Dapol Semaphore Signals

Recently I wrote here about building some signal kits and also about hearing of the release of Dapol’s 7mm (1:43.5) ready-to-plant signals. The signal I’ll be talking about here is the GWR wooden post semaphore (item #7L-001-00) which was provided to me by ModelOKits for evaluation. I’ll write a full review of this and the LMS tubular post signal in an upcoming issue of 7th Heaven, the Aus7 Modellers Group newsletter. However the signals are in stock at ModelOKits and while the square post GWR signals aren’t exact replicas of NSWR semaphores, they certainly have a McKenzie and Holland “family” look.

Like a lot of modellers I’m a member of a couple of online groups and forums and recently on one of these, a question was posed asking how a Dapol signal could have it’s indication mimicked on a control panel with LEDs. There’s not a lot I normally contribute to this particular group, however I had a Dapol signal in my cupboard that I was planning to evaluate and I had a plan for how I was going to achieve the mimicking on a control panel so I thought I’d take the plunge and put my two cents worth in.

I plan to have my signals switched from a central control panel by a signaler and as such I need this board to be able to display what aspect the signals are showing in locations not in the direct line of sight of the person sitting at the panel. I had a plan for how I was going to achieve this through swapping out the single pole switch provided with Dapol signals for a double pole variety and then switching between red and green LEDs (or possibly a single bi polar LED) on the panel using the extra set of contacts provided by this type of switch. Simple, cheap, effective and, I thought, worth sharing. However I was told in a couple of replies that my suggestion wouldn’t work.

Outside of the possibility that the signals from Dapol in the OO and N are made to actuate in a manner that is different from the way the O-scale ones are, I couldn’t see why what I had proposed wouldn’t work and, in fact, I knew bloody well that it would! ๐Ÿ™‚ So today I set out to prove to myself that this could be done, mostly because I plan to eventually populate my layout with about 14 or 15 of these signals and they will all need to have this mimic feature. Before I got too much further down the track I thought I’d better test what I was proposing to do on Morpeth.

Just to show I’m using a Dapol signal for this test, and not some generic Chinese product from a company with a name like “We Honest”, I thought I’d include this shot of the Dapol packaging. To be totally accurate this is an LMS tubular semaphore and not the GWR square post variety I used but it’s exactly the same type of signal in terms of its mechanics. The single pole switch plugs into the actuating box which is the big black object in the lower left hand corner. This simply plugs into the bottom of the signal.

I built myself a small box from 12mm plywood to mount the signal to run my test. My roadbed is 12mm ply so this was a suitable material to use. The signal is provided with a plastic nut that tightens a threaded mount on the underside of the signal (the part on the signal that has the yellow line running up it in the photo) which is 15mm in diameter. I drilled a 15mm hole in the ply top of my little box and mounted the signal through this, making sure not to over tighten the nut as it looks like it would easily crack if tightened too far. I plugged in the motor box and the plug leading from the switch provided and tested that the signal worked as advertised. Everything worked beautifully: the red and green aspects were nice and bright and would be very clear under normal layout room lighting. The semaphore worked crisply and even had a slight bounce as per the prototype.

So now I’d tested that the signal worked as produced by Dapol, I made my modifications to test that I could mimic the signal aspect via some “remote” LEDs.

I snipped the wires coming from the plug to the switch provided (the lower one in this photo) and re-soldered these to a double pole switch, making sure that the yellow wire was in the middle as per the original.

After I’d attached the wires to the new switch I mounted two 5mm LEDs (one red and one green) into the front panel of my little box. I’d used 3mm MDF on the front of the box to allow for the mounting of the switch and the LEDs. I hooked up the power supply that I’d used to power the signal to the LEDs by running the positive to a common connection between the LEDs and the negative to the middle pole of the switch. I ran the two leads from the other poles of the LEDs to each side of the switch inserting a 1k resistor in these lines. I then tested this set up and it worked as I’d hoped it would.

It’s a little difficult to see the red LED under my extremely bright photographic lights but take my word for it is alight.

On my first try I got my positives and negatives mixed up running to the LEDs but after swapping the wires I’d soldered to the poles of the switch over the red and green aspects on my 5mm LEDs lit to mimic what was showing on the signal.

And just to demonstrate that the green aspect also works …..

After the test proved positive I let out a sigh of relief. I’d had a bit of a vision of how I was going to achieve the mimic feature of the signals on my layout and I also felt that the way I was going to do this would be cheap and simple. I didn’t want to introduce new, extra components to the mix if I didn’t need to. Someone on the forum I referred to earlier had suggested using a flip/flop to achieve the same result. If I knew what I flip flow was this may be possible but as my method works I’ll leave working out what these are for another day ๐Ÿ™‚




Making It Fit

As I spent time bashing my head against the underside of the bench work of Queens Wharf this week, as I wired in some turnouts I’d removed a while back, an idea occurred to me. Perhaps the idea got in there from banging my head but it’s not a theory I’m keen to test! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’d been doing some rethinking about what I wanted to do with the space I’d created for the short NG line I wrote about a few months ago. The problem was that I just couldn’t get what I wanted to fit either in a practical, track layout sense or in an operational sense. The benchwork for the NG extension had sat untouched and unchanged for several months as I’d gone about making models and planning for the next round building and track laying to the broader layout. So I took the decision to remove the NG from the plan. It will reappear at some point down the track but not as a part of the layout.

However while my plans for NG track laying had stalled I’d left the benchwork for it in place and started to think about whether to remove this or see if I could incorporate it into the SG network as an industry siding or modest industrial complex. This benchwork forms a narrow peninsula that run down the middle of one of the operating “wells” either side of Morpeth and the storage yards/coal branch.

This piece of benchwork was going to form the basis for the NG Barren Jack extension, however I’m going to re-purpose it and use it as an industry complex, most likely a large dairy building running down one side of the available space with perhaps a small oil depot down the far end. This would be very similar to a portion of the Manning River Siding that ran out of Taree on the mid north coast of NSW. However possibly the most significant change will be that the track running to this industrial siding is now going to be SG.

The minimum radius on Morpeth is 1.2m on the branches and 1.5 on the main. The most logical place to branch off from the main onto this orphaned benchwork would be from the yard you can see on the left in the above photo however, there simply isn’t the space to get even a 1.2m (4′) radius curve to bend around and emerge in the approximate centre of the benchwork. I could lay track on this peninsula and leave it unattached from the rest of the layout but this would defeat the purpose of doing any work on it so I was considering tearing it down and setting the segments up in my work room where I’d install some NG track. It was at this point that the thought struck me that if I could somehow lay track from the other direction (coming in from the far right in this photo) then this would allow a connection to the rest of the layout and add extra operational possibilities. The only problem with this solution was that the coal branch rises over the exit from storage at this point, thus precluding any opportunity to raise this track over the main, and the main itself sits at about 45 degrees to the track extension that would be needed, so any thoughts of just installing a new left hand turnout into the main and running some track down to the benchwork was also blocked.

What to do?

What did the prototype do when two separate lines needed to cross but a bridge or cutting wasn’t practical or cost effective? A diamond crossing of course! But hang on, this would be two curved lines (one is 1450mm radius and the other 1500mm radius) crossing at about 40 degrees to the other. I’ve never built a diamond crossing and, in spite of being involved in this hobby for over 40 years, have never used such a crossing on any layout I’ve ever been involved with so have no idea of how they operate. Did Iet any of that stop me? No way! ๐Ÿ™‚

I did what I usually do in these circumstances and consulted my wiring bible – Easy Model Railroad Wiring by Andy Sperandeo –ย  to find out how to isolate and set diamond crossings up electrically to see how this would impact the construction.

I’ve owned this book for over 30 years and still consult it occasionally. Things have moved on in terms of DCC and computer control of layouts but for basic wiring this tome cannot be beat in my humble opinion.

It might be legitimately asked that, as I’m not familiar with the diamond crossing as a species of track,wouldn’t I be more concerned about how to make the thing rather than how to wire it up? This is a legitimate question, however I had little doubt that I could in fact construct the crossing and get trains to run through it. What I didn’t know much about was how I was going to wire the thing up when it would be sitting on one leg of a triangle that is protected by an automatic DCC polarity switch which itself has to operate in harmony with short circuit protector for that zone of the layout. I suspect that this might be cause for conflicts but damn the torpedoes I say: full steam ahead! Andy had no advice to offer on this topic but he did show how to build the crossing to allow no short circuits. All I needed to do was build the crossing. Wiring it so that it worked could be confronted later.

I’ve been using a UK program called Templot for a couple of years now and generally find it extremely useful. It allows you to design just about any type of trackwork your heart desires, expect for a diamond crossing with curved legs of the angle I needed! Evidently, according to a little pop up box that would appear when I clicked the appropriate button to “Make Crossing”, the prototype didn’t use crossings of this angle so therefore I wasn’t having one either! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ &^%!@# the prototype! I did what I usually do when I computer tells me I’m not allowed: I went old school. I printed out the bits I could and cut and pasted them together on my dining room table which provided me with a perfectly serviceable paper template to allow me to lay out the sleepers accurately. Cutting up the track and pinning it to the sugar pine sleepers I get from Gwydir Valley Models was a relatively simple task, after checking Mr Sperandeo’s book to ensure I had electrical gaps where I needed them.


