Welcome to my Web site!
I am Dave Ackmann from Florissant Missouri, USA. I am a Model Railroader and member of the Gateway Division of the National Model Railroad Association. I teach clinics on a variety of Model Railroading topics, primarily in the area of modeling technology. Below are links to the clinics I have presented since 2019, and you are invited to take a look. These clinics have all appeared virtually on the NMRAx web site, and I also conduct them for NMRA Divisions upon request, at no charge. If you have any questions, or would like to host me as a clinician for your NMRA Division, just click here to send me an email. Thanks for visiting!

 
 
 

 
 
 
FIRE! - A Clinic for Model Railroaders
This clinic is currently under development, with a projected release date of August 2023.
Dave Ackmann
Gateway Division, NMRA
 
Campfires to Forest Fires! Commercial Products to Custom Designs! This clinic explores how to simulate fires, including visual effects, sound and smoke. Drawing from theater to electronic fireplace technology, you will learn how to create realistic flame effects for your model railroad. Learn cool ways to satisfy your burning desires!

 
 
 
Automating CAD for Model Railroad Structures Using "Generators" - A Clinic for Model Railroaders

Dave Ackmann
Gateway Division, NMRA
 
When it comes to modeling structures for your model railroad, many basic items like walls and roofing contain regularly repeating objects. 3D printing makes the creation of repeating objects easier than traditional methods, but using standard Computer Aided Design to create an exact model of what is desired can be problematic. In this clinic Dave Ackmann presents how he developed computer programs he calls "Generators" to design such objects (and several more), allowing him to specify design parameters and then automatically calculate a precise 3D model to his specifications, all without having to learn or use a traditional CAD package; best of all, the programs are available for free. You no longer need great manual dexterity to create many 3D structure models; come see how!

So what does a "Generator" program look like? Below is screen shot of the user interface for the Shake Shingle Generator. The user just enters design parameters, and then presses the green button. The Generator calculates a design file with the appropriate instructions for the free "OpenSCAD" application. You just feed the design parameters to OpenSCAD and save the file in STL format. The STL files can be 3D printed directly or used as the basis for derivative designs (e.g.: take the design of a Basic Building and punch a hole for a door or window).
 


 
Below is a sample of a Shake Shingle 3D model. Here a panel has been duplicated, reversed and joined with a second panel at an angle representative of something that might be used for an A-Frame cottage.
 


 
Video "Trailer" To view a short overview of this clinic, click here
 
Complete Clinic To view the complete 30 minute clinic, click here
 
Handout    To view the Handout, click here. For some unknown reason the text on the first page may not appear in some browsers. If this is your case, just click on the DOWNLOAD button on the right and the complete two page document will display.
 
Downloading the Generators: When you click here, you can download a ZIP file that contains the current version of every Generator. To complete the download, click on the "Download" button toward the lower right of the next window. When you do so, a .ZIP file will appear in your download folder; you can double-click on the archive to open it and execute an individual file directly or extract the entire collection. But be advised that the first time you try to run the program, Windows Virus Checker (Windows Defender) may flag the file as suspicious, and you may not be able to run it unless you click "More Info" and "Run Anyway" For your own piece of mind, I suggest you virus scan the file to convince yourself it is virus free. If you like what you see, extract the file from the ZIP Archive and store it on your local hard drive. Enjoy!
 
Topic Version Tutorial Link
Basic Building Assemblies
0.07       22JUL22
Not Yet Available
Shake Shingles
0.05       22JUL22
Not Yet Available
Brick Walls
0.03       22JUL22
Not Yet Available
Windows
0.06       22JUL22
Not Yet Available
Floors and Decks
0.03       22JUL22
Not Yet Available
Concrete Foundations
0.03       22JUL22
Not Yet Available
Roofing, Rafters and Pillars
0.06       22JUL22
Not Yet Available
Piers and Deck Supports
0.02       03SEP22
Not Yet Available
Louvers and Shutters Not Yet Available Not Yet Available
Canopies and Awnings Not Yet Available Not Yet Available
Billboard Supports Not Yet Available Not Yet Available
Construction Tools Not Yet Available Not Yet Available
Trestles Not Yet Available Not Yet Available
Staircases/Handrails Not Yet Available Not Yet Available
Lattices Not Yet Available Not Yet Available

 
 
 
2 and-a-Half D CAD Using PowerPoint - A Clinic for Model Railroaders
Dave Ackmann
Gateway Division, NMRA
 
For a 3D printing Newbie, using 3D design software can be a bit intimidating, so let's simplify things and start learning Computer Aided Design with software we may already know, namely PowerPoint, and a technique I call 2 and-a-Half D CAD. You will learn how to use advanced PowerPoint drawing tools like bezier curve manipulation and shape subtraction to create useful 2D shapes, including board-and-batten siding, clapboard siding, corrugated roofing, windows, fences, railings, sign supports and more. We will cover how to export PowerPoint pages as PDFs, and convert the PDFs into Stereo Lithography files for 3D printing using the ANYCONV.COM. web site. Finally, we will cover just a few simple object manipulation tricks in TinkerCAD and CURA to manipulate simple objects into more complex ones.

