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.

Queens Wharf Yard

I’ve been happy with the progress I’ve been making on the layout recently but the decision to hand lay the track in the extended Queens Wharf yard has slowed me down considerably. That and spending some time away in sunny Queensland ๐Ÿ™‚

This photo shows the whole of the new yard and sidings at Queens Wharf. I’ve marked the area where the oil depot will be located with an “A”. This will be bounded on three sides by track but road vehicles will be able to access the yard via a rail crossing at the front of the layout. “B” marks the spot where the oil unloading pipes for the depot will be located and “C” shows where a yard gantry crane will be sited. This siding hasn’t been fully laid with track so it ends some way back from the end of the line.

As I worked my way down Queens Wharf with track and wiring I came to the realization that all the wiring would essentially need to be replaced so there is a rather big pile of old wire under one section of the layout where I ripped it all out. I’m yet to do the same to the section nearest the camera which is why you can see wires dangling here and there. My reasons for doing this were both long and short-term.

The short-term reason is that as I’m already going to be under the layout wiring up the new extension it seemed crazy not to make a fresh start and redo all the wiring. There were dangling wires I had no idea the purpose of, hand written labels on scraps of masking tape that seemed to bear no relationship to what happened when power was applied and I also plan to add two new points and associated point motors to this part of the layout. None of the old points were labelled in any coherent or consistent fashion and they were all going to need to be programmed into the DCC system. Just having the point motor labelled with a #9 didn’t make much sense on a layout with probably over 30 points most of which are new.

The longer term reason is that I want the amount of time I have to spend under the layout to be at a minimum, so applying coherent labels to the point motors and other components like signals now (ones that have a code that makes sense and which I’ve recorded in a file) should make maintenance much easier in the future. There are going to be seven points within the boundaries of QW so starting at the Morpeth end (as the down end) the first point will be labelled QW01 the next one QW02 and so on down the line. Each of these point motors will have a number programmed into the DCC decoders and as QW01 will be the 9th point motor from the end of the line this will be its number, duly recorded in a spread sheet in a master wiring file I’ll complete as I go and hopefully never have to look at again.

Once I’ve finally laid all the track in the yard and soldered droppers to the rails I’ll work my way along the layout and systematically wire up the entire section. I’ll also install the various electronic components, things like an NCE Switch 8 or QSnap depending on the type of motors being connected. I’m determined to put these in locations that will be relatively easy to access at a later time when the layout is covered in scenery. There’s nothing worse than trying to work under a scenicked layout, upside down, in the dark with your head bumping the benchwork as you try to get a wire to stay connected to a screw terminal.

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Part 1 Of Making a Point

I made the decision a few days ago I was going to make a video describing how I hand lay points. I quickly became apparent that I would need to break this down into a few parts. This video is part one where I describe preparing the track base and laying sleepers. Please let me know what you think to help me improve future efforts.

Re-purposing and Recycling

I’ve put a great deal of work into the layout over the past couple of weeks but don’t seem to have laid much track or constructed any benchwork. Most of the work has been under the layout making cabinets and doing wiring. After deciding that I needed to order some new points for the storage sidings I couldn’t really make any progress on that side of the layout so I moved back round to the “well” that is the operating area that sits between Morpeth and what’s left of Queens Wharf. I’d gradually been getting large components of the layout in place and joining these up with new benchwork but I hadn’t put any serious work into wiring any of this up. There was a jumble of electrical cords, tools and DCC components spread about in front and on Morpeth so I decided it was time to do something permanent about this mess. I started work by once again marveling at my father’s eclectic taste in furniture.

I was talking to my sister about the history of this chair (the only surviving member of the original four) and its accompanying dining table over Christmas a week or so ago. She reckons my father purchased it in about 1972 from David Jones in Parramatta in Sydney. That makes it approximately 45 years old and until this week it was still fulfilling its allotted role. Until that is I decided my bum hurt while I was sitting at my modelling bench.

I have a theory that my father was a frustrated beatnik and this expressed itself in his taste in furniture and household fittings. The table survived until about 1977 and somehow this single chair remains in my possession mainly due to the fact that it was one of the few chairs that would fit under my modelling desk which I’ve used for the past 18 years or so. However the other day I found that my nether regions were less than comfortable sitting on the period black vinyl of this old chair so I kicked the cat off the replacement I’d purchased a couple of years ago and decided to re-purpose my dad’s old chair into a new role.

