Sunday, 12 December 2021

My Model Railroad - reality

 When mother-in-law came to live with us, I traded my hobby room for some space at the end of our bedroom. Our flat has some really decent sized rooms. That's when I shifted to Maerklin 3-rail and had a ball. One day she says to me (she being my wife and known as SWMBO) "Can I have my bedroom back?" Up came the railroad and the bedroom got tidied up. SWMBO offered me some space in the living room so that is when the desk was put in place. First up, I built a little N scale switching layout but replaced that with a Kato Uni-track round-roundy which was coming along nicely. Then SWMBO says to me "Can I have my living room back?". 

Well, as SWMBO wanted her bedroom back and her living room back, I wasn't left with much space to move so all of the railroad stuff got packed away and the desk was put down the end of the bedroom. This took up much less space than the original railroad so SWMBO seemed to be happy. At least I had somewhere where I could do some modelling even though the railroad was out.

Guess what happened next? "Can I have my bedroom back?"  So, we sorted out the living room and brought the desk back into the same space as it left. However, this time it is purely the modelling desk from the bedroom so I am busy making lots of scale plastic models - See my "Gentle Scale Models" blog.

There is a future where I get my model room back but we don't discuss that for fairly obvious reasons. Even so, when I get it back, SWMBO wants some space for her Jigsaw puzzle activity so my railroad may be a bit constrained. I am trying to give a small amount of thought to it but it is difficult to get serious when I don't know when and I don't know how much room.

That's it for now. Keep checking Gentle Scale Models to keep up with that. I am shortly to start a new photography blog as I have recovered that hobby by obtaining a really nice Canon 90D DSLR. More later.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Kato track a reality

 I am amazed that times has flown whilst we were locked down. Getting free at the end of August still seems like a non-event as I am pretty much locked in still. I get out to go to the supermarket and the model railway shop. However, even the supermarket is now gone as our favourite store started online on 1st September. So, it is just the model railway store - oh dear. I did go elsewhere just once a few days ago but that trip will get its own blog entry.

The board was built, as usual, using 5mm foam core which works really well for me. I am fortunate to have a desk that is 1.6m x 0.8m, height adjustable, so this is a really firm base and the board is so light that I can pick it up. Also, I can match the desk height to that of the dining room table so I can spin the whole lot round and support it that way when I need to get to particular areas of the board.



Since then, I have laid a grass mat over the board. This didn't go too well as I used double sided tape to hold it down and it got stuck in folds a few times. Peeling off and starting again still left some little ones so I left them, on the basis that they will probably be covered by scenery as I go along! 



Right, so, I bought all the Kato track and laid it out as shown the the Amhurst layout. I made one change - I added an interchange track on the fron of the layout so that I could b ring new stock on and take old stock off. The Kato track needed little in the way of wiring and everything went down as expected. All the points come with a built in point motor so all I had to do was to add some DCC accessory decoders. As I had some ESU SwitchPilot boxes to hand, there came into play and worked really well except for two problems - the built in wiring and the four point crossover. Kato points work from two wires, not three like most UK motors. Instead of being given a pulse from separate polarity wires, the Kato units need a change in polarity on the two wires for the point to switch. To change the SwitchPilots over to thise means of operation required each point feed to have a DCC Concepts DCD-SDC in the line. This converts the three wire SwitchPilot output to the required two wire. These come in handy 6 packs and weren't expensive. Now, we come to the crossover. Kato kindly wire this as a single unit so there are only two wires coming from it. Following my experience with SwitchPilot units when trying to power SEEP twin solenoid motors (the units failed to make the switch on about 8 out of 10 tries), I pulled out one of the Train Tech units that I had bought to solve this issue. These Train-Tech accessory decoders provide four outlets the same as the ESU units but have a capacitor discharge unit built in so get a bigger bang for the buck! I put one of these on the crossover and everything worked fine.

I then cut into the baseboard to make the river that flows under the two girder bridges. I made the river come down the hill from the backscene. The river was made using Woodlands Scenics Realistic Water. This came out very well but I had to use about five layers to get the depth and effects that I wanted.

