Friday, May 11, 2018

475 Days

475 days ago the first length of curved track and single set of points (highlighted in green in the first picture) on the corner module leading into the main Gunnedah yard section was permanently laid and operational.

475 days later the last pieces of track, the extension of the grain silo road (closest to the backdrop) and the locomotive service roads (between the grain silo road and main line curving off to the right) on the corner module (highlighted in green in the second picture) at the opposite end of the main Gunnedah yard, have been laid and are operational.

This means that apart from the lift-out section that will go across the doorway and link to the proposed helix, all of the track, and points (31) on the layout proper are permanently in place and operational.

Whilst there is still lots to do on the layout, this is an exciting milestone to have finally reached, especially given the circumstances under which the layout has been constructed.


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Anbeon Track and Points, Plugs and Magnets

Work continues to progress at a steady rate, the last couple of weeks seeing the extension of the yard at what is now known as “Anbeon” completed. The extension of the yard trackwork on this corner module (highlighted in green) consists of a single set of points with about 450mm of track either side, so nothing overly complicated.

This corner module already contained the curved track and first set of points for  Gunnedah’s main yard, so it was only a matter of adding the extra track and set of points, and then flipping the module over and joining the new dropper wires to the existing bus wiring.

 All of the points on the upper deck level of the layout are equipped with Cobalt IP Analogue point motors, made by DCC Concepts, and the point motors are controlled by Alpha Switch A boards, also made by DCC Concepts. Each board has six outputs, and each output has the capacity to control two point motors, so you can control six individual points or up to six pairs of points.

Driving tw0 point motors simultaneous with the press of one button is handy where you have two sets of points forming a crossover, where you will always change both points at the same time. The buttons used with the boards are a very small and neat pushbutton design equipped with an LED, with two buttons controlling a single set of points, or three buttons when you have two sets of points forming a crossover. So making a control panel with the track diagram, the buttons are placed on the diverging side of the points, so when selected the appropriate LED lights up indicating route selection. This is a very effective system that is very simple to set up as it is literally a plug and play system.

Whilst there doesn’t seem to be a limitation within reason of how far away the points can be from the control board (I have tested to a distance of about three metres), as I am using a modular style of construction, there are a couple of places on the layout where the control panel and control board will be mounted on one module, and one or more sets of points operated from this panel are located on an adjoining module. Because of this the wiring between the control board and point motor cannot be continuous, so a method of easily disconnecting the wiring between modules needed to be found.

After doing a fair bit of looking around it appeared that a suitable style of plug would be a four pin style that is commonly used to power the small cooling fans inside your typical PC. Looking on eBay, I found that you can buy twenty centimetre leads with a female and male plug on opposite ends, with fifteen of these costing nine dollars $9.00 including delivery.

With each point motor controlled by only two wires, each plug can therefore handle joining two sets of points on an adjoining module. Using them is very simple, we simply cut each lead in half, strip the insulation off the end of each wire, strip the insulation from the wires coming from the control board, twist the wires together, add a dab of solder and then slide some heat shrink over each joint. The point wiring is then permanently attached on the underside of each module, with the male and female plug sticking out about five centimetres from the corners of the adjoining modules. This is enough so the plugs can be easily plugged and unplugged, and once plugged together can be tucked back under the modules.

When the point control panels are made with the point motor boards attached to them, I also want them to be easily disconnected from each module, so there needs to be a plug to disconnect the boards from the three wire power bus that runs around the layout framework specifically for the point control boards, and another plug to disconnect them from the wires going to each point motor.

The control boards have screw terminals for the main power (three wires) and point activation wires (twelve wires), but the idea of unscrewing up to fifteen wires to remove the boards is crazy, so again I spent time looking for appropriate plugs.

For the three wire main power plug, I ended up using the same style of plug used on remote control servos, and again these can be bought as short extension leads with a male and female plug on each end, and if you are willing to wait a couple of weeks for delivery, they can be bought as cheaply as $2.99 for ten leads including delivery!