I built this crossing as a test to satisfy myself that it was feasible. Whether I can get it to cooperate with my DCC system and its increasingly large collection of short circuit switches remains to be seen. The crossing itself will essentially be buried under a hill so there was no real need to pretty it up and make it look too much like the real thing.

All I need to do now is install some new track bed and a new left hand turnout into the mainline to allow access to the crossing. Wiring it up may turn out to be a bit of a challenge but that all remains to be seen in about a week’s time.

The To Do List

After the Borderline Operators last visit I was left with a list of approximately 10 problems on Morpeth that needed to be addressed. I did make a start on these but weathering some locomotives, DCC decoder installations and signal building got some attention for a couple of months so I only got back to the list a couple of days ago. One of larger goals that’s been sitting at the back of my mind out of the operating sessions I’ve hosted over the past 12 months or so is that I want to install some form of signalling/safe working system sooner rather than later. Over many years of reading about and talking to other modellers about the topic of signals it seems to me that more often than not these are an after thought, something that they’ll eventually get around to when they run out of other jobs to complete. For me this is actually the reverse of how I’ve gone about planning and working on this layout. First and foremost I want to operate on this layout and track, rolling stock and a method of safe working are the critical components to this. I’ve built plenty of layouts and installed quite a bit of scenery however to cover the whole of the Morpeth line with scenery will probably be the work of the next 20 years or so and, if I’m realistic, may never be entirely complete. However I want to operate the layout and have friends over to run trains now, so signals and some type of CTC panel that will mimic a signal box’s role are front of mind.

There were a couple of reasons why I found myself building three NSWGR semaphore 1:43.5 signal kits recently. One was that a friend had asked me to finish building two kits that he’d made a start on himself while the other was that I wanted to do some build testing to see whether I could envision myself building multiple copies of these and similar kits and then installing these on the layout. Before we get too much further into this perhaps I should fess up and admit that I have only a passing interest in signals and very little knowledge of how they work in relation to safe working procedures. Every time I’ve tried to do a bit of research or attend a talk by people who know something about the topic it very quickly becomes eye glazingly confusing and boring. What I eventually install as a safe working system on Morpeth will work it will probably drive anyone who knows a lot about safe working absolutely bonkers! ๐Ÿ™‚

I have to admit that the experience of building three of the kits did not lead me to conclude I’d be happy to undertake the construction of something like 17 or 18 of them. This is the number that Ray Pilgrim (who knows a tad about signals) advised me I’d probably need to properly signal Morpeth. 18!!?? ๐Ÿ™‚ The kits from KRM are very buildable and make up into a very accurate, working semaphore but 18 of them!!?? It ain’t happening! So when Glenn Scott from ModelOKits recently told me about a Dapol, McKenzie and Holland, 7mm scale, GWR signal that operates, has a light and comes supplied with a servo built for the model and is even supplied with a switch, I was very interested. He sent me a sample to look at and review in an upcoming edition of 7th Heaven. While I may not have a great deal of specific knowledge of signals and safe working I have eyes and can compare a ready to plant signal to one I’ve just built from a kit and I’m buggered if there’s all that much difference. Add to this the fact that it comes ready to install and that it’s only about $25 more than the un-built kit (which will need to be motorized in some way further adding to the overall cost of getting an operating signal) for me it’s a no brainer.

I had to laugh at my postie this morning. He was late and complaining that he’s busier than at Christmas. I suppose that’s what happens when millions of people are stuck inside with no outlet other than jig saw puzzles and online shopping. Six of the Dapol signals arrived in the mail today from Glenn Scott, along with some Peco track which I will use to change the track layout at Raworth. I have a few turnouts and track to build by hand for the scenicked portion of the layout but Peco will do for those areas that are out of sight.

What I’ve been up to over the Easter long weekend is to get back to that list of problems that emerged on the layout from the most recent operating session. I had removed the track at the end of QW yard to tweak the turnouts there and these now needed to be reinstalled. So now it was time to work on the control panels, finish their installation so that they all worked as intended and to do a lot of small to medium wiring jobs that had been left till a more convenient time. The first and possibly most significant of these jobs was the permanent re-siting of the Morpeth yard control panel. I’d made this panel in the lead up to taking the layout to the New England Convention at the end of 2018. It worked ok at the convention but occasionally the panel would refuse to work and when I got the layout home and installed it back in place the problem only grew more common, to the point where the switches on this panel would only operate my point motors something like one in ten times after the layout was powered up. I went through a whole series of different trials and tests, installed a grounded cable between my boosters and still the problem persisted. However there was one thing I hadn’t tried and that was to move the NCE Button Board (which I use to route power via buttons or switches to my Tortoise point motors to the NCE Switch8s) much closer to the Switch8 stationary decoder.

