Weekend Update 28

Trains, Weekend Update

In my last post I alluded to an issue with my second ScaleTrains SD40-2, rather than detailing it in the post I sent off a note to ScaleTrains support line and ended up in an email conversation with the VP of Product Development well after normal business hours. Huge kudos to ScaleTrains for the great support. That locomotive is still waiting on a decoder but in the meantime I had a friend point out that I had managed to get two BNSF SD40-2s with a number ending in 21. Wasn’t intentional… just made sure I didn’t do the same number.

My friend Mike had an operating session this last week and I took 6821 and it ran exceptionally well which is always nice. I managed to grab some photos of it in the wonderful scenery Mike has done.

On a more local note I’ve been doing a little bit of work on my layout, it hasn’t been much because of being busy, seasonal illness etc but finding some little things to do when I can. I had the idea to 3D print some knobs for my PDC switch machines… and then my imagination got the better of me. First I thought it’d be cool to have a representation of the turnout on the knob. Then I took it to the next logical step, put LEDs in it that light up to show the current route.

Turnout knob.png

I’m sure it would have worked but I’ve come to decide it might be too fiddly and I should probably take a step back and go with something simpler for now at least.


ScaleTrains SD40-2 Update


As an update to my previous post I did find the biggest problem I had was related to layout issues not electrical pickup (dirty track and a failing power routing switch on a turnout). The next issue was a fuel tank issue that I was able to easily fix so I wanted to update because I realized after the fact I might have come across a bit more negative than I wanted to and don’t want to leave my readers with an incorrect impression.

I also received a second SD40-2 (though this one doesn’t have a DCC decoder yet) and a buffer service hopper. I’ll have more on this in a later post as there was a slight issue with this order and I am going to wait until ScaleTrains responds before I post on it.


Progress on the layout is going well, I’ve been installing ties on the turnouts and have some found some electrical faults that need to be fixed but after a long drought work is getting done.


(Sorry for the poor lighting, the layout lighting messes with my phones camera and the room lighting is positioned such that I could only get a picture with my shadow in it)

ScaleTrains SD40-2 first thoughts


Today I received my ScaleTrains Operator edition SD40-2. I had pre-ordered this one back in July of 2016. Originally these were supposed to ship January 2017… so a little late. Now you may be thinking ScaleTrains has been shipping SD40-2s for a while, which is true but not the sound editions which I understand was delayed in at least part because of the new sound decoder. It did come two days after my birthday so it makes up some points there as a birthday present for myself I bought a year and a half ahead of time. I don’t really fancy myself a reviewer and my intent was not to write a review but I have some initial thoughts that I thought I’d share… so this is kind of reviewish I guess.


To start off with it was very well packaged and looks great, and once I figured out the decoder (more on that in a bit) it sounds great too. This is my first experience with Loksound and it definitely sounds great.

I also ordered the details pack, since this is the operator version it doesn’t have the separately applied details like grab irons but ScaleTrains offers a set of detail parts so you can add them later. I pre-ordered these at the same time and at the time ScaleTrains had no details on what this would mean, including no price. I had hoped at the time these would be painted appropriately for the model and would just be an installation…


… but nope. It is a very comprehensive set though and I’ll need to do some practice mixing paint to get things to match properly. I wouldn’t count this as a knock against ScaleTrains, I get why they are unpainted but it’d have been nice to have them painted to save a step.


I can’t find much information on this decoder, hopefully just because it’s so new. It’s called the ESU Essential Sound Unit and all I know for sure right now is it does not have a keep-alive… at all. I’ve also not found any documentation on the decoder, if anyone knows of any I’d appreciate if anyone knows where to find it. When I first plopped it on the track I got nothing, which ended up being an electrical pickup issue (more on that in a bit) and after some fettling I got it moving but no sound.

After more messing about I figured out you had to hit F8 first which is completely different than any other sound decoder I’d used… probably some useful information to document but maybe it’s a Loksound standard behavior. Again, wouldn’t be a problem if there was any easy to find documentation, either in the box or on the ESU website. I also haven’t figured out how to use the horn, maybe there isn’t one but that seems unlikely. I could say something about documentation but I don’t know that I need to keep repeating myself.

Electrical Pickup

This has been the biggest letdown, and it might not be the locomotives fault. My shelf layout has been pretty dormant for a while and likely dust buildup is an issue. That said my Kato SD38-2 with sound ran over it without a single hesitation but it also has a keep alive (which to me is a shocking absence on a sound decoder). Pushing things around I did get it to move pretty well on it’s own getting to the point where there are minimal stalls. This could be related to issues in the track work, wiring, or dirty track I’ll have to do more investigation to find out for sure.

UPDATE: I did find the poor electrical pickup was related to the layout not the locomotive, it doesn’t seem to have a keep alive but some track cleaning mostly fixed the problem and I found some failing switches causing deadspots

Running Qualities

When it’s working it runs really well, it has quite a lot of coast programmed in which is probably pretty realistic but on a shelf layout with tight quarters something that’ll need to go so I don’t go over the edge or push cars off. Aside from pickup issues I found the fuel tank is extremely close to the track. So much so that it got caught up on a very small vertical rail misalignment. I did later get it to run over that section so not sure what was going on. Maybe it was something else causing the issue…. I at least hope so.

