Thursday, June 11, 2015

Train Work

I'm not sure who started it, my son Brendan or my wife, but when I'd head downstairs to the basement to do any sort of model railroading activity they called it going to do "train work".

I sure wish I was paid for that kind of work...

Anyways, not all train work is actual train work. Aside from building a pile of freight cars that have lingered for too long on a shelf. I've been working on building a computer for my workbench.

After buying my first computer back in 1999, I've always built my own PC's. I picked each component that I wanted, not what Dell or at the time Gateway wanted. I'd assemble all the parts and then install the operating system and needed software myself. Building and troubleshooting my own PC's was a good learning experience that has lead me to nearly completing a 2 year degree in Computer Science, with an emphasis in Cisco Networking.

When my laptop that I used to program DCC Decoders died, I knew I needed to something more permanent for my workbench and the future layout. Luckily I upgrade my main PC with higher performance parts every few years, so any cast off components can still make a pretty decent computer, especially for a basement workbench.

My new PC was built in one evening mainly with parts from my previous PC build and a spare PC case. A dying monitor was also reused by soldering in new capacitors, saving some more money in the process. Only a new hard drive, an inexpensive video card and about eight replacement capacitors for the monitor were purchased totaling maybe $110, if I remember to send in the rebates.

These are the parts that went into this build
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 @ 3Ghz
  • MSI P35 Neo2 Motherboard
  • 4GB of Ram
  • 1TB WD Blue Hard Drive
  • EVGA Nvidia GeForce 730
  • An extra MSI DVD-RW
  • A spare PC Mini Tower Case
  • Surplus old mouse and keyboard
  • Resurrected Samsung LCD monitor
No more trips upstairs to look something up or access my photos and research files. Now I have a capable computer for the workbench and also for connecting to my NCE DCC system with JMRI. Mentioning the JMRI software is almost worthy of a whole new blog post to describe what it is and can be used for, but in short I'll use it to easily program the DCC decoders in my engines and possibly control the few signals that were used on the section of the W&LE District I'll be modeling.

The new basement PC at home on the corner of my workbench. My large main work light is turned off to make a photo so all washed out.
And yes some train work did get completed in the process of building the basement PC. While installing Windows and other software like Adobe Photoshop Elements, Chrome, Google Earth Pro(now free!) and of course JMRI, I got some work done on the last of my PRR hoppers.

The last few were a very cheap eBay win(?) of three built PRR H-21a hoppers with upside down parts and glue marks everywhere. I thought I might be able to improve them and give them a good weathering job to hide any remaining imperfections. So while software was installing I began popping off the upside down parts and sanding down glue blobs.

Tips for car building: 1 beer limit, read the instructions and easy on the glue!
During this train work the new PC on the workbench started proving it's worth when I thought to research these hoppers I was building. I know enough about the Pennsylvania freight car fleet to know that anybody modeling almost any railroad should have some Pennsy in their car roster. But the specifics like while the Pennsy had a lot of H-21 hoppers, it hardly had any H-22 hoppers left by the mid 1950's was a surprise to me.

Of course this was discovered after already building my two PRR H-22 kits...

Anybody want to trade for 2 built PRR H22 hoppers?


  1. It's great that you know a lot about computers, Chris. With your knowledge, you can usually figure out what causes its problems, if there's any, and you don't have to panic when something goes wrong. That's a good looking computer by the way. I hope you're enjoying it. And that's a pretty cool train too! :-)

    Donald Steadman @ Office PCS

    1. Thanks Don! I have panicked a little bit over a PC issue like a potential loss of data, I can usually work out of the issue and get things back to normal.