I’d never measured the distance between the Switch8 and Button Board prior to the recent work but it turns out that I’d managed to place them 1.8m (about 9′) apart and in spite of what the instructions that come with the BB recommend I hadn’t twisted the wires between these components, mainly because for a lot of their length this wasn’t possible as they had to cross two layout joints inside multi-strand cables. Over the past couple of days I’ve moved the panel from location A to location C (to a wider part of the aisle) and the Button Board has gone from location C (inside the control panel) to location B. The BB is now about 50mm from the Switch8 which sits at location B under the layout. The wobbly red line shows where the cable used to travel between the BB and the SW8.

The big test was, after the changes had been made, to turn the layout on and see if the Tortoises would operate when the switches were flicked and the difference was immediately apparent. Prior to this change I’d turn the layout on and 9 times out of 10 there would be no response from the point motors when you flicked a switch on the panel. Nothing. Nada. The first time I turned the layout on this time the motors operated as they should and made that wonderfully distinctive sound all Tortoises make. Success! However I did turn the layout on a couple of times and the old problem came back. I tracked this down to a sequencing issue; if I turn the power to the command station on after the booster sometimes the panel refuses to operate. So this is far from a simple matter where my dodgy installation was the problem. Turns out my dodgy installation was the problem but perhaps only 95% of it. In spite of this light sprinkle of rain on my parade I seems to have largely solved the mystery of the dead control panel and she now sits in place permanently hard wired into the layout.

This panel is now permanently screwed into place next to the Morpeth yard. I’ve moved it down the layout so it’s more centrally located and it now works reliably since I moved the BB next to the SW8 that controls the turnouts on this part of the layout.



Over the past couple of weeks I’ve spent some time in the house, along with 50% of the rest of the world’s population, doing some modelling. I completed the semaphore signals I’d been working on and moved onto making a brake van (caboose) to allow myself the feeling that I can occasionally work on a model of my own choosing, as opposed to working on models belonging to friends. I currently only have one van to use in service during operating sessions and as we plan to run more than one goods train per ops session a second brake van was a logical choice for the next build. It’s been an enjoyable break from pulling up and modifying the work I’ve done on the layout and working on a series of DCC installations and building the signals.

As I was doing some repairs to a friend’s NSWR 49 class I already had it apart on my workbench. I always find it so much more convenient to weather a loco when it’s already in parts than to come back and do it later. If you do it later it tends to mean it can wait for years to get a weathering job. As my friend’s 49 was getting a weathering job there was no chance mine wasn’t going to get the same treatment and this is the result. So it’s now essentially ready to enter service and short of something going wrong I shouldn’t ever have to do much to this loco beyond lubrication. These locos come bathed in oil, so much so that you find yourself constantly wiping your hands and the gear train as you work on them, so it should be a fair while before I have to even lube it.

The brake van is almost ready for paint so it was time to start getting serious about the work I plan to do on the layout as a part of my isolation regime over the next weeks, months or for however long our politicians decide they much prefer us all inside not out causing trouble on the streets. Things are so much quieter when everyone is stuck inside and I bet the crime, road death and air quality stats are way down. It reminds me of that hospital in Yes Minister that had only one patient and got an award for the most efficient hospital in the country ๐Ÿ™‚

Layout work can be translated into fixing issues that arose in the good old days when I could invite friends over to run trains and that to-do list is still quite long. However I’ve been planning some major adjustments to the track arrangements at Raworth, alongside the installation of the electrical cables, signals and the final move of the 60′ turntable and before all this can happen I need to take some measurements and nut out whether my grand schemes are actually going to fit. I’m happy to report that they do!

The main issue I want to address in the re-work of the Raworth yard is that I need to bite the bullet and install a goods loop taking it from a main line and a single passing loop. In the early planning stages for the layout this seemed like an adequate arrangement but as soon as I watched people running trains on the layout I realized that a through station needed a goods loop to make it workable. By “workable” I mean a train crew being able to shunt the yard at the same time as a train runs through on the main without work in the yard coming to a shuddering halt. Raworth lacked any provision for sidings for such basic facilities as a goods shed, stock race or a crane and with the turntable located in the yard, making room for these was near impossible. So I wasn’t trying to install some huge industry siding, just some basic yard infrastructure and places to place wagons.

