminal strips from Amazon; they work out to about 30c a terminal compared to 12c a terminal for the classic terminal strips. (They're all a deal compared to $4 each at Radio Shack back in the 1980's!) The other challenge is that getting an assortment of colors requires buying a box of 100 terminals at a time - that’s $30. Getting a good assortment (red, black, green, yellow, blue, white, and brown) requires spending about the same as a plastic locomotive. You’ll also need some of the DIN rail, and some of the end clamp blocks for securing a row of terminals. (For our low voltage uses, you don’t need the thin plastic endcaps to cover the last terminal in a row.) I’m planning on using all I need then selling off spare terminals to someone else if I've got enough unused terminals. I could also imagine having a group of modelers team up and share an assortment.

Jumper with every other pin cut. With these, I could line up a row of alternating green and white terminals for the different switch machine power feeds, then use two jumper barss to connect all to power coming in from a single pair of terminals.

The colored terminals are particularly nice for documenting the wiring. I use different colors for DCC supply vs terminals going out to the tracks (red/white vs red/black), and could color code for signals easily (red/brown and green/brown terminals for “upper” and “lower” signal lights at same location. Sets of terminals can be connected together using jumper bars that fit into the top (and don't interfere with the screw terminals.) 10 terminal jumper bars are available, and can be cut shorter to gang several adjacent terminals together. For the switch motor power, I ended up cutting every other pin from a pair of the jumper bars so that I could feed in the two wires for power to one set of terminals, and have power distributed to all the other pairs simultaneously.

The color coding and labeling also helps me double-check wiring and remember how things are connected years later. When I rewired my DCC track connections using the new terminal strips, I realized I’d mis-connected power from multiple boosters to different stretches of track, probably because I lost track of which terminals were for which section of the railroad. That mistake caused me to melt at least one locomotive when it shorted against a switch but was still getting power from a different booster.

Drawbacks? I needed to use a smaller screwdriver to fit the protected holes for the screw terminals - I couldn’t grab any random home repair screwdriver to turn huge screw heads. The terminals also bent a little bit when pulled by larger wires like solid 12 gauge DCC buses, but work fine for smaller wiring.

One of the rewired panels. It's much easier to understand now!

I’m slowly going around the layout, cleaning up wiring, adding labels, and adding the new terminal strips. I’m very, very happy with these - the terminal strips make it easier for me to understand the wiring even years after I’ve done it, and they make the underside of the layout look neat and organized. I suspect I'll love the terminal strips even more in ten years when I need to figure out a rewiring I did in the distant past.

If you're interested in checking these terminal strips out: I got my Dinkle terminal strip parts from - search for "Dinkle 2.5N". Some sellers offer the components - separate purchases for boxes of 100 of each color terminal, for the end brackets which hold the terminals in place, the DIN rail, and the jumpers. Others offer assortments of 20 terminals of specific colors for common electrical projects such as solar panel controllers. The little assortment was a good way for me to decide the terminal strips were for me. I cut my initial cost when buying full boxes of connectors by just getting a few colors of terminals that I needed for some specific tasks such as re-wiring switch machine power. (I was using just green, white, and yellow for wiring connected to the switch machines.) I later got boxes of the other terminal colors as I rewired areas with other wire colors.

You can also see the terminal strips in use on the layout - the Vasona Branch will be open for tours at the NMRA Pacific Coast Region's 2024 Convention April 24-28, 2024 in San Jose.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Big Changes At Signal Gulch

Semaphores at the east end of Glenwood siding.

When is a model railroad “done”? Some might say it’s when it’s complete - when every scene is detailed and when the trains are running well. Some might say that a model railroad is always being changed, so it’s only “done” when it’s being torn down. I’ll throw out another option - our model railroad is “done” when we’ve confirmed that it’s the right design, when we’ve built enough to know “this is what it’s going to stay like”, and when we’re satisfied with the condition. One easy way to know when we’re satisfied is when we move from building new stuff to having to make big infrastructure changes - replacing a command control system, or changing control panels, or fixing other normally-invisible bits of the layout. If we’ve decided to do some wholesale replacement of some invisible aspect of the layout, that must mean the layout’s lasted long enough for us to need to do big repairs and that we’re happy enough with the layout to do the improvement instead of tearing down and starting a new one.

In my case, replacing the signal system suggests that I’ve done pretty good with this layout.

