Hi ... Don from Cleveland, OH
Hi ... Don from Cleveland, OH ... but you can call me IntoTrains.
I'm a retired physical chemist ... spent most of my career in medical imaging ... MRI machines.
Always had some kind of model train around ... Lionel when I was a kid ... Bachmann HO when I was a teenager ... MTL Z-scale to put under a small Xmas tree. Retired now, I decided to build model railroad around steel mill theme since I worked in Cleveland mills to make cash for college.
So why am I interested in DroneBotWorkshop? Well, my interest is in using Arduinos and other small microcontrollers for LED lighting, sound, and motion (switch machines and more) to my layout. I've also moved from commercial DCC equipment to DCC++ and more recently DCC++EX which are Arudino-based. Sensors are very important also for block detection of trains as they move around layout. Lots and lots of interest in sensors on DroneBotWorkshop.
I stumbled upon DroneBotWorkshop and found the projects and topics here fit very well with my retirement hobby.
So that's my story ... hopefully some others here with similar interests!!
... hopefully some others here with similar interests!!
I certainly have similar interests, and I actually started building an HO scale railroad modeled after a steel mill operation I grew up around in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. I actually did quite a bit of work on the model, and I even still have all the parts to complete it today. But due to life's unexpected detours it got side-tracked. In fact, I had actually started building it in Pittsburgh. But then I had to move so I had to disassemble it.
It's a very long story. I'll try to give a brief overview of it. The original layout I started in Pittsburgh actually wasn't as well-thought-out as the plans I currently have today. Although it's still pretty much the same layout. The major change was to work entirely in modules so the layout could be easily disassembled in sections should I ever need to move it again. 😎
In fact, I thought that building it in sections might cause me to be more likely to rebuild it. Unfortunately, all the parts are still in the attic. Too many of life's other surprises keep cropping up. I should probably sell all the parts as I'm not likely to ever actually finish it now. I'm getting too old and my health isn't what it used to be.
In any case, I just dug out some old plans I had made. I had to actually fire up an old disk drive to find these pictures. Just so I could post them for you. 🤣
Here's the new layout modules. Each color is a separate module. They are all carefully designed to be easy to plug together with proper track connections. The entire layout is 8 feet by 12 feet. It's basically about as small as it could possibly be built. In fact, I use special techniques to be able to build this small. The curves and rolling stock has to be just so. You can't just run any trains on this layout.
Here's the layout with all the track in place on the "lower level". An interesting feature that you might find interesting is that this layout can easily be expanded by simply separating the upper half (or rural half) from the lower half (or steel mill half). If you take notes, these two halves are only connected via single tracks on the far right and left. Because of this feature the layout can be expanded with two straight sections between these two halves of the layout. For example, if you wanted to take it to a train exhibit you could take the two halves and connect them together there will two long straight sections between them. This would allow you to operate the railroad from within the center of the layout with the steel mill being at one end, and the rural area being at the other end.
Note that the light blue module in the rural half of the layout includes a removable mountain scene. Below is shown the removable mountain modules. They two can be separated from each other as color coded. By doing it in this way each module can be an independent self-contained diorama. In fact, this layout would be a great project for a school of some sort as they could have different teams of students building each of these individual modules. There are 12 individual modules altogether including these two mountain modules.
Note above that one of the mountain modules includes an entire coal mine diorama. This allows the trains to go up the mountain and bring raw materials back to the steel mill.
The bottom half of the layout is the most complex as it contains a roundhouse on the far right. A fairly complex yard in the middle area. And on the pink module is the actual steel mill itself. If you look closely you can see a smaller railroad track in an oval shape on the steel mill diorama. This is actually N-scale track and is used to create a smaller "Industrial Train". This little N-scale train is used to haul the molten steel from the furnace to the rolling mill.
I actually have all the parts and trains to build this model railroad. Including the N-scale trains and slag cars.
I was planning on having the steel mill fully "operational" with bright orange and red lights lighting up pieces of clear plexiglass to simulate red-hot molten steel. 😎
So this was going to be more than just a model railroad. It was going to be a fully operational "Tiny Town".
But alas, it has never been built. But at least I planned it out pretty well. 🤣 I also did a lot of modeling work on the actual trains. I had to paint up my own engines and cars. The following picture is not one of mine, but it's very similar. I used white rails instead of yellow rails because that's what was used on the railroad where I lived.
