JMRI Software Applications
On The N Scale Model Railroad
Of John Houghton

John is a member of our Nottawasaga Model Railway Club. He is building an N scale model railroad loosely based on our Collingwood to Barrie area in Ontario, Canada around Georgian Bay.

n scale yard

He has been experimenting with JMRI software, the open source computer programming that includes Decoder Pro and Panel Pro. He has become very adept at it.

I have used Decoder Pro for several years to program decoders in locomotives on my HO scale model railroad.  John is far more advanced than I am because he is using many features of Decoder Pro to speed match his engines and fine tune the CVs. John's computer set up uses two Macs, an iPad and an iPod. Sometimes he also uses an iPhone. Upstairs he has another Mac where he can use JMRI software in a "virtual" mode to experiment with operations. The computers are interfaced to his Digitrax DCC system.

We now have a whole group of operators and most of us are slowly integrating jmri operations into our layouts. Maybe even the new club layout will get jmri operations. We are demonstrating use of tablets at the Brampton Show October 3 and 4, 2015.


Looking back to our early introduction to jmri software, John, Martin Alborough and I were having a pre-planning meeting  (July 12, 2012) to discuss demonstrating what he is doing to other members of our train club.

Small factory alongside the track.
small n factory

John showed us how he can operate his locomotives from his Macs, his iPad and iPod. He has also designed the layout on Panel Pro (something I have yet to try) and can operate turnouts from the computers. He had installed micro servos (instead of Tortoises) on his Fast Track handmade N scale turnouts and they are controlled through electronics from Tam Valley Depot.

He has made his own aluminum brackets and added micro switches to route power. He has not yet taken the next step to add sensors for bi-directional information or a signalling system. He has also delved deeply into setting up operations through JMRI software. It looks a lot like the Ship It program. 

He has had help through the JMRI software user forum.  What he has done so far is really impressive and shows what can be accomplished. Some of his ideas have been incorporated by jmri.

John had the advantage of starting fresh whereas I would have had to retrofit my layout to do some of these things that would include crawling around under the layout to replace twin-coil machines with the servos and to update wiring. Probably would never have happened due to difficulty, my age and the cost!  But it is fun to learn about it and to implement what I can.  I installed several servos with John's help on my previous UNRR and this section has survived a move and is now part of my new model railway.

John has also developed some interesting techniques for installing track and scenery. He uses half-inch plywood as a sub base and rubber roadbed. He has taken a leaf from the Woodland Scenics book and duplicates the look of their risers beside the track to create drainage ditches. 

An example of John's N scale Code 55 trackwork.
n scale code 55
Track and roadbed.
track roadbed

His N scale track workwork is Code 55 and the turnouts are made using Fast Track assembly jigs. The track is ballasted and everything runs flawlessly.

If you're building a model railroad or contemplating starting to build, I suggest you download the free jmri software and do some exploring of the possibilities.

All DCC systems have a method of interfacing computers to the track.  I use an old Dell laptop I bought on eBay and my Lenz system has an interface module. Depending on the age of your computer you will either use a USB port or the older RS232 method.  Prices vary between about $50 USD and whatever. It's not going to break the bank and it opens up a whole range of options. Decoder Pro alone makes it worthwhile even if you only have one or two locomotives.

Here are some more photos of John's N scale layout under construction.

Panel Pro track diagram
Through jmri on his browser this can also appear on his iPad.
panel pro screen
Example of the operations set up screens
operations screen
Benchwork. Note micro servo and Tam Valley Depot electronics.
layout benchwork

Looking back

The Nottawasaga Model Railway Club gathered at John's house on a Monday evening in August, 2012 for a demonstration of jmri possibilities and a tour of his layout. We've come along way since then!

Demo of jmri operations software and Panel Pro
jmri operations

Here are some of John's construction techniques:

Construction progress (July, 2012)
construction progress
Styrofoam scenery support for cardboard web and plaster shell.
scenery support
Other side of the hill. John's grandson added the dinosaurs!
model dinosaurs
Mockups work as "stand-ins" for Collingwood businesses.
building mockups

John designed control circuits for the new module on our club layout (July, 2014). He "breadboarded" the circuit and then constructed the circuit boards with the components. He cobbled together a signal bridge and made targets for the miniature leds. Here is a photo of the set up on the workbench used to control a crossover with Peco switch machines.

Signal bridge with turnout indicators.
n scale signal bridge with led indicators

Work continues on scenery and structures as John concentrates on electronics. I've freelanced some Clever paper buildings for the McLean's Engineering siding and John added a backdrop. Ken Templeman has been adding a number of houses here and there. I'll update John's experimentation with jmri software as he continues to build the layout. After all the track was laid we started operations to test and tweek the jmri ops software. Below is a video that I shot in July, 2014 following train 612 East around the layout. Note the tiny ditch lights John installed in the CN diesel in the consist. Note also the uncoupling tools made by wrapping a rubber band around a finger-sized led flashlight attached to a micro brush with a flattened tip. You can see a few behind the track at the entrance to the Guelph/Markham dual purpose yard. The video is a little shaky and soft in focus because I was juggling my iPad and Canon Rebel camera while I ran the train but it will give you an idea of the progress that had been made. 

Use the first link below to follow along for more about operations on John's layout.



Go from "jmri-software" to iPad operations on John's layout.

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Go from "jmri-software" to operation methods overview

Go to Ops Sessions at Ottawa Train Expo, 2014

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