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.

Narrow Gauge Progress (Sort Of)

I took a trip to Brisbane last weekend to help out on a friend’s layout at the Strathpine exhibition. It’s a great little suburban exhibition that has quite a growing reputation for attracting quality layouts. It’s the first time I’ve attended so I have no previous years to compare it to however I did see some excellent QR outline layouts including my friend Peter Krause’s Samford. While I was at the exhibition I took the opportunity to drop by the Wuiske Models stand which provided me with an opportunity to take a look at a Haskell NA. I purchased the NA eventually, after I managed to get Adam Wiuske’s attention by waving my credit card under his nose and carried my purchase home in the expectation that I could drop a DCC decoder into it and have something to run over my quickly expanding NG empire.

This is my rtr NA after 5 days of ownership. After I opened it up I dropped in a sound decoder and got no response no matter what I tried. No sound, movement or lights. It turns out that one of the leads from the pickups on one side of the loco had come adrift, however to re-solder this without melting one of the side tanks I had to essentially disassemble the entire loco. Now that it’s in pieces I can’t resist doing some upgrades such as installing some LED marker lights and a crew. I’ll tackle the decoder installation over the next couple of weeks and give it a weathering job before giving it a run on my as yet un-laid NG track.

I spent the week doing what I’ve done a lot over the past 2 years as I’ve built Morpeth: spend money on wood, track, rail and electronic bits and pieces. In spite of a seemingly endless number of phone calls and online orders I’m stuck half way through three or four different jobs in commencing the NG section of the layout but have stalled on all of them while I wait for supplies to arrive. I seem to start something, make some progress and then find I need something I don’t have on hand. This never fails to surprise me because I had a whole lot of crap in store to carry on my hobby but I still always seem to be short of some vital ingredient. The NA is a good example in that I want to install some red LEDs into two of the marker lights but don’t have any of the correct sort so I’m waiting for some to arrive in the mail.

This shot shows the bench-work for Barren Jack installed and ready for road bed.

I’m actually going to install hand laid track on this part of the layout but I’m waiting for a Fast Tracks #5 point form tool and some code 83 rail to arrive so I’ve laid out some ME flex track and #5 points just to get a sense of things. I can just fit the exchange shed and dual gauge track into this space. Just!

This morning I cut some 12mm ply up to form the curve that will be the bottom of the horse shoe taking trains from the Raworth exchange yard round to Barren Jack. I’m very happy with the use this is making of this space which up till now was essentially a dead zone. I don’t know how much use and attention this small NG extension will get over the longer term but it’s achieved one of my aims and that is to give me another industry to deliver wagons to in Raworth. The exchange shed will serve as this industry and the NG line will become another job for operators to undertake during operations.

All I need is an operating loco and a few bits of rolling stock.


Cascading Dilemmas

About 9 months ago I decided I was going to make a start on building a small narrow gauge layout based very loosely on the Goondah & Burrinjuck railway that operated in the early part of the 20th century while the Burrinjuck dam (in the Southern Highlands of NSW) and its associated infrastructure was being built. It was a 2′ gauge common carrier railway that was the only means of transport for the citizens of the town of Burrenjuck, a community set up to house the workers who built the dam. My model will be in 7mm O-scale (1:43.5), the same scale my standard gauge Morpeth line is built in.

It wouldn’t be too inaccurate to suggest that this single photo was the reason I was drawn to the idea of modelling the G&B line. The availability of a kit for the diminutive Krause locos that worked the line also contributed but this crane and the associated transfer shed (which is in the background) caught my eye in a similar manner to the way a couple of the photos of the Morpeth line with it’s wharf and dilapidated line-side structures caught my eye about 20 years ago. We all know where that led 🙂

Ok great, that’s the “authorized”, long term goal statement. What have I done about it? Well not to put too fine a point on it, bugger all really! I’ve had two of the loco kits for the Krause locos for around 10 years and about 3 or 4 rolling stock kits and they’ve been sitting in the cupboard unbuilt along with a large number of unbuilt SG kits. I made a start 9 months ago by constructing a couple of ladder frames and cut up some mdf backdrops, which I slapped with a coat of white paint. I set up this base in my work room on top of some cabinets and that’s where things have stood for approximately 6-9 months. The reason things stalled for this length of time are complicated so strap yourselves in if you have the patience to read to the end.

