a thousand cuts

It seems that this year everything has crowded in to the months of August and September.

Meetings, travel, visitors, new opportunities, household repairs, appointments, special events, etc.

I've never had to turn down or miss so many things in rapid succession.

Additionally, the change of seasons is virtually upon us. A whole raft of tasks that must be completed before the snow flies now loom menacingly close.

On the upside, I have achieved more in the last few weeks than I have in some time - which is very gratifying. The back deck has been repaired, a park bench rebuilt, kitchen walls repaired & plastered, front door & kitchen walls painted, and flooring repaired.

Only a thousand more little things to do…


a grand day out

A visitor came to call from far away, a friend of Pierre Oliver's.

I zipped in to the top end of town and took the subway south. It was one of the new Bombardier-built trains without bulkheads. Going around curves can be a bit disconcerting, but the equipment seems well made and the ride is smooth. A big difference from the old British-made equipment I remember travelling on many (many?) years ago.

Pierre's friend Thorsten is a Fremo modeller from Germany who is also planning a US style layout in a rare European basement. Pierre went to a big Fremo meet in Nordhorn back in 2009 and wrote extensive commentary in his own blog.

If you don't know what Fremo is, you should look into it. Their organisation, display, and operation of massive modular layouts puts most of the public efforts I've seen here to shame.

As an aside, Pierre happens to be the proprietor of Elgin Car Shops and makes some of the finest resin rolling stock kits you'll ever see. Crisp and clean castings, fine etched frets, and clear instructions.

We all gathered at Trevor Marshall's Port Rowan layout for an op session. Initially, I played the dual roles of Fat Brakeman and Confused Conductor while Thorsten operated the locomotive. Trevor had added yet another refinement to the paperwork which, of course, threw me off for no good reason.

Later, he performed the conducting duties while Pierre ran an extra. Frankly, Thorsten did a better job than I did despite never having seen the layout or paperwork before. I'd better pull up my socks!

Thorsten had brought along some of the new leg brackets being made for Fremo modules. They seem to be galvanised steel, water-jet cut and stamped, with a swaged threaded insert for an M8 thumbscrew. Very nicely made. These take a square aluminium tube or wooden leg and offer a slight amount of adjustment for height via the thumbscrew. It shows what can be done by a focused group of builders looking for good engineering solutions.

After the trains were all safely back on the sector plate, we dropped in at Harbord House for a meal and refreshment. Long and enjoyable  discussions of trains, both real and model, followed.

A quick run up the subway brought me back out of the core and homeward.


passing on

Oliver Clubine, owner of Ridgehill Scale Models and founder of the S Scale Workshop, passed away on the morning of April 22, 2014.

Oliver built race cars, model railways, and friendships.

I remember meeting him briefly at the annual Copetown Train Show quite a few years ago. I was just getting into S scale, and he was THE local supplier for all things 1:64. Once you knew Oliver, you were in touch with the whole S community and a wealth of information.

Over the next few years, I attended several of his annual Christmas S get-togethers. I was dabbling with Newfoundland Railway equipment in Sn42. At one of these events he opined that I should enter one of my scratchbuilt cars in a contest, and gave me one of his over-the-glasses "Are you pulling my leg?" looks when I said I didn't think it was good enough to do so.

For many years Oliver and his model rail crew (including his son David) displayed and operated the S scale Ridgehill Central Ry at local shows. The workmanship was excellent, and I always enjoyed seeing the layout in action.

When it came time to build a new layout in a modular format, he asked me to participate; he thought I would "fit in" with the group. Frankly, I was flattered. While I tried to come up with something that was "good enough" visually and was an electro-mechanically reliable part of the whole arrangement, I always felt like I was somehow letting down the side except for the electron-pushing part of things - dealing with any DCC issues that cropped up.

One day a couple of years ago, on a whim, I paid him a visit at his race shop. We had the chance to talk about a lot of things (including model railways), and I was able to lend a hand unloading a semi-trailer full of specialty racing tyres. Shoving a 2-wheeled dolly back and forth through the tall stacks of rubber was easy enough even in the (indifferent) shape I was in at the time. Afterwards I shared a very nice, homemade lunch with Oliver and his wife Sandra. It was a good day with a friend, and I'm glad I made the trip.

My own health has been up-and-down for some time now which has limited certain activities in the hobby, especially with respect to public shows. I've missed quite a few events where Oliver was present, despite his own tribulations. Opportunities lost.

His passing gives me a lot to think about. I will greatly miss his input and enthusiasm.

Goodbye and thank you, Oliver.


revisionist history

However long it takes, I will gradually be moving all tool and workshop related posts from this blog to a new blog, Artem Factotum.

This blog will slowly return to model railway themed content.




I love books.

I have a lot of books, though not as many as some, it's true.

So far 15' L x 6' H of bookcases. And some bankers boxes. And some Rubbermaid tubs.
Need another bookcase, I guess.