As is always the case space is limited and I tend to work on the assumption that if I can cram in an extra siding then all the better, but as one end of Raworth’s yard is inside a storage cupboard, and this was further hemmed in by the turntable, and at the other end of the yard I’d been planning to run a NG line I was really narrowing my options. The first thing to go was the NG line. It didn’t work in a planning or operational sense, making the aisle space too cramped and the operation was always going to be a neglected half sibling, so NG will just have to take a back seat for a time while I do some thinking. The turntable that hemmed in the line is being shifted to the end of the coal branch in this re-arrangement so after these changes were settled on in my mind I had a semi-clean slate to work on. But I still wanted to draw up a plan and I still wanted to see if I couldn’t fit in a bigger industry such as a dairy or a mill to justify more intensive loadings coming and going from Raworth. Then a thought struck me: why not extend a line into the cupboard and build a mill or dairy (or both) in there? There’s plenty of shelf space in there and the line runs through it on the end of one of the shelves already so adding a turnout or two and reserving one shelf for a layout extension wasn’t a difficult decision to make. As long as I could get a 1.2m curve into the confined space??

Using #5 turnouts and code 100 rail on the new goods loop and extensions it turns out I have just enough space for a loop in front of a goods shed and stock race and also some space for some sort of industry inside the cupboard with a 1.2m radius curve (just above the minimum) or 4′. You can see these additions to the plan on the left in the yard labelled Raworth.

I’ve put a lot of thought into what changes I was going to make to Raworth and I was really determined to finalize these on my plan before I started pulling track up and making new track and turnouts. I’d hankered for a space for a larger industry in Raworth for a long time and not being able to get it to fit at the other end of the yard was what led me to try cramming in the NG line. Well if you just open your eyes you sometimes find a solution in the most unlikely places.

This change should allow a crew to potter about shunting Raworth yard and associated sidings with a minimum of disruption when a through train appears around the bend. I want my crews to have challenges but I’d also like them to be able to work their trains and shunt the industries at the same time as trains are passing through the yards.

On a separate matter I was interested to hear about the temporary closure of Peco and Dapol in the UK and KD in the US, and I’m sure the same is happening to many other large and small railway hobby businesses due to the pandemic. I’m pretty sure it won’t be long before a lot of the supplies and materials we rely on to carry on our hobby will be in pretty short supply and images of people fighting over toilet rolls came to mind. How long will it be before we see similar scenes in our hobby shops?

Possible? Nah, we’re far too civilized in this hobby ๐Ÿ™‚

KRM Signals

I’ve had little to post about recently so have refrained from taking up precious bandwidth blathering about not much at all. However this I morning applied the final touches to a couple of Kerian Ryan Modelsย  semaphore signals which means I do finally have something worth writing about.

I’ve actually been working on three of these signals and this shows one of them in about 80% complete.

These brass and nickle silver kits come as a set of etches with a few small detail parts that appear to be cast in white metal. I was handed a couple by a friend quite a while ago who asked me to complete them for him. He’d already made a start on them but it took me quite a while to get around to working on them. The reason for this delay is that I tend to work on the models I need for the layout and signals tend to be well down the list of “needed” models. However since operations started on Morpeth I’ve decided to signal Queens Wharf as a test to see if I can institute a way of controlling train movements on the rest of the layout. I’m not sure I’ll be able to signal the entire layout in a prototypical fashion as the cost and time this would take would be prohibitive.

I sat with Ray Pilgrimย who writes the Bylong blog and has a company called Signals Branch at a Forum not too long back and he counted the number of signals I’d need. He reached 17 signals and that didn’t include everything such as ground signals and signalling the entry to storage. I staggered away clutching my chest ๐Ÿ™‚ I purchased one of his bracket signals online and this came in at well over $180 delivered and that was well before the Aussie dollar crashed through the floor this past fortnight. Signalling the whole layout might have to wait a little while but I’m going to run a few tests with the signals I have in hand, including the one I’ve been building along side the ones handed to me by my friend. More on that later but be warned: modellers who enjoy and know a great deal about signals and signalling will not like what I have planned. My suggestion would be turn away if you fall into this category and see any upcoming posts that have the word “signal” in the title. I will not care that what I’m doing isn’t exactly to prototype so don’t bother telling me so. You have been warned ๐Ÿ™‚

The construction of the signals was relatively straightforward but I would not recommend this kit to anyone who isn’t experienced with a soldering iron. The kit is highly detailed, in fact I feel it’s over detailed. Working with such small detail parts might make you eel good but it can also be a one way trip to insanity and sore knees as you crawl around under the workbench trying to find something you’ve dropped. And we all drop things, don’t pretend otherwise! ๐Ÿ™‚

I was making two of the signals operational and one that would be restricted to a static display model and I’ll be honest and say I departed quite significantly from the instructions. I cannot see the point of applying detail that no one will see, which isn’t robust (in my opinion) enough to stand up to the rigors of surviving on an operational layout or will be lost under a layer of solder, glue or paint or a combination of all three. I’m an experienced modeller with a lot of soldering, gluing and painting experience under my belt and I consider myself quite neat. In spite of this some of the detail was still lost from view. Don’t tell Keiran but I didn’t apply most of the really fiddly bits ๐Ÿ™‚

