Visible Computer Complete and New Garden Train Point-to-Point Device

Once again, its been a bit of time since I have last posted.  Work and other things have intervened in workshop time again…and even more into my time to post here.

Since I last posted, my son and I completed the “visible computer” project.  It turned out very well and has met all of our expectations, and it was fun too.  It has become my primary PC at home.  I’ll probably build all of our computers from now on, rather than buy them.  I like the control over the design that it gives, even without any price advantages…and it is not hard to do.

After the completion of the PC, I went back to trying to complete the new point-to-point garden railway line in our backyard.   As I noted in a previous post, I had installed all of the track and then tried to use an old analog LGB point-to-point electronic circuit to control the train.  The device just would not operate properly, and I eventually decided that it was defective (it had not been out of the box in probably 7 years or more and so was way out of warranty).

A little Internet research turned up a fellow tinkerer and a fascinating guy named Dave Bodnar, just on the other side of Pittsburgh, who is doing some amazing things with micro-controllers for garden trains.   He recently published articles in Garden Railways Magazine and in on using these small, inexpensive programmable devices in railroading.  He is a fan of the UK-based PICAXE-type controllers in particular.    In his recent article for LSOL, Dave presented his new BARC (Basic Auto-Reverse Controller) point-to-point controller for G-scale trains.  He explains how to build them if you like electronics, but he also will build them for you and sells them through his website I have found Dave to be a wealth of knowledge that he freely provides, and he gives excellent support for his products too.   While I wanted to build one, to save time I bought one of Dave’s for now.   It works great!  Far more features than the LGB model, easy installation and overall better design.  I am very impressed.

Dave has inspired me to try and build up my very limited knowledge of electronics, and I have read a few basic primers in recent weeks to scrape the rust off of the knowledge that I do have.  I’ve added “learn to build with micro-controllers” to my ever growing list of future projects.

I “helped” Dave to refine the design of his BARC a bit, by screwing up the first one that he sent me for him (I’m good at that).  Apparently “electronically noisy” train engines (i.e., not well made) can cause electronic feedback to travel back along the rails and into the outputs from the BARC.   This apparently can scramble the BARCs brains and ruin the unit.  After some emailing with Dave, we determined that my Lionel brand G-scale Thomas the Tank Engine was causing such noise and had destroyed the first BARC.  Dave immediately shipped me a new unit, and he has now added a small capacitor on the back of the BARC that will prevent this occurrence on his future models.  The BARC now runs perfectly.   You just can’t get that kind of support from a big manufacturer.   That’s why I love working with fellow tinkerers whenever I can.

I also added three of the perforated aluminum “tunnels” to the track where our plants threaten to overtake the rail line.  I came up with this technique at our old railroad at the other house, and it worked great.

Just buy the approximately 3’x3′ decorative aluminum sheets that are sold by Home Depot as covers for old-fashioned hot-water heat radiators, and bend them into a tunnel shape and place them over the rail.  The perforations in the aluminum (they come in many patterns and several colors) make the tunnels look very much like some kind of arboretum or station enclosure, and they will never rust.  I will post photos here shortly.

About mattsanf

Matt Sanfilippo is the Chief Partnership Officer (CPO) for the College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Co-Director of its Engineering Research Accelerator. In this role, Matt coordinates and enables strategic and sponsored research opportunities across the college, and stewards the development of proposals for major research opportunities along strategic themes. Additionally, he enables collaboration among the college's research institute/center executive directors, and industrial and government relations personnel in the pursuit of opportunities with industry, federal and state governments. Before becoming CPO for the College, Matt was the Senior Executive Director for Research Initiatives, the Executive Director of CMU's SII (Smart Infrastructure Institute) and ICES (Institute for Complex Engineered Systems), and Associate Director of PITA (Pennsylvania Infrastructure Technology Alliance) and RAMP (Research for Advanced Manufacturing in Pennsylvania). Before CMU, Matt was Managing Director of Applied Technology for Michael Baker Corporation, an engineering and energy services firm. Matt managed Baker's technology division including Geographic Information System (GIS), software and web development, multimedia, virtual reality, visualization, Global Positioning System (GPS), mapping and surveying services. Before joining Baker, Matt was an Innovation Director for Redleaf Group, a Venture Capital/Operating Company focused on information security, supply chain and mobility solutions. While at Redleaf, Matt managed technical due diligence for seed-stage investments and coordinated relationships between Redleaf and their partner companies. Prior to Redleaf, Matt was CIO of GZA GeoEnvironmental Technologies, an infrastructure engineering firm, and operations manager for their Internet start-up that focused on web-technologies for health and safety and manufacturing metrics. Matt is on the board of Larson Design Group (LDG), past Chairman of the Board for the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, current board member of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (PHLF), current Vice President of the Sewickley Heights Gun Club (SHGC) and former member of the Information Sciences and Technology Advisory Board for the Pennsylvania State University Beaver. Matt is also former Vice President of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Association of Internet Professionals and former Vice President of the Board of Trustees for Baker Combined Charity of Pennsylvania.

Posted on June 15, 2006, in Gadgets and Gizmos, Garden Trains. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hi, Matt! That’s a beautiful box you made for your wife a couple of posts down! She’s a lucky one!
    I love your idea for the radiator cover tunnels–I’ll have to tell my husband about that one!
    I came across your blog because I am starting a new blog carnival of posts about model trains and kids. It’s a celebration of the innocent joy that children have when playing trains. I would like to invite you to chose a blog post, or write a new one, to submit to the carnival. You can find more information here:
    Thanks for your consideration!

  2. Oops! That url got truncated. Here’s a shorter version:
    Thanks again!

  3. Thank You! I am pleased with how the band saw box came out also.
    I will submit a post to you shortly! Thanks for your interest. Kids and trains are a great combination!

  4. Hi, Matt – I am pleased to see that the auto-reverse controller is working well for you – keep up your experimenting with the Picaxe – I think you will soon become addicted to tinkering with it!

  5. Thanks Dave!
    That’s all I need is another addiction!

  6. Amsz07 Very true! Makes a chnage to see someone spell it out like that. 🙂

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