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 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.  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.

Oh L!

This is a tale of how I managed to destroy two ESU L series V4 Loksound DCC decoders with 24 hours of each other. It’s not a rant against ESU because up to this point I’ve never had a problem with the decoders from this company that I’ve installed and I find them by far the best decoders in terms of sound output and quality as long as they’re paired with good hi bass speakers of the correct ohm-age. However at $AU260 a pop they’re far too expensive to stand by and watch smoke come out of them and not pass on my experience to others. So this is a post for my newest BF Rob Anderone on Facebook who asked me to share what happened.

I’ve included this photo to illustrate what I’ll be talking about in this post. I was testing this home made distribution circuit board prior to installing them (I was working on two separate locos of the same class when the decoders failed on me) permanently inside the locomotives’ shells. The white sockets you can see running down each side of the board receive the wires from the LEDs front and rear and it was these connections I was testing when I fried the first decoder.

I’d been working to install two L series deciders in the body shells of two 1:43.5 scale Auscision 45s which are large Goodwin/Alco hood diesels built for the NSWR. One of these locomotives was mine and the other belonged to a friend. I built a vero board circuit based on the 7th Heaven article written by John Parker and everything was made and ready to install when I made the decision to test all the light/sound/decoder connections on the boards prior to installing them. I had a second circuit board supplied by John that he’d built for testing purposes to try out a different variety of sockets and plugs. These circuits get a little tricky to get at once they’re installed and the wires from about 16 LEDs are running to them.

You have to picture in your mind my rather Heath Robinson “testing” station with loco chassis sitting on about 1.5 meters of test track: connections for an NCE Power cab at one end of the track, Lokprogrammer at the other end and a loco chassis sitting in between on the track. I have two LEDs wired to the correct plugs to mate with the sockets you can see in the photo and I’m working my way down the board (which is plugged into the chassis motor/track connections) testing each set of connections so I know that when I install the circuits into the loco they will actually work. All the LEDs in the loco shells have been pre tested and I know all the wires are going where they’re supposed to. In fact I’d replaced a few of the factory installed LEDs because they weren’t working when I tested them.

The procedure I was using to test the LED connections to the decoder was to start by having both the Lokprogrammer and the Powercab unplugged from the test track. I plug the LEDs into two of the sockets (let’s say they happen to be for the short hood’s headlights). Once these are plugged in I power up the Powercab and press the horn to ensure I have a connection and then test the appropriate function button. In this case it would be the headlight and I’d need to make sure the direction is set for forward and if everything is working the LEDs should light up.

Now we get to the problem. At some point I got sloppy and forgot to unplug the Powercab before moving the test LEDs to the next set of sockets. I attempted to plug the LEDs into the next available sockets on the board with the loco powered up and watched as a component on the decoder glow red after which a tiny whisp of smoke emerged from this same component. I’m told this was the capacitor. After this I could get no sound to come out of the loco. I had a spare L series decoder in a drawer so I got this out and determined to soldier on after wiping away the tears over my dead decoder!

Testing continued on both boards and I found both were working perfectly and so installed one of them in my friend’s loco and got it running with sound and lights. Next day I placed this loco on the test track with the body shell sitting on the chassis and while I had lights and movement I couldn’t get it to make any sound. It had been working perfectly the day before and I hadn’t been testing LEDs by that stage. I hooked up the Lokprogrammer and uploaded the sound files and the CV files and while the loco moved and lit up it would not produce a sound. I swapped in my third and final decoder (which was still plugged into the circuit board of the 2nd locomotive locomotive) and it worked perfectly: light, sound and movement.

I sent both dud decoders to my friend and DCC guru John  Parker to look at and he tells me both are suffering from a fried/blown capacitor. The first one I know what happened to because I witnessed it happen in graphic detail. Why the second decoder should have suffered the same fate I have no idea, however unlike the first it shows no outward signs of burn marks where the component glowed and smoked so whatever happened to it was a bit less spectacular.

So my friend has a working locomotive and I have a pile of parts and no decoders.

Things Start To Come Online

This morning I finally managed to get the first of the two new control panels installed and operating. The first was for the yard at Queens Wharf and I did this in conjunction with installing the mini control panel at the super phosphate siding which is outside the yard at QW but still within the control of the QW box.

