After the Borderline Operators last visit I was left with a list of approximately 10 problems on Morpeth that needed to be addressed. I did make a start on these but weathering some locomotives, DCC decoder installations and signal building got some attention for a couple of months so I only got back to the list a couple of days ago. One of larger goals that’s been sitting at the back of my mind out of the operating sessions I’ve hosted over the past 12 months or so is that I want to install some form of signalling/safe working system sooner rather than later. Over many years of reading about and talking to other modellers about the topic of signals it seems to me that more often than not these are an after thought, something that they’ll eventually get around to when they run out of other jobs to complete. For me this is actually the reverse of how I’ve gone about planning and working on this layout. First and foremost I want to operate on this layout and track, rolling stock and a method of safe working are the critical components to this. I’ve built plenty of layouts and installed quite a bit of scenery however to cover the whole of the Morpeth line with scenery will probably be the work of the next 20 years or so and, if I’m realistic, may never be entirely complete. However I want to operate the layout and have friends over to run trains now, so signals and some type of CTC panel that will mimic a signal box’s role are front of mind.
There were a couple of reasons why I found myself building three NSWGR semaphore 1:43.5 signal kits recently. One was that a friend had asked me to finish building two kits that he’d made a start on himself while the other was that I wanted to do some build testing to see whether I could envision myself building multiple copies of these and similar kits and then installing these on the layout. Before we get too much further into this perhaps I should fess up and admit that I have only a passing interest in signals and very little knowledge of how they work in relation to safe working procedures. Every time I’ve tried to do a bit of research or attend a talk by people who know something about the topic it very quickly becomes eye glazingly confusing and boring. What I eventually install as a safe working system on Morpeth will work it will probably drive anyone who knows a lot about safe working absolutely bonkers! 🙂
I have to admit that the experience of building three of the kits did not lead me to conclude I’d be happy to undertake the construction of something like 17 or 18 of them. This is the number that Ray Pilgrim (who knows a tad about signals) advised me I’d probably need to properly signal Morpeth. 18!!?? 🙂 The kits from KRM are very buildable and make up into a very accurate, working semaphore but 18 of them!!?? It ain’t happening! So when Glenn Scott from ModelOKits recently told me about a Dapol, McKenzie and Holland, 7mm scale, GWR signal that operates, has a light and comes supplied with a servo built for the model and is even supplied with a switch, I was very interested. He sent me a sample to look at and review in an upcoming edition of 7th Heaven. While I may not have a great deal of specific knowledge of signals and safe working I have eyes and can compare a ready to plant signal to one I’ve just built from a kit and I’m buggered if there’s all that much difference. Add to this the fact that it comes ready to install and that it’s only about $25 more than the un-built kit (which will need to be motorized in some way further adding to the overall cost of getting an operating signal) for me it’s a no brainer.
What I’ve been up to over the Easter long weekend is to get back to that list of problems that emerged on the layout from the most recent operating session. I had removed the track at the end of QW yard to tweak the turnouts there and these now needed to be reinstalled. So now it was time to work on the control panels, finish their installation so that they all worked as intended and to do a lot of small to medium wiring jobs that had been left till a more convenient time. The first and possibly most significant of these jobs was the permanent re-siting of the Morpeth yard control panel. I’d made this panel in the lead up to taking the layout to the New England Convention at the end of 2018. It worked ok at the convention but occasionally the panel would refuse to work and when I got the layout home and installed it back in place the problem only grew more common, to the point where the switches on this panel would only operate my point motors something like one in ten times after the layout was powered up. I went through a whole series of different trials and tests, installed a grounded cable between my boosters and still the problem persisted. However there was one thing I hadn’t tried and that was to move the NCE Button Board (which I use to route power via buttons or switches to my Tortoise point motors to the NCE Switch8s) much closer to the Switch8 stationary decoder.
The big test was, after the changes had been made, to turn the layout on and see if the Tortoises would operate when the switches were flicked and the difference was immediately apparent. Prior to this change I’d turn the layout on and 9 times out of 10 there would be no response from the point motors when you flicked a switch on the panel. Nothing. Nada. The first time I turned the layout on this time the motors operated as they should and made that wonderfully distinctive sound all Tortoises make. Success! However I did turn the layout on a couple of times and the old problem came back. I tracked this down to a sequencing issue; if I turn the power to the command station on after the booster sometimes the panel refuses to operate. So this is far from a simple matter where my dodgy installation was the problem. Turns out my dodgy installation was the problem but perhaps only 95% of it. In spite of this light sprinkle of rain on my parade I seems to have largely solved the mystery of the dead control panel and she now sits in place permanently hard wired into the layout.