Making a lift-out section

When I was making my large valley, I had to come up with some way to be able to work on the valley both while building it, and afterwards. I initially thought up a rather hair-brained scheme of trying to build a support system that would allow me to climb over the layout and reach down onto it, but sanity prevailed and I decided it would not be practical.

I decided to make one section that can be lifted out, carefully positioned so that once removed, I would be able to reach everything from that spot. To make my life easier I decided not to have the river running through that lift-out section as I was concerned about hiding the joins that would cross the water of the river.

Fortunately, I also realized that most of the work on the lift-out section needed to be done first, so that I could work on making the landscape from where the river would be, then take it out to complete the river.

As a result, I worked on three areas of the layout in parallel, the lift-out section, the river valley, and a hill next to the other two parts. This describes how I made the lift-out section.

The first step was to make a plywood base that fitted over some of the benchwork framing.

Making a valley floor

My layout features a rather large valley running through one area which has very little access for doing landscaping. I therefore decided to make the upper valley floor as a separate section that could be landscaped and then moved into place when mostly done.

This hole in the layout is what had to be filled with the valley section.


Making a culvert

When I was creating my lake, I needed a substantial source of water coming into it so that I could justify the water going out through the weir, so I constructed a culvert under the mainline. This shows how I went about creating the culvert.


Outdoor signal with wi-fi control

A few years back I created a replica of a German signal which stands outside our house. It was manually controlled by four switches in the base. Some folks were surprised that I had not made it fully automated and controllable from my phone, so to appease the underwhelmed, I have now done so!

I replaced the four toggle switches with an ESP8266 processor which drives an array of relays that switch each light on or off as needed.

An app on my phone allows me to pick any aspects for the main signal and the distance signal.


Mobile phone layout control app

I have always liked the idea of being able to control my layout from anywhere in the room. As technology has changed over the years I have implemented this capability in various forms.

First there was a PDA version (2005) that worked very well, but the hardware became redundant.
I then redid it using HTTP so it could be controlled from any browser. This works pretty well but I never got around to making the images update without doing a full screen refresh. I also added the capability to control things by voice, but that is not conducive to cab control.

Now that I have found ESP8266 and Blynk technology I have implemented a third system that runs on Android or iOS which I present here.

There are 6 tabs in the app and the most interesting tab is of course:

Cab control tab


Miniature RemoteSign for arrivals and departures

About 12 years ago I created RemoteSign so that I could display arrival and departure information for the trains. I use that on multiple monitors in the layout room to display traffic movements for different stations. I have now taken that a step further, by implementing RemoteSign on a microprocessor that drives small OLED displays, small enough to be used within an HO scale station!

I have not yet built my main station building kit, so I took this photograph of it sitting on my desk with an HO scale figure to show its size. It shows real-time data of my model train movements in my Wilsnack station. (The protective screen is still on the screen making the text look a bit fuzzy.)


Room lighting with RemoteSign

After 6 years, I decided to upgrade my layout room lighting so that I could also control it from the layout software.

I wanted to be able to dim the room lighting automatically so that sunrise and sunset sequences could be done smoothly. Until now I had to manually adjust the dimmers of three lighting circuits which was somewhat tricky.

Purchasing digitally controlled lighting would have been prohibitively expensive and furthermore I was not prepared to remove the existing LED strips from the ceiling above the layout. I decided to implement digital access to the lighting by adding electronics where the existing lights obtained their power and were controlled by the dimmers.

I have four circuits:
  • Warm white ceiling lights - drawing about 3.5 Amps at full power.
  • Cool white ceiling lights - drawing about 5 Amps at full power.
  • Mountain backdrop lights  - drawing about 2.7 Amps at full power.
  • Hidden area lighting  - on/off - which draws about 3 Amps.

I decided to use an ESP8266 NodeMCU processor to control the lights. This is a small processor about 1" x 2" in size and can be bought for less than $5. It is capable of connecting to WiFi and has a number of outputs that can be used for the lighting, but these outputs are only 3.3V and only capable of 12mA, so those logical level outputs had to be fed to some components that amplify the signals and drive the high current load of all the lights.

I also found some technology called Blynk which includes the ability to easily create an app that runs on mobile devices and can 'talk' to the ESP8266, thus providing a handy visual interface to control the lights. Here is what my Blynk app for the lights looks like: