What She Was Built For

I was doing some calculations and it occurs to me that it’s been 15 years since I purchased the kit I modified to build my little Mannig Wardle 0-6-0, Pioneer. I built the loco in about 2005 and have since rebuilt her and added lights. However it strikes me that the reason I built her, to some day work the pier at Morpeth, has finally been fulfilled because she was finally able to take a spin out on Morpeth pier this morning.

There are a few details to add and a ship model to finish but Pioneer has finally found her home.

I woke this morning thinking that I didn’t have any pressing jobs to do (although I’ll concede that the lawn does need mowing) and didn’t need to make any visits to town, friends or family so the day started as one of those rarest of days: free! πŸ™‚ Interestingly, running the first real train on Morpeth has turned up a few problems. This has been my experience ever since I started in this hobby: when you go from theory to reality you always need to adjust wheels, couplers and buffers. Now by this I mean that I’d been gradually building wagons for 15 years and while a few of the older examples had been occasionally pushed about on QW and Morpeth, all of the new wagons had essentially been built and then packed away in boxes. None of my stock, either old or more recently built, has ever had to cope with curves because both Morpeth and QW are essentially straight. So getting these wagons to round a 1500mm radius on the main and a 1350mm radius on the curve into Morpeth was always going to be interesting.

The wagons that gave me trouble were a BWF with long buffers and hook draw gear that was held in place by springs you could have used to launch someone out of a cannon with, my three cattle wagons which all have buffers and couplers that are way too close to the bodies and the couplers on my 49 class diesel which looks wonderful with its coupler tucked prototypically in under the buffer but threw anything coupled to it as it entered the curves into the ditch. I pushed the hook on the BWF out 6mm and replaced the spring and chopped into the coupler box on the 49 and pushed the head of the coupler out beyond the buffing plate and just about everything now rounds the curves. I also found a big blob of epoxy glue on one of my 4 wheelers that was making it run like a three legged goat. I scraped this off and it now runs as smooth as a baby’s you know what! πŸ™‚

However another problem turned up when I tried to run the 49 round the train at Morpeth. The loco got to the break between modules and came to a dead halt. I did a bit of shoving and testing but this was a real dilemma and I decided it was probably connected to the two dead stationary decoders I’d discovered 2 weeks ago. Anyway this morning I trooped upstairs with my electrical tester and got to work trying to decipher what was going on. Well it turns out that a wire between the modules had come loose and once this was reconnected not only did the loco complete its run round move but the two stationary decoders hooked up to the solenoids at this end of the yard suddenly sprang back into life. What had thrown me was that the Tortoise machines on the same module were still working even though one of the bus wires had come loose. It only occurred to me later that this was probably because of the different way power is supplied to these motors but in the mean time I’d ordered two new Snapits from my usual supplier. Anyone want to buy two brand new NCE Snapits at bargain basement prices that will be arriving in the next week or so? πŸ™‚

After this small rewiring job was completed I looked around the room for something else to do that wouldn’t require weeks of dedicated work, not something like building a hand made point. The mdf cladding from the pier module that had been dumped on the floor when I chopped off 300mm last week was still sitting under the layout so I decided that cutting this to the new shorter length and reapplying it shouldn’t take much effort. So I set to.

If you compare this photo with the one of the end of the pier module I posted a few days ago you can see that it didn’t take too much to repair the damage. A bit of judiciously glued strip wood and screwing the yellow mdf in place and hey presto! πŸ™‚ It needs a bit of filler and the paint needs a touch up but I’m happy with the ease with which this job came together.

The pier module was the last project I worked on as I sold my previous home and moved into my present one. It was never quite completed and it and the ship model I’d made a half-hearted attempt to commence both sat unfinished in separate locations while I got the new house up to scratch and commenced building the new layout. Because this module was designed to be a show layout, built as separate modules that bolt up to each other, I’d never got around to installing the jumper cables and plugs that bridge the electrical gap between the pier and the main part of Morpeth. So while I’ve shortened the pier module and got it to fit into the space that will allow it to be used as a part of my permanent layout, I haven’t given up the thought that I may exhibit it some day. This means that the wiring running from the main layout out to the pier needed to be via plugs and sockets: I couldn’t just run wire out to the pier as I’d been able to do with most of the new layout. There were droppers from the rails running on the pier and I’d run wiring up to the spot on the adjoining layout to a socket where the gap would eventually be jumped but I didn’t have a socket on the pier module, although surprisingly I had made a couple of spare jumper cables ready to be used when I did get around to this job. In transforming Queens Wharf from exhibition to permanent mode I’d pulled a few socket assemblies out from under that part of the layout so I had a couple of spares to use on the pier module; all I had to do was install them. Hence Pioneer getting a run.

The final job was to glue a couple of pieces of strip wood onto the end of the pier model to mask where I’d chopped a big chunk off the end of it. Luckily, in staining the deck wood for this model I’d done more than was needed so all I had to do was get some of this excess strip wood, stain a few cut ends with a Copic marker pen and trim and glue in place two new pieces of timber to cover the end up. You’d hardly know the damage had ever been inflicted πŸ™‚


First Full Train On Morpeth

I’ve been putting in a lot of time on the layout recently so this morning I decided to get some wagons out and pull a train around the curve into Queens Wharf and Morpeth. It would pay to keep in mind that neither of these locos has ever pulled a train and most of the wagons haven’t travelled much further than down the length of Queens Wharf or Morpeth yard and back. Most have been built and then stored in boxes. None of the stock on the layout has ever done a circuit or run for much longer than 5 or 6 meters. As you’d expect there were numerous issues and I’ve really got to put some work into couplers and buffers. This exercise has also pointed out to me how relatively small is my collection of rolling stock.


