Little big trains

Had a very wet, but very fun, day down at the Romney, Hythe, and Dymchurch railway last weekend. The engineering on the 1/3rd scale engines is simply beautiful.


There is also a nice model railway exhibition at Romney station, from which we came away with a very clean – and very competitively priced – Mainline J72 (original Mainline). It needs couplings fitted, and who knows how long the axles will last, but it should be very happy chuntering round the kids layout 🙂




Been rather distracted from Junction Dock for the past few months. The kids (yes, definitely the kids, for sure it was the kids) wanted a roundy-round to whizz trains around. I made a simple loop on a pair of old doors last year, but time came to make something a bit more involved for them. The baseboard only measures 5×4′, made up from two old blockboard doors.  I can really only fit a single loop using 2nd radius curves into the space.

The plan uses the classic two-sided approach; a station + small yard (roughly based on Rannoch station) on one side, and a shed (roughly based on Kyle of Lochalsh) on the other.   I’ve always liked the west highland 🙂 The two sides are split by a bridge and – utterly fundamental – a tunnel.  The road up the middle of the layout will run up a hill, providing some kind of separation between the sides.  There are no passing loops or storage sidings — but it’s a rather small space!


Kinlochmahen – 5×4′ loop vaugely inspired by Rannoch station and Kyle of Lochalsh shed…

Hopefully there wil be enough interest in the track plan for a combination of whizzing trains round, changing over engines, and doing a bit of shunting. The 4 year old is already surprisingly competent at shunting…

The track is code-100 peco + insulfrog points recovered from a old layout. I took the precaution of wiring them for psuedo-live-frog operation if the switch blades start giving trouble. Operation though will just be by the slide bar on the points. Each section of track has dropper wires attached, which will hopefully make the electrics more reliable…


Insulfrog->electrofrog enabling works, just in case…

I put a layer of ‘fab foam’ (~2mm thick high density foam) under the track bed — but this didn’t seem to make much difference to the sound insulation properties. I thought with a 1″ thick board, it should be OK — but it seems not. Mind you – there is a very noticable difference between my newer locos and the 30+ year old lima deltic doing most of the work! The kids don’t mind the noise at least! The track was layed down on a bed of PVA (also tried copydex, with little difference), and ballasted at the same time (ala Soloman/Norman).  It at least gives an indication of a ballast shoulder, and is a heck of a lot quicker than applying the ballast afterwards.  I think though it doesn’t really give a deep enough ballast for the thick peco sleepers. The track was sprayed with Humbrol earth brown (#29) before laying. It needs a bit more finishing now it’s down.

Track across the baseboard joints was soldered to brass screws and then cut through. Below you can see the finished ‘main’ and yard, though the shed roads still need to be laid. It’s nice to have the layout at least to the stage where we can whizz old trains round using an old Hornby controller. Next job is to finish off the control panel before starting to build up the main scenics. Kids looking forward to the messy bits I think 🙂







True scale

When you need 5/8″ BSW bolts, it’s probably not a model…  Spent today crawling around the front of 6023 (King Edward II) bolting on various bits as she warmed up. Ready for some tests runs later in the afternoon, she looked great thumping up and down the demonstration line at Didcot – and there was even room on the footplate for a few guests 🙂


6023 ready to face the world


Fiat Lux

God apparently did it on the first day; it took me 18 months of procrastination — but Junction Dock has some lighting at last.  The main driver of course being the need to weather/colour the buildings under the right lighting.

A double strip of SMD2835 “day white” LEDs are mounted on a strip of wood, itself mounted at 45 degrees to the inner corner of the fascia/roof board. The self-adhesive LED strips are just stuck to the board; but can be mechanically fixed (i.e. zip ties) to the wood if/when the glue starts to fail.  I’ve also left a space up the middle for an RGB strip, if I feel I need to play with the colour balance.