As I began work on the control panels for both QW and the storage roads I decided that the mini panels for a couple of sidings along the line needed to be installed at the same time. This “mini” panel controls a single turnout just up the line from QW yard. It will allow this siding to become a part of the operating scenario when I have the next operating session in early January.

In spite of putting in a lot of work on the layout and it’s new panels and electrics over the past couple of months I failed to make the deadline for the Borderline Operators gathering in early December. No trains were running and I was the subject of ridicule and finger pointing although that soon stopped when they started stuffing food in their mouths at lunch 🙂 However my friend Phil managed the same feat when the our group met at his place in November so I’m in good company. He was so embarrassed he took off for NZ for weeks in order to avoid small children pointing at him in the street 🙂

There were actually two reasons no trains were running on Morpeth and the fact that I’d essentially pulled the wiring apart on half the layout only partly explained this. For some reason I’m yet to explain one of my power packs decided to turn up its toes and as such when I flicked the switch to start things up Thunderbirds were definitely not GO! I managed to track down this problem and have replaced the offending power pack with a stand in but I’m actually going to see if I can get the dead one repaired as it cost a fair bit and has hardly done a lot of work over the years, spending 90% of its life in storage.

The other main reason for my failure to have trains running in time for the Borderline Operators arrival was that I turned a quick install into a major renovation of the layout by deciding to install new fascia right along the front of QW and down to the doorway at the top of the stairs. About 10 meters of fascia in all. I did this blithely and in the knowledge that things always take far longer than you anticipate. As I began work on the job I realized that I really didn’t want to have to come back and re do this work again later and that meant that, as everything I was going to be doing was to be attached to the outside of the fascia, I had to install some fascia first. It was this which took all the time.

This shot shows the new QW panel in place and a view along the aisle down to where it bends around the end of Morpeth heading for the super phosphate siding and the door. I think this demonstrates clearly what I’m talking about in needing to install the fascia first, before the various control panels and other items along the front of the layout can be installed.

I worked on both installing the fascia and making and preparing the control panels in tandem and I’m generally happy with the way the panels have come up. Actually wiring the QW panel into the layout was quite a quick job really as I’d done so much wiring of the panel and under the layout prior to actually hooking it up.

In the end I managed to get all the features I wanted into this panel. I recycled the housing from the old storage road panel for this one and I would have given myself and easier road if I’d simply built something new with a little bit more space but it all worked out in the end. The turnout motors are thrown by push buttons and the route is indicated by LEDs. All the main features are clearly labelled with decals and I also managed to squeeze in the QW power shield switch.

The electrical upgrade of this part of the layout is now complete. All I have left to do before Jan 8 is hook up the storage road panel. This one includes an NCE Mini Panel and this needs to be programmed so I have my fingers crossed that this isn’t beyond me.

Why Have One When You Can Have Two?

I mentioned in a post the other day that I was working on a new control panel for the storage sidings on Morpeth and work on this objective continues. However in working on this project I’ve had niggling away at the back of my mind that Queens Wharf also needs a control panel. What kept going through my mind was that if I was making one control panel I may as well make two because making two at the same time is only marginally more work than making one… isn’t it? 🙂

As I was going to be installing new control panels on Morpeth I decided it was time to do a few upgrades while I was about it and labels on the diagram and hinges on the panels were a definite must have. Not that you can see either of these in this photo. The labels will be applied when the other panel is at the same stage and while the hinges are installed you’ll have to take my word for it 🙂

Thinking about making a couple of control panels is easy, actually doing the job throws up all sorts of problems. Not the least of these is that while the storage siding’s panel sits on top of the layout and only needs an angled wooden housing (made from 12mm ply) before it can be installed, the QW panel needs to sit on the outside face of the layout’s fascia. As no fascia has actually been installed on the layout yet the first order of business was to install some which will allow the installation of the control panel. So in making a move to install a control panel I end up installing fascia!

