Electrical Archaeology

I started work on refurbishing the second module of Queens Wharf this weekend. I was thinking about this layout today as I began working on re-wiring it and realised that it’s well over 10 years old. What first brought this to my attention was having to clean the underside of the layout segment of dust, cob webs and dead spiders. Queens Wharf has spent about 90% of its existence packed away sitting in the corner of sheds and garages and as such it has accumulated quite a bit of dust and debris, in addition to quite a bit of redundant wiring and out of date electrical technology.

The most recent jobs I’ve completed have been on one end of Morpeth. I needed to adjust the entry hole through the backdrop on the end of the layout opposite the fiddle yard end (the end near the hole in the wall). The plan was to remove about 250mm of track that leads up to the bridge and replace this with the start of the curve that will lead out onto the new section of layout. This extra length will allow a slightly bigger radius on the curve than would have otherwise been the case. The track at this spot had a slight curve to it however it was leading in the wrong direction to the left and the new curve heads off to the right.

The slight curve in the track beyond the bridge can be seen in this photo. For the new layout section I need the track to curve to the right so this short length of track was removed and will be replaced by a curve that heads in the correct direction. To accomodate this curve I also had to cut a slice out of the backdrop to enlarge the hole on the right had side. This will be hidden behind the mill that will eventually replace the gray cardboard mock-up that can be seen in this shot.

The slight curve in the track beyond the bridge can be seen in this photo. For the new layout section I need the track to curve to the right so this short length of track was removed and will be replaced by a curve that heads in the correct direction. To accommodate this curve I also had to cut a slice out of the backdrop to enlarge the hole on the right hand side. This will be hidden behind the mill that will eventually replace the gray cardboard mock-up that can be seen in this shot.

This work required me to remove the photo backdrop from the module and while I had this off I did some checking of clearances and curve radii. I had drawn all the elements up on a plan but I like to have the objects in place to do on site checks and adjustments before I’m finally sure everything will work. I did some measuring and decided that I could reasonably fit in a curve at the end of Morpeth yard that will have a radius of 1420mm (approximately 4′ 9″). This is less that I would have liked but I’m going to have to live with it. All the locos that I can reasonably justify on a line like this will quite happily negotiate a 1420mm radius curve, however I would have liked to stay above 1500mm (5′) but then we can’t have everything. Once I had the layout in place without the backdrop I cut out a curve template from corrugated cardboard that I had been holding onto for just this purpose. I clamped one end of this in place adjacent to the bridge on the module and held the rest of the curve in place on some temporary props to check clearances. I was happy enough with this outcome except for the need for the radius under 1500mm.

This photo illustrates how I tested the clearances around the curve that will eventually take up permanent residence in this corner. All this took was about half an hours work. I consider the time well spent as it settles in my mind that there is space for a curve with this radius. I don't like relying on plans before I start cutting up materials.

This photo illustrates how I tested the clearances around the curve that will eventually take up permanent residence in this corner. All this took was about half an hours work. I consider the time well spent as it settles in my mind that there is space for a curve with the proposed radius. I don’t like relying on plans before I start cutting up expensive materials.

Today I moved my attention back to the other side of the room and started work on the second section of Queens Wharf. This section should need the least amount of work however I’ve been caught out by this assumption before. I separated the two halves of QW and put the half I would be working on atop my mobile work table. This table has wheels and a wide, flat work surface and is without a doubt the most used piece of equipment in my train room. Make yourself one, you will not regret it! I will eventually remove the old backdrop and replace this with a new section of MDF and apply a new photo backdrop to this but before I did this I decided to turn the old girl on her side and take a look at her underside.

I’ve said before on this blog that I enjoy wiring: I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s because I see it as a puzzle that needs to be solved and I like the logic that needs to be brought to the task. After I’d taken stock of what was under the layout I decided that there were a few changes I wanted to make, some of which had been planned, some that have only become apparent since taking a close look at the old wiring. The first change was that I wanted to install a second NCE Switch 8 on Queens Wharf to supplement the one on Morpeth. I had used toggle switches on QW to change the orientation of the points however I liked the way the Switch 8 had worked on Morpeth so I installed one as a first step in refurbishing the layout. The next thing I did was remove a small amount of redundant wire and some old plugs and sockets that had been used in the layout’s life as an exhibition layout. All the track droppers were left in place but I had to run new wiring to the Switch 8 and this is when it became apparent that the change from cobbled together, experimental “temporary” exhibition layout (the bloody thing has lasted 12 years) to a segment of a “permanent” home layout was slightly more challenging than I’d first imagined. The original wiring on QW all ran in the opposite direction to its current orientation. What I mean by this is that where the power entered the layout was at the other end from where it will now come into the layout and this means that some of the wiring, while not being wrong as such, needed to be altered somewhat to take account of this. It’s as if the wiring has a grain, like wood has grain, and expecting the power to just be fed in from the other end of the layout was going against that grain.

Building a layout in segments isn't the solution to every problem but when it comes to wiring, being able to do it on a layout that is on its side like this sure beats being under a layout looking up.

Building a layout in segments isn’t the solution to every problem but when it comes to wiring, being able to do it on a layout that is on its side like this sure beats being under a layout looking up.

With a couple of hours work and one trip to an electrical components retailer (Jaycar) I was able to get most of the wiring completed. When I started work on Morpeth I standardised the colour coding of the wiring. Having now gone back and taken a good look at the wiring on QW I’ve discovered that I wasn’t quite so strict in my colour coding. I’m remedying this as I see the need, however I do tend to hold to the adage that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I’m now preparing sockets, plugs and jumper cables to allow me to hook up the various layout segments. Once this job is completed I’ll be able to move onto building the new section of layout.

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