Having said that the kits make up into an accurate and very pleasing NSWGR home signal and two of the ones I made operate and have LED lighting. I applied the coloured lenses this morning and while I’m quite happy with the red I feel the blue plastic is a bit too dark, significantly masking the LED. Also the colour of the lens appears to be shaded to provide a green light when the LED has a yellowish tinge, however the LEDs supplied with the kit are very white so the dim light showing through the lens remains very blue to my eye. This isn’t a huge issue as the semaphore arm will be the primary means of communication to drivers however if I build any more of these kits I’ll probably swap out the supplied blue lens with a small piece of green cellophane. The detail parts supplied with the kit are really quite beautiful and had very little flash and really look the part. Making the signal operate was only a small amount of extra work over building the model static and I really can’t see why you’d bother building such a kit unless you were going to place it in an operational form on a layout.

These are the two operating signals I worked on. One will be installed on the approach to one side of QW yard and the other one will be delivered to my friend when this virus madness abates and I can travel again.




Code 125 #6 Turnout Pattern

I’ve spent a couple of days working on building some turnouts and after complaining on the phone to Glenn Scott at ModelOKits that things would be so much simpler and quicker with a cast code 125 #6 frog I found myself volunteering to make a pattern so a cast version can be made available. After-all, I was making a code 125 frog for one of the turnouts I was building anyway so making two and turning one into a pattern wasn’t too much extra work. It seems to take me between 2 and 3 hours to make a single frog from scratch from NS rail. Using a casting costs you the price of the casting but you save the time it would have taken to make it from scratch and you know the flange-ways and other dimensions are consistent.

In spite of an unforgiving cruel close up I’m quite happy with the way this has come out. The flange-ways are a smidge over the recommended 1.75mm at 1.80mm but I find easing these out ever so slightly allows for the less than perfect back-to-back measurements of the wheels we’re often dealing with.

This is the second frog pattern I’ve made: I made the code 100 version that is sold by ModelOKits something like 8 years ago. I made that one for Dave Morris at Waratah Model Railway Co and they passed over to ModelOKits when they purchased Waratah a few years ago.

The bracing in the flange-ways and the bolt detail on the side of the rail is pure aesthetics and serves no purpose other than to add time to the build. However the code 100 cast frog has these details so I thought I may as well add them to this pattern to match the older castings.

Glenn told me he was probably going to retail the resulting casting so if you want some get onto him and let him know. He might have the ready for sale at the April Aus7 Forum.

Sound DCC Hygiene

My dentist occasionally gives me a lecture about practicing sound dental hygiene: by which he means brushing “properly” (which he demonstrates), flossing (I ain’t goin’ there) and the use of teeny weeny little brushes that look like tiny pipe cleaners of the type my mother used to clean her cigarette holders with when I was a sprog and she wanted to look like Rita Hayworth.

And no, my mum didn’t look like Rita Hayworth except for the cigarette holder!

Of course, as he’s giving me the run down on “sound dental hygiene”, I diligently nod my head and as soon as I’m out of the place diligently ignore him till the day before my next visit when I use the tiny brushes to clean the crud from between my teeth.

An exchange of emails between myself and Marcus Ammann about 6 months ago put me in mind of my dentist because in them Marcus was warning me about the dire consequences of not using a common ground between the boosters on my DCC system. A common ground is really just a white connected to the negative side of the bridge rectifier in your DCC boosters that allows them to work together by eliminating electrical incompatibilities. If that last part sounds a bit vague then I’m willing to fess up and admit that this is deliberate because I’m buggered if I really understand what these “electrical incompatibilities” are. However when someone like Marcus Ammann or Mark Gurries tells you you need to install a common ground when you have a layout large enough to need electrical districts on your layout then you ignore them at your peril.

After Marcus gave me this warning and provided me with a link which led me to a bloody curdling story of a modeller who ignored this advice, he informed me that if I wanted to install this common ground wire I couldn’t use the Wangrow/System 1 booster I’d been using up till then. I diligently nodded my head (this was virtual nodding because Marcus couldn’t see me, this exchange being via email) and then I diligently ignored him. My thinking was that if I was going to implement sound DCC hygiene on my layout I would have to discard my perfectly good SYS1 booster and fork out approx $250 for a new NCE booster (a PB5 to be precise) to allow this to happen. PB5s are set up in such a way as to allow them to be connected in the required way. So nothing on the Morpeth line changed until…

During the most recent gathering of the Borderline Operators I got a recurrence of a problem with my control panels that I decided it was time to address. The problem was that about 50% of the time on starting up my DCC system my control panels simply refused to operate. I’d power the system down and start it up again and sometimes this would fix the problem but other times it didn’t. So last week I posted a description of the problem on the NCE-DCC Groups IO group and waited for a flood of responses. I got one response from Dennis DeGroff in the US who said he was having the same problem and that he’d contacted NCE about this and was waiting for their solution. Another modeller has since made contact with us and he has the same issue. So at least I could take heart from the fact that this wasn’t just my dodgy control panel building practices.

