About Trevor Hodges

I'm an Australian railway modeller working in 1:43.5 (7mm) O-scale. I switched to O-scale over from HO modelling in 2000 and I've never regretted the decision. I have two layouts which both follow New South Wales prototype. Queens Wharf is a small, portable layout that is essentially compete and Morpeth is a larger layout currently under construction.

Things Start To Come Online

This morning I finally managed to get the first of the two new control panels installed and operating. The first was for the yard at Queens Wharf and I did this in conjunction with installing the mini control panel at the super phosphate siding which is outside the yard at QW but still within the control of the QW box.

As I began work on the control panels for both QW and the storage roads I decided that the mini panels for a couple of sidings along the line needed to be installed at the same time. This “mini” panel controls a single turnout just up the line from QW yard. It will allow this siding to become a part of the operating scenario when I have the next operating session in early January.

In spite of putting in a lot of work on the layout and it’s new panels and electrics over the past couple of months I failed to make the deadline for the Borderline Operators gathering in early December. No trains were running and I was the subject of ridicule and finger pointing although that soon stopped when they started stuffing food in their mouths at lunch 🙂 However my friend Phil managed the same feat when the our group met at his place in November so I’m in good company. He was so embarrassed he took off for NZ for weeks in order to avoid small children pointing at him in the street 🙂

There were actually two reasons no trains were running on Morpeth and the fact that I’d essentially pulled the wiring apart on half the layout only partly explained this. For some reason I’m yet to explain one of my power packs decided to turn up its toes and as such when I flicked the switch to start things up Thunderbirds were definitely not GO! I managed to track down this problem and have replaced the offending power pack with a stand in but I’m actually going to see if I can get the dead one repaired as it cost a fair bit and has hardly done a lot of work over the years, spending 90% of its life in storage.

The other main reason for my failure to have trains running in time for the Borderline Operators arrival was that I turned a quick install into a major renovation of the layout by deciding to install new fascia right along the front of QW and down to the doorway at the top of the stairs. About 10 meters of fascia in all. I did this blithely and in the knowledge that things always take far longer than you anticipate. As I began work on the job I realized that I really didn’t want to have to come back and re do this work again later and that meant that, as everything I was going to be doing was to be attached to the outside of the fascia, I had to install some fascia first. It was this which took all the time.

This shot shows the new QW panel in place and a view along the aisle down to where it bends around the end of Morpeth heading for the super phosphate siding and the door. I think this demonstrates clearly what I’m talking about in needing to install the fascia first, before the various control panels and other items along the front of the layout can be installed.

I worked on both installing the fascia and making and preparing the control panels in tandem and I’m generally happy with the way the panels have come up. Actually wiring the QW panel into the layout was quite a quick job really as I’d done so much wiring of the panel and under the layout prior to actually hooking it up.

In the end I managed to get all the features I wanted into this panel. I recycled the housing from the old storage road panel for this one and I would have given myself and easier road if I’d simply built something new with a little bit more space but it all worked out in the end. The turnout motors are thrown by push buttons and the route is indicated by LEDs. All the main features are clearly labelled with decals and I also managed to squeeze in the QW power shield switch.

The electrical upgrade of this part of the layout is now complete. All I have left to do before Jan 8 is hook up the storage road panel. This one includes an NCE Mini Panel and this needs to be programmed so I have my fingers crossed that this isn’t beyond me.

Why Have One When You Can Have Two?

I mentioned in a post the other day that I was working on a new control panel for the storage sidings on Morpeth and work on this objective continues. However in working on this project I’ve had niggling away at the back of my mind that Queens Wharf also needs a control panel. What kept going through my mind was that if I was making one control panel I may as well make two because making two at the same time is only marginally more work than making one… isn’t it? 🙂

As I was going to be installing new control panels on Morpeth I decided it was time to do a few upgrades while I was about it and labels on the diagram and hinges on the panels were a definite must have. Not that you can see either of these in this photo. The labels will be applied when the other panel is at the same stage and while the hinges are installed you’ll have to take my word for it 🙂

Thinking about making a couple of control panels is easy, actually doing the job throws up all sorts of problems. Not the least of these is that while the storage siding’s panel sits on top of the layout and only needs an angled wooden housing (made from 12mm ply) before it can be installed, the QW panel needs to sit on the outside face of the layout’s fascia. As no fascia has actually been installed on the layout yet the first order of business was to install some which will allow the installation of the control panel. So in making a move to install a control panel I end up installing fascia!

