Thursday 22 February 2024

Ballasting and a backscene

 I told myself that I wouldn't put ballast down on this railway as I have always made a mess of the process before ending up with points that were stuck. However, I found myself carrying out the task the other day. I took it nice and slowly making sure that I avoided the switching part of each point. In fact, I actually enjoyed the process, which took about 5 days - so you can see how slowly I took it.

Having got all the ballast down, I repainted the rest of the boards in the Hobbycraft brown.

As you can tell, I have also added a backscene to the boards.  This is one of my foamcore processes. 

As you can see in this image, I cut a piece of foamcore and create tabs sticking downwards. Once, the whole lot is complete, I hold each panel up against the back of the main baseboard and create some slots for the tabs to slide into. This way, I can remove the backscene when I need to turn the main board over to work on the underside.

Now, we come to the downside. I bought a backscene from my LHS - Model Scenery Supplies Backscene 206B - which comes as a roll of 3m long and 380mm high. I cut off some of the height. Now we come to the problem (which you can see on the shot of the whole board above). I can't use the normal method of glueing the paper to the board as PVA has lots of water as a component and this would make the foamcore  warp - I have been there before. Hence, I use strips of double sided tape - four lines along the length. The problem is that it is very sticky so you get one go at it. As you can see, that one go one the first board along the back resulted in some bumps that couldn't be ironed out. I ended up cutting along the bump and re-sticking it down. It looks dreadful. 

This taught me a lesson so, when I did the next board, I glued about 4" down at a time. This seemed to work quite well and, hence, the last two boards were a success. I have ordered a replacement roll from Orwell's, which should be here on Friday. I have changed the order, under Brett's instruction, to their premium brand, which comes as vinyl rather than paper and is pre-glued. We shall see how we get on. Fortunately, because the backscene is in four pieces, I can replace the bad bits easily.

I have also bought some 1" Velcro self adhesive front and back. Once I have got the backscene sorted, I will place a 6" length of Velcro across each joint at the top. I will then cut that at the join leaving 3" on each side. Using the other component of the roll, I will cut out a 6" length of that and use it to fix the  two boards tightly together.

Lastly, I tried the track out with some of my locos. First off, the track needed a lot of cleaning - high grade emery loaded with Track Magic eventually got most of the muck left over from ballasting off the top of the rails. Three issues emerged. 

  1. One piece of track had lost its connection to the track bus so I had to make a temporary connection using crocodile clips.
  2. My latest loco - a 94XX from Bachmann - was misbehaving. It is fitted with a Next18 decoder from Accurascale - the one that came with my Manor. It jerks three times on starting and stopping which makes it difficult to use. I will take it to Orwells tomorrow to get Kevin to have a look at it. I expect that I will ask him to put a Zimo decoder in as a replacement.
  3. The DCC Concepts levers stopped working. I messed about taking the power off and on, etc. but nothing fixed it so finally I took the lid off the lever box and saw that all the pilot lights were out. The battery had run down! It didn't show externally, as there was enough power to keep the LED on the panel working but not enough for the boards.

All three issues will be resolved easily. 1 and 3 are already sorted and 2 will be fixed tomorrow.

Sunday 28 January 2024

Trouble with Locos

 Since changing over to British OO I have purchased 4 locos. 1 45XX small prairie, 1 64XX pannier, 1 15XX pannier and Iford Manor 2-6-0. The 45XX and 64XX were both Bachmann whilst the 15XX was a new release Rapido and the Manor was an Accurascale model. All four are very nice models except the Rapido and the Manor were exceptionally detailed. But...

The 45XX and 64XX were bought from my local shop - Orwell Model Railways.

The 45XX was an indifferent runner and had no traction at all. It seems that, with these prairies the front and rear wheel sets often were badly adjusted and kept the main driving wheels a bit too proud losing traction. Eventually, it barely moved so I have decided to sell it. Rails of Sheffield have offered an indifferent price but they keep their word so it's off to them tomorrow.