One of the pain points for my Vasona Branch layout over the last few years has been the signaling system. The real Los Gatos - Santa Cruz branch had automatic block signals (ABS) installed when the line was reconstructed after the 1906 earthquake. (Read Carsten Lundsten’s explanation of SP’s ABS signals here to learn what automatic block signals mean, and how the SP operated them.) The SP assumed the Los Gatos-Santa Cruz line was going to need increased capacity for future San Francisco - Santa Cruz traffic. As they upgraded the line from narrow gauge to standard gauge, they also added the automatic signals to minimize the effort of running trains over the mountains. In the narrow gauge days, keeping two trains off the same track required staffs and other physical tokens, or required explicit train orders to carefully control movements. Having multiple trains follow each other in the same direction was tedious and slow. The automatic block signals got rid of some of this work, allowing railroad crews to know the track ahead was safe to occupy. Note that ABS signals only provide protection, rather than authority. A green signal means that the track ahead is clear, not that your train is allowed to occupy that track. Those train order operators at the stations along the line are still needed to let trains know when they're safe to go.

On the model, the signaling system consists of a bunch of signals placed at intervals along the track, and a signal controller hidden underneath the layout. The controller keeps track of which tracks are occupied using detector circuits and notes which switches might be thrown away from the main line, and sets the ABS signals accordingly. Soon after I’d laid the track on the upper level of the Vasona Branch, I bought a pair of signal controllers - SIC24 (“Signal and Indicator Controllers”) from Team Digital. The SIC24 is a small circuit board with a programmable chip on it; using a DCC programmer (or LocoNet), I could program in signal logic so that if a particular track detector indicated a train was present, or if the switch on either end of a single track was thrown wrong, a signal would go red. The Team Digital boards could also be connected together so that an input on one board could affect a signal output on the other. I used two boards for the needed 16 inputs and 48 outputs. All the signals were within about 10 feet of the SIC24 boards, so I connected all the signals with twisted-pair code 26 phone wire - no need for scattering electronics around the layout.

Old signal controller. Not my best work, but it worked for more than ten years.

The photos shows one of the two SIC24 boards, and the phone cable providing the connection to the other board. This wasn't my neatest job, but it worked. You can see the signal power (large green wires with suitcase connector taps), inputs are yellow wires to the left, and signals are green/white and red/white wires below. I'd realized it was easier to put resistors on all the inputs and outputs here, so they're soldered onto the wires leading to the terminal strips. The odd shape of the plywood is because it's a scrap left over from cutting roadbed for curved track. I was unsure enough about whether the signals would be interesting that I didn't bother to build for good appearances.

The SIC24 boards generally worked well. They “just worked” when the power came on, they had sufficient smarts to run ABS, they were configurable enough to handle a couple of non-standard layouts on the place, and they didn’t require having a computer in the garage with the layout. Over the years, though, the SIC24 boards did start showing problems. One problem is that there’s no way to debug what’s going on; if the indications weren’t making sense, it was hard to diagnose exactly what was happening without attaching a voltmeter to inputs and trying to remember how I’d programmed the boards several years before. I ended up building a little circuit using an Arduino microcontroller board that could listen to the two cards talking and show on a tiny screen which inputs were changing, but that was clunky to use, requiring me to crouch under the layout, plug in the device, and look at a tiny 2" screen to understand what inputs were seen. Over the years, there were also times where it seemed that bits of the signal programming were getting lost. Because I don’t have any Digitrax equipment, reprogramming the cards meant detaching them from the layout, carrying them to a programming track, and attempting to reprogram the whole card from JMRI. I’d then have to reattach the card and see whether the change took - whether the signals now worked correctly. If they didn’t, I had to guess whether I’d mis-programmed the card or if the card was having problems. The several minute delay between making a change and seeing if it worked wasn’t fun, and caused me to give up on several bad signal problem.

I’d finally gotten frustrated enough to decide to replace the fifteen year old signal system a couple years ago. There’s plenty of choices out there, both commercial and home-made. The current NMRA Layout Command Control (LCC) standard defines how to build interoperable signal systems without a central computer. The LCC boards are expected to be scattered around the layout near the signals, then connected via a common bus to communicate. RR-CirKits is selling its Signal LCC and Tower LCC boards that work a lot like the SIC24s I’m currently using. However, they’ve still got the problem that debugging what’s going on requires a computer in the garage, increasing the work required for debugging. It also required me to get up to speed on a new technology, and I’d found some of the online manuals cryptic. Another possibility would be to go in the direction of Bruce Chubb’s centralized CMRI (Computer Model Railroad Interface). CMRI systems have a computer program control the signals, and defines how the different boards scattered under the layout all talk to the central computer.

