Monday, August 3, 2020

"... Ding..."

Several months ago, a link to a YouTube video circulated among some of us here in the Cincinnati area. It was a 15-minute clip of the dispatcher's office on the Clinchfield in Erwin, TN back in 1987. Here's a link to the video: It's an interesting, behind-the-scenes view of a critical piece of railroading that we don't often get to see. And it was of particular interest to me because the Clinchfield was CTC over its entire length and the panel in the video is a Union Switch & Signal model.

As you would expect from someone who has studied the prototype for most of his life and relied on his observations in developing his own proto-freelanced railroad, Allen McClelland picked up on the annunciator bell. You can hear it ring whenever a train comes into a section of the railroad that is controlled by the panel. This alerts the dispatcher, along with an occupancy light, that a train has entered his area. And as you would expect from someone who is continually thinking of ways to improve operations, Allen asked Gerry Albers if there was some way to add a bell to the V&O panel on Gerry's Deepwater District VGN railroad. Gerry is a genius when it comes to anything electrical and is also deeply interested in prototype operations, and an annunciator bell of some sort seemed like a natural fit with his Signals By Spreadsheet system.

Fast forward a month or so and I found a reference to prototype CTC panel sounds on one of the forums I follow. It turns out that JMRI has most of the typical sounds in .WAV files on its website and those sounds are used in connection with JMRI's PanelPro CTC panel. I passed along the sound files to Gerry and he was off to the races.

In short order, Gerry found the small sound modules that are used in audio greeting cards. Not only were they relatively inexpensive, but you can record up to 30 seconds of sound on them. You can see one in the photo below.

There are two tabs that are connected to the board. The one with the red dot is the record button and the other one is the play button. Gerry figured out how to connect the play button to an SBS DIO card so that block detectors could be used to initiate the audio recording of the bell. And before you could say Shazam, the V&O dispatcher's panel had an annunciator bell. Whenever trains leave staging at either Gauley Bridge or Dickinson Yard and hit the first occupancy block, the CTC panel gives the dispatcher a "ding."

Of course, this is something that I just had to have. Gerry was kind enough to give me one of the cards along with instructions on how to wire it up. I mounted it on the inside of the dispatcher's panel as you can see in the photo below.

Two wires for 5V power and one wire to a DIO card was all it took to connect the hardware. A simple signal spreadsheet provides the link between the block detector and the card. So now when a train enters the railroad on either end of the board, well, see for yourself below.

These little audio cards are really neat, and we're already thinking about other ways they can be used to incorporate other types of sound into our railroad operations.