OK, so lets have a look at where we are and where we have been.

First off we have Jacobs corn and feed mill. This was built from plans in a Model Trains book that I have had since the 1950s. It is scratch built using Evergreen corrugated Iron sheet. Next to it is the tank farm which was built using toliet paper inner rolls coated with strips of printer paper. The signs on the tanks were printed on the computer but the sign on the feed mill is a computer printed  decal which nestles down nicely into the corrugations.



The sacks on the deck were made by rolling DAS clay out into a thin snake and cutting in where needed. The cut pressure makes the pieces look like sacks.


Blums Lumber gets its name from  my book my Frank Ellison. It is an industry on his Delta Lines and, again comes from a book that I have had since the 1950s. It is scratch built out of plastic card with the wood coming from Hobbycraft matchsticks. Again, the name on the roof is a printed decal. I would like to say that it was purposely non-straight but it ended up like that and I couldn't correct it so I left it!


This is Schmidt's coal yard. Again, built from plans in the 1950s book.


Here is the exit to the lumber yard. The trucks are 3D printed in China and bought off EBay. Four trucks for $9 including shipping! The lake is made using Realistic Water.


This is the stream that feeds the lake. The girder bridge is, yet again, made from plastic card but to my own design. The decals is another home made one.


This is the tunnel that feeds into the interchange track. It doesn't go anywhere so there is about 6" of track and then a bumper!

Well, how about a little video of the whole thing in its current state?

Sunday, 19 July 2020

And again and again

I am fated never to get a railway together. When ballasting the current switching layout, I managed to glue three points together so hard that they would not come apart to work. I could, of course, replace all three points but there is an issue with that. As I use foam core for my baseboard, pulling up a point that is stuck down will be catastrophic for the surface of the board. The strength of the foam core comes, not from the 5 mm of foam but the extremely thin layer of paper on both sides. Take some paper away and the board is ruined.

I now had to contemplate what to do and the answer, as always, was to "start again"! I was discussing the situation wit my wife when she asked why I hadn't been using the railway up to the point of the glue disaster. We talked about it and, as usual, Valerie had seen a flaw in the current arrangements. It seemed a good idea to have a small switching layout along the back of the desk but, in fact, it was difficult to use there and, as I have found before, once something is difficult to use, it never gets used!

I had been having thoughts about my Marklin set up against my current N scale and one thing had come to light. I really liked the use of Marklin C-Track. This is like Hornby/Bachmann track where you can put it together and take it apart easily. In fact, many Marklin fans have what they call "Carpetbahn" layouts - a muddle German for "Carpet railway". They put the track down for a few days and run some trains. Then, later, they take it up only to be put down again in the future in a different layout. I really liked being able to click the track together and then, when extending the layout, click some more on. There is one track system in N Scale that allows this - Kato Unitrack. I have seen boxes of it when visiting Scograil but never thought of using it before.

I searched around for some ideas and found out that there was a change in the way that points are operated using Unitrack. Each point comes with a built in point motor, so that is good, but the motor operates differently from most in that it is 2 wire, rather than 3. It seems that the point switches polarity when it changes so only two wires are required. I had a chat with Kevin at Coastal DCC about this. I now have a DCC Concepts DCD-SDC6 pack that contains 6 little units that convert the output of three wires from my ESU Switch Pilots into the required 2 wire operation. So, that is the techy bit sorted. Now, I have to learn a bit more about the track itself, and the use of these with an actual point.

Kato make a lot of combination boxes to extend the basic oval that comes with their sets. I have ordered a box that contains two points and some straights to make up a set of sidings.

It took me a while to realise that you don't get the oval in this box, just the sidings  - and £92 later, I have a set coming! Unitrack isn't cheap when compared to Peco but is similar to Marklin in cost so I should be used to it. Mind you, I don't have a friendly seller that offers me points, etc. at knockdown prices as I did with Adrian.