My layout may not be very far off the ground but I’m way too old to be crawling around on the floor trying to wire upside down without some mobility aids. A bit of scrap timber, 4 trundle wheels and an hour later I have a new, deluxe wiring trolley.

So after I’d partially addressed my aging body with the new trolley chair I decided to put some thought into where all my DCC components would be housed. When I’m wiring a layout I like to have the terminal points sorted so I have a spot where I’m running the wires to. I don’t like things on shelves up under the layout: for me the best way to house the various electronic boxes that form my DCC system, the power packs and the hundred and one other bits and pieces needed are best housed in a cabinet or shelf unit located underneath but in line with the front of the layout where it’s neat but easily accessible. I’m not climbing under this layout one more time than I need to.

This little three door cabinet was used many years ago on my last permanent layout Trundlemore. Funnily enough its allotted role then was to house the power packs and boxes for he DCC system.

About 1995 I was in the middle of building my last permanent layout Trundlemore when I constructed a cabinet from MDF to house the power packs and DCC system for the layout. This cabinet has followed me half way round the state over the years being used for a range of purposes but as it was originally built to house electronic components I felt it would be honoring it to place back in this role. I gave it a bit of a wipe down, reattached the back, removed the transformers that had sat unused in it for the past 20 years and fixed a sticky door. I then dragooned the better half into helping me haul it upstairs where I have spent a good deal of time getting it back in service. A whole bunch of cables and wires run out of the back of that center cupboard but the very best part of using this small cabinet for the layout is that I can lean down and flick the switches on about half the equipment that needs to be turned on to operate the layout. I hate power cords sprawled over the floor. That power board is anchored in the cupboard.

This little shelf unit took me about 3 hours to make from some ply my partner picked up for $20. I got the leftovers for free after she’d used what she needed. This little unit sits about 1.5m from the cabinet in the other photo but about 10m as the track runs along the layout. Hence the NCE booster unit sitting on the bottom shelf.

I’ve been listening to a lot audio books and podcasts over the past few weeks (This American Life being one of my favourites) as I’ve worked on the layout. These are all stored on my now hopelessly out of date iPod Nano which has no Wi Fi or blue-something capability. As soon as I got sick of carrying my little iPod dock up and down the stairs of the layout room I asked Santa to see if he could bring me a new one that could remain in place, thus allowing me to just carry the iPod itself back and forth. What a saga this request turned out to be. No one, and I mean no one, makes iPod docks anymore. “It’s all wireless these days bud” was the response from one bearded goof I spoke to in an electronic shop. I would have shot back with “I had a wireless before the invention of smashed avocado you young whipper snapper” if I’d thought of it in the shop and not half an hour later on the drive home. You’d think I was asking to be sold an Edison gramophone from the expressions on the faces of the hip young things in places like JB HiFi where I asked about the possibility of buying such a device.

Anyway the better half took on the challenge of getting me something from the “net” for Christmas and lo and behold, when I opened my gift on Christmas morning there was an Apple “Universal Dock” in my lap. However disappointingly these have no speakers so another trip to the dreaded JB HiFi was required. Upon exiting said store I had purchased a cable that I worked out cost about 25c per centimeter and a small Sony speaker box that cost approximately 3 times what my iPod was purchased for in the Jurassic era about eight years ago. However I am triumphant because I can now listen to my podcasts as I work on the layout in clear, crisp tones and I wasn’t beaten into submission by a dark corporate cabal and forced to buy a device with WiFi or Houndstooth or some new-fangled technology that won’t work in four years time anyway because no one has ever heard of it! Oh and there’s a bit of space left over to house an NCE Power booster and a transformer for the Tortoise machines on this part of the layout too ๐Ÿ™‚

Appetite For Destruction

I’ve managed to get a fair bit of time on the layout this past week in the lead-up to Christmas with only the occasional interruption due to the better half wanting me to work on her walk in wardrobe or the cat demanding to be fed thus making a trip to the supermarket necessary. I managed to do about 75% of my Christmas shopping online this year but this paled by comparison with the number and variety of materials and supplies I’ve been buying for the layout online.

I’d started this past week with the firm intention of laying at least some of the track in the storage yard, however it only took the consumption of one beer while I sat looking at the length of the storage lines leading to the turntable to make me realize that a major revision to the plan was called for. I will now have 6 storage lines instead of 5 and all of them will be significantly longer after the inclusion of some curved points which have been pushed something like 750mm further back up the yard. Of course the first thing I did after I decided to make this change was to take stock of the curved points I had on hand. I would need 2 left hand ones for this change and another for the entrance to the yard in Raworth, a stop on the line that is yet to be built. Great news, I had 4 curved Peco points in the cupboard, all of them right handed. @%&%$*&! ๐Ÿ™‚ I placed an order online with my usual supplier but having only placed this 4 days before Christmas my plans to lay some of the storage lines was going to have to wait. What to do next?

