Friday, 20 September 2019

Buildings progress

Last time I posted about the "Brown & Sons" warehouse it had the brick paper applied. Having increased the depth the supplied card roof wasn't going to fit, so I made a new removable roof from black plasticard on triangular formers, with new barge-boards too. I then realised the roof formers fouled the back - which is of course in the centre of the roof-line - so had to make a new back too.


I thought the large slates by York Modelmaking would work well, and I had some left over from Hexworthy station. Although pre-cut and self-adhesive it is quite time consuming to apply. Having learned from the station I fitted the barge-boards first and fitted the slates over them. Finally I could add the painted stone details, doors and windows. The interior is painted black, I'm not planning interior details, though I might get around to fitting gutters.


So here is the line-up of buildings so far, the bookshop I made earlier in the year plus the three new warehouses.


I've been planning the other buildings, despite the small size this layout needs a lot of them. I've been making simple card mock-ups, such as this warehouse - I thought a barn-style building with a curved roof would be interesting, but it took three attempts to get the size and shape looking right.


Unlike Goldilocks, I decided the middle size looks "just right" in-situ. Just need to build it properly now.


Not just that, but I've just taken delivery of four more Petite Properties kits...!


Saturday, 14 September 2019

Lynton and Barnstaple Railway

While on Holiday recently we ventured West from Minehead, up the steepest A-road in Britain, and over Exmoor to Woody Bay, to visit the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway. This well-known railway is one I've wanted to visit for some time, even though there is (currently) only a short length of line operating.


The preservation group have not only recently completed the replica build of "Lyn", the Baldwin 2-4-2 that ran on the original line, but also recreated a rake of the original coaches. Both the loco and the coaches are built to a high standard - even interior details of the coaches - and are kept pristine.


The station and grounds are also nicely restored and well kept, yet the atmosphere is friendly and informal, the tea room is a marquee for example. This is still quite a "young" preserved railway, but has big plans to reopen many miles of the old line. I wish them well.


It also has to be said that the setting is quite beautiful!








Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Back-scene boards, legs and lighting rig

I prefer a layout to have a back-scene, even if it is plain, it is rather like framing a picture. On the face of it adding boards to the back and ends of the challenge boards is simple enough - 3 sheets of ply (left over from Hexworthy) cut to size, and joined by strip-wood at the corners outside the ends. I also added "wing" strips to neaten the front edges.


However as usual I couldn't help but complicate matters, because I also wanted to add lighting, and some short legs to lift the model above table height. I figured it would be nice if both legs and lighting rig were attached to the board, and hinged out for use...


The result works well enough, but it was rather fiddly to achieve! The lighting rig hinges up for more height, and will hopefully have LED strips behind it that shine down on to the layout, the angled pelmet should be useful for that. It is supported by flaps that hinge down and sit on top of and act as an extension of the side wings.


A close-up of the lighting rig supporting arm shows the hinge and the support piece. When folded down the lighting pelmet overhangs the front of the layout, hopefully it will be useful as a support for a protective cover in due course.


To locate the support I simply used a small piece of dowel as a peg, that sits in a hole at the top of the back-scene/wing support, it's enough to stop the lighting rig collapsing.


The legs are made in pairs and are bolted at the top to the back-scene supports, the bolts also act as pivots. These bolts will have washers and locking nuts, once the board is painted/ A third bolt is added to hold the legs in place, and will have a wing nut. Note the power socket is now in place too.


With the locking bolt removed the legs rotate 180 degrees and stow up the ends of the layout, the locking bolt is fitted back in another hole to hold them in place.


The photo below shows the layout from my eye height, it looks neat enough despite my dodgy woodwork, and takes seconds to set up and stow away. It should work well at exhibitions, which is just as well as it already has an invite...!


Now it all needs painting. And I need to get on with some buildings.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

West Somerset Railway

We recently had a family holiday in Minehead, coincidentally (!) this was very close to the terminus of the West Somerset Railway. Minehead station is right on the sea-front between the town centre and the Butlins holiday camp. (I discovered Morrisons car-park is adjacent to the station throat, I think this is now my favourite supermarket car-park!)


It's a long line but we only travelled as far as Watchet, a pretty little fishing port with a short walk from the station to the harbour. This was originally the terminus of the (then broad gauge) branch until it was extended to Minehead, and was once busy with harbour sidings.


The line seemed quite popular, with three trains in service of about 8 coaches each, and they seemed busy enough. Some nice big locos in service too, and looking well kept.


Back at Minehead one loco seemed to be undergoing repair, conveniently opposite the platform!