Anyway, you just asked if anyone had a similar INTEREST. You didn't say they had to have actually build the MRR. 🤣
So there you go. I have the interest. Just can't find the time to actually build it.
By the way, YES! I was going to have the entire thing computer controlled using Arduino and a Laptop. So when it was finished I could just sit back and watch it run.
Another little detail I should mention:
If you look back at the second picture I posted you can see that inside the tunnel (under the mountain) there are two sets of tracks. This was so I can use the trick of having one train go into the tunnel and have another train come out. 😎
I was also planning on having cameras and lighting inside the tunnel so I could see what's going on it there without having to lift the tunnel off to see what's going on. Of course, if there was a derail inside the tunnel then the mountain modules would need to be lifted off to reset things. But those mountain modules are designed to be easily removable, precisely with that purpose in mind.
Anyway, there you go. Far more than you ever wanted to know.
By the way, do you have any layout plans for your MRR, or any pictures of work already done that you could share with us? Or even perhaps of the locomotives and rolling stock you will be using?
I'll never finish my MRR, but I still enjoy seeing what other people have done with there.
DroneBot Workshop Robotics Engineer
Hi Robo Pi
Thanks for taking the time to tell me about your interest in model trains and Arduinos. Seems we have similar interests ... and neither of us has built the layout of our dreams yet. It's the journey that counts!!
My story is also kinda long. In short, my mom had a stroke late in 2013. Since I'm single, she moved in with me until she passed in 2018. During that time, I was tethered at home with lots of time on my hands. Having no exposure for several decades, I decided to explore what train modeling had become especially w/r to HO-scale steel mills. The internet is a wonderful place to learn!
To my surprise, you could buy steel mill buildings and accessories mainly from Walthers. Hot metal cars, slag cars, the whole works! Structures such as blast furnaces, coke plants (I worked as a lidman on one of these one summer!), rolling mills, electric furnaces, and much more were available from Walthers or on Ebay.
I learned that the days of AC (old Lionel) and DC (old Bachmann) power transformers were kinda over. DCC is the new thing. So I bought some track, an NCE PowerCab and a DCC engine to learn with. There was lots to learn about how DCC decoders work and how CV values can be changed.
Also around this time, I became aware of JMRI (Java Model Railroad Interface) software for the PC ... even apps to run trains on a cell phone. So I tried connecting my NCE system to JMRI running on an old PC. There seemed to be compatibility issues ... and the expansion hardware is expensive.
A very bright guy ... Gregg Berman ... figured out that an Arduino with a motor shield could generate the ones and zeros on the DCC track using the built-in PWM capability of the microcontroller. The motor shield makes the pulse train bipolar and elevates it from 5volts to say 15volts to run trains. He was most generous and made his C++ code widely available. DCC++ was born. JMRI now supports DCC++.
Gregg made his code available but didn't support it much. A new very active group has formed to carry on Gregg's efforts. They call their code DCC++EX and their website is easily found. Right now I'm trying to get a DCC++EX system configured with WiFi and such.
In the meantime, I starting buying some structures and accessories I would need for an eventual layout ... a layout with a steel mill, a small city area, a coal mine, a limestone mine, and a dock for an ore carrier. That's the extent of my layout planning ... nothing as advanced as you have done. I did make a 4" by 8" layout to use for experimentation with sensors, Arduinos, JMRI, and DCC++.
My first project was to add some yellow LEDs in a hot metal car. Of course, the visual effect is molten iron in the car. The DCC has to be rectified, filtered, and then it can power the lights.
A second project involved an ATTiny 85 Digispark Kickstarter. I put some rings of programmable 5050 SMD LEDs together (23 LEDs total). I programmed the ATTiny to display a random pattern of mostly yellow and orange with some random reds and whites. This display I will incorporate into a Walthers electric furnace kit so it looks like the furnace is operating. Guess it's time to build the structure.
Simple enough. But if one wants to put Arduinos (and ESP32s) into train cars, a buck converter is also required to get a stable 5V DC. For track block detectors to trigger railroad crossing signals, track sensors (of some kind) are required. That's how I got to know about the DroneBotWorkshop!!
Speaking of cameras. Given the excellent tutorial on the ESP32-CAM module, last week I put one on a flat car to watch the video of my layout as the train runs around on it. My many thanks to the DroneBotWorkshop!