Lighting board with two meters of daylight white SMD2835 LEDs installed

The package (from Ustellar on Amazon) includes a power supply and dimmer. ~50% power seems to be OK to light the layout, so some capacity if I feel it needs to be brighter. I’ve only used 2m of the 5m strip, and I think I might use another meter mounted along the back to ‘flood’ the backscence — the image below shows the shadow of the room lights across the backscene. The beginnings of the kids’ layout lies in front…



A messy Junction Dock under it’s own lighting…

Slated for completion…

The roof(s) for the first building on Junction Dock have taken several months of occasional evenings – but are now pretty much done. I did want to emulate the rather rough ‘Scottish slates’ often found in the area. I’m not sure I managed that really, but I’m fairly pleased with the end result anyway.

The slates are made from 80gsm paper, painted with a grey mix of emulsion and acrylic paint, before being ‘nicked’ every 4mm and cut into strips. This gave a nice subtle variation to the slate colours, as well as some light relief to the surface. The strips were then stuck onto a card sub-roof with either spraymount (easy and clean, but more prone to lifting during weathering) or dilute PVA (a bit messier/slower, but STUCK). For future, I’ll be using the PVA approach, as not much looks worse than a bubbly roof.


Paper slates weathered. The camera close-up is a cruel mistress.

Once stuck on, the roof is given a light weathering/colouring with artists acrylics. Having spent the last few months obsessively looking at slate roofs, I’m surprised by the amount and strength of ‘weathering’ in the prototype. I’ve stuck to a bit of yellow-green lichen at the top, with darker streaks at random down the roof. The occassional purple patch happens too — no idea what causes that in real life!?! You can compared the effect of the weathering in the photo below.

The flashing is from the scalescenes range. Gutters and down-pipes (aka rones in Scotland) still to add.  However, three pitched roofs mostly done, and only another two (much bigger!) ones to go for the layout.


Goods shed and office for the right-hand-side of the layout

The building overall still needs a bit of work. The ‘office’ on the right needs door handles, a light, and most critically an improved main window — not to mention chimney pots on top of the stacks!  I used the ‘scene setters’ glazing bars for the three narrow windows. I was very impressed with the effect — but it does rather show up my home-made efforts on the main window. So that now needs replacing before I stick the front panel on. The roof still isn’t weathered or stuck down either. The goods shed itself still needs a door, some weathering, and some indication that another shed was once attached to the front — some aged timber ‘joists’ perhaps.  The rather odd shape at the back is where the back-scence cuts through the building. Hoping it won’t look too weird when done!

Might be a while before I get round to that though, as I have a bunch of signals due for the club layout, and the kids want a roundy-round working. Decidely not finescale, but distinctly fun 🙂

So first building slated — but completion, who knows when!?

Work In Progress Wednesdays

A very quiet summer from the modeling point of view with work building up to a peak at the end of this month. Most evenings have been spent reading and writing documents, with only the occasional escape to the garage.  I’ve made very slow progress on some buildings for Junction Dock and, somewhat fittingly, a GWR van…  neither is finished yet!


Long distance freight – a half build GWR Mink A in front of a half-built Scottish goods shed

Why do you only notice misaligned brick courses when you take a picture? At least none of the roofs are fixed down yet!  The slate roofing is benefiting from good tips on rmweb.


Turnout Operating Units

I finally managed to make some turnout operating units (TOUs) for Junction Dock, and all the switches are now switching. The whole process was really a massive pain, but I’ve ended up with an implementation I’m happy with. My original idea had been to use wire-in-tube to operate the points, but moving the layout operation to the front meant I didn’t have a good location for the lever frame. So I ummed-and-ahhed, and decided to go with rod operation under baseboard and out the front panel. As I’d never really planned to install much under the board, not much (i.e. no) thought had gone into the placement of the structural members; which in turn means I had a rather constricted space to build the TOUs in. In the end, I came up with a design which is ~50x50x10mm, and provides a nice ~8:1 gearing between the push/pull rod and the switch.

After much searching, I found some rather attractive concepts, made mainly out of plasticard, on the scalefour forum, here; https://www.scalefou…0&t=425&p=13048 . My first incarnation (no photos I’m afraid) was very similar to the linked version, but I used an external crank to provide the gear reduction. This worked well, but didn’t fit! So I had to change the concept to an internal lever.