Before I could start installing about 8m of new fascia I had to first remove the last of the old fascia from Queens Wharf’s days as an exhibition layout. This was at A where you can see the silver/grey of QW’s aluminium benchwork. I then tested the location of the new control panel by temporarily clamping the 12mm ply housing into position at B. C is new layout and I decided to add fascia here because as I’m installing it along the front of the layout anyway, doing a bit more is only marginally more work than doing just one section! 🙂

After a bit of testing and tweaking I cut up some 1×1 battens which would be screwed along the front of the layout in soldier fashion to which the new pieces of 3mm mdf fascia would be attached. I’ll paint this mdf to match the overall yellow base colour I use for the scenery before I attach such items as throttle holders, plug points for the throttles and control panels.

This shows the battens installed to the front of the layout. They are all 1×1 pine cut to a length of 170mm.

I cut two lengths of 3mm mdf from a sheet I’ve had in storage for just this purpose and carried these up and down the stairs a few times while I chopped holes in them to run wires and allow for the installation of plug points and the like. I could probably do this cutting in the layout room, thus saving me trips up and down the stairs, but little metal wheels don’t like mdf dust any more than my lungs do so I carried them downstairs and attacked them with a jog saw down there.

After cutting the fascia to fit I clamped it into position and began screwing through it into the battens. I used 30mm & 40mm long wood screws to attach the battens and 12mm long screws to attach the mdf fascia to these being carfeul how deep I drilled the pilot holes so I didn’t blow through the thin fascia material. This photo shows the job about half done. The A shows the position of the control panel when it’s installed.

After a recent bathroom and wardrobe reno I had some of those little plastic buttons carpenters use to hide the heads of wood-screws in chip board left over. It occurred to me that these might be used to cover the heads of the screws giving the fascia a much neater appearance than left as is. In the past I’ve always used Polyfilla to fill such imperfections but this is always a messy and rather drawn out job. After I screwed the fascia into place I installed the plastic buttons and I’m very pleased with the look. You can just see these in the photo above along the far piece of fascia. I’ll give painting the whole thing a test, mdf and buttons, to see how it looks. I can always go back to the filler if the little plastic buttons don’t work out or won’t take paint. You can get brown ones but they are far too dark.

Storage Roads Control Panel V2

I really dislike starting a blog post with “it’s been a while since I last posted” because it’s self evident if you haven’t posted for a while that it’s been a while! But it has been a while and as usual with me it’s because I haven’t really been doing much modelling or layout work worth writing about. I’ve been caught up doing a couple of significant woodwork projects but I finally finished the most important of these today and I was able to swing my attention round to addressing the need for a control panel on the storage roads of Morpeth. I snapped a couple of photos of the control panel today as I applied contrasting coats of paint and thought I might quickly go through how I make my panels.

There’s probably some very high tech way of doing the artwork for control panels, I know there is, I’ve seen YouTube vids of such techniques, but the method I use is cheap, simple and effective. I’ve also been making control panels for over 30 years sing this method so as it works for me I can’t see a reason to change the process. It also uses my preexisting skill set so I don’t have to spend 2 months learning a new computer program to produce them. I start with a piece of 3mm MDF, glue a 12mmx12mm pine frame to the read side of this and then the upper side is sprayed over with a white coat of paint from a pressure pack can.

I spent a couple of hours yesterday drawing out a plan for the new panel on two pieces of trying paper which was a good thing because I decided after looking at it that I didn’t like the way the triangle was crowded on the left hand side. So I stretched the plan out, giving this side more room. One of the problems with the first version of this panel (which I wrote about a couple of years ago) was a similar problem to the crowding on hr plan I drew yesterday. And just as a reminder, the reason this is V2 is that I decided to change out all my solenoid switch machines for Tortoises after my last operating session. As I was changing the way I would be throwing the turnouts I had to alter the panel anyway and I took the opportunity to the address the problems with the first version. This one includes the mainline triangle which will have route indication included and it also includes the two new storage roads I’ve installed since I made the last panel. I’m also going to throw the yard ladder using a mini panel and one button routing so this panel is not only longer (at 520mm), it will also be quite a bit simpler to wire up. He says with his finger firmly crossed 🙂

After drawing up my full sized paper plan and making any adjustments I felt were needed I then cut lengths of blue masking tape into 4mm wide strips and cut these on a 12mm thick pane of glass I keep for this and other jobs. I laid these along some pencil lines I’d drawn on the white surface of the control panel and trimmed these with a scalpel that had a new blade in it. I then took the panel back out to the shed and gave it a couple of coast satin black paint.