So where am I? I have purchased structures, some engines, numerous railroad cars ... and lots of electronics. I have been watching YouTube video channels to learn about layout construction, making scenery, painting and weathering structures, etc. JMRI is up and running with DCC++ and soon DCC++EX. JMRI is pretty sophisticated ... and yes ... it can be used to run a train on a layout completely unattended ... which I think was one of your MMR dreams.
Thanks for listening to my story. I will gather up some photos and post for you to see soon.
My best to all ... and my wishes for everyone to have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!
Thanks for listening to my story. I will gather up some photos and post for you to see soon.
Yes, I still enjoy dreaming about MRR and seeing what other people are doing. 😎
By the way, the Dronebot Workshop forums has a Model Railroading sub-forum under the a main forum labeled "High-Tech Hobbies" . So feel free to start a thread there devoted to your MRR project and dreams.
I have been watching YouTube video channels to learn about layout construction, making scenery, painting and weathering structures, etc.
You're probably already familiar with Luke Towan then. He has some pretty nice playlists on his channel devoted to various aspects of creating dioramas. I have the bad habit of just watching him do it rather than getting off my but and doing it myself. 🤣
One of my problems is now is that I simply don't have the room to do it. I currently live in a very small cottage where it would be hard to set up enough space to even work on one of my modular sections at a time, never mind trying to find room for the entire 8' x 12' layout. So lack of room truly is one of the major limiting factors for me. I would love to at least build the steel mill module. But like I say, I really don't even have room to set up that one module.
To my surprise, you could buy steel mill buildings and accessories mainly from Walthers.
Yes, I drool over their kits too. Unfortunately in addition to not having the room to set up a project like that, I also can't really afford to sink anymore money into the project than I already have. So I was planning on building my steel mill and blast furnace from scratch materials. I actually have a full woodworking shop which make would make the fabrication easier. But there's still the problem of storing the modules between working on them. I was even thinking about hanging shelves from the ceiling of the shop where I could use a pulley system to life and lower the modules as I work on them so I could store them out of the way. But then there's the job of having to build the whole pulley shelf system. It might actually be just as easy to build another shed devoted to the MRR project. That's really no joke either, because I can actually build sheds pretty quickly. I have a sawmill and plenty of trees for making lumber, so materials are not a problem. But then we're talking about taking some serious time just to build the shed. There's always a trade-off to be made.
But yeah, I too love the Walther's kits. Although my modular layout is such as space-miser that a full-scale HO building would probably be too large to fit on my modules. That's another reason for making my own from scratch.
A very bright guy ... Gregg Berman ... figured out that an Arduino with a motor shield could generate the ones and zeros on the DCC track using the built-in PWM capability of the microcontroller.
The PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) is a fairly well-known technology. The Arduino boards have PWM pins that can be used to customize pretty much whatever type of PWM signals you would like to produce. You can also do the same thing using simple LM555 timer chips. The nice thing about the Arduino is that it allows you to also write fairly sophisticated programs to control the layout. Couple that with a Laptop that communicates with the Arduino and your programming capability goes through the roof.
By the way, in addition to the Arduino series of microcontrollers, there's also STM-32 boards that have very similar functionality. They can even be programmed using the Arduino IDE. The nice thing about the STM-32 boards is that they tend to be smaller in size and fit more easily inside of HO rolling stock.
In terms of leaning how to program them they are basically identical to the Arduino boards. The only difference is typically pin names. So you might need to modify some programs to a small extent to get them to work properly on an STM-32 board.
Every time someone posts about their MRR ambitions it always rekindles my desire to finish mine. But like I say, I need to solve the space problem before I could really make any progress on any actual construction.
I have a confession to make too. When the HO project got put on hold due to lack of space, I got interested in G-scale or "Garden Trains". The idea that I could build a Garden Train outside in the yard where room wouldn't be a consideration. 😊
So I actually have an entire outdoor Garden Train layout drawn up too. 🤣
In fact, not only do I have the plans drawn up, but I even have the Garden Trains!
Another nice thing about the Garden Trains is that I was going to have them battery operated. In this way the track itself would not need to be electrified. The power for the engine would come from the batteries carried within the train itself. And the train would then be controlled via WiFi from a notebook computer.
Another dream sitting in my attic. And so life goes on. I think I have 5 complete G-Scale garden trains in the attic. I bought them cheap at flea markets. So not a lot cash invested. In fact, if I emptied my attic out from all trains up there I'd probably have a place to build a MRR. Maybe that's what I should be working on.
DroneBot Workshop Robotics Engineer