Thursday 31 October 2019

EXPO-NG 2019

Last weekend was the Expo Narrow Gauge exhibition. As is often the case I was volunteered to help the Sussex Downs 009 group with the 009 society show-case and demo stand, but also group member Martin Collins had his 009 Llandecwyn layout, so I spent a while helping with that too. I took along my part-built society challenge layout as a demonstration, which generated some discussion, it even got operated from time to time.

Martin had just completed a "Clyde puffer" coaster for Llandecwyn, a nicely built and detailed model that sits well on the layout.

I'd been looking forward to seeing Sandy Shores (009) by Jamie Warne, having seen it develop on the NGRM forum. It's a different, imaginative, and really attractive layout that oozes atmosphere, despite it's small size. It's well modelled and presented too.

I had the pleasure of operating for a while to give Jamie a break, and loads of people commented on how they liked it. In fact I really wasn't surprised when Jamie was awarded the Reinier Hendriksen Trophy, as it was clear this was a layout that followed the spirit of Reiniers work. That's a real accolade and well deserved, congratulations Jamie!

As usual Expo-NG had a wide variety of excellent layouts, and I can only show a handful here. Another favourite of mine was East Works (009) by James Hilton, another small, attractive, and well presented layout but in this case a delightfully simple one, inspired by the Isle of Purbeck clay mining railways.

Charles Insley is a serial layout builder whose layouts have a delightful charm. Ulvaryd Strand (HOe) is the latest, a Swedish lakeside setting.

Derwent Road (O9)by Bill Flude is a little different, depicting a sand quarry line which also sees tourist trains operated by a preservation group, and passes alongside newly built houses (1970's). If that sounds familiar it is inspired by Leighton Buzzard.

David Malton's lovely Abbey Light Railway (O14) appeared at Expo-NG for the second time, this time extended with the loco shed end of the line. The first time 5 years ago I lent David my green Hudson Hunslet to supplement his then limited loco stud, as it was his first exhibition with the layout. Now he has plenty of locos, having modelled all of the locos of the prototype, but thought a reunion would be appropriate.

So above we have my green HH on the right, plus on the left my blue "Thakeham" modified older-style HH. Between them David's model of the ALR's Hudson in near original condition makes an interesting comparison, while an interesting collection of motive power sits outside the shed.

At the other end of the line we have a Lister line-up, my "standard" Lister in the foreground makes an interesting comparison to David's modified ALR Lister, which had a new engine fitted centrally as well as a modified cab. However while the locos may not be "twins", the drivers appear to be!

So once again Expo-NG proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable day, not just for the layouts of which this is just a few, or even the trade and sales stands, but also for the people - I spent a lot of time chatting! If you'd like to see more photos of the layouts click here.

Friday 25 October 2019

De Graafstroom

One layout stood out at Uckfield, even though it was amongst many top-quality layouts, and unsurprisingly it was voted best layout by exhibitors and public - despite not being on a popular theme but being narrow-gauge, in an overseas setting, and with relatively few trains. The layout was De Graafstroom, in HO (3.5mm ft) scale and 12.26mm (scale 3' 6") gauge, by Vincent de Bode, Peter van der Kooij, and Claude Moinier from the Netherlands.

As you can see the model depicts low-lying Dutch countryside with a river between raised banks, a narrow gauge railway on the far bank, a few dutch houses and "big skies". A very attractive composition I think you'll agree.

The standard of modelling and level of detail is very high - don't forget this is HO.

But the real "wow" comes when you see the bridge lift, and the sailing barge slips gracefully into view. We've all seen layout animations before, but I've not seen something this bold on a layout of this standard in a long time - if ever.

The barge is beautifully modelled. Apparently underneath are motorised wheels, guided by a Faller roadway-style magnetic steering mechanism following a wire in the river, yet this is all so well hidden and smooth and silent in operation that the illusion is convincing.

The trains are well modelled too, based on Dutch road-side tramways. But do you see the swan? That too is animated, slowly swimming up and down the river. That's not all, not seen in these photos a bird (stork?) flies in circles above the scene.

The photos are impressive, but I also took a short video on my phone so you can see the animations:

I found this layout stunning - not just because of the animations, but because everything worked together to be convincing. The animations weren't a novelty or distraction, but a natural part of an attractive scene, which made up a cohesive and well-observed model.

Thursday 24 October 2019

Uckfield Show 2019

Last weekend was the excellent Uckfield show, and this year we had two layouts there - my son's Slugworth & Co and my own Thakeham Tiles. Neither is very interesting to operate so the idea was that switching between layouts would alleviate the boredom! Here we are set up at opposite ends of an 8' table.

It was good to see a number of teenagers from the local high school model railway club taking part - last year they showed their layout, this year they were helping with operating layouts and stewarding. Great to see younger people getting involved and showing such enthusiasm.

