A Lotta Layout

I’ve had a big week on the layout. A couple of friends paid me a visit to help me hang a new section of photo backdrop and all the components are in place to lay the track down the narrow shelf at the bottom of the room. However instead of doing the logical thing and move onto laying the track and wiring things up on this section of layout I decided to go to the other side of the room and build a new bit of benchwork.

This shot shows about 75% of the layout. The empty corner on the left is the last vacant real estate and will soon be filled with benchwork. You can see the corner of the new section of “budget” benchwork peeking out from behind the wall on the far left.

It might seem quite contradictory to anyone looking at the photo above but I don’t consider this layout to be all that big. I’m not really talking scale, the size of the trains or the radius of the curves in this: I just mean the overall size of the room and the layout I’m building in it. When I compare it to other layouts I’ve seen and read about over the years the room I’m building the layout in doesn’t really feel very big. When you build something like this one step at a time it also doesn’t seem as big as when you stop and look back over it. However looking at this photo (which is a narrower version of what I see when I stand in this spot) I’ve got to admit: it’s a lotta layout! πŸ™‚

Because of the size of the layout and the sheer quantity of materials going into it I must admit to becoming a little more cost conscious as I’ve gone along. I had a little timber on hand before I started and I’ve bought a lot since, but I only stopped to add up what each layout section costs me when I built the new section I constructed today and I must admit to getting a bit of a shock. “If one section costs me so much that means…” (and I stopped there because I didn’t want to know the total). And of course that’s without track, wire, DCC components, photo backdrops and a myriad of other electronic bits and pieces I always seem to be waiting for in the mail. I’ve noticed that ad space at the bottom of web pages have started being taken up with adverts for capacitors and plastic terminal blocks. Sorry guys, I’ve already bought those πŸ™‚

My partner (who I don’t actually reside with) has recently been building herself a new home. I was impressed as she laid decking and applied skirting boards around the house but I was even more impressed when she offered me about 12 lengths of 15mm ply (200mm wide) that she’d picked up for $20 and had been using as temporary decking sheets. I happily loaded this into her trailer (which I was borrowing, mine is for trains πŸ™‚ ) and brought it home and stacked it in the corner of my workshop. I wasn’t sure what I was going to use it for but it had definite possibilities. After a couple of weeks I decided to rip these planks into 90mm wide pieces and see how they went being used to make box sections for the layout. I’ve made all my other layout sections from 3X1 pine (72mmX19mm) and while I find this turns out great layout segments it also costs about $70 per section just for the box and legs. I figured I’d save about $50 per section by using the ply. However this didn’t cheapen the cost of the legs. These are 2×2 pine (42mmX42mm) and while this makes great legs it also costs a lot and there’s a lot of waste because up till recently the longest lengths I could fit in my car have been 2.4m. I had about 15 lengths of very expensive off-cuts sitting in a pile about to make the trip to my partner’s wood burning heater until inspiration struck.

I must have been having one of my lucid days yesterday because as I was laying down contemplating my next move on the layout it suddenly occurred to me that I have a moderate degree of woodworking skill and that I was more than capable of cutting a lap joint and making up a number of legs from the pile of little bits I had in off-cuts box. Two hours work, a lot of saw dust and I had six leg blanks ready to be cut to length and have the leveling feet attached to one end.

I made this test section of layout today using the 90mm wide ply I ripped on my table saw and the legs I cobbled together from the off-cuts of other legs. Aside from the cross brace of 9mm ply at the bottom of the legs and the screws holding it together this benchwork was essentially free, saving me about $70. I have enough material to make three more box sections and two more legs.

I rip cut a couple of the 200mm wide ply planks into usable timber and constructed a section of layout benchwork to test whether I liked it or not. I’m not sure how benchwork made in this way will behave in the long term compared from pine but I’m going to make some more sections, lay some track on it and then leave it for quite a while so see if there’s any sagging or problems. If there is I’ll pull it out and replace the boxes with pine.