Before I could start installing about 8m of new fascia I had to first remove the last of the old fascia from Queens Wharf’s days as an exhibition layout. This was at A where you can see the silver/grey of QW’s aluminium benchwork. I then tested the location of the new control panel by temporarily clamping the 12mm ply housing into position at B. C is new layout and I decided to add fascia here because as I’m installing it along the front of the layout anyway, doing a bit more is only marginally more work than doing just one section! 🙂

After a bit of testing and tweaking I cut up some 1×1 battens which would be screwed along the front of the layout in soldier fashion to which the new pieces of 3mm mdf fascia would be attached. I’ll paint this mdf to match the overall yellow base colour I use for the scenery before I attach such items as throttle holders, plug points for the throttles and control panels.

This shows the battens installed to the front of the layout. They are all 1×1 pine cut to a length of 170mm.

I cut two lengths of 3mm mdf from a sheet I’ve had in storage for just this purpose and carried these up and down the stairs a few times while I chopped holes in them to run wires and allow for the installation of plug points and the like. I could probably do this cutting in the layout room, thus saving me trips up and down the stairs, but little metal wheels don’t like mdf dust any more than my lungs do so I carried them downstairs and attacked them with a jog saw down there.

After cutting the fascia to fit I clamped it into position and began screwing through it into the battens. I used 30mm & 40mm long wood screws to attach the battens and 12mm long screws to attach the mdf fascia to these being carfeul how deep I drilled the pilot holes so I didn’t blow through the thin fascia material. This photo shows the job about half done. The A shows the position of the control panel when it’s installed.

After a recent bathroom and wardrobe reno I had some of those little plastic buttons carpenters use to hide the heads of wood-screws in chip board left over. It occurred to me that these might be used to cover the heads of the screws giving the fascia a much neater appearance than left as is. In the past I’ve always used Polyfilla to fill such imperfections but this is always a messy and rather drawn out job. After I screwed the fascia into place I installed the plastic buttons and I’m very pleased with the look. You can just see these in the photo above along the far piece of fascia. I’ll give painting the whole thing a test, mdf and buttons, to see how it looks. I can always go back to the filler if the little plastic buttons don’t work out or won’t take paint. You can get brown ones but they are far too dark.

Storage Roads Control Panel V2

I really dislike starting a blog post with “it’s been a while since I last posted” because it’s self evident if you haven’t posted for a while that it’s been a while! But it has been a while and as usual with me it’s because I haven’t really been doing much modelling or layout work worth writing about. I’ve been caught up doing a couple of significant woodwork projects but I finally finished the most important of these today and I was able to swing my attention round to addressing the need for a control panel on the storage roads of Morpeth. I snapped a couple of photos of the control panel today as I applied contrasting coats of paint and thought I might quickly go through how I make my panels.

There’s probably some very high tech way of doing the artwork for control panels, I know there is, I’ve seen YouTube vids of such techniques, but the method I use is cheap, simple and effective. I’ve also been making control panels for over 30 years sing this method so as it works for me I can’t see a reason to change the process. It also uses my preexisting skill set so I don’t have to spend 2 months learning a new computer program to produce them. I start with a piece of 3mm MDF, glue a 12mmx12mm pine frame to the read side of this and then the upper side is sprayed over with a white coat of paint from a pressure pack can.

I spent a couple of hours yesterday drawing out a plan for the new panel on two pieces of trying paper which was a good thing because I decided after looking at it that I didn’t like the way the triangle was crowded on the left hand side. So I stretched the plan out, giving this side more room. One of the problems with the first version of this panel (which I wrote about a couple of years ago) was a similar problem to the crowding on hr plan I drew yesterday. And just as a reminder, the reason this is V2 is that I decided to change out all my solenoid switch machines for Tortoises after my last operating session. As I was changing the way I would be throwing the turnouts I had to alter the panel anyway and I took the opportunity to the address the problems with the first version. This one includes the mainline triangle which will have route indication included and it also includes the two new storage roads I’ve installed since I made the last panel. I’m also going to throw the yard ladder using a mini panel and one button routing so this panel is not only longer (at 520mm), it will also be quite a bit simpler to wire up. He says with his finger firmly crossed 🙂

After drawing up my full sized paper plan and making any adjustments I felt were needed I then cut lengths of blue masking tape into 4mm wide strips and cut these on a 12mm thick pane of glass I keep for this and other jobs. I laid these along some pencil lines I’d drawn on the white surface of the control panel and trimmed these with a scalpel that had a new blade in it. I then took the panel back out to the shed and gave it a couple of coast satin black paint.