Once again these leads are simply cut in half, one half is soldered to the main bus wiring running around the room, the other end attached to the three screw terminals on the control board. This provides another neat and tidy connection that is very easy to unplug when needed.

That then leaves the actual point control wires that need to be able to be disconnected when the control panels are removed, with up to twelve wires needing to be disconnected this time. After looking around I came across what seemed to be commonly referred to as D-Sub connectors, which are available in a few different styles, but the ones I chose have screw terminals for fifteen wires, and a male or female fifteen pin plug (DB15).

These are a more expensive style of plug costing around $9.00 each (eighteen dollars $18 for a male and female set), but they are well suited to my needs. The wiring from the control board is run to one plug with all wiring being colour-coded for identification and tagged where necessary, and the other plug is located on the appropriate module with the wires from each screw terminal going to the appropriate point of motor/motors.

As these plugs are bigger and heavier, and sit on the underside of the modules, I wanted a way of securing them to the underside of the module, but still make them easy to access and to pull forward so they can easily be plugged and unplugged. After deciding that most styles of clips or hooks would be too cumbersome, I hit on the idea of using magnets.

I had purchased ten Neodymium block magnets (19mm x 10mm x 1.5mm) some time ago, primarily to experiment using them as uncoupling magnets, but figured if one was glued to the underside of each plug, and then in the appropriate position on the underside of each module, four magnetic flathead screws are screwed into the foam module, the plug is quite firmly held in place, and yet can be easily slid forward to be plugged and unplugged, and then pushed back where the magnet once again firmly attaches the plug to the screws.

I find that it is definitely worth thinking outside the square, and looking to other hobbies and forms of technology to find solutions to our model railway problems.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Final Main Module Completed

The past few weeks work has seen a bit of a milestone reached, that being track and points laid and operational on the last module to be completed (highlighted in green), which means that for the first time, apart from the lift-out section across the doorway, trains can and have been run completely around the room.

Looking back, construction of the layout began on the 15th of February 2016, so a little over two years has passed to get to this point. Trains could have been running a lot sooner, but it would have been at the expense of finishing off the backdrops, sky panels, fascia panels and the LED lighting, all of which were quite large jobs that took time to complete. However, it is a decision I do not regret making as even though there is no scenery as yet, having the trains running in front of a proper backdrop under proper lighting as soon as each section is completed looks so much better than it would without them. That, and I feel that if some of these jobs were not done in the beginning, day they may not end up getting done at all, as once trains are running it can be difficult to get the motivation to do these more difficult jobs.

This module we have just completed has both the main line leading into Gunnedah, which has to two sidings coming off it, one representing the BP oil siding and the other the Vacuum (Mobil) oil siding, which are located towards the front section of the module, and at the rear of the module is what loosely represents Emerald Hill, which is where trains end up after running through Gunnedah and out the other side.

So whilst the main line into Gunnedah with the two oil sidings and the loose representation of Emerald Hill are both located on this module, they are in effect on completely different sides of Gunnedah. Doing it this way makes the layout operationally far better, as trains travel a much greater distance around the layout going to and from their destinations.

As the Emerald Hill section of this module bares little resemblance to the real thing, and the fact that it is a terminus rather than a through station, I’ve been thinking that it really should be called something else, and something fictional. So last night whilst pondering this subject it hit me, why not call this station/yard  “Anbeon” (Or possibly “Anbeyon”).

As the title of this blog is “Gunnedah and Beyond”, if you slur your words together slightly, “and beyond” quite naturally morphs into “Anbeon”. So, it seemed logical enough to adopt this name for this station/yard section, and quite honestly, does it sound any stranger than other actual names like Awaba, Attunga, Oberon, Oolong, Elong Elong, Illabo, Kinalung or Uardry!

Part of the Anbeon yard continues on to the corner module, and I’ve made a slight modification from previous plans, so instead of two sidings with dead ends, I have added a set of points and brought these two sidings together forming a runaround, which will make this section far better operationally, as well as probably being more prototypically correct.