The problems started with the Storage sidings on Morpeth.

In this scan of the track-plan of Morpeth I’ve removed the storage sidings for clarity. This plan includes the coal branch and this includes siting the 60′ turntable where it will eventually reside. It’s easy to place an item on a plan but it takes actual work to shirt it there on the layout. Anyway this gives you the idea of how the coal branch will look. It will branch off from Raworth, head up the hill to the coal tipple where a loop of track and the TT will allow the train to be loaded, the loco turned for the return journey to Raworth. Simple! I wish!

Because the coal branch crosses over the approach tracks for the storage sidings I needed to have the track layout and the wiring for the storage yard completed before the coal branch could be installed and track laid on it. It was only about 4 meters long with 3 turnouts and a TT but it was the storage yards that were the problem not the coal branch. If you cast your minds back a while I decided to hold an operating session a couple of months ago and I’ve been working on a set of tasks that this threw up. This was no surprise, the same thing happened the last time I held operations on a layout, my HO layout Trundlemore in the mid 90s. However out of this process I decided that the Peco point motors had to go, to be replaced by Tortoise machines. Nine of them in all in addition to a new control panel, re-wiring and completing the wiring for the entire storage yards and also the laying and commissioning of the Millhouse River turntable that has been sitting neglected and disconnected from the rest of the layout at the end of the yard. Well I’m proud to report that as of yesterday (Thursday the 8th of Aug) the storage yard is now operational, although it is causing me some minor problems and needs to be programmed and de-bugged. But generally speaking this phase of the layout build is done. Finally!

My 49 takes a bit of a spin on the turntable. you’ll have to take my word for it that the table is really moving 🙂 Video will eventually emerge of this when I can be bothered fighting with my new video editing software. But that’s not going to happen in the same month Apple is turning off iTunes!

It may just be me but I don’t move onto a new job till the one I’m working on is completed, so the coal branch hadn’t seen a blow struck in anger for months and this was because I wanted those bloody Tortoise motors installed, hooked up and the tracks all laid up to the turntable before I got distracted onto wandering up the branch. Now that that job is done in the space of one morning I cut the last of the ply base boards for the coal branch and cut and fitted it’s mdf back drop and screwed this into position. All I now need to do it make and install 2 turnouts and the plain track to connect these. Believe me, in comparison to laying the track and wiring up the storage yard this will be a doddle! 🙂

This shot shows both the completed storage yard but also the coal branch base boards, the first time they’ve both been in position together. The coal branch is the length of ply that looks like a small shelf in the upper right of the photo.

In this shot I’ve installed the 6mm mdf backdrop on the last and final board, the one down the other end, and placed them into position. The camera is approximately where the smaller 60′ turntable will eventually reside. You can see in the foreground right the box and electronics for the new storage yard control panel which will eventually be made when the parts arrive from Hong Kong. The ply that projects out over the storage yard is where the coal tipple will go when I eventually build it. I wanted to give myself a little more depth for the building at this location.

So making progress on the coal branch required the completion of the storage sidings and progress on the Goondah and Burrinjuck NG project required that I complete both the storage yard and reinstall the coal branch because until I had the size and position of the bench work and control panels settled I couldn’t be sure how big I could make the bench work for Barren Jack (the name of the NG modules). The main element of the coal branch that was holding up the NG modules was that I needed to settle where the 60′ turntable (the one on the coal branch, not the large one at the end of the storage yard) was going to be placed because the access to it would be restricted by the new NG modules and I wanted to convince myself there was enough room to allow operators to get to it and that maintenance was going to be possible.

Like a cascade of dilemmas, with the storage yard track finally laid and wired up everything else could be decided from this base point. And this also explains why there haven’t been many blog posts recently because there’s not much of interest in me swearing at non cooperative wire and solder and bashing my head on the underside of the layout. Although I have friends who would pay good money to watch video of me bashing my head against the layout 🙂

This is the plan of the complete which corrects a mistake in the location of double slip at Raworth and shows how the benchwork for the NG modules will fit. The frames I built six months ago are a little bigger than I’d prefer so I’m going to trim 60mm off the width and 200mm off the length to provide a little more clearance down the aisles either side. With lighting rig and control panels sticking out from the edges of these modules making them a little smaller is prudent.

