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.

The View From The Fo’c’sle

I don’t know why but whenever I try to come up with a title for a post about my ship model I always find myself falling for cliches and jaunty sea language, well it’s probably only jaunty sea language to anyone who’s sea going experience is limited to a trip across Sydney Harbour on the Manly Ferry such as yours truly. I blame my father who happened to be in the Marines during the second world war. I don’t think he ever spent much time actually at sea beyond traveling out to India and back for his period in the forces in the early 40s and his trip to Australia when he migrated here with my mother in the early 50s. He had a real ear for language so my childhood was filled with a mad mixture of Cockney, Indian and sea slang. I’d never heard common Australian slang terms (for those highly unenlightened times) like wog or “too right” before my first year in school, but if it came to heading down the “old Kent road”, getting your laundry back from a “char wallah” or “splicing the main brace” I was your boy! How the heck does one go about splicing the main brace I wonder? My father never did explain 🙂

So how does a railway modeller approach the construction of a ship model? Well in spite of my own expectations, slowly and with a complete lack of comprehension of genuine nautical terms. And this despite my father’s seemingly bottomless pit of weird and wacky ship and sea related terms. I’m convinced he picked most of his nautical language up from English films from the 40s and 50s like Carry On Cruising  and the Cruel Sea 🙂 I’ve made intermittent progress on the ship but after taking a couple of small steps my attention would turn to other things and the project would languish. The main distraction has been building my new layout but I kept saying to myself that as soon as I got a train to run right round the layout I’d make a proper start on the ship. If you read this blog regularly you would have seen what happened the other day 🙂 However there was more to my lack of progress than the distraction and enthusiasm generated by a new layout building project. I think what really pulled me up short was the unfamiliarity of the waters into which I was sailing, where all the language and terms were unfamiliar (I thought clack valves was a strange term at one time), none of the lines were straight and frankly the quality of the instructions and the kit components was less than stellar. However I got a train round the layout earlier this week and I have a trip to take the layout on at the end of the year: it was time to get serious!

Maddi is keeping lookout from the poop deck as I glue in the first of the hull bulkheads a couple of months ago. This was the first in a sequence of wooden parts that are fitted inside the hull, although they require a great deal of cutting and shaping before they fit snugly. The parts are laser or die cut (this is the term used in the instructions but I think they were written prior to the common use of laser cutters and haven’t been updated) but there are no tabs or slots included to aid positioning and the modeller is left to muddle through on their own. One of the real problems of this kit has been the fiberglass hull and and its almost total lack of symmetry. It’s nicely detailed (although if the detail is wrong or lacking it has to be admitted that I wouldn’t know the difference ) but the fact that each side of the hull seems to bear only the most cursory similarity to the other side means that nothing can be taken for granted and every major part needs a great deal of modification. When you add to this the lack of familiarity I have with the names of things in ship models (with the instructions making the assumption that the builder is totally familiar with all things nautical) it’s little wonder I kept allowing myself to become distracted.

I got the first of several bulkheads and the main fore deck glued into position a couple of months ago and have been fiddling about with the parts for the fore castle for the past couple of weeks. However with the first train having traversed the perimeter of the layout and with a rapidly approaching public display of Morpeth (the original core portable layout Morpeth is still theoretically exhibitable) coming up I really needed to stop feeling cast adrift, make my way to port and get something done. So I started by pulling apart one of the few parts I’d already assembled and started assembling it again. Properly this time. Avast ye landlubbers! 🙂

While this photo shows the disassembled parts of the fore castle, which I’d glued together a few months ago, it also shows the first real detail I’ve installed from among the half dozen bags of white-metal castings that came with the kit. Thankfully these all seem to be quite decent quality and I felt on far safer ground in cleaning up and painting them. Yes those are my first portholes, of which this ship has at least 20 , along with some doors (or are they hatches?) and a ladder leading to the fore castle (not the poop deck as that’s at the back! I better say stern or I’ll get keel hauled!!! 🙂

Now that I’ve made these small steps I’m going to keep going, I really can’t afford not to as this model is supposed to be the centerpiece of the whole layout. I’ll keep you posted, or wave a semaphore flag, or flash one of those light thingys all ships seemed to have fitted to the bridge in old B&W war movies. Let’s just hope it’s not an SOS sent from the radio room of the Titanic 🙂

Till next time…

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All The Time In The World

Today I can finally announce the end of the Morpeth to QW curve “saga”. The new curved, hand made turnout is installed and working properly, the curve of main line track leading to either side of this turnout is laid and working beautifully, both turnouts (a Peco turnout and the hand made curved one adjacent to it) have reliable, Tortoise switch machines installed under them and both are now hooked up to a brand new Switch8 MkII (the MkII is important because MkI versions won’t work with Button Boards) and an associated NCE Button Board so they can both be switched using toggle switches mounted on a small control panel as well as being operated “remotely” via the hand held throttles. Oh, and the control panel has LED indicator lights to tell the operator which way the turnout is switched. This is no small matter as I’d decided long ago that all control panels, including small “sub” boards like the one I hooked up today, would have route indication as a standard feature. It’s very easy to not bother and say “if operators want to find out what way the turnout is switched they can just look” but I know from experience that while this is always an option it pays to have layers of visual indication.

