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.

Bridging The Gap

The benchwork continues apace and I’ve completed the bridging section between the two halves of the layout. I really would have liked to rush in and start laying road bed for track laying but I need to install the backdrop before this happens because I’ve been caught before trying to install a backdrop over the top of track-work. So once the bridging section was made and installed I set to work this afternoon installing the framework for a backdrop for the new section.

Because the backdrop on the new section of layout needs to match the position of the backdrop on QW I had to plane down some timber to the required thickness so that when installed, the 3mm MDF backdrop’s surface will match that of QW’s. I had a false start by installing some blocks that didn’t take account of the thickness of the rails but after a D’oh moment I changed plans and got the uprights installed.

I’m going to do a bit more raving about my smick new laser level in this post. It’s a bloody marvel and makes installing things like the rails for the backdrop a breeze. Just set it up at the required height and install wood. EASY! 🙂

If you look carefully you may be able to see the laser line sitting on the top surface of the upper rail. Using a bubble level for this type of thing is certainly possible but it helps to have 3 or 4 hands when you do work with a long level and unfortunately I only have two, hands that is.

Where the laser level really came into its own today was in determining the height of the rails for the backdrop. I want them to be the same height right round this section of the layout even though the benchwork and track will rise and fall. I need the trains to go between the backdrop rails as the track passes from one part of the layout to the other so heights are critical. I don’t want to have to come back later and pull everything apart and do it all again. Setting the heights was simple: using the height of the track at the end of Morpeth as the datum I set the lower rail a few cm below this and then all I had to do was raise the laser enough to ensure I had sufficient clearance for the trains to pass under the upper rail. Because the level throws a line around all the walls it’s a snap to set the rails anywhere you want them by simply matching what already exists. No measuring and double checking required. None of this is needed on the part of the backdrop in the pictures but it will become critical later when I install a backdrop much nearer the camera sometime in the next couple of weeks.

The backdrop on this part of the layout will be 3mm MDF and that is why I’m building a frame for it to be attached to. I want to bend it at the corners but 3mm MDF won’t support itself the way 6mm will. Hence the frame and rails. I cut and tested the fit of the of backdrop with a scrap of 3mm MDF.

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More Benchwork

I have something like 18 people visiting the layout next weekend and I’ve been trying to get something complete for them that will make the long trip they’re making to see it worthwhile. I’m not having much success. I didn’t touch the layout during the week although this is pretty normal but nothing concentrates the mind like a deadline with visitors coming or an exhibition on the horizon. I doubt I’ll get any new track laid prior to the visit but I’d assumed getting the benchwork between QW and Morpeth completed shouldn’t be beyond me. I raced to town early to shop for food and get a hair cut and for some reason the lady who does my haircuts decided that this morning of all mornings would be the one where I’d be left waiting for almost an hour. She spent an age tucked away in an alcove working on some woman’s foils, whatever they are. I asked her if the hair had fallen out and whether she was gluing it back on, one hair at a time! 🙂

This photo shows the plate that connects the end of Morpeth to the new storage yard. This is the first time the old layouts have been physically connected to the new. A small but significant milestone.

As usual I started work by finishing the jobs I didn’t complete last weekend and that meant leg struts and cross braces (the boring bits). I then cut and bolted/screwed a piece of 250mm wide pine to the end of the storage yard and the benchwork holding up Morpeth to finally allow me to say I’ve got the old layout connected to the new. It’s all down hill from here 🙂

Using my new handy-dandy laser level I was easily able to mark out the dimensions on the timber I needed to cut. Doing this by conventional measuring would have been a long and involved process of trial and error as one end of this section of benchwork is set at 19 degrees which means no easy datum to measure from.

I’d previously tested the angle required at one end of Morpeth that would allow me to run the new benchwork parallel with the wall and this was 19 degrees. However cutting the other end of the benchwork to length is no easy matter if it needs to match the benchwork that can be seen in the far corner in the above photo. However with my new laser level this job was a snap because it has both horizontal and vertical axes and as such all I had to do was set it in line with the end of the far benchwork and draw a mark on the pine I’d set out on the floor where the green laser bisects the wood. The line that’s running up the ceiling on the photo continues along the floor so it exactly matches the length of the benchwork at the far end of the room. Neat! 🙂

All I had to do was mark and cut the wood, screw the frame together and then install the legs making sure it was level. I like a job where I don’t have to think too much. 

Of course it was half way though this job that I ran out of wood and took a trip to Bunnings to get supplies. It’s time I decide what I’m going to use as track underlay to raise the track slightly to give it a ballast profile. I could probably get away with laying it straight onto the wood but I’m still wedded to the idea of having something under the track. I don’t want to use cork as I find it difficult to get in sufficient quantities and it can be difficult to keep in place while the glue goes off. What I wanted was something such as dense foam with a self adhesive side that would allow me to peel and stick it to the road base. It would preferably be about 30-35mm wide so I could lay it in two strips and this would bring it out just proud of the end of the sleepers. What I found was a product called purlin tape which is laid under corrugated iron roofing to reduce the sound of expansion and contraction.