Both of these are a bit of overkill for me. CMRI seems intended a larger and more complex layout than I have, and has expectations about having a desktop computer present running specific software. LCC has the decentralized and hardcoded logic that I liked from the SIC24, but has similar problems with monitoring and debugging problems, and required me to come up to speed on how LCC worked.

Unfortunately, my day job is as a software engineer, and so whenever I come across “do I buy something to make this happen, or do I just roll my own?”, I’ll often decide to go and build it. That’s often seen as a wasteful choice - why rebuild something that’s already available on the open market? However, for a small home layout, building my own makes more sense. I’ll know the design, know how to debug it when it breaks, and won’t be forced to do upgrades.

In a perfect world, I’d have a tiny Linux computer under the layout controlling the signals, I’d be able to write my own code for controlling the signals, and I’d be able to run a little web server to show the current status of the signals. That’s not a hard thing to do these days; I can buy a Raspberry Pi single board computer for $50. The only question was how to control the signals.

To keep my “no computers in the garage” rule, I chose to build from the Raspberry Pi. This is a little computer that’s the size of a deck of cards, but runs the UNIX operating system and can be logged into and programmed just like a larger computer. It’s easy to hide away, starts up within a minute, and is infinitely configurable. To handle the inputs from sensors on the layout and to power the LEDs for the signals, I chose Model Railroad Control System’s IOX32 boards, small boards with 32 inputs or outputs that can connect to a computer. The IOX boards are built for CMRI based layouts, but the way they talk to the computer, using the standard I2C wiring that lets different devices in a single computer talk, means they can be connected to the Raspberry Pi directly. I ended up getting a Raspberry Pi “hat” - an add-on circuit board that attaches to an expansion port on the Raspberry Pi - to provide the I2C connections. Finally, to help debugging, I bought a small two line display from one of the online electronics companies. This board also talks to the Raspberry Pi using I2C, and can be told to display short messages to help debugging.

This photo shows the new signal controller mounted on plywood. The terminal strips for power, inputs, and outputs is at the top. The Raspberry Pi is the box with the red board in the lower left. The IOX32 boards are to the right of the Raspberry Pi, and the display and 5 volt voltage converter for the IOX32s is to the left of the Raspberry Pi. The crossing wires were needed to match the layout of the terminals on the old and new boards.

As can be seen from the photos, the signal system has a lot of wires going in and out. In order to make the replacement go smoothly, I set up the new system on a plywood board with terminal strips for all the connections, then wrote the software to control the signals and tested it on the bench. This also helped me confirm that the IOX32s could correctly drive the LEDs I use for signaling. More importantly, I made sure the terminal strips roughly matched the layout of the existing board so I could disconnect the old board, detach the old wires, put in the new board with controller, and reattach. I also made a few very good choices to help installation - painting the board with the electronics white for easier viewing under the dark layout, printing up very clear labels indicating the purpose of each terminal, and making sure I had good terminal strips for attaching the connections.

New signal controller in use. LEDs are for signals that aren't yet connected - I've added LEDs on the terminal strip to check their state.

Finally, I took a deep breath, detached and marked the existing cables, pulled out the old controller, and put in the new one. The new system required a bunch of manual work - soldering extensions on too-short wires, changing how some of the detector circuits were powered to ensure a safe common ground between equipment around the layout, and slowly reattached and tested that the signals still worked. This all happened within a couple long days, but it went well with no surprises.

The Raspberry Pi did make it easier to debug. Checking out the existing signals, I found one of my long-lived problems was an incorrectly-attached input for one of the switch positions. I also found some incorrect assumptions in my signal programming, and with a few lines of programming changes was able to get the signals working like the real thing. Debugging is, for now, looking at text logs spewing from a computer program, but I’m looking forward to writing some code to show the layout state on a web page next. I even added a lamp test action at start that flashes all the signals - this makes it easy to double-check that all LEDs are connected and are working.

The biggest drawbacks? The Raspberry Pi does have more complexity. It's a full fledged computer with a boot disk (stored in these modern times on a MicroSD flash memory card.) If the boot drive gets corrupted, then the signals won't work. I’ll need to keep a backup SD card just in case things break.

