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The Evolution Of The Cost-Effective TrainCam 324

David Graham writes: "Recently, I incorporated a wireless camera into an HO scale 74' passenger car to make a TrainCam, and this is the story of its construction. Lacking space to build a set in my rented single room, I built a simple 18" radius track on the carpet, going through the frame of my bed. On it, I added a short Amtrak train and watched it go in decidedly boring little circles. Not long after I started running the train, it derailed and clearly demonstrated why carpets are not the best place for model trains to be. Meanwhile, upstairs in his room, one of my house-mates had just bought a small wireless camera, battery pack, and receiver for a little over C$100 and was demonstrating its ability to broadcast conversations and images from as far as 200 feet away back to his computer screen, with the help of a TV capture card. It wasn't long before I started coveting the little camera and I soon bought myself one. It was not for the purpose of listening to my friends' conversations so much as it was to record the train as it chugged around the uneven little track on my floor." For the whole story on the project, read on below.

It took me a few seconds to set up the little camera and immediately, my comically slow little trains which, when travelling at maximum speed, could easily be passed by a heavily-burdened pedestrian, began to look almost life-like. On my television screen I saw Amtrak engine 231 chugging toward me as I have so often at St-Albans station in northern Vermont. Following it were two streamlined phase III passenger cars and each, in turn, went around the corner as if on a real track.

Around the same time, I was able to move my track onto a 3'x5' desk, using blue-tack adhesive as a temporary track-bed.

The camera idea was working well. I felt like I was standing beside the tracks and the noise of the miniature train cars rumbling along the desk through the camera's microphone sounded nearly realistic, but there was something missing.

When I was in grade 3, the last train came to my home-town, a simple 20 car freight train hauling a giant transformer. I went to watch with my father as it waited for clearance to leave the station. Beyond the station, the tracks had already been lifted and sold to be reprocessed as razor blades. Standing on the platform looking intently at the train paid off, though, when every youngster's dream came true and the engineer invited me up into the engine while he waited, showing me all the controls and explaining how he needed someone to come up by car to tell him he could leave because we were out of radio range. Looking out the front of the train, I could see the tracks ahead and the elaborate set-up of switches, bells, signal lights, and level crossing signals.

I wanted to recreate that feeling with my simple model train and inexpensive wireless camera. It became my obsession to build a self-contained traincam that could record the tracks as it came and went, possibly even towed by one engine, recording another, giving a movie feeling. But I wanted to do something unique - I wanted to do it so I could publish basic steps for building one, and I wanted to make the whole thing as inexpensive as possible.

My first step was to figure out what rail-car to convert into my traincam. I decided that a dummy engine base with its large truck protruding would be ideal. The truck would allow the camera to better follow the angle of the track rather than the angle of the car. But the camera was too big. The eye itself is slightly wider than the car, and it had a base, battery box, and transmitter to contend with as well. Using a hacksaw and a variety of other tools not usually associated with delicate electronics, I disassembled the camera and extracted its motherboard, transmitter, and eye without damaging any of the wires or circuits. Using my favourite adhesive - blue-tack - (second, perhaps, to duct tape), I attached the camera eye to the front truck of the dummy engine, put the motherboard in the middle, supported it with two hair-elastics, and attached the transmitter to the rear truck. The camera's power source was a battery pack nearly three times the width of the track which had 4 AA batteries and a small circuit board. The power was sent to the camera via wires separated with a plug, and the wires added up to more than 6 feet in length.

Unperturbed, I took an old caboose, took part of the top off, and stuffed it full of wires. Next, I used a flatbed which had been part of my older brother's set at my grandparents' place when we were young and, again using blue-tack, attached the oversized battery pack to its surface.

But all this led to a problem. If you've ever driven a car with a trailer, you know that reversing with a trailer is far more difficult than reversing without a trailer. If you add a second trailer, the vehicle becomes four times as hard to steer in reverse, and if you add a third trailer, the car becomes 16 times harder to reverse. On a train track, the problem is reduced by the metal guides which the cars are forced to follow, but any abrupt movement by an engine pushing three unbalanced cars attached together by stiff wires is very likely to cause a derailment. So the camera could only be pulled, and I found myself spending a good deal of time watching where I had been rather than where I was going, defeating the purpose of the entire exercise - namely to feel like I was watching out the front of a train.

To solve the problem I would need to do what I had originally set out to do - build the entire camera system into no more than one rail-car, and there had to be one more condition: the car could not exceed the length of an 85 foot car, in order to ensure that it could be run on nearly any HO gauge set-up. It also could not exceed the height of an auto-carrier excess-height car (anything less would not have been possible with the size of the transmitter) so it could run on any track with reasonable tunnel and bridge heights. The answer was a 74' Northern Pacific observation passenger car, made by Athearn, because that company's cars' covers detach from the base, giving me more room to work.

There was still one more problem, though. The battery pack was too big to fit in anything short of a garden train, and it had a circuit board inside it, whose purpose I had not yet determined. My first thought was to put four AA batteries inside the car and attach them to a plug of the same type as that on the camera, but the circuit board stopped me.

Using a voltagemeter, it became apparent that the circuit board was a voltage multiplier, which increased the batteries' 6 volts to 24 volts. This gave me five options:

  1. build my own circuit board with the same function
  2. use a second car and fill it with 16 AA batteries
  3. use 2 12V remote-control batteries
  4. disassemble the battery pack and use its circuit board
  5. run the camera off the track's power

Option 1 - building my own circuit board - was out of the question. I had neither the necessary experience nor the know-how to build my own voltage multiplier.

Option 2 - using a second car to hold loads of batteries - had some appeal to it; a model rail-car weighing that much would not derail if it was rammed by a real one, but the cost of 16 batteries and the extra space needed seemed prohibitive. Besides, I explicitly wanted to limit this project to a single car.

Option 3 - using two small 12-volt remote-control batteries - was a good idea. The logic seemed OK to me. I knew that two 12V batteries would cost me about $14 to replace and that they would have a shorter life-span than multiple AA batteries, but they were tiny and left lots of extra room in the car for the motherboard, wiring, camera, and transmitter.

Option 4 - disassembling the existing battery pack for its circuit board - was also a good idea, but I was concerned that I might damage the board while extracting it.

Option 5 - running the camera off of track power - sounded like the best idea. With nickel metal hydride or lithium ion rechargeable batteries (the type used in laptops), I thought that I could possibly keep enough charge to run the camera when the tracks were off, and have it constantly recharge when the tracks were on. But the problem lay in the fact that the camera ran at 24V and the track ran at between (-15V) and 15V, a circuitry nightmare for someone without the knowledge to build a simple multiplier.

I settled on option 3, which involved purchasing two small 12-volt batteries, and, believing I had solved all my design problems, took the cover off my observation car and began adding the camera, its motherboard, and transmitter. The camera fit nicely at one end of the car, but the motherboard and transmitter were too tall and could not be left like that. Realising that the car would probably be heavy enough with the camera, I took the ballast weights out of the bottom of the car, and the motherboard fit very well into to centre, where the base is lower than elsewhere. The transmitter also fit, though it exceeded the height of an auto-carrier excess-height car by a fraction of an inch. Everything up until this point was being held down with blue-tack.

Putting the motherboard in the centre allowed a tiny selector switch on it to be accessible from the side holding the camera. The switch allowed for choosing which channel the camera would use within the 2.4GHz band, and in turn would allow 4 different cameras of this type to operate in the same area at the same time.

In order to use the top of the car, I had to cut most of an inch off the front of the cover to allow room for the camera, and cut off the observation window and a strip of plastic most of the way to the opposite end of the car from the camera, where the motherboard and transmitter would be allowed to protrude, as well as a large un-train-like power switch. For power, I used a single AA battery holder cut in half and glued to the base with the two halves separated to be a little bit longer than it was originally intended. Then I added the two 12V batteries, put the cover on the car, and turned on the switch.

On my television screen was a nice view of the tracks looking forward from my traincam. I attached an engine to the back of it and turned the engine on, pushing the camera. It worked perfectly. My very own traincam was going happily around my miniature, undecorated set-up. I was excited.

I mentioned earlier that 12V batteries would probably have a shorter life span than multiple AA batteries, and as it happens, I was right. As the camera approached the end of its first lap, the television screen went fuzzy and then turned to blue. The batteries had lasted a total journey of nearly 14 feet in 15 seconds. My heart sank. My traincam would not make it around the first bend of any respectable set-up before running out of juice, so it was back to my list of options.

The logical thing to do with the failure of the 12V batteries was to go with option 4: disassemble my existing battery pack and remove its circuit board. That sounded nice in theory, but the inside of the traincam had very little room left, certainly not enough room to hold four AA batteries let alone a small circuit board and additional wires associated with another board.

In spite of myself, I disassembled the battery pack, carefully removing the circuit board with a large pair of pliers in a manner reminiscent of the way junk-yards recover engines from discarded vehicles. Having extracted the board, I cut the wire leaving the battery pack at the plug and I finally had my power solution -- with one problem. I still had to fit 4 AA batteries in the confined space of a one-inch wide train car with the added challenge of making them easy to replace without having to disassemble anything. In the true spirit of ruthless destructiveness, I carefully cut away a huge section of the frame and was able to fit four batteries between the camera and the motherboard, using the cut-away piece of frame as a battery cover. I then cut the wires to the glued-down base of the 12V battery holder and rewired the train to have an extra circuit board in its place, capable of multiplying 6V to 24V.

Having tested all the wires before reassembling the case, I was confident that the camera would work flawlessly and, using model cement, I glued the cover onto the base, covering all the circuitry and leaving only the batteries exposed. Using blue-tack, I attached the removed section of cover over the batteries and was amused by the yellow stripe on the side of the car being no longer quite so straight.

On to the next step: the test.

I turned the camera on, expecting to see the track show up on my television screen.

Instead, a visible spark, and a blue screen lacking only the familiar message "Fatal error" greeted me.

Removing the cover with the glue half-dried was an experience in itself, and when I finally did manage to get the traincam open, I found that the circuit board from the battery pack's negative wire, which I hadn't insulated, had made contact with the camera's motherboard, resulting in a short circuit and an unwelcome interruption in service. With a little electrical tape for the short circuit and all other exposed wires, it was time to add more glue and test the camera once again.

I attached the camera to a U.S. Army engine and turned the transformer on. The camera car very smoothly allowed itself to be pushed rapidly around the track. Holding my breath, I turned the camera on and let it go around the track once again. On my television screen I saw the tracks zip by, and the batteries even lasted for a while.

The next morning I turned the camera on, and it had no life. Some quick tests with the voltagemeter revealed that something had drained my batteries during the night. I'd have to disassemble it and figure out what was draining the batteries in my sleep.

I decided I would use the opportunity to add lighting to the camera. In the dark, such as in a tunnel or simply in an unlit room, there was no image. With the help of a lighting kit, which consists of 2 small lightbulbs and some wires, I affixed a light bulb on either side of the camera lens.

This created a new problem, however, as the camera was too big for the lights. I would have to disassemble the camera head, too, and that meant cutting, stripping, and reattaching some extremely fine wires. Meanwhile my battery draining problem was forgotten.

I removed the screws holding the wheel truck in place under the camera and fed the wires for one of the lights down through the tiny hole. One of my lights, I decided, would be track powered. The other light would be attached to the battery pack and come on when the camera came on. The two lights are clearly visible in the front of the traincam. On-board batteries power the one to the left, and the one seen to the right is powered by the tracks. The one powered by the batteries is dimmer than the one powered by the tracks as it is being connected to the camera's electrical system before the multiplier, resulting in a lower voltage -- and better power conservation to power the all-important camera.

With the now reduced camera with its exposed circuitry sitting in a bed of blue-tack near the front of the traincam, I was finally able to fit the lights in place, using still more blue-tack, on either side of the camera, behind the front ledge of the lens so that they would not overpower an image the camera tried to capture. Seeing that the camera and lights were all exposed to the elements, I began to glue back the front inch or so of the shell which I'd cut off to make room for the original design. This provided a shelter for the camera and lights in the event of a derailment (which could be catastrophic on my desk, as trains derailing have the annoying habit of plunging 2 feet to horrible destruction on the floor) and a way of focusing the light from the two lightbulbs forward, illuminating the view for the camera in the event that ambient light would not be strong enough.

The track-powered light worked flawlessly. It was about time something on this camera did. In a dark room, the track-powered light at full power was strong enough to read by from more than a foot away.

The other light, the one attached to the internal circuitry of the camera, still posed a problem. The only wires that were not insulated, and so didn't involve a complete disassembly, were the connectors where the batteries made contact with the voltage multiplier. But that left a problem: as long as the batteries were plugged in, the light would be on. It would make my existing power-drainage problem a walk in the park by comparison.

My power-drainage problem? I had forgotten about that! Forgetting about the problem of the light draining the battery pack, I set back about my original task of fixing the power drainage. It wasn't long before I put 2 and 3 together and was pretty sure I'd come up with 5. My battery pack went straight to the multiplier, the multiplier then sent power to the switch and from there to the camera's motherboard. That meant there was only one place that could be drawing power: the multiplier.

I carefully removed the multiplier and all the wires from the guts of the traincam, and with wires hanging everywhere and blue-tack getting stuck to everything, I thoroughly examined the multiplier. What, I thought, could I do about this problem, without completely rebuilding the system?

It was simple. There was a tiny wire on the multiplier I'd previously ignored, and attached to it was a small switch. Obviously, that switch was not just an on-off switch for the camera: when on, the multiplier was draining power even if there was no draw on it.

With this piece of information I was able to kill two birds with one stone. I attached one of the battery-powered light's wires to the switch, and moved the switch to somewhere where I could reach it outside of the jumble of wires inside the traincam's shell. Using electrical tape and blue-tack, I affixed it to the transmitter antenna.

With that solution in place, I installed fresh batteries, put all the innards back into the train's open hole, sealed it up with electrical tape, and tested it.

Now the natural assumption here is that it worked, and it wouldn't be a bad assumption. But it would be only half right.

I turned on the switch attached to the voltage multiplier, and the light on one side of the camera came on. That was a good start. I took a deep breath, and turned the camera switch on.

The audio static on my TV set disappeared, and I waited expectantly for the video static to do the same. I had sound but no sight. What good was a train camera that had sound but no sight?

I removed the battery section's cover, removed the battery pack, and unceremoniously squeezed all the fine wires I'd earlier stripped and spliced to get the camera out of its shell. Then I put the battery pack back in and the cover on.

This time, it worked. Properly. The lights cast a glow on the track in front of it sufficient to give a night feeling to the image, the image showed up on the screen, the audio came over the speaker, and just to be sure, the traincam promptly derailed.

The problem turned out to be a weight imbalance. The end of the traincam with the batteries was heavy enough to pave a road, but the other half of the car, which held only the switch, the transmitter, and some wires, was too light and could easily be imbalanced and leave the track. With the help of a pair of container weights and some more electrical tape, I was able to easily remedy this last problem by strapping the weights under the car and holding them there with the tape. At long last, I had a traincam that worked. A comparable traincam on-line would have cost a minimum of US$360, approximately $550 Canadian, and would still have required a train car to mount it in and some assembly. Purchasing a traincam built into a railcar cost even more.

This cost-effective self-contained traincam was completed for an estimated cost of C$170 (approximately US$115) and uses the following components:

(Prices are approximate and in Canadian currency)
* X-10 Wireless 2.4GHz wireless camera receiver (model VR31A) (attached to VCR)
* X-10 Wireless 2.4GHz wireless camera and components (model XC10A) (camera, motherboard, transmitter)
* X-10 Wireless camera battery pack components (model ZB10A) (voltage multiplier) (all camera components C$118)
* Athearn Northern Pacific 74' observation car (C$20)
* Small screw-on electric switch (C$2)
* 4 AA batteries (C$7)
* 2 small lights (C$5)
* Container weights (C$5)
* 2 AA battery holders with 9V battery style plugs (C$5)
* 2 9V battery style wires and plugs (C$2)
* Electrical tape (C$1)
* Model cement (C$2)
* Blue-tack (C$3)
* Wires (scavenged from 6' of wire attached to camera) (C$0)

Copyright (c) 2002 by David Graham. All rights reserved. David Graham has a passion for model trains and computers. He can be found at Slashdot welcomes reader-submitted features and reviews. Thanks to cdlu for this one.

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The Evolution Of The Cost-Effective TrainCam

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  • by NetNinja ( 469346 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:13PM (#4803123)
    Now this has to be the biggest Slashdot Post I have seen to date!
  • umm pictures? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by McFly69 ( 603543 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:14PM (#4803136) Homepage
    Does he have any pictures? Its nice and all to describe it, but pictures... damit we need pictures!!
  • Wow (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:14PM (#4803144)
    10 pages to say "I strapped a wireless cam on a toy train"?
  • by ath0mic ( 519762 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:14PM (#4803145)
    ... post your website ON /.
    • Ah, but what if shalsdot would slashdot itself? That'd be odd, because if slashdot would slashdot slashdot, people can't reach slashdot and thus cant continue to slashdot slashdot on slashdot anymoe, after which is repeats when people manage to get on again, only to slashdot slashdot again in a vicous circle effect! AAAH!

      Maybe it's time to go to bed. Yes, think happy thoughts, happy thoughts.