After the paint dried I brought the now black panel inside and peeled off the masking tape. Simple, effective and handsome (a bit like me) 🙂 The reason the panel is on the dining table rather than the workbench is because it is a bit long to work on at my modelling table easily.

The next step will be to mark and drill some holes for LEDs and push buttons and then I’ll print and apply some white decals using my Alps printer. Then I have to wire it up. As the next operating session is scheduled for the 4th of Dec I have just under two weeks. Easy Peasy!

Follow-Up From The Forum

The Aus7 Modellers Group twice yearly Forum was held last weekend. While
I was up front with the microphone in my hand I mentioned a firm in Sydney who sell a huge range of tools and bits and pieces from both metal and wood workers by the name of McJing I’ve had a link to McJing on this blog page for quite a while but as I was down in Sydney for the Forum and actually visited the shop I thought I’d mention them and share some details of some things I picked up there. I know you can get a lot of this stuff online direct from china but I still reckon being able to look and touch something before you pay for it takes some beating.

Ok I know there’s nothing very revolutionary about mini drills but I picked these up in a few different sizes for 10 dollars for 10. The ones on the left are .7mm I’ve paid up to $3 for a single drill so I thought this was a pretty good price. I’ve also included the ball races I mentioned Saturday. these have an inside dia. that matches a Slaters loco axle and they were $4 a pop. Very possibly these may end up in a loco chassis in the future. and finally the little silver button on the bottom right is a rare earth magnet I purchased a while ago. I’m going to find a way to use these to keep the roof on a loco in place but allow me access the interior.

I’ve also been doing a little work on a few KRM signal kits for both myself and a friend. These kits are mostly etched brass/NS and while they can be a little fiddly they are beautifully detailed and really look the part.

I’m working on three of these signal kits and while I haven’t got that far along, after visiting Sydney I now have all the parts I need to get on with finishing them.

This is just a quick update and I’ll post again when I have something worth sharing.


One down. three to go! This shot shows the jig I completed today. It is not only finished but the inner faces of the central jig, the part that actually have to be accurate to set the distance between the rails, are surprisingly the correct dimension. At 16.57mm it is close enough for me! 🙂 I included it’s big SG brother to provide a comparison.

Strike up the band, crack open a  bottle of champagne, I’m now an expert machinist who can answer all your metal turning questions and inquiries. NOT! I managed to get one of the gauges finished today, that’s the first of four I have planned. I never should have dropped Metalwork for Music as an elective subject in high school. The other three gauges have the two outer caps finished for each of them and they’re all strung together on their cap bolts. All they need is the centre gauge section completed. However I’m so slow and my metal turning skills so decrepit that it took me 1 1/2 hours to do the centre gauge for this one today. I tend to speed up as I go along and work out a method: a couple of steps really had me stumped today as I worked on this one. At one point I had to work out how to turn the face of the centre section down on the right hand end. As my cutting tool has its cutting face on the left had side this forced me to take another tool with a face cut on the opposite side and grind this to a shape that I needed. This process was well outside my comfort zone but it worked and I now have a slightly rough, but serviceable gauge. Oh and it does grip the head of the code 83 rail it’s designed to hold in place, I tested it! 🙂

I’m sure in the years to come I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing I made these gauges myself, and the twinge at the back of my neck will remind of how sore it got from bending over my lathe peering at the twirling end of the brass 🙂

Bends and Turns

There’s been lots happening on the Morpeth Line recently and I’m on first name terms with the postie. I have a feeling he thinks I’m importing drugs in all the packages I’ve been receiving recently 🙂 Work has proceeded on the NG road bed and I decided to start by laying sleepers round the only bend in the line.

There’s only one curve on the branch line from Raworth to Barren Jack so I thought I’d start by laying track on this first. This photo shows the sub roadbed of 12mm ply temporarily propped in place. There’s been a little more progress since this shot was taken but things have moved from the layout room to my work room where I’ve been making a start on making the track for the NG line.

