The Problem With Tides…

There is only one small problem with the tide of progress; it may come in but it bloody well goes out again just as often. After seven days of fairly steady work on Morpeth’s track I feel like I’m about where I was two days before I started. Let me start where we were at the end of the video I posted over a week ago…

I’ve owned this CIL 60′ turntable for about 10 years and it’s only been installed on a layout for about 12 months of that time. After I removed it from Morpeth I no longer had the box it came in to store it so it took a little damage over the years. This photo shows how I glued the one of the handrails that had come adrift back in place at the same time I was gluing one of the rails back into position.

If I’m not mistaken (not having watched my own video again) I was saying in the video update that the track was essentially all down in Raworth and that I was testing 2002 through all the points and on the newly laid track. What a saga that’s turned out to be!

After completing some minor repairs to the turntable in Raworth yard I moved back to the triangle at the entrance to the storage sidings and installed a PSX-AR unit from DCC Specialties which switches the polarity under the trains on the triangle. This replaced another polarity switch I had installed in this area that didn’t like working with the PSX zone cut off switches I’d installed for the whole layout, in spite of the fact that this original “budget” unit was from the same manufacturer. The PSX-AR worked beautifully, so much so I decided it was time to start testing the track and points that make up this most complicated section of track-work, something I hadn’t really been able to do up to this point. This is when the problems really started.

I ran 2002 around the entire triangle and the electronics worked fine so thumbs up DCC Specialties and Tony’s Train Exchange who have done a roaring trade with me over the last few months 🙂 However while I did managed to determine that the PSX-AR unit was working as prescribed I found that 2002 kept derailing on the curved Peco turnouts that sit on all three approaches to the triangle. I need you to be aware that the triangle is the core of the operational design of Morpeth: a train can’t travel too far from somewhere to anywhere else without running through the triangle. And my beloved scratch built loco, the loco that is synonymous with the Morpeth line, can’t get through the turnouts that infest this part of the layout. As I pointed out in the most recent video I did some modifications to her but she still kept derailing.

To cut a very long story short I tried to implement some fixes on one of the turnouts and after a very unproductive morning over a week ago I decided to pull the thing out and build a replacement!

This photo shows the Peco turnout about to be uninstalled and my hand-built replacement. Things have progressed considerably since this photo was taken with the hand built unit now installed with a Tortoise sitting under it ready to be wired up.

To build a curved turnout I needed to download and learn how to use Templot, the track design software that is available free if you are so inclined. Because I was only trying to design a paper template for a single turnout and not something truly complicated it took me only a few hours to churn out what I needed and I had the turnout built about 24 hours after printing out the template. This turnout has the same outside radius as the Peco turnout it was replacing but the inner radius needed to be about 200mm tighter than the Peco variety, but this is still above my minimum radius. The reasons for this are a bit complicated but are bound up with the fact that I built my turnout as a #6 whereas the Peco turnout has a frog number somewhere in the 5s. This track in this area of the layout was the first track I laid when I started building Morpeth and I’d been telling myself that when I came back and built the bridge that will sit about 700mm further down the line from this turnout that I’d replace the Peco track with hand made track. As the track had mostly been lifted and I’d replaced a Peco turnout with a hand made one I decided to pull all the track up along the main line and replace it all with hand made code 125 track. That’s been going on for about 6 or 7 days.

This photo shows one of the areas where the Peco track has now been replaced with hand laid. I’d only run a few locos over this transition point and hadn’t really been happy with the way the trains behaved so I decided to not just replace the Peco track but also lift about 150mm of the old hand laid track on Queens Wharf and re-lay new track right across the baseboard join to give me a nice smooth crossing. Before I could do that I removed Lawson’s Stores from it’s foundation (built by my friend Stephen Reynolds and named after my mother Joan whose maiden name was Lawson) so it wasn’t damaged. You can see the foundation of the shop in the foreground.