The 15XX was bought from Rails. First off, the front steps fell off - no I didn't break them, they just fell off so I had to glue them back on. Then it stopped running and was returned to Rails. They sent me a new one.  On removing the body, the smokebox fell off - same comment as above. The glue area had a solid line of white glue around it so it obviously had never been glued properly. Then the 2nd loco stopped working. On exchanging e-mails with Rails, I sent them a video of the 64XX and the 15XX to show how the track was clean and fit for purpose and how the 15XX didn't work. I told them that I was rejecting the model as I wasn't prepared to have this one returned to Rapido with all the delays that would happen. They accepted this very nicely and I am getting a credit note. I think that I will use it to get a 94XX Bachmann pannier. It is a pity because I had it fitted with an ESU sound chip that I was given at the Warley show.

The 64XX is a nice little runner and I have been able to use that as a yardstick against the 45XX and the 15XX so not much more to say. The Manor is a lovely piece of kit and seems to work fine on my 8' long station layout.  As I now have a Next16 sound chip going spare, I am off to Coastal DCC tomorrow to get Kevin to set it up for the Manor.

Lastly, as a replacement for the 45XX, I used some Christmas Amazon vouchers to purchase a Dean Goods 0-6-0 from Oxford Rail. This is a nice little loco but the only one that I could get on Amazon was a War Department version. I need to get all of the markings off and renumber etc. for a 23XX. Railtec have a nice scheme where they print on demand after asking me lots of questions to which I didn't know the answers. I got there in the end so we shall see how it comes out. When I bought the loco, I also ordered an 8 pin wired decoder to go with. Unfortunately, the space in the tender for the decoder is very small and the decoder that I purchased didn't fit. Fortunately, being Amazon, it is going back and I will, again, take this up with Kevin tomorrow as I think that a tiny Zimo will fit.

So, all this started in September last year and, hopefully, might be over in a few days.

Two comments - about Rapido and Accurascale. Rapido's 15XX is a nice little loco with wonderful valve gear but manufacturing needs a bit of look at as bits fell of and the mechanisms didn't work at all well. Accurascale make wonderfully detailed models but you do pay for them. The Manor looks to be worth the money but we have to wait and see when I begin to run it regularly. I have also bought one of their Siphon G vans. This was expensive for a van and all I got that seemed to justify the price was some hugely detailed undercarriage. As most of this can't be seen, it seems to me that it could have been made cheaper but then I am not fully into modern demands.

That's it. Hopefully, in a few days, I will have a full compliment of locos that all work as expected. Let's wait and see.

Friday 19 January 2024

Signal Box Levers

 When I was at the Warley show in November I was watching a layout supported by my local model railway/DCC shops - Orwell Model Railways and Coastal DCC. This layout was Long Melford, which was featured in Model Rail magazine recently. The bit that I liked was the bank of levers for the signal box - AKA point and signal control.  These levers were a DCC Concepts product and I vowed to get some for my railway. As Christmas was coming, I persuaded the wife to buy me a box of 6. I had already bought a single one to test out. As I only have seven points this was going to be fine. 

However, it was clear that there were going to have to be 21 wires between the levers and the railway and I couldn't think of how I was going to connect these up because there was nowhere on the layout that I could put the lever frame so it would have to be a stand alone box. I had spoken to Richard from DCC Cncepts at Warley about how to make a mimic board and he told me about their ESP transmitters and receivers. At the time, I thought that he was just suggesting these because of their cost but I realised later that they were a sensible way to go. If I used these, I could build a stand along lever frame that didn't need ANY wires between the frame and the layout.

I decided to find the funds necessary and acquired two ESP sets - one with a transmitter and a receiver and the other one with two transmitters. As each tran emitter handles 3 inputs, this gives me my seven and leaves two more for when I put some signals in. I bought a 12V battery power pack from eBay (rechargeable) and a small crate from my local Hobbycraft and set about making it happen. Here are some photos of the build and the final item.

These are the three transmitters in place.

and in the crate.

You can see the Power Bank. This is rechargeable. I am going to add an LED power-on indicator.

This is the receiver on the layout wired into the DCC bus.

Here is the finished product

The action comes from wires 8 and 9 from each lever - one being the common and the other being one of the poles on the switch. The blue tails are the other 7 wires coming from each lever. I was glad that I left these as it turned out that when the levers were pushed away, the points were thrown and I wanted this to indicate a through switch. Hence, I had to swap wires 7 and 8 which meant cutting back one and extending the other. Amazingly, it all worked first time and I am really happy with it. I am still an Arduino junkie at heart so messing around with stuff like this is what model railways are for me. 