Valerie suggested that I forget about using the desk for my laptop, etc. and keep the top clear for the railway in a similar way to when it was in the bedroom. However, I am going to keep to the fixed dimensions of the desk and not extend outwards - 63" x 32". This should be ample for a nice N scale layout. I have searched the internet for track plans and found a nice one on the Kato web site. The one I liked is called Amhurst 2005. Now Amhurst is the huge model railroad show up the road from my friend Dan who lives in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. It takes place once a year and I would love to visit but... I entered the plan into Anyrail so that I could price it up.




 Valerie asked if I could print it out to see how it went. Just as well that I had entered it into Anyrail as it is easy to print out the track at 100%. It needs pasting together but it works very well.




The right hand loop is designed to be elevated and there are two bridges across the back with a river running under that finishes in a lake. I have taken the opportunity to extend the right hand loop out by one straight. Valerie would like me to put a fun fair in there as I did with my original Marklin layout. Faller make some nice sets so that's in the plan. I have also added a spur out the front as an interchange track where I can insert trains and remove them.

As you can see from the list there are quite a few items needed so this isn't going to be cheap, especially as the scissors crossover is £52 on its own (plus the single Switch pilot and four of the three to two wire units!). Fortunately, Valerie's mum gave me some money and I have been selling off my Marklin stuff so I have the available funds - close to £350! Fortunately, I have the ECos controller and mobile hand set plus 3 locos and 20 odd freight cars. There are two changes that I might make. I might put the scissors crossover at the back which will cut down the reverse running on the double track for trains from the interchange track. In fact, as I have the funds, I might put an extra crossover there so that trains can move between the two tracks on either side of the layout.

The V3 set comes on Tuesday and I will set it up to test the track and to get the points working with my ECoS. If that works well, then I will buy the rest. Happy days!

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

N Scale Sunset and North Eastern startup

Now I have it up and running I can give a fuller description of what is going on.

The layout is definitely 5' long by 10" wide with a 27" x 4"  extension for storage. All the track is laid and the point motors installed.

I tried the NCE system but had forgotten how pedestrian these controllers are. After my ECoS, everything seemed so difficult to select. Want to switch a point? Select Accessory, press a number corresponding to the point, press enter and then either 1 or 2 depending on the switch direction. On the ECoS - see the point you want (with an extended description), touch the point and see it move with a visual indication of the direction! No contest. I packaged the NCE up and sold it on EBay. It sold in 30 minutes of putting it up.

I decided that, as the layout was close at hand and quite small, I would like to have a hand controller and purchased the ECoS Mobile Station. This is like a mobile phone except it has a big speed control know fitted. I know that I could have used my phone using Engine Driver software but that would require my computer to be running JMRI and I wouldn't have the knob.



I decided, after spending some time with the SEEP point motors, that I could live with them. There seemed little point in shelling out £200 for 8 Cobalt motors. The TrainTec boxes work the motors nicely. I don't like the clunk that you get every time one moves but I can live with that.

I sorted out my loco situation. N Scale American Trains shipped me an Atlas Alco S2 switcher along with a 6 pin Digitrax decoder. It turned out that I hadn't fried the GP7 Digitrax decoder - just not connected it up correctly. Now I have two working DCC locos. I have bought a third one - an Atlas GP35 - from Rails of Sheffield and Coastal DCC have delivered yet another Digitrax decoder ready to go inside.

I have amassed 20 freight cars and 2 passenger coaches and have a caboose coming. This little(!) collection enables be to run some local freights, some short unit trains of gondolas and some short passenger trains. All of these are constructed by my Car Card software, of which more later.

OK, now some photos to bring you up to speed. Firstly, the basic desk.


Now, the desk with the railroad board in place. As you can see the desk is plenty big enough for the railroad and still have a usable desk.



Now the storage extension.


As you can see, the extension fits across the top of the printer. The printer is on a set of craft drawers that are on wheels so can be wheeled out from underneath as the track is self supporting. Everything is strong enough for me to lift the railway up and over to place it at the front of the desk for close working.