  • Man, what a tease.
  • by nizo ( 81281 )
    Next up he will post live camara shots of grass growing in his backyard! I can't wait!!!
  • X-10!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:17PM (#4803177)
    I can see it now... X-10 popups that instead of having pictures of a scantily dressed woman, now have pictures of a model train set. "NOW! Get your X-10 camera to ...uhhh... well, get a live feed from the point of view of your toy trains... AND spy on naked women!!"
    • Why do we see all these articles about "alternative" uses for the X10s? Doesn't anybody out there use them for their intended purpose, to spy on the neighbor's daughter?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I am not sure if the connections between model railroading and computing have ever been well discussed or explored. I myself became interested in computing when I was 12 out of a desire to control and automate a train set. I suspect there are many other similar relationships between the two.
    • It's actually pretty amazing what has been accomplished with "Digital Command Control" (DCC) in this hobby in the past few years. Try Googling "DCC MODEL RAILROAD"
      • Im an O-Gauger myself, and am quite partial to Lionel's Trainmaster Command Control system. I view the differance as akin to Solaris vs. Linux. DCC is an open standard, many differant companies make many differant product. TMCC has one main manufacturer , although many companies incorporate it, has somewhat open standards , but one has the advantage of one stop place for support. Plus, efforts to bring DCC to 3 rail, AC powered trains failed pretty badly.
    • by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:47PM (#4803487) Homepage
      The connections go wayback. Read Steven Levy's book Hackers about the origins of the hackers at MIT from the Tech Model Eailroad Club. Chapter here []
  • by Lemmy Caution ( 8378 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:18PM (#4803185) Homepage
    I'm not sure that the term "cost effective" applies to a project with a future revenue stream of ... zero.
  • This is a STORY? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by realmolo ( 574068 )
    I mean, whoop-de-fucking-doo. He put a camera on his toy choo choo train. Which goes around his room. Who cares? Now if if he had naked girls in his room (which I guarantee he doesn't) it might be fun. I can see the URL now... By the way, that domain name is available. ;)
    • maybe.... (Score:2, Funny)

      by nebenfun ( 530284 )
      Amtrack could use that domain as a new marketing ploy to attract men.

      I know I'd ride the "TittyTrain"....
  • by Em Emalb ( 452530 ) <> on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:19PM (#4803196) Homepage Journal
    I am not sure whether the author likes trains or not. Could someone clarify for me please?

    Anyhow, nicely written article. Some may argue this isn't news for nerds, but my goodness, if it isn't, then what the heck is this news for?
  • by cybermace5 ( 446439 ) <> on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:20PM (#4803200) Homepage Journal
    I can't believe Slashdot was assaulted with this.

    Timothy, you posted the ENTIRE run-on account, of some guy fumbling with little toys.

    It's not even like a model railroad club, with beautifully detailed mountains, towns, and tunnels did this. It's a guy with no clue ripping apart toys and sticking them together with rubber bands, and running a train around on his desk.

    This is not cool, it's dumb.
    • I have a suggestion for you.. If you aren't interested in a story, don't follow the link and don't read it. It's very easy. I presume that noone is holding a gun to your head forcing you to read every slashdot story that comes up..
      • actually, someone IS holding a gun up to my head, forcing me to read every comment and post, you insensitive clod!
      • If you aren't interested in a story, don't follow the link and don't read it.

        Normally I would give the same advice. But as I read the story it got more horrible and more horrible, I could not look away.

        It was like watching a trainwreck...
  • Photos (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cave Dweller ( 470644 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:22PM (#4803224)
    There are some photos here [] and here []
  • You definitly have a lot of free time in your hands. :) Post some pics. I might try it at home.
  • What's next? Make an AI for the train? And then what... Let it start blogging all the horribile things it sees from it's place on the floor?

    Imagine, the world beeing taken over by blogging, camming, trains!
    Oh wait... Well it was kinda neat anyway. /040
  • by gully42 ( 212724 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:23PM (#4803238)
    Good idea, if it had been Amtrack, it would take three extra hours to get out of the station, and
    then derail on straight track.

    Rio Grande: The Action Road.
  • by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:24PM (#4803242) Journal
    ...with my 20 page manifesto about the time I put a GI Joe in my Batmobile.

    Stay tuned!
    • that reminds me of the simpsons episode where Stan Lee forces the "Thing" into the Batmobile, thereby breaking it...

      Kid: "You broke my batmobile"
      Lee: "Broke? or made better?"

      something like that...hilarious though...
  • perhaps of a schoolbus stalled on the tracks?

  • by dagg ( 153577 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:24PM (#4803252) Journal
    It's a really cool idea to turn your childhood toy into a house-roving camera. That's really cool. Here's another idea that someone just happened to mention to me just last night:
    Why not replace the train cars with plastic containers? Why not make the train tracks a little wider? Why not make it possible for the train engine to pick out a specific plastic container and bring it to you (assuming you are somewhere along its track) ?
    That would be a really geeky/lazy butt thing to do. You could just sit on your couch and request via remote control for your train to bring you things.
    • I've thought many times about building an LGB train around the house. Specifically with a tunnel going through the refridgerator, with a Lego Mindstorm robot inside to put bottles of beer on the train so the train could bring them to me without me having to get up.

      Beer, Lego robot, & model trains all working together. Now what could be more newsworthy stuff for nerds than that?

      And yes, I really have put a lot of thought into this, and have been pondering doing it for a while. I just doubt that my wife would let me put a tunnel through the fridge :)
  • I will use this as an example for some of my Girl
    Scouts who want to know how to do things.

