Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Gentle Model Railroads comes to an end

This blog has covered all of my model railway and model railroad activity since August 2009 and, now that I am permanently committed to British N Gauge, it is time to bring it to a halt.

I am starting a new blog that covers my move to N Gauge.

Check out Pennvale Sands Blog.

Before you go, thank you for reading this blog.I hope that follow me and read the new one.

David

Saturday, 3 February 2018

A frustrating two days but we got there

Pennvale Sands moves on. I laid all of the track for the main station, wired it all up and started to test the trains but a few issues cropped up.

Firstly, the Ivatt 2-6-0 that I bought just wasn't going to run correctly. Having had all the trouble with the DCC Concepts decoder and thinking that it was all solved with the new Zimo it turned out that, on the Digitrax speed scale of 0 - 100, it would only run smoothly from 38 onwards. Below that it had a hesitancy which wasn't too obvious until there were a couple of coaches behind it. It was then clear that they were closing up and pulling apart on every turn of the driving wheels.

Secondly, the 0-6-0 Jinty 3F that I was planning on using as a station pilot was only promised by Bachmann "this year" with no indication when. I decided that I would use the Fowler 4F as the pilot (more on that later) and get another loco to run the freight. I wanted a Black Five but my local hobby shop - Orwell Model Railways - didn't have one in stock so I picked a 4MT 2-6-0 instead. Wrong! This is a tender driven loco. In fact, it was so tender driven that the main driving wheels didn't rotate most of the time.

I had one of those nights where you lay in bed and think of all the nice ways you can say to the decent pair at Orwell MS (Kevin and Brett are both top notch people) that you don't want these any more. I was at the door at 10am the next day hoping that I could be casual about this. However, I needn't of worried. I gave them to Brett and explained that I didn't want to have steam any more as I couldn't go through any more of this and he wholeheartedly agreed with me and asked what I wanted to do. Well, I had a little list on my phone:

 371-457 - D6714 BR Green, Small Yellow Panel (Class 37) - whatever that implies and 371-084A - D5177 BR Green (Class 25).





Well, it turned out that he had both in stock. I even got given two new decoders in place of my old ones. There's service for you. These two run like a dream.

That got my running problems sorted. So what else when wrong?

I laid all of the track and installed all of the Cobalt IP point motors and, guess what, I got some of the wiring the wrong way round. It is never explained in any documentation that the feed to the point motor is different depending upon which way round that the point is oriented. My red and black wires feed go into socket 1 and 2 on the motor. That is if the point tail is pointing left. If it is pointing right, the feed has to be swapped, otherwise you get a short when the loco touches the frog. It is all sorted now and all thirteen points work as expected.  The last thing that I had to do was to wire up each frog with a long, yellow wire, so that I can fit up an LED display above the back scene - eventually. 

Here are a few images that show where I am with the work. Firstly, here is a close up of the LED feeds.


This following shot is of the overall main board where you can see the foam core construction and all the wiring. (Don't forget that you can click on any image to see a larger slide show)


Lastly, here is a shot with the two new diesel locos in situ along with the Metcalfe Goods Shed and the back scene.

I have picked up an 08 shunter and a tiny CT Electronik decoder so the next job is to get that installed and running.  There is a story behind that as well! Come back soon!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Was going British the right thing to do?

Unreservedly, YES.  Why? Well, firstly, I seem to have been to my LHS (Local Hobby Shop - it's an American expression) every day since I started this. Secondly, the help that I am getting from the forums - Model Rail Forum particularly - has been in a very friendly manner rather than the "why don't you know this" way that I was finding on the US forums.

It has been a pleasure working my way through the design and then the construction. The layout design got a lot of help from a contributor under the name of bear_1923. Long, well thought out and expressed,answers to my queries meant that I completely changed what I was planning with the result being a clean and simple layout design.

One of the decisions was made for pure commercial reasons - I was going to go for Peco Fine Scale track but my LHS didn't have enough in stock for me to start. I am not regretting going code 80 so it didn't matter in the end. My budgets have just expanded as I have found out that one of my PPI refund request has been settled for a very nice sum.

I think that I will have spent well over £1,000 by the time that I have all the track down and a minimum of stock to run a typical day's service. One expects N Gauge to be cheaper than OO but, of course, the material is the only thing saved because of the reduction in size. The bulk of the cost is in the design, making and shipping which isn't really much different to the larger scale. Hence locos cost about the same (£100 - £150 without sound). I am needing around 5 locos, 10 coaches and some 30 wagons. Luckily, I had all of the point motors that I needed. Kitting 15 points with Cobalt IP motors would have come in at £300.00!