I spent a few hours refurbishing a small cabinet that I built something like 20 years ago to house my power packs and electronic boxes on my last HO layout. As I’ve not had a permanent layout in the intervening years when this layout came down the cabinet was trundled around the state with me and last saw service as a “make-do” spray painting station. I need somewhere to house my DCC system, the power packs to supply the command control system and other layout functions, a place to gather the power cords in place at a power board and a place to store all the other paraphernalia that goes along with these needs like throttles and cords. I decided that it would be honoring this little cabinet to place it back in service in its original function and a few hours work to remove various additions, extract some very old transformers and adjust a door that was always sticky saw it carried upstairs ready to be pressed into service next week.

The next logical job on the layout was to “fill the gap” at Queens Wharf created by the splitting of this little layout into two parts to allow for the extension of the loop. I’d already decided that within the yard limits of QW I would hand lay the track to match the track that already exists there so this meant getting the roadbed installed within the yard and making a start on laying the track. I commenced work by carrying out some work on the new bench work tables that the layout is now sitting on and securing the layout to these. I then made some adjustments to some ply roadbed pieces I’d cut up weeks ago and which had been sitting on the layout gathering tools on their surfaces while I worked on other projects. I’ve made a start on the track and I’ll detail my method of hand laying track in a follow-up post but in this post I thought I’d detail how I started with the remnants of a small portable layout and ended up with almost none of this left in its original condition.

This photo shows what was left of Queens Wharf after I’d installed it on its new benchwork. So this where I started about 3 days ago. You can see where things have changed as I split the layout in two and inserted a section of benchwork in the middle to allow a longer passing loop. I haven’t finalized what’s going to eventually be installed in this extended QW but I do know that I want to model an oil siding and I want this model to include some storage tanks. In 7mm these tanks are “big” and while I probably won’t install all of the ones even a small depot would have on site I think two isn’t out of the question. I’ve been considering A as the most likely location but this site is very restricted because of the goods shed at B. It would be good if I could shift the goods shed. Also the track and associated benchwork at C was a piece of extra trackย  I’d installed when I last tried to press QW into service as a destination on a layout but I was restricted to only about 250mm of extra track. I kept looking at this section of layout and thinking “maybe I should remove those stubby lengths of track and start again”. D is the station area of QW and this is largely based on the prototype: if this station stop was going to remain Queens Wharf it really needed to be left in place but it would be really nice to be able to move it closer to the camera so it isn’t crammed up that end of the yard.

When I decided to use QW and Morpeth in the construction of this layout t was intended to be a head start on construction. The restrictions and challenges of trying to cram the two layouts into this space would be compensated for be having a detailed layout up and running much faster. If the process of getting the layouts to fit led to significant portions of those layouts either having to be abandoned or discarded then I may as well start from scratch and build an entirely new layout.

A little bit of leverage and the removal of some screws allowed me to clear the whole end of the QW yard giving me more breathing room for the oil depot and the later installation of a new goods shed a little further down the line.

I started by wondering what was holding the goods shed in place: two screws and a little paint was the answer so this scene is now sitting on a shelf in my storage cupboard. I really couldn’t see the point of leaving the stubby lengths of track in place at this end of the yard as these were only “make-do” anyway so I removed the track and the associated benchwork. Now that I have a clean slate I’ll put some thought into what I’m going to do with this space as I digest my Christmas Biryani. For some reason the better half has decided were going to go with Indian food for Christmas day celebrations this year ๐Ÿ™‚

While I was under the layout I decided to determine what was securing the station platform and waiting hut scene to the benchwork: very little it turned out. I gave the scenery base it was sitting on a gentle poke with my fingers and the whole scene lifted. So I pulled the whole scene free from the layout and placed it further up the line just to see if it would fit.