However quite a number of other responses ran along the lines of “have you got a common ground installed between the boosters?” Eventually I admitted that the answer to this was a no but could someone point in a direction of how to do this??? I was a little surprised when no one replied to this as I thought installing a common ground was common practice and that knowing how to do this would be common knowledge but evidently no it isn’t. Then Mark Gurries’ responded and pointed me to one of his excellent DCC web articles https://sites.google.com/site/markgurries/home/nce-info/nce-boosters/pb110-booster-grounding-issue which contained a description of how to modify my SYS1 booster so I could install the common ground and not have to fork out $250! Hoo-bloody-ray!

This photo shows the modification required for the Wangrow/SYS1 booster so it can be “grounded”. This essentially means running a wire to the case of the component so a separate wire can be run between it and any other boosters on the layout. This modification took all of about 10 mins and while it was a tight squeeze in there it turned out fine. Don’t do this yourself till you read and understand Mark’s article.

After I made this modification to my SYS1 booster I took a trip to the hardware store and purchased 12 meters (about 39′) of solid core wire to install as the common ground. When I originally installed my boosters under the layout it seemed logical to me that they needed to be as close as possible to the section of the layout they were powering, rather than all being gathered in one place. Having all your components in one spot would certainly have made running a common ground between boosters easy, as they would have been only a few inches apart, but mine were either side of an aisle with a wiring run needing about 12 meters of cable.

In this photo I’ve labelled the various components of my DCC system as A (the PB5 booster and my DCC system’s command station) and B (the location of my SYS1 booster). The label C indicates where the common ground wire needs to run which is about 12 meters. The cable for the common ground can be seen as a messy coil of white wire just in front of the arm chair.

You see a booster is a sort of receiving station that communicates with your command station and which has its own dedicated power supply. The power supply for the Queens Wharf section of the layout on the right in the above photo is located under that section so that power for the trains only has to travel a couple of meters, not the 12 meters that would be required if I’d installed all my DCC components together in the cupboard labelled A. At heart you have separate boosters and their associated power supplies so as to reduce voltage drop from one section of a larger layout to another. It seemed to me that for this to make any sense the booster needed to be where the power was required. Anyway what this led to is that I needed a 12 meter long common ground to connect my boosters. I did enjoy reading in one of Mark Gurries’ articles that he can’t work out why people place all their DCC components in one spot unless it’s to impress visitors with their large rack of DCC components. I don’t want to impress anyone with my large rack so I spent this morning crawling around under my layout running my common ground wire.

This is really just a photo of the booster and power supply that sits under Queens Wharf. The wire labelled A is the common ground. The connection is affected by simply connecting the cases of both boosters via a single cable. You use one of the screws holding the case in position to connect the wire. I soldered the ends of this wire to a round cable connector acquired at an auto parts shop and then simply reinserted the screw.ย  As you can read for yourself this is where my Wangrow/System 1 booster is located.

After I got the common ground installed I turned the whole system on and got a short on the Queens Wharf side of the layout but this was cured by simply swapping the leads from the power pack over. This brought the two DC power supplies into phase on both sides of the layout. One of the quirks of a layout with separate boosters and districts but with no common ground is problems at the track boundary between the districts. In my case I occasionally got locos running over the boundary after which they’d slow and hesitate for a moment and then continue. A common ground cures this. After I got the system running I tested a loco over the boundary and there was a very small buzz and hesitation which I put down to a difference in the voltage between the QW and Morpeth districts. I was getting a reading of just over 17 volts at QW and 12.3 volts in Morpeth. The SYS1 booster has a switch on it that allows you to select a suitable voltage for large scale, HO or N so I switched this down to HO and this dropped the voltage at QW to 12.5 volts. This isn’t exactly the same voltage as Morpeth but it’s a lot closer and it cured the buzz and the very slight hesitation of the loco at the boundary.

Did installing the common ground cure the problem with the control panels? No but at least I can sleep at night knowing I’ve followed Marcus’ advice faithfully. Following my Dentist’s advice is a work in progress.

I’d like to thank Marcus Ammann, Mark Gurries, John Parker and Dennis DeGroff for their help and advice in getting this job done and hopefully eventually coming up with a solution to the issue around my control panels. All mistakes, misunderstandings and departures from sound DCC hygiene are totally mine and should not be sheeted home to the various DCC gurus I’ve consulted in the preparation of this blog post.