UPDATE: I figured out the fuel tank issue, there is a spacer on the 4000 gallon tanks and if it’s not installed properly pushes down the front of the tank. All it took to fix is pull a single screw and press the spacer in. If you have the same problem hopefully this note helps you quickly fix it yourself.

Closing Thoughts

Overall it’s a nice model that looks good and sounds good and feels quite solid. I can see why ScaleTrains expects this tooling to be a revenue generator for 20 years. That said I’m concerned by the pickup issues and I hope I can get them sorted because a model that looks good and sounds good doesn’t do any good sitting in the box unused or on the display shelf. I also have another decoder less one coming that I ordered before this arrived with some unexpected birthday money and pre-ordered a rivet counter version in EMD lease paint. I’d really rather not have three brand new display only SD40-2s.


Finding the groove again


2017 was not much of a year for my modeling and blogging, it was a busy year for me and not one for inspiration. In fact my shelf layout was more of just a shelf.

I did print some cool stuff like this RC car.


Everything except the nuts/bolds, tires, and electronics were printed (and the gear that exploded after some test runs). It’s a blast knowing I can easily print any parts that break (which has already happened) because this thing is basically guaranteed to crash at speed. (which might be related to me test driving on snowy/icy sidewalks)

More recently I’ve started cleaning off the shelf again and getting back into things. In the corner I’d put a box in as a mockup for a building but it never really felt right and then one day I took out what of my early prints off thingiverse which was for a large HO scale propane tank. The source model wasn’t great and the printer I used wasn’t great and the filament I used was pretty crap. On a whim I put it in the corner and imagined a couple others (better printed) and a security fence around it.


I have some Alkem Scale Models fencing that I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to use but would work perfectly for this.

A little something on Saturday


I haven’t had time lately to do much modeling, and by much I mean any. So I made a point to sit down and do something so what better to do than assemble some couplers. That turned into installing them on yet to be converted hardware and got these converted and a couple extra couplers ready to go.


Over course I had help from my youngest David as evidenced by the presence of his trains. I do have to say those ore cars look really nice with the Sergent couplers!


Lumber Loads


For quite a while I’ve wanted to make some lumber loads like Chris van der Heide detailed on his blog here. He makes them from scrap wood cut to scale and wrapped in a printed cover. One of the impediments for my was my table saw was in storage and it wasn’t a big enough project to justify getting it out of my garage attic. Well I finally got it out of my attic for another project so I thought I’ll whip a couple of them out quick… Well I got close on a couple but decided it wasn’t safe enough to do on my table saw. Perhaps with a better one or a cross cut sled it’d work better, or even a band saw (which I don’t have) but I gave up before I ended up hurting myself.

So back to the drawing board. I decided to see how much filament it would take to print a hollow box on my 3D printer. It turns out if I do the bottom, a couple perimeters and no top layers it’s only about 5-20 cents each (including electricity) and you get a little box like this (I changed filaments for a larger project between these two which is why the color difference)


If you want to print them you can get them here on OnShape. It’s parametric so if you want to adjust measurements you can easily do this. I just used the sizes from Chris’s blog. For printing I’d recommend doing no infill, you may be able to bridge the top to make it a solid box but I just didn’t do a top. This way if I want I can add weight later if I need to.

I printed out one of his PDFs (Yes I’ve combined 2D AND 3D printing for this. If it becomes possible to print another dimension I’ll have to try to incorporate that too!) and glued it to the box and viola:


I have to say it turned out pretty well, much better than my crappy cell phone camera* conveys. I will have to track down at least one lumber car as I don’t have any to put these loads on.

*Yes I technically do have a decent Nikon DSLR that was my wife’s until I bought her a nicer one but she’s since run off with the kit lens for her own use leaving me without a lens.

Printer Rebuild

3D Printing

Back in June I included a picture of a 3D printer I was building:

printer build

Earlier this summer I got to the point where it was mechanically assembled and just waiting on a control board. I want to put a good control board in it, which translates to expensive, so it went on the back burner as things like rebuilding a transmission took priority. Eventually my Anet A8 got to the point where I just would get wildly different results from day to day which meant it was hard to print things because the problems I solved Monday were back on Tuesday and a different sent of fixes would be needed. I very strongly suspected this was related to cut corners in the Anet. Like instead of 6mm thick aluminum frame a brittle acrylic frame that isn’t very rigid. Or instead of pulley’s with teeth flat pulley’s and so on.

Since the printer I was building fixed these problems (and using a power supply that wasn’t likely to blow up) I thought, hey why not use the circuit board from the Anet to power my Prusa build temporarily. It involved tearing down the Anet and finishing up the Prusa but it’s working:


Not pretty… but working phenomenally and I’m finally getting things printed. Including some pallets I promised to send a friend in July (They will be coming soon Bill!). In the mean time how about some fun prints I’ve been working on.

I love 3D printed vases, they are so fun to watch being printed and some of the designs available are so cool like this one by Devin Montes that you can find on MyMiniFactory here.