Most of these books are technical in nature; not a lot of fiction left after the big purge of 2001. Just the favourites were kept.

Books about machining, steam engines, woodworking, sand casting, cooking, furniture repair, surface finishing, World War I, model building, blacksmithing, railway history, programming, robotics, telephones, web technolgies, chemistry, anatomy, sleep medicine, home renovation, operating systems, electronics, etcetera.

I've been talking about getting rid of things. I've been talking about that for a long time. I am getting rid of things, but not books. My fiction library is a mere shadow of its former self, and I doubt it will get any smaller. The technical library will, if anything, continue to grow.

"Isn't all this stuff available on the Internet for free?"
Show me comprehensive coverage that will never suddenly disappear overnight without warning and I'll get rid of that printed reference work. Honest.

"Why don't you just scan these books into your computer?"
Not a trivial task. It would take a couple of years. And I'd likely destroy some (or all) of the older books in the process. Bit of a sacrilege, frankly. Technically, I'd still have to keep all of the books (the primary source) in order to do that legally. So no real gain there.

I do have some commercially produced electronic collections which replaced more than a few shelves of periodicals. The image quality is not as good as the print versions. Some fine drawing elements are blurred. I recall seeing at least one badly scanned page. At least I can search the contents to find specific references. I even have some digital publications that are not available via any other medium; I use a 7" tablet to view these.

But there's something about holding a real book and flipping the pages that can't be replaced by a digital experience.

Can't explain it; just prefer it.


Getting stuff sorted out means (to me) lumping it into four broad categories.

  • Stuff to keep (needed and still works)
  • Stuff to sell (no more need for it but in good shape and still worth $)
  • Stuff to give away (likewise in good shape and still useful but of little $ value)
  • Stuff to trash (just junk OR not economical to fix OR no real need for it even if repaired)

I've now been collecting stuff for 30-odd years. Opportunity, interest, and discretionary funds coincided on many occasions. However, I subsequently have too many kits and planned projects to complete in my statistical lifetime. Owning stuff that I'm never going to use is taking up mental bandwidth and physical space that I could use more effectively. Time for some of it to go.

As far as the trash category, I've managed to move a decent chunk of that already - still more to go, no doubt.

Surplus, gas-powered garden equipment is starting to get some interest. Extra tools (not many of those) and electronic equipment are also on the block.

Kijiji and Craigslist suffice for some items but, in general, a lot of specialty goods and materials do not get the right kind of exposure through those conduits. Despite past success, I really detest garage sales; can't be bothered to do these any more. From the model end of things, my attendance at the bi-annual Model Railroad Flea Market was an utter waste of time; this venue does not seem to attract buyers outside the standard-gauge HO crowd - and it's been almost 30 years since I've owned any of that equipment.

There's an improptu Narrow Gauge gathering next week. One set of my niche-market items is already sold; I'll get to pass along that batch to an interested local modeller - very pleased that these UK models will finally get built, even if it isn't me building them.

I'll be taking along anything else I can scare up that is appropriate to the NG theme. Not that I expect to sell it all, but the right people should be aware that it is available in order to move it along.

Every cubic foot I gain back a worthwhile step forward in my eyes.
It will mean fewer things to think about,
It will mean a few dollars in my pocket.
It will mean more space to move.
These are all good things.

Too bad I'm so slow at this process...


non-standard rant

I've always been wary of manufacturers who insist on incorporating non-value-add, proprietary features into their products.

It took a long time to warm up to Apple, but their peculiar way of doing things ended up as actually useful to me in practise. Sony and Korg are both on the fecal list thanks to unnecessarily special power cords on devices I own; I won't be buying any more of their products simply because making something very slightly different from a readily available stock item in order to force customers to buy otherwise low-cost spares ONLY from them is just unacceptable "dickgineering" behaviour. Compaq long ago won a Boot To The Head nomination thanks to a few of their unique (form factor, pinout) PC expansion cards. You can, no doubt, think of your own examples.

The other day I tentatively added my new/old Engravograph machine to this personal list of infamy as I found a "security" set-screw at a (what appeared to me to be) no-brainer adjustment point. Unbelievably I do not actually own the matching tool to loosen this fastener; it's not Phillips, nor Torx (not even pinned), nor Allen, nor square. I needed a magnifier and the Internet to determine the true ID, then some patience to form the right cross-section for a temporary tool.

Turned out it is Bristol Wrench spline, 4-flute. Indications are that this is somewhat of a standard application within the print and engraving industries. It was recessed in the part so slotting it was not possible. Once I had filed up a workable tip on a tool-shaped object, I considered removing it in favour of an Allen version, but I went looking a bit further.

The Maker's Bill of Rights essentially states - no special fasteners without a darn good reason - and I have to agree.

Reading up on the subject throws some light on why this set screw might different. Very small cross-section Allen sockets tend to cam out and round off if you use them a lot and this IS an adjustment screw that would (in production use) get loosened and tightened fairly frequently. It needs to be really tight on the cutter shaft, which again increases the risk of cam out in the smaller diameters.

