Re-purposing and Recycling

I’ve put a great deal of work into the layout over the past couple of weeks but don’t seem to have laid much track or constructed any benchwork. Most of the work has been under the layout making cabinets and doing wiring. After deciding that I needed to order some new points for the storage sidings I couldn’t really make any progress on that side of the layout so I moved back round to the “well” that is the operating area that sits between Morpeth and what’s left of Queens Wharf. I’d gradually been getting large components of the layout in place and joining these up with new benchwork but I hadn’t put any serious work into wiring any of this up. There was a jumble of electrical cords, tools and DCC components spread about in front and on Morpeth so I decided it was time to do something permanent about this mess. I started work by once again marveling at my father’s eclectic taste in furniture.

I was talking to my sister about the history of this chair (the only surviving member of the original four) and its accompanying dining table over Christmas a week or so ago. She reckons my father purchased it in about 1972 from David Jones in Parramatta in Sydney. That makes it approximately 45 years old and until this week it was still fulfilling its allotted role. Until that is I decided my bum hurt while I was sitting at my modelling bench.

I have a theory that my father was a frustrated beatnik and this expressed itself in his taste in furniture and household fittings. The table survived until about 1977 and somehow this single chair remains in my possession mainly due to the fact that it was one of the few chairs that would fit under my modelling desk which I’ve used for the past 18 years or so. However the other day I found that my nether regions were less than comfortable sitting on the period black vinyl of this old chair so I kicked the cat off the replacement I’d purchased a couple of years ago and decided to re-purpose my dad’s old chair into a new role.

My layout may not be very far off the ground but I’m way too old to be crawling around on the floor trying to wire upside down without some mobility aids. A bit of scrap timber, 4 trundle wheels and an hour later I have a new, deluxe wiring trolley.

So after I’d partially addressed my aging body with the new trolley chair I decided to put some thought into where all my DCC components would be housed. When I’m wiring a layout I like to have the terminal points sorted so I have a spot where I’m running the wires to. I don’t like things on shelves up under the layout: for me the best way to house the various electronic boxes that form my DCC system, the power packs and the hundred and one other bits and pieces needed are best housed in a cabinet or shelf unit located underneath but in line with the front of the layout where it’s neat but easily accessible. I’m not climbing under this layout one more time than I need to.

This little three door cabinet was used many years ago on my last permanent layout Trundlemore. Funnily enough its allotted role then was to house the power packs and boxes for he DCC system.

About 1995 I was in the middle of building my last permanent layout Trundlemore when I constructed a cabinet from MDF to house the power packs and DCC system for the layout. This cabinet has followed me half way round the state over the years being used for a range of purposes but as it was originally built to house electronic components I felt it would be honoring it to place back in this role. I gave it a bit of a wipe down, reattached the back, removed the transformers that had sat unused in it for the past 20 years and fixed a sticky door. I then dragooned the better half into helping me haul it upstairs where I have spent a good deal of time getting it back in service. A whole bunch of cables and wires run out of the back of that center cupboard but the very best part of using this small cabinet for the layout is that I can lean down and flick the switches on about half the equipment that needs to be turned on to operate the layout. I hate power cords sprawled over the floor. That power board is anchored in the cupboard.

This little shelf unit took me about 3 hours to make from some ply my partner picked up for $20. I got the leftovers for free after she’d used what she needed. This little unit sits about 1.5m from the cabinet in the other photo but about 10m as the track runs along the layout. Hence the NCE booster unit sitting on the bottom shelf.

I’ve been listening to a lot audio books and podcasts over the past few weeks (This American Life being one of my favourites) as I’ve worked on the layout. These are all stored on my now hopelessly out of date iPod Nano which has no Wi Fi or blue-something capability. As soon as I got sick of carrying my little iPod dock up and down the stairs of the layout room I asked Santa to see if he could bring me a new one that could remain in place, thus allowing me to just carry the iPod itself back and forth. What a saga this request turned out to be. No one, and I mean no one, makes iPod docks anymore. “It’s all wireless these days bud” was the response from one bearded goof I spoke to in an electronic shop. I would have shot back with “I had a wireless before the invention of smashed avocado you young whipper snapper” if I’d thought of it in the shop and not half an hour later on the drive home. You’d think I was asking to be sold an Edison gramophone from the expressions on the faces of the hip young things in places like JB HiFi where I asked about the possibility of buying such a device.