  • Other Ideas (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 4of12 ( 97621 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:27PM (#4803275) Homepage Journal

    1. How about wall mounting brackets for the track so the train can run at a higher level?
    2. Miniature cable car hanging camera for virtual "flying"?
    3. Pet mounted cams to see what Rover's getting into these days. Probably very exciting when he's chasing cars...
  • The formula (Score:1, Funny)

    by arpit ( 193641 )
    1. Strap on cam to train
    2. Copy site on slashdot
    3. ????
    4. Profit!
  • Watch out! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Superfreaker ( 581067 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:29PM (#4803299) Homepage Journal
    Those zany Canadians are back at it again with their crazy shenanigans!
  • by Cap'n Canuck ( 622106 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:30PM (#4803313)
    A comparable traincam on-line would have cost a minimum of US$360, approximately $550 Canadian, and would still have required a train car to mount it in and some assembly. Purchasing a traincam built into a railcar cost even more.

    It sounds like there are products out there that already do exactly what this guy's camera does. And they probably do things a lot better (i.e. take power from the rails, offer a "swivel" camera so you can take pictures front, back, or side) - but you get what you pay for. As interesting as this is, I don't see how he did things any better. To me, it's just a miniature version of Junkyard Wars, except:
    - he's not competing against anyone else
    - there's no prize
    - there's no time limit
    - he did the basic equivalent of destroying a perfectly working car in order to construct a motorcyle that weighs twice as much, and only runs in one gear
    - he doesn't get to meet Cathy Rodgers
    • Marklin happens to be the ideal company to make something like this because they have a digital train control system where the track voltage is fixed and train throttles are controlled through command signals coming from the digital controller. So you can simply run the power off the track.

      They have a beautifully made version of this that I believe costs a mere $1,400-odd. Unfortunately, I don't think it's available in the US; I think the technology is PAL, not NTSC.

      I have a Marklin Digital HO setup, and it's both very cool and back-breakingly expensive.

  • Wait, so not only did this guy's housemate actively promote popup ads by purchasing one of those X-10 cams, he did as well and compounded the issue by purchasing more than one?! Oh JOY, let's promote popups and spam and all other manners of obnoxious advertising. But not THAT obnoxious. My browser kills popups. Uh-oh, I'm stealing again, aren't I?
    No! Don't take me away! I didn't MEAN to steal! I clicked that option by accident! I haven't had a chance to be anything but a tr-o--o-ool!
  • by smagoun ( 546733 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:33PM (#4803339) Homepage
    For those of you who want a train camera but don't want to jury-rig something, there are a number of sources:
    http://www. op.htm /model_r r_camx.html .htm

    They're more expensive than a jury-rig, but welcome to life.
  • Ya know, with my GI Joe Crimson Guard Twins I can take their little skyhook thingy, attach a camera to them, and slide them down the stairs...that'd be so cool! But mom says I have to be in bed by 8 so I'll post my story about it tomorrow!
  • I'm often left rolling my eyes and mumbling "just shut up and let it be" to people who post threads like, "Why?" and, "Why for?" and the like.

    But for a chance, It's my turn.

    Why is this here? Trains are neat yes... but I don't find it particularly geeky one mans tail of Duct tape and product placement.

    Now if it ran linux, or could have Beowulf implications then perhaps I'd see justification, for the bad posts alone.. but? Why? ....
    • no kidding... this is definitely not "News for Nerds" and it definitely doesn't matter.

      The whole article can be summed up in 1 sentence:

      "I attached a camera to a train"

      This has already been done to many different electronic items and has been posted many times on slashdot (the last one was when a guy put a camera on a really fast RC car. at least that had movies and was somewhat interesting since the car was moving at 30-40mph))

      My favorite quote:

      Around the same time, I was able to move my track onto a 3'x5' desk, using blue-tack adhesive as a temporary track-bed.

      Whew! Talk about exciting!
  • by PD ( 9577 )
    So Jon Katz is playing with little trains and cameras now?

    I wondered where that windbag went to...
  • I saw a train that had a cam hooked up to it at The Childrens Museum in Indianapolis. Its a Christmas exhibit and the train goes through a village and through tunnels. When the kids have there faces looking at the train you see a large head on the screen above. Kinda scarry...maybe not.
  • by Greedo ( 304385 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:39PM (#4803407) Homepage Journal
    For all your hosting needs, Slashdot is now pleased to offer:

    - text only hosting (linking to images on external servers permitted).
    - HTML markup (limited)
    - free message board on each page
    - Slashdot-Effect protection (tm)

    Optional features include posting your webpage several times a week for maximum exposure, and limited spelling and grammar checking.