After the paint dried I brought the now black panel inside and peeled off the masking tape. Simple, effective and handsome (a bit like me) 🙂 The reason the panel is on the dining table rather than the workbench is because it is a bit long to work on at my modelling table easily.

The next step will be to mark and drill some holes for LEDs and push buttons and then I’ll print and apply some white decals using my Alps printer. Then I have to wire it up. As the next operating session is scheduled for the 4th of Dec I have just under two weeks. Easy Peasy!

Follow-Up From The Forum

The Aus7 Modellers Group twice yearly Forum was held last weekend. While
I was up front with the microphone in my hand I mentioned a firm in Sydney who sell a huge range of tools and bits and pieces from both metal and wood workers by the name of McJing I’ve had a link to McJing on this blog page for quite a while but as I was down in Sydney for the Forum and actually visited the shop I thought I’d mention them and share some details of some things I picked up there. I know you can get a lot of this stuff online direct from china but I still reckon being able to look and touch something before you pay for it takes some beating.

Ok I know there’s nothing very revolutionary about mini drills but I picked these up in a few different sizes for 10 dollars for 10. The ones on the left are .7mm I’ve paid up to $3 for a single drill so I thought this was a pretty good price. I’ve also included the ball races I mentioned Saturday. these have an inside dia. that matches a Slaters loco axle and they were $4 a pop. Very possibly these may end up in a loco chassis in the future. and finally the little silver button on the bottom right is a rare earth magnet I purchased a while ago. I’m going to find a way to use these to keep the roof on a loco in place but allow me access the interior.

I’ve also been doing a little work on a few KRM signal kits for both myself and a friend. These kits are mostly etched brass/NS and while they can be a little fiddly they are beautifully detailed and really look the part.

I’m working on three of these signal kits and while I haven’t got that far along, after visiting Sydney I now have all the parts I need to get on with finishing them.

This is just a quick update and I’ll post again when I have something worth sharing.


One down. three to go! This shot shows the jig I completed today. It is not only finished but the inner faces of the central jig, the part that actually have to be accurate to set the distance between the rails, are surprisingly the correct dimension. At 16.57mm it is close enough for me! 🙂 I included it’s big SG brother to provide a comparison.

Strike up the band, crack open a  bottle of champagne, I’m now an expert machinist who can answer all your metal turning questions and inquiries. NOT! I managed to get one of the gauges finished today, that’s the first of four I have planned. I never should have dropped Metalwork for Music as an elective subject in high school. The other three gauges have the two outer caps finished for each of them and they’re all strung together on their cap bolts. All they need is the centre gauge section completed. However I’m so slow and my metal turning skills so decrepit that it took me 1 1/2 hours to do the centre gauge for this one today. I tend to speed up as I go along and work out a method: a couple of steps really had me stumped today as I worked on this one. At one point I had to work out how to turn the face of the centre section down on the right hand end. As my cutting tool has its cutting face on the left had side this forced me to take another tool with a face cut on the opposite side and grind this to a shape that I needed. This process was well outside my comfort zone but it worked and I now have a slightly rough, but serviceable gauge. Oh and it does grip the head of the code 83 rail it’s designed to hold in place, I tested it! 🙂

I’m sure in the years to come I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing I made these gauges myself, and the twinge at the back of my neck will remind of how sore it got from bending over my lathe peering at the twirling end of the brass 🙂

Bends and Turns

There’s been lots happening on the Morpeth Line recently and I’m on first name terms with the postie. I have a feeling he thinks I’m importing drugs in all the packages I’ve been receiving recently 🙂 Work has proceeded on the NG road bed and I decided to start by laying sleepers round the only bend in the line.

There’s only one curve on the branch line from Raworth to Barren Jack so I thought I’d start by laying track on this first. This photo shows the sub roadbed of 12mm ply temporarily propped in place. There’s been a little more progress since this shot was taken but things have moved from the layout room to my work room where I’ve been making a start on making the track for the NG line.