Saturday, 7 September 2019

Rifles and Railways

Now I'm a fan of obscure and long forgotten railways, especially if there is a narrow gauge connection, but it has to be said that the latest book I've been sent takes obscure to new levels. I never knew this, but Britain has a National Rifle Association established in the mid 19th century, and it had both standard and narrow gauge railways. The National Rifle Association - Its Tramways and the London and South Western Railway by Christopher Bunch tells the story.


The early part of the book covers how the NRA came about, and held annual meetings on Wimbledon Common. There is a lot of coverage of the relationship with the L&SWR and other railway companies that brought members to the event, but more interesting to me was the establishment of a narrow gauge tram to transport people across the common to the furthest butts - which gained a neat little tram locomotive. This railway was dismantled after the meeting and reconstructed the following year.


The NRA then moved to a permanent site at Bisley in Surrey, where a standard gauge branch was built into the site from the local station. Operated by the L&SWR this line handled large numbers of people for the week or two of the annual meeting, sometimes including through trains direct from London, but had a quieter life the rest of the year. It was extended to adjacent military camps during the world wars.


As well as the branch line, the narrow gauge tramway was re-established at Bisley. There were other narrow gauge railways too, from the short manually operated tracks for moving targets, to more extensive lines to service the other targets, which for a while had industrial locos.


Although a very niche subject, this book has a bit of an identity crisis, being both a railway book and - in places - giving a history of the NRA. As a railway enthusiast with no interest in the NRA I could have lived without that aspect of the book. It's also quite a text-heavy book, with lots of extracts from contemporary sources, although there are also plans and maps, and some well reproduced photos (more photos would have been nice, but I suspect they are somewhat rare). It's a good sized hardback of good quality, and despite the depth of content is easy to read. Overall it seems a well researched and produced publication that will find interest amongst those who like obscure railways, and also no doubt those with an interest in the NRA (which is still in existence at the same site).

As a modeller I often look at the potential for modelling obscure minor railways, and the book probably contains enough information for a reasonable model of the standard and/or narrow gauge lines to be built. It would make a rather different layout theme, but I suspect operation would be rather dull! The narrow gauge tramway locomotive would make a very attractive model (original drawings are reproduced in the book). However I now know about an unusual railway location that I'd bet few railway enthusiasts would ever have heard of.

Monday, 2 September 2019

SEEP point motor switch

I was pleased, and slightly surprised, to find the electrics all worked first time. However extensive playing testing revealed that one of the points had a dead "frog" - crossing vee and blade - when switched on one direction, this is despite the electrical feed being switched by the point motor.

The SEEP motors have an in-built switch consisting of contacts on the PCB base and a washer sprung against them moved by the solenoid armature. The problem can be the washer not reaching the contact because the motor is mounted off centre (though I am sure this one is central), or the armature travel is not far enough (it is borderline with 009 points, keeping the pin long helps). I have to say I have rarely come across this issue despite having used dozens of these motors, but with this old re-used motor I think the contacts may have worn away too, making things worse.


In an attempt to ensure good contact I cut a small piece of phosphor-bronze strip (seen bottom right of the photo above), which was twisted and bent, then soldered to the contact so the washer presses against it at the end of it's travel, as can just be seen below. I also cleaned the contacts as best I could, though it is hard to clean the washer.


It works, but I'll admit I don't know how robust it will be - the solenoid moves with some force. If it does fail the options are:

  • Clean the point blade and rely on that for contact - I don't want to do that!
  • Fit an external switch, such as a microswitch, which is easy in theory but fiddly in practice
  • Use the working contact to drive a change-over relay, perhaps the easiest solution if suitable relay power can be arranged to the layout
  • Replace the motor with a new one - which shouldn't be too difficult

For now I'll see how it goes.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Point motors and wires

After considering the various options I settled on point motors for the challenge layout (really must come up with a name!), partially as I happened to have 3 SEEP motors recovered from a previous project.


It's important that these point motors are fitted centrally to the point for the in-built switch (used for frog polarity switching) to operate correctly. I do this by packing the point blades with pieces of plasticard so the tie-bar is central, and using another piece of plasticard cut to fit between the motor coils with a hole in the centre for the operating rod, this ensures both point and motor are in the central position.


The motors I used had already had the operating rod trimmed, but were too long for this thin MDF. I didn't want to trim them further - partly as the metal is very hard, partly because a longer operating rod allows the motor armature to travel slightly further than the tie bar, which makes the switch operation more reliable. However I found a piece of 5mm foamcore spaced the motor just enough for the operating rod to be a perfect fit. The pencil lines are in line with the point tie bar, and allow the motors to be positioned in line with them. The motors are then fixed with contact adhesive, no screws seem to be necessary, checking the operating rod goes through the hole in the tie bar, the contacts are on the most accessible side of the motor, and before the glue dries fully, that moving the motor moves the tie bar and the motor switch moves from one contact to the other.


