Maine Central, Lamoille Valley

Maine Central, Lamoille Valley
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Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Good, the Bad...and...the Lightning?

I've been fairly busy with summer activities for the past few months. That has meant not too much has gotten done on the layout. But hopefully things will get back into swing as we move into the fall

I did complete my kit of the Grand Trunk station I plan to use for North Stratford. Although I started the kit in January, and quickly made progress on the walls, windows, foundation and platform, I got hung up a bit on the roof and this sat a while. After finally getting the cardboard roof form cut, bent and fully built as a single piece, I painted and braced it and got it installed on the building. This finally allowed me to start the slow and tedious process of shingling the roof. I used peel and stick strips that I pre-painted. I actually ran out of shingles and had to get more to finish it off. Once done, I did some extra painting of the roof to break up the overall darkness. So that was good progress to get something completely finished.

The finished station. Lots of shingles!

This is the approximate position of the station on the layout, the upper shelf representing North Stratford and Beecher Falls. This is an elevated photo view as this shelf is closer to 66 inches off the floor. With the station in place,  I'd like to work on getting the track in up here. The far track against the wall will be the Grand Trunk. I plan for this GT mainline track to be non-operational and will in fact stage extra freight cars here to help the transition to the photo backdrop. The curving track will be the North Stratford line to Beecher Falls. It interchanges with the Maine Central to the left.
Another good thing that happened was during one evening when I had some time to tend to some small layout tasks, cleaning things up, etc. I decided it would be a great time to run a train around the layout while I worked, as it realistically had been many months since a train moved.

As many can attest, trains and rail that sit for a while tend to have issues with electrical conductivity. As I have treated my rail and loco wheels with CRC-26 a while back, I wondered if it maybe had been too long to get the same results I had been seeing for well over a year when trains last ran.

I pulled the CP local out of staging and ran it into St. Johnsbury. The sound-equipped RS10 did not have any issues moving smoothly over the rails while maintaining the sounds of the MLW Alco prime mover. This was indeed very good!

But I cannot say I did not run into an issue. It just wasn't with the train, the rail, the sound, or anything I would have expected. As I routed the CP train onto MEC rails and started to head towards Whitefield, I noticed I needed to align the turnouts in Whitefield to the MEC main line.

These turnouts are controlled by the excellent Berrett Hill Touch Toggles. The problem was that as I touched the glass over these toggles, nothing happened. I tried all 6 in Whitefield and found only 2 worked with 4 non-responsive. A quick check of my 19 toggles on the St. Johnsbury panel confirmed that they were all working well. So what was up with the Whitefield panel?

I took the panel off at Whitefield and examined things. With nothing obvious I started doing some testing. I quickly learned that the 2 working turnouts were attached to a 2 output panel, while the 4 not working were attached to a separate 4 output panel. I tried moving the toggles and turnout connectors around (easy to do as everything is plug and play with these boards), and found that indeed the issue was with the 4 output panel only. Why would this panel suddenly stop working? This was the bad, certainly.

Luckily I have a separate 8 output panel I have not used yet, so I swapped out the 2 and 4 output panels and reattached everything to the 8 output panel. Testing went well, so I re-installed the panel.

Here I am swapping the Touch Toggle leads from the panel (the orange/red/brown wires) from the 4+2 output panels on the right, to the 8 output panel on the left. The wires to the turnouts are attached to the blue connectors, which were also a simple matter of removing and plugging in to the new board. So at least this process was easy, a little good with the bad.

Here is the Whitefield panel re-installed and working properly. I took the time to drill and install 2 screws which make for a better solution than velcro strips. Now the panel is solidly in place, and working well!
As I worked I thought what might be the root cause. Unless the board just up and died, the only other thing I could think of was a recent lightning strike. A few weeks back we had a pretty active storm while we were at home, and one lightning strike seemed very close. The next day I noticed that our outside lighting wasn't working. I finally traced it to the one GFI outlet in the basement that was tripping the breaker in the circuit box. After replacing the GFI outlet, everything was back to normal. I don't really know how this happened, and nothing else was at all affected other than the GFI outlet.

So perhaps this 4 output board also was compromised by the strike? The board is plugged into a power supply and that goes to a line that is always turned off except when I am in the basement working on the layout. That line has other power supplies on it, like the DCC power supplies. Nothing else (so far) seems to have been affected. But like the GFI outlet perhaps one item in a connected chain could take the brunt of a surge?

Not sure. But anyway, there's my update, the good, the bad and the lightning!