After getting the last piece of ply road bed in place on the coal branch I moved the two wooden frames for Barren Jack up to the layout room from the work room (where I do my modelling) and set them up on saw horses to see how they would fit. As I suspected things were a bit tight so I’m going to trim a little off the length and width of these frames to provide a little more clearance in the aisles either side.

If anything this photo gives a slightly optimistic impression of the amount of space available in the aisles either side of Barren Jack. I predict that with the layout at its proper height (approximately 300mm higher than when sitting on these saw horses and about level with the bench work surrounding it on the main layout) and with the backdrop in place things will look a lot tighter. So trimming off a little excess bench work now will give me a little more clearance.

I’m envisaging this small NG line as having two parts: the exchange yard at Raworth and the Barren Jack town yard at the other end of the line. Both will have a passenger platform with the Raworth end having the exchange sidings with the standard gauge Morepth branch line and Barren Jack having a goods shed, loading bank, crane and a small industry. I haven’t yet settled on what this industry will be but I’d like to be able to use some small tipple wagons I have that were produced by Bachmann and so it may end up as a sand mine loading tipple. These would run to Raworth as a dedicated train and unload there at a site I haven’t yet settled on.

This plan is a little misleading because my layout planning software doesn’t have a NG option so this is drawn with 32mm gauge track. Still the clearances and buildings are all in scale so they will fit.

Early this year as I tried to cram all the elements I wanted onto the Barren Jack modules in the planning process. As I worked on this early version of Barren Jack I came to realize that there was no way I could fit the transfer shed and the crane over the dual gauge line into the same scene as a small passenger platform and a goods shed and loading bank. By incorporating this small layout into my main layout it gives me enough room to separate the must have elements into their correct orientation at each end of the line and it provides operators with a new “industry” at Raworth. I would have liked to make this industry a SG fan of sidings with two or three wagon spots at different industrial sidings but there simply wasn’t room. This NG option takes advantage of a big empty floor space in the layout room and will provide a new job for an operator during operations sessions as they can run trains up and down the NG line to Barren Jack and back. I call that a win all round.

Final Track Plan V1.5A

I’d planned to spend some time in the layout room this morning working on the preliminaries to installing the new turnout motors under the storage sidings. However this plan took a side line after about an hour because as I worked I kept mentally adding items to a list of parts I need for the next stage of work and this kept getting longer and longer. It reached a stage where I felt I needed to jump online and place some orders so I abandoned work on the layout and trooped downstairs to the computer. Of course once I’m sitting in front of the computer I seem to get stuck and I started pulling up other files and made a phone call to my DCC guru trying to nut out a plan for how I was going use an NCE Mini-panel to allow route control on the storage sidings. I’m also in the middle of writing an article for a magazine I’ve never written for before and when I started tinkering with this I called up a track plan of the layout only to realize this was woefully out of date. So I spent the balance of the morning and some time this afternoon getting the plan up to date.

As this most recent plan drawing is an accurate reflection of what actually exists on the layout, as opposed to some vague scrawls I did a couple of years ago before I started laying track, I thought it might be worth sharing it here. I’ve placed a couple of labels at points where changes are taking place, or are about to take place, to help guide your attention to the section of the layout I’m talking about.

This is accurate as of the 15.07.2019. Don’t commit it to memory as it’s still likely to change. However at least it reflects what actually exists: I was shocked by how out of date V1.4 was.

A – I’d had this siding on the previous plan however it had been accessed by it’s own dedicated turnout. I removed that turnout to allow space for the loop to be lengthened in the QW yard. The siding is now accessed via the existing Morpeth dairy siding. I haven’t settled finally on what industry this siding is going to serve, however I like the idea of a flour mill as this would allow me to run a limited number of wheat wagons on the layout. There was a mill in Morpeth some years prior to the line closing but it wasn’t rail served so if I imagineer this into a situation where the mill was a success and needed to move to a bigger building a little down the line at Queens Wharf then I feel I can justify this being designated a mill. The alternative would be to make it a siding for the brick works that shipped out of Queens Wharf at one time but I feel this needs more space than I have available and possibly a couple of lines on its own dedicated siding.