I now have most of the track laid in the main station. I am just about to start on motorising the turntable. I haven't gone for an indexing setup - I have bought a simple motor and will drive it from a cheap decoder. The advantage of that is that I can set the top speed of the decoder to a very slow one giving very good control.

I have, also, decided to throw away the small layout that I built originally as it would be hard to reconfigure into the main set up. I will design a new layout incorporating a wharf and make the baseboard a complete one to cover the available area rather than cobbling together bits into the final board. I am hoping that this layout will last so I want to do it properly.

OK, that's enough for this time. Next time, there will be lots of pictures and some running trains!

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Pennvale Sands starts

I have had some extended discussions over on the Model Rail Forum. All of this resolved two big issues. One was the actual track layout, which was very much discussed and changed. The other was the name.

I have decided to call it Pennvale Sands. This is made up of the beginning of our surname and the beginning of my wife Valerie's name. The sands bit is taken from Grange-over-Sands which is on the Cumbrian coast just a few miles down from the fictitious location for my station up near the Lake District.

Another discussion was about the traffic into and out of the station. I had envisaged some constant coal traffic in that a couple of trains a day would come if from local places with short coal trains. - empty wagons These would then be put together and go out to the mines down in Lancashire and the same would happen in the opposite direction with loaded wagons. Some extra wagons would be added from our station. This is now a dead idea. I have been persuaded that it would be more interesting to make the creamery on the branch terminus into a wharf and then we can run fish between the branch and the main station and then onwards to London or wherever.

Also discussed was the goods yard that I had designed(!). It seems that I am still thinking US style as the large storage sidings were out of place in a station such as this. It would have a receiving and departure track and the individual tracks for, say, a goods shed, a coal yard and so on. There, also, was a bottleneck in the design where the double track became single track at the station throat and then went out to double track again. I was persuaded that this would cause issues later when I was getting to grips with the traffic so I did a redesign. I threw away the goods part, turned the layout upside down to put the station at the back and added a bay line to the platform area (for a bubble car when I can afford it).

The final result looks like this:



There is now a head shunt for the goods yard and a release road in the station which means that a long string of coaches doesn't need to be pulled out to release a loco or, if the second line is full as well, the loco can still get out. Overall, I like this as it has opened up the board for something more than just track.

One problem, though, is the branch terminus. I have laid this down and set all the tube and wire point changers. This is the current layout.


However, the line to the fiddle yard is in the wrong place. In fact, it won't go to the fiddle yard but will now connect through to Pennvale Sands. The lower siding - to the engine shed - will now become the link to the rest of the layout. As you can see, when I change that, there is no access from the branch line into the passenger track so I have to lift the points and reorganise them. It strikes me that as I have had to redo the point tubes from one side to the other and extend one side for the new fiddle yard, it could be best to make a new board.

I have laid some track on the main board and am now wiring that part up to get some trains rolling.


I now have plenty of room for my main line passenger trains!

Stay tuned.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

It's the "I don't have a name yet" railway

I have been modelling US outline HO for many years with only a couple of unsuccessful forays into British OO and OO9. However, I have got a bit depressed about the costs of buying stuff from the USA. Finally, I have decided a) that I want to do something where I can pop to my local model shop,that isn't going to cost an arm and a leg for postage/added VAT and handling charges and c) gives me more room for a railway.

Hence, I have taken down the HO layout. I am slowly putting all of the equipment up on EBay and am now building an Gauge layout. My basic area is one leg of 9'x 2' and a second leg of 6' 6" x 2'. In HO/OO this is quite tight but in N it is acres!

The problem is that I know little or nothing aboutBritish Railways having been brought up in South London (Streatham to be exact) and thus was only exposed to Southern Electric in my youth. I have decided that I will use basically LMS equipment as I can cope with 3F, 4F, etc. andI like Duchesses and Jubilees.

I went off down to my local model railway show - Scograil in Ipswich, which seems to have morphed into Orwell Model Railways and now run by Brett (of Scograil) and Kevin(of Coastal DCC fame!). I must say that we are very lucky to have both a top quality model shop AND a genius at DCC - in Kevin Dickerson - within 5 minutes drive from me. It seems that this results in daily visits!

Where am I then. I have designed the layout - basically a medium sized terminus feeding a small branch end of line and a fiddle yard. Location seems to be in the north west. I am thinking of making it a seaside resort where you can see the Lake District in the background feeding out to a small town with a Creamery as its biggest employer (Seascale way).