So a couple of days ago I’d reinstalled track from Queens Wharf round the curve and over where the bridge will eventually reside, then installed the new point, in went new Tortoise motors under this and a Peco turnout that was still in place and then I started to work on the track that curves into Morepth yard. This was another transition point where Peco track meets hand laid and another spot where I was less than happy with the way the trains travelled across the join. Everything was going well till this morning when I took the last lengths of track out to the layout and commenced laying it. Well I tried to lay it but the bloody stuff refused to go in and I discovered I’d made a mistake and made 2 yards of track to the wrong radius. This isn’t flex track, you can’t just bend it a bit tighter to make it fit! It needs to be completely remade from scratch…

What did Fred Flintstone used to say when he swore? &*$#%^! I rarely drink and never alone but as I write this I’m sipping on a very pleasant whiskey blend that goes by the name of American Honey.

Till next time, happy modelling. You do the modelling, I’m taking up Macrame! 🙂


Always Something New

I took the morning away from the trains today to noodle about on the computer and give myself a break from laying track. I do actually enjoy building track however it can get a little repetitive, especially the plain track. I normally try to break the repetition by listening to podcasts on my ancient iPod and at the moment I’ve been enjoying G’Day Patriots, an Australian take on American politics which I find quite distracting. However it really is for serious political tragics like yours truly, so you have been warned 🙂

Anyway, while I was wasting valuable modelling time at the computer the mailman popped up the driveway and delivered a small package from the UK with the wheels for my next scratch-building project: the SMR 10 class. I’ve been waiting for about 2 months for a package from NWSL in the US with a new motor for my 44 class while this package from Slaters arrived in about 9 days. I’m not sure how lots of US and UK companies can get a package to Australia in just over a week while it takes NWSL two months but there you go. I won’t be buying motors from this source again and will give buying direct from the Maxon site a try next time.

These wheels are not an exact match for those on the SMR 10 class but they’re the correct diameter and have the correct number of spokes so they’re near enough, except for someone who might have been involved in preserving one of the real locos that still exist. As I understand that no example of the class is in operable condition at the moment, this is unlikely 🙂 The photo shows two of the de-flanged driving wheels, a pack of the plunger pickups and the Slaters sprung horn-blocks I’m going to use on this project. I was considering using the same Hobby Holidays ball race horn-guides I used on the 20 class but I had these Slaters products in a drawer and as such they allowed me to avoid the not inconsiderable cost of ordering four sets of the HH variety for the project. 

The 10 class has a 2-8-2 wheel arrangement with the two centre drivers having no flange. Slaters offer a flange removal service which costs two pounds fifty pence per axle (about $AU4.50) so it doesn’t add significantly to the cost. I have all the equipment in the shed and the motivation (I’m a cheap skate) to do just this sort of task myself, so you might ask why I forked out $9 to have the flanges removed from four of the wheels rather than doing it myself. The simple answer is that if I’d been going to do 10 or 20 of wheels (say if I were converting all my locos to S7 standards) then I certainly would have done the job myself. However for only four wheels it just wasn’t worth the set up time or the cost of materials. The amount of metal I’d have needed to use just to set up the work holding jig to remove the flanges would have come out at a lot more than the cost of the Slater’s removal service and this would have been a one use only proposition. Unless I’d been going to reomve the flanges from wheels of the exact some diameter in the future the jig would have essentially sat in a drawer. So as I said yesterday, I like to do things myself but I’m not stupid 🙂

I also spent some time over the past week catching up on my reading and was taking a look at Trevor Marshall’s Port Rowan blog. I was interested to see that Trevor had recently got himself a Sherline lathe and also a mill. After pointing out to him that Sherline had originally been an Aussie company, I wrote and asked him whether he’d written about the reasons for getting the lathe on his blog. Trevor’s a serious modeller and quite a deep thinker about our hobby so I was expecting his reasoning to run the gamut of perhaps a mid-life crisis, being dissatisfied with commercial offerings in his chosen scale, perhaps a developing need for an authentic experience of making things himself or perhaps a long held desire to replicate the fine detail on the models he needed for his layout with the deep satisfaction that comes from this. He replied that he hadn’t written about his reasons for getting the machines and that he bought the lathe because a person he knew was selling it and they offered him a price that was too good to refuse. See, I’m not the only one who likes to make things but isn’t stupid 🙂