JD_tou_mark3madeThis is held by an 8BA screw on one side (left), pivots on a 1/16th brass tube in the driven arm (which in turn holds the connection to the tie-bar itself), and then held by another 8BA in the driving arm (right). The ratio between the hole distances provides the gearing. A microswitch provides polarity switching. The image below probably explains it better than the text. This is an early incarnation and further improvements were made, but this is the best photo I have. The whole shebang is mounted on a piece of 20thou plasticard (40-60thou would be better, but that’s what I had), which in turn is mounted on a sheet of ply (to make sure the mounting screws don’t come through the top of the baseboard!). The two sliding arms are built from evergreen plastic, 1/4 rod telescoping inside a 5/16th tube, from memory. I drilled a 1/16th hole through the middle of one rod to take a piece of brass tube of, I think, 1/16th OD (cemented into the plastic for security). This brass tube holds a telescoping piece of tube (3/64th?), which connects up to the point tie-bar (as my track is inset, I use full moving PCB tie bars).

All the screws are 8BA, which I found self tapped well enough into a 1.5mm (or 2mm?) hole. There is a screw to adjust when the microswitch trips in the arm motion, to control when the polarity is switched. The lever arm above just had holes for the two arms, which I later changed to slots. The ratio between the hole distances provides the gearing. I went for about 8:1, which seemed OK. That means you can move the point actuator by ~10mm to get the 1.5mm throw on the point itself. It also means there is enough resistance in the system to avoid the point back driving against the actuator. All of this provides a nice positive action to the point actuators


Mark 3 shows the slotted tie bar, and a change to the drive connector to bring the drive rod up to the right height for the baseboard. This reused the drive bar from mark 1, hence the redundant brass tubes (in theory set to the gauge of the point blades, and designed to allow the blades to be driven directly without the use of a functional tie-bar “up top”). Connection to the drive rod is via a stripped down chocolate block connector. Mark 4 made some further rationalization of the design.

Below is an image of two of the units installed under the baseboard. JD_tous_installed1The drive rods come through to the front of the layout. I decided to put the motion limits on the drive rods themselves, and that is simply done by adjusting a pair of chocolate block connectors against front and rear wooden stops. The TOU in the lower left of the picture is at an angle to the board, and in a really awkward position; so I used a bit of wire-in-tube to transfer the rod motion to the TOU. This is also a bit of a “special” unit, to account for the baseboard (in)design — it has the connection to the point outside the bearings for the arm.

Here is the front side with the three drive rods coming through. More chocolate blocks as temporary handles until I find something more attractive…


I finished these a few weeks ago, but haven’t had time to post anything. The layout is now fully wired (v simple – single engine in steam policy…), tested, and sprayed with primer. Next stage is I think getting some building frames in position so that I can start with DAStarding setts.

More track, and rust…

I’ve now completed the trackwork for the scenic side of the layout, and done most of the “backside”. Attached here are some pictures of what I did, and some notes on what I wouldn’t do again!

JD_stickingdowntrackThe pointwork for the layout – which accounts for most of the front area – was built off-board, and shown in a previous entry. Here it is lain down on generous bed of PVA (I didn’t bother with any copydex/sound insulation, as the whole lot will be encased in DAS cobbles anyway).


Maximum possible weight was applied. I thought this was a good thing. It was not… By putting so much on top of the track (particularly with a broad section of contiboard to ensure a level surface) I managed to create a lovely moist microclimate; which is not good for the steel rail! Much rusting ensued 😦 This was far worse than any rusting I got from the flux. I’ve cleaned off the rust best I can with fine abrasive paper and wire wool. Once wiring is complete, the whole lot will get a spray of primer which should seal things.