The terminus looks like this:



and the branch like this


Telling my wife that this would be cheaper than US HO, I went round to Orwell and spent £350.00 on some track, a loco (Ivatt 2MT), some passenger coaches and goods wagons. I then acquired a 4F. Having tried DCC Concepts DCC decoders (I am a Digitrax man) I swapped them out for some Zimo as Zimo seems to manage coreless motors better (thanks Kevin). This was when I was thinking of building just a small board for fun. Having turned it into something bigger and better(?) I then spent another £350.00 on the track for the terminus. Given that I am expecting to run a Jubilee or a Duchess into here with some "blood and custard" Mk1s and some extended coal trains, I haven't yet explained that I am not finished! Fortunately, I have all of my HO stuff to sell so that should offset the costs somewhat.

I am quite disabled with arthritis and can't stand up for too long so my model railway sits on top of some B&Q kitchen units that sit on the floor. This means that I can roll around on an office chair and do most things sitting down. I can't contemplate climbing underneath baseboards so I build everything out of 5mm foam core, extensively braced. This makes a 9' x 1' 4" baseboard light enough to pick up but strong enough when sitting on a stretch of kitchen worktop.

I use DCC extensively and thus have Cobalt IP motors and I drive them from JMRI buy setting up routes for specific trains. These sit underneath the layout but if there is any issue, I can just flip the board on its side and fix it. To make the shunting on the branch more interesting, I have reverted to wire and tube for the point operation but the fiddle yard (which will be behind the branch eventually), will be wired into the DCC bus and JMRI.

I have a good friend who is an artist (see his website at Brunswick Fine Art). He has painted some back scenes for me - and I built his web site for him. I am in the process of fitting these. As the layout may need to be lifted, the back scenes are all removable.

Anyway, that is the story so far. Here is where I am with the layout itself.

The main board.


and the branch terminus


So far, I have been unable to think of a name for this. I am thinking of something like"Grange-over-Sands" or "Wells-Next-The-Sea" - in other words, something that tells you it is a seaside location. So far, I have come up with nothing!

Friday, 12 January 2018

So, the world turns - AGAIN!

I was feeling a bit off about US outline modelling over the weekend. The cost of buying anything that isn't a box car, a passenger car or a loco is out of all proportion because of the costs for shipping, added VAT and the Royal Mail/Parcelforce £8.50 handling charge. My mind started to wander and I found myself wondering if I could knock together a small N Gauge British outline layout. By small, I meant around 3' 6"" X 12".

I didn't get far as I started to work out what was needed and suddenly the word "budget" loomed large. However, the advantages are many as everything is available locally here in Ipswich, or at least 90% of it as we have a good model shop here - was Scograil but more of that later. I gave it a bit more thought and then started to be a bit creative on the money side. Without going into details, I felt that I could justify the expense of a few items. This got a bit out of hand, as these things do.

I started playing around with the idea and, rapidly, found that 3' 6" was a bit tight so expanded it to 4' and then out to 4' 3". I have now designed quite a nice little terminus running into a "fiddle yard" - the UK name for "staging".


This has a single passenger platform, a goods line, three industries, a goods shed and an engine shed so quite a lot going on. I thought that I could run this on two locos and a few wagons. Well, that didn't last.

I went off to the local shop and found that all had changed over the new year. My friend Kevin of Coastal DCC had joined forces with Brett from Scograil to buy out (as I understand it - if I am wrong, then sorry) Neil Scoggins and run the UK model side under the name "Orwell Model Railways" (OMR)- nothing there yet on the Internet but there will be. Meanwhile Neil is taking what used to be ScogBahn and now has a dedicated European model railway shop, on the same premises.

Anyway, back to the story. I bought some fresh 5mm foam core from Hobbycraft (4 A1 sheets for £10 - bargain). I then hit OMR for the real stuff. Well, £355 later - 7 points, 4 yards of track, one loco (Graham Farish Ivatt 2-6-0), one passenger coach, three wagons, a brake van and a decoder for the loco. Oh, and I ordered a 3F shunter for the town pilot. This tiny stuff ain't cheap!

