Design Your Own Train – Apple ][ application – circa 1987

February 9th, 2018

Sometimes I can’t resist things which cross over multiple hobbies that I enjoy, especially when the price is low. I recently picked up a near mint copy of this Apple ][ program on eBay.

Design Your Own Train - box

Design Your Own Train – box

The contents are in immaculate condition and were nicely produced.

Design You Own Train - contents

Design You Own Train – contents

The program is supposed to allow you to design a layout and run trains in what is now known as a virtual environment. Here is the screen that comes up when the program is first started up. It shows a completed layout up and operating.

Design Your Own Train - startscreen

Design Your Own Train – startscreen

I spent a couple of hours figuring out how to design a railroad myself, and run a train in this virtual environment. The result was this simple layout.

Design Your Own Train - custom route

Design Your Own Train – custom route

The learning curve was quick and within a couple of hours, I had a train running – really not a bad experience. Many “modern” programs will be much, much harder to come up to speed on.

However, my impression is that the limitations of the program prevent it from becoming a real design or operations planning tool that the companies marketing claims it to be. Though I might be able to put the City Point module that I am currently working on into the program, it would be only in a stylized way. Back in the day, my opinion is that pencil and paper would have been a better tool. Here are some of the more severe limitations of the program.

  • Tracks direction is limited to the 8 fundamental cardinal and ordinal points.
  • The amount of trackage is limited to what will fit on the screen
  • Only 4 trains can be run
  • There are only left and right 45 degree switches
  • Overall, learning this program was a fun and inexpensive little experiment in nastalgia.

    Datanetics Rev B PCB Design Files Now Available

    February 6th, 2018

    As I have decided not to make any more runs of certain PCB’s, I’ve started to make the design files available for other people to use. Keep in mind, if you decide to use them, you are responsible for any and all problems, difficulties and expenses associated with the use of these designs.

    Currently available are:

  • Apple II rev 0:
  • PS/2 to ASCII keyboard:
    Software Files:
    Hardware files:
  • Datanetics Rev B PCB:
  • Since I’m sold out of them, when I get a chance, I’ll make the Superproto hardware design files available. The GAL and software is already available on the Superproto Wiki.

    Railroad Yard Control Panel

    February 4th, 2018

    Here is a proposed design for one half of the control panel for the first module.

    Railroad Yard Panel

    Railroad Yard Panel

    Since the yard is part of a peninsula, I’m putting half of the switch controls on each side, with indicator lights showing how the switches on other half are configured.

    You can also see why this is first module that I’m building. Virtually the entire City Point terminal complex can be reached directly from tracks off of this module. There were crossover switches just to left of this part of the yard, that connect the two halves together. That will be the next module that I will build.

    After starting construction of the City Point Terminal, a couple of things have impressed me.

    First is the great difference between building a mythical model railroad and building a scale model of a certain time and place. The later brings a lot of interesting little problems and tasks into play, that don’t exist in the mythical model railroad. Choosing an era that is not that well supported by commercial products, just makes it that much more interesting.

    The other is how this process is surprisingly similar to building reproduction vintage computers. Research, planning, design, fabrication and troubleshooting are all involved in a very similar way. In a sense the City Point and Army Line model is a reproduction, in miniature, of the real thing. The difference is my reproduction vintage computers aren’t scaled down, and unlike a model railroad, operate in exactly the same way, as the original.

    First Turnout Operating on City Point Model Railroad

    January 25th, 2018
    Hand Laid Stub Turnout

    Hand Laid Stub Turnout

    My first turnout on my City Point model railroad is now functional. It currently doesn’t look like much, but after paint and scenery, it should look just fine. I will be interesting to see well it works over time.

    Having never hand laid track before, I can’t imagine trying to do this without some sort of fixture. I made the main portion using a Fast Tracks switch fixture and also used their fixture for filing frog rails. The switch fixture also came in handy for soldering the bridles.

    The size of this switch is #6, and I’m using code 70 rail. The bridle design is partly from the Fast Tracks stub turnout instructions, partly from some notes that Al Mueller had made (“Making Stub Switch Bridles“). I also incorporated some of my own ideas based on examination of historic photos. The switch is controlled with a Tortoise brand switch machine.

