Thursday, 11 May 2023

 Well, the Kato layout went to Rails of Sheffield as did all my US outline N scale and all of the Marklin/Piko/Roco stuff that I had left. SWMBO agreed to a 1.8m x .35m switching layout which I managed to build a running layout. That was as far as it got because I got fed up with the cost of US outline stuff.


I have packed all that away to await my hobby room coming back and some (hopefully) injection of funds down the line. I really like my local hobby shop which comprise Orwell Model Railways and Coastal DCC. Who can complain when Kevin works 5 minutes away! I decided that I would make everything simple and build a nice little GWR branch terminus using (Oh No not again!) Ashburton as the model. Having moaned about the cost of US stuff, I now had to convince SWMBO that £600 as a budget for a new railway was reasonable! Orwells and Coastal will get as much of my spending as possible.


The board has grown to 1.9x .45m. The track is Peco code 100. All the points are medium radius. The points will be switched using DCC Concepts Cobalt  motors. Unfortunately, when I wanted to buy them, the digital motors were unavailable due to chip shortages so I had to buy the Analog ones. I did get one digital so 5 points will be driven by the Cobalt analog motors through Switch Pilots whilst the last one will be driven off the DCC bus, as usual.


I have decided on a layout. I have bought a 64XX and a 45XX plus some wagons and an Auto-Trailer.  I have some Milk tanks on order so I can service a creamery. This will be fun as these wagons are for Express train use and thus can only be used on fitted freights so they will come in and out on the back of the 64XX and the auto-trailer. Great fun.


I have recovered the base of my board (all built of 5mm foam core). I have extended it to the new size and replaced the surface with new board. The track is down and I am in the process of wiring it up.

Friday, 17 March 2023

We have extra lighting

 Our living room is 40' x 18' but the ceiling lighting is just 6x5w LED (used to be 50w Halogens). This means that the railroad sitting on one corner doesn't get enough light to be able to work easily. Hence, I decided to install some "under cabinet" LED puck lights. Thinking about how to do this without annoying the other half led me to think that I could use her pile of Jigsaws that sit on top of the glass cabinets which are directly behind the railroad. I thought that, if I could make a strong structure out of my stock of 5mm foam core, then I could hold it up by sliding the back part under the jigsaw boxes.

The foam core was cut with channels from my 'v' shaped cutter. This enables me to fold the foam core easily. The result looks like this.

The puck lights look like this.

The lighting set came with four lights. The finished article looks like this. (Sorry about the Captain Kirk photo at an angle. My wife told me off for that - she is the Star  Trek fan.)

It's not perfect but it is the best that I can do, given that we rent. At least, I now have consistent lighting across the board which is brilliant.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Uncoupling Saga


I have great difficulty using a skewer to uncouple cars so I decided to try out the Kadee under track uncoupler. Stupidly, I bought the 5 that I thought that I would need before testing them out. Well, I have installed one of them.

As I have laid all of my track, I had to cut away from the underside. The magnet is then stuck to the bottom of the track; the hole below is filled with a square of foam core and then a piece of 2mm cardboard  that is larger all round is glued over that to keep it in place. Sorted, I thought and happily went on to the testing stage.

Well (as my youngest daughter would say) that didn't go too well. It seems that  all couplers are not created equal. They may look like Kadees but Kadee they are most definitely not. I tested some of my cars and only the real Kadees worked. I had a long exchange on Model Railroad Hobbyist about the issue and came to the conclusion that I must convert all of the non-Kadees to the real thing. £62 later and I have now received a pack containing 25 pairs of 148 whisker couplers. I have also ordered some "Grease-em" which is a small tube of graphite dust to blow into the coupler boxes.

Last week one of my favourite Youtube channels - Chadwick Model Railway - had a video on installing Kadee electric uncouplers which made me wonder. So (again as my daughter would say) I have ordered one set of his recommendations to try out. The complete set comprises a Kadee electric uncoupler, a relay/timer board and a momentary push button as described by Charlie. Here is the eBay order.