This is another model that I’m still printing parts of called Bullet Bill (from the Mario games) by Martin Moore available on MyMiniFactory here.


Decal Time


A few days I go a friend had some decals, or as the Canadian’s call them “decals”* he had gotten from someone else he didn’t need so I took a bunch of them with hopes that I could find what I need for at least a couple of my otherwise stalled projects


Since I’ve never done decals before this is a bit of a motivator to try something new and get some stalled projects moving. Since most of the decals were BN I knew just the project to start with. I have this basic Bachmann 40′ gondola that ironically was originally BN but I repainted it several years ago and in the last year stripped and re-painted it BN green (The Good, the Bad, and the Masking Tape).


Prior to this it was painted entirely in flat Vallejo paint, but since a glossy surface is, as I understand it, better for decals I needed to make it glossy. I have had Vallejo gloss for a while but as I detailed in “I hate airbrushes” my airbrushes are all broken so I broke down and bought a cheap one at the local big box hardware store. And when I say cheap… it’s like a $10 single action. At that money it’s basically disposable and something I can practice with until I decided to take another stab at fixing my other ones or break down at get a quality airbrush.

*Yes I know the decal/decal pronunciation joke only works if it’s spoken but I did it anyway.

Recording Box Part 1

3D Printing


As part of my new job I’m working from home a lot more and spending more time on internet video calls. My wife wanted a better way to know when I was on a call so she wouldn’t walk in. This was a problem that was well suited for an over engineered solution.

I could have done something simple, or I could get a Raspberry Pi Zero W to remotely turn a light on and off and then design and 3D print an enclosure for it. So naturally I went with the simple overly complex option. I also found these massive LEDs that are designed for LCD backlights, 45mmx86mm (1.77inx3.39in) and used two of them and then designed the sign around it but it was a very tight fit with my printer’s current configuration so it was a bit of a squeeze.


With a place to squeeze the LEDs I needed a screen and I thought what they hey I’ll try printing it with white PLA. If I keep it thin it should still light up and I can then include the spacing for the letters so they’d pop in when I printed them in black. That sort or of worked but next time I need to tweak it to give more tolerance.


Then I needed something to provide a top cover to frame it in, if I print this again (and I probably eventually will just to make it even better) this piece is a little flimsy so some redesign is in order.


Finally the last piece was a place for the electronics, I was originally do this all fancy with mounting pins for Raspberry Pi but just made it a box with a hole for power cord. Maybe I’ll do that for Version 2.


The next post will have it wired up and a shot of it lit up (because I just finished printing the base today and haven’t had time to wire it up yet) and maybe even a little code for how it’s going to work if people are interested. My plan is to have an app that will manually turn it on and off, tie into the Microsoft Outlook API and have it turn it on and off for calendar events and try to see if I can detect the webcam is turned on for unscheduled meetings. I don’t know if that last one will work I’ll give it a try.

If you are thinking, I thought this was a model train blog what’s up with this nonsense there’ll be more railroad related content coming up in addition to the obligatory train picture below (and more 3D printing content too).


More Printing Updates

3D Printing

I know this blog has been a lot of 3D printing lately, and even with that fairly sparse on the updates. There are a number of reasons for that, I went through a period where I just wasn’t in the mood for it and I recently made a significant job change (now I’m an independent software consultant) and just been really busy. To top everything off the transmission went out in my truck just as I was ending my last job (and it’s still waiting for funding to get fixed).

So I haven’t had much time for “hobby” stuff but here are some things I’ve done in the last month or two collected together. A while back I started building a second 3D printer myself going off the Prusa i3 design. My Anet A8 is actually a clone of the Prusa i3, in fact a lot of 3D printers are based on the Prusa design in large part because it’s an open source design. To the non-technical readers of my blog that means the plans are all openly available for use.

printer build.jpg

As I said functionally it’s basically the same as my Anet A8, just using better materials. This has been a long running project because I’ve been sourcing parts from overseas, mostly China, to keep the costs down and that can take forever to arrive. All the blue parts I printed on my Anet A8, and in fact to this day on the original Prusa (which you can buy assembled or as a kit, it’s a very highly recommended printer) the plastic parts are all printed and being open source I was able to get the exact model files to print them myself. Pretty cool if you ask me.

With my new job I’m doing a lot more remote work and that involves online meetings so I picked up a nice web cam and decided to test it out printing a miniature vase model which turned out pretty cool… shame the camera itself didn’t work out reliably for meetings and is on it’s way back right now. What’s interesting in this method is that the bottom layers are printed normally and then the rest is printed a single perimeter thick constantly increasing in the Z-axis height. This is using a much larger than normal nozzle at 0.8mm, normally I run a 0.4mm and for detail stuff as small as 0.2mm and the bigger nozzle means the single perimeter is thicker and less likely to have holes in it.

Finally something kinda sorta train related. When I installed the strip lighting on my shelf layout the adhesive backing basically didn’t work reliably and it the whole thing ended up being held up by masking tape. Well I finally designed a simple clip that will hold it in place. This is the first successful print, got a bunch more to print but at least i can say I did something for the layout right?