I then found a cheap, new, LMS 4F which will arrive by Saturday. I took it all home and started building the base. Knocking foam core together is easy - all you need is a sharp knife and a hot glue gun. I have a special foam core cutter which keeps the blade at 90 degrees for a better fit. I then spent a couple of days laying some track and here we are:


I have installed all the wiring to make it DCC friendly. Last night, I put the decoder into the loco and - nothing happened. In fact quite a lot happened but not what I wanted. Firstly, I was able to change the address using JMRI but then, when I took it off the programming track and placed on the N Gauge layout (connected by jumpers to the main layout) it instantly shorted! I spoke to Kevin but we didn't get very far. I took it into him today and it turned out that one of the tender wheel axles was shorting.Not enough to stop the programming but enough when full power came on to short. He fixed it but when I got home, I still couldn't run the loco. It didn't short out but just sat there. After a lot of fiddling and speaking, again, to Kevin, it finally jerked into action. I have absolutely no idea what I did but it runs now.

I found that it runs very intermittently so I looked into a rolling road, but at £60.00 that was too rich for something that has short term uses. I decided that I could quickly put together a test track as I had two yards of track sitting there ready for the fiddle yard. 

Good old foam core. In 10 minutes, I had a 24"square baseboard built and a circle of track installed. The Ivatt is now running around that and I am hoping that the jerkiness will come out now that I have oiled it and it has been running for a few hours.



Tomorrow, I get to run some trains and then install some wire and tube point changers. I am also building a Metcalfe Engine Shed. See you then.



Friday, 15 December 2017

Rebuilding 470Router to suit me

As I have mentioned, I have been working on a software project to complete my Open University degree. This project was named 470Router - 470 after the code for the OU course - TM470 - and Router as it was intended to be used to create freight car routings for my model railroad. Well, I finished the degree (got a 2.2 and was awarded a B.Sc. Hons) and went off to do other things (mostly building some plastic scale model cars - Gentle Scale Modelling).

Now, I am back onto my model railroad I thought that I would review what I was doing for the software now that I wasn't under time pressure and the need to meet the OU module project requirements. It turned out that, although the software worked, it didn't do a very good job of building way freights. This is quite a complex procedure which has to take account of industry requirements in the towns, collecting empties, delivering loads, gathering everything back up and delivering empty cars back to their home roads. The software that I had developed didn't even look at that last element.

I spent a few days pondering over the state of the project and decided that the logic was way too complex. I had to think of a solution and it came to me - Car Cards! What, you say, back to bits of paper? Not quite. What I had in mind was to develop a set of virtual car cards. The basic problem of the existing software was that everything was run off the car and the industry. There was nothing that summarised the situation for any one car shipment. This is what a car card does perfectly. Therefore, I expanded the database to include a set of car cards. They look like this:


carType boxcar
town Sunset
target Creamery
State e
waitTime 2
destination home
id 1
timeOnSite 0
currentCarID PRR:81146

All of the above data is static (doesn't change) except for the currentCarID which records which car, if any, is using that car card currently and the timeOnSite which counts down the holding time at the industry.

Changing to Car Cards meant that I could implement some of the logic for the routing in a simpler way. I no longer had to deduce what was going on by looking at the industry data, the car data, etc. The whole picture could be deduced from the card. Most of the fields are obvious. However, a few need some explanation. The destination being designated as "home" means - refer to the actual car to see where it gets sent after this card is complete. For an NYC box car, this would be Hartford - as this is our nearest access point theNew York Central (although you could argue for Boston, given that the B&A was wholly owned). A Canadian Pacific car could be sent to either Hartford or Boston as both would give access to the CP system. This field can also be used to hold the ID of another card. This provides for a double trip - a reefer goes to the ice house and then, in this field, it gets redirected to a user of a loaded refrigerator car.  We know that the car is currently at the Creamery because there is an entry in the currentCarID. PRR:81146 is a Pennsylvania Railroad boxcar currently being loaded (we know this because the State field is "e" indicating that the car events are started with a delivery of this car, empty to the Creamery).

The timeOnSite field gets set to the wait time on arrival at the Creamery. There is a cycle of trains representing a single day. At the end of this cycle, the timeOnSite fields for each car is reduced by1 until it reaches 0, in which case the car is regarded as ready for collection.

On collection, the car is assessed for its next move. I, currently,  make no provision for multiple destinations. Loaded cars are collected by the next way freight and shipped in the direction of the train. Hence, loaded cars can go to Hartford or Boston depending on the route of the freight train. Empty cars are assessed against their "home" designation. All SNE (home road cars) are placed in the Sunset yard for further allocation. All other empty cars are shipped to their "home" as described above.

So far, this is meeting my needs. I accept that there is much more that I can do with this but, having spent a lot of time on this, I want to run some trains before hitting the keyboard again.