I must be happy with the Vasona Branch, because I’ve done a big wholesale replacement of the signal system. It took several weeks to get the home-brewed signal controller ready, but all the planning and preparation made swapping the old for the new an incredibly pleasant exercise. I now have much better control over the signal systems, can better understand why it misbehaves, and can quickly fix it so it works correctly in a prototype manner. There’s still lots to do before the layout is fully scenicked, Being willing to do this wholesale fix, though, reminds me how happy I am with the current layout, and how far I’ve come.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Bay Area Layout Design and Operations Meet: Feb 2-4 2024

My favorite model railroad event, the Bay Area Layout Design and Operations meet, will be in Santa Rosa this year on the weekend of Feb 2-4, 2024. If you've got any interest in designing model railroads, railroad history, or operating a model railroad in a realistic manner, you'll find this to be a great event!

As in past years, it'll have an activity on Friday (visit the Northwestern Pacific archives), and dinner on Friday night to meet with other attendees, presentations on Saturday, tours of local layouts on Saturday night, and operating sessions on local layouts on Sunday. The presentations will be in-person at the Finley Community Center, but virtual admission will let folks watch the presentations online.

I love this event for so many reasons. It pulls together a bunch of other modelers interested in recreating realistic historical locations. I'll get chances to share notes with others doing research on railroads. I also love that local layout owners give folks interested in operations a chance to operate on a variety of model railroads. I'll have some great conversations. I also got my introduction to operations at this event, and really appreciate the hosts opening their layouts.

If you'd like to join in, get tickets at EventBrite.

See you in Santa Rosa!

Monday, February 13, 2023

Bay Area PCR Layout Design and Operations Meet: Full video

Every year, the Bay Area has a model railroad meet dedicated to model railroad layout design and operations. As I've said many times, this is my favorite event. It's got a mix of interesting talks, layout tours, and chances for folks to participate in operating sessions on local layouts.

This year, as in previous years, TSG Multimedia handled simulcasting the show to remote participants, and shared the video on YouTube. If you're curious what sort of talks happen at a meet, check it out!

(Or view on YouTube.)

Movie Night XXIX: The Santa Cruz Mountains Come Down

Winter was a hard time for the railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The region can get a lot of rain, often at biblical levels. The area's unstable geology also ensures that the mountains really want to get to the beach as soon as possible. Every season will have some mudslides, washed away roads, and hillsides moving in ways that hillsides aren't supposed to move. However, in the bad years - the year of the Santa Cruz line's closure in 1940, the winter of 1982, and several other instances - the Santa Cruz Mountains won't get back to normal for months... if ever.

This winter has been a wet winter - worse than most, but luckily not quite to the level of 1982 or 1940. The recent fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains don't help for ground or tree cover though. As a reminder of how bad this winter was, and how much the Santa Cruz Mountains don't want to continue being mountains, we can look at this "Tour de Disaster video by Larry Rairden. Larry biked around the Santa Cruz Mountains last month to check out the damage, and his photos and videos highlight last year's damage and hint at why the Los Gatos-Santa Cruz branch of the SP isn't around any more.

When you're watched that, check out this video from a PG&E lineman watching a full sized redwood tree and hillside moving in ways neither should move.

Read more about Larry's adventures in the San Jose Mercury News's article about his adventures.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Tech Bros and Orchards

It’s Christmas, so it’s time for another anachronistic, inappropriate model!

If you’ve been in the San Francisco or Silicon Valley area in the last several years, you’ve seen long chains of large, unmarked buses during rush hour on our local freeways. These buses are the private buses for tech companies. Many of the large employers provide these buses as a way for their workers to commute. They’re especially important for convincing younger employees who want to live in San Francisco to come down to suburban office parks in the Santa Clara Valley. Facebook, Apple, Genentech, Salesforce, and others effectively run their own regional bus lines. The official term is usually “corporate shuttle”, but folks generically refer to these as “Google Buses” for the first company to run the buses.

Tech workers board a shuttle bus in San Francisco. From KQED article.

The “Google buses” are an interesting operation. They provide a way to get employees into offices that might be hard to reach because of the region's notoriously bad traffic congestion, allows the companies to fill the offices beyond what the parking lots or local roads can handle, and gives employees a nicer commute experience by giving them a way to work during the commute, minimize transfers, and be able to have confidential conversations without a competitor’s employee overhearing.