This 20m long roll of purlin tape is 25mm wide and 3mm thick. It’s a dense foam product that should work well as track underlay. At 25mm wide it’s not quite wide enough for what I’d like to do with it but I can either lay a thin strip down the center of the line or leave a 1cm gap down the center to bring the edges out just proud of the sleepers. I’ll do some experiments.

 

Track Testing

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll be aware that I’ve been working toward building the ship model that is to populate the pier scene on Morpeth for quite a while now. It may also be apparent that I haven’t posted anything about this model beyond a couple of hull shots of it sitting next to the pier. There are a number of reasons for this lack of posts, not the least being the glacial pace at which I’ve been progressing on the model. I’ve been busy moving, renovating the new train room and building new benchwork is always fun. However I can’t claim that this takes up all my time. In spite of my expectations about building the ship I’ve been dilly dallying round the bush on this model for a number of reasons that have sapped my motivation and the primary one of these is that this is new territory for me modelling wise. As such I’ve sort of been approaching it and backing off for a couple of months now. Nothing is square and level and almost nothing fits because of the far from accurate hull casting! Every time I make a start on it I find I have to make major cuts to the wooden components. Because of my lack of knowledge and experience in this type of modelling I’m convinced I’m going to cut off something vital. Easier to just go and make some more benchwork hey? 🙂 Well I made a real start on the ship model last night and in spite of having to lop bits off willy nilly from parts I have no familiarity with I’m going to keep at it. I’ll keep you posted.

I made a trip to Sydney this past weekend to attend the Aus7 Modellers Group biannual O-Scale Modellers Forum. I had to fly down and back on the Saturday but in spite of this rush and the late minute change of plans that caused it I had a great day. I got to hand out the group’s annual award to Roger Porter and also had plenty of opportunities to poke fun at Keiran Ryan, an opportunity that almost made the trip worthwhile all on its own. While I was there I purchased a set of ModelOKits brand new track laying guides.

I tried to buy a set of these guides while I was down in Sydney at the Liverpool exhibition but a technical hitch emerged and Glenn the proprietor of ModelOKits had to withdraw them from sale. I’m glad to say the issue seems to have been solved and I got a set on Saturday.

The guides are laser cut from what appears to be 3mm MDF and are designed to be used with commercial flex track. Micro Engineering track is sold by Glenn and while I’ve been using them with this type of track I’m sure they will work equally well with Peco track. There are seven curved guides and a straight one in each pack and they are provided in 1400mm through to 2000mm curves. Each guide has its size cut into its surface to aid in identifying which one you’re after.

This photo shows six of the guides spread out in front of QW.

I’ve never needed guides like these before because I’ve never used a great deal of flex track in the past. However as I’ve got plans to trial the use of ME flex track (both code 125 and code 100) on this new layout so I’m sure these will come in useful in getting the track laid.

I’m going to have a rant about Micro-Engineering flex track at this point so if you have pets or children in close proximity get them to avert their eyes. Generally speaking I have a great deal of time for ME products: I use their NS code 125 rail almost exclusively in building points and for the track on Morpeth. I appreciate them making 32mm gauge track available in a number of codes that are of use to a modeller like myself however there are two things that really get up my nose about this track and it’s not that fact that the sleepers are too slim and spaced too closely together to look much like Aussie track. I can live with this, after-all this is a US product made for that market. No, what really drives me bonkers is that they don’t make rail joiners to match their code 125 rail and calling their track “flex-track” could be considered misleading advertising in certain quarters.The track doesn’t flex worth a $%*&! and it’s ability to bend in a consistent and smooth manner is so poor that I’ve seriously thought about selling off my small supply and hand laying all my new track or (gasp) using Peco (which flexes very nicely thank you very much). Peco may look even less like Aussie track than ME but at least they sell matching rail joiners! When I asked the lovely girl at ME what to use with their track she used words to the effect that “word on the street” is that you should use Peco code 148 joiners. Having purchased and used some of these I can attest to the fact that they do sort of work but that they’re big and ugly and I suspect that over time, because they don’t hold the foot of the rail well (being made for 148 Peco rail) that the joins made with these joiners will work loose. Selling track without properly proportioned rail joiners is like Toyota selling a car without wheels and telling customers to buy the ones made by John Deere that were designed for a tractor! 🙂

I’ve had this can of Ezy Glide for years and it occasionally gets used to ease zippers or door/drawer slides. I haven’t purchased a can in yonks so I have no idea whether it’s still available.