This may not look like much but this is the result of pretty much 3 weeks work on the layout, and it replicates what was already there! 🙂 However this time it all works perfectly, you can throw the turnouts from anywhere in the room via a throttle and know they’ve actually changed route and they’re hooked up to that little black control panel (with LED route indication). It’s temporarily attached to the benchwork waiting for the installation of the fascia. I’ll tidy up and secure all those loose wires with cable ties when I know that I’ve actually finished the wiring.

At the time of my last post on the blog I was doing a fairly good impersonation of a friend of mine (one with a full beard who many reading this will recognize) by grinding my teeth in frustration at the track machinations I was putting myself through. I won’t go back over that disaster but I will mention that I relaid the small section of one of the curves (after I wrote that last post) and it was wrong, again. So this time I pulled it all up, set out the curve as carefully as I could, relaid it with a beautiful transition curve that I knew was absolutely perfect (not only was I sure because of the way I’d made it but I could see how sinuous and smooth it was) and ran 2002 through it. And she derailed!!!!!!! Not in exactly the same spot as before, this time she came to grief about 20cm further along. So had I just transferred a tight spot a bit further down the line? Well yes I had but this tight spot was far broader in radius than I the radius I knew 2002 could get around. So what was up? I ran her back up the line and she derailed on a mainline curve of even broader radius!?!?!?! What the #%&^%*& was going on?

Now if you go back a couple of years on this blog you’ll be aware that 2002 is a scratch built loco I built in 2015. I’ve also mentioned any number of times that both the layouts I’d had up to this point had no curves. Now combine these two things: a scratch built loco which was built to round no particular curve radii (I didn’t have a curve of track to test her on while she was being built) and a brand new layout that with branch new curves. What does this spell? So this layout is the first time 2002 has been run much at all and certainly the curves on the layout are the first she’s traversed. So why wouldn’t I expect she’d need some “teething” trials. After-all, I added pickups to her trailing bogie a few weeks ago because she was hesitating on some of my turnouts. I ran her back and forth through the offending area and looked closely at what was happening. It didn’t take me long to realize that the same trailing bogie was the culprit.

The solution to 2002’s tracking problems was in the width of the slot in this bogie. It wasn’t long enough to allow the bogie to swing sufficiently from side to side on curves. So on a tighter curve the pony truck would lead in, the first driven axle would try to follow but was restricted from doing so by the trailing bogie not allowing the front of the loco to swing sufficiently to follow the curve, thus making the leading driving wheel derail. A couple of minutes filing to make the slot a little longer solved the problem.

Now don’t get me wrong: the track and that curved Peco turnout needed to be replaced and while I was at it both transition points between the pre-existing layouts and the new section on the main line also needed to be made smooth and secure, plus the shoddy and slap dashed wiring (I’d used plain speaker wire for the bus wires, not colour coded black and red paired wires like I had on the rest of the layout) needed cleaning up and while I was at it how about swapping out the Peco switch motors for Tortoises? And I could really do with a small control panel in that area too couldn’t I? And then I found 2002 had a little hidden derailing bomb lurking in her nether regions. It never ends! Well it does, today!

In addition to all my travails with the electrical, track and DCC systems on the layout, I also had a small glitch in the hand laid turnout that was sitting there waiting for a solution. One of the switch rails (the one nearest the backdrop) was sitting high at the heel end of the point. It was nice and hard up against the stock rail when thrown over but it was a good 2mm higher than the stock rail on the narrow, pointy end and it took me a while to work out what was wrong. I’d lifted it, bent and filed it but it was still sitting up and there was no way my fussy cattle wagon (the one that had started all the trouble on this part of the layout) was ever going to happily go through the turnout with a wonky switch rail. I was thinking about the problem when it occurred to me that the rest of the length of rail was sitting down nice and snug, it was just the last 30mm that seemed to be sitting up, as if it was pivoting on a high point… as if one of the sleepers was thicker than the others around it! Eureka! I pulled the switch rail out again, cut a small trough in the offending sleeper and the problem was solved.

Sometimes the solutions to problems are sitting there staring you in the face but when they’re swimming through a veritable sea of troubles I think we might all be forgiven or not coming up with the light bulb moment straight away. 2002 ran at speed back and forth from Morpeth to Queens Wharf with no derailments today. The simple pleasures are often the best 🙂

 

 

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 🙂

$29.11

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 🙂