Yet again I am very happy with the neatness of the wiring underneath the module. I’m also happy to report that using the cable ties, leaving the tag about 30mm long, giving it a slight smear of glue and inserting the tag into the baseboard foam, once dry forms an amazingly strong bond, and requires a surprising amount of strength to pull the tag out of the foam, far exceeding what the weight of the wiring would ever amount to.

Whilst not located on the most recently completed module, I’ve included a couple of photographs of a sort of mixed goods train sitting in what will be the colliery siding, just because I’m sure most people like looking at actual trains.



Saturday, March 17, 2018

March Module Madness - Two More Almost Completed

Since the last update, we have just about completed the two modules situated on the opposite side of the room to the main Gunnedah yard section, both are highlighted in green on the track diagram images.

The middle module contains the two colliery siding tracks, as well as the two main line tracks, and also has the set of points where the abattoir siding branches off what I am commonly calling the “Beyond Gunnedah” main line.

 The last module contains the two main lines as well as the abattoir siding, which features a pair of points that form the runaround located directly in front where the abattoir building will be located, and the length of track at the end is where the cattle yard section of the abattoir is located.

Refridgerated wagons can be dropped off or picked up by trains in either direction and will be shunted into position in front of the abattoir building, and cattle wagons are also able to be dropped off or picked up by trains travelling in either direction, but with more difficulty depending on whether refridgerated wagons are present in front of the abattoir building.

As the two main lines approach the end of the last module they make a turn towards the front of the module, and this is where they will join the lift out/lift up/swing away/magically appear section across the doorway, that will also link to the proposed helix joining the top and bottom deck of the layout.

With any form of removable section of a layout, there is always the possibility of trains being run off the edge of the layout, resulting in a usually catastrophic trip to the ground 4-5 feet below. Because of this I have implemented a way of cutting off power to the last section of track by using insulating rail joiners and installing a pair of micro switches between the dropper wires and the main bus wires. In practice I only need to use one micro switch on either the black or red bus wiring, but as I have not decided exactly how or where they will be mounted, having two connected gives me some extra flexibility, so it’s worthwhile having both connected at this point.

There is nothing radically different to what has been done before, so lots of thought is still given to where track droppers can be located to make the wiring underneath as simple and neat as possible. Two of the attached photographs show underneath and above the end module from either end, so you can see that whilst the track is somewhat spread across the module, by careful placement of droppers the underneath wiring is kept quite central and neat.

However, in a slight departure I am trying another way of locating the wiring in place. I am still using cable ties to both keep the wires neat and tidily grouped together, but unlike before where the long tail of the cable tie has had glue put on it, and then a section of masking tape laid across it, this time the tail of the cable tie is cut to about 35-40 mm long, a very fine jewellers screwdriver is used to drive a very thin slot into the foam board, the tail of the cable tie is smeared with the same liquid nails style glue we use for the track and underlay, and the tail of the cable tie is inserted into the slot.

The tail of the cable tie needs to be firmly pushed into the slot which is merely a guide, and the foam grips the cable tie tail quite tightly, with the glue giving the extra strength needed. Testing so far has shown this to be very effective, with the added benefit of looking extremely neat. However, if need be it requires very little effort to remove the cable tie from the foam if any alterations need to be made to the wiring.

For me, one of the enjoyable parts of building this layout is the thought process involved in every facet, be it the bench work, track laying, wiring etc, and the evolution of the way in which things are done. There are things we are doing now that I wish I had thought of in the beginning, but it’s often not until you have actually done something that you come up with a better way of doing it, that goes for not only model trains, but life in general, old head on young shoulders basically!


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Track, Points and Wiring on the Colliery Branch Module

A couple of weeks since the last update, and another modular section of the layout has track and points permanently down and operational. This section of the layout (represented by the green shaded section of the track diagram) is a corner module made up of two 1200x600mm foam boards, with the resulting L Shape being 1200x1800mm overall (roughly 4x6 feet for the imperialists amongst us).