Liability To Centerpiece

Since posting the videos of making a point a few weeks ago I haven’t made any posts: not because no progress has been made on the layout but because I’ve been doing boring stuff like getting the storage sidings laid and wired up.

Anyone who’s built a layout will find this familiar. This is the forest of hanging wire from about 70% of the storage sidings. Boring but necessary work and I’m glad to say the wiring in this part of the layout is basically complete.

I’ve spent the past few days laying the track in the storage sidings, preparing to install a control panel and wiring up the track, point motors and QSnap stationary decoders that I’m using on this part of the layout. I’m waiting for a delivery of push buttons from China before completing the wiring of the control panel. I could have purchased these from an outlet like Jaycar but they’re a 10th the price via an online outlet so I’ve decided to wait.

Up till now I’ve been using the DCC functionality of the stationary decoders I’m installing to switch the points but I thought it was time to make a move installing control panels in some areas of the layout. As the NCE QSnaps come with the capacity to install buttons without any extra components I’ve decided to make and install a control panel at the throat of the storage sidings. I’m just waiting for a slow boat from China to allow me to complete it πŸ™‚

To demonstrate that the storage yard is well on its way to being finished I asked my friend Phil to run his 48 through the points in the yard throat to test the wheels through the points.

I’ve been puzzling and thinking about what to do about the pier and ship model over the past couple of months. As they wouldn’t fit into the layout design there has been precious little progress on either model over the past few months as I’ve had more exciting projects to work on. After discussing this situation with Phil over a coffee last week I decided to bite the bullet and modify the pier module to allow it to fit into the layout.This was going to be fun! 😦

I started by chopping about 270mm off the end of the pier.

The next step was to lop about 300mm off the end of the module. A skilled surgeon skillfully usingΒ  precision surgical tools is a joy to watch. Anyone who knows a skilled surgeon with skilled hands who might be willing to come and help out when I have to do these jobs is welcome to pass on my contact details πŸ™‚ Today Phil and I just hacked away at it till the required bit was removed.

I did some planning and thinking about how to remove the required amount of length from the pier module and asked Phil to come over and apply first aid if I fainted. We lopped off two sections of pier (and the associated legs) and then sliced through the wood and aluminium of the module itself. Not exactly pretty but it went well and there is now space at the end of the module to allow someone to get to the other side. Prior to this there was room for the module but no way to get past it unless you could limbo.

This photo shows the new shortened pier in all its hacked about glory.

I have yet to re-clad the sides of the module with its MDF skin but I did have time to make the benchwork so the pier could be butted up to Morpeth.

I couldn’t resist bringing the ship model out and plonking in place for a photo. As can be seen on the right hand end, there is now room for the passage of an operator or layout visitor to the other side of the pier. Without this modification the pier module would have languished in storage in my trailer.

Operationally there has been nothing added or lost from this lopping exercise but it has completely changed the character of this part of the layout. Morpeth (the portable layout) exists to allow the inclusion of a pier and a ship model. Even though it has morphed into a semi-permanent home layout the lack of the pier because it wouldn’t fit has never sat well with me. I don’t know why, but it had never occurred to me to lop 12″ off the end of it to allow it to fit. Maybe the idea of taking to a mostly completed model with a hacksaw and a cross cut saw isn’t normally part of the agenda πŸ™‚

Queens Wharf Yard

I’ve been happy with the progress I’ve been making on the layout recently but the decision to hand lay the track in the extended Queens Wharf yard has slowed me down considerably. That and spending some time away in sunny Queensland πŸ™‚

This photo shows the whole of the new yard and sidings at Queens Wharf. I’ve marked the area where the oil depot will be located with an “A”. This will be bounded on three sides by track but road vehicles will be able to access the yard via a rail crossing at the front of the layout. “B” marks the spot where the oil unloading pipes for the depot will be located and “C” shows where a yard gantry crane will be sited. This siding hasn’t been fully laid with track so it ends some way back from the end of the line.

As I worked my way down Queens Wharf with track and wiring I came to the realization that all the wiring would essentially need to be replaced so there is a rather big pile of old wire under one section of the layout where I ripped it all out. I’m yet to do the same to the section nearest the camera which is why you can see wires dangling here and there. My reasons for doing this were both long and short-term.

The short-term reason is that as I’m already going to be under the layout wiring up the new extension it seemed crazy not to make a fresh start and redo all the wiring. There were dangling wires I had no idea the purpose of, hand written labels on scraps of masking tape that seemed to bear no relationship to what happened when power was applied and I also plan to add two new points and associated point motors to this part of the layout. None of the old points were labelled in any coherent or consistent fashion and they were all going to need to be programmed into the DCC system. Just having the point motor labelled with a #9 didn’t make much sense on a layout with probably over 30 points most of which are new.

The longer term reason is that I want the amount of time I have to spend under the layout to be at a minimum, so applying coherent labels to the point motors and other components like signals now (ones that have a code that makes sense and which I’ve recorded in a file) should make maintenance much easier in the future. There are going to be seven points within the boundaries of QW so starting at the Morpeth end (as the down end) the first point will be labelled QW01 the next one QW02 and so on down the line. Each of these point motors will have a number programmed into the DCC decoders and as QW01 will be the 9th point motor from the end of the line this will be its number, duly recorded in a spread sheet in a master wiring file I’ll complete as I go and hopefully never have to look at again.

Once I’ve finally laid all the track in the yard and soldered droppers to the rails I’ll work my way along the layout and systematically wire up the entire section. I’ll also install the various electronic components, things like an NCE Switch 8 or QSnap depending on the type of motors being connected. I’m determined to put these in locations that will be relatively easy to access at a later time when the layout is covered in scenery. There’s nothing worse than trying to work under a scenicked layout, upside down, in the dark with your head bumping the benchwork as you try to get a wire to stay connected to a screw terminal.