After removing the required 100mm of material from 12 pieces of 2×2 I glued and clamped the joints and then inserted four 40mm screws into the joint (two each side). So I ended up with six legs salvaged from the off-cuts. I’m fairly confident that these legs are as strong as those made from one piece of solid timber.

My plan is to build the three remaining sections of benchwork and then begin to lay the track on the section of the layout that I applied the photo backdrop to the other day. When I come back and lay all the track on these sections of new benchwork I’ll be ready to cut the three holes in the walls I need to allow the track to join in a circle. This section of track will emerge over a stairway about 1.8m above the stairs That should be fun to build πŸ™‚


Trev Makes a Robot?

In that cinema classic Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey there’s a scene where this big hairy individual goes on a journey in the back of a van with Bill and Ted with Death along for the ride in the passenger seat. The big, hairy guy (I think his name is Station) has to build two replicas of Bill and Ted and after a flurry of wires, electronic components and tools up pop two robot heroes to save the day. Take a look at the YouTube clip, it makes slightly more sense than describing it. Slightly…

This scene from possibly the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen came back to me today as I worked under and over the layout on the control panel for the storage yards on Morpeth. I wish I could say that it only took an hour of riding around in the back of a van with a big, hairy monster to have the wiring done but it wasn’t that simple. However after spending what seems like and age waiting for components to arrive in the mail and in making the various parts I needed to make a start it was good to finally wire up the panel.

I’d already made the panel top and its housing prior to getting to work on installing the wiring. The box was made from 12mm plywood and the panel from 3mm MDF. I find that the angle on the slope of the panel is perfect at 8 degrees.

As all the points in the storage yard’s throat are Peco and these had solenoid switch machines installed I was able to use two NCE QSnap stationary decoders to allow these to be hooked up to my DCC system. As these are then part of the system you can dial up the particular points address number and throw it by using a throttle however I’ve found that even with labeling and instructions I and my visitors find this a bit confusing. The QSnaps come with screw terminals that allow the installation of push buttons so it seemed a natural choice to install a control panel in this part of the layout to aid in operator utility. You can still throw the points using the hands controllers however having a control panel is a good alternative for the visual learners.

This photo is a bit misleading as all it shows is the front of the control panel but nothing is wired into the layout yet. I’ll eventually put some printed decals on this to allow for visual cues for what is what.

In spite of the fact that I feel all layouts of any size benefit from control panels even if these are only located in the “complicated” areas like yards and storage sidings, I’ve learnt from long experience that a visual cue in the form of route lighting is a must. So I bit the bullet and used some 3mm LEDS let into the panel to show which direction the points are thrown to the operator. I was going to use green LEDs however when I visited my local Jaycar they only had red ones in a cheap bulk pack. I decided I didn’t want to wait any longer so I bought the red ones and went with it. I consulted John Parker on a design for route lighting on control panels that doen’t require a separate accessory switch and he sent me a diagram for something similar to what I had in mind. I wanted to use one LED per route and have this light up when the point was thrown in that direction. There are probably all sorts of fancy iterations where you can have green for the selected route and red for the non-selected using bi-coloured LEDs but these are expensive and I could get 50 red LEDs for $13 so I was going to keep it nice and simple: route selected, LED comes on while route not selected’s LED goes off.

This photo shows the back of the control panel. The panel has been partially wired up ready for installation into its box and connection to the rest of the layout. The way I’ve wired up the LEDs means that the two long legs of the LEDs are wired in common with a wire running back to the point’s frog with the other two wires connected to one rail each. The beauty of this is that the LEDs only need one long lead back to the location of the point, the other two poles can be group connected to the track through single terminal points inside the control panel.

I spent today wiring up the buttons and debugging these connections and I’m ready to move onto the LEDs next. I decided at the start that I needed to sort out my labeling on this project so I’ve developed a coding system that breaks the layout into four zones and provides the basis for me to label the approximately 40 points that it will contain. The layout is way too big to just randomly allocate DCC addresses to things and play it by ear. I know where everything is and what it’s allocation is now but I’m not too sure that will work in 5 years time when I’m trying to track a fault.