I have to admit to indulging myself with a bit of a pat on the back over the past couple of days. I had been planning to continue laying the track on the Raworth coal line but for a couple of reasons I decided to put a hold on that and move back down the line to finish the track laying in Raworth itself. It’s possible that I haven’t been all that clear in my posts that I’ve been using a mix of track and techniques across the layout and Raworth is no exception. On most of the off scene track I’ve been using Peco code 124 bullhead flex track and their matching switches. For the on scene mainline track I’ve been hand laying the majority of the plain track with code 125 ME rail on pre-stained sugar pine Kappler sleepers (ties) and hand building points where these were needed. The vast majority of the switches on scene are actually located within the Morpeth town and QW yards and were thus made quite some time ago, up to 13 years ago in fact. On the sidings and the coal branch I’ve been using the same sleepering but have been using ME code 100 rail. I buy all my ME rail in their 33 piece packs of yard long rail and have used about 4 or 6 packs of this in total mixed between both sizes. I use small ME rail spikes on all the hand laid track and most of this has been laid on 4mm (about 1/8″) ply bases I cut to fit and on which I draw a centre-line. I’ve used a few Peco switches in on scene locations when the circumstances called for a “challenging” point formation (curved switches and a double slip) and I’ve recently used a ModelOKits sleeper layout on the first point I made for the coal branch (as can be viewed in my most recent video Morpeth Video Update #1).

The last small section of track needed for Raworth yard involved building a code 125 switch and installing a 60′ turntable with short lines leading up to this. This turntable is a CIL product and it has made appearances on this blog in the past. However I’ve recently rebuilt the electrical system that lies underneath this piece of equipment and I’m going to hold off writing about it till I’ve installed it and given it a thorough test.

This image shows the section of layout that includes the CIL turntable and the most recent hand-built switch which is sitting in the lower foreground of the photo. The two pieces of 4mm ply road bed can be seen sitting in place (one leading to the turntable and the other to an engine lay-by) prior to having sleepers glued to them. If you look very carefully you may be able to detect where the hand laid track transitions to Peco flex track just before the hole in the backdrop.

I will admit to being knocked over by how easy laying the switch on the ModelOKits point layout was and the time it saved me. So I wasn’t looking forward to having to lay a point in code 125 using my old method of cut sugar pine sleepers. I could have purchased a code 125 point base from ModelOKits however I have some sleeper material I wanted to use up and I was also hoping to save myself a few dollars by not using a laser cut base. So out came the 4mm ply and the paper templates and I’ve got to admit that the switch went together like a dream. It obviously took longer than if I’d been using a cast frog and a laser cut sleeper base but it really took no time at all and everything worked as it should the first time. I took the time to add up as accurately as I could how much the switch cost me to build and the total I came up with was $29.11. If I’d used the MOK switch laying aids you’d have to add something like $55 to this, taking the total over $80. This won’t be completely accurate because I haven’t checked the prices but it is equivalent to buying a Peco r-t-r switch.

So while I’m very chuffed with the low-cost of this switch and the progress I’ve made on the layout this is probably the last code 125 point I’ll make for this layout and unless I build a new layout somewhere along the line, possibly for ever. I’ve got 2 more code 100 switches to build but these are both going to be built on the sleeper bases using frog castings. I like to be careful with my money but I’m not stupid 🙂

Private Coal

Normally I don’t post photos that aren’t mine because I’m very conscious of copyright: I don’t like people using my photos without permission and especially without attribution. However in this case I’m going to pretend it’s justified because I did pay for calendar this scan comes from, I’ve deliberately left the photographer’s name (Bob Grant) on the image and I fully acknowledge the source was this year’s SCR calendar. I would highly recommend buying a copy of the calendar each year because it’s one of the best going. The reason I wanted to post this photo (June 2018) is because it so beautifully sums up the atmosphere I’m trying to create on Morpeth at the moment. The photo was taken at Hexam in 1972, which is not a million miles from where the main northern line branches to Morpeth at East Maitland. This was and still is possibly the busiest stretch of railway line in the country and the fact that a private coal railway crosses the government lines at grade makes it fairly unique in this country where these sorts of crossings were rare.