I have just received today's post and included in that was the pack of 25 pairs of couplers so I can  at least test out the current under track magnet. More on this to come.

Wednesday, 22 February 2023

The baseboard and track are painted

 Finally, the baseboard is all wired up and sockets fitted for plugging in the ECoS and the 5V DC supply. The staging track has been built and can now be attached to the main board.

First off, the track has been sprayed with "Ammo by MIG" Railway Fast Method paint set. I can't see me using all the colours but the rust worked very well.

I then painted their whole of the baseboard and the staging with some Hobbycraft brown acrylic paint. This has given everything a nice overall colour ready for ballasting.

The staging is attached using a couple of 50mm x10mm magnets. One is set into the staging board and one on the main board. They are strong enough to keep the staging in place but not too strong to affect removal. They also snap into place quite well but I also have a couple of rail joiners to make the final connection.

The site from the staging track connects though a small barrel plug and socket but it isn't really required because the rail joiners make an electrical connection as well.

Lastly, I have built a box to hold all of my current locos and cars. This is made out of the black foam core so is very sturdy. 

Each car has its own compartment. The scruffy bits of foam are made up from an offcut that I bought at the local "foam" shop. These stop the cars from rattling around when I pick up the tray or move it.

There is a photo of each car in the bottom of each compartment so that they can go back where they came from.


Well that is the current state of play. The track has been cleaned and tested and all of it works as expected. The two locos run  freely and both have sound so they are great fun. I am busy writing some Car Card software. I have decided not to use the software that I wrote for my degree as that was way too complicated for my little switching layout so I am writing some code that mimics the Micromark car cards. I will have more on that once it is cable of operating at its dull design capability.

Friday, 10 February 2023

Wiring is all in place

 Having put in a DCC bus and a 5V bus, I now needed to connect up all of the track before I start putting the point motors in. The idea was that I would use some clever suitcase connectors that I got from Amazon that have a socket for a plug that lets a new connection to the bus. However, the suitcases needed squeezing shut and the plugs needed a compression on the wire. Both needed a good set of pliers, which I don't have so I muddled through with a pair of adjustable pliers. 

I carried on and connected all of the track droppers BUT - they didn't work! It seems that I couldn't cramp them tight enough. A combination of the wrong tool and arthritic hands. So, it was a case of going back to the old methods. I have a large collection of some connectors similar to Waco except that they are grey with orange levers (you can see the pass through ones in the image above). I have these as a 2 wire pass through or single channel 3 up to 5 way connectors.  They are a bit messier than the suitcase ones but, at least, I know that they work. After connecting all the track using these, I checked it out to find that a) I had missed a couple of places and b) in two places the wires were reversed! How can you get "black to the back" wrong?

Once I had sorted that out, it was time to go for the point motors. 

Fitting the motors

I have had trouble in the past getting the motors securely fastened to the foam core. Basically, the covering of the foam core is just a sheet of paper either side of the foam interior so there isn't a lot of shear strength in it. I cut out some 2mm plastic card to the footprint of the motor and used UHU glue to attach these at each point location. I had previously drilled pilot holes in the card to match the screw locations on the point motors. Once the glue was fully hardened I located each point through the holes in the board that I had made when laying the points. The screws held the points nice and securely so that all worked.

Now, I have never used the Cobalt Analog motors so I made a bit of a mistake in wiring them up. I assumed that the track voltage feed was all that was necessary along with the frog so I wired the track to 1 and 2 with the frog on 3. Wrong! The track goes to  1 and 2. Then you wire the track to 4 and 5 with the frog in 6. If the loco causes a short when passing over the frog, you reverse 4 and 5.  That sorted I had a railway that was wired.

I bought a couple of Frog Juicers as I was having trouble getting some of the points sorted but eventually the juicers weren't required. 

