Starting next Monday (September 28) we will be auctioning a custom painted and weathered EMD/Alco “tan” ProtoThottle on eBay. ALL proceeds benefit the Princess Margaret Cancer Hospital. Please consider a bid on this unique throttle and/or share with others who may be interested. Thank you!
A New Product Sneak Peek
Most of us consider ourselves serious model railroaders – very much into prototype modeling, or at least prototype-based freelance modeling. Michael and Scott are more in the former category, I’m more in the second. But sometimes you just want to see a train run while you’re working.
A bit over four years ago, Michael put together something he called the “DCC auto-reverser” out of an Arduino, an LCD shield, and a motor shield. We designed it for the St. Louis Railway Prototype Modelers’ meet to just operate a train back and forth on our short test track, stopping and reversing the engine when it tripped a sensor at either end. As soon as Scott Thornton saw it, he wanted one for his IAIS Milan Branch so he could have a train moving around while he worked on scenery and other things. Michael published an article on how to build it, and that was pretty much that. We didn’t think of it as a product at the time. It was just a clever hack we’d put together to solve a problem, and we put the solution out there for others who were interested in building their own.
We’d periodically get inquiries about building one, and a few questions about substituting newer parts since the original Arduino shields used were getting hard to find. Since Tam Valley exited the market and no longer offers their Train Shuttle controller, there really aren’t any commercial solutions (that I know of) to this fairly common need. So, back in April we decided to finally give it a go and try making it into a real, complete, supported product.
WiFi Railroad Signal Controller
One of my summer projects for 2020, while spending all day, every day at home, was to finally get my railroad signal restored and up in my back yard. It’s a hodge-podge that’s the end result of 18 months of collecting the necessary parts. The head is a Union Switch & Signal H-2 style searchlight (acquired from a guy in Las Animas, whose dad had acquired it in Texas many years ago), the relay inside of it came from a signal collector in California and is also ex-SP, the pole is from a retired crossing signal in Colorado (and purchased from a scrapper in Denver), the milemarker is pieced together from several ex-MoPac number plates (from a friend who moved back to Kansas and didn’t take it with him), and the other assorted hardware is a collection of stainless steel bits mostly from McMaster-Carr.
The only thing missing was a way to control it. Sure, I could do something old school, like toggle switches, but that’s just boring. Besides, if I could expose the signal controls on my local network, I could control it using my phone or maybe eventually scripts reading data from ATCS Monitor so that it could react to actual rail traffic. Thus, it was settled – the controller had to be WiFi-enabled and expose a web interface.