With each Knauf foam board weighing about 1.15kg, two of these together, with the addition of a light timber frame underneath made up of 38x19mm pine, makes a manageable sized module that is both strong, and with track and wiring is probably around 3.5kg (approx 8 pounds), which is also quite light and easily lifted off the layout framing and onto the mobile tool trolley/workbench in the centre of the room where the majority of work on the module is done.

This particular module contains two main line tracks, as well as the first half of the colliery siding. The main line track closest to the centre is part of the line “into” Gunnedah, and the main line closest to the outside is part of the line “beyond” Gunnedah. As far as the layout is concerned, everything “Beyond Gunnedah” simply wraps around the outside of what is “Towards Gunnedah”. Doing it this way at least gives the impression of distance when operating a train.

Some initial work was done a few months ago when my wife was able to lay out the points and bend some lengths of track relatively accurately to where they were going to go on this module, so it was just a matter of massaging what was already done until it sat exactly where it needed to go.

With the track laid out exactly where it was going to go, the next step is to figure out where the best place to put the dropper wires will be. Using best practices, just about every individual length of track has dropper wires attached, so it is worthwhile thinking about where droppers can go to make connecting them to the main bus wires running underneath the module both as practical and as neat as possible.

Where there are multiple droppers coming through in close proximity, we have twisted pairs of dropper wires together before then soldering them to the main bus wiring. This has no detrimental effect to the power supply to the track, and also reduces the amount of attachment points to the main bus wires.

Once the dropper wires were then soldered to the track and points, the track was then joined together again so that the foam underlay could be measured out and then attached to the track. To assist the foam underlay being bent around a curve, cuts were made most of the way across the foam underlay from the outside edge of the curved section about every inch (25.4mm) or so, allowing the outside edge to fan out as the foam underlay was curved around reducing the tendency for it to buckle up around the inside edge.

Once each section of track was glued to the foam it was then time to glue the track down in position on the module. Before the points are glued into place, holes are cut in the module for the point motors, a very simple task using a “Multitool” ( ) with a cutting blade, which goes through the 50mm thick module foam like a hot knife through butter, and leaves almost zero mess which is a bonus.

Once the track is all glued down into position, holes can be punched through the module foam, which is easily accomplished using a phillips head screwdriver, and the dropper wires can be pushed through. Handy tip, once the hole has been made for the dropper wires, cut a length of plastic drinking straw to the depth of the hole and push the drinking straw section into the hole. Doing this makes pushing the dropper wires through effortless.

Once all of the above board work has been done, the module can be flipped over. track facing down, and the fun can begin with the wiring. I don’t know about anybody else, but I have always found wiring to be quite therapeutic and enjoyable, both the physical aspect of cutting/stripping/crimping/soldering etc, as well as the technical/logical aspect of knowing how it all works. So whilst I am no longer able to do the physical aspect, it is still up to me to work out and then explain where all of the wires go.

Whilst the wiring is pretty much unseen when the module is in position, I still want it to be as neat and tidy as possible. Generally speaking if you take the time to make something look nice, it will typically be a high quality job, and especially so with wiring getting it right the first time is highly desirable, as fault finding can be tedious at best, time consuming, and damn well frustrating.

Like before, taking the time to figure out where the wiring is going to go beforehand makes everything so much simpler. As you can see with the module flipped over, the main bus wiring simply comes in from the front of the module (the plug that joins the bus wiring to the main layout bus wiring yet to be fitted), through the timber frame, and then runs around to where the grouped dropper wires are coming through the  foam module.

 Using a set of wire strippers that allow the plastic insulation to be spread anywhere along the length of wire allows the insulation to be spread where the dropper wires need to be attached, and after soldering the dropper wires in place a small amount of heat shrink is put over the soldered joint.

