Hello, World! (DCC++ & JMRI)

The prototype DCC system is up and running. I decided to home brew my DCC when I read about DCC++ and realized I had an Arduino laying around with no real purpose. I bought a motor shield and hooked up my laptop and an old power pack to test it out. It worked but I knew I had to come up with a more complete and permanent setup.

I immediately considered the Raspberry Pi (RPi) as it’s a low cost, full featured Linux computer and I can run JMRI on it! I needed a power supply and a bit of research found others doing similar things using various inexpensive devices. I also wanted a proper booster so I chose a Tam Valley unit. I’ll invest in a second one for my other power district in the future. EDIT: I used Steve Todd’s “JMRI RaspberryPi as Access Point” which is a pre-built configuration for RPi which sets it up by default as an access point, connects to the DCC++ system and runs PanelPro, etc. It’s fantastic and worked right away.

Today I spent several hours putting all the pieces together that I had collected over the last couple years. The monitor was a donor from my dad. The mouse, keyboard and cabling was all old stuff laying around. I put everything onto a board, first laying it out and planning the cable routing. Once everything was good, I screwed the pieces into place.

Next was to test voltages and see what worked. A bit of tinkering and everything looked good. I set it all in place and started configuring things in the RPi. A bit of trial and error getting things to talk to each other, with some luck, and it’s working!

There are still lots of kinks to work out and I need to experiment with a lot of the features. My intention is for this to be a fun project and provide a robust DCC system to get me started for the Georgetown Branch. We will see how it works in the long run.

incidentally, I had planned on taking apart my Proto2000 GP7 to have a look at the plastic gears, as last time I ran it it was making lots of noise.

Wouldn’t you know it, all four gears were cracked! I replaced them with Athearn units, like a charm. Here’s one of the cracked units:

I was asked to give some more details about parts and prices. I’ve created a spreadsheet and pasted the data here to give you a rough idea. Building this setup requires many things that you probably already have on hand, so the cost will vary. Also, you can find things on sale occasionally and you can simplify or streamline it with your own skills or modifications. I included rough estimates for a few things which you will need just to get the ball rolling. Feel free to reach out with any questions you have!

manufacturer product url cost quantity total note
Arduino Uno Rev3 https://www.amazon.com/Arduino-A000066-ARDUINO-UNO-R3/dp/B008GRTSV6/ref=sr_1_3 $18.16 1 $18.16 You can purchase off-brand if you like.
Arduino Motor Shield Rev3 https://store.arduino.cc/usa/arduino-motor-shield-rev3 $22.00 1 $22.00 You can purchase off-brand if you like.
n/a Arduino case/mount n/a $9.00 1 $9.00 You can select any that you like, so long as it can fit the Uno + Motor Shield
n/a Jumper wires http://www.microcenter.com/product/486586/26awg-m-m-jumper-wires—20-pack $4.99 1 $4.99 Can also use solid 26 AWG wire, or similar.
Raspberry Pi Pi 3 Model B http://www.microcenter.com/product/460968/3_Model_B?src=raspberrypi $34.99 1 $34.99 You can upgrade to the B+ if you want Bluetooth, etc.
n/a Pi 3 case n/a $9.00 1 $9.00 You can select any that you like.
Raspberry Pi Pi 5V 2.5A power supply http://www.microcenter.com/product/483715/official-5v-25a-power-supply—black $10.99 1 $10.99 You can purchase off-brand if you like.
Tam Valley Depot DAB002 DCC Booster http://www.tamvalleydepot.com/products/dccbooster.html $54.95 1 $54.95
Tam Valley Depot DPS016 16V 4.5A Power Supply for Track Power Use http://www.tamvalleydepot.com/products/dccbooster.html $16.95 1 $16.95
Tam Valley Depot 12V 5A Power Supply for Accessory Bus Use http://www.tamvalleydepot.com/products/dccbooster.html $16.95 1 $16.95
Mean Well RS-25-15 Switching Power Supply https://www.meanwell-web.com/en-gb/ac-dc-single-output-enclosed-power-supply-output-rs–25–15 $13.20 1 $13.20 Power for DCC from Arduino
n/a AC Computer Power Cable https://www.ebay.com/itm/3-Prong-Pin-AC-Power-Cord-Cable-for-PC-Desktop-Computer/112999388247 $2.49 1 $2.49 To power AC-DC power supply.
VARIABLES *use what you have on hand
Verbatim keyboard http://www.microcenter.com/product/459324/slimline-corded-usb-keyboard—black $4.99 1 $4.99 Any USB keyboard should suffice.
Verbatim mouse http://www.microcenter.com/product/488018/corded-notebook-optical-mouse—black $3.99 1 $3.99 Any USB mouse should suffice.
HP monitor http://www.microcenter.com/product/485576/la1956x-19-sxga-60hz-vga-dvi-dp-led-monitor-refurbished $39.99 1 $39.99 Whatever you can find; simpler, smaller the better.
n/a wire n/a $6.00 1 $6.00 Various wire to connect components.
n/a assorted small screws n/a $5.00 1 $5.00 Need small screws to mount to plywood
n/a plywood n/a 1 I used a piece I had laying around
3M 3M Scotch 114/DC Heavy Duty Mounting Tape https://www.amazon.com/Scotch-Indoor-Mounting-1-Inch-125-Inches/dp/B00004Z4A8/ref=sr_1_4?s=hi&ie=UTF8&qid=1537809806&sr=1-4&keywords=3m%2Bdouble%2Bsided%2Bfoam%2Btape%2B1%22&th=1 $6.00 1 $6.00 Use any mounting tape.
n/a smart phone 1 iOS or Android – use to run throttle software (eg. WiThrottle (free))
n/a USB cable (B to A) 10″ https://www.mycablemart.com/store/cart.php?m=product_detail&p=6612 $1.54 1 $1.54 Use what you have
n/a cable management $6.00 1 $6.00 Any cable management will do. Zip ties and adhesive-backed mounts work well
Amazon HDMI cable 6′ https://www.amazon.com/dp/B014I8SSD0/ref=twister_B016I3XG0S?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1 $6.99 1 $6.99 Use what you have
Amazon 30mm x 30mm cooling fan https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B071RMKYW7/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1 $8.99 1 $8.99 Not essential but nice to cool Rpi
TOTAL: $281.18