Anyway the better half took on the challenge of getting me something from the “net” for Christmas and lo and behold, when I opened my gift on Christmas morning there was an Apple “Universal Dock” in my lap. However disappointingly these have no speakers so another trip to the dreaded JB HiFi was required. Upon exiting said store I had purchased a cable that I worked out cost about 25c per centimeter and a small Sony speaker box that cost approximately 3 times what my iPod was purchased for in the Jurassic era about eight years ago. However I am triumphant because I can now listen to my podcasts as I work on the layout in clear, crisp tones and I wasn’t beaten into submission by a dark corporate cabal and forced to buy a device with WiFi or Houndstooth or some new-fangled technology that won’t work in four years time anyway because no one has ever heard of it! Oh and there’s a bit of space left over to house an NCE Power booster and a transformer for the Tortoise machines on this part of the layout too πŸ™‚


Appetite For Destruction

I’ve managed to get a fair bit of time on the layout this past week in the lead-up to Christmas with only the occasional interruption due to the better half wanting me to work on her walk in wardrobe or the cat demanding to be fed thus making a trip to the supermarket necessary. I managed to do about 75% of my Christmas shopping online this year but this paled by comparison with the number and variety of materials and supplies I’ve been buying for the layout online.

I’d started this past week with the firm intention of laying at least some of the track in the storage yard, however it only took the consumption of one beer while I sat looking at the length of the storage lines leading to the turntable to make me realize that a major revision to the plan was called for. I will now have 6 storage lines instead of 5 and all of them will be significantly longer after the inclusion of some curved points which have been pushed something like 750mm further back up the yard. Of course the first thing I did after I decided to make this change was to take stock of the curved points I had on hand. I would need 2 left hand ones for this change and another for the entrance to the yard in Raworth, a stop on the line that is yet to be built. Great news, I had 4 curved Peco points in the cupboard, all of them right handed. @%&%$*&! πŸ™‚ I placed an order online with my usual supplier but having only placed this 4 days before Christmas my plans to lay some of the storage lines was going to have to wait. What to do next?

I spent a few hours refurbishing a small cabinet that I built something like 20 years ago to house my power packs and electronic boxes on my last HO layout. As I’ve not had a permanent layout in the intervening years when this layout came down the cabinet was trundled around the state with me and last saw service as a “make-do” spray painting station. I need somewhere to house my DCC system, the power packs to supply the command control system and other layout functions, a place to gather the power cords in place at a power board and a place to store all the other paraphernalia that goes along with these needs like throttles and cords. I decided that it would be honoring this little cabinet to place it back in service in its original function and a few hours work to remove various additions, extract some very old transformers and adjust a door that was always sticky saw it carried upstairs ready to be pressed into service next week.

The next logical job on the layout was to “fill the gap” at Queens Wharf created by the splitting of this little layout into two parts to allow for the extension of the loop. I’d already decided that within the yard limits of QW I would hand lay the track to match the track that already exists there so this meant getting the roadbed installed within the yard and making a start on laying the track. I commenced work by carrying out some work on the new bench work tables that the layout is now sitting on and securing the layout to these. I then made some adjustments to some ply roadbed pieces I’d cut up weeks ago and which had been sitting on the layout gathering tools on their surfaces while I worked on other projects. I’ve made a start on the track and I’ll detail my method of hand laying track in a follow-up post but in this post I thought I’d detail how I started with the remnants of a small portable layout and ended up with almost none of this left in its original condition.

This photo shows what was left of Queens Wharf after I’d installed it on its new benchwork. So this where I started about 3 days ago. You can see where things have changed as I split the layout in two and inserted a section of benchwork in the middle to allow a longer passing loop. I haven’t finalized what’s going to eventually be installed in this extended QW but I do know that I want to model an oil siding and I want this model to include some storage tanks. In 7mm these tanks are “big” and while I probably won’t install all of the ones even a small depot would have on site I think two isn’t out of the question. I’ve been considering A as the most likely location but this site is very restricted because of the goods shed at B. It would be good if I could shift the goods shed. Also the track and associated benchwork at C was a piece of extra trackΒ  I’d installed when I last tried to press QW into service as a destination on a layout but I was restricted to only about 250mm of extra track. I kept looking at this section of layout and thinking “maybe I should remove those stubby lengths of track and start again”. D is the station area of QW and this is largely based on the prototype: if this station stop was going to remain Queens Wharf it really needed to be left in place but it would be really nice to be able to move it closer to the camera so it isn’t crammed up that end of the yard.

When I decided to use QW and Morpeth in the construction of this layout t was intended to be a head start on construction. The restrictions and challenges of trying to cram the two layouts into this space would be compensated for be having a detailed layout up and running much faster. If the process of getting the layouts to fit led to significant portions of those layouts either having to be abandoned or discarded then I may as well start from scratch and build an entirely new layout.

