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…


I’ve been making some good, but slow, progress on trackwork for Junction Dock. One of the main aims of this layout was to have a go at building trackwork; with the safe assurance that I’ll be able to hide most of the resultant horrors under a thick layer of DAS. I’ve found trackwork threads/posts on various sites incredibly helpful, so I hope me listing my first fumbling steps below might help someone else at some point. This is all PCB construction. The techniques here are pretty much pure Rice (steel rail, powerflow flux + syringe).

First step was to get some goodies, which I picked up from Railex back in May last year.

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10m of bullhead, PCB, solder, and a set of gauges (OO-SF). What more could you ask for!? I had a crack at building one point, the classic B6L, which didn’t turn out too badly. The gapping is perhaps ‘enthusiastic’, but it actually filled out quite well. I’ve never checked this under power, but wagons seem to run through it OK. As you can probably make out, the set on the turnout road is not enough, and the flange at the crossing is perhaps a tad generous; but fairly happy as a first attempt.

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Attached ImageEnthused, I moved on to junction dock. First thing was to make the crossing vees. These are not brilliant, but appear to be functional. I made a jig for a 1:6 vee when I made the first point, but then forgot about it and ended up just filing up the vees to a set of measured lines on a board (I won’t admit here that I had the board up-side-down, and didn’t realise the jig was still stuck to the other side…). After filing the tips to fit (just about), I held the rails down with blutac and soldered up with 180C solder. End result, 3x 1:6 vees, and a 1:4.5 curviform for the steeply curved warehouse siding. These won’t win any prizes…

Attached ImageThen moved on to laying up the turnouts. PCB sleepers chopped to size (just over size for the track gauge; stingy scot…) and then stuck to a template with thin strips of double-sided taped. The sleepers were gapped and electrically tested before I started adding any rail. As the track will be inset, I didn’t provide all the sleepers (or make them the right length). I tried to make sure there was one sleeper every 3-4 at least, but in reality the pattern is pretty much set by needing to have a sleeper at the ‘end’ of each distinct bit of rail.

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(sorry for the v poor photo quality!)

Learning from some corrosion issues on the first couple of turn-outs (soldered up over the space of a week or so), I made sure I cut and prepared all the rail sections so that I could do the soldering in one run and clean-up immediately after. This means lots of blutak to check lengths and fits etc. Running is not as smooth as hoped at this stage…

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Once everything was ready, the switch was soldered up in the order 1) stock rail 2) crossing vee 3) other stock rail 4) wing rails 5) check rails 6) closures + switches (one unit). Each piece of rail was mounted in place (with a combination of blutac+template and/or gauges where appropriate), and then soldered up a few sleepers at a time. I used powerflow flux in a syringe (about 0.8mm tip? green needle anyway) to put a tiny (~0.5mm) spot of flux on the outside of the rail. Then picked up a spot of solder (140C) on the iron (Antex 18W) and ‘fizzed’ it onto the joint. 1–2 seconds for the flux to fizz and the solder to flow; quick up-and-away with the iron; and I seemed to get a 95% reliable joint and a chair-ish shape (not that it matters for this track of course). I appreciate this may not be best soldering technique, but it seemed to work for me.

 Attached ImageFinal stage was to solder up the blade tips to a moving sleeper. This was the trickiest bit for me (perhaps ‘cos I ended up doing it late at night each time!). With hindsight, I might even take these moving sleepers off and use dropper wires to a sub-baseboard mechanism. Little gain with inset track, but I need to have the mechanism below the boards anyway…

Attached ImageOnce each whole piece was built, I took it off the paper and gave it a good rinse, scrub (with toothbrush), and dry to get the flux off. This seems like a decent approach, and I haven’t noticed much/any corrison on the later turnouts. I did try to minimise the amount of flux used, with a tiny spot on each joint. I think I used <1ml total for the whole shebang. I did also notice that the flux definitely ‘goes off’ if left in the syringe for any length of time (e.g. week+). Was a frustrating 20 minutes of not managing to solder anything until I worked that one out!

Over the space of a month or two, I put together all the P&C I need for Junction Dock. Below shows, my 1st — 4th attempts at track making. I think I got better as I went on, which is always nice.

The last of the common crossings seemed to come out nicely, and seems to be the smoothest running (very little/no drop apparent)

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So now I just have to do the plain track connecting all the bits up, and then get on with the wiring. I am slightly worried though that I’m going to run out of rail just before I finish! Doesn’t look like I’ll be crossing C&L’s path at any shows in the near future, so I might have to stump up the high (if understandable) postage cost to get some via courier :( Pleased however that I managed to score 1000 sleepers and 36ft of timbers (old SMP paxoline type) for a grand total of £5.50 at a show last week. Should keep me in PCB track for a while :)

Next job though, before any more track, is to finish off the wood work and get the backscence and proscen(ium) made & fitted.


