Morpeth MkIV

I’ve been referring to this version of Morpeth as Mk IV to myself through such things as labelling the folder where the photos I’ve been taking have been stored on my computer. It’s far too complicated to outline the details of Mks I to III here. I’ve made reference to the earlier layouts and iterations of these layouts on this blog but I wouldn’t bother trying to hunt these posts out, that’s all ancient history now. What is worth mentioning is that I did a lot of work on Morpeth in the lead up to the Aus7 ExpO which was held in March 2014. I worked on the layout quite intensely in the lead up to that show and once I arrived back home the layout sat essentially untouched for a time before I decided to try installing it at home as a semi-permanent layout. I made some damaging changes to Morpeth Mk III to get it to fit and then personal circumstances led me to selling the house I as living in at the time. So these half-implemented plans went from being planned changes to planned damage. As a result of moving house I packed the layout in its dedicated trailer, towed that across the range of hills that separated me from my old home about 100km away and there it sat, inside the trailer while I built my Z20 class locomotive and put some rolling stock kits together.

Now you might ask why it’s taken me so long to start working on the layout again, especially as it was approximately 75% complete in March 2014. It would only have taken a good push along for another 12 to 18 months to get it “finished”. This is a very pertinent question. Perhaps the most important thing stopping me from pushing straight on with finishing Morpeth was the June 2009 issue of the Australian Model Railway Magazine magazine which has a very nice photo of my previous layout, Queens Wharf on is cover. I’m very proud of this cover as it was the first that featured a layout built by me, so proud in fact that a framed copy of it hangs on the wall above my workbench. Now while I’m proud of having my layout on the cover of what I consider to be Australia’s premier model railway magazine there is something that grates with me and it’s that at the time the photo was taken I didn’t own a steam locomotive that could be used in the photo. As such the 32 class steamer that does appear was borrowed from a friend. Now there’s nothing wrong with the 32 class (thanks for the loan Paul) and I actually don’t have a problem with someone else’s loco appearing on my layout in a photo on my first and hopefully not my last magazine cover. However I do have a problem with the fact that I hadn’t yet built a steamer of my own that could have been used. Not because I couldn’t build one but simply because there always seemed to be other things (both modelling and life things) to be getting on with. At the time the cover appeared I made a promise that no layout of mine would ever appear in public again without at least one steam loco built by yours truly gracing its rails. I had to make an exception for the Aus7 ExpO in 2014, it was initiated and organised by the O-scale modelling group I happen to be president of. 2002 was and my 19 class loco are the result of that resolution to build some steam locomotives.

So we get to 2014-2015 and I’m implementing a plan to install Morpeth at home as a “semi-permanent” layout and just after I chop 150mm off the end of one of the modules and rearrange a couple of the buildings’ locations personal circumstances lead me to come to a full stop! In the house move I also managed to drop a desk lamp on one of my buildings doing a pretty thorough job of rendering it back to its constituent components; some paint, a large decal and of a pile of plaster chips and dust.

I have a bit of a weakness for building kits and this was the original brick building that sat on the bank at the rear of module 3. It started life as a Donetown Deco building marketed as Archie's Bar. On my layout it first of all became a billboard for Rosella tomato sauce and then it became a pile of plaster chips after I dropped a desk lamp on it!

I have a bit of a weakness for building kits and this is an “in progress” shot of the original brick building that sat on the bank at the rear of module 3. It started life as a Downtown Deco building marketed as Archie’s Bar. On my layout it first of all became a billboard for Rosella tomato sauce and then it became a pile of plaster chips after I dropped a desk lamp on it! After it was damaged I decided it couldn’t be saved and I tossed it in the bin.

This past few days I’ve reached a bit of a milestone in that I’ve managed to get back to where I’m not just fixing planned damage on Morpeth but actually starting to make some genuine progress toward finishing the layout and getting it ready for a public showing. One of the biggest changes I’ve been planning to make is to turn my train turntable from its original purpose into a 4th scenic module. This module appears on the plan I posted a couple of days ago and it consists of a 2mX600mm slab of river that will eventually hold a long wooden trestle up on which will sit a ship model I’ve had stored away for about 5 or 6 years and onto which I have been dying to get my hands!

This photo shows the train turntable in the process of being dismantled. I've already removed the table and other hardware and soon will move onto cutting down the sides and installing a solid table of 7mm plywood which will serve as the Hunter River's surface.

This photo shows the train turntable in the process of being dismantled. I’ve already removed the table and other hardware and soon will move onto cutting down the sides and installing a solid table of 7mm plywood which will serve as the Hunter River’s surface.

The change of use for the module in the photo above is not that the turntable didn’t work, in fact anything but: it was a remarkable success. However it was big, unnecessarily big in fact, and required one full parking slot in the trailer that houses Morpeth. In thinking over what I wanted to do with the layout and what possible redesign work could be carried out on the train turntable, I made the decision that I could make better use of this module as a fully scenicked entity and that a new slimline train turntable could be made and fitted into one of the 100mm high utility slots at the bottom of the trailer rack. I have convinced myself that I can make the train turntable work in a slim form, all I have to do now is make it. That will happen further down the track.