B – I’ve moved the 60′ turntable from Raworth and this will be shifted up to the end of the coal branch which is where it should have been in the first place. Not having this turntable at Raworth has allowed me to fit a siding for an industry into this yard. Just like the siding at Queens Wharf I’m not sure what industry it’s going to serve yet but another dairy is appealing. I feel having a second dairy siding on the line is not only justified by the industry that existed at Morpeth at the time but it would also allow me to justify the existence of a dedicated milk/perishables train that would do a down pick up run to Morpeth where the loaded wagons would be shunted onto the pier and on the up run the empties would be picked up and hauled back to East Maitland (off the layout in storage). This would be in addition to the daily pick up goods which, from experience running the operating session a few weeks ago, has more than enough to keep it busy from the sidings that already exist on the line. And remember I’m adding sidings that weren’t on the layout when that operating session was held. I feel that separating the dairy wagons onto a separate train could be justified if there were two separate dairies on the line thus providing sufficient traffic for a dedicated milk train.

C – With the turntable gone from Raworth this opens the yard up, with the installation of a new set of turnouts and a goods loop, to some standard industries at this location. It will probably only consist of a small goods shed and a stock race but this is exactly the type of infrastructure that would have existed at this type of station and it gives the crew of the daily pick up goods another yard to shunt. Just what they need the lazy beggars! 🙂

D – This is the location that kicked off the majority of these track plan changes in a sort of cascade of dominoes, if that isn’t mixing my metaphors. By lengthening the passing loop at QW I’ve found myself spending most of my modelling time over the past few weeks pulling out work that I thought I’d completed last year. I’m happy with the way this has turned out because once these changes have been made I’ll be living with them for quite a while.

E – This is the location where I’m currently working in the layout room. While the storage lines have always been designated at this spot on the earlier versions of the plan, this version is actually what exists there now, not a vague representation of what I might one day build which is the situation with all my previous plans of Morpeth Mk5. As I’ve written here recently the most significant changes at this location are turning the turntable round 180 degrees to lengthen the yards and the addition of a 7th siding which is the dead end siding on the aisle side. This is a dead end simply because I can’t see how I can bend it at the end to get it to enter the turntable while maintaining my minimum radius curve but I may be able to squeeze something in, who knows? A dead end siding isn’t ideal but it’s better than not having it and I can possibly park locos on this or even the CPH rail-motor which doesn’t need to be turned. I certainly don’t want a siding with access to the turntable being tied up by the CPH.

I Wish I Had Shares In Circuitron

After spending quite a bit of time wiring up the layout and laying new track in preparation for the operation day I held at my home a month ago, I’ve spent the past few weeks pulling wiring out and hauling up some of the track I laid last year on another part of the layout. The most recent changes to the Morpeth Line are really a mix of things I knew needed to happen combined with some lessons learned on that day; I knew I needed to replace the Peco solenoid switch motors with Tortoise stall motors and I was also aware that I needed to address the yard in Raworth. However I’d had no thoughts regarding the length of my storage yard lines (being too short of course, are they ever too long?) and the ability to tell at a glance which way the turnout in the storage cupboard is set without having to open the door and look in there.

And don’t get me started on couplers! 🙂 After the operating session I spent most of two weeks converting every piece of my rolling stock to Protocraft couplers, in the process taking all the older style couplers that had been installed on my models over the years, including stock that never had knuckle couplers installed on the prototype. I’ll probably be arrested by the hobby police but I was sick of seeing my stock (especially the scratch built items) with three link and older style couplers sit in the yard unused because it was just too difficult to hook them up to a train. My two scratch built ICVs got a run around the layout for the first time last week. Yes the first time, and all because they had couplers that were incompatible with everything else rather than what was applied to those wagons on the prototype 70 years ago.

After waiting for packages to arrive in the mail from the US and a trip to Sydney to buy supplies I started in on the really big job: removing all the solenoid switch motors from the storage yard and changing these over to Tortoise machines.