Baseboard and Building mock-ups

A quick entry on the baseboard and building mock-ups to get a feel for the layout. The baseboard is a rather simple affair with a sheet for 4x2ft 6 mm ply on top of a softwood frame. I added some diagonal bracing to stiffen things up, but it’s probably a bit of overkill… Plan is to fill the underneath of the board with expanding foam to reduce noise (leaving a few clear areas for the limiting wiring, most of which can be surface-run anyway)

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Sector plates were marked on from the track plan, and roughly cut out with a jigsaw (setting up the router with pivot arm seemed bit overkill!). I inset a couple of M6 threaded inserts to act as centres of the sector plate pivots. I’ll see how well a simple bolt through the ply works before doing anything more complex…

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I cut ~120 mm from the front of the board and inset it under the main board to make the bottom of the dock. The step here is about 15mm, as the dock is non-tidal and designed to deal with low sided canal barges. The water is only 2–3 ft below the dock. Below is the final board with sector plates. I couldn’t see any reason to trim down the sector plates anymore… The board has now had a couple of coats of varnish to seal it.

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Hmmm… really need to tidy up the workbench and sweep the floor!!

I’ve also been making up a few mock buildings based on the few aerial photographs I’ve found online and in books. I also found a few pictures at the excellent Grangemouth Hertiage Trust– which has a huge collection of ephemera and photos taken by people in Grangemouth.

The buildings seem to single story hip roofed affairs, made of brick or perhaps ashlar in a few places. I think roofs were slated. The sheds had rows of (presumably cast-iron) posts holding them up, represented by the too-short bolts :) I think the actual buildings will be card+paper over a foam-board shell.

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A venerable smokey-joe from my childhood serving as a dock tank :)

Next step is to slightly revise the track plan based on the look of the buildings, and then start getting some track down…

Track plan

The 1896 map of junction dock shows an interesting “cross-over” between the two sheds. By 1913 the track had been rationalised with the cross-over removed to leave parallel sidings. By 1943, the sheds by the dock side had gone too (which usefully allows me to see the underlying track layout). I’ll be sticking with (roughly) the 1896 track plan for interest, but not necessarily that era! I’ve loaded up the maps into templot, and overlaid (roughly at least) a track plan.

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The scenic area is 1200 mm x ~400 mm (4′ x 1’4″). The shaded area (below) is behind the curved backscene. There are two sector plates, and a “cassette” siding to make stock transfer easier. The sector plates are the limiting length at ~300mm, which is enough for a dock tank + a few wagons — probably enough for this. Plan is to build to OO-SF throughout, with bullhead and PCB sleepers. All the track on the scenic area will be inset, probably with scribed DAS. The solid orange areas are buildings, and the transparent ones are covered sheds. I need some sort of view block behind the left hand shed; so I think I’ll pretend there was a wall there (in reality it seems this shed was open on all sides, from the grainy pictures I’ve found). I’ve had to shorten the buildings / shed on the right hand side compared to the map, but I’ll try to keep the same building shape at least.

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Operationally this plan might be a bit limiting (though operating is fairly far down my list of interests anyway!), so my latest thought is to include the set of points on the bottom left (which the 1943 map show). With a temporary extension to the left (2-300mm), the layout could function as an inglenook… With hindsight, I should probably have made this a longer/thinner layout with fiddle yard to the left. The board is made though, so we’ll live with this. The original intention was anyway to make the layout fit in a single board.

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Junction Dock – an introduction

I thought I’d start a blog on my small (4×2 ft) Scottish dock side layout I’ve been working on (very slowly!) for the past few months. It’s based on a real corner of Grangemouth docks, with hand-built inset track in OO-SF. I haven’t decided the era yet, but could be set anywhere from 1890s CR up to 1950s BR…

I decided I wanted try a small layout because a) I have very little spare time at the minute, b) (I think!) I like building track, but should try a small project before committing to a bigger layout. Wandering around on the excellent NLS maps site (…&layers=168&b=1), I came across this intriguing (to me at least) 1896 track plan in a small corner of Grangemouth docks. The cross-over peaking out between the two sheds seemed like an ideal ‘cameo’ to make a small layout. My pre-formative years were in Grangemouth, and at least one side of the family were Grangemouth dockers in the past — so it seems an appropriate location too!

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Grangemouth grew up at the eastern end of the Forth and Clyde canal, about half way between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Over the past 200 years it grew into a major port, and is today Scotland’s largest container port (it’s probably most famous now for petrochemicals). Grangemouth docks (along with the Forth and Clyde canal) were owned by the Caledonian Railway from the 1860s, though NBR also had running rights into Grangemouth. The dock here is called “Junction dock” (or “Upper dock” sometimes) and is one of the oldest in Grangemouth (predating the CR acquisition). It was the inner most dock in the series between the canal and the sea, presumably explaining it’s names! In it’s heydey, the docks handled a wide range of goods, but was particularly associated with the import of timber. I have no idea what this specific area of the dock handled though. I’ve sourced various photos showing both canal barges (usually laden with wood) and small coasters/steamers moored up in the area. The dock is still there, but no longer used. The site of the buildings has been completely cleared, and is now the main road entrance to Grangemouth docks.

Finally a bit of the real thing. Kicking around under moss on the side of Junction dock, you can still find some of the rails…

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