    I still have to create the power supply for the switch machines and wire the switch and track. For now I’m using a lab power supply to test operation. I hope eventually that I’m able to connect the throw bar to a model harp switch.

    Only 9 more switches to build and install on this module!

    Engine House Module Benchwork and Subroadbed

    December 28th, 2017

    Here is the top of the benchwork.

    Engine House Bench Top

    Engine House Bench Top

    5mm Luan plywood is mounted on top of the joists. Where the track is planned to run, I used white glue to attach 1/2″ Homasote. This combination is pretty light and I’m thinking/expecting/hoping that it will be stiff enough to keep everything nicely in place. My last railroad used 3/4″ plywood for sub roadbed and it was heavy and difficult to nail into, which are two reasons that I’m trying something new.

    There is more work to be done where the engine house and turntable will be installed, as the substructure for both are below the grade of the roadbed.

    The bluffs will be built up with foam. I will start rough shaping of the foam by using the pattern from the cut away homasote as a guide.

    The current structures are simple mock ups that were made to help with the transfer of the track plan onto the Homasote.

    Engine House Module Benchwork

    December 23rd, 2017

    The benchwork is complete for the first module on my evolving City Point Terminal layout. Besides being the central focal point of the model railroad, this first module basically will be used to trial model railroad construction and modeling techniques. If the construction and modeling techniques work out well, they will be replicated on future modules, hopefully, without too much change. A model railroad always starts with the foundation, so here is a picture of the underside, as it stands today.

    Railroad Bench Bottom

    Railroad Bench Bottom

    Basic underpinnings of this module follow an L-Girder design, very similar to what I did with my original model railroad. L-Girder design is described in the book “How to Build Model Railroad Benchwork“, by Linn H. Westcott. I have the second edition.

    Changes from my original railroad benchwork

  • Is a much smaller size. This was done to allow the railroad to be built in pieces, moved and reassembled with minimum amount of problems. This module is 6′ 6″ long by a maximum of 4′ wide. Based on what I see today, I think that this is close to the largest size that still could be considered somewhat portable. It will have to be tipped vertically in order to move through normal doorways, but I hope that the finished module will be light enough that this can be done by a couple of people without too much difficulty.
  • The legs are bolted on to facilitate moving and storage. The bracing on the legs is done differently than what I did before. The end braces are connected where they cross with a dato joint and attached to only one side of the legs, rather than crossing on opposite sides of the leg. This construction should result in more stiffness, with slightly less weight. The other brace going down the side of the L-girder, is shorter than before. This length should provide plenty of stability but allow easier access to the underside of the layout.
  • The sides of the benchwork where it will eventually mate with adjacent modules are edged with pine boards. The open edges where the module does not mate with adjacent modules will eventually be covered with painted hardboard.
  • Next blog post will describe the top of the benchwork and roadbed.

    First City Point Model Railroad Module Benchwork

    December 22nd, 2017

    This is the plan for the first module of my City Point Terminal Civil War model railroad. Additional modules will be added where each track leaves this module.

    Model Railroad Engine House Module

    Model Railroad Engine House Module

    At one point, I was going to model early December, 1864, as the 6th Army Corp returned from the Shenandoah Valley. However, I have decided that the late March, 1865 meeting between Lincoln, Grant, Sherman and Porter right after the battle for Fort Stedman would make a much more interesting moment in time. Besides major leaders, this moment also provides opportunities to depict masses of prisioners, and cavalry movements, as Sheridan’s cavalry passed near City Point upon his return from the valley during this time.

    The City Point terminal changed a lot over the period of Army occupation, and this is my best guess of the track layout at that point in time. This map has been edited in Photoshop to reflect differences between Merrick’s original map, which was made after the war and suriviving photos. There are two small buildings between the tracks on the right side of the diagram, that don’t show up on the map, that I will need to add. Also, there were two water tanks, one apparently was replaced by a small building before Merrick’s map was drawn.

    My next post will show the benchwork that I have already constructed for this module.

    IMac Repair Update

    December 14th, 2017

    My previous post on a couple of attempts at an IMac repair was here:

    I glad to report that I’m convinced that the problem is resolved, as the unexpected power off issue has completely vanished.