Peter and Phil, two very hard working friends of mine dropped by on Wednesday last week to give me a hand on re-purposing the turntable module I was a little worried I wouldn't get everyting done on the two days I had available for this work but with their help we got the whole job done and even had time to dawdle over a cafe lunch. Thanks guys, I never would have finished this on my own.

Peter and Phil, two very hard-working friends of mine dropped by on Wednesday last week to give me a hand on re-purposing the turntable module. I was a little worried I wouldn’t get everything done in the two days I had available for this work but, with their help, we got the whole job done and even had time to dawdle over a cafe lunch. Thanks guys, I never would have finished this on my own.

The work was carried out at my partner’s home in her double garage as I don’t have the space to carry out such work in my abode. The only problem with working in her shed is that there’s no power or lights in the shed so taking decent photos is a bit of a challenge. The work went swimmingly and by the end of the day we were able to pack the new module back in the trailer ready to be hauled back over the range.

While you have to squint and squeeze your imagination really hard to see it this module will eventually come to represent the Hunter River. Module 3 can be seen in the backgroundat right angles to the re-purposed turntable module.

While you have to squint and squeeze your imagination really hard to see it this module will eventually come to represent the Hunter River. Module 3 can be seen in the background at right angles to the re-purposed turntable module.

Over the past couple of days since arriving home I got some wiring upgrades done on the station module before I packed it back in the trailer. This is the module with the Shell Depot on it that I posted about last week. While some track needed to have wires reattached I also wanted to cut some rail gaps and install some NCE BD20 block detectors that I plan to use in conjunction with an NCE Mini-panel to allow a couple of locomotives to shuttle back and forth on the layout. The plan for this is that I would like to be able to have the option to have something moving on the layout automatically to take the pressure off the operators at exhibitions. With block detectors and a bit of basic programming I should be able to have a small tank loco shuttling back and forward on the pier and a railmotor doing the same thing from the fiddle yard to the station. Spending 3 days moving trains back and forth on a fiddle yard to terminus layout gives you a new appreciation of tail-chasing layouts.

So today I swapped module 2 for module 3 in my workroom and got to work looking at what I needed to do to complete this module before I could move on and get to work on the pier and ship models, to say nothing of the yet to be built slimline train turntable.

I have been aware for the past 3 or 4 weeks as this stage in the layout work approached that I would need to start by finding a replacement for the brick building that originally stood on the bank a the rear of module 3. I've decided that the Outback Model Co kit of the small country church would fit the bill. This photo shows a a test of the kit in the same spot after a bit of judicious scenery "remodelling".

I have been aware for the past 3 or 4 weeks, as this stage in the layout work approached that I would need to start by finding a replacement for the brick building that originally stood on the bank a the rear of module 3. I’ve decided that the Outback Model Co kit of the small country church would fit the bill. This photo shows a test of the kit in the same spot after a bit of judicious scenery “remodelling”.

I’ve lived all over the state of NSW in the past 30 years and I’ve seen at least 5 or 6 examples of the church that is represented by the Outback Model Co’s kit of St Agnes’ church. After taping together walls of the kit with low tack blue masking tape I plonked the resultant box in the space left by the previous building. It is perfectly sized for this small space: very Australian and very appropriate for this space.

This recently repainted chuch is just one example of the St Agnes' kit produced by the Outback Model Co. It fits the site perfectly when this was made vacant by the damage to the previous building.

This recently repainted church is just one example of the St Agnes’ kit produced by the Outback Model Co. It fits the site perfectly when this was made vacant by the damage to the previous building. This example is situated in Nevertire in central west of NSW.

Crewing Up

With the Aus7 Forum coming up next weekend, and with the Easter long weekend available for a little modelling, I thought it was time to set to and get the 20 operating. My friend Bruce probably thinks I’m playing some cagey game with our wager over who gets their model operating first. However I can assure anyone who reads this blog that the real reason I’ve made no posts is not to keep my progress secret but because there hasn’t been a great deal of progress to report.

This photo shows the test I ran for the positioning of the crew. The position of the fireman is not deal but there isn't a great deal of room and there a limited plaes to drill through the wooden floor so the figures can be secured.

This photo shows the test I ran for the positioning of the crew. The position of the fireman is not ideal but there isn’t a great deal of room and there are limited places to drill through the wooden floor so the figures can be secured.

I’ve reached the stage where a crew needs to be installed and that means two tasks need to be carried out:

  1. A crew needs to be selected and painted.
  2. A way of securing the figures needs to be settled upon.

I love the white metal figures available from various sources in 1:43.5 that can be used in these modelling situations: the quality of the figures is one of the reasons I model in this scale. However I’ve never been very happy with the methods I’ve employed to secure them in place in the past. I always drill a hole in the base of the feet of my figures and insert a length of .7mm brass or NS wire which I use to hold the figure during painting. This wire is then inserted in a hole I drill into the floor of the cab of the loco I’m working on to allow a modicum of mechanical connection between the loco and the figure. I then glue this arrangement in place with the most appropriate adhesive. In most instances two-part expoy.