There are 9 turnouts in the storage yard and I made the decision to change the way they were thrown from solenoids to Tortoise machines about 15 minutes after I completed the control panel for the solenoid motors last year. In this photo you can see them ready to be installed. All of them have been pre-wired to a screw terminal block and mounted on a small rectangle of 7mm (1/4″) ply, all of which have four pre-drilled and counter sunk holes in them to accept the wood screws I’ll use to mount the machines under the layout. This makes them a doddle to install and wire up and is well worth the effort. Once I prepare the turnouts by removing their over centre springs I’ll get all of these installed most probably in about 2 hours. Wiring them will take a little longer but it means no soldering under the layout.

Probably the two biggest decisions I’ve made in the past moth concern the arrangement of the yard at Raworth and the orientation of the turntable at the end of the storage lines.

I originally had decided to set up the turntable at the end of the storage yard with about 600mm (2′) of space beyond the table where spare locos could be stored. Pretty standard hey? The problem with this arrangement for me was that 1) I really don’t like locomotives on show in storage and 2) after running the longest train I could fit into the loop at QW around the layout back to storage I discovered that only 3 of the six lines could accommodate this admittedly modest length train. Something had to give.

I’ve included this shot to demonstrate the amount of space that was being eaten up by this completely unnecessary storage fan (well it would have been a storage fan if I’d ever got around to installing the track). This 600mm of length will be much better utilized added to the length of all 6 of my storage lines. Make that 7 as I’ve decided I can squeeze in a 7th line along the edge nearest the camera, although this probably won’t be able to be hooked up to the turntable so will be a simple dead end siding.

After the operating session a month ago I decided that storage space of excess (and as yet unbuilt) locos came a very poor second to storing my (as yet unbuilt) trains. So today I un-hooked the wiring and bolts holding the table that houses the turntable and dragged this around 180 degrees to place this unused space on the train side of the turntable, where it should have been in the first place.

As the turntable was located in the exact centre of the free standing table I’d built to house it, turning the whole affair around was a simple matter. A couple of temporary legs, disconnect a few wires and loosen two bolts and then spin. Easy Peasy! I plan to hook everything back up and actually run the tracks to the turn table as I work my way down and re-wire the entire storage yard.

As yet none of the re-wiring and track laying has started: all I’ve managed to do is undo all the work I did last year. Oh and the trains aren’t running again as I seem to have disconnected something vital in pulling all the wiring away from the Peco motors. But that will be addressed in the next couple of weeks.

Stay tuned. I haven’t even started on Raworth yet 🙂

The Borderline Operators

It’s been quite a big week for Morpeth. The operating session went off pretty much without a hitch and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. I’d put in so much time getting the track in QW yard laid and wired up that I really didn’t have time to prepare other elements that I was pretty sure would give first time, guest operators trouble. And let’s face it, as this was the first ops session, everyone was a first time operator.

Peter and George concentrating on getting their trains through Raworth and into the storage sidings.

I did do some filming but I need a new video camera and the latest version of Adobe Premiere Elements is giving me trouble so that may have to wait. For the time being still photos will have to suffice. We really only ran three trains (one of those being a CPH railmotor) so it wasn’t exactly what you’d call operationally intensive, but the yards on the layout are new to all of us and really quite limited in capacity, so there was some degree of waiting around while someone else’s train cleared the section. The layout was designed as a shunting puzzle really so in this sense it was supposed to be lots of pushing wagons about and I have plans to make some adjustments to the track plan to accommodate this even more.

Phil really had the hardest job by being given the the down pick up goods. Between barely tested track and couplers which really needed to be changed and serviced it’s a minor miracle he managed to make it out and back in one piece.

We seemed to have settled on the name “The Borderline Operators” as our small group’s title so I’ve given the look a test by doing some Photoshop magic to Phil’s shirt in the above photo.

I’ve spent the days since Wednesday working on all my wagons which have an older style coupler that continued to throw up issues. I’ve manged to fit the newer style couplers from Protocraft to about half the wagons that needed to be converted and I also put a fair bit of time into the extended version of the same brand of coupler (I added the extension myself) that was fitted to the 48 class loco Phil had been using to as it wasn’t sitting or swinging properly. The signal I wrote about in the previous post had to be removed as it was causing clearance issues on the main and loop. I have plans in train to sort these out.