 
Video "Trailer" To view a short overview of this clinic, click here
 
Complete Clinic To view the complete 46 minute clinic, click here
 
Handout To view the Handout, click here. For some unknown reason the text on the first page may not appear in some browsers. If this is your case, just click on the DOWNLOAD button on the right and the complete two page document will display.
 
Downloadable Objects If you have seen my clinic on "Building Billboards for the Baden Vogt & DeSmet" you learned how to create billboard support structures from styrene. You can also create the legs, boardwalk and frame using the 2 and-a-Half D technique. Here are links to 5 different PowerPoint files you can use to create framed billboards with artwork 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 feet tall in HO scale (which means that the images you draw or download from the web must be 1.10" 1.38", 1.65", 1.93" or 2.20" tall, respectively). It's up to you to cut your own backer board from sheet styrene (such as Evergreen 9030 or 9040), to cut cut a strip of 8210 styrene as the back support strip that connects the legs together, and to size the horizontal frame segments to suit your artwork. Once you click on a size, click on the DOWNLOAD button to open the model in PowerPoint.
    For 8' sign supports, click here
    For 10' sign supports, click here
    For 12' sign supports, click here
    For 14' sign supports, click here
    For 16' sign supports, click here
 :
Below are links to walls and roofing drawn in PowerPoint and ready for saving as PDF files, conversion into Stereo Lithography files and 3D printing. Save and modify as fits your needs.
    For thick and thin board and batten wall and clapboard siding, click here
    For corrugated roofing, click here
    For scalloped roofing, click here
 :
Here are links to some useful windows and doors.
    For some basic windows and a simple door, click here
    For a rustic door, click here
 :
Finally, we have links to some miscellaneous objects we presented in the clinic.
    For a Picket Fence, click here
    For a Trestle Bent, click here
    For a Picnic Pavilion, click here
    For a Side Rail for a Highway Overpass, click here
    For a Pedestrial guard rail, click here
    For a interior room pods for the Newcastle house found on Thingiverse, click here
    For a pipe gate, click here
    For design wedges, click here
 

 
Creating Custom Decals - A Clinic for Model Railroaders
Dave Ackmann
Gateway Division, NMRA
 
Custom Decals are easy to make and transform your layout into a more distinctive and memorable creation. We cover how to design decals using PowerPoint, Photoshop Elements, and GRAFFWRITER.COM, and how to print them using decal paper and an ink-jet printer. Support structures for decals are also discussed.

 
Video "Trailer" To view a short overview of this clinic, click here
 
Complete Clinic To view the complete 38 minute clinic, click here
 
Handout To view the Handout, click here
 
Clinic Survey To help improve future presentations, please take a short survey of your thoughts on this clinic. by clicking here.
 
Link to US Highway signs This is a Yahoo search for highway signs. I used one to trace when designing a Route 66 sign, but there are many for vintage and newer signs. To access the page click here
 
PowerPoint text along a curve To view the instructions for drawing text along a curve in PowerPoint, click here
 
Metallic Color CoordinatesIt is difficult to get RGB color coordinates for metalic colors that everyone agrees look good, but here are some starting points.
           Gold: (225,215,0) or (212,175,55) or (204,164,61)
           Silver (192,192,192)
           Copper (184,115,51)
 

 
3D Printing, Model Railroading, Stages of Love, and You - A Clinic for Model Railroaders
Dave Ackmann
Gateway Division, NMRA
 
This clinic is an entry level clinic covering what I have learned in the first few months of developing 3D models and printing them on my Ender 3 Pro 3D printer. I also cover how I downloaded models from other model railroaders. Transferring images from PowerPoint and creating 3 dimensional Heralds will also be covered.
 
Video "Trailer" To view a short overview of this clinic, click here
 
Complete Clinic To view the complete 46 minute clinic, click here
 
Handout       To view the Handout, click here
 
Clinic Survey     To help improve future presentations, please take a short survey of your thoughts on this clinic. by clicking here.
 