However just recently I’ve had a couple of figures come adrift even though I’ve used fairly aggressive glue and the wire is there suposedly to hold things in place and I decided with this loco that something more was needed. I was installing a wooden floor into the cab of the 20 (as per the prototype) and I was far from convinced that a white metal foot would want to stay put on a real wooden floor, no matter what glue I used. Soldering wasn’t an option without stripping off some paint so I decided that a different approach was needed.

This morning I chose the two crew figures I was going to use from among about 6 I had on hand. I drilled a #54 hole in the base of the foot of both and tapped a 10BA thread into these holes. I dipped the tip of two long 10BA brass bolts into some super glue and screwed these into the tapped hole in the base of the figures’ feet and then snipped the heads of these bolts off. After installing what was now threaded rod into my figures I scraped and cleaned the figures by going over them with a blade and files and giving them a good scrub with some Jif cream cleanser and an old tooth-brush.

This afternoon I drilled two #50 holes through the wooden cab floor I’d installed. These holes went right through the floor and through the NS base of the cab so that when the crew was positioned I could use two 10BA nuts to secure the figures firmly in place. This had the added advantage that it ill help retain the wooden cab floor which is only held in position with a bit of glue.

The two bolts shown from below securing the crew into position.

The two bolts shown from below securing the crew into position.

In spite of the size of O-scale locomotives it is quite deceptive to think that it’s easy to install everything you need into a loco like this.The DCC install for this loco has a lot of components and wire to fit into a very confined space. Just like the phenomenon where the cost of your lifestyle has a tendency to rise to meet your income, the size of the DCC components used in an O-scale loco tend to grow to fill the available space. If you look at the top photo you can see the multi coloured strap wire I’ve used to connect the lights in the rear of the loco to the decoder, which will be housed in the boiler casting. One end is connected to the circuit board (designed and made for me by my friend John Parker) to allow the lights to operate in the rear end of the loco and the other end will plug into the decoder. Concealing the run of this strap wire from the rear tank to the boiler successfully has taken a fair bit of planning and extra work but the payoff will be that it allows a neat wiring job and the operation of two dual coloured maker lights, a rear headlight (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms) and a small cab light.

Running this wire under the wooden floor was logical but this then restricted where I could drill through the floor to place the crew. If you look at the lower of the two photos you can see the multicoloured strap wire emerging near the motor on the right but the nuts and bolts are well away from and above the wire run. A better place to position the fireman’s foot would have been right where the wire was running but I didn’t have this option.

The loco will still run even though the fireman has to swing round the driver to shovel coal ūüôā

The Doyen Of Decoders

About 9 years ago when I originally built Pioneer – my 0-6-0 Manning Wardle – from a mix of scratch and kit parts the world was simpler place. We had DCC sound decoders and one of these marvels was installed inside Pioneer and it made her sound pretty smick! But when it came to lights I was in the dark ages: Pioneer made her first public appearance with one small lamp flashing away trying to pretend to be a firebox. It was pretty paltry but then I consoled myself with the knowledge that I didn’t have a single photo of Pioneer showing her with any sort of lights, not even a kero lamp. She must have carried them at times, you could see the lamp brackets in the photos, but she never had a headlamp of any type that I could discern.

Fast forward to 2015. In the past decade I’ve built several locos and installed a DCC sound decoder in each of them. These decoders come with an ever-increasing range of sophisticated lighting effects. In fact I firmly believe that the lighting effects have probably improved at a greater rate than the sound. However for me by far the greatest change in the use I make of the capabilities has been brought about by a fellow by the name of John Parker. Like myself John happens to model the NSWR in 1:43.5 and over the last few years he has written a series of articles on installing DCC sound decoders into a range of different O-scale locomotives and had these published in 7th Heaven, the newsletter of the Aus7 Modellers Group. In these articles he details in words short enough for me to understand a series of steps a modeller might take to get not just all the bells and whistles working on said loco but also the lights. If a modeller in any scale had no other reason to join the Aus7 Modellers Group having access to these DCC article gems would make the $35pa cost worthwhile. For me perhaps the greatest revelation has been the uses to which John puts humble Vero board. On this relatively simple copper clad strip board he designs and assembles a world of ingenious circuits that would make Marconi weep. By reading the articles John has written in 7th Heaven he has helped me turn my electronic spaghetti into sinuous tresses of wire.

John Parker is a doyen of the decoder, a virtuoso of the volt! Cursed be his name! ūüôā Let me explain.