Once all of the soldering is completed, a few cable ties are used to group the wires together neatly, and we are also trialling a smear of glue along the uncut tag of the cable ties assisted by masking tape, to hold the wiring firmly in place once the module is flipped over into its resting position.

Once the wiring is completed underneath, the module can be flipped over and is ready for final track inspection, and a quick test to make sure that the point motors are operating properly. Although the point motor logic boards are located on the layout proper, it is only a matter of running a couple of wires to the centre of the room where the module is being worked on and connecting them to the point motor  trigger wires (which are also accessible at the front of the module). It is much simpler checking the point motor operation and that the point blades are throwing correctly when you can get your head directly above them, as opposed to when the module is in its location.

Once happy that all track related work is done, the module is then placed back where it belongs and the bus wiring is connected to the main layout bus wiring. If everything has been done correctly the light globe used for short circuit detection for that module will remain unlit, which it did, and upon placing a locomotive on the track and calling up its operating number, it comes to life and happy moves backwards and forwards along the track as it should, which it also did.

Obviously scenery is still to come, but it’s always nice when the track work and wiring is completed for each module, as it is then time to move onto the next module, and get one step closer to being able to run trains around the whole room.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Flour Mill Module Track and Points Permanently Down and Wired

The last couple of weeks have seen work progressing on the layout, mainly working on finishing the last module which contains the end of what is effectively the main Gunnedah yard section, shaded green area on the track map.

On the prototype, this siding is the site of what was the Bruntons Flour Mill, which consisted of a typical for the period three-storey building of brick construction, which was joined in 1946 by a set of six 110 foot silos.

Looking into the history of the mill, it was interesting to see that the portion of land that the mill is located on, was originally set aside for the cattle sale yards, way back in 1890. This somewhat uninteresting fact does however allow me to draw a very (very very very……) long bow in relation to what I have planned for this location on the layout.

I quite like the look of the old flour mill buildings, the problem that I have is that where this is situated on the layout, space is somewhat at a premium both horizontally and vertically, the latter being somewhat less of a problem.

At a rough measurement, I’ve probably got about room for a structure no more than about 14cm wide, and probably limited to about 20cm tall. The height issue is not really a problem, because of the way the outside top fascia panel is slightly below eye line when standing, you wouldn’t actually see the top of the building anyway. It would basically be a matter of building the structure so that it stops just short of “the sky”, whatever happens to fit within that height is all that needs to be built.

There are a few potential kits on the market that bare a reasonable likeness to the prototype building, that could no doubt be modified to fit the available space, right now that’s not the priority so I have time to contemplate what may go there when the time comes.

On the layout the line that comes around to the mill siding splits into two sidings on this last module, both being around 1200mm in length. So while the rear siding (which is located roughly 210 mm from the front edge of the layout) is at the moment likely to be the mill, the siding closest to the front of the layout is going to be the cattle siding.

In reality, the Gunnedah sale yards are located slightly further along the main line, however, the shape of the layout doesn’t quite lend itself to having the cattle siding where it should be, but it does fit in nicely on this last module, and in reality the only real difference is that it is now accessed via the main yard rather than the main line

Operationally, it probably works better that the cattle siding is an extension of the main yard, and being that this siding sits in about 110mm from the front edge at its closest point towards the end of the siding, it gives enough room for some loading ramps, and where it widens to around 300mm there is room for some semblance of a cattle yard.

In any case the scenic aspects of the layout are still a little way away, but it is nonetheless pleasing to see more track and points permanently down and operating. This last module is reasonably simple with basically one set of operating points and four separate lines of track, by the time you wire droppers off every individual piece of track and add a point motor, you still end up with quite a few wires.

Once again the modular construction makes the task of wiring much easier, with the module flipped over to access the dropper wires that have been passed through holes in the foam board, it is a relatively simple task of running a pair of thicker “bus” wires that the droppers all attached to in a relatively neat fashion. A few cable ties and some masking tape sees the wiring neatly held in place.

All going to plan there should be some more progress over the coming weeks with more track going down permanently and wiring completed on modules around the room.