The next steps are as follows:
  • fit a 12v indicator LED
  • add a 5V power bank with an LED indicator
  • see about fitting a double signal at the exit to the station run around
  • fit two new levers in the space left on the bank to operate these two signals.
The next major project will be to set the layout mimic panel up with two colour LEDs - red and green - to indicate the way each point it set. These bi-color LEDs will be managed from the 4 - 6 wires on each lever's switches. Regarding my comment about being an Arduino junkie I have the following history.

Back in 1969/1970 I built a Heathkit valve Hifi amplifier. Following that, I build a TATIII (true action throttle) which was one of the first transistorised throttles providing slow acceleration and braking. This was a built from plans in an article in Model Railroader in March 1969. Additionally, I bought the book and eventually made a couple of them. I have some photos of my N scale layout of that time with the throttle in place.  Additionally, I started an Open University degree in 1974 and in 1976 completed  a module on Electronics. Give me a pile of components and a soldering iron and I am like a pig in xxxx.

Here are the only two images that I can find of the TATIII throttle.

Thursday 14 December 2023

Starting the station

 Now we have the baseboards down and the track spray painted (Railmatch Sleeper Grime) I can get on with building the station. I am using Metcalfe platforms and a laser cut station (can't remember the make). Now that I have the platforms, I have found that the station was too deep to fit so I have had to cut of the back half of the building so that it will sit in half relief against the background (more on that later).

The station building has now been hacked to fit leaving the back open. And you can see, the lights of the cabinet behind make it look as though it has lights fitted. I started to make that really so yesterday but my 5V power supply wasn't working so I have ordered a 5V "Walwart" - as the Americans call them. I have mocked up some furniture for the inside and will put a 3mm LED in each of the three rooms. I am not really impressed with my attempts at the platforms but it's the best that I can do for now and I want to get something down before I start to lay the ballast. Anyway, here is what I have.

The three Hornby boxes contain Mk 1 coaches - 2 x Brake 2nd and a 2nd. They are there to get the platform length right. These will become part of the holiday train that will be pulled by my Accurascale Manor.  I got these off eBay for around £16 each so they were bargains. At the Warley show, I bought three sets of coach lighting but I can't get the roofs off so I am going to use the lighting sets on the GWR Collet coaches and the Auto coach instead. It's a pity as I wanted to put passengers into the coaches but hey ho!


Here is a photo that I took at the Warley show of "Long Melford". Long Melford is owned by Nigel who lives locally. The railway is supported by both Brett from Orwell Model Railways and Kevin from Coastal DCC. What struck me was how good the signal lever panel looked so I decided to see if I could do something similar although I only have 8 points. As good as my Digitrax system is, it is a bit of a faff to switch the points on the hand controller so a set of levers would resolve that problem.

I had a quick word with the wife and then popped into Coastal DCC to pick up one of the DCC Concepts Cobalt-S levers. After checking with Kevin that it was easy to set up, I found that just three wires from the lever to one of the Cobalt IP Digital  point moters had it going in no time. What was worrying was that I had to remove the "Do Not Use" sticker on the motor warning about plugging the power into that end. I have done this in the past (before they put the stickers on) and the point motors DO NOT LIKE IT!

Anyway, three wires connected and everything worked with the point changing as required.

Further discussions with my wife resulted in me being allocated £106 to buy a box of 6 levers and a pack of the brass numbers to label them up. Coastal and DCC Concepts were both out of stock but I found a shop called House of Hobbies in Ormskirk that said they had stock. Hmmm. 9 days after placing the order I haven't received anything other than the initial confirmation. Also, no answers to 2 e-mails and the phone doesn't get answered. I have put in a report to Paypal so we shall see what happens. I am glad that I used Paypal for this although I tend to when first using a new supplier.

This hobby is expensive. Not only did the levers cost £106 but I have decided that I should put them in a box and connect using DCC Concepts ESP wireless connections. This comprises transmitter boards in the box and a receiver under the baseboard. Each transmitter has three connections, so I will need three of these. The receiver converts the signals from these transmitters into DCC commands and uses a connection to the railway DCC bus to send the appropriate instructions for the point movements. However, this is another £100 or so pounds. Good fun, what! Mind you, without these, I would have needed 21 wires from the box to the layout with three of these 21 going to each point so using the ESP system is much easier. I had to convince SWMBO though.