You can see the labels I’ve applied to both the screw terminals and the button/LED clusters. The numbers correspond to labels that are under the layout on the point motors and the number I’ve allocated to each point in the DCC system. STO = Storage, 1-8 = the number of points in the storage zone and the numbers 30-37 is the decoder address number allocated to that point in the DCC programming. So the second cluster along the plastic terminal blocks is STO2 – 31 which translates as point number tw0 in the storage yard with the decoder address number 31. The labels are just pieces of typing paper out of my computer printer I typed up in Word and stuck to the wood with a glue stick.

Generally speaking I think the labeling and the step by step way I’ve approached this task has really helped me to keep the fault finding and re-wiring I’ve had to undertake to a minimum. However there will be no robot Bills and Teds appearing out of this exercise and that may be a great blessing πŸ™‚

The Pocket

I’ve spent the last couple of days putting some time into the benchwork along the narrow passageway that runs at the bottom of QW and Morpeth. A few weeks ago I bought myself a KregΒ  pocket hole drilling jig for a woodwork project I’m planning. I’d been considering how I was going to assemble the shelf benchwork for this part of the layout when it occurred to me that this drilling jig would be a perfect solution.

This Kreg jig is a kit I purchased at Carbatec a few weeks ago. It allows you to drill shallow pockets in the end of wood and create butt jointed timber frames that are extremely strong without the need to make lap joints. My jig is a fairly high-end set up that comes as a kit and cost me around $250. You can get much simpler and cheaper models that would have been more than adequate for the jobs I did today. In the kit I purchased I got the blue plastic set-up you can see here plus a load of other bits and pieces including the stepped drill bit that you can see inserted into my drill. This drill bit is the heart of the system.

What this jig allows you to do is essentially drill deeply angled holes into which you drill different types of screws creating wood joints from the direction the pockets are drilled. Very nifty πŸ™‚

I was faced with the need to construct a “stepped” frame for my benchwork that would cantilever off the wall and carry the trains along a small shelf that ranged in width from 130mm to about 250mm. It was to be made as a box frame but without being able to use the Kreg jig I would have had to assemble the frames prior to attaching them to the wall to allow me to drill in from the back. As I was able to drill these pockets from the front after I’d attached two pine “plates” along the wall, constructing the whole assembly was a snap. Without even starting on the woodwork project I was planning to use the jig for this thing has proved its worth to me.

After installing two lengths of 3×1 pine that acted as back plates along the wall I made a front plate and then started putting in cross pieces. The front plate is angled 2 degrees to the wall so this was no simple box construction. You can see the two pockets I drilled into the cross-piece which allowed this to be easily and securely attached to the wall plate. I then backed this up by drilling into the wall and the next section of benchwork.

I managed to get so much done this morning I was able to assemble and install the frames for the backdrop that I’ll be installing next and also come inside and write this post. I could claim I had time to burn but one reason I finished so quickly was that it was getting very hot in the workshop and I’d been at it since quite early.

I’ve installed the rails to allow me to add a 3mm MDF backdrop to which I’ll glue a printed backdrop (when I can track down a suitable one). I made a frame from 2×1 pine for the free standing benchwork and ran two 2×1 rails along the wall where I’m trying to keep the shelf very narrow to help save space.

After getting two sections of framework made for the MDF backdrop I came to a section of backdrop that sits in front of a window. While I don’t plan to make much use of the windows in the room I don’t want to cover them over either so I had to come up with a way to put a frame up that would allow me to attach the backdrop without it interfering with the window or access to it. The Kreg jig was made for this job.

I made a frame using 2×1 pine and screwed this together using the Kreg jig. I’d spent a few days considering how I was going to install the frame along this section of the layout and while I could have laid the pine rails on top of uprights as on other sections of the layout I really wanted to keep the frame to one thickness of timber. When I realized that I could use the Kreg jig to assemble this frame and keep its cross-section as narrow as possible I was away.