After some interesting weather patterns over the central coast of Qld these past few days I decided to stay put this weekend which gave me a good deal of time to work on Pioneer. I spent several hours working on the mechanism of the loco and by about mid-day today I’d just about ironed all the bugs out. As I had essentially got the mechanism running satisfactorily I began doing some serious planning about what lighting effects I wanted to install on the loco. The one effect that I’d originally had on Pioneer was a firebox flicker and I was determined at the very least to have this included on Pioneer MkII. The original firebox flicker had been produced by a tiny lamp sticking through the firebox door and the effect was less than impressive. I began planning to replace this early effort with an LED alternative and this is progressing satisfactorily though the use of a small segment of an LED interior lighting strip.

My original plan had been to install some bi-colour lamps front and rear and I’d purchased some DCC Concepts r-t-r bi-coloured guards lamps. These are a relatively recent addition to the DCC Concepts range and are nominally rated as S-scale/O-scale. Having removed them from the packaging I find they really are too small for use in the application I planned for them and I’ve also discovered that they shine red out of one side and white out of the other side. This was not made clear in the material I read on the lamps before I purchased them and this feature makes them inappropriate for the application I had planned for them. I want them to shine red and white from the same side depending on direction of travel so I’ve changed plans and will now use some brass castings to represent two bi-coloured lamps on the rear coal bunker. At the time of writing this I’m considering putting a large head lamp on the front of the loco. Now while Pioneer probably never sported an electric headlight I’m using my modellers licence to extend her life well into the middle of the 20th Century. As an old loco working on a pier in the middle of the 20th Century I reckon I can justify her acquiring a headlight. However I do need to track down a generator casting!

Now we come to the problem. You may remember if you have read my earlier posts on Pioneer that I had my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t have to make too many modifications to Pioneer above the footplate. What do they say about the best laid plans? After I got Pioneer out of storage I took a good look at her and noticed that on the rear coal bunker there was some troubling bubbling in the paint-work. At that stage I didn’t know what was causing this but I had a sneaking suspicion that it might be caused by the coal in the top of the bunker. I took a look at it, kidded myself that it made the paint-work look “weathered” and manfully tried to ignore it. Until today. After my decision to use the brass lamp castings for two rear lamps on the loco I had to find a way to feed the wires from the lamps to the decoder and I began to think about the types of LEDs I might employ. Taking a look at the dimensions of the coal bunker it struck me that one of John’s fancy vero board circuits would probably fit into this little box but I would need access to the inside. Within about 2 minutes Pioneer was sitting on my workbench minus her coal bunker.

This shows the stage I've got to in the "minor" changes I was planning to make to Pioneer's bodywork.

This shows the stage I’ve got to in the “minor” changes I was planning to make to Pioneer’s bodywork.

After I’d managed to pry the coal bunker from Pioneer the damage being caused by something on this part of the loco became apparent and when I managed to pry the bunker open I found the space inside crammed with a strange cocktail of yellow powder, green crystals and glue residues.

This photo shows the two halves of the coal bunker. While they look pretty messed up it might pay to note this photo was taken after I'd stripped the paint off, scrubbed the inner surfaces with some wet and dry paper and prised off the glue and lead weight that had been inside. So this is the cleaned up version!

This photo shows the two halves of the coal bunker. While they look pretty messed up it might pay to note this photo was taken after I’d stripped the paint off, scrubbed the inner surfaces with some wet and dry paper and pried off the glue and lead weight that had been inside. So this is the cleaned up version!

I’m no chemist but the green and yellow staining I found inside look like some type of sulphuric acid reaction, possibly when the sulphur in the coal I’d used came into contact with the brass of the body or the lead weight. Whatever the causes of this outcome I spent a good deal of this afternoon trying to clean the components up sufficiently to allow me to recycle them back into the rebuilt loco. After scraping and cleaning for an hour or so I decided to give myself a break and take a look at how wide I needed the cavity inside the coal bunker to be to allow me to use the tower LEDs I’d settled on as the ones I wanted in this application. It turned out that I was about 1mm short of space and then came the dilemma: do I use some alternative type of LED combination or do I cut some new components and build a new, slightly wider bunker than would allow me to fit one of John’s vero board circuits? The blank parts for the new coal bunker are sitting on my workbench.

So why am I cursing poor old John Parker for this outcome? Well if it hadn’t been for him and his flipping lighting articles I would probably have been satisfied with a better firebox flicker and left the “weathered” coal bunker where it was, saving me lot of work in the process. But of course after having put lights and sound in a few of my other locos following John’s instructions I couldn’t leave well enough alone could I? I have to go changing things!

NSWR 7mm modellers are very lucky to have people like John working in our scale. Just not today! ūüôā

 

The Best Yet?

As I mentioned in my previous post I’ve spent a little time over the last couple of weeks installing an ESU Loksound decoder into my Auscision NSWR 49 class locomotive. The sound file used was for an EMD 12-567 prime mover and very nice it sounds too. You’ll have to take my word for that as it is difficult to post what something sounds like unless it’s via a video. I might get around to doing something with a video at a later date, much later.

This shot is deliberately dark to show up the lighting on the loco. It has no less than eight LEDs each end and I've placed a short segment of ESU LED lighting strip in the cab to show off the interior.

This shot is deliberately dark to show up the lighting on the loco. It has no less than eight LEDs each end and I’ve placed a short segment of ESU LED lighting strip in the cab to show off the interior.