Troubleshooting Guide       This site from Simplify3D is an excellent guide for help in troubleshooting many 3D printer problems.
 
Skirts, Brims and Rafts - What's the difference?       I generally don't use skirts, brims or rafts to hold my designs to my 3D printer build plate; I try to place a large, flat surface on the bottom and keep the build plate clean and level. But when I do need better surface adhesion, I generally use brims . Click on this link for a good explanation of the differences.
 
Good sites for 3D Models: In addition to Thingiverse.com which I really like for structures (when you get there search for "HO Scale"), 3dwarehouse,sketchup.com which I like for pickup and commercial trucks and TurboSquid.com (all of which I mention in my clinic as good web sites to find 3D Models). I recently was impressed with Free3d.com; not all their models are free, but they do have some nice cars and dinosaurs.
 
Sizing Motor Vehicles When I used to take a 3D model of a motor vehicle into a slicer and try to resize it for HO scale, I never felt comfortable that I was getting the size right. What did I do? I measured my existing commercially purchased cars and trucks. I found that a 53' trailer is 4.4" long (112mm), a mid-century sedan is 2.1" long (53mm) and a covered stake truck is 3.33" long (84mm). The trailer and the stake truck are about 1.12" wide (28mm), the sedan 0.78" (20mm). A small delivery truck will be between 0.975" and 1.06" wide (25-27mm) and as long as that long sedan. More recent automobiles will be a bit shorter. Now when I import a .STL file into . CURA, especially when importing from 3DWarehouse, the first thing I do is click on the object, and then click on the resize tool on the left edge of the CURA window. I then specify the appropriate width of the vehicle, and I have a starting point. I think widths are a better indicator than lengths. Now if I can just get the supports right!.
 
Free Models from Dave Ackmann: I occasionally publish my own simple 3D designs for Model Railroading to Thingiverse.com.
      To download a city limits sign in HO click here and to review related decals click here. then "View Raw".
      To download a Route 66 Highway marker in HO click here and to review related decals click here. then "View Raw".
      To download a Street Sign for the Coral Court in HO click here and to review related decals click here. then "View Raw".
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
Amazing Arduino Animations - A Clinic for Model Railroaders
Dave Ackmann
Gateway Division, NMRA
 
This clinic was first presented in July, 2020 at the Gateway-X virtual convention of the NMRA,
 
It is organized into Chapters, and takes you from the basic concepts to procuring components and simple programming of Arduino microprocessors. It then expands on different components that can be added to Arduinos to provide sound, lighting and motion effects. Each Chapter contains a PDF with detailed explanation of the topic, and may contain one or more Arduino programs (or "sketches" as they are called in Arduino-speak), and sometimes references to videos or other useful learning experiences.
 
The Projects build on the Chapters and show how to create vignettes of action to bring life to your model railroad. Projects always include written instructions, a video, and sketches that can be copied and used immediately, even if you have no formal education in electronics or computer science.
 
All you need to do is click on a link below to open a topic of interest. NOTE: some documents contain links to other web sites. When these documents are viewed directly from this web site, these links will not work. HOWEVER, if when you view the document you click on the "Download" button just above and to the right of the title, and then view the document directly from your desktop, the links will work.
 
Video "Trailer" To view a brief overview of this clinic, click here
 
Entire Clinic" - When I teach this clinic "live", I break it into two parts. The first 15 minutes describe what Arduinos are, and how to download and use the Interactive Development Environment. To view this first segment, click here Then, if you want to watch the second segment on how I create the projects, click here.
 
Handout       To view this clinic's handout, click here
 
Clinic Survey     To help improve future presentations, please take a short survey of your thoughts on this clinic. by clicking here.
 
Which Wire on a Wall Wart is the Hot Wire?       Need some help figuring it out? Click here
 