I’ve been aware that the recess formed by the window in this section of the room was going to provide me with a problem that could be turned into an opportunity. The little pocket formed by the window recess (Labelled A) would mean that the backdrop would have a bump in it if I followed the wall. However if I didn’t run the backdrop smoothly along the wall and left the step in place I would have a small pocket of land that would let me install a leading point and a small line-side industry at this location. I’ve got a half-dozen Peco points that are essentially surplus to requirements so I got one out and laid it along the benchwork in the approximate location it could sit if I decide to install a narrow industry here. I will be hand laying the track as it heads off the left in this photo so having the point in this quiet little pocket will give me a good transition point from Peco flex track (which will be used as the line plunges through the wall just to the right of this photo) and the hand laid track. while a smooth backdrop might be aesthetically pleasing this layout s being built to operate so adding another industry will be a real bonus. When I’ve built a structure for that pocket and added some trees and fences you’ll hardly see the step in the wall. All I have to do is decide what the industry is going to be. There was a brick yard on the Morpeth line that is the one industry I haven’t modelled so far. It might have some potential!


Onward & Downward

It’s been a cool, wet couple of days and I’ve managed to get into the shed for a few hours and commence on some new benchwork. In a strange kind of way this feels like the first real “new” benchwork I’ve constructed since I started work on the layout because all the other new work has been in my head so clearly for so long that I already knew what it was going to look and operate like. This next stage is far newer in concept and as it will punch through a wall and head out into open space over a staircase it is far less straightforward. This is where we start to get serious πŸ™‚

Nothing really special to see here beyond the fact that I added the legs and bracing to this section of benchwork prior to bringing it up to the train room. Far cleaner and neater that way πŸ™‚

I made a new ladder frame, added some legs and butted this up to the pre-existing benchwork of QW. However before I could set the height of this section I had to do some fiendishly complicated calculations that took into consideration the wall studs, especially the noggins, that are in the wall I’ll be cutting through and also the height of some shelving that is inside the storage cupboard that the line will pass through on its way to Raworth and storage.

These are my wall scratchings near the spot where the line will pass through the wall and into the stairwell. I needed the benchwork to be about 30mm lower than the lowest point of this. As the line could have passed either above or below the noggin (the cross brace) that sits inconveniently at pretty much the exact height I want the trains to run at I had to decide to either go over or under this or cut it out. Going under meant a vertical deviation of 25mm whereas going over would have meant a grade rising about 110mm. The decision made itself; we’re going under and rising 25mm gradually over the stairwell as the line curves to enter through a 2nd wall on the outside edge of the storage cupboard it will pass right through.

After installing the ladder frame I had a little time to start the narrow benchwork that will hang off the wall at this spot by screwing in a length of 3×1 to the first stepped section of wall.

I located and marked the studs in the cavity wall and screwed 50mm screws into these to hold this wall plate. The benchwork will rarely get much wider that 100mm at this point. I have to retain at least 600mm (2′) for people to pass by this section of layout. That’s the end of the storage sidings on the front left and the back of Morpeth yard is the white panel facing the camera.

Things are really starting to get interesting at this point. I really enjoy installing new benchwork. Things move fast and you can see the results relatively quickly.

What She Was Built For

I was doing some calculations and it occurs to me that it’s been 15 years since I purchased the kit I modified to build my little Mannig Wardle 0-6-0, Pioneer. I built the loco in about 2005 and have since rebuilt her and added lights. However it strikes me that the reason I built her, to some day work the pier at Morpeth, has finally been fulfilled because she was finally able to take a spin out on Morpeth pier this morning.

There are a few details to add and a ship model to finish but Pioneer has finally found her home.

I woke this morning thinking that I didn’t have any pressing jobs to do (although I’ll concede that the lawn does need mowing) and didn’t need to make any visits to town, friends or family so the day started as one of those rarest of days: free! πŸ™‚ Interestingly, running the first real train on Morpeth has turned up a few problems. This has been my experience ever since I started in this hobby: when you go from theory to reality you always need to adjust wheels, couplers and buffers. Now by this I mean that I’d been gradually building wagons for 15 years and while a few of the older examples had been occasionally pushed about on QW and Morpeth, all of the new wagons had essentially been built and then packed away in boxes. None of my stock, either old or more recently built, has ever had to cope with curves because both Morpeth and QW are essentially straight. So getting these wagons to round a 1500mm radius on the main and a 1350mm radius on the curve into Morpeth was always going to be interesting.