The job of installing DCC into this loco has not been a simple or straightforward job. I can’t really remember whether the loco was promoted as “DCC ready” but I really wonder why some manufacturers even bother with a DCC plug inside when what results it so woefully inadequate for the task. If you’re going to make a loco DCC compatible then do the job properly: if not then save the time and effort and don’t bother. I basically stripped the entire electrical internals from this loco and replaced the entire set up following the lead ¬† provided by the dead decoder society. Of course I should properly acknowledge that the main brains behind this group of friends is none other than John Parker who designed the replacement components for installation into the locomotive. The man is a minor genius (I don’t want him getting a big head) and the design works flawlessly if you follow his instructions which will appear in an upcoming issue of 7th Heaven. You can follow the link which takes you to the groups website where there are details on how to join and get yourself copies of 7th Heaven.

In spite of the complications of constructing and installing the DCC system designed by John¬† around the ESU decoder the result is well worth the effort and not beyond the average modeller. I know I teased John in my last post about him burning out some LEDs well I managed to fry all eight LEDs in the front end of my 49 thus creating a good week’s worth of work as I gradually worked on replacing them. As I had to replace the dead LEDs anyway I set about¬† removing all 16 of them from the loco and hooked them up in a lighting harness externally that I eventually inserted back into the loco.

This photo shows the vero circuit board, replacement LEDs I used after I burnt out all 8 at one end of the loco and the ESU LED cab light on the far left.

This photo shows the vero circuit board with 2k resistors in place, replacement LEDs I used after I burnt out all 8 at one end of the loco and the ESU LED cab light on the far left.

As I was pulling them out anyway I took the opportunity to replace the blue/white LEDs supplied with the loco for my preferred golden white variety and I used 2k resistors throughout. The two light boards connect to the decoder and two distribution boards (also designed by John) via multi-strand computer cable and mini plug strips. It probably looks very complicated but it’s not really if you take things one step at a time. If an electronic illiterate like me can do it then believe me, anyone can. I decided to enclose my two speakers in a small black styrene box and, wired in sync, these put out a very pleasing level and quality of sound. They are Jaycar part #3030.

This photo shows the two speakers in their little black styrene box. The recess in the top is to ensure clearance above the rear bogie mounted gears.

This photo shows the two speakers in their little black styrene box. The recess in the top is to ensure clearance above the rear bogie mounted gears.

The DCC decoder installation is now complete and I’ve test run the locomotive on QW. I had to program the decoder and to do so with a minimum of fuss I finally bit the bullet, followed John’s advice and purchased a Lokprogrammer from ESU. This is quite an expensive bit of kit for a small plastic box but it streamlines the decoder programming process immeasurably and John actually tells me that many of the programming steps can’t really take place without it. So it was well worth it.

As I worked at removing the LEDs from the loco it started to dawn on me just how good this locomotive is in terms of quality and value for money. All the LEDs came out relatively easily and it certainly wasn’t Auscisions (or John’s) fault that I needed to do this removal job. After I’d installed the decoder and gave it a test run it became apparent just how beautifully the loco runs. It has a large Buehler motor and twin flywheels, a standard that should be included on any modern locomotive offering in any scale from HO up as far as I’m concerned. There really is no excuse for anything else in this day and age. The finish of the loco is superb and I’d have been extremely disappointed if this were otherwise, especially as Aucision does such a sterling job on its HO offerings. The detail is of a more than acceptable standard and the loco does seem to sit down properly on its bogies, unlike a couple of other locos I’ve looked at closely in the last couple of years. There were quite a few comments on the chat group I’m a member of complaining about some damge to the loco caused by poor packaging but in the broader scheme of things this does not take away from the generally positive impression this loco makes on the viewer. I just wish they’d bring out a prototype more to my taste! Auscision have announed that their next O-scale offering will be a 45 so that’s something to look forward to.

I’m prepared to pronounce the Auscision 49 class class is, IMHO, the best ready to run 1:43.5 locomotive offered to the NSW outline market thus far on the balance of price, quaity and time frame for delivery. Installing a DCC decoder with sound just makes a good loco even better.

Sound For The Auscision 49

A few weeks ago a nice big parcel arrived in the post and this contained a NSWR 49 class locomotive from Auscision in 1:43.5. I had been looking forward to the arrival of this locomotive but I wouldn’t exactly say I was “hanging out”. It’s not exactly my favourite prototype and doesn’t really fit my era but it does fit a niche in my roster that needed filling till something more suitable comes along, or gets built! ūüôā

It needs a DCC sound decoder and some weathering but it's nice to have something to put on the tracks that's pretty much ready to go. This photo shows the 49 with a pair of Protocraft couplers installed.

It needs a DCC sound decoder and some weathering but it’s nice to have something to put on the tracks that’s pretty much ready to go. This photo shows the 49 with a pair of Protocraft couplers installed.