The coal branch on Morpeth will be a far more modest endeavour than the activity shown in this photo, but the colours and movement type won’t be too far from my South Maitland Railway inspired efforts. I love the colour and heavy industrial nature of this sort of equipment: it may not have been terribly sexy or pretty but there’s a certain utilitarian beauty in this scene that I want to capture on my layout as the 10 class hauls a string of 4 wheel hoppers up the line to the coal tipple.

I haven’t been posting to the blog very much recently, mainly because the work I’ve been doing on the layout has been very repetitive, so there hasn’t been much to add to what I’ve written in the recent past: install some sub roadbed, make some track, lay the track and wire it up! That about sums it up. However I have reached a bit of a milestone by running a train right round the room so the track laying is progressing well although these is still a bit left to do. I need to make 3 more switches, sort out the track to the engine facilities at Raworth and finish laying the track in the yard at the coal loader.

This image shows Raworth yard. All the line has been laid and is now wired and trains are running. The big job left to do is to install a new switch leading to the turntable and engine shed at the bottom left. Once installed the track laying on this part of the layout will essentially be complete.

As I’ve worked on Raworth I’ve been thinking carefully about the type of operation I want to run on this part of the layout. The operation of the coal trains on this part of the layout will involve an exchange of wagons on the balloon loop in Raworth yard. A NSWR loco will either drop off or pick up a string of coal hoppers into the loop and this will then be picked up by the 10 class which will be waiting at the engine facilities just out of the photo above. After hooking up, the hoppers will be hauled up the coal branch to the tipple, loaded and pulled back down the line. I’m going to institute a rule on the branch that the loco must be running forward both up and down the grade so the 10 class will have to be run light down the line after loading at the tipple so it can be turned on the 60′ turntable that will be at the end of the line indicated in the photo above. All runs will include a dedicated brake van at the end of the train and this will not be permitted to be run under the tipple so this should complicate things nicely for any operator doing the coal run. I can envisage this operation happening twice during a normal 2 or 3 hour operating session.

I’ve now decided to go ahead with building a SMR 10 class in the next few months and have purchased the wheels for the project. The NMRA are holding their convention in Brisbane later this year and I’ve agreed to give a talk on scratch building locomotives at the convention. I’m also giving a talk on the same topic at this years Modelling the Railways of Queensland convention. I thought it would be a wise move to be actually building something for these rather than just talk about past projects. I’ve also agreed to open the layout up for the self drive visits of the NMRA convention so there’s a bit of pressure on to get the majority of the track installed and running. And finally I’ve also agreed to take the portable part of Morpeth to the New England Convention in November so you won’t be able to turn around in the second half of this year without seeing my ugly mug pop up 🙂

This image shows the progress of track laying on the coal branch. A loco can now be run up grade to the top of the line but I’ve yet to lay much track on the loop and the third and final section of sub road bed is yet to be installed. The sub-roadbed sticks out over the storage line in the centre of this photo to allow for a little more space to model the coal tipple which will be on this section.

I’ve been putting in quite a bit of work on track laying and I have run a train round the room but I must admit to feeling like a bit of a break from crawling around under the layout. I’ve moved inside today to make a new code 125 switch that will be used in Raworth yard and lead to the turntable there (not the one you can see at the end of the storage yards in the above photo). It won’t be long before I have to really make a move on getting the portable section of Morpeth ready to take to Armidale in November and I have decoders to install into a couple of locomotives so I have more than two locomotives to run on the layout during the open house.

This image shows the yard throat of the storage sidings with the coal branch flyover in place. I did a test on the DCC electronics I have installed in this section of track and (as I expected) I hadn’t set things up right. This required another order of DCC parts from my usual supplier and a wait of a week or so while the package arrives. I can’t install the track on the coal loop above permanently until this arrives and I’ve made some minor adjustments to the rail on this section of layout.