The Metropolitan Branch is Complete

Even though it’s a short stretch of track and is purely cosmetic on my layout, it feels great to get it done. The track is some Micro Engineering weathered code 100 flex track that I received in a lot of very old track. It’s probably over 20-some years old, if not older. As such, it required me to drill all of the spike holes, which I did about every 4-5″ with a Dremel. Soldered the joints and pre-bent the curves. This stuff is very stiff and tough to bend smoothly! All in all, it turned out nicely. It will be a great spot to stage a mainline passenger train.

Next is to work on bus wiring, roadbed at the Junction and getting more track down.

Freight Cars at the Lincoln Memorial Construction Site

I’ve always kept an eye out for photos showing freight cars at the Lincoln Memorial, as all of the stone for the Memorial was brought down the Georgetown Branch and onto a temporary branch extension that was laid from the end of the GB, across Rock Creek, down along the Potomac River and over to the construction site. The cornerstone was laid on Feb 12, 1914 so one can reasonably assume that track was laid at some point the previous year when construction began on the massive footings. Foundation work was completed in 1915 and work continued steadily until the Spring of 1917 when the US entered WWI. In Dec 1919 & Jan 1920 the Lincoln statue was assembled. The dedication was on 5/30/1922. So, for roughly ten years the GB was extended to the work site, bringing in the massive marble blocks and pieces needed for one of the most impressive monuments in the US. Pretty neat!

Photos of the construction site are plenty, but rarely focus on the railroad apparatus and right of way that served the site. I have only found a few images and am still uncertain as to the exact alignment of the tracks and yards there. I imagine they would reconfigure to some degree as time went on. Eventually the site around the monument would be filled in with dirt, covering over all of the construction yards surrounding the monument. So recently I found an image which has a couple freight cars visible. I’ve zoomed in on these to highlight the details.