A little bit of leverage and the removal of some screws allowed me to clear the whole end of the QW yard giving me more breathing room for the oil depot and the later installation of a new goods shed a little further down the line.

I started by wondering what was holding the goods shed in place: two screws and a little paint was the answer so this scene is now sitting on a shelf in my storage cupboard. I really couldn’t see the point of leaving the stubby lengths of track in place at this end of the yard as these were only “make-do” anyway so I removed the track and the associated benchwork. Now that I have a clean slate I’ll put some thought into what I’m going to do with this space as I digest my Christmas Biryani. For some reason the better half has decided were going to go with Indian food for Christmas day celebrations this year πŸ™‚

While I was under the layout I decided to determine what was securing the station platform and waiting hut scene to the benchwork: very little it turned out. I gave the scenery base it was sitting on a gentle poke with my fingers and the whole scene lifted. So I pulled the whole scene free from the layout and placed it further up the line just to see if it would fit.

This is the shape of things with the station centered on the main and sitting where it should, not crammed down the end of the scene where it has always been. The reason it was that far down the line was simply a lack of room. I was considering removing the signal from this scene anyway as it was hidden behind the town scene and was virtually invisible. So having the whole scene relocated will expedite this change of location beyond the shop in the distance.Β 

I will have to consider whether I like the station in this location and also whether I wish to leave the station facilities as they were at the real QW which were spartan indeed. In my expanded and enhanced QW such a small, open platform seems a little out of place. An A2 or A3 station building would seem more appropriate for this location. Who knows, Queens Wharf station platform may get a new lease of life at a location a little further up the line. Then again, I might just leave things as is.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Resources & Materials

I haven’t kept detailed records but I’ve probably been collecting resources and materials to help build my new layout for at least 4 years. There are track components and some timber and hardware that have been kicking around for probably 15 years and which will find or have found a home in the construction of the layout. I picked up some parts for construction when the Aussie dollar was high against the US dollar and UK pound a few years ago and I would guess this has saved me a considerable amount of money. However I purchased my fourth sheet of 12mm plywood today, my second bulk box of wood-screws (500 6Gx40mm this time) along with a seemingly never-ending line of 3X1 pine and some more 3mm and 6mm MDF. I also discovered that for some reason I have 4 right hand points of one particular type and no left hand ones and of course it was a left hand one I needed. That plan went down the drain quick smart!

This point is probably the most critical piece of track-work on the entire layout. It will serve as one leg of the triangle of track that permits the exit and entry of all trains into and out of the storage yard. It’s position is also critical because unless I get this right the radius of the main line curves will be smaller than planned thus restricting what stock I can run. In addition it sits on top of the junction of four pieces of ply, there are two changes of elevation commencing just beyond it (one up, one down), the track bed transitions from plain ply in storage to sitting on the white purlin tape just beyond it. To add to the fun eventually a line of track to the coal branch will cross about 11cm above this location, thus making it the most difficult point on the layout to access. What could go wrong? πŸ™‚

I’ve made very pleasing progress over the past week on the layout. What I really want to do is get all the track laid in the area of the curve that connects QW and Morpeth (the subject of the video I posted a week or so ago) so I can mask it off and spray the track with a flat earth colour so I can commence some scenery. This is very doable but to lay the two lines that exit this area of the layout I really needed to install the roadbed in the section of the layout just beyond it so that the track will be where it’s needed and not where I guesstimate it will go. So lots of cutting, chopping, line drawing and light installing have taken place to allow the laying of about 4 meters of plain track leading out of the curve to parts beyond.

The two lines that lead from the curve (you can see them in the photos coming through from the lighted layout beyond) exit this section via some holes I cut in the backdrop last week. Before I could build and install the benchwork on the other side of the backdrop, and thus lay the track bed over this, I decided I had to do something about the lighting over the curved section of layout. I pressed two lighting “trays” that have been sitting leaning against the walls of various sheds of mine for probably the past 10 years that were custom-built for Queens Wharf. I couldn’t see much point in making new ones. I decided not to make too many changes but the stands that I made to hold these above QW weren’t high enough so I had to purchase some more lengths of aluminium to get these to the required height and then install the lights and wire them up. Along the way I managed to blow a fuse and plunge everything into darkness but it all seems to be working as intended. The reason I needed to deal with the lighting at this stage was for similar reasons to building benchwork on a part of the layout that isn’t supposed to be the bit I’m working on. It was because if I leave it till after this particular benchwork is installed access to the area will be strictly curtailed.