Generally speaking the loco is nicely detailed and beautifully finished and is a significant improvement on the KHIAC 44 (same company, dumb name). It has a large Buehler can motor centrally mounted driving bogie mounted gears through twin flywheels. There was a lot of internet chatter after the loco arrived about the damage caused to the cab’s rear vision mirrors by the less than adequate packing but I found that it was a simple job to repair this damage.

I installed a pair of Protocraft type E couplers and decided to install a sound decoder straight away, although the likelihood of this loco getting a decent stretch of the legs any time soon is fairly remote. Maybe the Arakoola guys will let me run it at the upcoming AMRA Liverpool exhibition in October? ūüôā

The decoder question had been exercising a few minds after we actually got our hands on the 49 and a secret cabal that I’ve tagged the Dead Decoder Society (in honour of Robyn Williams’ recent passing) has been formed to try to cram our standard choice of an ESU Loksound XL v4 into the thing. There were those who were afeared that this decoder, with all its chest thumping grunt, wouldn’t fit but it does and I have a photo to prove it.

It's a tight fit but a Loksound XLv4 does just fit into the body of the 49. The black box on the left is not the flight recoder but an enclosure for the speakers. The speakers are Jaycar part #AS3030.

It’s a tight fit but a Loksound XLv4 does just fit into the body of the 49. The black box on the left is not the flight recorder but an enclosure for the speakers. The speakers are Jaycar part #AS3030.

Another factor that caused a small modicum of consternation was the absence of our DCC install guru, I’ll call him Mr Myagi to protect his identity, who chose the week of the 49’s arrival to go off on holiday! Don’t panic, don’t panic! Upon his arrival home said guru set to work designing some circuit boards to aid the installation of the XL decoder that will allow all the lights to work, the whistle to operate, but sadly not the bell to tinkle. We don’t use bells in NSW ūüôā Following carefully in Mr Myagi’s footsteps I’ve managed to construct the circuit boards and build a small black styrene box to enclose the Jaycar speakers.

All has been going along nicely but the next step is to start hooking up the LED lights. This is a sometimes fraught process as it can be devilish hard to determine cathodes from anodes, well it is for someone as electronically illiterate as me. Mr Myagi has suggested gently removing the LEDs from the body, thus easing the wiring up process. However he managed to fry four of the LEDs early on so he was going to have to remove them anyway to replace them in the specimen he’s working on. Did I mention the four blown LEDs? Wax on, wax off Mr Myagi! Wax on indeed… ūüôā

If it’s possible for our resident DCC guru to fry a few LEDs along the way it gives me heart that I may be able to get through this installation process in one piece. Let’s hope the decoder does too!

Brass Bolt Units

Image

This shot shows the home made bolts I made to deliver power to my turntable roads. This is not on the scenic portion of the layout so it doesn't need to be pretty. Power to the "bolt" units is delivered via wire that is soldereded to the base of each unit run up through holes near the rear of the units. Power is delivered to the rails on the table via solid lengths of NS wire. The bases of the bolt units are 25mm wide.

This shot shows the home made bolts I made to deliver power to my turntable roads. This is not on the scenic portion of the layout so it doesn’t need to be pretty. Power to the “bolt” units is delivered via wire that is soldereded to the base of each unit run up through holes near the rear of the units. Power is delivered to the rails on the table via solid lengths of NS wire. The bases of the bolt units are 25mm wide.

Fiddle Yard Power

As the Aus7 ExpO draws closer the number of decisions I make about Morpeth¬†that have some significance seem to grow exponentially. The oil siding, the new module, the pier siding and wiring these up¬†all¬†pose a series of decisions I need to make and commitments that will have to be lived with. As they all seem to pile in on one another it’s little wonder that I sometimes look back on layouts I’ve built and think, “why did I do it that way?”

This last weekend I had reached a stage where I needed to make a decision about the way power would be fed to the fiddleyard storage roads. There were a few simple of criteria for the method I settled on and they were:

1. I didn’t need every storage track powered at the same time, only the track that was aligned with the mainline on the layout needed to be “in¬†steam”.

2. Whatever method I settled on to power the track needed to incorporate within it the ability to align the rails accurately across the turntable gap and lock these in place.

3. The system needed to be robust and extremely simple to operate so that a guest operator could understand very quickly how it worked.

4. The system had to be self-contained: I like to keep the number of separate parts to a minimum to simplify storage and transport. I wanted to minimise or eliminate the use of loose parts like bolts, clips, wands or cassettes that can go missing, rendering the whole system inoperable if I forget to pack something vital before an exhibition.

I visited the home of Brisbane modeller Rob over the weekend who has constructed a similar train turntable to mine. While this is used on an OO layout, the concept is exactly the same: a train exits the scenic portion of the layout and is staged on one of a number of storage tracks. The entire train can be turned without handling so that it can be run back onto the layout without touching it. Layouts that are configured in a fiddleyard to terminus arrangement need a quick and convenient way to restage trains once they exit the layout and, after having tried a couple of different methods, I feel that a train turntable is the best possible solution to getting trains back onto the layout.