I made the decision a while ago to lay hand made turnouts and track on the main layout part of the BJ line and to use flex track and ME points on the modules that form the peninsula. There is a logical reason for this mixing of track work, which I’ll go into in a later post, however I also decided that as I’m extremely comfortable with the method I use to make and lay hand made track and turnouts on the SG line that I could see no reason to do something radically different on the NG. I make a sub-road with 12mm ply, cut up pieces of thinner ply (4mm and 5mm) to lay the sleepers (ties) on and pin the rail to these. I then use small wood screws to fix the sections of track into position, including the turnouts.

I’m using Kappler Sugar Pine sleepers on the NG line which is fine by me as I use the same brand on my SG track. The NG sleepers are a little thinner than the SG item (and of course shorter and shallower) but I’ve simply adjusted things to fit my method of track laying. I scribe the top of the sleepers with the edge of a razor saw to exaggerate the grain, pre-stain them in a bath of rubbing alcohol and black wood stain, draw a centre line on one side of every sleeper using the little styrene jig you can see in the photo (I stack them up 10 at a time and draw a line along them all at once) and then glue them to the 4mm track base I’ve already cut to shape and drawn a centre line on using PVA. The centre line on the sleepers is simply lined up with the centre line on the track base. I did try using a wedge shaped styrene spacer jig this time but I found it wasn’t working the way I hoped so I just did the gluing of the sleepers by eye and a plain strip of 9mm wide styrene.

Once all the prep work is done it’s simply a matter of setting to and laying sleepers till I reach the end of the section of track. Very high tech 🙂

Before laying the rail I wanted to acquire some spring loaded roller gauges of the same type I use on my SG track laying. While I didn’t look all that hard I couldn’t find anything of the same type in 16.5mm gauge so I decided to make my own. I drew up a plan (on paper, how low tech) in my spiral bound plan book and set to this morning making the first part for the four gauges I intend to make. Before I go any further I need to remind anyone who has been reading this blog for a while that while I have two lathes and a mill and myriad other tools you could fit what I know about metal shaping on the head of a pin so I’d like to acknowledge a couple of Youtube denizens who have been of great assistance:

Blondihacks at has a great series of beginners metal turning videos. Ok I should be up front and say she’s a WOMAN but don’t let the old stereotypes prevent you from visiting her site. She does a far better job of explaining what needs to happen on a lathe to this thick male than most of the blokes I’ve watched and she really knows what she’s about. By the sound of her accent she’s a Canadian but I’ll even overlook that… for the moment 🙂

Mr Crispin at OMG this guy is so bloody English! Watch a few of his videos and you’ll see what I mean. He’s been a bit quiet recently as he sets up his workshop but he posted a new video today and it’s about a Myford lathe. He is another great one for good, clear explanation and he’s well worth a look.

This Old Tony at This channel is a bit more high end but he’s worth watching just for the laughs. Give him a try, you will laugh! 🙂

After taking my plan outside and faffing about for a while I finally started to “make some chips” (as all the knowledgeable Youtubers say) and things went swimmingly. This photo shows the process of parting off (I love that kinda talk) my first part.

No I didn’t use the Myford this time as I’ve only just managed to get some bolts for the tool post and it’s not yet operable but soon, soon! The gauges I’m making each consist of 6 parts:

– a 4M 40mm long cap screw

– a 4M nut to retain the parts on the cap screw

– a spring of sufficient dia to slip down over the 4M thread of the screw (or bolt)

– two end caps which are really just top hat bearings put to another use (these are the parts that have to be turned)

– a centre gauge section that sets the distance between the rails, in this instance

So at this stage you’re probably expecting me to say all four gauges are done and I’ve laid the rails on the curve but think again! I took so long to make this first part and sweated over it so long I ran out of time and went inside for lunch and a good lie down. 🙂

This shot shows the cap screw and nut, the spring and my end cap which is the small brass turning in the middle. The other brass object is one of the end caps from the SG gauge placed there for comparison.

Ok Ok one small brass part isn’t that impressive but give me time, I’m learnin’! Check back in December and I might have the first full gauge made 🙂