In spite of reservations about how applying some sort of lubricant to this track may affect working with it later I decided to test a dry silicone lubricant to see if this allowed me to bend it into a vague approximation of a smooth curve. I put some newspaper down (remember leftover newspaper, it’s become an endangered species at my place) and gave one length of track a good squirt with some Ezy Glide I had sitting under the kitchen sink. The stuff stinks and while it is a dry lubricant I’ve always worried that using it on my track may adversely affect trying to paint or solder the track at a later date. I’m going to do some tests on this to see if my fears are justified. Use of something greasy like WD40 is not an option so I’m hoping that the Ezy Glide will be ok. Applying the lubricant did make a difference to getting the rack to flex but I wouldn’t describe the result as “problem solved”. The track became middling malleable after the lubricant was sprayed on and I was able to get the 2000mm track guide to sit between the rails. Trying this before the application of lubricant was a total failure. In spite of wrestling with it for 5-10 minutes I just couldn’t get the track to flex in a way that would produce a curve. It was that bad! I’ve read of other dry lubricants people have used to ease flex track, one on Gene Deimling’s P48 blog where he wrote about using a carbon based lubricant but I couldn’t find this commercially available in Australia. I’ll do some more testing and keep you posted.

 

Storage Bench-work

Based on some measurements and adjustments to my track plan I find I’m able to add a short coal branch-line to the layout. However this addition requires a grade be added to two different locations. One of these grades required the storage lines and turntable be lowered by 30mm. Not much you might think but it required all four legs to be removed from the small table I constructed last weekend so I could lop the required amount of timber from the top of these. I screwed the resulting shorter legs back into position and I was finally ready to put some effort into constructing the benchwork for the storage sidings: a project I’d planned to start two weeks ago but which life seemed to keep delaying.

These frames are simple ladders constructed from 3×1″ pine, screwed together using 8G, 40mm long wood screws. I chose to place one pair of legs at the end of each frame and use the previous piece of benchwork to hold the frame off the floor at the other end rather than give each section its own set of four legs which was starting to feel like a bit of overkill.

I only managed to find the time to make up the frames and place them on their legs before I ran out of time. They need to be topped with a layer of 12mm ply. This will cover about 2/3 of the surface of the frames with the other section allowing for the risers of the new coal branch which will run above and behind the storage lines. The end of the benchwork nearest the camera will have a timber “plate” attached to it that will run the full width of the storage sidings, the new coal branch and the end of the adjacent layout which is Morpeth. This plate will tie the two sections of layout together and will allow for the installation of the benchwork that will carry two large curves down this end of the room. It was the need for this plate that saw me jump to constructing this part of the layout a couple of weeks ago.

The best laid plans…

Light Boxes: The Penultimate Chapter

As is so often the case with “small” layout jobs, the installation of the layout lighting in my new train room has taken far more time and effort than I’d anticipated. I had planned to work on some new benchwork this weekend, I even made an early Saturday morning visit to Bunnings to buy timber and some fittings to allow this to happen but the final installation and painting of the lighting boxes has taken up all my available free time. My plan was to make up two ladder frames for the storage sidings that lead out of the turntable, mount these on legs and top them with some ply but aside from buying the timber I’ve not managed to cut a stick.

Before I could install the face plates for the lighting boxes they needed a hole cut for the installation of the lighting fixtures. In this case it needed to be 90mm dia. holes. Luckily the electrician loaned me one of his hole cutting saws to cut the required openings.

The electrician not only dropped off a light fitting for me to test last week. He also loaned me a 90mm round hole cutting saw that I could use to cut the required opening in the MDF face plates I had ready to be installed in the boxes. I told him I wasn’t having him cutting holes in MDF upstairs in the train room in the process getting dust everywhere and all over the layout. I was going to do this job myself downstairs in the workshop where the dust wouldn’t matter. I mounted the hole saw in my drill press but a 90mm dia hole was a real challenge for the drill’s arbor. The drill kept stalling and the chuck kept dropping out onto the work piece as I tried to cut the ten holes. With a bit of perseverance I managed to get the job done and installed the plates into the boxes. With the pre-cut holes in the plaster board completed all that was required was to fill the screw heads, sand these back and then paint two coats of blue onto the boxes.

I started the painting of the boxes by running some blue masking tape on the white ceiling where the two colours meet to preserve the neat cut line. I then filled the holes left by the counter sinking for the screws and when the filler hardened I sanded this smooth. I’d previously filled and sanded the holes that I was able to prior to the installation of the boxes so this simplified the job but it was still hot work in the humid conditions of the train room with my head close to the ceiling. Today I came back and painted two coats of blue onto all ten boxes and now they are ready for the installation of the light fittings.

I could have come back and filled all the joints between the planes of the various sections of MDF I made these boxes from but to be honest I couldn’t be bothered: this is a room for model trains not a reception room in a royal palace. So while the boxes do show a few gaps and joints here and there from my less than perfect joinery I’m happy enough with the result.

As I sat and looked at the result of this small marathon of a job I did put some though into whether I wouldn’t have been better off with a continuous pelmet running almost the entire length of the room. It would still be relatively easy to install a single, long plank of 6mm MDF to the front of the boxes to provide a neater, continuous sheet across the lighting boxes but I don’t think I’ll go to this extent. The idea of the lighting is to throw light onto the layout and draw the viewer’s eye to the trains. I’m not sure that a long, continuous pelmet would achieve this any more successfully than the row of isolated boxes. With the amount of work and time this “small” job has taken up I’m not sure its something I want to devote any more time to.