The wiring arrangement was worked out on paper first in my usual way - assigning a code to each section, point motor, and so on, so each wire has a code. The front panel was drilled and the switches installed (I'll detail the panel later), holes drilled next to the rails where feeds were required, and a couple of terminal blocks stuck in place under the baseboard with hot glue. I then labelled every feed wire hole, switch, and terminal with the code for the wire connecting there, in this case I even colour-coded the labels to match the wires (using the kids' felt-tips!)


Feed wires are passed up through the holes and soldered directly into the web of the rail. This isn't as scary as it first seems:

  • Strip about 6-8mm of the wire, twist and fold into an L-shape
  • Tin the end of the wire with solder
  • Bend the wire so it nestles into the side of the rail, ideally holding itself but if necessary hold in place with a screwdriver while soldering
  • Apply the iron with a tinned tip to press the wire into place, wait until the solder goes liquid and seems to spread against the rail. Remove iron and wait until the solder has set (at least 5 secs) before removing anything holding it. Check it is secure with a good tug. Be careful not to touch the sleepers, and don't hold long enough for the sleeper fixings to melt!



Underneath it is simply a case of connecting all the terminals, feeds, and switches, with appropriately coloured wire according to the codes. Wire doesn't have to be colour coded but it does help with de-bugging, I've used 5 colours here. The writing on the bottom of the baseboard is to remind me in the future what each colour is for, and what the codes mean!


The second board is more simple, with wires passing through the holes provided in the laser-cut MDF. I've glued the two boards together so no need for connectors. To tidy and secure the wires cable ties were used, and blobs of hot-glue hold them to the board.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Remote operated sector plate

The challenge layout board arrangement has a sector plate, which I have put on the left-hand board with space in front, which has a "visible" track and will be scenic, so the sector plate will be hidden. The layout will be front operated, and while I don't expect to need to handle stock in the fiddle yard, it will need to be moved between tracks from the front of the layout and without good visibility!

So here's the overview. On the front of the layout is a printout of the proposed control panel, it's tight but I think it will fit here (I'd rather not the complexity of a separate panel). The dowel protruding from the front panel is used to move the sector plate. You can see where I have shortened the sector plate, and how the two tracks are fitted at slightly odd angles. The pivot bolt at the left hand end was included in the baseboard module kit.


Looking closely at the moving end of the sector plate the incoming track is secured to a piece of PCB which overlaps the edge of the sector plate to ensure it does not lift. The two tracks on the sector plate are also soldered to PCB pieces, which have a hole drilled between the rails, right down through the MDF below. A length of brass tube is hammered into this (slightly under-size) hole protruding around 10mm below - through the curved slot, and is soldered to the PCB above - you can see the copper is gapped to one side of the tube so it is electrically connected to one of the rails.


From underneath the two tubes or locating pins can be seen protruding through the curved slot. The latching mechanism consists of a sprung pivoted arm with a ramped edge and a notch facing the pins. In this case I made the arm from a length of aluminium - T section because that's what I had to hand - with a hole at one end for the pivot bolt. I'll attach a feed wire to this bolt when I wire up the layout so that it provides power to the selected track. The other end was shaped with files and emery until it slides back and forth easily against the pins as they move sideways, and a vee-shaped notch cut for the pins to locate in. This is deep enough for a secure latch, but with sides sloped enough for them to slide out when the sector plate is moved.


The spring came from a pump-action soap dispenser and is attached to a wooden arm, which is screwed to the board at the far end (from above) and held by a screw behind it - moving that screw allows spring tension to be adjusted. Crude but it works. I also used a couple of short screws with very wide heads to hold the T-section aluminium arm, and also act as limit stops to it's movement.

To the left a second curved slot is for a small bolt through the sector plate, which is attached under the board to a block of wood (via a plasticard "washer"), and hence to the dowel which passes through the front of the layout. Pushing and pulling the dowel thus moves the sector plate back and forth.


Back up top with the sector plate pushed to the back both curved slots can be seen, under the one on the right the aluminium latch is visible with the ramps and vee-shaped notch for the brass locating pins. The bolt forming the latch pivot is at the top right, the screw on the right secures the wooden arm holding the spring.


So this mechanism is simply constructed using basic components, which I happened to have in stock, but works well. The dowel allows the sector plate to be moved from the front of the layout, and the latch locates each track reliably, while providing electrical connection to only the selected track without the need for switches or a second mechanism. This design would work with more than two tracks, although that's all I have space for here.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Baseboard modules and track laying

I've finally got around to cutting the holes in the baseboard tops, so could actually assemble the baseboards. These are laser-cut MDF kits supplied by Norfolk Heath Works, as a set especially for the challenge. There are no instructions so I was a little unsure of the best order to assemble the parts, but after a dry run it was fairly straightforward, so I applied PVA to the mating edges and re-assembled.