    Act now, and get a free CowboyNeal.
  • Someone should tell him that if he has video I should be able to get itposted at the owner is an online friend of mine...:)

  • by MagPulse ( 316 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @02:41PM (#4803429)
    It reminds me of beginning programmers. They will sit and talk for an hour about how they wrote the number guessing game in C and it took them a week. It's important for them to do this, because that's the level they're at. When I was at that level and I read expert programming books, I thought it was bizarre that they didn't show every line of source or how to structure the code. Now I realize that all programming texts make assumptions about the reader's ability, and only talk at a certain level.

    So cut the guy some slack, even though this was an inappropriate post for the front page. Maybe in five years he'll be working for that company that makes the $350 product with a cam already installed.
    • Hey, does that mean I'm a moron for enjoying his submission?
      • Yes? :)

        Actually, even though I have a feeling I could do a much better job (I have an EE degree), I still found it amusing. Even for an EE, it has a lot of base information on dos/donts/gotchas. (Like the balance/weight issues.)
    • Your are right, actually this guy did not a bad job of it, Most of you guys on here who are bitching and saying "how could slashdot be assaulted with such crap" probably don't have the balls to post such a thing. It's a cool little bit, granted it's not professional level, but he took something, modded it to his needs and it works. :)

      Hell, if I had 1/10 of the negative feedback on the stuff i've hacked together to learn on (or whatever) I'd be a computer/electronics hating luddite.

      Give the guy a break. I think he did an admirable job!

  • by farnham ( 160656 )
    I'm really tired of timothy's posts. It's clear he's not a geek, nerd, or interestd in news. He just posts things he likes.
    there is NOTHING geeky about this project. It's stupid. Perhaps if the submitter had actually done some nifty wiring, or taken the time to make a website including pictures, or made it controllable from the internet. I dunno, i'm grasping on how to make this good.
    This just sucks and dosen't even include any links. I thought that was a rule for posting on the front page.
    I was hoping they would take his editorial privelages away for the monkey automatons.

    It's becoming clear that they keep him around to make the other editors look good.

    (mod me however you like I'm not a troll and i don't post often enough to care about my karma)
    • Just don't show posts from Timothy (like we all do with John Katz). Don't worry! If it's important, it will get posted as a dupe!
    • Lighten up, dude. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Woodmeister ( 7487 )
      Blah, blah, blah. Bitch, bitch ... ad nauseum

      Instead of interpreting this article as how some guy thinks he's really 'leet or whatnot, perhaps he just felt that a story of how a little sweat, experimentation and curiousity can oftentimes lead one up the path to both a neat project where one can save some dough and _learn_ something in the process.

      In fact, I see this story as a reminder that as curious beings, we should not feel afraid of trying something for ourselves instead of relying on fully "plug-n-play" solutions. I often think that too many things these days come "ready to use!", "Use once and throw away!", "No need to think and fuss, just plug-n-go!".

      It's an adventurous experimental heart like this that will either discover the next phenomenon or invent the new revolutionary tool.

  • I made a cool kickass train cam.



    The X10 Train Mastermind.
  • Now if he'd gotten it fitted into a 'Z' scale loco, that would've earned him some serious bragging rights indeed! HO is for people with big basements; us apartment-dwellers are stuck with 'Z', or if you're unmarried with a spare bedroom maybe 'N'. BTW 'Z' scale = 1:220, the smallest commercially available scale.
  • Yes, there are pictures if you follow the link, but I have yet to find one that looks like it was taken from a wireless cam on a train. Instead, they are just pictures of his train setup, which isn't very spectacular. The guy needs to either light his subject better, or fix the gamma correction. The only way I can see half of them is to change the gamma to something like 3 or more. Also, the extensions are .jpg, but apparently they are uncompressed BMPs (!). Compress and give us some thumbnails, dude.

  • Good job (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Any mod like this is cool. Sure, he probably could have just bought something similar for (not too much more) money. But the point is to learn something. I bet the next project he does will be cooler - and maybe somebody else will be inspired by his account, too.
    Make your own fun! If you buy it, it isn't fun it's entertainment.
  • Why so negative? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pknoll ( 215959 ) <slashdot DOT pk AT grapefish DOT org> on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:11PM (#4803691)
    There sure are a lot of replies here that don't get it. What this is, young ones, is a good old-fashioned HACK.

    The very cradle of modern geek society was heavily into model trains as well; read up on the TMRC [] sometime. They were the spiritual leaders of a lot you consider to be cool now.

    • Uhh, clever is relative...

      If you don't like the article, don't read it. And more importantly, don't post about why you don't like the article and "why is it here". I actually found it interesting. More importantly, I really think that all the whiners on here are causing more harm to slashdot than the quality of the articles.