The next step was to build some more benchwork which shouldn’t have presented any problems but because I didn’t make one simple check at the start I had to construct it three times and pull it apart twice. I eventually got it built and commenced cutting up lots of “bananas” of 12mm ply to act as track bed for the track to be laid on it. After my tribulations with the lights and the benchwork things went remarkably smoothly and by late Sunday afternoon I’d managed to get the track-bed at the storage yard throat installed and the point at this critical juncture positioned, ready for installation.

After checking and measuring half a dozen times and trying out different locations and ideas I managed to position the point for the yard throat in its final location. It ended up almost exactly where the plan (pictured in the foreground) said it was going to be. Wonders never cease! πŸ™‚ It’s just sitting in position in this photo but I’ve cut the hole for the point motor in the track bed and you can see the wired up motor sitting to the left.

The better half and I made a Bunnings run this morning and for once I bought more stuff than she did. But she’s building a house, I’m only building a model train layout! πŸ™‚ What this brought to mind was just how much material and resources you burn through when you really get started on building a layout of this size. I was doing a little wiring the other day and my normally pristine layout room went from neat to messy in a few hours. It’s an indication of how much stuff I’m using.

This may not look very messy to you but for me it’s a disgrace! I don’t like mess and I would normally have cleaned up by now but there’s no point until I finish producing the rain of debris causing the mess and that won’t be till I’ve laid all the track at this location and wired it all up.


Holes In The Sky

I’m not sure whether I’ve ever mentioned this here but I spent a portion of my misspent youth training as a carpenter. I never realized that this would come back to bite me when my better half had me slaving in her walk-in robe this past weekend installing a set of cupboards. Any normal person, who didn’t have a partner who had been partly trained as a carpenter 40 years ago, would get someone who knows what they’re doing in to do such work. Or at least they might have bought flat packs. I was presented with a pile of melamine planks which I proceeded to cut, trim and swear at for most of Saturday and a portion of Sunday morning. On a positive note the builder of the house stopped by to argue with Louise about who was going to have to bear the cost of altering a vanity unit and he asked me if I did this professionally. I said “no, I have to sleep with the home owner to get the work” but I was very chuffed about being mistaken for a “professional”. I also got a “wow” from Louise and a “you could make a living doing this” which coming from her was high praise indeed. She does her own skirting boards so she knows her way around a mitre saw! πŸ™‚

Because of being in wardrobe mode I wasn’t able to get to the layout over the weekend but have had some leave to indulge myself over the past few days and things have been moving a pace!

As can be seen the backdrop is in place and the holes cut for the passage of track and trains. I can now get moving on laying some track.

I won’t bore you with a description of the number of times I trooped up and down the stairs between the workshop and the train room or the complicated sequence of laying track-bed so I could check calculations for the holes that needed to be cut in the backdrop but without being able to install things permanently yet but take my word for it, the D-Day invasions were a simple exercise in logistics by comparison. I could have used Eisenhower and Marshall to lend a hand today but all I had was Phil, and a sterling job he did too πŸ™‚

The key step that needed to be taken was the permanent installation of the photo backdrop and I was just about ready for that to happen today. Phil had agreed to come over and help me but he was on a tight schedule so we had no time to spare. I’d screwed the backdrop into place over the past couple of days but I needed to cut two holes in the backdrop before we could install this and these had to be checked for clearance before we could finally stick the backdrop to the MDF. After a bit of cleaning, sanding and line marking with the laser level we were ready to go and things went pretty well in my opinion. We had a quick chat and Phil was off to the dentist or the gerontologist or some such medical practitioner. I was left to ponder my next move and started laying track. Yipeee! πŸ™‚

Building The Gap To Bridge

If you’ve been in this hobby for a while and built a couple of layouts you’ll be aware that making models of things like bridges and culverts takes a bit of planning but not just for the models themselves. I find planning out and preparing the location of a bridge is as important to a successful scene as the model of the bridge itself. Unlike the real railways, modellers have to plan the gap just as much as they have to plan the bridge that’s used to span it. I’ve spent today putting my plan for a gap I want to build a bridge over into action.

It would be fair to say that I’ve spent a good deal of time planning where the main bridge scene on my new layout was going to be located and also how I’m going to allow trains to run over this spot for the next couple of years until I’ve decided what type of bridge is going to be built in this location. The NSWGR had a number of standard designs they used to span waterways and gullies and my bridge will follow one of these designs, the most common of these being the wooden trestle.