Lincoln Memorial Construction
Unknown flat car with marble load
LV wooden box car. Note the black “LV” logo to the left. 
Postcard view, ca 1918 (eBay)
Aerial view, 1919. (Harris & Ewing / Library of Congress) Note rail yard which has been shortened, at the top of the image. 
Lincoln Memorial under const., January, 1915 (Library of Congress)
1916 Lincoln Memorial construction

Interesting Articles and Timelines on Colorado Yule Marble

Two Booms, Two World Wars, and Colorado Yule Marble is Bust, 1900 to 1945

I have long known about the role the Georgetown Branch played in the construction of the Lincoln Memorial, but it is really refreshing to fill in more details and specifics. This chronicle of the Colorado Yule Marble Co. contains a really neat timeline and history which adds some specifics to when the marble for the Lincoln Memorial would have come down the GB, across Rock Creek and down the Potomac to the Memorial construction site on the temporarily constructed extension to the GB. It seems the first shipment left Yule, CO 5/25/1914, and the final shipment was on 6/16/1916.

A few months later the quarry would shut down, only to reopen six years later. In 1931 the famous Yule marble was once again selected for a notable monument in the DC area, the Tomb of the Unknown. Carved from a single, massive piece of stone, this proved to be a real challenge. I would wager that this stone did not travel on the Georgetown Branch, but rather on the Pennsylvania RR which had a branch that ran into Rosslyn, VA, passing the area where the Tomb is located at Arlington National Cemetery.

Another interesting note I found on the Marble, CO Chamber of Commerce site reads:

The block was loaded onto a rail car and shipped to Vermont for cutting

Another interesting tidbit:

In 1913, a slab of Yule marble was sent to Washington, D.C. to be part of the Washington Monument.

There is some chance this traveled to the Monument site via the GB, but based on proximity of the PRR and its trackage on Virginia Ave & Maryland Ave, I would wager the delivery was handled from that location. There were yards located right near the Mall on that PRR line back then.

I am fascinated by the small moments and details that make the GB special. Its proximity to downtown DC certainly gave it host to many interesting deliveries over the years; National Christmas Trees, stone for national monuments and maybe even a President of the United States. More details on that another time.

Some History on the Talbot Ave Bridge from Norm Nelson

I was lucky enough to meet and chat with Norm Nelson on several occasions. He was key to understanding some of the complexities of operations on the Georgetown Branch, as he had first-hand knowledge of how it operated being that he actually ran trains up and down the Branch. He was friendly and enjoyed discussing the minutiae of railroading. My kind of guy. So imagine my joy when my friend Greg C. sent me the following letter regarding Norm’s recollection of the history of the Talbot Ave (or Grace Church Rd) bridge over the Metropolitan & Georgetown Branches of the B&O. Norm recollects a conversation he had with Bruce Fales, another prolific railfan in the greater DC area (of which I have purchased a few old photos credited to him) in which he outlines the history of the bridge and the Branch at that point. Really fascinating stuff! Greg’s brother-in-law Andy got the letter from Richard Schaffer who should have credit for the items. I’m not sure who the photographer is in the photo below.

Sept, 1980 - Chessie Safety Special
Sept, 1980 – Chessie Safety Special


Purple Line Brush Clearing Visible in Google Maps

I didn’t realize just how frequently Google Maps images are updated, but this is impressive to me. Here are a few images I snagged today which show the Georgetown Branch right of way as it stands very recently, earlier this Summer. You can see all of the clearing that has happened along the RoW very well. Very impressive. I really wish I could walk the line one last time before they do permanent grading, just to see what the RoW was like when the GB was new. Oh well! 🙁

Google Aerial View - Geo. Jct.

Article on the History of Washington DC’s Aqueducts


An interesting story covering the history of aqueducts in and around Washington, DC. Anyone know where that tunnel image is from? (http://collections.si.edu/search/detail/edanmdm:nmah_1840608)As many of you know, the Georgetown Branch of the B&O served the Dalecarlia Reservoir which was fed by the Washington Aqueduct.


Georgetown Branch Right-of-Way Unearthed in Bethesda, Probably for the Last Time

Construction thunders on in Bethesda on the Purple Line project and as they make way for the station in Bethesda, the old right of way for the Georgetown Branch is unearthed for probably the last time. The buildings above the right of way were demolished, and now grading is complete. They’ve dug down a bit further than the original right of way, but it’s as good as it will get. Take a look at the photo below. You can just make out the concrete bridge carrying Wisconsin Ave over the old RoW at the bottom of the photo. The large angled pilings in the bottom right cover the RoW and it curves over toward those red awnings in the distance. Can you see it?!