This is the shape of things with the station centered on the main and sitting where it should, not crammed down the end of the scene where it has always been. The reason it was that far down the line was simply a lack of room. I was considering removing the signal from this scene anyway as it was hidden behind the town scene and was virtually invisible. So having the whole scene relocated will expedite this change of location beyond the shop in the distance.ย 

I will have to consider whether I like the station in this location and also whether I wish to leave the station facilities as they were at the real QW which were spartan indeed. In my expanded and enhanced QW such a small, open platform seems a little out of place. An A2 or A3 station building would seem more appropriate for this location. Who knows, Queens Wharf station platform may get a new lease of life at a location a little further up the line. Then again, I might just leave things as is.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Resources & Materials

I haven’t kept detailed records but I’ve probably been collecting resources and materials to help build my new layout for at least 4 years. There are track components and some timber and hardware that have been kicking around for probably 15 years and which will find or have found a home in the construction of the layout. I picked up some parts for construction when the Aussie dollar was high against the US dollar and UK pound a few years ago and I would guess this has saved me a considerable amount of money. However I purchased my fourth sheet of 12mm plywood today, my second bulk box of wood-screws (500 6Gx40mm this time) along with a seemingly never-ending line of 3X1 pine and some more 3mm and 6mm MDF. I also discovered that for some reason I have 4 right hand points of one particular type and no left hand ones and of course it was a left hand one I needed. That plan went down the drain quick smart!

This point is probably the most critical piece of track-work on the entire layout. It will serve as one leg of the triangle of track that permits the exit and entry of all trains into and out of the storage yard. It’s position is also critical because unless I get this right the radius of the main line curves will be smaller than planned thus restricting what stock I can run. In addition it sits on top of the junction of four pieces of ply, there are two changes of elevation commencing just beyond it (one up, one down), the track bed transitions from plain ply in storage to sitting on the white purlin tape just beyond it. To add to the fun eventually a line of track to the coal branch will cross about 11cm above this location, thus making it the most difficult point on the layout to access. What could go wrong? ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve made very pleasing progress over the past week on the layout. What I really want to do is get all the track laid in the area of the curve that connects QW and Morpeth (the subject of the video I posted a week or so ago) so I can mask it off and spray the track with a flat earth colour so I can commence some scenery. This is very doable but to lay the two lines that exit this area of the layout I really needed to install the roadbed in the section of the layout just beyond it so that the track will be where it’s needed and not where I guesstimate it will go. So lots of cutting, chopping, line drawing and light installing have taken place to allow the laying of about 4 meters of plain track leading out of the curve to parts beyond.

The two lines that lead from the curve (you can see them in the photos coming through from the lighted layout beyond) exit this section via some holes I cut in the backdrop last week. Before I could build and install the benchwork on the other side of the backdrop, and thus lay the track bed over this, I decided I had to do something about the lighting over the curved section of layout. I pressed two lighting “trays” that have been sitting leaning against the walls of various sheds of mine for probably the past 10 years that were custom-built for Queens Wharf. I couldn’t see much point in making new ones. I decided not to make too many changes but the stands that I made to hold these above QW weren’t high enough so I had to purchase some more lengths of aluminium to get these to the required height and then install the lights and wire them up. Along the way I managed to blow a fuse and plunge everything into darkness but it all seems to be working as intended. The reason I needed to deal with the lighting at this stage was for similar reasons to building benchwork on a part of the layout that isn’t supposed to be the bit I’m working on. It was because if I leave it till after this particular benchwork is installed access to the area will be strictly curtailed.

The next step was to build some more benchwork which shouldn’t have presented any problems but because I didn’t make one simple check at the start I had to construct it three times and pull it apart twice. I eventually got it built and commenced cutting up lots of “bananas” of 12mm ply to act as track bed for the track to be laid on it. After my tribulations with the lights and the benchwork things went remarkably smoothly and by late Sunday afternoon I’d managed to get the track-bed at the storage yard throat installed and the point at this critical juncture positioned, ready for installation.

After checking and measuring half a dozen times and trying out different locations and ideas I managed to position the point for the yard throat in its final location. It ended up almost exactly where the plan (pictured in the foreground) said it was going to be. Wonders never cease! ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s just sitting in position in this photo but I’ve cut the hole for the point motor in the track bed and you can see the wired up motor sitting to the left.

The better half and I made a Bunnings run this morning and for once I bought more stuff than she did. But she’s building a house, I’m only building a model train layout! ๐Ÿ™‚ What this brought to mind was just how much material and resources you burn through when you really get started on building a layout of this size. I was doing a little wiring the other day and my normally pristine layout room went from neat to messy in a few hours. It’s an indication of how much stuff I’m using.

This may not look very messy to you but for me it’s a disgrace! I don’t like mess and I would normally have cleaned up by now but there’s no point until I finish producing the rain of debris causing the mess and that won’t be till I’ve laid all the track at this location and wired it all up.