As usual there was a range of top quality layouts on a range of themes and scales, but with a particularly good Narrow Gauge influence, a total of 5 of the layouts being NG. A long-standing favourite is David Taylor's Charmouth in O16.5.

Fen End Pit, in SM32 by David Barham, goes one better than Thakeham by using real sand. This is loaded using a working drag-line excavator (Joshua had a go - and it wasn't easy to control!), and tipped into a working conveyor and screen. Oh and the modelling is brilliant too.

Midland in Bristol (O gauge, Richard Ellis) came second in the MRJ/Wild Swan/Ian Rice "Cameo" competition. The detail is superb, and the unified slightly weathered appearance adds atmosphere and realism. That said it is little more than a diorama, operation is very limited and the trains almost incidental, perhaps inevitable in this scale given the limited size, but the modelling is the highest standard.

Another Cameo competition entry is Bottom Works Sidings by Chris Matthews in OO, featuring a steelworks branch and exchange sidings. It's an excuse for grimy industrial locos and freight shunting, plus DC electrics (why not?), but the bleak wintry setting really gives it atmosphere.

Blueball Summit by Andrew Bartlett is a superb example of finescale modelling and scenic work. The viaduct and village below is an impressive centrepiece, but the whole layout is to a high standard. Oh by the way, it's N gauge - but you really can't tell can you? That says it all.

So that's just a few of the good layouts, but there was one more that I'll share in another post...

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Upgraded powerpack

I have two "power-pack" boxes for my layouts, a large one and a small one, and when I take a layout to an exhibition I take both in case of failure - though it hasn't happened yet! However with two layouts going to Uckfield I wouldn't have a spare. The large box was always intended to hold a second transformer, but I had never needed to fit one - well now seemed a good time.

Inside you can see the original transformer on the right - made by AMR it has two 16 V AC and a 24 V AC output, the latter is used for the capacitor discharge unit (CDU) for point motors seen at the rear. One of the 16 V AC outputs is used for a hand-held controller which plugs into the box, the other provides power to accessories and also the high-frequency track cleaner seen in the foreground. The new transformer is fitted rear left, it's a Gaugemaster T1 with two 16 V AC outputs allowing a second controller to be powered. Note the circuit breakers directly fitted to the outputs. The track cleaner has two outputs and could be wired into the second controller, but since adopting graphite it is rarely used so I haven't bothered.

So two controllers can be plugged into the box by 5-pin DIN plugs, and two 6-way DIN outputs each provide the controller output, 16 V AC for accessories, and the CDU output for point motors. Some years ago I posted the schematic below:

The new transformer effectively duplicates this circuit with a second transformer, controller, and output, except that there is still only one CDU feeding both outputs, and I've not bothered to wire the track cleaner to the second controller. It can thus power two layouts, or one layout needing two controllers.

Here are both power-pack boxes together. I made up a new 6-way lead to connect to the layout, my spare was made from single-core telephone wire and I'm amazed it hasn't broken already - so now I have 3 leads. I've also adopted a colour code to make plugging in quicker and easier - blue is the layout connection, red is the controller, tape on the cables and sharpie pen on the sockets.

The small box contains a single transformer (2 x 16 V AC) and a high-frequency track cleaner, providing a single controller and accessory supply in a small package ideal for micro layouts. Until now my small layouts have mostly had manual point control so there is no CDU, but I'm thinking of adding one if it will fit, or removing the rarely used track cleaner to make space.

As well as the new transformer I have a new controller, a Gaugemaster W. Unlike most of my other controllers this is not a feedback type or pulsed output controller, but simply a smoothed DC output, and so is ideal for coreless motors which are becoming more common. Initial tests show it doesn't have good slow speed control - at least of conventional motors - which I expected, but also it didn't maintain a steady speed, so it doesn't seem as good as my other controllers. However it may be better with coreless motors and safer for continuous running.

As you can see I now have quite a collection of controllers. As well as providing a choice of controller type depending on layout and loco type, it means I can always have a spare available for a show. This proved useful at the last Wealden group show when a broken wire caused issues, easily fixed but not something you want to address at the show!

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Reviving Thakeham

Thakeham will be at the Uckfield show on the 19th and 20th of this month, so with a couple of weekends to go I thought I'd better dig it out of the loft - where I think it has been for about 2 1/2 years - and check it over.

Despite being stored with silica gel sachets in the storage cover, the temperature and humidity variations in the loft have not been kind to the paper covered walls of this building. I think I used Pritt-Stick to fix the paper and it hasn't proved durable. The roof is also badly warped - this started soon after I made it as the corrugations were stuck on with contact adhesive, which seems to have reacted with the plastic - but even the added "moss" can't really disguise it now.

