Morpeth Skyrail

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Offcuts and Leftovers

It’s been quite a while since I’ve made a post and I don’t really have much excuse except that I’ve been so busy building the layout. The track has been gradually creeping around the layout room to the point where I really needed to take the bull by the horns and cut some holes in my newly installed walls to allow the trains to travel where they need to thus creating a full circle of track. I’d been unsure about the need for a circle of track but was convinced by friends that it would be a good idea to have this feature and I had originally planned to bypass the hole cutting by having the trains cross the path of the doorways but was talked out of this by another friend. I consoled myself that I could always blame these friends if things went wrong 🙂 After today I’m convinced that there is no doubt that this was the way to go. Having the trains circuit around the room behind the stairs which allows you to enter the room without a duck-under is going to be a long-term benefit as I enter my dotage, if I haven’t already, although getting up the stairs may be just as big a challenge over the same period 🙂

So the day had arrived: well it did about two weeks ago when I cut two holes either side of the cupboard.

This photo which I took a couple of weeks ago shows the interior of the walk in storage cupboard. It shows the first hole cut in the wall on the right but I haven’t yet cut the hole on the other side of the cupboard. The 12mm ply track-bed will sit on one of the shelves so trains will simply pass through. To provide a little more length to the rail yard at Raworth I’m going to place one of the points inside the cupboard. You can see this on the left. You can also see where I’ve cut the noggin “inside” the hole.

This photo shows the hole being cut on the outer wall of the cupboard. These two holes both had a noggin in the place I needed to have the trains pass through and these both needed to be cut. This shot shows a pause in proceedings as I stopped to take the photo. The saw is upside down as I cut up into the noggin. This hole is about 2.5m above the stairs! Straight down…

I cut the holes and did some test fitting of road bed and left things there while I went back and laid some track on the other side of this gradually closing circle. I’ve found having the track in place as I approach critical steps like cutting holes in walls helps with placement and set-up of the track bed as it approaches the holes.

Today I started to set up the brackets that will hold the track-bed above the stairs. I started by bolting six short lengths (420mm long) of 70mmX35mm framing timber to the U channel that is a part of the shed’s structure. This U channel runs around the interior perimeter of the building and is used to hold on the exterior cladding. On the interior you get two screw ledges facing inward to which I bolted the short bracket joists.

As I was working on the stairs, and the joists at the far end of the wall are a good deal higher than me, I needed a way of placing a ladder on the stairs. I built a small box from 15mm ply that sat on one of the steps providing a flat level surface for the step ladders I was using. I did need to be careful as I got up and down the ladders but I was surprised at how safe and stable the arrangement proved to be. It was only after I made the box that I found all the treads on the stairs are slightly different heights so I had to block up the box with scrap ply.

This probably looks more precarious than it is. I made a 600mm long box from ply that sat at the same height as the steps on the stairs. I clamped this to the stair tread it was sitting on and this gave me a surface wide enough to place a step-ladder. The short ladder in this photo was one of three I used to reach the U channel and bolt my joists into position. My partner asked me if I had my medical insurance up to date 🙂

This photo shows the installation of the 4th joist. Only two more to go! 🙂 I clamped each one into position and drilled through pre-drilled holes in the timber into the U channel. After the holes were drilled I secured the joist into position with two bolts which you can see on the surface of the blue timber to the left.

After getting the six joists secured into position (they’re 500mm apart) I then started making up some brackets that would be screwed to these joists at the required height. Because of the noggins the track has to rise about 40mm from where it exits through one hole (next to the doorway you can see in the photos) and re-enters the room through the other hole at the back of the walk in storage cupboard which is inside the train room. So the brackets all need to be at slightly different heights as the track bed rises up grade.

After installing the first three brackets temporarily I was able to place a piece of track-bed on these and mark where the hole needed to be cut in the wall to the right of the doorway at the top of the stairs. I’ll set the height for these brackets and screw them permanently into position when I complete the track inside the room next to the door in the next day or so.

I normally cut my 12mm play track base 9cm wide on all straight and curved single track but I wasn’t convinced that the longest vehicles and locos I have would be able to round the curve on this suspended section of the layout once I installed side walls on all the track base. I did some tests and while the longest loco I have on hand sat within the 9cm edge of the track bed, it was only clearing this by about 1mm. I made the decision to cut the track base at 11cm wide to provide plenty of clearance within the tube that will be created by the track base and the side walls of 3mm ply I’ll attach to them later, after the track is laid.

I’m really just testing clearances here and the track is for demonstration purposes only. The height of each bracket has not been set as yet so these are clamped into an approximate position at this stage. The pencil curves on this piece of ply tells me that it was from one of the sheets of ply we used to test the curves for the layout a few months ago.