The buses are also a band-aid on Silicon Valley’s suburban growth. Because many of the tech campuses were built in former industrial areas far away from existing public transportation, the buses let employers use older buildings rather than fighting to develop large campuses near existing Caltrain, light rail, or BART, and allows them to recruit employees living in suburban areas that don’t have easy access to existing public transportation. The buses also cause conflicts in neighborhoods. Residents get frustrated by the large buses on previously-quiet streets, the buses often block traffic and city buses when waiting to start a route, and there have been many reports of rents going up in San Francisco neighborhoods when a corporate shuttle route arrives. Although there's less buses around post-pandemic, the corporate shuttles are still running.

Even though the corporate shuttles are much different than your typical city bus, the problems faced by corporate shuttles are the same problems faced by public transit providers. The companies need to create departments to decide on routes, negotiate for potential stops with parking, hire contractors to operate the bus, and negotiate with the cities when they complain about the new traffic. Employees get unhappy with route changes if a particular site refuses to keep providing parking and a bus stop, complain about the infrequent runs, and yell loudly when the Internet connection on the bus isn’t perfect when crossing a mountain range. Riding the buses can teach riders a lot about running a rapid transit service - factoring in the time between arrival at the destination and time needed to get back to the start for the next run, planning capacity and driver hours when most riders want only one or two preferred times, and noticing how most of the time for the route was spent on the surfaces streets before and after the freeway miles. The corporate shuttles also need to plan for disaster - handling broken-down buses, or re-routing buses. Google's bus system melted down one Friday when a concert at the Shoreline Amphitheater clogged traffic so much that the Google buses from the first campus stop couldn’t reach the rest of campus.

It’s hard not to see the buses around here during commute hours. You’ll see the white, silver, blue, and black buses on the carpool lanes, dashing around the streets near the offices, and clustered in parking lots during the day as they wait for the trips home. The buses started out as smaller 24 seat buses back in 2005 or so, but by 2010 most of the company was using full-size (and sometime double-deck) bus coaches. Back in 2012, some San Franciscans got curious about the big white buses going down their neighborhood streets, and started mapping the buses. They ended up drawing an unauthorized route map of the buses used by the different companies.

I spent several years working for one of those Silicon Valley tech companies with a corporate shuttle system, and most of my commutes to and from work was on a “Google Bus”. For the bus spotters among you, most of the routes I was on had the 2012-vintage Van Hool buses that a certain tech company had made to order, mostly single level but I occasionally was on routes served by the double-deck buses. Other routes and companies used the Prevost or even the Turkish-made Temsa. (All three companies are European; I’m sad that the Bay Area’s own Gillig never got into the Google bus business.) When my parents came to a “Bring your parents to work” event one year, they got to tool around between my company’s buildings on one of those same Google buses that I rode every day.

But, of course, I model the 1930’s, so a 2010-era bus carrying tech bros to former orchards and truck farm land in Mountain View isn’t quite my setting.

I’d known there were folks making model buses, but I didn’t know there were folks making accurate modern buses until YouTuber Interurban Era showed off one of Iconic Replica’s 1960’s era Flxable bus in Alameda County’s own A/C Transit colors. I’d seen these buses whenever we went to visit grandparents, so the models caught my interest. “I wonder if they have more modern buses?”

Yup. Iconic Replicas made models of Prevost coaches in HO in a variety of paint schemes, as well as the two level Van Hool buses. The buses aren’t perfect for a rivet counter; the single-level coaches lack the second exit door halfway down the sides seen on most corporate shuttles, and the models mostly tend to be available in eye-catching paint schemes. It looks like the company has made white buses occasionally, but they’re collectible and rare. They certainly haven't done the other colors often seen on Facebook and Apple shuttles.

Once I saw the models, I knew the layout needed some Google buses, regardless of how anachronistic they are.

I managed to find a pair of these models - the Prevost model in a Greyhound paint scheme, and a double-deck in a bright green “Tornado” paint scheme, and decided I’d try to convert these to Google buses.

The first challenge was disassembling. For the single-level model, there were screws on the bottom, and the clear plastic used for windows hinted that the model was actually a lower metal chassis with the upper half printed onto clear plastic. Unscrewing the screws wasn’t enough; it required a little bit of force to pull the two halves apart. The disassembled photo shows the latches holding the clear window section into the body.