I made the decision a while ago to lay hand made turnouts and track on the main layout part of the BJ line and to use flex track and ME points on the modules that form the peninsula. There is a logical reason for this mixing of track work, which I’ll go into in a later post, however I also decided that as I’m extremely comfortable with the method I use to make and lay hand made track and turnouts on the SG line that I could see no reason to do something radically different on the NG. I make a sub-road with 12mm ply, cut up pieces of thinner ply (4mm and 5mm) to lay the sleepers (ties) on and pin the rail to these. I then use small wood screws to fix the sections of track into position, including the turnouts.

I’m using Kappler Sugar Pine sleepers on the NG line which is fine by me as I use the same brand on my SG track. The NG sleepers are a little thinner than the SG item (and of course shorter and shallower) but I’ve simply adjusted things to fit my method of track laying. I scribe the top of the sleepers with the edge of a razor saw to exaggerate the grain, pre-stain them in a bath of rubbing alcohol and black wood stain, draw a centre line on one side of every sleeper using the little styrene jig you can see in the photo (I stack them up 10 at a time and draw a line along them all at once) and then glue them to the 4mm track base I’ve already cut to shape and drawn a centre line on using PVA. The centre line on the sleepers is simply lined up with the centre line on the track base. I did try using a wedge shaped styrene spacer jig this time but I found it wasn’t working the way I hoped so I just did the gluing of the sleepers by eye and a plain strip of 9mm wide styrene.

Once all the prep work is done it’s simply a matter of setting to and laying sleepers till I reach the end of the section of track. Very high tech 🙂

Before laying the rail I wanted to acquire some spring loaded roller gauges of the same type I use on my SG track laying. While I didn’t look all that hard I couldn’t find anything of the same type in 16.5mm gauge so I decided to make my own. I drew up a plan (on paper, how low tech) in my spiral bound plan book and set to this morning making the first part for the four gauges I intend to make. Before I go any further I need to remind anyone who has been reading this blog for a while that while I have two lathes and a mill and myriad other tools you could fit what I know about metal shaping on the head of a pin so I’d like to acknowledge a couple of Youtube denizens who have been of great assistance:

Blondihacks at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7Jf7t6BL4e74O53dL6arSw has a great series of beginners metal turning videos. Ok I should be up front and say she’s a WOMAN but don’t let the old stereotypes prevent you from visiting her site. She does a far better job of explaining what needs to happen on a lathe to this thick male than most of the blokes I’ve watched and she really knows what she’s about. By the sound of her accent she’s a Canadian but I’ll even overlook that… for the moment 🙂

Mr Crispin at https://www.youtube.com/user/MrCrispin96 OMG this guy is so bloody English! Watch a few of his videos and you’ll see what I mean. He’s been a bit quiet recently as he sets up his workshop but he posted a new video today and it’s about a Myford lathe. He is another great one for good, clear explanation and he’s well worth a look.

This Old Tony at https://www.youtube.com/user/featony This channel is a bit more high end but he’s worth watching just for the laughs. Give him a try, you will laugh! 🙂

After taking my plan outside and faffing about for a while I finally started to “make some chips” (as all the knowledgeable Youtubers say) and things went swimmingly. This photo shows the process of parting off (I love that kinda talk) my first part.

No I didn’t use the Myford this time as I’ve only just managed to get some bolts for the tool post and it’s not yet operable but soon, soon! The gauges I’m making each consist of 6 parts:

– a 4M 40mm long cap screw

– a 4M nut to retain the parts on the cap screw

– a spring of sufficient dia to slip down over the 4M thread of the screw (or bolt)

– two end caps which are really just top hat bearings put to another use (these are the parts that have to be turned)

– a centre gauge section that sets the distance between the rails, in this instance 16.mm

So at this stage you’re probably expecting me to say all four gauges are done and I’ve laid the rails on the curve but think again! I took so long to make this first part and sweated over it so long I ran out of time and went inside for lunch and a good lie down. 🙂

This shot shows the cap screw and nut, the spring and my end cap which is the small brass turning in the middle. The other brass object is one of the end caps from the SG gauge placed there for comparison.

Ok Ok one small brass part isn’t that impressive but give me time, I’m learnin’! Check back in December and I might have the first full gauge made 🙂