Chapter 1 - What is an Arduino and What Can You Do With Them in Model Railroading?
      To view this chapter's documentation, click here
Chapter 2 - Getting Started
      To view this chapter's documentation, click here
      To view the Grade Crossing sketch, click here
      To view the Grade Crossing sketch containing an error, click here
Chapter 3 - Arduino Components and Where You Find Them
      To view this chapter's documentation, click here
Chapter 4 - Blinking a LED
      To view this chapter's documentation, click here
      To view a small program to test blinking a single LED, click here
      To view a small program to test blinking a pair of LEDs, click here
Chapter 5 - Adding and External Power Supply and Why I Use Barrier Strips
      To view this chapter's documentation click here
Chapter 6 - LEDs and Pulse Width Modulation
      To view this chapter's documentation, click here
Chapter 7 - Why an Arduino Nano instead of an Uno
      To view this chapter's documentation, click here
Chapter 8 - Using a Toggle or Push Button Switch
      To view this chapter's documentation, click here
      To view a small program to test a switch, click here
Chapter 9 - Adding Audio to an Arduino
      To view this chapter's documentation, click here
      To hear "I've Been Working on the Railroad", click here.
     If this web site tells you that the file is too large to play, just click on the "download" button above the message and to its right, and it will download to your PC and begin to play. Once playing, you may save the audio file to your hard drive by right clicking on the status bar and then on "Save Audio As" and specifying a file name.
      To view a small program to play an audio file, click here
Chapter 10 - Using a Light Dependent Resistor
      To view this chapter's documentation, click here
Chapter 11 - Adding an Alphanumeric Display
      To view this chapter's documentation, click here
      To view the SCANNER program code, click here
      To view a small program to test an alphanumeric display, click here
Chapter 12 - Adding Motors - Steppers and Servos
      To view this chapter's documentation, click here
Chapter 13 - Adding a Relay
      To view this chapter's documentation, click here

 
Project 1 - Blinking LEDs and Fires
      To view this project's video trailer, click here
      To view this project's documentation, click here
      To view this project's Tow Truck Arduino code, click here
      To view this project's Police Car Arduino code, click here
      To view this project's Tow Truck and Police Car Arduino code, click here
      To view this project's Dumpster Arduino code, click here
      To view this project's Police Car and Tow Truck and Dumpster Arduino code, click here
Project 2 - Speedometer
Version 0.55 as of October 31, 2020, fixes the bug which occasionally caused version 0.54 and earier of the Speedometer to work improperly when a locomotive was pulling cars, and the space between cars was at "harmonic" speeds.       To view this project's video trailer, click here
      To view this project's documentation, click here
      To view this project's Arduino code, click here
Project 3 - Randomized LEDs
      To view this project's video trailer, click here
      To view this project's documentation, click here
      To hear the Waterfall project's audio, click here
     If this web site tells you that the file is too large to play, just click on the "download" button above the message and to its right, and it will download to your PC and begin to play. Once playing, you may save the audio file to your hard drive by right clicking on the status bar and then on "Save Audio As" and specifying a file name.
      To view the Building's project Arduino code, click here
      To view the Waterfall's project Arduino code, click here
Project 4 - Lumberjack
      To view this project's video trailer, click here
      To view this project's documentation, click here
      To view this project's Arduino code, click here
      To hear Lumberjack's Ax hitting the tree ("Single_Chop.MP3"), click here.
     If this web site tells you that the file is too large to play, just click on the "download" button above the message and to its right, and it will download to your PC and begin to play. Once playing, you may save the audio file to your hard drive by right clicking on the status bar and then on "Save Audio As" and specifying a file name
.
      To hear falling tree ("Falling_Tree.MP3"), click here.
     If this web site tells you that the file is too large to play, just click on the "download" button above the message and to its right, and it will download to your PC and begin to play. Once playing, you may save the audio file to your hard drive by right clicking on the status bar and then on "Save Audio As" and specifying a file name.
Project 5 - Carousel
      To view this project's video trailer, click here
      To view this project click here
      To view this project's Arduino code, click here
      To download Souza marches, click here
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Building Billboards on the Baden, Vogt & DeSmet - A Clinic for Model Railroaders
Dave Ackmann
Gateway Division, NMRA
 
This clinic was first presented at the Gateway Division of the NMRA in July, 2019, and subsequently at Trainfest 2019, Gateway-x 2020, and later presented virtually at several NMRA Division meetings. It instructs the viewer on how to make custom billboards, as implemented on the Baden, Vogt & DeSmet HO scale model railroad. The clinic describes where to get billboard images and how to build the support structures. It recommends standardizing billboard heights, and descibes how to make assembly fixtures out of Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene and a router table.
 
Each part is a video, ranging from 3 minutes to 18 minutes. I hope you find them useful and enjoyable.
 
Video "Trailer" To view a brief overview of this clinic, click here .
 
Handout       To view this clinic's handout, click here .
 
Spreadsheet       To view the spreadsheet which calculates the dimensions of Billboard legs, click here
 
Clinic Survey     To help improve future presentations, please take a short survey of your thoughts on this clinic. Click here.
 