The wagons that gave me trouble were a BWF with long buffers and hook draw gear that was held in place by springs you could have used to launch someone out of a cannon with, my three cattle wagons which all have buffers and couplers that are way too close to the bodies and the couplers on my 49 class diesel which looks wonderful with its coupler tucked prototypically in under the buffer but threw anything coupled to it as it entered the curves into the ditch. I pushed the hook on the BWF out 6mm and replaced the spring and chopped into the coupler box on the 49 and pushed the head of the coupler out beyond the buffing plate and just about everything now rounds the curves. I also found a big blob of epoxy glue on one of my 4 wheelers that was making it run like a three legged goat. I scraped this off and it now runs as smooth as a baby’s you know what! πŸ™‚

However another problem turned up when I tried to run the 49 round the train at Morpeth. The loco got to the break between modules and came to a dead halt. I did a bit of shoving and testing but this was a real dilemma and I decided it was probably connected to the two dead stationary decoders I’d discovered 2 weeks ago. Anyway this morning I trooped upstairs with my electrical tester and got to work trying to decipher what was going on. Well it turns out that a wire between the modules had come loose and once this was reconnected not only did the loco complete its run round move but the two stationary decoders hooked up to the solenoids at this end of the yard suddenly sprang back into life. What had thrown me was that the Tortoise machines on the same module were still working even though one of the bus wires had come loose. It only occurred to me later that this was probably because of the different way power is supplied to these motors but in the mean time I’d ordered two new Snapits from my usual supplier. Anyone want to buy two brand new NCE Snapits at bargain basement prices that will be arriving in the next week or so? πŸ™‚

After this small rewiring job was completed I looked around the room for something else to do that wouldn’t require weeks of dedicated work, not something like building a hand made point. The mdf cladding from the pier module that had been dumped on the floor when I chopped off 300mm last week was still sitting under the layout so I decided that cutting this to the new shorter length and reapplying it shouldn’t take much effort. So I set to.

If you compare this photo with the one of the end of the pier module I posted a few days ago you can see that it didn’t take too much to repair the damage. A bit of judiciously glued strip wood and screwing the yellow mdf in place and hey presto! πŸ™‚ It needs a bit of filler and the paint needs a touch up but I’m happy with the ease with which this job came together.

The pier module was the last project I worked on as I sold my previous home and moved into my present one. It was never quite completed and it and the ship model I’d made a half-hearted attempt to commence both sat unfinished in separate locations while I got the new house up to scratch and commenced building the new layout. Because this module was designed to be a show layout, built as separate modules that bolt up to each other, I’d never got around to installing the jumper cables and plugs that bridge the electrical gap between the pier and the main part of Morpeth. So while I’ve shortened the pier module and got it to fit into the space that will allow it to be used as a part of my permanent layout, I haven’t given up the thought that I may exhibit it some day. This means that the wiring running from the main layout out to the pier needed to be via plugs and sockets: I couldn’t just run wire out to the pier as I’d been able to do with most of the new layout. There were droppers from the rails running on the pier and I’d run wiring up to the spot on the adjoining layout to a socket where the gap would eventually be jumped but I didn’t have a socket on the pier module, although surprisingly I had made a couple of spare jumper cables ready to be used when I did get around to this job. In transforming Queens Wharf from exhibition to permanent mode I’d pulled a few socket assemblies out from under that part of the layout so I had a couple of spares to use on the pier module; all I had to do was install them. Hence Pioneer getting a run.