    • There arent enough good old fashioned hacks on slashdot anymore.
    • by echucker ( 570962 )
      Thanks for the post. I found it one of possibly 3 threads on the whole page worth reading. The rest were filled with whining and rants. Sad to say I would have run through mod points in nanoseconds today, as there were so many deserving of the troll and flamebait monikers.

      I, for one, found it interesting reading, and eagerly await the day it can be done on my Marklin Z-gauge set.
  • by dr_dank ( 472072 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:14PM (#4803706) Homepage Journal
    * X-10 Wireless camera battery pack components (model ZB10A) (voltage multiplier) (all camera components C$118)
    * Athearn Northern Pacific 74' observation car (C$20)
    * Small screw-on electric switch (C$2)
    * 4 AA batteries (C$7)
    * 2 small lights (C$5)
    * Container weights (C$5)
    * 2 AA battery holders with 9V battery style plugs (C$5)
    * 2 9V battery style wires and plugs (C$2)
    * Electrical tape (C$1)
    * Model cement (C$2)
    * Blue-tack (C$3)
    * Wires (scavenged from 6' of wire attached to camera) (C$0)

    * Sticking out as the biggest geek on a site full of geeks (Priceless)
  • Time waste (Score:4, Funny)

    by DTCDAN ( 118839 ) on Tuesday December 03, 2002 @03:20PM (#4803759)
    I was initally annoyed at myself for reading this whole thing, but then I realized, Hey, I'm at work!
  • What the warchalking symbols outside this guy's place would look like?
  • I strongly suggest you visit the Portola Railroad Museum ( [])
    where you can not only get in, but learn to OPERATE a locomotive for an hour for $100. It's DAMN FUN. :)
  • here [] is a cheap one... installed in a boxcar for about the same amount of money this poster spent minus the pain and suffering.

    remember, whenever you are going to start something... chances are that someone somewhere else has a better product to use (as in the camera.. i have a camera+transmitter that runs off of a 9 volt battery and is the size of 4 quarters stacked for my indoor remote control airplane (mini-park flyer is what they are called)

    Great though at the modifications to the camera and train cars!
  • I hate this guy for the same reason I hate my (ex-)office-mate and (still-)best friend.

    Because he no-doubt got his X-10 cam by clicking on one of those annoying pop up ads, thereby encouraging more pop-ups!

    A while back my friend got a puppy. He and his wife worked so they wanted to keep an eye on him during the day. One easy click on an X-10 ad and POOF! the dog-cam was born. It was really cool to, the only downside was...

    HE CLICKED THE POPUP! Not only that by $$$ were actually generated by the popup. EVIL! EVIL! EVIL!

    Dog-cam, simple but cool.
    Train-cam, simple but cool.

  • Getting there (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ShadowDrake ( 588020 )
    I think it's been in the neighbourhood of 10 years since the first variations of this sort of thing were done. Remember? Lionel did one under the name Railscope. It ended up fairly similar... a camera car (mocked up to look like an Alco FA) that sucked back batteries like nobody's business and had to be pushed by an engine. It cost a fair amount... something like USD 300 back then IIRC.

    I recall a big complaint in the early reviews was that you couldn't get it in whatever model you wanted... a DIY system could handle that nicely.

    One of the problems mentioned, the variable track voltage as a power source, could be bypassed if you used a DCC wiring system-- those typically have 16vac on the rails at all times. Rectify, transform, and go.

    It's surprising where the "gaps" in creating a quality model railroad are. We can put cameras in our engines, but the only cars we can put on the roads are static or limited in motion. Very few control panels have moved out of the "array of toggles on a sheet of board" level (why not electronic?) We can get about five different quality affordable implementations of the EMD F7, but you'll still pay a fortune (or spend hours starting with a crude kit) for a halfway-decent F59PH, SD50/60 or SD45, at least in 1:87.

    I actually believe there would be a good market for custom "voodoo figurines" for layouts. One General Electric C44-9W, one Electro-Motive SD60M, and a 1:87 representation of the laptop that swallowed my notes. Wheee!
  • A guy did something. He thought it was cool and wanted to share and a guy here agreed and posted it to the front page. If you don't like it, stfu and don't read the article. Freedom, its a powerful thing. Yes, you are free to criticize, but look at what you are criticizing, a guy who wanted to mod something. I don't care if it could have been purchased cheaper, if it is of limited use, that he didn't have beautiful panaramic pictures of HO scale Grand Canyon. I care that I learned something new, I learned that model railroad enthusiasts want cameras on their trains. I don't know how valuable that info is to me at this time, but now I know, and knowing is half the battle.
  • waste their time..

    I am proud to be a citizen of the social-democractic country we call Canada.

    Ahh... nevermind.