If the levers come in good time for Xmas, I shall get on with that. Otherwise, I will finish off the station, lighting and placing so that I can get on with the ballasting.

Thursday 9 November 2023

Running in and new fiddle yard

 I bought one of the new Rapid GWR/BR 15XX shunters from Rails of Sheffield. When it arrived it ran but when I set up a circle of track to run it in, it wouldn't go. An exchange of e-mails with Rails and they agreed to take it back. They even sent me a prepaid label. After a week or so, a parcel arrived and I had the loco back in full working order. Hence the next step was to run it in. 

I bought the circle of track from a trader at the Milton Keynes show - at a cost of £40 - because I had hunted high and low for my rolling road but couldn't find it any where. When setting up a drawer unit that my wife gave me to store my railway stuff - lo and behold - there was the rolling road but pushed right to the back of the drawer. I sold the circle of track to Rails in a bunch of stuff that I no longer needed. 

Here is the 15XX on the rolling road being run in. It is a lovely little loco. The Walchaerts valve gear is especially nice. Note the firebox glow.

Secondly, I have built the fiddle yard. This is a two track storage yard fed by a single point.

This sits on my desk and connects to the main board just using Peco rail joiners. At the moment, the power comes in from the joiners. Next plan is to provide a power feed from the DCC bus on the main board.  Here is all the wiring and the point motor. Note that I use Wago connectors throughout the layout.

My next video will cover the unboxing and running in of my new Accurascale GWR/BR Manor 4-6-0 loco. That's going to be a great addition to the fleet.

Monday 6 November 2023

A new foam core baseboard works

 So, we have torn down the wooden baseboard as it was totally impractical due to the weight of it all. Even with my wife's help, I couldn't manoeuvre it around with any ease. Now it has gone, I bought a pack of black A1 sheets of 5mm foam core. Black is much stronger than the white. This went together really well and I now have all the track relaid and wired up. Unlike the wooden one, where there were issues with point motors, there are no issues with this version so I can get on and build the fiddle yard.

One of the big changes is that I have got rid of the Cobalt Analog motors and some SwitchPilot accessory decoders as there is much more wiring. Now,I have all Cobalt Digital ones which only need two DCC and one frog wire.

Saturday 21 October 2023

Moved on a mile

 I built the layout as described using my usual foam core but - stupidly - I cut a hole in one of the side rails to make space for the Digitrax controller panel. Next thing I knew, the side rail had broken and there was a great dip in the layout surface. 

I was concerned about this and thought that I might make the rails out of wood and thus recover the whole thing. Common sense told me to rebuild and I decided to do it using more common plywood/ 3" x 2" planed pine. I even bought a new chop saw to make sure that I built it nice and straight. Well, first off, it was straight but had a few misfits along the way. You would never believe that I used to make oak furniture for a living!

I have got to the point where the track is down, everything is wired up and testing is taking place. 

The only trouble is that I can't lift the boards up as they are very heavy so testing and fixing wiring problems is very difficult. My wife tries to help but, even between us - we are 76 and 78 -, we have trouble. So... Down it will come again only to be rebuilt once more. This time, I am using black foam core (which is much sturdier than the white) but keeping the wooden outer rails. It is the sheets of plywood that are so heavy so this time it may work. I am also reducing the width a bit from 60cm to 40cm in an effort to make it more manageable.The track plan is being simplified from 11 points down to 7 or 8. I will also buy some more Cobalt Digital motors - which weren't available when I started all this. This will reduce the amount of wiring required.

I have spent a good amount of money on locos. I now have the pannier tank and the small prairie but now I have a Rapido 15XX which I am going to use as a local shunter. The problem is that it doesn't work. I am in conversation with Rails of Sheffield, where I bought it, so together we are trying to fix it. I thought that I had lost my rolling road so bought a loop of Hornby track but I have finally found the rolling road so testing should be easier. I have also bought an Accurascale Manor which has just been released. I have also bought a couple of carmine and cream Mk. 1 coaches to go with it and provide a Saturday holiday service. I do need one more coach but I am waiting for the two to arrive so I can get  a second Brake 2nd to match the one I have bought.

More to see soon.