I was waiting for the Cobalt motors to come back into stock before I ballasted the track - I was going to have to lift each point to remove the spring. However, now I am staying with the SEEP motors, I can get on with the work. In the meantime, I started on some buildings. I realise the Exxon is too late for my railroad and should be ESSO or Texaco but Exxon was the only tank car I could get so it made sense to work with what I have. Rule 1 applies here (Rule 1. It is my railroad!). 



The two tanks are made from the inside core of a roll of toilet paper (if you are from the UK - think Blue Peter:-). The office is from a book called Easy-to-build Model Railroad Structures - a Kalmbach book from the 1950s that cost me $1 when I was a lad. The next structure is from a downloaded file that I printed onto an A4 sticky label before mounting on some foam core. The plant name and message were created in Inkscape and stuck on over the originals (a furniture factory).


The third industry that I have built to date is "Blum's Lumber Co.". This is a name that I stole from Frank Ellison, whose book 'On Model Railroads' has been a bible to me ever since I started at 10 years old.


This is all constructed of 40mm matchsticks (I bought a bag of 5,000 from Amazon for little money).  The roof is Evergreen corrugated plastic. The office was designed by me as a typical type of building - again out of Evergreen sheets.

Lastly, I am currently fitting a roof to the layout so that I can install some LED lighting. The roof is removable so that I can get to the back. It should light up really nicely.


The bits of paper that you can see are where the other industries are going. The sticky notes are to remind me which is which!

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Not quite as I imagined

The 4' switching layout turned into 5' with a 28" extension for staging. Secondly, the tortoise machines turned out to be out of stock so it got more interesting/confusing.

You want the full story - so here goes.


  • I had enough foam core to build the baseboard. Remember that foam core, like most things, is very strong along its edge so I laminate 2 pieces together to make it even better. This goes around the perimeter and then I put bracing in every 8" - being careful not move any that will conflict with the points.
  • My LHS delivered the track and replacement SEEP point motors - SEEP are standard 2 solenoid motors like the Peco ones. These were replacements for the DCC Concepts Cobalt motors - which were out of stock - which were going to be replaced with tortoise motors but THEY were out of stock. I wasn't keen but they are much cheaper and I already had enough ESU SwitchPilot boxes to control them - along with the SwitchPilot extensions for the frog polarity (see later). Except that my LHS was one point short!
  • I have found a really good web shop - N Scale American Trains - where I ordered an Atlas MP15DC which was  DCC on board and 10 freight cars - plus that missing point that I needed. The freight cars were mostly Model Power and these had really naff couplers so I picked up a box of Micro-Trains replacement trucks and now they all run and couple to my liking.
  • I got the track laid down and then started to mess about with the point motors. Even after adjusting the CV values on the SwitchPilot, the operation was extremely flaky with only one out of every 6 or 7 attempts getting a point to switch. I messed about with the ESU ECoS controller but even adjusting the pulse lengths didn't work. I thought that it might be the over-centre springs that Peco fit to their points so I took one spring out and then totally destroyed the point itself by my too strong handling.
  • I then had a go at running the Atlas loco but it didn't want to run. Eventually, it sat there with the lights operating but nothing else. Tony at the shop was kind enough to take it back and he has now replaced it with an Atlas S2 with a 6-pin decoder. That will arrive in the next couple of days. 
  • I bought an Atlas GP7 from him and a replacement board for DCC from my LHS. Along the way, I managed to fry that one myself. You wouldn't believe that I used to earn money providing DCC services to N Scalers! Now I am left with a GP7 and no replacement board as LHS only had one and there are no others in the UK. I am obtaining advice from DCC Concepts as to which decoder would be best for me to hand install into the loco.
  • The ECoS is a great piece of kits but is heavily overkill for my little 5' pike so I have purchased (for the 2nd time in my life!) an NCE PowerCab. Again, my LHS was out of stock - this virus has a lot to answer for trivially speaking - so I got one from Hattons which came today.
  • I had discussions with SWMBO and we (she) decided that the layout should stay at the back of the desk and not be moved so I have now built a permanent extension to provide the off board staging. Now, everything is nice and firm.
  • All I need is to get a loco to hand, wire up the NCE and get some trains running.
  • Had an interesting discussion with LHS today - not the DCC guy but the model railway side. I mentioned the problems I have the SwitchPilots. He has recommended that I get some TrainTec accessory decoders as these have a built in CDU which makes them really good with SEEP motors. Mind you as DCC side is ignoring me at the moment, I am thinking of getting the directly from TrainTec. I know that the DCC side is very busy but I am a regular customer and not sure that anyone should have to wait 2 days just to place an order.
Next blog entry, I will show some pictures of the new set up.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

So the world changes AGAIN!