I've come to the conclusion that I should order the new driver bit in this case. If a self-replaced Allen-head became unusable due to stripping the hex corners, I'd be stuck with a cutter I couldn't adjust, and left with the choice of trying to drill it out (likely destroying the brass surround) or buying a complete replacement.

Or, you could chalk it up as an elaborate excuse to buy another tool.

it's alive!

I recently acquired a late 1970's "Engravograph" I-LK II manual rotary engraving machine.

It was in very clean condition, but was missing the critical drive belt and cutter bit (well, there were bits of a shattered bit lying about). A little cleanup, a few spare parts and some judicious testing later and it is now back in working order.

 Kudos to the manufacturer (who is still in business) and offers (some) support for these older machines through their dealer network.

Many (many) years ago, I spent a couple of weeks working with a very similar unit. I had a sheaf of type-written alphanumeric codes that had to be turned into engraved ID tags for two industrial buildings worth of electrical cabinets and control panels. Just the thing to assign a nerdy, detail-oriented kid.

This particular machine came with two sets of capitals-only fonts, extension posts for tall items, an auxilliary clamping vise, and three typeface carrier strips.

Supposedly you can perform light duty profile milling if you have the right cutting bit (small scale model locomotive frames?). I do know that circuit board traces (for a Launchpad device?) can be outlined if you are able to create a template to follow with the stylus. I've heard that free-form templates can even be hand-cut from heavy linoleum sheet...

which (switch)witch is which?

Didn't think I'd taken a photo of this - on film no less!

One quick scan and a digital cleanup later...

About 15 years ago, I had made up a demo control display for the Erin Mills Model Railroad Association using N scale track and turnouts.

The top "Inglenook" was controlled by a single capacitor-discharge circuit (which I thought came from a plan at Rob Paisley's excellent circuitry site, but didn't) that routed power via a diode matrix to a set of Atlas #200 "Snap" relays which, in turn, routed power to a set of Tortoise machines under the plywood. This was slow motion control of three turnouts with sinlge-button route selection. The snap relays had pretty low current draw and virtually no mechanical binding, so a single cap-D was OK. A bonus was the ability to manually slide any snap relay lever and control each turnout separately if required.

The bottom ladder used Peco PL-10 twin-coil solenoids supplied with current from one-per-turnout TTL input capacitor-discharge circuits made from plans at the TracTronics site (see SwitchWitch), also via a diode matrix. Instant and reliable snap-action regardless of how many turnouts move simultaneously, without routing heavy current through the tiny Radio Shack 0.5 Amp momentary N.O. pushbuttons (which would then arc internally and weld themselves 'closed'). Brilliant, low current control circuits for use with something like a Launchpad micro controller? Hint hint...

I added a momentary on-off-on toggle switch to the leftmost TTL input cap-D (on the lower ladder) to show individual (local) control of turnouts in this option as well. The SwitchWitch circuits can be built active-high or active-low to suit your driver output configuration. The toggle merely grounded either input.

The demo board can be seen here sitting on top of my 2.5'x5' N scale portable layout which was made for DCC and two-cab control clinic at the Erin Mills club. For some reason, I have long since disassembled both of these units and scattered the components to the four winds. Probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

A lot of modellers at that point (and probably still now) had trouble "getting" some of the electrical concepts I was talking & handwaving about. In the end, it was easier to build up some working demo units that could be mulled over in real time. Not sure how many people acted on any of the stuff I presented, though.


a horse of a different colour

I've been able to enjoy another great day of woodworking with Steven Der Garabedian (Black Walnut Studio) as he lead a class at the Lee Valley Tools Toronto west location.

The subject was a James Krenov style saw horse, similar to this one (from the Lumberjocks forum):

The material we used was straight-grained ash that Steve had picked up at A&M Wood in Cambridge. Steve pre-milled the rough stock to size to allow us to concentrate on the joinery.

My goal in taking these courses is to learn better techniques while getting feedback during the process from someone who actually makes a living with this knowledge.

This project exposes the novice to a drawbored blind mortise-and-tenon at the leg-to-foot joint, a wedged through mortise-and-tenon at the lower stretcher-to-leg joint, and a simple lap at the top rail-to-leg joint. The top rail itself is retained with two screws, as this piece may eventually have to be replaced due to wear or damage over time.

I used a striking knife instead of a pencil for marking-out the tenon shoulders to ensure crisp edges. Nicely sharpened chisels were available in class to deal with the lap joint notches in the hard ash. Shoulder planes were used to clean up the tenons for a light press fit in the mortises.

I did make one mistake during my layout of the top rail's lap joint (D'oh!), but it won't prevent me from finishing the project to my satisfaction. I can turn the error into a visual feature with little effort.

Of course, I need a second sawhorse to make a pair -
or I could just apply a light finish and use it as a quilt rack...