Generally speaking I was very pleased with the progress I made today on this part of the project. It was another one of those steps I’d been thinking about and planning for months and it feels gratifying to have cut all the holes in the walls finally and to have made a start on track laying. However the really tricky bit will be cutting and laying the curved section over the highest part of the stairs. I’ve yet to finally decide the best way to hold this track up as it gradually moves away from the wall and heads out into open space.

Everything I installed today was made from off-cuts and leftovers and when I ran out of the framing timber I took a trip over to my partner’s place and raided her stockpile of leftovers from the building of her new home. She told me she wanted that timber to build a dog house. I reckon her black Labrador can sleep in the great outdoors just like she has for the last 3 years, I have a more important use for the timber 🙂

A Lotta Layout

I’ve had a big week on the layout. A couple of friends paid me a visit to help me hang a new section of photo backdrop and all the components are in place to lay the track down the narrow shelf at the bottom of the room. However instead of doing the logical thing and move onto laying the track and wiring things up on this section of layout I decided to go to the other side of the room and build a new bit of benchwork.

This shot shows about 75% of the layout. The empty corner on the left is the last vacant real estate and will soon be filled with benchwork. You can see the corner of the new section of “budget” benchwork peeking out from behind the wall on the far left.

It might seem quite contradictory to anyone looking at the photo above but I don’t consider this layout to be all that big. I’m not really talking scale, the size of the trains or the radius of the curves in this: I just mean the overall size of the room and the layout I’m building in it. When I compare it to other layouts I’ve seen and read about over the years the room I’m building the layout in doesn’t really feel very big. When you build something like this one step at a time it also doesn’t seem as big as when you stop and look back over it. However looking at this photo (which is a narrower version of what I see when I stand in this spot) I’ve got to admit: it’s a lotta layout! 🙂

Because of the size of the layout and the sheer quantity of materials going into it I must admit to becoming a little more cost conscious as I’ve gone along. I had a little timber on hand before I started and I’ve bought a lot since, but I only stopped to add up what each layout section costs me when I built the new section I constructed today and I must admit to getting a bit of a shock. “If one section costs me so much that means…” (and I stopped there because I didn’t want to know the total). And of course that’s without track, wire, DCC components, photo backdrops and a myriad of other electronic bits and pieces I always seem to be waiting for in the mail. I’ve noticed that ad space at the bottom of web pages have started being taken up with adverts for capacitors and plastic terminal blocks. Sorry guys, I’ve already bought those 🙂

My partner (who I don’t actually reside with) has recently been building herself a new home. I was impressed as she laid decking and applied skirting boards around the house but I was even more impressed when she offered me about 12 lengths of 15mm ply (200mm wide) that she’d picked up for $20 and had been using as temporary decking sheets. I happily loaded this into her trailer (which I was borrowing, mine is for trains 🙂 ) and brought it home and stacked it in the corner of my workshop. I wasn’t sure what I was going to use it for but it had definite possibilities. After a couple of weeks I decided to rip these planks into 90mm wide pieces and see how they went being used to make box sections for the layout. I’ve made all my other layout sections from 3X1 pine (72mmX19mm) and while I find this turns out great layout segments it also costs about $70 per section just for the box and legs. I figured I’d save about $50 per section by using the ply. However this didn’t cheapen the cost of the legs. These are 2×2 pine (42mmX42mm) and while this makes great legs it also costs a lot and there’s a lot of waste because up till recently the longest lengths I could fit in my car have been 2.4m. I had about 15 lengths of very expensive off-cuts sitting in a pile about to make the trip to my partner’s wood burning heater until inspiration struck.

I must have been having one of my lucid days yesterday because as I was laying down contemplating my next move on the layout it suddenly occurred to me that I have a moderate degree of woodworking skill and that I was more than capable of cutting a lap joint and making up a number of legs from the pile of little bits I had in off-cuts box. Two hours work, a lot of saw dust and I had six leg blanks ready to be cut to length and have the leveling feet attached to one end.

I made this test section of layout today using the 90mm wide ply I ripped on my table saw and the legs I cobbled together from the off-cuts of other legs. Aside from the cross brace of 9mm ply at the bottom of the legs and the screws holding it together this benchwork was essentially free, saving me about $70. I have enough material to make three more box sections and two more legs.

I rip cut a couple of the 200mm wide ply planks into usable timber and constructed a section of layout benchwork to test whether I liked it or not. I’m not sure how benchwork made in this way will behave in the long term compared from pine but I’m going to make some more sections, lay some track on it and then leave it for quite a while so see if there’s any sagging or problems. If there is I’ll pull it out and replace the boxes with pine.

After removing the required 100mm of material from 12 pieces of 2×2 I glued and clamped the joints and then inserted four 40mm screws into the joint (two each side). So I ended up with six legs salvaged from the off-cuts. I’m fairly confident that these legs are as strong as those made from one piece of solid timber.