    Modern Views of the City Point and Army Line Yard Location

    December 12th, 2017
    Taken November, 2017, This View From the Bluff Views the Location of the City Point and Army Line Engine House

    Taken November, 2017, This view shows where part of the City Point and Army Line yard was located

    This picture was taken from the bluff, where the impressive row of barracks were located. The First Baptist Church of City Point is located there now. The bluff at the far side of the picture is where the railroad hospital was located. After taking this and several other pictures, a resident asked me if I was with the company that was planning some development there. I said no, I was interested in Civil War history. He said that was understandable. Maybe I should have asked him what was up, but felt that I didn’t want to disturb the residents any more than I already had done.

    Here is a famous view taken from the same general location during the Civil War.

    Water tanks and bluff where railroad hospital was located

    Water tanks and bluff where railroad hospital was located

    Here is a modern view of the cut leading to the yard.

    Cut leading to City Point Termnial

    Cut leading to City Point Termnial

    The US Military Railroad laid 3 parallel tracks in this cut.

    My overall impression is that there wasn’t a lot of extra space at City Point. Everything seems like it must have been squeezed pretty tightly together.

    Another Book about Lincoln at City Point and a Correction

    December 3rd, 2017
    two Lincoln at City Point books

    two Lincoln at City Point books

    The book, “Abraham Lincoln At City Point” was written by national park historian, Donald C. Pfalz and published in 1989. My new book, “Lincoln’s Greatest Journey” was written by Noah Andre Trudeau and published in 2016.

    Both books contain a remarkably similar account of Lincoln’s stay at City Point in late March and early April of 1865. I would say that Pfalz’s book is a bit more scholarly in nature. Trudeau’s book is written more for general consumption and contains more background information about what was happening with the war in general and at the Petersburg front in particular.

    Despite the duplicate subject matter, for someone modeling City Point during this period in time, I can’t imagine not picking up both volumes. There aren’t really that many books that use so much ink describing what was going at at City Point, at the time.

    Now, for the correction. A while back, I made this post describing a theory I had about about Lincoln’s travel to the front on March 25th.

    Though I still think that Mr Pfanz was wrong in his assessment that the train took them to Patrick’s station, I was missing some information, and didn’t read the train reports closely enough.

    My assessment was also wrong. I should have investigated further, but it turns out that Meade’s HQ was near the Aikin’s house, which was near Parke’s station. Here is crop of Michler’s map of the Petersburg fortifications, showing the area from Meade’s HQ to Fort Wadsworth, the area that Lincoln’s party visited. I have labelled the area of Parke’s and Warren’s station, which are not noted on Michler’s original map.

    Lincoln's Visit to the Front

    Lincoln’s Visit to the Front

    It’s interesting that the train report that Bernard Kempkinski found in the National Archives doesn’t list a Parke Station at all. I suppose it was more of whistle stop, rather than a regular station. I now believe that Lincoln’s party probably left the train at Parke Station and went directly to Meade’s HQ, which would have have been proper protocol for a commander visiting his subordinates army. However, if Parke Station didn’t have the facilities to unload the horses that were brought along, the most logical first stop would have been Warren Station.

    Meade’s HQ area is where Lincoln’s party saw the prisoners from the fight for Fort Stedman. I finally realized why there would be prisoners so far from where the fighting took place, which was part of my confusion in the past. Meade’s army would have had provisions and procedures for handling prisoners. During the Civil War, the army’s provost guard HQ was usually near army HQ. Most likely, all prisoners the army captured, were sent to a holding area somewhere near the provost guard HQ for processing. This is why the prisoners from the fight at Stedman were marched to near the Aiken house.

    I don’t believe that Lincoln actually saw the battlefield around Stedman, itself. Since they were so far from the big fight at Stedman, I’m not really sure how many dead and wounded that Lincoln saw that day. However because of all the fighting going on across the front that day, it’s very likely that some wounded and perhaps a few men that had expired from their wounds were in the area that Lincoln visited.

    From Meade’s HQ, it would have been a fairly short ride by horseback to review part of the fifth corps and then on to Fort Wadsworth. There, the party could have obtained distant views of fighting going on in the area. From Fort Wadsworth, the group could easily have proceeded down the line to Patrick’s station, before returning to City Point on the train.

    I think that Trudeau’s book describes this trip to the front, pretty well, though I’m kind of skeptical about how many dead and wounded men were seen by the group.