Adding the Accessory decoders

I use ESU SwitchPilot decoders to run any points that aren't DCC aware. These have to be adapted to operate Cobalt Analog motors as these motors, like Kato points, only require 2 wires and are switched when the plus and negative are reversed. So, we have to add some natty little DCC Concepts gizmos that take the three wire output of the SwitchPilot and convert it to a two wire feed.

As there are 6 points - well 7 actually but two are in a crossover so have the same DCC address - I needed two SwitchPilots. One of these worked and the other didn't. I spent over a day trying to sort this out. I asked questions on the ESU forum and, typically, got no answers. I tried two different SwitchPilots and even replaced them with s TrainTech device and nothing worked.

Finally, I applied a bit of logic and compared the two to see that 1) The lights were on one and not the other and 2) the switch that determines the protocol was on User and not K84. I always thought that User was the right setting but I switched it to the other and all the lights came on.


Everything worked except one frog feed needed reversing. I have a running layout. Next step is to build a tray to hold all of the cars and locos so that I can put trains together easily on the staging track.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

First run of Amtrak 737

 While I am waiting to receive the switches for the railroad I thought that I would check out the loco that my friend Dan, in Connecticut, sent me for Christmas a few years ago. I have had it fitted with a sound decoder so it is really a nice piece of kit. Also, I bought a few freight cars on eBay which have now arrived. They were an absolute bargain as the cheapest I can find a car on US web sites is around $19.99 and I paid £15 for these four! I have laid out two yards of track and coupled up the freight cars and of it went.

I think that, considering it has been sitting there for around 3 years, it went very well.

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

Putting in the Wiring Buses

 I am awaiting my LHS (local hobby shop) to get my Peco code 83 switches into stock. They are promised for tomorrow. In the meantime, I have been carrying out a few tasks that can be done without the track.

First off, I have been putting in some wiring for the two busses that I need along the length of the baseboard. These are the DCC bus and a 5V bus for lighting and Arduino use. The DCC bus is laid with 16awg stranded wire whilst the 5V one is 22awg as little power will be going down that. The DCC bus is also twisted. To connect wires together, I use what are called "Lever nut wire connectors" which I get from Amazon.

I have these as shown which are through connectors. I also have a large collection of these for single wire distribution - I have them with 3, 4 and 5 connections. These are convenient for distributing wires around a larger layout. As it is, I use these through connectors as terminations for the two busses. as can be seen in this close up.

The whole underside of the board looks like this now.

The red and black are for the DCC and the white and green are the 5V DC. Once installed, I run them both out to 5mm jack sockets on the side of the layout.

ECoS is my DCC controller. Lastly, I have been laying down some DCC Concepts foam roadbed. I am not sure if this is a mistake laying it before I get the switches but I am laying it down using Copydex, which is rubber based UK carpet glue which should be relatively easy to lift if I need to.

The white extension is the staging yard - off scenic. It is a u-shaped construction out of foam core. I have installed some Neodymium magnets in the end of the staging and the side of the main board and the staging now jumps onto position making it easy for connecting the track between them. As you can see, the staging encroaches onto my computer desk so it has to be moveable.

As I mentioned, I have been promised the switches by Wednesday (tomorrow)  but if they don't come, I will have to think about buying over the internet, which I am reluctant to do. What is happening on the internet is my selling of all my N Scale and unwanted Märkin/Roco/Piko European stock. I have been given some good prices by Rails of Sheffield. So far I have gathered over £250. Although, it doesn't seem like much for each item, eBay was producing worse prices and I need the capital to invest (!!) in some HO stuff. I need a collection of freight cars, at least one more loco (see below) and some structure kits.

The loco that I have is a circa 1942 EMD SW1 ex-NYC that is still in use by Amtrak in Sacramento. There are two arguments against using this. Firstly, I don't really want to model the present day as all the cars would be longer and I don't want to repaint the SW1 as it was a present - although I have fitted it out with a decoder and sound - and a limited edition Walthers item!