My plan is to build the three remaining sections of benchwork and then begin to lay the track on the section of the layout that I applied the photo backdrop to the other day. When I come back and lay all the track on these sections of new benchwork I’ll be ready to cut the three holes in the walls I need to allow the track to join in a circle. This section of track will emerge over a stairway about 1.8m above the stairs That should be fun to build 🙂

Trev Makes a Robot?

In that cinema classic Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey there’s a scene where this big hairy individual goes on a journey in the back of a van with Bill and Ted with Death along for the ride in the passenger seat. The big, hairy guy (I think his name is Station) has to build two replicas of Bill and Ted and after a flurry of wires, electronic components and tools up pop two robot heroes to save the day. Take a look at the YouTube clip, it makes slightly more sense than describing it. Slightly…

This scene from possibly the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen came back to me today as I worked under and over the layout on the control panel for the storage yards on Morpeth. I wish I could say that it only took an hour of riding around in the back of a van with a big, hairy monster to have the wiring done but it wasn’t that simple. However after spending what seems like and age waiting for components to arrive in the mail and in making the various parts I needed to make a start it was good to finally wire up the panel.

I’d already made the panel top and its housing prior to getting to work on installing the wiring. The box was made from 12mm plywood and the panel from 3mm MDF. I find that the angle on the slope of the panel is perfect at 8 degrees.

As all the points in the storage yard’s throat are Peco and these had solenoid switch machines installed I was able to use two NCE QSnap stationary decoders to allow these to be hooked up to my DCC system. As these are then part of the system you can dial up the particular points address number and throw it by using a throttle however I’ve found that even with labeling and instructions I and my visitors find this a bit confusing. The QSnaps come with screw terminals that allow the installation of push buttons so it seemed a natural choice to install a control panel in this part of the layout to aid in operator utility. You can still throw the points using the hands controllers however having a control panel is a good alternative for the visual learners.

This photo is a bit misleading as all it shows is the front of the control panel but nothing is wired into the layout yet. I’ll eventually put some printed decals on this to allow for visual cues for what is what.

In spite of the fact that I feel all layouts of any size benefit from control panels even if these are only located in the “complicated” areas like yards and storage sidings, I’ve learnt from long experience that a visual cue in the form of route lighting is a must. So I bit the bullet and used some 3mm LEDS let into the panel to show which direction the points are thrown to the operator. I was going to use green LEDs however when I visited my local Jaycar they only had red ones in a cheap bulk pack. I decided I didn’t want to wait any longer so I bought the red ones and went with it. I consulted John Parker on a design for route lighting on control panels that doen’t require a separate accessory switch and he sent me a diagram for something similar to what I had in mind. I wanted to use one LED per route and have this light up when the point was thrown in that direction. There are probably all sorts of fancy iterations where you can have green for the selected route and red for the non-selected using bi-coloured LEDs but these are expensive and I could get 50 red LEDs for $13 so I was going to keep it nice and simple: route selected, LED comes on while route not selected’s LED goes off.

This photo shows the back of the control panel. The panel has been partially wired up ready for installation into its box and connection to the rest of the layout. The way I’ve wired up the LEDs means that the two long legs of the LEDs are wired in common with a wire running back to the point’s frog with the other two wires connected to one rail each. The beauty of this is that the LEDs only need one long lead back to the location of the point, the other two poles can be group connected to the track through single terminal points inside the control panel.

I spent today wiring up the buttons and debugging these connections and I’m ready to move onto the LEDs next. I decided at the start that I needed to sort out my labeling on this project so I’ve developed a coding system that breaks the layout into four zones and provides the basis for me to label the approximately 40 points that it will contain. The layout is way too big to just randomly allocate DCC addresses to things and play it by ear. I know where everything is and what it’s allocation is now but I’m not too sure that will work in 5 years time when I’m trying to track a fault.

You can see the labels I’ve applied to both the screw terminals and the button/LED clusters. The numbers correspond to labels that are under the layout on the point motors and the number I’ve allocated to each point in the DCC system. STO = Storage, 1-8 = the number of points in the storage zone and the numbers 30-37 is the decoder address number allocated to that point in the DCC programming. So the second cluster along the plastic terminal blocks is STO2 – 31 which translates as point number tw0 in the storage yard with the decoder address number 31. The labels are just pieces of typing paper out of my computer printer I typed up in Word and stuck to the wood with a glue stick.

Generally speaking I think the labeling and the step by step way I’ve approached this task has really helped me to keep the fault finding and re-wiring I’ve had to undertake to a minimum. However there will be no robot Bills and Teds appearing out of this exercise and that may be a great blessing 🙂