Complete Presentation (44:15) To view this video,       click here
 
Building Billboard Assembly Fixtures (16:28)      For a more detailed video on building assembly fixtures from Ultra Hight Molecular Weight Polyethylene, click here
 
 
 
Gateway Division AP Electrical Engineering Working Group: In November, 2021, I became the AP Chairman for the Gateway Division of the NMRA (St Louis and surrounding area). I am personally interested in the Electrical Engineering Certificate, and challenged our attendees to join me, with the goal of submitting our SOQ (Statement Of Qualification) by the end of June, 2022. To that goal, I have created a web page with a simplified perspective of the requirements and helpful ideas for achieving our goal. If you are interested in viewing this page. click here. I think the single most valuable thing you can do to achieve this certificate is to ignore the requirements on the NMRA web site and focus on the SOQ, particularly the first three sections. Decide which options you want to pursue, complete the engineering and document your work. Because of COVID-19, we may need to find ways to verify the work, and I am working with the Region on how to do so, Creating the engineering drawings required in sections 4 and 5 will also be a learning experience, but I think my group is up to it, Interested? Drop me and email with the link at the top of the page.  
 
  
 
Below are clinics I am considering developing. If any of these topics interest you, let me know by clicking here
 
 
 
More Amazing Arduino Animations - A Clinic for Model Railroaders
Dave Ackmann
Gateway Division, NMRA
 
A sequel to "Amazing Arduino Animations", this clinic will present more animations for model railroading, many of which utilize the control and synchronization features of Arduino Microprocessors. This clinic has an anticipated release date of Summer of 2022. .
 
 
 
Skin and Bones: Creating Custom 3D Figures - A Clinic for Model Railroaders
Dave Ackmann
Gateway Division, NMRA
 
I have discovered software that lets me design and 3D print model railroad figures that are posed in positions not available commercially. The figures are designed on a computer and the programs are far from simple, but where there is a strong enough will, this is a way. .
 
 
 
3D Printing a Model Railroad Herald - A Sample Technique for Model Railroaders
Dave Ackmann
Gateway Division, NMRA
 
This potential clinic would show how I create two-colored freelance model railroad heralds on a simple 3D printer (Ender 3 Pro) to decorate my layout room. I use TinkerCAD to draw the underlaying "field", and then superimpose a rim, images and text transferred from PowerPoint. I use CURA for a slicer, and before printing I add a line to the CURA preferences to allow for printing in separate layers and colors. It's fun, and not that hard.
 
       
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The View from the Cab - A Clinic for Model Railroaders
Dave Ackmann
Gateway Division, NMRA
 
Did you know you can use a tiny video camera to record what it looks like from the cab, as we ride the rails around our layout? This clinic shows how an inexpensive camera can be used to record video to a SD card and how a different camera can broadcast over a wireless network. The cameras range from $10 to $55. The view is different from the cab.
 
.
 

 
Other Stuff I Like:
Starting in November, 2021, I began investigating using CAD programs for layout design. I remembered that ATLAS had track planning software and quickly learned that ATLAS was basically reselling a package called SCARM. Since they were the same price, I visited the SCARM site at https://www.scarm.info/index.php and downloaded the free version. It's a neat little tool. I also visited the YouTube site for "DIY and DIGITAL RR" (click here) for a nice tutorial on using SCARM (click here for tutorial).
 
I don't envision creating a clinic on the topic, but if you are interested in getting started in CAD for layout design, give SCARM and Jimmy's clinic a try. The free version has a limit on the number of components you can include in your design, but if you buy the $39.99 version of the software, the limit is removed. Additionally, I downloaded the "Model Train Simulator" (MTS) which allows me to run virtual trains on my PC screen.
 
I liked running the Model Train Simulator, and just for grins I created John Allen's "Timesaver" layout in SCARM and downloaded it to my web site. If you download the trial versions of SCARM and MTS, you can click here to download my implementation. When you open SCARM, do a FILE/OPEN on my Timesaver. Then click on the TRAIN CONTROLLER in the upper right, turn on the Power, set the direction of the red locomotive and bump the throttle. See how many moves it takes to be eastbound on the track on the upper right with all cars on tow!
 
Subsequently I decided another piece of software might be better for me, and eventually chose ANYRAIL at http://www.anyrail.com, as I felt it handled flex track better. I liked Ron Marsh's tutorials on YouTube. I ponied up $59.99 for the complete version, which allows me to have more than 50 objects in the design.
 

 

20:40 CDT       26 September 2022