I figured the only answer was a replacement. Fortunately it's a very simple structure, being little more than a plain end wall and corner of a roof. A new foam-core structure was knocked up to the same external dimensions, though I increased the height of the right-hand wall slightly to increase the roof pitch a little. I printed out a new blockwork sheet from the Scalescenes file (the advantage of Scalescenes), this time fixing it on with a thin layer of PVA. I've found that doesn't cause wrinkles if thin enough, and I hope it will prove more durable.

A new roof was also made, fortunately I had enough of the corrugated sheet left. This time I used double-sided sticky tape to fix it to the plasticard roof structure as seen here, I don't know if that will prove durable either but it shouldn't warp. The strips on the right were stuck underneath at 90 degrees to the roof surface to make a bend-resistant frame.

In place on the layout it fits the recess in the ground perfectly. The blockwork has printed a slightly different colour (the work printers have been changed!) but it looks OK. I'm pleased with the roof finish, which this time actually looks like asbestos. I sprayed it with grey car primer, and liberally sprinkled on some talcum powder, after it was dry (1/2 hour) this was rubbed with a toothbrush, then the process was repeated a couple more times to build up texture and colour variations. Finally a little pale grey-brown weathering powder was applied in a random way.

On the engine shed roof, part of the masking tape felt had lifted showing the white plastic underneath. This was simple to fix with another coat of dark grey paint, working into the crack, then while tacky pressing the masking tape back down.

Then I noticed one of the points was not going all the way over, this was traced to the wire-in-tube under the baseboard flexing too much, and taking up the motion. Sticking a piece of foam-core board alongside the tube to hold it fixed that, with a small adjustment to the wire to ensure the point blades moved fully from side to side.

With that fixed I turned on the power - to find a dead short. So I spent over an hour trying to trace the cause, which is surprising for such a small layout. Eventually after much disconnecting of wires from terminal blocks under the board, and poking with a test meter, I traced the short to this point - the moving blade had shuffled along far enough to touch the fixed rail where circled below. As the blade is the same polarity as the adjacent stock rail, but the fixed rails around the frog are switched with the point movement, a short occurred when the point is set as shown. The fix for now was to push a Stanley knife blade into the gap forcing the blade away from the fixed rail - but I really should think of a way to stop it happening again.

After all that a wire came loose from a switch - possibly due to the test-meter poking - but a dab from the soldering iron fixed that.

So finally I got to test the layout, and of course the stock. The photo below shows my entire O14 collection, although the Lister and O&K on the centre track tend to be kept in reserve. They are very low geared so slow and noisy, but in any case the two Hunslets are prototypical. The blue Hunslet needed a few droplets of oil on the worm gears to get it running smoothly, although it is never the smoothest of mechanisms and has a jerky start/stop. However once the rails had been given a new rub of graphite all the locos were found to be running fine.

So after somewhat more effort than I had envisaged, Thakeham is now ready for exhibition.

Friday 4 October 2019

Adding magnetism

Being designed for shunting, the challenge layout needs uncoupling magnets. This was taken into account when designing the track plan; the sidings are straight with space for the magnet at the entry. I've used the Microtrains magnets, which sit above the baseboard between the rails - visible, but not overly obvious. However they are rather long; I have found the can be split in half by clamping in a vice and giving it a sharp well-placed tap, resulting in two magnets of a more manageable size.

Below you can see three magnets placed to allow "inglenook" shunting. The problem is uncoupling the incoming train - the rear track is long enough for the wagons but not long enough for them to be pushed past a magnet to allow them to be re-coupled! So another solution was devised, which sits below the yellow-brown paper seen top-right.

OK it looks a bit Heath-Robinson! The magnet is on the left, next to the point motor, it is taken from a cupboard catch, and sits in a hole in the baseboard so it is just below sleeper level protected by the paper layer. The magnet sits in a frame made simply from plasticard. You can also see a dowel and a piece of wire (paperclip!) linking it to the magnet-holding frame, which should become clearer in the next photo.

Here the magnet can be seen swung away from the baseboard. The plastic frame that holds it is pivoted around a simple bolt from a bracket glued to the baseboard. The wire links the pivoted frame to the dowel, the linear movement of which swings the frame up and down. The two screws in the dowel act as end-stops against the block of wood.

The dowel runs right along the baseboard to the far end, set low enough to clear all the other under-baseboard mechanisms and wiring. It is now surprisingly busy under here!

At the end the dowel protrudes just enough to be pulled - pulling on the dowel raises the magnet to the track, pushing it back in lowers the magnet. The dowel is close to but just around the corner of the baseboard from the control panel for convenient operation at this end of the layout.

It seems to work well in testing despite the basic construction methods, and should allow an incoming train to be uncoupled, without preventing an outgoing train from coupling up. I guess the same approach would work with a servo, or possibly a slow-action point motor, allowing retractable magnets to be used on a larger layout.