As at Monday I had a 2m x 1m Marklin 3 rail German/Swiss themed layout. As of now - nothing! Asking the wife what we might do now we were in lockdown, she said, with a smirk - how about taking that railway down that clutters up our (her) bedroom?
Well, six bankers boxes later and it was all done and dusted. All the good stuff in their own boxes, all the track bumped into one box and the structures in another.


That's where the Pennstadt and Valdorf used to reside.
A bit of pleading has got her to agree a small switching layout so, after 2 years of Marklin, I am back to US outline but this time in N Scale. 4' x 10" with a small staging track.
Not quite what I expected of the week. Mind you, she couldn't complain so, like the government, funds have been made available. Lucking my local hobby shop (and DCC specialists) are still taking orders and even delivering locally!
7 Peco points, 1 crossover, 5 yards of track and 7 Tortoise point motors. I have an Atlas EMD DCC equipped switcher coming and soon about 10 freight cars. Should give me lots of fun. It will sit on the back of my desk - a 5'3" x 2' 8" monster!

The railroad will sit at the back, where the small paint rack is. with the staging reaching out over the left hand end as and when required. I have an ECoS DCC controller so everything should work really nicely.

This is the proposed layout from Anyrail. The layout is based on Kanakee Belt RR as seen in the March 2020 issue of Continental Modeller.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Connecting Houses for lighting

I  have solved most of my problems:

Software - rewrote the lok allocation methods and now it works pretty much as I want it.
Lighting of coaches - not really solved but a "work in progress" for when I get more funds available.
Derailments - I bought a 7203 box of 50 close coupling heads. I replaced most of the Roco wagons and everything was going well. I then replaced the coaches and had lots of issues. It seems that the coaches are now too close! I replaced them with standard Roco couplers and now  everything seems to run pretty well. I would have used my spare relex couplers but my V60 telex coupling system doesn't really like relex couplers.

My next step is to do a deep clean of the track as there are parts where the loks just stop and need to be got across a few inches of dead track. Mostly, this is where I can't reach so I am going to take the board down and get to all the parts that I can't currently get to. This should solve the final issue.

Now on to my current project

Lighting and Houses

I have three Faller houses and a Faller Butcher/Bakers.








All have lighting installed. When I built the layout I made sure that there was a 5 volt bus ready for lighting buildings. When I started on the little village, I installed four sets of 5v wires ready to connect to the house wiring. To do this, I used some micro connectors. What I didn't realise was that there were two different types of connector. It shouldn't have mattered because the houses would sit ok as the sets of connectors were in good places for the layout of the village. However, I then bought a Kibri signal box that took up one of the sites. Hence, I have had to repaint the baseboard and  re-position the four houses. Now the connectors don't match!

I wasn't keen on cutting everything back and soldering up connections.I don't really like getting the soldering iron out except at my work desk. I have some heat connectors - a wire in each end - cramp up both ends and then heat the connector up with a blow torch. In fact, the blow torch is much more manually controllable than the soldering iron. It has a decent handle so would never be dropped. If I did, the flame would to out. It has a firm base so it stands firm.


When I was putting the power busses together, I used what are called "Lever Nut Wire Connectors". These provide extremely firm wire connections. I have used the version that is designed for distribution of power - 


In this occasion, I wanted some line connectors and found a pack of 15 on Amazon.



A quick trimming of the wires - both from the 5v bus and the houses - and then one of these connectors between each house and its feed should make it nice and easy for the start of the village.

More to come!