Next challenge: how would I paint these? I tried several ways to remove the paint (alcohol, paint thinner, Dio-sol) and none moved any of the factory paint. I considered getting some real paint stripper and “doing the job right”, but decided this was a silly enough project that perfection wasn’t essential. I ended up masking both the chassis and windows carefully, primed with Tamiya primer, and painted with a gloss white from a Testor’s rattle can.

The final step was detailing. Most of the Google buses you see are stark white with a small reporting marks on the right side near the front door. (One common is "WEDRIVEU", referring to the contractor operating many of the buses.) I'd thought of pulling out the inkjet printer decal paper to make some custom, tiny decals, but decided anything I'd print wouldn't be readable. Instead, I grabbed some random text from a sheet of freight car info decals. Some black plastic parts (cargo hatches) break the monotony. I ended up dotting black paint on the model as appropriate, put some orange dots on the running lights I’d painted over, and called it a day. My spray can paint job didn’t hit the nose of the bus, so there’s still a Greyhound logo if you look carefully. I also couldn’t figure out how to strip the paint on the clear plastic, so my bus is going to “NEW YORK NY” instead of the more appropriate and cryptic “MPK” (Facebook) or “MTV” (Google). That's going to be a long commute from Campbell!

My Google Bus isn't my best modeling, but it was a fun project over Christmas. It's also reflects nicely on how Silicon Valley's changed from the 1930's to modern day, and highlights one of the iconic scenes seen in modern day Silicon Valley. I've still got a double-deck bus to do, but need to figure out how to strip the paint off the clear plastic safely first.

I’ll be interested to see whether I’ve modeled a Santa Clara valley detail which is just a reminder of the busy 2010’s, or a sight that future kids will immediately recognize. Although the corporate shuttles have returned to the Silicon Valley, they’re not to the volume of Before Times. Most of the tech companies are having trouble getting employees away from working-from-home and back into the crowded offices. There have also been plans to move tech offices closer to traditional public transportation. Former shopping centers near Sunnyvale’s train station were torn down and converted to office towers for tech companies. Facebook put in considerable effort to help rebuild the Dumbarton railroad bridge from Redwood City to Newark. They’d hoped the line could bring employees from San Francisco straight to their offices via the existing Caltrain line, or bring employees from Pleasanton, Newark, and Fremont across the bay. Google has been working actively on their Downton West plan for West San Jose, buying up properties and preparing for several blocks of offices near the Caltrain station. If I was redoing my layout to model 2020, I’d need to put in some Google office towers. All those projects could allow employees to use existing public transit, and make the Google Buses disappear just like the orchards did.

Got suggestion on how to strip the paint off Iconic Replicas models? Add a note in the comments!

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Bay Area Layout Design and Operations Meet: February 3-5, 2023

My favorite model railroad event, the Bay Area Layout Design and Operations meet, is happening this year in Richmond, California, February 3-5, 2023. Like always, the meet's a mix of talks about design and operation, layout visits, and opportunities to try model railroad operations on layouts in the Bay Area. Friday will have a tour of the real Richmond Pacific industrial railroad. Saturday's talks will be at the Golden State Model Railroad Museum at Point Richmond. We'll get to tour layouts in the East Bay on Saturday night. Operating sessions at local model railroads will be on Sunday. Like last year, you can also attend virtually if you're not in the Bay Area or want to enjoy the presentations from your home.

Get more information at You must get tickets in advance at EventBrite. In-person tickets include a boxed lunch. Virtual tickets give you access to watch the presentations and ask questions via a Zoom video conference. In-person tickets also include the Zoom link in case you decide not to go up to Richmond.

I love the Layout Design and Operations meet because it pulls together a fun group of folks: interested in modeling specific locations, railroad history, imitating the real railroads' operating practices, and just interested in understanding what the real railroads were about. It's also a great meet if you're curious about any of these topics. The invites to operate on local model railroads got me interested in model railroad operations, and helped me understand the differences between running trains on my own versus working with a dozen other people to get trains moving on a large layout. Like past years, we'll also offer layout design and operations consulting. If you're considering a new layout, or thinking about operations on an existing layout, you can sign up for time to talk with others about what you're building and what options you might consider.

I'm planning to have the Vasona Branch open for a Sunday operating session, so if you're interested in visiting and joining in, sign up for the meet and put the Vasona Branch down as one of your choices for an ops session!

Hope to see you there!