This photo shows the culmination of about 6 months work. It shows a train in the loop at Queens Wharf with every wagon fitted with Protocraft couplers and with the maximum length train allowed by the length of the loop with loco and brake van attached. It may not be a particularly long train but it’s the ruling loop on the entire line, being the shortest, so it will have to do! 🙂

I’ve been making trips out and back to the train room as I’ve gone about fitting the couplers to the wagons that needed it and this afternoon gave the 48 and some wagons a test run. I ran the train into the loop at QW and picked up a wagon Phil had placed in front of the dairy, hooked up to the front of the train and ran the whole train around the layout a couple of times.

Excuse my French but it was absolute f&^king magic! 🙂

Short Circuits and Stupid Questions

“Where the #$&^(*@!! did I put those screw drivers!???”

This catches the flavour of one of the stupid questions I asked myself today as I continued rewiring the layout under Queens Wharf yard, but it wasn’t limited to just screw drivers. I also managed to mislay my glasses at least twice and my electrical tester, which didn’t turn up until my friend Phil dropped by and pointed out where it was after I’d told him I couldn’t find it to test a loco we were discussing.

This shot shows the turnouts I built a few months ago finally installed at one end of the QW yard. This had taken far longer than it should have but the job is finally done. The turnouts in question are the three closest to the camera.

I laid the new turnouts and track to extend the loop of Queens Wharf yard over a couple of days with 2 weeks in the middle when I don’t enter the train room. This included 5 days in Bali. When I arrived home last weekend and had recovered sufficiently from my jet setting lifestyle I put some time into finishing the track laying and two days ago I started to really come to grips with wiring the new track. I’d been putting off rewiring QW since I’d started building the Morpeth line but the time had come to bite the bullet. The entire layout is wired using red and black wire as the standard colours for the DCC bus wires. Black droppers on the front rail and red at the back. However QW again caused me some issues because it had been wired in reverse of this basic pattern when built 15 years ago. So I had the new layout wired up one way and two small segments of an old layout wired up in reverse. This wasn’t too much of an issue when I first installed the old modules in the new layout but I had been planning to install block occupancy detectors on the loop and the main lines in QW yard and these require a single rail for the section to be detected isolated from the rest of the layout. The thought of trying to distinguish which red and black droppers should be mixed and in what way was keeping me up at night. So yesterday I did what I should have done in the first place and removed all the droppers from the older sections of QW and swapped these so they conformed to the same pattern of black and red that exist on the rest of the layout. After doing this I started actually wiring QW yard. Not the new sections of track and the new turnouts mind you. I had to start about 3 meters away from the new track and start hooking up the wiring down the far end where the first section of the old QW resides.

The installation of the new track in QW yard should have been quite a quick job but deciding to install block occupancy detectors (at the same time as planning for the installation of signals and replacing a stationary decoder [Switch 8] for an upgraded model) has turned this into a major re-wire taking about 4 days so far.

There are times when you should take the easy route for a job and there are other times when it’s best to say “bugger it” and start again. To some degree I chose the second course with the QW re-wire. I couldn’t see any point in continuing to cobble together sections of layout that didn’t match, especially as little QW had been a test module I’d built 15 years ago and had never intended installing block occupancy detectors on it. Installing NCE BD20s is quite straightforward really but not when you try to mix and match the colours of the dropper wires that lead to the isolated rail that is at the heart of the process. One wrong wire and the detector wouldn’t work. So I’ve essentially replaced and upgraded 60% of the wiring in this section of the layout. One more day should see this forest of wires trimmed neatly and back in place.

This shot shows my complete collection of rolling stock and locomotives set up in the storage sidings. Doesn’t seem much after nearly 20 years working in O-scale does it?

To give myself a break from crawling around under the layout I decided to unpack my loco and rolling stock collection and place it all on the storage lines. If we’re going to be running an operating session next week I need some trains to run. I even got 1919 out of the glass cabinet she’s lived in for the past 2 years and placed her on the track to film her first run on Morpeth. She’s never actually run on the layout. I set the camera rolling but she kept stalling on one of the turnouts. The loco was running beautifully, there was just a dead spot between the frog and the end of the switch rails on one particular turnout. So my break from crawling around under QW consisted of two and a half hours of crawling around under the storage sidings sorting out a dead spot on one of my Peco points. It happened to be one of the oldest turnouts I owned which had been installed by me a few months ago after being recycled from at least 2 different layouts. The point motor and PL10 switch were already in place under the turnout when I installed it in the storage sidings. This simply confirmed for me the need to get rid of all the Peco solenoid motors on this part of the layout to be replaced with Tortoise motors. Another job on the to do list.