I chose the board with the dropped front, which gives potential for a wharf or harbour. You can see the holes drilled for point operation, and the rectangular hole for an under-track magnet.


The other board has the sector-plate fiddle yard, and a number of laser-cut holes - some of which have no obvious purpose! The lower deck to support the sector plate is held by four bolts, but I've glued it in place so the bolts (which may get in the way) can be dispensed with. I've drilled another hole for point control, and a couple of curved slots under the sector plate - I'll cover this in another post.


I also cut down the sector plate, shortening it by an inch. This was necessary to fit the track arrangement. Before laying the track I stuck brown paper over all the holes, and under the points and where magnets will be installed I used a black Pro-Marker to ensure bare baseboard wouldn't show where ballast can't be applied.


Track-laying started with the three points and the short straight between them, as getting this arrangement in the correct place was critical. There are insulating rail joiners between the two right-hand points.  Next was the reverse-curve into the fiddle yard, this was really tricky and the radius here is under 12", probably about 10", but I'm hoping that with smooth transitions it will run smoothly. This layout is only intended for small locos and 4-wheel wagons after all. Then the other tracks were added, using a 12" tracksetta for the curve, and finally insulating gaps cut with a saw disk in a mini-drill for isolating sections.

The track is stuck down with PVA glue, held with track pins (the chunky ones from Gaugemaster, that can be hammered without wilting!) although these are positioned between sleepers and next to the rail to hold any curvature - not through the sleepers - and are removed after the glue has set. The track is weighted with anything heavy while the glue dries, tins from the larder are useful!


The Peco 009 track for this little layout all came from my own hoard, the points were recovered from a previous layout but had never been ballasted and showed no signs of glue residue. After a clean in some warm water and Cif, and a polish of the rail head with a fibre-glass cleaner, they looked in good shape. The track is a mixture of left-over bits, including both crazy-track and the "mainline" type, although only the tracks on the sector plate had been used before.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Paker's Lock Up and Harper's Yard

I thought these two small low-relief warehouse kits from Petite Properties would work well at the end of the challenge layout. I assembled the laser-cut parts with tape to see how they fitted.


I'd originally planned the taller Parker's Lock Up at the rear, with Harper's Yard at the end, but the low doorways of the latter didn't work with the track running into the building.


Swapped around the taller doorway of Parker's is ideally sized for 009 stock, but note that I've reversed the parts so the big door is to the left of the personnel door to suit the track plan - easy to do at this stage. Harper's works just as well alongside the rear track.


As Parker's would be at an angle to the back-scene I fitted an extension to one side wall cut from stiff card, which was very simply fitted to the back wall as shown. A similar wall extension was also fitted to Harper's. Also the assembly of Parker's was modified as the instructions suggest fixing the sides to the rear, then fitting the front, but this makes the fitting of brick-paper more difficult. I fitted the sides and floor to the front, assembling dry to the rear wall to ensure it would fit, then fitted the brick-paper to the front and sides. Having the rear removable at this stage makes dealing with the window and door openings easier.


Once the brick-paper was fitted the building was given a spray of Testors Dullcote to ensure a matt finish. The doors and lintels were painted separately and fitted later. I didn't use the cills in the kit, adding brick cills from the brick-paper sheet instead. A new roof was made from Wills slates, cut to fit the angle with the back-scene, and with barge-boards from plasticard - those in the kit are not long enough to reach the ends of the roof. The ridge is L section plastic with lines scored every 4mm. If the big doors look wonky here it's because they are loose, they will be fixed open on the layout.


Harper's Yard also got a new main roof from Wills, this time tiles, with the ridge from L-section plastic with microstrip ridges added every 5mm, and new plastic barge-boards. The lean-to has a corrugated roof from Slaters sheet over the card roof and barge-board from the kit. The lintels and cills were fixed in place, then painted. 


After the experiments I settled on sand for the pebble-dash render. The walls were coated with PVA glue spread evenly, and sprayed with a water mist to keep it soft, then the sand sprinkled on. I have to admit it took 4 coats of paint - the first was patchy, the second came out green thanks to a Humbrol tin that didn't match the colour of the lid, the next had shiny patches and the final wash didn't get rid of them all. So I dusted the surface with a pale grey weathering powder and sealed with a coat of Testors Dullcote, and perhaps by accident, I was happy with the result!


Both buildings had the insides painted black before the doors and windows were fitted. The corrugated iron roof has lead flashing from newspaper coloured grey with a sharpie pen.