Theory Into Practice

In general terms I would probably describe myself as a fairly conservative person when it comes to implementing new ideas in the construction of a layout. I’m not sure how you go about measuring this but I do know I read a lot of magazine articles about modelling and layout building and only a very few of the ideas I read about ever end up influencing what I do with my own projects. I believe that the process by which we are accepting of new ideas tends to rely pretty heavily on the context in which the ideas are presented. In other words, I think we accept a new method or way of doing things far more readily if the ground has been prepared for us and the idea appears to answer a need that we’ve long had and thought about. Take my train turntable as an example: I’d read about such devices in a couple of UK magazines but the fact that the basic idea filled a need I’d long ago identified meant I was more open to trying out that idea on my new layout than I otherwise would have been. It was the hours I’d spent lifting and moving my stock during exhibitions that had convinced me that I needed to try something different. If I’d read these articles without that experience I’d more than likely have thought it an interesting idea and gone on to build my layout with a fiddle yard consisting of a simple fan of points.

The pathway to this result was not simple or in any way inevitable and in fact the original idea goes back well beyond the articles in Railway Modeller and Model Railway Journal I referring to. My first attempt at building a train turntable that was intended to turn full trains around in O-scale dates back to approximately 2003-4 when I built a traverser mounted on a trolley. This first version of the train turntable was inspired by the UK based modeller Gordon Gravett in one of his books on 7mm modelling, specifically the second book, “Building A Layout”. I found that while the basic idea of spinning a whole train around on a separate piece of layout mounted on wheels was ok in theory, it was a lot more difficult in practice. The first thing you need is an absolutely flat floor. The garage or shed floors constructed from poured concrete that I’ve had experience of are far from flat. Maybe they pour better floors in the UK than in Australia? After abandoning this idea and moving onto building small, portable layouts, I tried out a number of different fiddle yard arrangements. None of these answered my basic need of keeping the handling of stock to an absolute minimum and of reasonably quick turnaround time. After ten years of experimenting with different ideas, the train turntable was still the only one that seemed to answer both of these needs.

The discovery of the UK company Station Road Baseboards via my good friend Roger Porter led me realise that there may be a better way to implement the turntable than the prototype version of a decade ago. This company sells some really snazzy pieces of hardware that assist a modeller to construct the type of turntable I had in mind. The magazine articles were really just the last piece of the puzzle that fell into place and propelled me to construct the current project.  

I’m approximately 60% of the way through the construction of the turntable: a point where I can assess whether my version of the basic concept is actually going to work in practice as well as it does in my theoretical modelling. And yes, “theoretical modelling” is just a fancy way of saying in my imagination as I drive to work and fall asleep at night. As the better half spent the weekend in the big smoke with the kids recently I was able to put some more work into the turntable. I really wanted to lay some track on it to allow me to run a wagon across the gaps in the rail and test the basic concept. As you will see in the photos accompanying this text, I managed to lay two of the four storage tracks and successfully completed the simple wagon test of running across the rail gaps. The thing works and functions as planned but there are still some bugs to iron out.

In developing this design I was concerned about a couple of things and one of the biggest was the possibility of the ends of the turntable “drooping” as it was turned. To stiffen up the 9mm plywood I used as the sub roadbed I’ve run lengths of solid 3mm thick aluminium angle down each edge of the table. I also took a bit of inspiration from the real railways and installed some truss cables to allow a bit of adjustment in case there’s any unwanted droop. The trussing is made from the stainless steel cable and hardware used in the installation of veranda railings. Each cable has a turnbuckle in the centre to allow me to put a bit of upward tension on the ends of the table. I bought my components from a component outlet and not one of the big chain hardware stores. In general the quality of the items from the big chains is fairly low and the price is fairly high. The place I bought my components from also loaned me at no charge the snips and crimping pliers I needed to complete the installation.

At this stage the main problem I’m having is that my aluminium module base isn’t yet stiff enough to ensure a minimum of movement of the central pivot point, causing me some problems with adjustment and alignment. I constructed the turntable on a trolley table that gave it full support along its entire length. As soon as I hooked the new module back up to the layout it was suspended at each end with the centre being unsupported as it would be under exhibition conditions. This caused the centre to drop a couple of mm and caused some problems with alignment. Once all the track is laid I will clad the sides of the module in a layer of 6mm mdf on three sides and this should eliminate this problem. It is this outer skin that provides the modules with a good deal of their stiffness.

Thus far the experiment has been a success. There’s still a long way to go before I’ll be prepared to say call this success unqualified.

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