This photo shows a fairly typical example of a NSWGR wooden trestle. I don’t know what the stats are on this type of bridge but I would guess they constitute well over 70% of the bridges and culverts used on the NSW railways.

I love the practical and robust design of the NSWGR standard wooden trestle bridge and the only bridge on the Morpeth line was built to this design. I’ve built several examples of this style of bridge in different scales, the most recent being to 7mm scale for the layout Stringybark Creek about nine years ago.

I built this bridge for Stringy Bark Creek about 9 years ago as a favor to a friend. I was happy with the result but I don’t have a photo of it with the scenery completed.

The problem for me is not so much that I’m concerned about whether I can build a wooden trestle for Morpeth but rather that I don’t know whether I want to limit myself by not building something a little more ambitious. I’ve built wooden trestles before, I’d like to tackle something a little more challenging.

I’ve been on leave from work this week and between building and installing a wardrobe for the better half over the weekend I’ve managed to put in some time on finally starting to lay some track bed on which the first new track will be laid. Very exciting! πŸ™‚ Of course the first place I decided to install this track bed was at the one really suitable location for the bridge I want to build so my planning over the past couple of weeks has been around ensuring that this section of track bed can allow trains to pass over it for the next couple of years and eventually allow for easy removal and installation of a bridge model when I get around to building it. The site is on a curve and subject to a 1.2% grade which, while not terribly steep, means that the bridge that will eventually stand at this spot will need to be constructed to allow for this grade change and the 1.5m curve at this location on the layout.

This photo shows the new track bed in the process of being installed. The turnouts sitting on the plywood are Peco products and are in roughly the position they will occupy on the layout.

I started work by measuring out and installing a section of straight and level track bed. Starting with this section would allow me to position two critical turnouts that I will use as a datum for the installation of the other track. The track to the right in this photo near the Saxa Salt sign on the side of the building is about 25mm (1″) lower than the point where the curve connects to the ply section the turnouts are sitting on. The bridge is going to be installed at the curve between the uprights in the right hand side of this photo.

This shot shows the track bed for the bridge section in place. The ply curve shown is actually three short segments that are held in place by screws with connecting plates cut from more 12mm ply.

What I want to be able to do is lay track and get some trains running and when I’m ready, come back and install a bridge model I’ll build to fit this spot. The challenge is in ensuring that the track and track base can be easily removed so that the model can be installed in its place. I achieved this ability to remove the track bed by cutting two lengths of ply road bed and using the lower one to support the uprights that hold the upper track bed in position. I made a cut at each end of the track bed and then screwed this section back in place using four short screws in positions on the far corners of the curve so that they can be easily unscrewed, thus allowing the ply curve to be removed for replacement by the bridge.

I’ve unscrewed and removed the track bed in this photo to illustrate the way this allows for the later installation of the bridge model I will eventually make for this site, if I can settle on a style of bridge I like πŸ™‚



Backdrop Tests

I managed to get the MDF backdrop installed over the last couple of days and rolled out the photo backdrop I have to test it for size. It isn’t quite long enough to go the full length of what I need but I have a plan to bridge the gap in an unobtrusive corner to the left of this photo. If I can install the backdrop I’m right to start laying a bit of new track.

After I’d installed the backdrop MDF backer I clamped the photo backdrop in place to evaluate it and test it for length. I’m happy enough and using the one I already have on hand will allow me to progress to track laying which is what I’m really looking forward to.

I also found some time to cut and lay the table tops for the storage yards. I wanted to ensure that the line of the central track was perfectly in line with the line of the turntable when it’s at “home”: exactly parallel to the edge of the table. I couldn’t rely on the table as I knew it wasn’t perfectly square so I got out my laser level and set it up to throw a ling down the center of the storage table and across the track on the turntable. By sighting along this line I could easily work out when the track would be in perfect alignment. Once this line of track is laid the other storage sidings can be laid using this as a datum.

I haven’t convinced myself that I’ve got a perfectly parallel line as yet but this photo illustrates what I’m getting at far better than me trying to explain it in words. I know the track on the turntable is exactly parallel with the edge of the table. By sighting down the laser line I can easily tell if the track will be lined up with this or not. Easy as! πŸ™‚

I’ve been booked up by the better half to build her a wardrobe tomorrow but I hope to have some new track laid in the storage sidings before the weekend is out. I might also be able to get some track laid on the scenic portion of the layout if I can convince some friends to come over for the day to help me hang the backdrop in place. Many hands and all that… πŸ™‚