The final job was to glue a couple of pieces of strip wood onto the end of the pier model to mask where I’d chopped a big chunk off the end of it. Luckily, in staining the deck wood for this model I’d done more than was needed so all I had to do was get some of this excess strip wood, stain a few cut ends with a Copic marker pen and trim and glue in place two new pieces of timber to cover the end up. You’d hardly know the damage had ever been inflicted πŸ™‚

First Full Train On Morpeth

I’ve been putting in a lot of time on the layout recently so this morning I decided to get some wagons out and pull a train around the curve into Queens Wharf and Morpeth. It would pay to keep in mind that neither of these locos has ever pulled a train and most of the wagons haven’t travelled much further than down the length of Queens Wharf or Morpeth yard and back. Most have been built and then stored in boxes. None of the stock on the layout has ever done a circuit or run for much longer than 5 or 6 meters. As you’d expect there were numerous issues and I’ve really got to put some work into couplers and buffers. This exercise has also pointed out to me how relatively small is my collection of rolling stock.


Liability To Centerpiece

Since posting the videos of making a point a few weeks ago I haven’t made any posts: not because no progress has been made on the layout but because I’ve been doing boring stuff like getting the storage sidings laid and wired up.

Anyone who’s built a layout will find this familiar. This is the forest of hanging wire from about 70% of the storage sidings. Boring but necessary work and I’m glad to say the wiring in this part of the layout is basically complete.

I’ve spent the past few days laying the track in the storage sidings, preparing to install a control panel and wiring up the track, point motors and QSnap stationary decoders that I’m using on this part of the layout. I’m waiting for a delivery of push buttons from China before completing the wiring of the control panel. I could have purchased these from an outlet like Jaycar but they’re a 10th the price via an online outlet so I’ve decided to wait.

Up till now I’ve been using the DCC functionality of the stationary decoders I’m installing to switch the points but I thought it was time to make a move installing control panels in some areas of the layout. As the NCE QSnaps come with the capacity to install buttons without any extra components I’ve decided to make and install a control panel at the throat of the storage sidings. I’m just waiting for a slow boat from China to allow me to complete it πŸ™‚

To demonstrate that the storage yard is well on its way to being finished I asked my friend Phil to run his 48 through the points in the yard throat to test the wheels through the points.

I’ve been puzzling and thinking about what to do about the pier and ship model over the past couple of months. As they wouldn’t fit into the layout design there has been precious little progress on either model over the past few months as I’ve had more exciting projects to work on. After discussing this situation with Phil over a coffee last week I decided to bite the bullet and modify the pier module to allow it to fit into the layout.This was going to be fun! 😦

I started by chopping about 270mm off the end of the pier.

The next step was to lop about 300mm off the end of the module. A skilled surgeon skillfully usingΒ  precision surgical tools is a joy to watch. Anyone who knows a skilled surgeon with skilled hands who might be willing to come and help out when I have to do these jobs is welcome to pass on my contact details πŸ™‚ Today Phil and I just hacked away at it till the required bit was removed.

I did some planning and thinking about how to remove the required amount of length from the pier module and asked Phil to come over and apply first aid if I fainted. We lopped off two sections of pier (and the associated legs) and then sliced through the wood and aluminium of the module itself. Not exactly pretty but it went well and there is now space at the end of the module to allow someone to get to the other side. Prior to this there was room for the module but no way to get past it unless you could limbo.

This photo shows the new shortened pier in all its hacked about glory.

I have yet to re-clad the sides of the module with its MDF skin but I did have time to make the benchwork so the pier could be butted up to Morpeth.

I couldn’t resist bringing the ship model out and plonking in place for a photo. As can be seen on the right hand end, there is now room for the passage of an operator or layout visitor to the other side of the pier. Without this modification the pier module would have languished in storage in my trailer.

Operationally there has been nothing added or lost from this lopping exercise but it has completely changed the character of this part of the layout. Morpeth (the portable layout) exists to allow the inclusion of a pier and a ship model. Even though it has morphed into a semi-permanent home layout the lack of the pier because it wouldn’t fit has never sat well with me. I don’t know why, but it had never occurred to me to lop 12″ off the end of it to allow it to fit. Maybe the idea of taking to a mostly completed model with a hacksaw and a cross cut saw isn’t normally part of the agenda πŸ™‚