The weakness with this method of turning trains is common to any turntable arrangement: how do you supply power to the tracks on the turntable? As my train turntable doesn’t require power to be supplied continuously to the tracks while the table is being turned this simplifies things considerably. The best method of supplying electricity to trains on the¬†turntable¬†is one where the power is delivered with a physical connection while at the same time the rails are¬†aligned. Rob had solved this problem by the simple expedient of soldered pieces of brass tube¬†that were electrically connected to each rail on the table which were then connected to the main layout supply by simple home-made bolts.¬†When the tracks were approximately lined up these bolts¬†were slid home, thus providing power to each rail on the table¬†while¬†the track was held in correct alignment. I will illustrate my version of this with a photo and what I’m describing will be a bit clearer.

As I drove home from Rob’s on Saturday afternoon I decided that¬†I was going to use the same method he’d employed on his OO layout to deliver power to the fiddle yard tracks but with my own modifications. One thing I¬†took home from the layout visit that was new for me¬†was the use of square tube¬†as the alignment method. I had never even considered this but I could see that soldering square tube to a base would offer far greater strength that using round tube due to the larger surface area available on the mating surfaces. This¬†is important as this method of power delivery would also be used to hold the table in place and the extra grip provided by the square tube wouldn’t go astray.

I also decided that I wanted to simplify the delivery of track power across the baseboard joint between the scenic portion of the layout and the fiddleyard. I had all the hardware to deliver power via my¬†usual method of eight pin DIN plugs and sockets however it suddenly occurred to me that a far simpler way of crossing the layout gap would be to run the power through the Station Road Baseboard¬†alignment dowels I use to hold the modules in alignment. These are lovely brass turnings and I decided that they would be perfect way to simply deliver DCC¬†track power automatically as the male and female halves were brought together each time the layout was erected.¬†Item 4 on my list of criteria said reduce the number of extraneous parts. Done deal! ūüôā

On Rob’s layout he had soldered the ends of his rails to a large section of paxolin copper clad material. I find that this isn’t necessary with 32mm gauge track as a method of holding track in position¬†so I stuck with plain flex track laid straight onto the plywood. Some versions of this system of power delivery have the tube in which the bolts slide soldered directly to the side of the¬†rail. I decided I wanted to make up separate units and have these sitting next to the track with the power being delivered by small lengths of solid NS wire. I hunted through my store of brass tube and rod and found I had what I needed for the job. I’m not sure of the dimensions of the materials I used. I would guess that the outside dia of the tube would be 1/4″ and the rod I used for the two bolts is an appropriate dia to slide in this. My suggestion would be visit your K&S supplier and do some tests. You’ll find a size that suits your needs.

I began by running wires to the alignment dowels and connecting these up to the DCC bus wires. These were connected on both sides of the gap between modules and deliver power to a terminal block. I also ran wires to the short section of track that lies between the end of the scenic portion of the layout and the train turntable. I made up two sets of units that would form the basic components. Two bolt units (left and right-handed) and two “receptacles” (the parts where the sliding bolts would be driven home). I used solid brass (25mm wide K&S material of a suitable thickness) to form the bases of these.¬†I¬†didn’t need to isolate these items from anything else (after all¬†they would be sitting on the wooden surface of the baseboard) so I could use solid brass and forego the use of paxolin. I soldered these up using my big 80w¬†iron and then screwed them into position using small self tapping screws. I’d pre-drilled the holes for these screws. I made sure the screws were short enough not to emerge below the wooden surface of table, thus interfering with the turning action.

I only had time to make the four test units but so far I’m happy with the result. The units hold the track in alignments and deliver power to the rails. The bolt units were hard-wired to the terminal blocks with a length of insulated wire and the receptacles were connected to the track with some .8mm NS wire. I only need to make the two bolt units but¬†I need to make sixteen receptacle units in all as I have four lengths of track:¬†four for each length of track.¬†I’m dying¬†to test a loco across the gap and over the bridge but this will have to wait till next weekend.

Jumper Cables

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This photo shows the jumper cable installed in one of the modules. The layout is on its side so you have to imagine looking at this from below to get a sense of what's going on. You can see the way the wiring serminates in the white nylon terminal block on the left with the wire running out the other side up to the socket. The jumper cable is a separate unit that can be unplugged and packed away for transport. No cables dangling from beneath the layout to be trodden on and damaged. Of course I suppose I could possibly foget to take the cables with me to an exhibition but the terminal blocks could then be temporarily hard wired to bridges the gap. The spare holes I've drilled in the socket panels are obvious.

This photo shows the jumper cable installed across the gap between two of the modules. The layout is on its side so you have to imagine looking at this from below to get a sense of what’s going on. You can see the way the wiring terminates in the white nylon terminal block on the left with the wire running out the other side up to the socket. The jumper cable is a separate unit that can be unplugged and packed away for transport. No cables dangling from beneath the layout to be trodden on and damaged. Of course I suppose I could possibly forget to take the cables with me to an exhibition but the terminal blocks could then be temporarily hard wired to bridge the gap. The spare holes I’ve drilled in the socket panels are obvious.