Peco Curved Turnout Problem Solved

This morning I was free to do a little modelling so the plan was to make some minor modifications to a recalcitrant wagon which refused to go through a couple of my Peco curved turnouts like the rest of my wagons, head up to the layout room to do a quick check of a turnout template I’d printed out from Templot and test the wagon through the curved turnouts on a train. After these small jobs I’d be free to get back to building some turnouts in the work room inside the house. It was at this point that things went awry.

So let’s back up a little and go back about 12 months to a post I made about this same wagon and another Peco turnout that it wouldn’t run through. At that stage I determined that the gauge of the track at the heel of these turnouts widens out to something like 33.3 mm. As the wagons run through the turnout some have a tendency to drop into this gap and derail. At the time I wasn’t having any problems with the other curved turnouts on the layout and they were all pretty much on unsenciked sections so leaving them in place wasn’t an issue. However this one was on the scenicked portion of the layout between Morpeth and QW and as such the simplest solution was to build a hand made equivalent and replace it. Problem solved, or so I thought.

Now jump forward to two or three weeks ago to my 3rd operating session with the Boderline Operators. As soon as the operators started running trains out of the yard they identified wagons that kept derailing at the throat of the yard where there are three of the same type of Peco curved turnout and of course one of these wagons was the little 4 wheel cattle wagon that had given trouble on the turnout that had been replaced. Other wagons occasionally had trouble on these curved turnouts but this one derailed every time. All the wagons giving trouble were removed from the track as the problems occurred and I’ve spent some time since working on them, checking wheels, couplers and back to backs. All the wagons I’ve been working on were put into a train this morning and they all ran through the curved turnouts….except the cattle wagon.

So to be more accurate from my statement earlier in this post that the other curved turnouts on the layout weren’t giving me problems I’d have to say that the other curved turnouts weren’t being used much and as such I was able to ignore the fact that some wagons invariably derail at a particular spot. Because I hardly ever run trains on my own these problems can be shunted to the side. So after having done the required checks on this particular cattle wagon and having determined that the back to back was fine on both wheels sets, the axles were reasonably parallel, that the couplers were at the correct height and had more than enough swing it came back to the turnout. As the wagon was derailing on the heel of the turnout where the switch rails come into contact with the stock rails (the same spot it had derailed on the turnout I’d replaced) it was clear that the real culprit was the 33+mm gauge at this spot and not the wagon at all.

As anyone who has used Peco turnouts of any type you’ll be aware there is a notch ground into the stock rail where the swing rail comes into contact with it. See the red circle. While the object of this exercise is worthy, to ensure that the wheel has a smooth ride through the heel of the turnout, this objective is somewhat superfluous when the gauge widens to over 33mm at the same point.

Generally speaking I’m very happy with the Peco turnouts and track on my layout: most of it works flawlessly and does a great job in the areas where I’m not going to apply scenery and don’t have to try to pretend it looks anything even remotely similar to NSWR track. However I wasn’t at all looking forward to having to rip up the four Peco curved turnouts that lead into the storage sidings and replace them with hand built replacements that would each take me a week to construct. In working on the same problem with the turnout I’d replaced I packed out the notch and soldered some brass into the gap, filed the notch and even hammered in a few extra track pins in an attempt to overcome a small difference in elevation all to no avail. That fussy little cattle wagon would not run through that turnout without derailing.

This morning as I stood next to the layout where the offending turnout is located I reached down in frustration and pushed the rail with my thumbs and it moved. Most Peco track of this type has rather large rail chairs moulded into the plastic base and nothing short of a Dremel and a good bastard file with move it. But because the rail adjacent to the switch rails of a point can’t have rail chairs on the inside of the rail it’s not held quite so securely at this location. I suddenly realized that the offending rail gauge at this very spot might be altered enough by the use of a simple packer.

I took a small rectangle of thin writing paper from a coloured pad that was sitting on the storage sidings (I’d been using it to record all the problems that had cropped up during the operating session) and folded this over twice. After shoving this down between the rail and chairs I tested the trains through the point and there were no derailments running either forward or backward.

Packing the rail in a little with some folded paper pushed it over just enough to solve the problem. It turns out it wasn’t so much the wheel dropping into the gap at the heel of the turnout that was the problem but that the wheel (especially on my cattle wagon) would round the fairly gentle curve of the turnout with the outside wheel flange hard up against the outside rail and when it hit the notch the amount of slop in the gauge at this point would allow the flange to catch and let it ride up onto the top of the rail. I tested the train back and forth through the turnout 4 or 5 times with no derailments. I’ll determine the best amount of packing to insert and replace the paper with some styrene and glue this in place once I check that the problem is cured. My guess would be that something between .020 should be more than sufficient.

And just to prove that it really did work here’s a little video of the train working it’s way through the turnout. The cattle wagon mentioned in the text is the last wagon in the train.