Next time round, I was a bit more ‘precise’ with the PVA to fix the sleepers for the rest of the trackwork. That seemed to go OK. The straight track was all built in situ. After soldering, I flushed all the joints in warm water and scrubbed with a toothbrush before drying it all off with a hot air gun. No evidence of any corrosion on these (left) — apart from on the section I forgot to clean (right)!! :-\

JD_cleanedjoint JD_rustyjoint

The sector plates are angle aluminium. I don’t have a block gauge to set these, so I modified a 16.5mm roller gauge by filing flats on the outer edges at two sectors. Should leave the gauge usuable for normal code-75 track, and be usable at a specific rotation for larger code track (or angle ally!)


A little bit more to do on the trackwork at the back and the daughter board sidings — but I’ve run out of rail… On to wiring now (droppers installed along with the track), and them TOUs I keep putting off..

Final nice view along the dock front… The half-built coal wagon has been my testing truck, and happily runs through all the trackwork so far…



Fascias and Backscenes

The boring blog entry on woodwork… but I always like reading how others build their layouts, so I thought I should put an entry in too. It is about all I’ve managed to progress in the last month or so anyway. Really, this has been an exercise in “fail to prepare, prepare to fail; and then try to work out how to recover with out it looking like a total c*ck up”

Attached ImageJunction dock was meant to be totally self contained on a 4x2ft board, and presented ‘cameo’ style. I fairly quickly realised though that a little off scene extension would allow the layout to be run as an inglenook and provide a bit more operational interest. So, first thing was to install a solid based to take the tracks off scence. A little hardwood fillet (cut from an old bit of skirting board, I think) was inserted into the basedboard. This will take brass screws for the track. With hindsight, I’m not sure this will add much. I could have just driven the screws through the ply and into the softwood frame with I suspect as much effect…

Side walls are 6mm ply, about 14-inches high (oh yes, nice unit mixing :)). The backscene is made from 3mm hardboard, curved between the end boards. Here is major failure #1. The end boards are 1200mm apart. The hardboard is sold in 1200mm lengths. The arc of a curve is longer than the chord of the curve… bum, should have though of that… So I had to install a couple of carefully shaped “piers” at either end to support the curved backscence.

The cut-outs for the sector plates were marked from the trackplan and cut 60mm high. They’ll eventually be hidden inside/behind buildings.

Attached ImageTo avoid the “corners in the sky” issues, I’ve added a pair of cardboard wings to continue the curve of the backscene round. I cut a chamfer into the hardboard to make sure the card sits flush, so it should be easier to fill/paint the join. Fairly pleased with how well that worked.

Attached ImageHere is failure #2 though. I cut the backscence 12-inches high (half the hardboard width), the intention being to operate the layout from the back. I soon realised though, that most of the track is under sheds, so can’t be seen from above! The backscene is also too low compared to the proscenium arch, so you can see above it. So I accepted the layout needs to be operated from the front, and should be a fully enclosed box — meaning a 14-inch high backscene. Of course, having cut the original board in half, I needed to go and get a whole new bit of hardboard… Not too expensive a mistake at least!

Attached ImageThe front of the layout is a “proscenium arch” (of sorts), cut from a sheet of 6mm ply. I used the router to get nice round corners to the aperture. The front panel is mounted to a top panel (actually two top panels, as I didn’t cut the first one deep enough! failure #3.

Also attached is the small daughter board which will hold a pair of sidings to enable inglenook operation. This is just a simple sheet of ply mounted to a “T” of softwood. It’s aligned to the main board with a pair of bullet alignment dowels, and held on by a pair of M6 bolts running into threaded inserts in the main board frame. Probably at some point I’ll decide the daughter is a permanent feature and will build a little front panel for it too… (failure #4?)

Attached ImageHere’s failure #5 (related to failure #1). I used the same length of ply for the base and for the proscenium — which means it only comes to the inner edge of the end boards! So I had to add some corner mouldings to get a nice edge on the front and side. I should have accounted for the end board thickness and sized the baseboard a bit smaller to compensate… All painted up though (dark grey – not black) it doesn’t look too bad I think. Backscene ‘wings’ still to be painted…

So, now I have to stop procrastinating about turnout operating mechanisms, and get on and lay the track…