Stairway To Heaven

The stairs leading up to my train room probably don’t qualify as leading to Heaven as such but as my train room is up there surely it qualifies as a semi-Nirvana? 🙂

Preparations for my first operating session continue… apace would be slightly misleading, let’s say preparations continue at a steady canter or trot. The only problem with inviting guests to see your layout, or in this instance to help you operate it, is that they need to be able to actually get into the room where the trains are. I can’t be the first layout owner/builder who has a layout at the end of a set of stairs, but in most instances the builder of the house in which the layout has been built will probably have supplied the original dwelling with a handrail to the room. Not in this instance.

My layout is built on the upper floor of a two level Colourbond steel (plastic coated corrugated steel sheet material) structure that I have a feeling is intended as a small farm shed with an office space/teenage retreat upstairs. The upper floor was never envisaged as the location for a model train layout but it serves this purpose reasonably well, sloping roof not withstanding. These sheds are made to a price and while the structure itself will probably outlast the house I live in, the original owners obviously didn’t avail themselves of the minor creature comforts available to the owners of such sheds, such as having lights or a handrail on the stairs installed as it was being built.

Far be it from me to cast aspersions on the participants of our wonderful hobby but not to put too fine a point on it, none of us is getting any younger. The average age profile of the hobby is going up at a fair clip and this includes the friends I have coming on the first Wednesday in June. For this reason alone the need for a safe way to get up and down the stairs is imperative and stairs without handrails would be a challenge for a group of 20 something hipsters let alone a mob of creaky old farts like my model train friends. The other day one of them asked for a chair lift to be installed. As if??!! 🙂

This is the view that greets you when standing at the top of the stairs looking down. They aren’t the steepest stairs I’ve ever come across but they aren’t exactly shallow either.

I decided that the very first job I needed to address in getting organized for the upcoming gathering was to install a handrail on the stairs. Not something that probably qualifies as a “train related task” in most instances but I’m convinced that unless visitors feel safe and happy when the come to visit your trains the chances of them coming back for a second visit are much higher. To be honest the last bloody thing I wanted to be doing is spending a fair wad of cash and time on installing handrails, but after seeing visitors in the past wobbling on the stairs I considered this a first order priority. And visitors aren’t the only ones who have wobbled on these stairs. I too have been a little shaky on them at times so getting this job ticked off the to do list was a must for yours truly too.

Same stairs and rail, different view.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in installing these handrails is that the building itself was clearly not designed with this task foremost in the thoughts of the designers. I’m quite a fan of a Canadian reality TV show from the late 90s early 2000s called Holmes on Homes. In this show Mike Holmes goes around ripping people’s homes to pieces only to rebuild them beautifully. One of the many lessons to be learned from this show is the oft repeated statement made by the host that if you put in a railing (either on stairs or on a deck) people will naturally tend to lean on it. For this reason alone the structure of rails needs to be strong; strong enough to bear someone’s weight. I made sure as I installed my handrails that it was up to the job and solid, really solid. The term over-engineered has been applied to the things I’ve built in the past and applies to this handrail in spades. I’m happy with it even though there’s still a modicum of movement in the rail at the very bottom of the rails uprights nearest the ground floor.

This shot shows the lower rail that leads up to the turn in the stairs about 1/3 of the way up.

I won’t go into the nitty-grity of the materials and techniques I used but will limit myself to saying that the structure was made from 70×35 & 70x45mm framing timber bolted to the steel structure. Where there weren’t sufficient posts to bolt this timber to I installed more timber to act as an anchor to the sub rail. I screwed steel handrail brackets to this sub rail and installed the bread loaf Muranti railing to these. The railing itself needs a light sand and a couple of coats of finish but this can be done over the next few days. I also miscalculated on the number of brackets I would need and have to go back and get one more of these. Even with a bracket missing the railing is as solid as I want it to be.

Now onto getting trains running on the layout again. Oh did I mention I’m going to Bali for 5 days as of the 27th of May? I’m back a day or so before the gathering in my train room. Time’s a wastin! 🙂