All Wired Up

I reached a stage over the weekend where I could commence wiring up the final two modules. I have left this task till¬†quite late in the day because I like to get jobs¬†finalized and don’t like to do things in fits and starts. I wanted to wait till things had reached the appropriate stage and this really meant installing the bridge and the 8th and final point (switch).

After I had set up to start work early on Sunday afternoon I got stuck in and spent 3 hours working systematically through the tasks. I quite like wiring layouts: not so much because I know much about wire and electricity, I don’t, but because I understand what is needed to complete the job and it’s logical. Like just about everything else I do in this hobby I have a process and a method for the way I wire my layouts.

So here are my hints and tips about making wiring a layout easy and fun (almost).

1. If there was one outstanding positive about building a layout in smaller, bite sized chunks it isn’t any of the things you might expect like portability and storage. No, the one thing that would be at the top of my list of positives about working on layout segments is ease of access. This applies to wiring as much as it does to scenery. I spent the first 10 minutes of my work time standing the layout on its back and then the next three hours sitting on a comfortable computer chair gliding back and forth as I worked. No blobs of solder in the eye for me!

2. I run everything I wire up to terminal blocks. simple. This makes sense, saves time in the long run and it allows easy swapping out of components if something goes wrong. For example, I’ll wire up a point motor and run the wires from this to a terminal block. I favour the white nylon variety rated up to 240v¬†mains power. To complete the wiring I then run wires from these terminal blocks to where they need to go. Basically that’s it. This system works for me. I spent three hours working on the layout and never once had to check anything or record what I was doing because I use terminal blocks and I also use coloured coded wires.

3. Never, ever get tempted to use the same coloured wire for two different jobs. It doesn’t matter what colour scheme you use but use something! This is really important. I have about 10 spools of different coloured fine wire that does for the bulk of my wiring and I rarely if ever get confused about what’s going on. BTW it’s much cheaper to buy wire on the spool (normally sold in 100m lengths)¬†rather than in 10 or 20 meters at a time. I bought five or six spools of wire from Tom’s in Sydney (in the days when they actually carried a good range of products) and I’m still dragging the wire off¬†these. I’ve recently added some¬†extra colours.

4.¬†If you’re building a portable layout,¬†develop a good method of getting power from one module to the next and then stick with it.¬†When I built¬†QW I¬†used DIN plugs and sockets to do this and I’ve found these more than satisfactory. However I made the mistake of using¬†plugs/sockets¬†with different numbers of pins in different locations on the layout. Another mistake I made was¬†I had one end of the cables dangling out of the bottom of one module with the socket for this located near this¬†in the next module. This meant that there was always short lengths of cable with a plug on the end of it dangling below¬†the layout as it was moved about and these always¬†seemed to be¬†in the perfect spot to be trodden on. On Morpeth I decided to go the whole hog and have a matching set of sockets on the ends of all modules (with standardised wiring)¬†used in conjunction¬†with a¬†short standard jumper cable that could be used¬†to¬†run power across the gap on¬†any module. This meant more wiring but it also means that¬†there’s no fussing about matching up particular cables and plugs with particular sockets. There are four sections of layout (there will eventually be five) and three gaps so that means I need six sockets and three jumper cables. These cables are short lengths of 8 insulated strand wire with a DIN plug at both ends. I will eventually¬†make up¬†a spare in case one¬†fails, probably after this happens the first time ūüôā

5. I learnt from my work with QW that it was far easier to build in extra capacity from the start. All my jumper cables have a capacity for 8 wires so if I need nine wires to bridge a gap I have to install a complete extra set of sockets and make up a new¬†cable. This is not such huge task but at the start I wasn’t sure how many wires would need to jump the gaps in the layout. As a general rule if you feed your controls and power into a portable layout from one end you will find that you need lots of capacity at that end and this will gradually reduce the further down the layout as power reaches components installed along its length. The way I reduced this funneling¬†effect was to feed the main power in from one of the middle modules so that wires headed in each directio from this entry point rather than from one end. However I still couldn’t be sure how many wires would need to jump a particular gap so as I was installing my panels for the sockets¬†that sat at each end of every module I made each panel slightly wider than they needed to be and drilled an extra hole where another socket could be installed later with little extra effort. These panels are simple pieces of thin plywood¬†attached to¬†a piece of aluminium angle. Thus far I haven’t had to use any of this spare capacity but I’ve used all eight wires on one end and I tend to come back later and add lighting and animation so this will probably mean I’ll use them at some point.

 

Wired Up

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Wired Up

A photo of the underside of the layout segment that will have scenery applied to it. This shows how the aluminium is employed but it also shows the wiring of the various components. The power and DCC control system will be fed into the layout from under the centre section of the layout so all wiring heads toward the plug point at the right hand end. I’ve gone to the trouble of allowing for future expansion by drilling an extra hole for the sockets I use to connect the modules. This will allow for easy installation if this is required later.